Friday, 29 July 2016

Rainham Marshes July 2016

Just a quick update on recent happenings this month from RSPB Rainham Marshes.

Moth Night
The evening of Friday 22 July was our late night opening which swiftly merged into moth night. We had three MV traps running between 21:30-23:30, including my own trap, which produced some fairly good species. It was nice to see such a good turnout of people throughout the evening.

Jersey Tiger

Surprisingly no hawkmoths were caught, but my highlight of the evening wasn't a moth - it was a beetle! Two beetles actually (both of which were attracted to my MV bulb), and a species which I have wanted to see for a while - Nicrophorus vespillo, a stunning creature patterned with black and orange.
Nicrophorus vespillo
During our moth night we also found some Glow-worms in the car park, illuminating the grass with their green tails.
Wasp Spiders are also out on the reserve at the moment, including this one which is resident in the car park.
Wasp Spider
Wader Passage
Wader passage at Rainham has started to slowly increase in recent weeks with Whimbrels, Black-tailed Godwits (up to 24 reported on 25 July), Green Sandpiper (first of the season was reported in mid-June) and Snipe (first of the season on 25 July) now being a regular appearance on our scrapes.

Green Sandpiper and Snipe
This morning (29 July) I have had 5 Snipe, 1 Green Sand and 4 Whimbrel on Purfleet Scrape.

Yellow-legged Gulls can also be seen from the visitor centre at the moment, but are annoyingly distant on the other side of the Thames.

Common Lizard
Pantaloon Bees
On Tuesday morning (26 July) it was discovered that we have Pantaloon Bees (Dasypoda hirtipes) at Rainham Marshes. The Pantaloon Bee is a species with a scattered national distribution, being more prevalent in the south-east of England.
Pantaloon Bees (Dasypoda hirtipes)
Hen Harrier Day
Just a reminder that Hen Harrier Day 2016 London and South East will be held at RSPB Rainham Marshes on 06 August, it will be good to see as many of you there as possible.

Happy birding,

Thursday, 28 July 2016

AFON at Knepp, July 2016

The Knepp Castle Estate, situated 12 miles inland in West Sussex, hosts a thriving selection of biodiversity, from lichens to bats, from moths to bees, from beetles to birds, it really does have it all.
One particularly good weekend in mid-July was the AFON Knepp weekend workshop, an event I had been eagerly anticipating since early summer, and it didn't disappoint!

For those who are unfamiliar with the group, AFON (short for A Focus On Nature) is a organisation run by young conservationists for young conservationists which aims to provide a platform for young naturalists to communicate with one another, offering a new perspective on current environmental issues and providing opportunities for young conservationists (such as the Knepp event).

The campsite
On Saturday 16th July, myself and around thirty other young naturalists arrived at Knepp for a weekend of havoc ecology, conservation, rewilding, entomology, ornithology and lepidoptera.
The weekend kicked off early on Saturday afternoon with an educational talk from Charlie Burrell, the owner of Knepp Castle, who explained to us about his superb work and how the rewilding approach has been used at Knepp. The definition of rewildling is to restore an area of land to its natural uncultivated state, and this is exactly what has happened at Knepp. What was arable farmland used to grow crops only ten years or so ago is now natural countryside thriving with wildlife (which has massively benefited from the rewilding project).

Cinnibar caterpillar
We soon took a walk around Knepp with Penny Green (Knepp Ecologist) to explore the landscape for ourselves and it was incredible to see the difference compared to the photos Charlie showed us from when the land was used for agriculture. We spent some time using sweep nets to find and identify a range of invertebrates. This provided a fantastic opportunity to share knowledge and learn from other like-minded people with similar interests in ecology and conservation.

Marbled White

Back at the campsite we were showed a Brown Long-eared Bat, which had come from Sussex bat hospital, followed by some dinner.
Brown Long-eared Bat
We didn't have much time to rest though and shortly before dusk we were out once more, this time looking for a crepuscular creature - the Barn Owl. This payed off as we were afforded flight views of one individual as it glided into and subsequently back out of a barn.

A stunning sunset
Darkness was soon approaching and on the way back, we stopped to set up the moth traps.

Once the landscape had been illuminated by two blinding mercury vapour bulbs, we took a short walk to the Hammer Pond where we had nice views of a few Daubenton's Bats flying over the lake. After this, some of the group went back to the campsite (lightweights) while the rest of us headed back to the moth traps to be swarmed by midges and blinded by the bulbs (a combination which I am all too familiar with from garden moth trapping!). We didn't catch anything mega here but it was great to be in the presence of moth experts who could instantly identify the species present rather than having to spend a while looking through a book to reach a conclusion! Don't get me wrong, I enjoy identifying my own moths but for convenience purposes it's nice to get an instant ID.
We headed back to the campsite shortly before midnight to attempt to get a few hours sleep before an early start the next morning...

Sunday morning kicked off bright an early with a couple of hours of bird ringing. A good volume of birds were caught and Josie Hewitt (whose blog on the AFON Knepp weekend can be found here) did a great job of explaining how ringing works and the importance of bird ringing. More information on the ringing scheme can be found on the BTO website here.

Great Tit
My personal highlight of this session was seeing Bullfinch in the hand (even though I'd seen one in the hand before) - they're always so stunning.
The majority of the group were treated to views of a Turtle Dove nearby but I had to make do with a heard-only bird purring. Just to make myself feel better about this, here's a Turtle Dove I saw in Hampshire a few weeks previously.

Turtle Dove in Hampshire in June
On the walk back we were extremely lucky to 'jam in' on some top quality Purple Emperor action. Just next to the footpath a Purple Emperor was feasting on a juicy cow pat, probing its proboscis deep into the dung to extract vital nutrients.

Showing well!
What better way to life-tick a butterfly than prolonged face to face views for around twenty minutes (in which time I took far too many photos). I think this is my new favourite butterfly species - what an absolute stunner, and slightly larger than I expected, this was probably my personal highlight of the weekend.

Purple Emperor
Purple Emperor
Purple Emperor
After this excitement I took a quick walk back to the campsite to get some breakfast then went back out to sift through the contents of one of the moths traps. Shortly after this I joined the group for another wander, hopefully to see more Purple Emps! This was successful and we also saw some Purple Hairstreaks (which were annoyingly too distant for me to photograph with the 18-55mm. lens).
Ruby-tailed Wasp
I left shortly after 2PM, whilst others stayed around until later in the afternoon and inspected the other moth trap.

Dusky Sallow
Well, it was an amazing weekend!! A great location, with great wildlife, with great people - what more could you want?
It was fantastic to spend time with so many like-minded people, catching up with old friends and making new friends. The event was a great success and everyone definitely enjoyed themselves. It was great to see such a good number of people attending and I'm very much looking forward to similar AFON events in the future, so thanks to everyone for making it so enjoyable! In particular I would like to thank those involved with organising the event - Simon Phelps (AFON), Tony Davis (AFON), Penny Green (Knepp Ecologist) and the Knepp Estate for hosting us.

I am sure I will be back at Knepp in the near future!

Happy birding!
Max. @MaxHellicar1

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

White-letter Hairstreaks at Benfleet Downs

The morning of 15 July saw me exploring Benfleet Downs in search of butterflies, with the main target being White-letter Hairstreak. I took an early train to South Benfleet and was on site by 7AM. I had a nice wander watching Marbled Whites flitting around a meadow and eventually, after two hours of searching, found some White-letter Hairstreaks. It was great to out watching wildlife and have such a good selection of biodiversity close to home.

White-letter Hairstreak
Phone-binned record shot
Marbled White at Leigh (previous day)
Essex Skipper at Leigh (previous day)
Large Skipper
Small Skipper at Leigh (previous day)
Benfleet Downs


Fulmar at Two Tree Island (14 July)

14 July.

After getting off the train on my way home from another good day at Rainham Marshes, I stopped off at Two Tree Island to check out what waders were on the lagoon. There was nothing unusual here but Two Tree is always a nice place to be. I haven't visited much recently due to exams etc. so it was great to birding here once more. I started walking back and as I was walking along the 'seawall' towards Old Leigh (opposite the skate park) I got a little bit bored so started lifting my bins at gulls. Then a Fulmar sheared into view. I instantly knew this was a Fulmar but in a state of slight confusion I had to double check. Grey upperwings, white head and underparts, short 'tubenosed' bill, stiff wings and shallow wingbeats... Yep - Fulmar! This was very odd considering Fulmars are rather scarce even in the outer Thames Estuary, the tide was fairly low, and it was flying over the 'inland' side of the island, looking a bit confused! I watched it for about a minute before it flew across the creek and towards the other side of the island. I knew this was rare and subsequently discovered that it was the first site record for 15 years (the last being in 2001).

Two Tree Island lagoon
A rather surprising encounter, the moral of the story is to take every opportunity to go birding as you don't know what you may find and it's always satisfying to find a good bird of your own!

I also visited the same area the previous afternoon (13 July) where I found a nice Emperor Moth caterpillar as well as some Marbled White butterflies.

Happy birding,

A walk in the local woods - 06 July

I took advantage of the sunny weather in the morning on the 06 July and spent a few hours our locally searching for butterflies. This produced a fair few common species as well as White Admirals at four sites, but unfortunately lower numbers of Heath Fritillary. Ringlets were prevalent in all areas I visited.

White Admiral - a case of having the wrong lens on at the wrong time
Ruddy Darter
Happy birding/butterflying/dragonflying! Max.

Common Rosefinch and some odonata

The morning of the fifth of July saw me twitching a male Common Rosefinch which was present for its third day at Walthamstow Marsh (London/Essex border). Although great views weren't obtained, it was an Essex tick for me and it was superb to hear one singing in Britain. The only UK bird I had seen prior to this was a grotty first-winter type in Suffolk, so a bright pink male was nice to see.

Common Rosefinch
The rest of the day was spent successfully searching for odonata around the NE London area, which produced Downy Emerald, White-legged Damselfly, and Banded Demoiselle, as well as my first Clouded Yellow butterfly of the year (one individual in the Lea Valley).

Downy Emerald
White-legged Damselfly
White-legged Damselfly
White-legged Damselfly
Banded Demoiselle
Clouded Yellow
Swallow-tailed Moth from the garden that morning

Happy birding/dragonflying/damselflying/butterflying/mothing!