Wednesday, 2 April 2014

I came cross this Small Tortoiseshell a couple of days ago and it struck me as being a bit unusual.

It was along the cliff top path and the bright white patches, especially those on the hind wing really stood out.

Today I photography one, in almost the same place, and although the differences on closer inspection aren't as marked as I first thought it definitely is a striking butterfly. 

First thing this morning I popped into the Obs at Sandwich. The actinic tube on one of my moth traps had died over night and I remembered they had some in the shop there. This also gave me the chance to see John Beugg, who runs the moth traps there, and chew the fat about mothing at the moment..

 Blossom Underwing (Orthosia miniosa)

Luckily John had kept a rather nice specimen of a Blossom Underwing for later release and I was able to photograph it. I've caught just three of these since I've been here, perhaps there will be more to come this year.

A walk along the cliff top produced very few birds, but I did see one on the way in, and one on the way out. A Wheatear flew along from Hope Point and landed on the fence, and not far away a Fieldfare chacked loudly before flying off, neither allowed close approach for a picture.  From a distance I saw the Peregrine land on one to his favoured perches and carefully made my way to the point at which I could photo him without disturbing him.

The one problem with modern cameras is the shutter noise, and there was no doubt that he could hear it. Obviously aware of the noise he moved round and I backed away, out of sight, so as not to flush him. Later I saw him cruising along the cliff towards Hope Point.

I got one of my favourite lens back from Canon, where they'd repaired its loss of zoomability. It's a 17-85 mm and great for shots of buildings and in this case cliffs from top to bottom. Much the same view as I put up a couple of days ago, with the low tide the extent of some recent cliff falls can be seen.

While I was walking I met a chap from Canterbury, who asked me if I knew anything about Hope Farm. Unfortunately I didn't but he was able to tell me some details. The small copse, seen here along the back of the big field, centre left, and know to local birders as the empty wood as it seldom has any birds in it holds some old ruins. These are in fact the ruins of the farm house of Hope Farm, where this gentleman's Grandfather had once worked. I had often wondered what the significance of the ruins were so a small gap in my very limited local knowledge was filled. I referred him to the local History Society and hopefully they will be able to tell him more about the history of the farm.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Busy Bees

 There didn't seem to be a lot of birds around this morning, well not of the migrant variety. I did, however, enjoy a good walk along the Lees with Jack Chantler trying to get to grips with identifying some of the bees and bee lookalikes.

 Common Carder-bee (Bombus pascuorum)

Armed with a rather good identification  guide we had a good look at this striking Bumble Bee. It is a Common Carder-bee and a rather striking one. Queens, workers and males are almost completely brown or ginger. However, the shade varies significantly, depending on the location. Some have abdomens which are very dark, while the abdomens of others can be quite light. It is the only common UK bumblebee that is mostly brown or ginger.

The queens emerge from hibernation from March to June and workers are present from April onwards, and males and new females from July to October. The species collects pollen from many species of flower.

 Common Carder-bees are sociable insects, making nest above ground in tall open grassland. The nest are quite small, usually with between 60-150 workers. They collect moss and dry grass to make the nest covering.
The group of insects called Bee-flies are not bees at all, but true flies (Diptera) in the family Bombyliidae.

Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major)

The Dark-edged Bee-fly looks rather like a bumblebee, with a long, straight proboscis that it uses to feed on nectar from spring flowers such as primroses and violets. It is on the wing in the early spring, when it can often be seen in sunny patches. In flight, it is even more like a bee as it produces a high-pitched buzz. This species is common, but the Heath and Mottled Bee-flies, are classified as Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. The female lays eggs near the entrance to the nests of several species of solitary wasps and bees. The larvae enter the nests and parasitise the hosts larvae.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Cricket Teal

The Garganey is the only duck breeding in the UK that spends its winter in Africa. There are a lot of drake ducks that have a smart summer outfit, but in my opinion the Garganey is the tops. Below is a series that I took at the Restharrow Scrape today.

One of the old country names for this duck is the cricket teal, presumably so named because of its strange call.
The North Italian name is garganello, an onomatopoeic name "garg" echoing the raucous call.

The water level on the scrape has dropped enough for a few inches of the depth post to be showing.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Wallfowers on the Cliff

Another beautiful morning and I decided on a gentle walk from the house to Bockhill and the cliffs. 

Wallflowers, a long naturalised plant, decorate the cliff top and nooks and crannies on the cliff face.

Fulmars are a favourite of mine that nests along the cliffs. Today in the gentle breeze and quiet conditions their calls rang out as they established their territories on the cliff.

Looking along the cliff from a good vantage point I was struck by the different colours that section of the chalk face showed. The freshest white areas are where the lastest falls occurred and the darkest, the areas longest exposed to the elements. Look carefully and there is a perched Peregrine almost dead centre.

One of the most uplifting sounds of the day came from a Corn Bunting singing from the fence running along the side of the big field.

I remember reading some research several years (perhaps decades) ago, that postulated that the removal of hedgerows also removed song posts for Corn Buntings and although they didn't use the hedges for nesting this loss of song posts had exacerbated their decline. Since then I have seen and heard them singing from near the ground in growing crops, but now it seems this rather functional fence will have a second purpose for the the Buntings.

At one place i found a position where I could watch a pair of Fulmars billing and cooing.

Other birds were still patrolling the cliffs, wheeling round on their stiff wings.

The pair I was watching were not too pleased when these flying birds approached too close.

A large throat for some nice large fish bits.

The large flock of Linnets is still around and feeding on the rough ground near the cliff. I estimated that there were close to 200 today. Guess at the number above and then count them, you will be surprised how many there are.

As I was watching over the cliff I became aware of a second pair, almost below me, but seemingly oblivious to my presence.
Here you can the two pairs, one low down at the bottom and one at the top of the cliff.

Walking back I watched two Corn Bunting chasing each other, round in circles, for a couple of minutes. When they finally settled down in one of the cliff top bushes they joined others already there and I was pleased to see a group of five together.

Perhaps even more pleasing was the group of Yellowhammers feeding along the cliff top. I was surprised to eventually manage to count twenty birds. I think that this is the highest count I've had a Bockhill, although I have seen a bigger flock a few years ago, near the "three sisters (now two) on the Dover side of the village.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

All of a Hover

 I've long found Hoverfles fascinating, but even with the generalist filed guides to insects that I've got , I've found that getting to the correct identification rather difficult.

The publication of a new guide, Britain's Hoverflies, by Stuart Ball and Roger Morris, by WILDguides, has made life a little easier. A beautifully produced book, with great photos and keys, and one of a series of terrific guides by this publisher.

 When I saw this chap sunning it's self on a fence in the garden it was time to test by identification skills using my new book.I have to admit I was only half successful. I did manage to get it to the level of the Genus, Eristalis, but wasn't sure of the species.This is a genus of Honey-bee mimics, but of course, unlike bees, they have just two wings.

The second great help is the UK Hoverflies Facebook page. I had joined this at the suggestion of Roger Morris when he put me right on a photo I'd uploaded on Flicker a while ago. Within minutes of posting a photograph I got the answer that this is Eristalis tenax

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Lord of the cliffs

There was no repeat of yesterday's Kite fest this morning but as I looked along the cliff I could see a Peregrine sitting on one of the favoured perches.

This projection from the cliff is quite visible from further along and I know that If I approached carefully I would have the bird facing me.

I am possibly the most cautious person around, when it come to getting close to the cliff edge, well 100m drop is along way down, but fortunately the angles here mean that you don't have to get too close for a view. 

By moving slowly and carefully I was able to watch the bird for a while. I believe that this is a male, normally the barring would be heavier on a female. 

I was the proximity to the channel that first led to the decline of Peregrines along the Kent coast, when they were "removed" during the war to help protect carrier pigeons. My mobile sent me a signal to say that I was now in France, but it was safe from the Peregrine.

A while later, while I was back at my migration view spot, it sped passed me and I watch where it had landed. This time it did involve getting quite close to the edge and looking down. The problem with this is, trying to hold the camera steady while my heart is beating rather too strongly. I'm not sure why he has got one trouser leg up and one down, I've not noticed this sartorial statement before. The paler bluey grey mantle also points to it being a male.

Again, a little later I saw him on another promontory, a couple of hundred metres away.

It wasn't difficult to come up behind a small bump near the edge and carefully look in the right direction, but I was slightly hampered by the vegetation.

Slowly easing up on my belly I eventually got a clear view of what is one of the most magnificent of our British birds.
Since the banning of organo-chorine chemicals in pesticides and a change in attitude to protecting birds of prey there has been a tremendous recovery in Peregrine numbers, particularly in the southern part of the range. For some reason that I don't know some of the Scottish population has been in decline since 2002, although overall there has been a range expansion of 200% since 1984.