Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Insect Summer

As the end of the year approaches, I’ve been thinking about some of the highlights of 2104. One thing strikes me as I look through my photos from this year is the number of photos of invertebrates I’ve taken (not all of them good, I must say). This is certainly something I’ve become more interested in this year. While I’ve had an interest in all wildlife since I was young, birds have always been my main focus. I can’t see this changing much, but now I have a moth trap (2014 Christmas present) plus butterfly net and microscope (birthday presents from early in the year) I can see my horizons widening in 2015.

I'm thinking of starting a pan-species list, just for the UK. I think this should help me learn the different classifications, as well as helping keep a tab on what I've seen. And, while during this cold and dark part of the British winter, here are some of my UK invertebrate highlights of the summer. At least, these are the species I'm comfortable identifying in the field. If you're interested, I've already covered butterflies and dragonflies, moths and other invertebrates from my trip to France this summer in those respective blogs.

Purple Hairstreak - Shipley Glen, West Yorkshire - August 2014

 Gatekeeper - Great Yarmouth, Norfolk - July 2014 

 Meadow Brown - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

 Meadow Brown - Shipley, West Yorkshire - July 2014

  Small Heath - Gordale Scar, North Yorkshire - July 2014

 Speckled Wood - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

 Marbled White - Shipley, West Yorkshire - July 2014

 Small White - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

 Essex Skipper - Great Yarmouth, Norfolk - July 2014

  Large Skipper - Rodley NR, West Yorkshire - June 2014
  Large Skipper - Shipley, West Yorkshire - July 2014

Small Skipper - Shipley, West Yorkshire - July 2014

  Buff Arches - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

  Buff Tip - Rodley NR, West Yorkshire - June 2014

  Burnished Brass - Rodley NR, West Yorkshire - June 2014

   Early Thorn - Shipley, West Yorkshire - July 2014

  Elephant Hawk-moth - Rodley NR, West Yorkshire - June 2014

   Elephant, Eyed, and Poplar Hawk-moths - Rodley NR, West Yorkshire - June 2014

 Ghost Moth - Rodley NR, West Yorkshire - June 2014

  Golden Y - Rodley NR, West Yorkshire - June 2014

  Blue-tailed Damselfly - Knotford Nook, West Yorkshire - July 2014

  Azure Damselfly - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

  Common Blue Damselfly - Knotford Nook, West Yorkshire - July 2014

  Flower Beetle - Great Yarmouth, Norfolk - July 2014

  Flower Beetle - Great Yarmouth, Norfolk - July 2014
  Banded Snail - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

Iris Sawfly larvae - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

Leopard Slug - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014
Caddisfly larva - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

Hog Louse - Denso-Marston NR, West Yorkshire - July 2014

Monday, 29 December 2014

Shetland Birding, September 2014 - Part 3

Third and final part, following on from Shetland Birding, September 2014 - Part 2...

Day 7

We were up nice and early on the 25th, and were waiting at Toft for the ferry to Yell by 07:30. It was a cold and foggy morning, turning to rain. I scanned for Otter in the harbour, but again with no luck. Only Ringed Plover and 10+ Shag before we boarded.

Arriving on Unst, the A968 passes Loch of Snarravoe on the left. We could see six skittish Red-breasted Mergansers on the loch, seemingly being buzzed by a falcon. Two Ravens mobbed the falcon and they all flew up to where we’d parked. We were treated to a great aerial battle between the Raven pair and what was obviously a juvenile Peregrine. This fight went on for a few mitts, sometimes directly over our heads. Meanwhile, a noisy Oystercatcher flew around, calling to add to the drama.

We’d come over to Unst again to try for a Marsh Warbler at Lund. The rain and wind were strong now, and we had no luck, despite four of us searching for three hours. We did get a decent list of species here though, considering the weather: Greylag, Eider (3 juv), Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Redshank, Sanderling (2), Turnstone (c10), Snipe, Curlew, Willow Warbler, Starling, Blackbird, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, and Harbour Porpoise (2+).

Shetland Pony, Lund, Unst - Thursday 25th September 2014

Another reason we were back on Unst was to allow Chris, who'd joined us on Day 6, to pick up some of the rarities we’d already seen. The Pechora Pipit at Baltasound had been seen sporadically, but today the weather was against us and we couldn’t pick it up. The Eastern Subalpine Warbler showed well again in the sycamores along Springpark Road, but once again the Rustic Bunting eluded us. My friends would eventually get it, but only after I’d left the islands on the 27th…

We hung around Baltasound for a while, trying to pick up what we could in the bushes and fields, but c10 Teal and c15 Snipe was the best we managed. The weather wasn’t great, and when news of a Red-eyed Vireo at Sumburgh Hotel back on Mainland came through, we’d decided to cut our losses and head back.

The REV was lost to view before we got there - in fact, we spoke to the finder a couple of days later, and he told us the bird was in poor health and it’s likely it died before leaving the hotel grounds.

Our elusive Hoopoe was reported again again, this time at Catfirth. Another wild goose chase ensued, involving getting lost, meeting lots of helpful Shetlanders, seeing far more birders (early October being the peak time to visit, I’d soon learn), and again dipping the bird. Still, we got to see some new parts of Mainland, plus a couple of larger Golden Plover flocks

We called it a day as the light and weather deteriorated further, due to a strong blow form the west that was coming in.

Day 8

An Atlantic storm had been brewing for a few days, and it finally hit on 26th September. Seawatching on the west coast seemed like a good idea, so we headed for the lighthouse at Esha Ness, in the Northwest corner of Mainland.

The moorland and fields in the area were teeming with waders: great numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover, plus Redshank, Snipe, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover.

 Redshank, Esha Ness - Friday 26th September 2014

 Curlew over Dore Holm (The Drinking Horse), Esha Ness - Friday 26th September 2014

The wind and rain intensified as we approached the lighthouse, and it was a struggle to open the car doors. The rain eventually eased, and we had an enjoyable 2+ hours viewing out over the roiling sea - one of the more dramatic places I’ve been seawatching. Unfortunately, we didn’t pick up much, just Gannets, Fulmars and Shags.

Heading back south we crossed Mavis Grind, where the North Sea and the Atlantic are a few metres apart. The weather eased and we birded a few bushes and gardens where we could, hoping (in vain) the storm had brought in some Yank passerines.

Mavis Grind - Friday 26th September 2014

We ended up at Loch of Virkie, seeing another Common Tern and our first 2 Arctic Terns. The wader numbers had increased, including both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, and we saw our first Pick-footed Geese flying south over Sumbrugh.

The fields by the A970 in the south were productive for waders too, with 2 Ruff among the large Lapwing flock. A lone Wigeon was  with c30 Mallards sheltering from the wind on a small pond by the road to Sandwick, on the east of Mainland.

It was quiet at Loch of Spiggie, with no seabirds “wrecked” on the loch. We did, however, see the remarkable sight of a Great Skua attacking a Mute Swan. The Bonxie repeatedly buzzed the swan, occasionally sitting intimidatingly close by on the water, before attacking again. Quite what the skua thought the swan might have, I have no idea. It eventually gave up and flew out to sea, going directly over our heads.

 Great Skua, Pool of Virkie - Friday 26th September 2014

Day 9

May last day on Shetland, and we started out with a cracker: a Hornemann’s Arctic Redpoll at the water treatment site in Veensgarth. The bird had been reported late the previous days, and we arrived early (too early - the light didn’t get birdable for another half an hour), well before anyone else. We found the bird in the large clump of inaccessible willows behind the water station. A big lump of a bird, glowing white in the semi-darkness. Other arrived and played the bird’s call - the bird responded by flying aggressively right at the tape-player - not doubting the ID, even though it was obvious just from the views.

  Cormeramts and Shags, Clevigarth - Saturday 27th September 2014

We tried Hoswick again, around the Orca car park: 2 Chiffchaff and 1 Goldcrest were the only warblers.

My flight was leaving in the early afternoon, so we hung around the south of the island, hoping to relocate my bogey bird: the Buff-brested Sandpiper at Clevigarth. No luck, but great walk all the same, talking in the dramatic scenery one last time.

Pink-footed Geese by Sumburgh Airport- Saturday 27th September 2014

Pink-footed Geese over Sumburgh Head- Saturday 27th September 2014

After I left, my friends stayed on for another week, eventually getting the Baltasound Rustic Bunting and a White’s Thrush, but just missing out on an adult male Siberian Rubythroat… I for one will definitely be back next year, and for longer too, I hope.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Shetland Birding, September 2014 - Part 2

Following on from Shetland Birding, September 2014 - Part 1...

Day 4

We started our forth full day in Veensgarth, north of Lerwick, looking for a Hoopoe which had been reported that morning the previous day. As I said in Part 1, directions for birds in Shetland can be a little vague. The Hoopoe was “in Veensgarth”, not "in a garden", not "in a field", not "on the south side", or "by the water treatment plant", etc. This means you have to do some work to refine the bird, and thus means you use your birding skills more, which was another reason why I was growing to love Shetland birding. Of course, as you get to know the sites better, you’d know which tree, farm, field, etc would be the most likely place to start searching in a particular village.

White Wagtail, Veensgarth - Monday 22nd September 2014

The locals, as ever, were very helpful, and we soon found the woman who had seen the Hoopoe in her garden yesterday. It wasn’t there today, and extensive searching on the village didn’t uncover it. This wouldn't be the last time we’d dip this bird on this trip… Anyway, just as I was adding Collared Dove to my Shetland list the pager beeped with news of a Subalpine Warbler at Baltasound on Unst. Any type of Subalp was a lifer for two of us, and the other had seen only the Western form, and there was a surely good chance this was Eastern…

  Black Guillemot, Yell-Unst Ferry - Monday 22nd September 2014

The bird was soon upgraded to an Eastern Subalpine Warbler, and to possibly two birds. We made short work of the drive and ferry crossings, arriving at Baltasound at 11:00, heading for the sycamore at 18 Springpark Road (now that’s what I call directions). As we pulled in, the the 5 or 6 birders already present were looking down into a patch of low scrub at the end of the road. A pipit species with wide white mantle stripes had been seen to fly in - ID not yet confirmed. So, a Red-throated or Pechora Pipit then!

Within a minute the bird flew up into a beech hedge and sat facing us. We couldn’t see the back stripes from this angle, but the contrasting buff breast and white belly, the large, pink-based bill, and the finely streaked head were enough to confirm it as a Pechora Pipit. The bird stayed in view for around two minutes, allowing everyone to check the ID points, get photos and video, and even creep around the side to view the mantle stripes. The bird eventually flew towards the gardens of Springpark Road and into the long grass behind, after which it gave only sporadic views (until Thursday 25th).

Pechora Pipit, Baltasound, Unst - Monday 22nd September 2014

We followed the Pechora Pipit to Springpark Road, but got no further views. But, we were treated to views of an Eastern Subalpine Warbler in one of the larger a sycamores on the street. The bird was an immature male (there was talk of two males, but I only saw one and it was quite elusive in the tree top).

The bird’s throat and breast was a rich terracotta and the head a deep blue-grey, divided by clear white moustatial stripes. The bird flew to a hedge bordering a paddock across the road, where I managed these pretty dreadful photos...

Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Baltasound, Unst - Monday 22nd September 2014

We headed over to Halligarth to look for the Rustic Bunting (very much more in hope than expectation) while eating our sarnies, and eventually gave up and came back for seconds on the Subalp.

 Baltasound Post Office

The sun came out and we headed round to Clingera on the other side of the sound, to check out the reported Bluethroat. We could locate it, but had a great time picking out warblers and grilling the pipits.

Meadow Pipit and Shetland Wren, Clingera, Unst - Monday 22nd September 2014

Meadow Pipit, Clingera, Unst - Monday 22nd September 2014

We spent ages trying to turn this Garden Warbler (below) into a Barred Warbler. Certainly at first we thought it was a Barred. The pale edges to the tertials and the white outer tail feathers made us think we were on to something. The sun was too bright to see my photos well, and it was only later when I uploaded them I confirmed my doubts.

Garden Warbler, Clingera, Unst - Monday 22nd September 2014

We’d had a much more successful day on Unst than the previous day, and we headed back to the Mainland to spend a couple of hours searching without success for the Pallid Harrier around Hillwell and Spiggie. One species we didn't struggle to see was Hedgehogs - we saw lots dead on the roads unfortunately, but also a few alive and well. We were treated to the murmurations of a pre-roost Starling flock as the light faded. Another great day birding, and our best for rarities.

Day 5

We started out at Sumburgh Head, hoping for rarities in the Dog-rose hedges. It was quiet, but the Bonxies, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Gannets put on a good show. The Twite were still showing well, and we picked up a good views of Rock Pipits on the walls and cliffs.

Fulmar, Sumburgh Head - Tuesday 23rd September 2014

There was a nice selection waders down on Grutness Voe, including a particularly long-billed Dunlin, plus Sanderling (4+), Knot (c20), Oystercatcher, and Turnstone (2). Also present Rock Pipit (3+), Pied Wagtail (2), White Wagtail (2), Wheatear, and Twite (c10).

Dunlin, Grutness Voe - Tuesday 23rd September 2014

Knot and Dunlin, Grutness Voe - Tuesday 23rd September 2014

Knot, Grutness Voe - Tuesday 23rd September 2014

 Twite, Grutness Voe - Tuesday 23rd September 2014

Wheatear, Grutness Voe - Tuesday 23rd September 2014

There were at least three Whinchat in the crop field by Sumburgh Hotel, along with more Twite and plenty of House Sparrows. In the fields by the A970, near the turn-off to Spiggie and Boddum, were Ruff (3+), Golden Plover (c15), Lapwing (100+), plus Raven, Hooded Crows and a hunting Kestrel. Down in Boddum itself we were surprised to find a single Common Tern sat on the rocky shore, with Grey and Common Seals just offshore.

We were approached by a local who told us they’d had a pale or white sparrow in their garden recently, and were invited into their house to look. A leucistic House Sparrow? A Snow Bunting? We never found out as the bird didn’t show while we were there. The sighting of a railway signal in their garden was a bit unusual though…

We’d seen a report of the Hoopoe again, this time at Loch of Vatster, not far from Veensgarth, so we headed up to try our luck. Of course it was there again, although after talking to the home-owner we found we were only 8 hours late, rather than 24 hours like the day before… After some hard searching, we did manage out third self-found Yellow-browed Warbler of the trip, which was a nice consolation.

The home-owner said the moor above her house was good for Red Grouse, and wanting to add to our Shetland list, we went for a wander. Since arriving, the Shetland landscape had struck me as familiar. I’d describe it as like the Pennines-on-Sea (at least in Autumn). Unfortunately, it started raining and my associates proved to be, erm, southern softies, and we headed back before getting to the upper areas of the moor. We found the area around the house was great for Snipe and mushrooms though.

Conical or Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe conica/nigresecens) Loch of Vatster - Tuesday 23rd September 2014

We headed down to the south of Mainland for the last part of the day, passing Pool of Virkie (of couple of Black-tailed Godwit were new). We wandered around the flat, grassy cliff tops of Clevigarth, looking for a reported Buff-breasted Sandpiper (the commonest bird on the British List I’ve never seen). We had no luck in the fading light, apart from Lapwing and Snipe.

Day 6

It was a sunny start for Wednesday 24th September with a light westerly breeze. We headed for the southeast, to search again for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Clevigarth. We good views of Wheatear (5), Snipe, Skylark, Twite, Curlew, Redshank (10+) and Kestrel, with 7 Teal on the boggy area. No BBS though.

There were more Black-tailed Godwits on the Pool of Virkie. We had a fruitless search for rarities on Sumburgh Head, though we had great views of a flyover Arctic Skua, along with the commoner birds. Around the hotel were Twite, House Sparrow, Skylark, Starling, Blackbird, Wheatear, and Whinchat.

 Hooded Crow, Sumburgh Head - Wednesday 24th September 2014

Minke Whale skull, Sumburgh Head - Wednesday 24th September 2014

It was a clearly a quiet day for migrants, thanks to the light westerly wind: we had found nothing scarce, and very few reports were coming in. Red-breasted Flycatchers had been reported at Veensgarth over previous days, although not for three days until a report came in around 13:00. This seemed like a good target, and was a year tick for us all.

Of course, the report just said “Veensgarth”, so we had the whole village to scour. Apart from the ubiquitous Hooded Crows, Starlings and House Sparrows, we saw nothing in two hours of grilling every tree, bush, shrub and garden in the area. We reached the last house, which (we found out later) was called Veensgarth Hall. By this time we’d forgotten we were searching for a RBF, and were just desperate for any bird.

Shetland Starling, Veensgarth - Wednesday 24th September 2014

I picked up a small bird at the back of the garden, beyond a screen of small trees behind a tree house. It flitted across the gaps in dimly-lit corner. It looked at first like a warbler in flight. We persevered for some 30 minutes trying to get a decent view, preferably of it perched. I finally saw it (of some of it) stood facing away on a branch, seemingly bobbing and twisting its tail. The tail had white outer feathers. It then flew out and returned to the same perch, facing a different way - of course, it was the Red-breasted Flycatcher! Happiness and a sense of satisfaction at having teased that bird out.

We had enough daylight to try for the Pallid Harrier around Loch of Hillwell again, but only managed a flock of Golden Plover (c200) to end the day. Our quietest day so far, but not unenjoyable. We finally caught up with a Hoopoe, but not the one we were looking for…

Read Shetland 2014 - Part 3 here...