Natural History Diary : May 2017
Tuesday 30th May
I visited Otmoor this morning. It was mostly cloudy and rather cool at 10am when I arrived. As I walked up the old Roman road I disturbed numerous Azure Damselflies. I also saw half-a-dozen Speckled Woods, a Bullfinch and a Chiffchaff. Towards the northern end a couple of Four-spotted Chasers made an appearance, and as I went up to the bridleway there were quite a few more. I then spotted an immature male Beautiful Demoiseselle, a species I'd not recorded at Otmoor before (it is supposed to need fast-flowing acidic streams, but these are in pretty short supply on Otmoor). I found a couple more, both mature males. While looking at these I noticed a male Hairy Hawker in the vegetation, which I eventually managed to photograph. I found a couple of Red-eyed Damselflies, three Large Red Damselflies and a Blue-tailed Damselfly. I heard at least three Cetti's Warblers, several Sedge Warblers, one Willow Warbler, two or three Garden Warblers, and one Cuckoo.
Hairy Hawker ♂ | Otmoor Beautiful Demoiselle ♂ | Otmoor Four-spotted Chaser ♂ | Otmoor
The WeBS surveyors were working on Big Otmoor, which upset the Redshank and Oystercatchers with young there. There were two Marsh Harriers over the reedbed. There was an unseasonable male Wigeon on the lagoon at the first screen. On the way back I saw a Snipe over Greenaways, and there was a Turtle Dove in its usual Oak tree perch. I watched three Hobbies; one had caught a dragonfly and was eating it on the wing. I spotted another male Hairy Hawker, and then an ovipositing female in the ditch nest to the track back to the car park.
Red-eyed Damselfly ♂ | Otmoor Turtle Dove | Otmoor Hobby | Otmoor
Sunday 28th May
Today I headed south-west to Pewsey Downs NNR. I got there at about 09:45, and the car park was already quite full. As I got out of the car a Painted Lady flew past, my first of the year. Walking up the side of Knap Hill flushed several Skylarks, but none came into camera range. I found the first of many Marsh Fritillaries of the day here, as well as Common Blue, Brown Argus, Small Heath and Dingy Skipper. At the top there is a steep-sided valley which faces south-east. This is a bit difficult to negotiate but the sheep tracks help a lot. There was a large number of Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet moths here, but what I was really looking for was the Adonis Blue, which duly obliged with about twenty being seen. On the other side of the valley there were lots of thistles, and I found a rather faded Painted Lady here. In the same area I found four very tatty Wall Browns, which were still fiercely battling each other for territory.
On the way back down I explored the south-facing slopes of Knap Hill, and was amazed by the number of Marsh Fritillaries there. I reckon that I saw at least forty; about half of them were females, and all were rather faded. There were quite a few Cistus Forester moths here as well. I also saw a large brown moth which wouldn't settle, so I was unable to identify it.
Common Blue ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR Adonis Blue ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR Painted Lady | Pewsey Downs NNR
After returning to the car for some refreshment (it was quite warm and humid by now) I headed to the south side of Walker's Hill and walked down the slope. Here Small Heaths were numerous, as were Brown Argus and Marsh Fritillaries. There were also a few Small Blues, and Burnet Companion and Mother Shipton moths. Along the bottom of the slope I found a pristine Large Skipper. Going back up the slope produced yet more fritillaries, and also a Grizzled Skipper. Birds seen today, apart from Skylarks, were four Ravens and a Meadow Pipit.
Marsh Fritillary ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR Large Skipper ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR Mother Shipton | Pewsey Downs NNR
Saturday 27th May
The overnight rain had cleared by 9am, so I headed north-east to Bucknell Wood near Silverstone. When I got there at 10:10am it was sunny and around 22°C. As I was walking up the main ride I spotted a male Beautiful Demoiselle, which perched on a leaf but had disappeared by the time I'd got the camera out. Then I spotted an Emperor Dragonfly, which flew around a small clearing and disappeared, before another immature one landed in a bush and was quite amenable to being photographed. While this was going on I saw my first Wood White of the day. I saw about forty of them in two hours, which was easily the most I'd seen of this species in one day. The majority of them were males. The last sighting was of a courting pair, with the male flicking his antennae over the female. They stayed like this, facing each other, for several minutes.
A few other butterflies appeared: a Small Tortoiseshell, a couple of rather battered Red Admirals, a Green-veined White, a Speckled Wood, and finally a Red Admiral in better condition. I also saw three immature Broad-bodied Chasers, a lovely moth which I had to look up (it turned out to be a Maiden's Blush), and several Hornets. Bird were a bit thin on the ground, but the usual warblers and a couple of Song Thrushes were singing.
I left the wood and went back south, stopping at Ardley Quarry for lunch. By now the sun had been replaced by clouds, so I saw no butterflies here. A Stoat was the only noteworthy species seen.
Wood White ♂| Bucknell Wood Wood White ♀ | Bucknell Wood Red Admiral | Bucknell Wood
Maiden's Blush | Bucknell Wood Broad-bodied Chaser | Bucknell Wood Emperor Dragonfly | Bucknell Wood
Sunday 21st May
The weather was much better day than yesterday, so I did my first trip for the BDS Common Clubtail survey along the Thames east of Abingdon (north bank only today). Everything was pretty wet after yesterday's rain. I didn't find any adult Clubtails or any exuviae, but I did find several Azure Damselflies and Common Blue Damselflies, and about ten Banded Demoiselles. Butterflies were a bit thin on the ground but I found a couple of Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites, and a Speckled Wood. I also found three Drinker moth larvae and a Silver Y. On the bird front I heard three Cuckoos (and saw one of them), a Cetti's Warbler, Chiffchaffs and Reed Warblers. A pair of Mute Swans on the river had six cygnets with them.
In the afternoon I saw two Holly Blues in a friend's garden in Kidlington, and two Swifts were high overhead.
Banded Demoiselle | Abingdon Speckled Wood | Abingdon Silver Y | Abingdon
Saturday 20th May
Despite the weather forecast I headed to Bentley Wood on the Wiltshire/Hampshire border this morning. When I got there, there was still a bit of sunshine and I saw four Pearl-bordered Fritillaries in the eastern clearning (which is being rapidly scrubbed over by birch saplings). There were many Speckled Yellow moths about. There were several Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers singing. It then started raining, so I retreated to the car for a while before setting out to walk to Barnridge Meadow. This produced nothing except another PB Fritillary which I kicked up from the vegetation. While I was returning to the eastern clearing a pair of Roe Deer walked across the track in front of me. Back in the clearing I got a great view of a Marsh Tit feeding its youngster. On the way home I stopped at Stockbridge Down, where I saw a single Green-veined White and heard a Garden Warbler. The rain then set in, so I gave the afternoon up as a bad job.
Pearl-bordered Fritillary | Bentley Wood Speckled Yellow | Bentley Wood Marsh Tit | Bentley Wood
Thursday 18th May
I had a brief visit to the University Parks at lunchtime. Although it was pretty cloudy I saw a Holly Blue, two Large Whites and a Green-veined White.
Sunday 14th May
I headed westwards to Rodborough Common near Stroud this morning. On the way I went through a quite heavy shower. By the time I parked up the sun was out, but it was quite breezy. As I headed down the slope I got some good views of Skylarks and saw a Spotted Flycatcher. In the sheltered area at the bottom of the slope I quickly found my target species, the Duke of Burgundy - two fairly worn males battling each other. I saw at least seven altogether. As it warmed up other species appeared : Dingy Skipper, Brown Argus (my first record of this species at Rodborough since 2011) and Common Blue. Surprisingly, I only found one Green Hairstreak. I found a couple of (presumed) Cistus Forester moths, a new species for me (the larvae of this moth feed on Common Rock-rose, which is present at Rodborough). There were some Roman Snails about, and also a couple of Common Lizards.
Duke of Burgundy | Rodborough Common Brown Argus | Rodborough Common Cistus Forester | Rodborough Common
I headed back east to Whelford Pools. An exploration of the area produced lots of Blue-tailed, Common Blue and Azure Damselflies, some adults but most were teneral. There was a nice rufescens form of a BT Damselfly. I had a glimpse of what might have been a Common Clubtail at the top of a hawthorn bush, but I couldn't confirm it. Brimstones were the most numerous butterfly, and there was another Red Admiral, a couple of Commas and a Common Blue. There were five Red-crested Pochard on the conservation lake, and a number of Cormorants on nests in trees. I heard a Cuckoo. I saw two fresh Four-spotted Chasers, but couldn't get a good picture of either of them. Increasing cloud stopped most insect activity, so I returned home.
Azure Damselfly | Whelford Pools Blue-tailed Damselfly f. rufescens | Whelford Pools Four-spotted Chaser | Whelford Pools
Saturday 13th May
Another disappointing day weather-wise. The only butterfly I saw was a Red Admiral in the garden in the late afternoon. Given that the wind has been in the south or southwest for a couple of days, this one was probably an immigrant. I saw a Whitethroat at the allotment and my first juvenile Starling of the year in the garden.
Friday 12th May
I saw the pair of Grey Partridges in the field next to the allotment this evening.
Thursday 11th May
Recently I've been watching a webcam at Cornell University's Bird Lab. My American bird ID skills are pretty rusty, but species identified so far are Mourning Dove, Blue Jay, Hairy Woodpecker, Cardinal, House Finch, Common Grackle, Baltimore Oriole and Red-bellied Woodpecker.
Wednesday 10th May
In the garden this afternoon male and female Orange-tips were nectaring on Honesty flowers. A Holly Blue and two teneral Common Blue Damselflies were also seen.
Sunday 7th May
Finally the sun came out today, although it was still quite chilly. I arrived at Lardon Chase at 11am, and it took a while for butterflies to get going. Eventually I saw my first Dingy Skipper and Small Blue of the year (this was the earliest I'd ever seen a Small Blue). I also saw a couple of Burnet Companion moths.
I headed a few miles westwards to Aston Upthorpe Downs. This was much more productive and I saw twelve species altogether. Notable among them were at least twenty Brimstones, six Dingy Skippers, four Grizzled Skippers, five Green Hairstreaks, two Small Coppers and one Red Admiral. Moths seen were a Cinnabar and a Silver Y. On the bird front I saw two Whitethroats, and at one point there were six Buzzards over Juniper Valley.
Later I saw a Holly Blue and a male Orange-tip in the garden.
Small Blue | Lardon Chase Dingy Skipper | Lardon Chase Small Copper | Aston Upthorpe Downs
Saturday 6th May
Another mostly cloudy day with a brisk NE wind. I visited Farmoor again this morning, this time to try to photograph Common Swifts. There were dozens (probably hundreds) of Swifts over both reservoirs, and also quite a few Sand Martins, smaller numbers of House Martins and just a few Swallows. The only waders I saw were two Dunlin. I was rather surprised to find some juvenile Pied Wagtails, but then it has been an early season. Down by the river there were two Cuckoos (male and female) on the rough ground south of Shrike Meadow. The female caught and ate a large caterpiller, but she had her eye on a Reed Bunting nest, which the parents were trying to defend. Both the Cuckoos flew off towards Pinkhill. Then it was back along the causeway, with more Swifts competing to see how close they could get to my head. But getting even a half-decent shot of one was as difficult as ever.
Cuckoo | Farmoor Cuckoo | Farmoor Swift | Farmoor
Tuesday 2nd May
A visit to Dry Sandford Pit this morning produced my first Odonata of the year, in the form of half-a-dozen Large Red Damelflies, and nine species of butterfly, including my first Large White and Small Heath of the year. There was also a very fresh-looking Comma - could this be the result of eggs laid in March?
There was a female Orange-tip in the garden at lunchtime. In the afternoon I visited Barton Fields in Abingdon, but there was no sign of any damselflies. I did get a great view of a Cetti's Warbler though.
Small Heath | Dry Sandford Pit Comma | Dry Sandford Pit Large Red Damselfly | Dry Sandford Pit
Monday 1st May
I hadn't intended to visit Farmoor today, but an early posting on the Oxon Bird Log changed my mind. When I got there, there were several Black Terns flying around out over F2. As usual they never came close to the bank. Just after mid-day the flock coalesced, and I was able to count fourteen birds. They then departed high to the south-west. There had also been an influx of Common Terns, and there were a few Arctic Terns with them. There was a small flock of Dunlin on the west side of F2, and there was a single Turnstone with them. I went down to Shrike Meadow and headed north along the river. The usual warblers were singing, and there was a Cuckoo singing as well, but I never saw it. There wasn't anything much to see at Pinkhill, but two Cetti's Warblers called. I saw a few butterflies (two Orange-tips and two Green-veined Whites) but still no Odonata. On the way back down the causeway there was a solitary Dunlin in full breeding plumage.
Later I saw a Long-tailed Tit and a Holly Blue in the garden.
Turnstone | Farmoor Common Tern | Farmoor Black Tern | Farmoor