Monday 22 April 2024

Finally some very welcome sunshine

The Safari has been waiting for the promise of some sunshine for weeks and at last the weather forecast looked promising. We joined CR for a drive up the motorway to our favourite little reserve where we met IH. Drops of rain at the start of our journey had disappeared by the time we arrived and the sun was trying  to get out from behind the clouds. Time to look for some things with scales...and not before time! 

Up in the eaves of the warden's house House Martins investigated their old nests from last year but didn't hang around for any pics. We checked the walled areas of the gardens for Grass Snakes and Slow Worms without success nor were there any Bee Flies hovering around the Primroses. Maybe the sun needed to climb a little higher and come out from the clouds a little longer as it was still quite cool. In the little bit of scratty woodland beneath the empty Osprey nest we found lone Red Deer. Through the gate into the reserve 'proper' there were no Adders to be found on the remains of the old wall either. We passed slowly through the wet (very very wet) Silver Birch dominated woodland checking the base of the trees and edges of the boardwalk for Common Lizards - again no joy. But we did hear the song of a Pied Flycatcher and following flits of movement through the trees soon got half a glimpse of the little fellow. A nice one for our Challenge, #137

He wasn't for showing himself at all. From the end of the boardwalk we battled bravely through yards of  thick, gooey, welly-sucking mud to where the wood ends and drier ground with another boardwalk begins. Here we heard a Redstart sing and then witnessed a couple of male Redstarts were having a ding-dong of an aerial dogfight - a veritable blaze of red hanging in the air! We've never seen that before, and then spotted why all the fighting a female was perched not far away. #138
It wasn't long before one of the males reappeared, chosing to sit on a rather unphotogenic gate and fence rather than perch on some more attractive foliage.
For some reason best known to themselves both our cameras seemed to have trouble focusing on might not have been all the cameras' fault, the operator can be a bit flaky at times. 

We expected the track across the moss to be a lot wetter than it was and soon came across a Tree Pipit which, like the Pied Flycatcher, wasn't wanting to show itself to best advantage. #139

A bit further on we looked back across the moss to the Osprey nest but there were no birds sat on it.The sun was doing its best to come out and in the brief moments it did it was much warmer and butterflies began to appear, we had a couple of Peacocks and a Small Tortoiseshell in fairly quick succession. only the first Peacock settled for a pic though.
Crossing the bridge, where the stream was much lower than expected, the large patch of Bilberry hadn't begun to come into leaf so our chance of a hoped for Green Hairstreak butterfly was slim to remote. There were no Red Deer faces peering out of the woods beyond the Bilberry patch today. We did see a couple of Crossbills disappearing into the distance from the next patch of woodland after picking them up on call but sadly we couldn't find any others still feeding in the cone laden conifer trees where they'd flown from.
Soundtrack of the day once again was Willow Warblers and as usual they were invariable singing from the back side of the trees and bushes. We waited ages and passed how many 'hundreds' before we found one on the right side of the tree and even then it was partially obscured. See them or not it's still a great sound to listen to when the spring woodland is full of them.
Given our squelching, slipping and sliding along the non-boardwalked sections of this path it was inevitable that we'd come to a sticky end. This is a circular route back to the bridge the final stretch of which runs alongside the was inaccessible today the last few yards before the stream being far too muddy to contemplate trying to cross unless you were wearing chest waders - which we weren't. Here's a couple of habitat shots of the tangled and mossy wet Willow woodland, you wouldn't want to go off-piste into there, you'd never be seen again until your peat-preserved body was dug up some thousands of years into the future.
Nothing for it but to retrace our steps. Still no Common Lizards and no futher sign of the Crossbills and no Raft Spiders but we did see a trio of cronking Ravens and a somewhat out of place Little Egret land in field of sheep. We had more but not better views of Tree Pipits while crossing the moss and a far to brief for a pic Lesser Redpoll landed briefly on the electricity wires crossing the site. Back in the Birch woodland we soon came across the Pied Flycatcher again and this time it was more obliging but still a litttle distant.
The tumble-down wall wasn't for giving up its Adders again as thoughts turned towards pies and butties. A Mistle Thrush landed not too far behind the wall and for a moment thoughts of lunch disappeared.
While scanning the wall we happened across our first Large Red Damselflies of the year, first a teneral (recently emerged) individual then a fully coloured up one.
And then a Dung Beetle crossed our path - would we ever get to our pies???
Fortunately we did make it back to the cars and our lunches. The sun came out while we were tucking into our goodies and we enjoyed sightings of Brimstone and Orange Tip butterflies and then heard the unmistakeable high pitched yickering of Ospreys calling. We grabbed the camera and pointed it at the nest where one bird was hunkered down not showing very well but then the male flew in and landed on the nest. #140. The sun was strong now and there was a serious heat haze going on so the pic isn't that good.
Not that we mind strong sunshine - it means the snakes come out to bask so as soon as we'd eaen it was back to the wall where....there were no snakes...b*gger! In fact the most exciting thing we found was a Banded Snail that had stashed itself among the delicate Bracket Fungi of a rotting stump.
Our route after lunch took us up the 'hill of death' but today wasn't too bad and we weren't huffing and puffing like an old steam engine by the time we got to the top. We discovered a new pond had been dug which will require much inspection later in the year, the older new ponds would have been inaccessible due to feet thick gloopy mud in the valley today so we gave them a miss. We'd brought a pot to see if we could nab one ofthe Nomad Bees that like this stretch of the road but didn't see any. Seeing them is one thing,catching one would have been something else entirely. Why were we after catching one? Well, we've seen them many times over the years but have yet to identify them, we don't know if anyone else has tried to identify them either. 
Passing the tarn the Little Grebes were calling, there's always a Little Grebe or two, or three, on there. Down at the entrance pond we looked in vain for tadpoles - how come there weren't any, there's always loads at this time of year, surely with all the cold wet weather they can't have metamorphosed and left the pond already? IH spotted the only newt of the afternoon, probably a Palmate Newt given the site. Then he found another Pied Flycatcher, like the first it wasn't for showing itself.
We went to have a look at 'Great Crested Newt corner' and obviouslty saw none, we didn't see any other water life either, no water boatmen or other swimmy things just a few Whirlygig Beetles buzzing around on the surface, we guess the water must still be very cold. Then CR beckoned us to join him on the other side of the pond, he'd got much better views of the Pied last!
And it alllowed a stealthy closer approach...bonus!
Also in the woods around the pond was a Blue Tit with a beakful of nesting material. It hung around a while perhaps waiting for us to get out of the way before delivering it to a nearby nestbox.
A bright male Orange Tip wouldn't do us the courtesy of landing on a Bluebell but shot straight past and promptly vanished. 
Around the reserve IH had noticed that the winter storms had smashed up a lot of the trees, the Silver Birch being especially badly hit, much more so than any of the other tree species. Large numbers had high broken branches like these.

On the walk back yet another Willow Warbler gave us the runaround and while we were trying to get on it IH found a tiny Crab Spider on the top of a gate. Top banana eyesight that lad has.
We've no idea what species it might be, one for our good mate and expert in all things spidery AB. 
Unfurling Bracken fronds are always worth getting down to eye-level with - do ferns have eyes?
Cambrian Poppies were in flower along the roadside too.
Time was now getting short but with the sun out for a while and warmth in the air we just had to have another look for the Adders. Through the gate we went, ignoring the snail secreted among its fungi friends, and for some reason we looked to the right rather than scanning the wall to our left. Oh joy of joys there was an Adder, no there were two. We hastened the others to come for a look.
Two Adders - fantastico - - but wait - - - look closely, there's two heads down there at the bottom of the pic. Three Adders even better than fantastico. And they even started to move about a bit as we got as close as we dared without disturbing them.
The sun kept going behind a cloud and this made them flatten themselves down to get the maximum warmth when it came back out. The two males might have been tempted to do their dance had it been just a bit warmer. The female was more or less stationary all the while.
With such a superb opportunity we just kept firing shots off.
At no time were they upset by our (fairly) close presence although we're sure they knew we were there.
To break the snake monopoly a Longhorn Beetle landed on IH's lens. Rhagium mordax to give it its full name.
A fabulous wee beasty. anyway enough of that back to the Adders.
What a brilliant experience, well worth that last look.
And to finish we had a couple of really bright Large Red Damselflies on the wall by the car park before we had to leave.

Where to next? Maybe something a bit different to report on, if we can remember to take some pics.

In the meantime let us know who's slipping and sliding round your outback.

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