Natural History Diary : May 2018
Thursday 24th May
I visited Farmoor in the late afternoon as Black Terns has been reported earlier in the day. Fortunately they were still there at 5pm. I counted twenty, which mostly stayed out in the middle of F2 but on a couple of occasions they came fairly close to the north shore. Otherwise the only birds of note were a Grey Heron and an Oystercatcher, both of which flew past.
Grey Heron, Farmoor, 24-May
Black Tern, Farmoor, 24-May
Oystercatcher, Farmoor, 24-May
Grey Heron | Farmoor Black Tern | Farmoor Oystercatcher | Farmoor
Tuesday 22nd May
I visited Dry Sandford Pit this morning. A Reed Bunting was singing from a tree in the marsh, and I flushed a Green Woodpecker from the grassy area. There were several Large Red Damselflies about. One pair was in tandem, with the female ovipositing. Butterflies seen were the usual pierids, a Peacock, a couple of Small Heaths, four Common Blues, three Small Coppers and two Brown Argus. Moths seen were Burnet Companion, Mother Shipton and Cinnabar.
A Comma paid a brief visit to the garden in the afternoon.
Small Copper, Dry Sandford Pit, 22-May
Brown Argus, Dry Sandford Pit, 22-May
Common Blue, Dry Sandford Pit, 22-May
Small Copper ♂ | Dry Sandford Pit Brown Argus ♂ | Dry Sandford Pit Common Blue ♂ | Dry Sandford Pit
Sunday 20th May
I had a trip out to Pewsey Downs NNR in Wiltshire today. With a mostly clear blue sky, a light wind and agreeable temperature it was the perfect day for some butterflying. I started out by walking up Knap Hill. There wasn't a great deal to see initially - just a rather tatty Small Tortoiseshell and a couple of Skylarks. I negotiated the steep-sided valley at the top, which is usually a dead cert for Adonis Blues and Burnet moths - but there were none today. I did start seeing Small Heaths though; they seemed to be everywhere. I spotted a couple of Common Blues and Small Coppers. A Yellowhammer was calling from the top of a hawthorn bush. I found four male Wall Browns at the top, but as usual they were quite flighty, never settling for long, and often shooting off to battle each other. I then found a mating pair, and a few more males along the top. I then explored the east side of Knap Hill. Soon Marsh Fritillaries began to appear, and there were lots of them; I counted at least sixty-five, of which the majority were males. I found one mating pair, and another newly emerged female who was still pumping her wings up. I also saw at least nine Green Hairstreaks and a couple of Grizzled Skippers. I upset a Meadow Pipit by getting too close to its nest. I heard (and saw) a singing Whitethroat. A pair of Ravens appeared overhead from time to time.
Small Copper, Pewsey Downs, 20-May
Wall Brown, Pewsey Downs, 20-May
Marsh Fritillary, Pewsey Downs, 20-May
Small Copper | Pewsey Downs Wall Brown ♂ | Pewsey Downs Marsh Fritillary ♂ | Pewsey Downs
After some refreshment I headed the other way towards Walkers Hill. Marsh Fritillaries started appearing here as well, not in the same numbers as on Knap Hill, but I counted at least twenty-five. A bit further down the hill Brown Argus started to appear, as well as more Small Heaths and Wall Browns. As I descended the valley there were lots of butterflies engaged in aerial battles with their own and different species. A couple of Small Blues joined in. There were quite a few Dingy and Grizzled Skippers here too. At the bottom of the slope I spotted a young Badger nosing through the grass. It had no idea I was there until I whistled to try to get it to lift its head. As we were now less than twenty feet apart the Badger was very surprised. It looked at me for a few seconds before disappearing rather rapidly! Altogether I'd seen over 220 butterflies today - a pretty remarkable total for May.
When I got home there were two juvenile House Sparrows, two teneral Common Blue Damselflies and a Holly Blue in the garden.
Small Blue, Pewsey Downs, 20-May
Brown Argus, Pewsey Downs, 20-May
Grizzled Skipper, Pewsey Downs, 20-May
Small Blue ♂ | Pewsey Downs Brown Argus ♂ | Pewsey Downs Grizzled Skipper ♂ | Pewsey Downs
Friday 18th May
I visited a couple of local sites today. To start with I went down Thrupp Lane and had a look at Thrupp Lake. Birds of note here were a pair of Common Terns, two Sand Martins and three Egyptian Geese. Then it was on to Orchard Lake where I found quite a few teneral Common Blue and Azure Damselflies, as well as singletons of Large Red, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselflies. I also saw a Hairy Dragonfly and a Four-spotted Chaser. Warblers singing in the scrub were Blackcap, Sedge Warbler and Willow Warbler.
The nest stop was Barton Fields. I saw a Cetti's Warbler near the private fishing lake. There was a Broad-bodied Chaser perched on a reed stem in the easternmost pond on Barton Fields. There were some damselflies here, and eventually I found a male Banded Demoiselle. There were some butterflies about by late morning, including Orange-tip and Large White.
Red-eyed Damselfly, Radley Lakes, 18-May
Four-spotted Chaser, Radley Lakes, 18-May
Blue-tailed Damselfly, Radley Lakes, 18-May
Red-eyed Damselfly imm. ♂ | Radley Lakes Four-spotted Chaser ♂ | Radley Lakes Blue-tailed Damselfly ♂ | Radley Lakes
After a pub lunch in Abingdon, I returned to Barton Fields. The easternmost pond now had two male and one female Broad-bodied Chasers on it. Although there were more damselflies about I still couldn't find what I was looking for, so I went back to the fishing lake with another photographer and found four Variable Damselflies. I finally heard a Cuckoo calling, although it was some way off.
Finally it was back to Radley Lakes, and the rough ground where the cycle track turns 90 degrees. Here I found a Comma sunning itself, lots of damselflies, a Garden Warbler, and a Dingy Skipper (the first one I'd recorded at this site).
Broad-bodied Chaser, Abingdon, 18-May
Variable Damselfly, Abingdon, 18-May
Dingy Skipper, Radley Lakes, 18-May
Broad-bodied Chaser ♂ | Abingdon Variable Damselfly ♂ | Abingdon Dingy Skipper ♂ | Radley Lakes
Thursday 17th May
I went to Sandford Brake today to take part in a butterfly survey (with 3 other BC members) for the National Grid. It was sunny but there was a chilly north-east wind. Eight species were seen: Green-veined White (9), Orange-tip (7), Brimstone (6), Large White (8), Holly Blue (3), Speckled Wood (5), Comma (2) and Small White (1). A Silver Y was also seen. The site looks good for Purple and White-letter Hairstreaks later in the year. There was nothing unexpected as far as birds were concerned. Blackcap, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff were singing.
Green-veined White, Sandford Brake, 17-May
Comma, Sandford Brake, 17-May
Speckled Wood, Sandford Brake, 17-May
Green-veined White ♂ | Sandford Brake Comma | Sandford Brake Speckled Wood ♂ | Sandford Brake
Tuesday 15th May
I visited Lardon Chase this morning, in warm and sunny conditions. The hillside was covered with Buttercup flowers, but there was very little Kidney Vetch in flower. Butterflies were pretty hard to find. Eventually I found a single Small Blue and two Common Blues. I also saw a Green Hairstreak, was was a new species for me at Lardon. I spotted one Chiffchaff and there was another one calling. There weren't too many other birds about.
After an hour here I relocated to Cholsey Marsh. Here there were numerous warblers: I heard Sedge Warblers, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Blackcap. I saw three Reed Buntings and heard a Greenfinch. There were a few more butterflies here, with two Commas being notable. I also found at least nine Banded Demoiselles (five males and four females).
In the afternoon I saw three Holly Blues (one female was ovipositing on Holly) and one female Orange-tip in the garden.
Sunday 14th May
Today I took part in a butterfly survey on the MoD land at Otmoor, which is usually out of bounds. In a couple of hours in the fields either side of the rifle range we saw ten four Brimstones, twelve Green-veined Whites, Orange-tips, five Small Coppers (first of the year for me), two Peacocks and one Comma. There were dozens of mostly immature Common Blue and Azure Damselflies, at least thirteen Four-spotted Chasers and two Hairy Hawkers. I wasn't paying a lot of attention to birds, but there were the usual singing warblers, and at least two Cuckoos were calling. We saw a Muntjac and two Roe deer.
After the survey was complete, I had a quick spin round the RSPB car park field, but this didn't turn up anything new except for a Hobby.
Hairy Hawker, Otmoor, 14-May
Small Copper, Otmoor, 14-May
Azure Damselfly, Otmoor, 14-May
Hairy Hawker ♂ | Otmoor Small Copper ♂ | Otmoor Azure Damselfly ♂ | Otmoor
Sunday 13th May
I went to Farmoor again this morning because a Black-necked Grebe in breeding plumage had been found yesterday. Naturally it was in the south-west corner of F2, so it took a while to get there. The bird was having a rest a little way out when I got there, but soon it came closer in and started working up the west side of F2. It gave very close views at times, and didn't seem bothered by photographers. Otherwise there wasn't much change on the bird front, but I did see two Cuckoos and two Grasshopper Warblers. The latter were on the boardwalk going down to the Shrike Meadow hide. From the way they were behaving I think they were a male and female. Although they didn't give good views, seeing a Gropper at all is an achievement!
Herring Gull, Farmoor, 13-May
Black-necked Grebe, Farmoor, 13-May
Grasshopper Warbler, Farmoor, 13-May
Herring Gull | Farmoor Black-necked Grebe | Farmoor Grasshopper Warbler | Farmoor
Since I was at Farmoor I had a look for Odonata. There was a Four-spotted Chaser near the Shrike Meadow boardwalk, and two immature Emperor Dragonflies over the pond on Buckthorn Meadow. Walking along the Thames path turned up around a dozen Banded Demoiselles and another FSC. In the Pinkhill hedgerow I found another Chaser and a couple of immature Common Blue Damselflies.
Banded Demoiselle, Farmoor, 13-May
Four-spotted Chaser, Farmoor, 13-May
Common Blue Damselfly, Farmoor, 13-May
Banded Demoiselle ♂ | Farmoor Four-spotted Chaser ♂ | Farmoor Common Blue Damselfly imm. ♀ | Farmoor
Saturday 12th May
A pretty dull day, although it was quite bright at times in the morning. I saw a few Small Whites and a Green-veined White at the allotment, and I also managed to spot the Blackcap at last! In the garden the only butterfly I saw was a Holly Blue.
Friday 11th May
I visited Farmoor this morning. Although it was sunny there was quite a strong south-easterly wind. There was a female Red-crested Pochard at the sailing club. The only birds of note on the causeway were a pair of Oystercatchers, but they were very flighty. There were lots of Swifts over the causeway, but they mostly didn't come down to low level. I counted 26 juvenile Mallards on F2! At Pinkhill I saw three Blackcaps and a Sedge Warbler, and heard Willow Warbler, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff and Cetti's Warbler. I also heard a Cuckoo but couldn't locate it.
I found some Azure Damselflies, a Large Red Damselfly and a Hairy Hawker at Pinkhill, and a female Banded Demoiselle near Shrike Meadow. I could only find two butterflies, a Speckled Wood and a Peacock.
Red-crested Pochard, Farmoor, 11-May
Oystercatcher, Farmoor, 11-May
Common Tern, Farmoor, 11-May
Red-crested Pochard ♀ | Farmoor Oystercatcher | Farmoor Common Tern | Farmoor
Azure Damselfly, Farmoor, 11-May
Hairy Hawker, Farmoor, 11-May
Banded Demoiselle, Farmoor, 11-May
Azure Damselfly ♂ | Farmoor Hairy Hawker imm. ♂ | Farmoor Banded Demoiselle ♀ | Farmoor
Thursday 10th May
Rather cool today, which didn't do much for butterflies. All I saw were Small Whites in the garden and at the allotment. The Blackcap was singing again from the scrub on the A34 embankment.
Wednesday 9th May
I paid my annual visit to Rodborough Common today. There were many Cowslips and Early Purple Orchids in flower. After several days of warm weather I was expecting that there would be quite a few butterflies about, but not so. I could only find three Dukes of Burgundy, three Green Hairstreaks, two Dingy Skippers and one Small Heath. I was surprised to find two Large Red Damselflies in a sheltered spot. They were well away from any water. There weren't many birds about either. Most notable were three Meadow Pipits.
Duke of Burgundy, Rodborough Common, 09-May
Dingy Skipper, Rodborough Common, 09-May
Small Heath, Rodborough Common, 09-May
Duke of Burgundy ♂ | Rodborough Common Dingy Skipper | Rodborough Common Small Heath | Rodborough Common
After a couple of hours at Rodborough I headed back east to Whelford Pools. When I got there I heard a Garden Warbler singing, which was followed by Cetti's Warbler, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Blackcap. A pair of Moorhens had two youngsters on the small pond, and a pair of Coot had four on the fishing lake. There were quite a few immature Azure Damselflies about. I was surprised to find a pair of Blue-tailed Damselflies in a mating wheel (I didn't find any others). I also spotted a Downy Emerald inspecting vegetation, but it was too far away to photograph. There were a few butterflies about, mostly Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites.
Azure Damselfly, Whelford Pools, 09-May
Blue-tailed Damselflies, Whelford Pools, 09-May
Green-veined White, Whelford Pools, 09-May
Azure Damsellfy imm. ♀ | Whelford Pools Blue-tailed Damselflies | Whelford Pools Green-veined White ♀ | Whelford Pools
Tuesday 8th May
Another quite warm day, but I only saw two Holly Blues (one was a female, I think), and two Large Whites in the garden. In the evening the male Blackcap was singing down at the allotment.
Monday 7th May
Today was the warmest early May bank holiday since it was set up 40 years ago. I got to Aston Upthorpe Downs as early as I could. I found my first Grizzled Skipper of the year at the start of the devastated area, and at least nine more in the SSSI and Juniper Valley. There were good numbers of Orange-tips and Brimstones, and probably Green-veined Whites (most didn't stop to be identified). I found a single Green Hairstreak at the dew pond. On the bird front I spotted three Wheatears, but they were distant. With trees being in leaf it was difficult to spot singing warblers - I heard Blackcap, Whitethroat and Garden Warbler, and saw a Chiffchaff.
By midday it was too hot, so I returned home. In the garden I watched a female Orange-tip lay an egg on an Honesty plant. I also saw two Holly Blues, at least three Small Whites and two Large Whites.
Grizzled Skipper, Aston Upthorpe Downs, 07-May
Green Hairstreak, Aston Upthorpe Downs, 07-May
Holly Blue, Abingdon, 07-May
Grizzled Skipper ♀ | Aston Upthorpe Downs Green Hairstreak | Aston Upthorpe Downs Holly Blue | Abingdon
Sunday 6th May
I headed home today after a successful Welsh trip. I stopped at the allotment where I saw a Holly Blue, a male Brimstone and several Small Whites. The Blackcap was still singing in the scrub on the A34 embankment. In the garden I saw another Holly Blue, a Comma and several Small Whites.
Saturday 5th May
A complete change in the weather today - blue sky and sunshine! I headed north again, this time to the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust's Gilfach Farm reserve, a few miles north of Rhayader. I got there at 09:30 and there weren't any other cars in the car park. I was greeted by a singing Willow Warbler. There were lots of these about; I saw at least a dozen. I walked along the old railway trackbed, where I saw a Treecreeper. A bit further on I saw Chiffchaff and Garden Warbler. A detour up the hill caused by an unsafe bridge produced a good sighting of a Tree Pipit. As I got nearer the farm I spotted a pair of Lesser Redpolls in a tree. At the farm I saw a Bullfinch and a pair of Pied Flycatchers.
Treecreeper, Gilfach Farm, 05-May
Willow Warbler, Gilfach Farm, 05-May
Tree Pipit, Gilfach Farm, 05-May
Treecreeper | Gilfach Farm Willow Warbler ♂ | Gilfach Farm Tree Pipit ♂ | Gilfach Farm
On the way down the hill to the Dipper hide I saw a pair of Siskin in an oak tree. There wasn't anything to be seen from the hide, so I started walking back along the river. I saw a Grey Wagtail, but no Dippers. A few butterflies appeared - Peacocks, Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites. After lunch I walked along another trail half-way up the hill. I started seeing Green Tiger Beetles along the path; there were quite a few of them. A Raven gave good views as it spiralled upwards. Finally I saw another Tree Pipit, a Pied Wagtail and two pairs of Redstart.
Garden Warbler, Gilfach Farm, 05-May
Raven, Gilfach Farm, 05-May
Green Tiger Beetle, Gilfach Farm, 05-May
Garden Warbler ♂ | Gilfach Farm Raven | Gilfach Farm Green Tiger Beetle | Gilfach Farm
As it was warm and sunny I headed back to Cors y Llyn, hoping for some insects. There were several Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites about, and at least seventeen teneral Large Red Damselflies. Birds were pretty much the same as yesterday, although I got a much better view of a Tree Pipit as it hopped around in the stunted pine trees in the mire.
Orange-tip, Cors y Llyn, 05-May
Large Red Damselfly, Cors y Llyn, 05-May
Tree Pipit, Cors y Llyn, 05-May
Orange-tip ♀ | Cors y Llyn Large Red Damselfly | Cors y Llyn Tree Pipit | Cors y Llyn
Friday 4th May
Another cloudy day, but it was warmer than yesterday. I headed to the Elan Valley visitor centre, near the town of Rhayader. The river in this valley is the outflow from the Caban-coch reservoir. I had intended to visit the RSPB Carn Gafallt reserve, but I spent most of the time in the oak woodland to the east of the river. This was alive with Wood Warblers - I saw eight and heard at least two more. As yesterday they were quite difficult to photograph because they wouldn't stay still. I also saw three male and one female Redstarts, three male and one female Pied Flycatchers, a couple of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, two Coal Tits and a Song Thrush. The reservoir outflow looked good for Dippers, but all I could find in it were two Grey Wagtails. There were some Swallows and House Martins about, but they appeared to be passing through.
After some lunch I went to the Red Kite feeding centre near Rhayader, only to find it was closed on Fridays! So I headed to the Cors y Llyn national nature reserve near Builth Wells. This is a mire, rather like Tregaron Bog which I visited in 2014. It was very wet - the boardwalk was under water in places. I saw three Willow Warblers, another Garden Warbler and a Tree Pipit. On the small lake a pair of Canada Geese had four goslings in tow. It had warmed up enough for some insects to appear - a male Orange-tip and a teneral Large Red Damselfly. As I was leaving I saw a Sparrowhawk.
Wood Warbler, Elan Valley, 04-May
Pied Flycatcher, Elan Valley, 04-May
Song Thrush, Elan Valley, 04-May
Wood Warbler ♂ | Elan Valley Pied Flycatcher ♂ | Elan Valley Song Thrush | Elan Valley
Thursday 3rd May
The first day of a short break in mid-Wales saw me heading to the RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas reserve, which I had last visited in 2014. It was a mostly cloudy day, and not all that warm. A Willow Warbler was singing loudly from the top of a tree as I got out of the car. As I walked through the wet woodland on the boardwalk a couple of Nuthatches and male and female Pied Flycatchers soon appeared. There wasn't much about along the river, so I kept following the path (quite difficult in places) and eventually saw a couple of Grey Wagtails. Down at the south end of the reserve I finally heard what I'd been listening for - a calling male Wood Warbler. It was in almost the same place as the one I'd seen here in 2014. It kept flitting about in the trees, and I couldn't get a good photo. I continued walking round, and heard a distant Cuckoo and saw a male Redstart. By now I'd got back to the boardwalk. I had another look at the river before going for lunch, and saw a Dipper flying fast downstream.
Wood Warbler, Gwenffrwd-Dinas, 03-May
Pied Flycatcher, Gwenffrwd-Dinas, 03-May
Pied Flycatcher, Gwenffrwd-Dinas, 03-May
Wood Warbler ♂ | Gwenffrwd-Dinas Pied Flycatcher ♀ | Gwenffrwd-Dinas Pied Flycatcher ♂ | Gwenffrwd-Dinas
On the way back to the car park I saw two Treecreepers. As I reached the car park a Garden Warbler was singing, but it took a while to actually spot him. I put some food out on the bird table and this quickly attracted Chaffinches, Blue and Great Tits (but not the Nuthatches I was hoping for). After lunch I had another foray to the river, and this time found the Dipper (and got some photos). Eventually it flew upstream and started diving into the fast-flowing water searching for food. A second bird appeared a bit further upstream. I had another look at the west side of the reserve, where I spotted a couple of Tree Pipits. Back at the bird table a Nuthatch had turned up and was eventually quite amenable to being photographed from close range.
Wood Warbler, Gwenffrwd-Dinas, 03-May
Dipper, Gwenffrwd-Dinas, 03-May
Nuthatch, Gwenffrwd-Dinas, 03-May
Redstart ♂ | Gwenffrwd-Dinas Dipper | Gwenffrwd-Dinas Nuthatch | Gwenffrwd-Dinas
Tuesday 1st May
A much better day after yesterday (when it felt like November). I headed down to Otmoor. When I arrived a Blackcap was singing in the hedge by the car park (there were several more over the reserve). I soon heard a Cuckoo as well but it took a little while to actually spot one. I walked along the old roman road, where a Chiffchaff was singing exuberantly from a Blackthorn bush (more were singing elsewhere on the reserve). I also heard a Willow Warbler and a Green Woodpecker. Although it was still fairly cool a number of Green-veined Whites, Orange-tips and Speckled Woods were already active. Up on the bridleway I heard the first of many Sedge Warblers. I spotted a few but none were photographable. I heard a Cetti's Warbler, the first of three. I actually saw one as well! At the cattle pens a pair of Hobbies were flying about, and one landed on the wooden fence. Further along I heard a Whitethroat.
Chiffchaff, Otmoor, 01-May
Cuckoo, Otmoor, 01-May
Hobby, Otmoor, 01-May
Chiffchaff | Otmoor Cuckoo | Otmoor Hobby | Otmoor
Big Otmoor was busy with nesting geese, Lapwings and Redshank. There was a solitary Barnacle Goose, at least seven Black-tailed Godwits and an Oystercatcher. On the way up to the first screen I saw my first Large Red Damselfly of the year. The lagoon was very full, so there were only the usual waterfowl to be seen. A Marsh Harrier made a rather distant pass over the reedbed. In the way back to the bridleway I heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling away, and managed to get brief views as it flew between bushes. A Cuckoo obligingly landed in the Oak tree at the edge of the path, and I was able to get a few shots before it flew off. The number of Hobbies over Greenaways had increased to four. Going back to the car park I saw my first female Orange-tip of the year, and I found a pristine female Speckled Wood during another go at the roman road.
Large Red Damselfly, Otmoor, 01-May
Orange-tip, Otmoor, 01-May
Speckled Wood, Otmoor, 01-May
Large Red Damselfly (imm ♂) | Otmoor Orange-tip ♀ | Otmoor Speckled Wood ♀ | Otmoor