Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Good Year For The Lemmings?

I've just been reading about Little Stints on Wikipedia. Apparently the breeding success of this species, along with Curlew Sandpipers, depends heavily upon the breeding success of lemmings. Interesting, I thought, and my mind was immediately filled with the bizarre image of a Little Stint trying to swallow one of these suicidal rodents, in much the same way as a baby owl would tackle a vole.

As I continued to read I quickly realised that the waders themselves don't actually feed upon the lemmings. No, that would be silly, though I've seen sillier stuff than that on Wikipedia - let me tell you! Instead, the lemmings form part of the diet of larger birds, such as skuas and Snowy Owls. When lemming numbers drop, these birds turn to the smaller waders to supply them with their lunch. Good news for skuas and owls, less so for Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers!

Anyway, there have been quiet a few reports of Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper across the country in the past few weeks, so perhaps the lemmings are doing quite well this year?

There is a point to all this persiflage [great word - look it up] and before you lose interest, perhaps I'd better get to it. I've just come back from Upton Warren you see, where a Little Stint turned up on Saturday afternoon. My previous experience with this bird has been limited to three very distant sightings at Upper Bittell Reservoir, including one in July this year and I have always been keen to see one up close and personal.

Today provided that opportunity and it was well worth the trip.

So that's what they look like!

It was great to finally get a proper look at this bird, definitely one of the highlights of the year. I could have stayed there all day watching it to be honest, but left it to its own devices after an hour or so.

Bird Forum member Dean Powell was also there this morning. It was good to meet you Dean. Maybe I will catch up with you on the Staffordshire moorlands next year?

Finally, on the way home I passed two Eddie Stobart trucks. The first one was past me before I realised it, but I clocked the name of the second one. I don't think I've seen Stephanie before, but I'll need to check before I declare her as a lifer.

Finally, a detour on the way home saw me stop off near Hopwood to see the resident Little Owl. He or she was perched on his or her favourite branch, but was flushed by a couple of horses and their riders a minute later.

The only other piece of news this weekend was a Green-Veined White butterfly in the garden yesterday.

My next report will almost certainly be upon my return from Devon a week tomorrow. Until then, happy birding!

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Am The Harlequin

A sly reference to a song by one of my favourite bands there. I expect most of you have at least heard of Marillion, but probably only know their radio-friendly hit Kayleigh, which reached number two in 1985. I'm afraid I prefer their darker, earlier work and the quote comes from the barnstorming track Emerald Lies from the Fugazi album. If you're into theatrical prog-rock sung by a giant Scotsman dressed up as a jester, it doesn't get much better than this!

I haven't been out birding this weekend, but instead took a look around the garden to see what treasures lay within the flora and fauna. There seems to be an awful lot of Harlequin Ladybirds around this year. A quick bit of research via Google tells me that this species was first detected in this country just four years ago and is believed to have arrived on our shores from Japan, possibly hitching a lift on cut flowers. There are concerns that it may out-compete other native aphid predators, but it seems there is little we can do about it.

Experts say it is too late to try to eradicate the species and state that we shouldn't squish them if found, fearing that many innocent native species may be culled in error if we do so. Oh well, if they're going to become a permanent feature of the British landscape we might as well enjoy them.

Here are a few pictures I took of them this weekend.

Harlequin Ladybird

Harlequin Ladybirds

Harlequin Ladybird

Different form of Harlequin Ladybird

Harlequin Ladybird larva

And whilst I was at it, I had a good root around to see what else I could find.


Weird fly type thing


That last picture reminds me of a joke. What did the slug say to the snail? Big Issue!

I'm looking forward to a short holiday in Devon beginning Wednesday 24 September, and I wouldn't rule out a twitch for anything local this weekend coming, so hopefully I will have some news to report before too long. I'm certainly hoping Devon might yield me a year tick or two, maybe even a lifer. Who knows?

Until then, happy bug hunting!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What A Grey Day!

What abysmal weather we've had this weekend. For most people this has probably been nothing more than an annoyance, but if you've been watching the news, it has been a disaster for an unfortunate few. Before I get too sombre, however, for a Midlands birder like me, the chance of a passage migrant being blown off course and into one of our reservoirs or reserves is ample compensation for the decidedly inclement conditions.

On Friday evening I got wind of a Grey Phalarope that had dropped in to Shustoke Reservoir. Not wishing to miss the opportunity for another year tick [year tick 213!] I was down there Saturday morning with my father, for whom this species was a lifer.

The bird was a bit distant compared to the one I saw at Earlswood Lakes last October - mind you, that one was almost within touching distance. Thankfully though, the rain held off and the light was good so we enjoyed reasonable views of this busy little bird, not that you can tell this from my less than spectacular record shot.

Grey Phalarope

Compare this with last year's bird!

The Earlswood phalarope

Now, onto news of a rather soggy excursion and [sound of trumpets] another lifer.

A pair of Spoonbills had appeared at Coombe Hill Meadows earlier in the week and seeing that at least one of them was present again on Saturday, I decided to nip down and see if I could bag a second year tick in as many days.

Now, I'm not daft, and I did expect the place to be a bit moist, but having traipsed through the mud along the canal, I was alarmed to see that the fields leading to the hide were submerged under several inches of water. I almost expected to see Olympic man-fish Michael Phelps powering his way through the water, with yet another gold medal in his sights.

If I'd been five minutes from home at this point, I may well have turned around there and then, but after a 45 minute drive I wasn't prepared to let a bit of H20 dampen my ardour. I gingerly made my way towards the gate, but quickly realised this was not a good idea when the water got deeper and threatened to breach my welly tops.

I looked behind me and realised I could enter the adjoining field nearer the hedgerow and, with an equal amount of gingerness, made my way back from where I had just come. Stepping over a fallen tree into the field, things appeared better, but just a few yards in and the water levels were looking ominous again. Putting my best foot forward, I ploughed on. The degree of gingerness I was now displaying could have easily had me confused for Chris Evans, Mick Hucknall, or maybe even Carol Decker of T'Pau fame!

Over the next five minutes or so I eased closer to the boardwalk, which I could see was itself under water. A tricky little diversion through the trees to avoid the deepest bits finally saw me to safety. After wading along the boardwalk for a few minutes, I finally reached the sanctuary of the Grundon Hide. I don't think I've ever been so pleased to be back on dry land!

Anyway, enough of this pluvious dialogue - I expect you want to hear about the birds. Well, let's cut to the chase - the Spoonbills weren't present, but there were a pair of Spotted Redshanks, a Black-Tailed Godwit and a Curlew to be seen. Later on, I noticed a Whinchat on one of the submerged islands, probably the highlight of my morning, and there were many Mallards, Teal and a few Shovelers about too. Nice weather for them, I thought to myself.


I think a Peregrine went over at one point, but I didn't manage to get a proper look at it, clumsily homing in on a Rook that was giving it a hard time instead. Oh, and there was a Little Egret amongst the floods as I arrived. A couple of showers came and went, but failed to bring in any Black Terns or new waders. Showing true British spirit, I stuck it out for a couple of hours, then decided to give it neck. I didn't see anyone else all morning - let's face it, no other bugger would have been stupid enough to tackle these saturated pastures unless they had been born with gills and webbed feet!

Quick, get Noah!

After another 15 minutes of splashing about I made it back to the canal. The mud that I had cursed a couple of weeks ago now felt like the most sublime of surfaces to walk upon, but even so, I was glad once I was back in the car and heading up the M5 again!

Oh, and that lifer? Eddie Stobart truck Emilia Faith just outside Worcester!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Fruits Of The Forest

This morning I have been to the Wyre Forest with a view to taking some photographs of the Silver-Washed Fritillaries. How's this for starters?

Silver-Washed Fritillary

Sadly, this one was on the notice board in the car park.

Nice work, Bear!

I don't know if you'll be able to see this from the picture, but a gentleman known only as Bear has appended their name to the sign. Before you ask, I don't know who this character is, but it would seem that they enjoyed their visit to the forest so much that they felt obliged to take up their felt-tip pen [not easy when you've got paws] and leave their mark for all to see. I wonder if he shits in the woods?

Anyway, enough of this ursine nonsense ...

Sadly, the bright start to the day was short-lived. It didn't really warm up enough to get many butterflies up and on the wing, but a few Speckled Woods and Red Admirals were seen. In terms of birding, it was fairly quiet too. Common Buzzard, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers were about as good as it got.

To top it all, the heavens opened at about 10:30am whilst I was in the meadow along Dowles Brook. I got a thorough soaking and once the rain stopped I decided to call it a day and headed home. A shame, because the sun then came out and it began to warm up a bit. As I left I had visions of hordes of Silver-Washed Fritillaries all fluttering around happily back in the direction I had come from.

Ah well, I think butterflying in the Wyre will now have to wait until next year.