Sunday, 7 August 2016

You don't have to travel far to see great wildlife

The Safari was able to put the big light on the moth trap on Friday night. The weather was mild with a light wind and we were hopeful of a good catch. A good catch (for here) is what we got, 53 individuals (excluding a few escapees) of 16 species although we had to be careful emptying the trap as there were two sleepy Common Wasps clinging to the sides of the trap - thankfully none had made there way inside and were lurking with intent.
Top slot went, unpredicatbly at this time of year, to Large Yellow Underwings with 17, Lesser Broad Bordered Yellow Underwings weren't far behind with 12.
Lesser Broad Bordered Yellow Underwings
 A stunningly beautiful Common Marbled Carpet was lively enough to disappointingly evade the lens unlike this equally stunningly marked but less colourful Lychnis.
A very nicely marked Small Square Spot was also happy to have its picture taken.
The prettiest micro-moth captured was a Garden Rose Tortrix which sadly evaded the lens, flying off when we lifted the pot off it after it had settled nice and quietly for a couple of minutes - dohh, don't you just hate it when that happens. That left us with only two micros, a very worn Blastobasis adustella
and a couple of Agriphila tristellas.
While working through the contents of the trap we heard a Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff 'hweet'ing from the bottom of the garden or next door's garden, a Swift screaming way up in the blue ether, will this be the last at Base Camp this year?, and saw a small flock of Swallows going south. We kept hearing a faint sound of what we thought was a nestling nearby too, every now and then we'd pick up the high pitched calls but a look around the garden didn't reveal their location. Later we saw a family of recently fledged Dunnocks down by the feeders - we had heard something after all it wasn't a figment of our imagination.
Once we'd packed the moth trap away we were umming and ahhing about where to go when we got a call from CR saying he was popping down to the nature reserve in a while and would we like a lift. So Saturday morning jobs were done and the optics cleaned and shouldered ready for the knock at the door.
We walked in through the wetlands trying to get near the pond for any dragonfly photo opportunities but we were beaten back by the dense vegetation and had to resort to using the proper path in the end.
It was a nice warm summer's day and it didn't take long to bump into some butterflies. There were a few Common Blues about but they weren't for settling and it was a bit of a nervy wait wondering if this Small Copper would open its wings and bask or just fly off.
Our patience was rewarded with a brief glimpse of the open wings before it flew.
The path to the Viewing Platform cuts through one of the meadow areas and we have to say that it's looking about the best its ever done, there's very little grass and the hum of insects going about their business reminded us of summer days long past. The pic doesn't really do justice to the masses of Black Knapweed, Hoary Ragwort, Meadow Vetchling, Upright Hedge Parsley and Wild Carrots that are in flower.
The mere was looking good too but there was no sign of the early returning Bittern...or has it been here all summer???
Of note on the water were a few Gadwall, that we kept on identifying as something else, a variety of school-boy howlers! And the surviving Great Crested Grebe chick is almost as large as the adults and fingers crossed should fledge OK. The Brown Hawker dragonflies gave a few impressive fly-pasts too.
Mooching slowly along the main path brought more butterflies in to play.
Common Blue butterflies - top female probably egg-laying, middle female feeding, bottom male resting 
There was nothing happening at the panoramic hide, the light being strong in our faces at this time of day, so C took us off-piste on a new desire line that really needs blocking off. Good job he took that route and we followed though as he spotted an unusual red insect. Obviously it was a 'True Bug' of some species or other but being a cracking looking beast we both took plenty of pics.
Once back at Base Camp we scanned through the field guides to discover it's Corizus hyoscyami and a check on the national database told us its not been recorded in our local area.The nearest record and one of the furthest north of this northwards spreading insect is about 15 miles from here. Close by was one of the very few 7-Spot Ladybirds we've come across this year - any one else thinking they're not seeing many too?
From there we passed the new scrape that's not so new any more, nothing exciting lurking in or around it today so on we went down towards the bridge.
After seeing so many Brown Hawkers it was good to see an unidentified blue dragonfly, possibly Southern Hawker, and then our first Common Darter of the year which as they often do landed on the path. We didn't have long to take some pics as it was about to be disturbed by a couple of dog walkers after which it flew well out of range.
At the bridge we saw that the water level in the mere was down quite a bit as the stream was little more than a trickle.
A Heron fished at the bottom of the run. 
Normally the water here is well over knee not Heron's knees, human knees!
Heading back the way we came we got to the corner by the first big Willow bush and saw a couple of Brown Hawkers flying around in the warm sun sheltered from the breeze by said tree. We stood and watched as a third, then a fourth, then a fifth...and was there a sixth, came in. For the next five or more minutes we stood transfixed as though we were actually in part of a David Attenborough documentary. The dragonflies whizzed past at eye-level their wings clickety-clicking as they sped by occasionally soaring up to grab an invisible (to us) insect. It was awesome to witness and then as they spontaneously appeared so they drifted away almost un-noticed. Fabulous - indeed the experience was beyond fabulous.
Back up the main track we spotted some Hare's Foot Clover growing over the old old cinders at the edge.
While the warmth had brought more butterflies out to feed on the much taller Ragwort that lined the path. Too many people malign this plant, mostly out of ignorance and/or media scaremongering, but it is an essential part of the later summer flowering flora for a myriad of pollinating insects.
Peacock butterfly, under and upper wings
 On the main path almost at the junction to the Viewing Platform we saw a dark lump in the middle of the track which seemed to be glowing purple against the pale stones. Closer investigation showed the purple was from eaten Blackberries, we're pretty sure it's a blog of Fox poo. Can't think of anything else that would do that amount and eat so many berries.
At the top of the path near the entrance gate there is a huge patch of Canadian Golden Rod. Wow it was bright, the scent coming off it was heady and the buzz of insects, mainly hundreds of Honey Bees, was loud!
Rather than go straight back to the car we took C up to a part of the reserve he'd never visited before, the rough fields and ancient hedgerows. Here there was a good chance of more butterflies. We did see a Red Admiral but there was no sign of any Painted Ladies he had hoped for. With Essex Skipper being discovered on the Southside a few weeks ago someone has to be first to find one on our side of the river so when a small skipper was seen we chased it round until a decent pic was obtained. It was 'only' a Small Skipper but someone has to find that first Essex Skipper and to do that we're all going to have to look at a lot of Small Skippers very closely!
By now the heat, hunger and thirst had got the better of both of us so it was time to call it a day...and a very successful and pleasant one at that...and head back to the car.
Where to next? A trip out east and uphill for a  purpose.
In the meantime let us know who's up to their knees in it in your outback.

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