Saturday, August 29, 2009

Alameda Walk & Ampthill Park

Alongside Alameda Walk a group of Dandelions were attracting several species of hoverfly:

Dasysyrphus albostriatus

Syrphus ribesii - to get a definite id for this species you need to find a female and check that the rear femur is fully orange. This is a female (note that the eyes do not join at the top of the head)'ll have to trust me on the rear femora!

Eupeodes luniger

Eristalis tenax - the Drone Fly

I took these photos on the way home following a morning walk over Ampthill Park. Highlights included a Spotted Flycatcher suddenly plucking a fly that I was watching out of the air right in front of me, and a patch of scrub alongside Leg O' Mutton pond heaving with warblers: Chiff Chaffs, Willow Warblers, and a single each of Garden Warbler, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Stewartby Lake

The Ampthill Baptist Church Secretary, Liz, and I met this morning to discuss her role and various aspects of the church. We had a cup of coffee at the Marston Vale Country Park centre before walking the footpath around Stewartby Lake. Liz is really keen on dragonflies and there were plenty to see, even in the strong wind. Common Darters were everywhere and we managed some good views of perched Migrant Hawkers. Damselflies included good numbers of Common Blues, including several 'in tandem', and a couple of Blue-tailed and Banded Demoiselles.

Highlight of the day for me was a Bank Vole that scurried across the grass towards us, sheltering right between my feet for a few seconds, before continuing on its journey. We were in the middle of an open area of countryside so I assume the vole mistook me for a tree!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chandos Road, Ampthill.

I keep finding new moths in the trap every time I set it out. It's been really amazing to see just how much biodiversity there is fluttering over and around my tiny back garden through the year. I'm gradually building up a list of the little micro-moths. Here's a few from last night with information from Chris Manley's brilliant book on British Moths & Butterflies. Apologies for the's not easy to photograph these titchy things with a long lens! Many thanks to Andy, Melissa & David for taking the time to look at this blog and id the critters as I upload them!

898 Limnaecia phragmitella - Common. In streams, ponds, fens, marshes, wherever the foodplant grows (Seedheads of bulrushes).

789 Bryotropha domestica.

427 Yponomeuta cagnagella (Spindle Ermine) - Common; widespread throughout on calcareous soils. The foodplant is Spindle.

1348 Parapoynx stratiotata (Ringed China-mark)- Local; found near ponds, lakes, canals etc., from Yorkshire southwards; larva is entirely aquatic on pondweeds, Canadian Waterweed, etc.

1305 Agriphila tristella - Common; can be abundant in tall grasses. White streak splits into 'fingers'.

462 Ypsolopha sequella - Local; widespread in south in woods and gardens; foodplant Acers, including Field Maple and Sycamore.

796 Aroga velocella - Local; mainly central and southern England in heathland and breckland.

You never know what will turn up - there are no lakes, ponds, fens or marshes close to me, so it was great to have a couple of the species dependent on these fly in. And the last one turned out to be the most interesting. Our Micro-moth Recorder, David Manning, wrote on seeing the photo here: '.........only two previous records for this species (in Bedfordshire: Coopers Hill in 1997 and RSPB (The Lodge) Sandy in 2008.'
The larvae feed on Sheep's sorrel, typically found on sandy heathland.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ampthill Park - bat walk

Having spent dawn in the Park, it was good to be there for dusk, too. Bob Cornes, Bedfordshire's Bat Recorder, led a small group of people around the Park in search of bats. We set off along the southern belt of woodland just before 9pm and were soon rewarded with good views of Common Pipistrelles, including 2 flying closely together for a short while. Further along the path the bat detectors were clicking at 55Hz rather than 45Hz, revealing the presence of several Soprano Pipistrelles. These look almost exactly the same as the Common Pips in the hand, and were only separated as a species in 1999, initially by their sonar frequency. Common Pips can be found just about anywhere but Soprano Pips are more choosy, and tend to be found where there is both trees & water, which makes the Park a good site. Where they do occur they can be abundant. We had great views of the Pipistrelles against the sky as they performed their dramatic manoeuvres.

In the Darkenings - and in the dark, now - we picked up a number of calling grasshoppers & crickets at the 30Hz frequency, before coming across several Natterer's Bats - the Bat Conservation Trust website describes the sound of this species on the detectors as being like a piece of cellophane being crumpled!

We were disappointed not to pick up any Noctule Bats here, and even more so to find The Rezzy devoid of the hoped-for Daubenton's Bats that can often be seen whizzing just above the surface of the water on a good evening. But it was great to be out on a beautiful summer's evening, and even the younger children - whose little legs must have been very tired by the end of the walk - went home excited and are probably dreaming pleasant bat dreams as I write!

Ampthill Park - dawn

I love the shape of this dead tree. The little blob in the top right-hand corner is a Stock Dove that was singing in its familiar raunchy way! Alongside 'the Wedge', a female Muntjac and two Rabbits were grazing whilst bits of cone dropped out of a nearby tree - a sure sign of a Grey Squirrel feeding out of sight. A Grey Heron flew over the Rezzy as 2 juvenile Moorhens picked at the soil around the side. The Field Parasol mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) are really impressive. I was tempted to take the one below home for lunch, but the specimens I've tried previously have not been as nice as the books would have us believe...down to my poor cooking skills, no doubt!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Dunstable Sewage Treatment Works

This beauty is a Ruddy Shelduck, or a Brahminy Duck if you live in India. Today there were a pair like this at Dunstable Sewage Treatment Works, so I took the opportunity to catch up with them this evening. It's what twitchers call an 'insurance tick'. They're not on the official British List at the moment....but they probably will be before too long, because there is a self-sustaining population in north-western Europe and other areas (see below) where it is believed/hoped these originate from - they are particularly nervous birds which suggests that they are wild, rather than feral. They're beautiful birds, and well worth a visit whether you're a twitcher, enthusiastic birder, or what! They're obviously on some sort of avian package-holiday, and have spent the last few days sight-seeing between Tring Reservoirs (in Herts), DSTW and Luton Hoo.

Photo source:

Update (14/8/09): Lee Evans posted the following fascinating info on our local newsgroup:

At the breakdown of the Soviet Union, many zoos and wildlife parks were left in a state of disrepair and mismanagement and one such species which was popular was the Ruddy Shelduck. This bird benefited from the collapse and in the Ukraine and at a site near Moscow, a non-naturalised population spawned. The Ukraine also had a small natural population of this species and both populations soon merged, so much so that now there are several thousand birds.

Each July, Ruddy Shelducks gather to moult at two main sites in Continental Europe - at Emmeer in The Netherlands and at Klingau Reservoir in northern Switzerland, involving up to 1,060 birds at the former site and 450 at the latter. The direct origin of these birds is unknown but considered most likely to be from the Russian states. Migration before and after July in Northern Italy certainly suggests an arrival from the Balkans.

Now, during this moult period - June-August, Britain receives anything between 15 and 100 of these birds in an average summer, which I believe are overshooting birds from these populations and perhaps nominated 'scouts' seeking out new moulting sites as locations in SE Europe continue to dry up.

It is a well known phenomenon that our Common Shelducks gather to moult at Waddensee.

So, in effect, the European population is a mix of natural and non-natural populations which have consequently merged and we have no way of separating like from like. These birds are acting in a very natural way and as such should be treated fairly and with respect. Obviously I accept that a feral population co-exists in Britain, The Netherlands and Germany but the numbers involved in the moult gatherings, far far exceed these numbers and it is clear that both genuinely wild and non-naturalised birds are involved.
Lee G R Evans
British Birding Association

Ampthill Park

The stretch of grassland under the trees that run from the Park-keepers' shed to the main carpark is, year after year, the best spot in the Park for fungi. During an early morning walk this morning, I thought that it was about time I had a look to see what was around, and was amazed by the numbers of fungi already showing. It's especially good for 'brittle-gills' - the Russula family, and I'm going to have to go through my old notes and remind myself of the differences between the various species, though the Common Yellow Russula (Russula ochroleuca) was obvious. Tawny Grisette (Amanita fulva) was also present, as was the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) which is always common here, and which is shown in the photo above at a young stage. It was difficult to get a decent photo in the bad light, but you can see the volval bag at the base of the stipe. The sickly yellow-green colour of the cap seems entirely appropriate for this plant. If you were to eat it your stomach would throw up, your liver would slow up, and your kidneys would give up - it's a horrible death!

Other highlights included 2 Coal Tits singing against one another, close views of 2 Muntjac (without using the Buttolo decoy!), and a dragonfly hunting along the tree-line with all the jizz of a Migrant Hawker. I was confused by a bird call that was new to me near The Rezzy. It turned out to be an alarmed Chiff Chaff, and the reason became obvious moments later when a Sparrowhawk flew past just a foot or two in front of my face!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Kingshoe Plantation

This is a beautiful, though poisonous, fungus - Lepiota cristata. The id was confirmed by the strong chemical smell that gives it its English name, Stinking Dapperling.
I'd visited the plantation, alongside the Steppingley/Woburn Abbey road, to have another go with the Bottolo decoy. I used it from halfway up a tree and soon had a female Muntjac pacing around and barking, followed by a barking buck a little while later. But the most interesting deer sign were these slots which, at about 6cm, probably belong to Fallow or Sika Deer.

These tracks are much easier to identify: Badger!

Ampthill Park & Chandos Road, Ampthill

This mysterious object is a Buttolo decoy call for attracting Roe Deer. The idea is to hold it in the palm of the hand, and then press the rubber down, which results in a high-pitched squeak. Mine arrived in the post yesterday, and I couldn't wait to give it a go today. Roe Deer are only just starting to colonise Bedfordshire, but Muntjac are everywhere thanks to the presence of Woburn Abbey close by, from which they escaped some time ago. They are spreading throughout the country and are particularly common here. All of the literature says that Muntjac are as responsive to the Buttolo as Roe Deer.

To cut a long story short, the Buttolo is amazingly effective. In the Darkenings I soon had an unseen Muntjac barking close by in response to the decoy, though I didn't see it. A bit further north I tried again at the top of the Greensand Ridge, with a good view through the trees. After 5 minutes or so there was a sudden disturbance just to the right of where I was crouching....and a female Muntjac shot off down the hill, pausing to look back and glare at me. She had approached me unawares and got a shock when walking around the tree to find me just a couple of metres in front of her!

These decoy calls are mostly used by the hunting fraternity...and it's become obvious to me just how deadly effective they are!

Other wildlife included this female Brimstone butterfly nectaring on Knapweed.
These hoverflies were everywhere: Eupeodes luniger - I love the little 'moustache' markings.
And a record shot of a male Common Blue butterfly. They appear to be a lot less common than they used to be.

Back at home there were 7 species of butterfly on or around the flowering Buddleia: Common Blue (a female this time); Large White; Painted Lady; Peacock; Small Tortoiseshell; Comma and Gatekeeper. And there was a real hoverfly-fest in our tiny garden: Eupeodes luniger, Syritta pipiens, Eristalis pertinax, Dasysyrphus albostriatus, Meliscaeva auricollis, Sphaerophoria scripta and, new for the garden, Xylota segnis.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ampthill Park - early morning walk

I was up bright and early this morning because I thought it was about time I went for a walk over the Park to see what's around.

I was really surprised by the amount of birds calling and singing. In a month or so's time it will be virtually silent as the breeding season finishes and many birds 'scrub-skulk' as they moult their feathers.

Several Green Woodpeckers were especially vocal, yaffling away, and the 'chick' of a couple of calling Great Spotted Woodpeckers was also obvious from time to time. I couldn't locate the Treecreeper that was both calling and singing just to the south-east of the main Flushes, but Goldfinches, Robins, Wrens, Dunnocks, Wood Pigeons, Stock Doves, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Jackdaws, Carrion Crows, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Moorhens, Chaffinches, Pheasants and Nuthatches were all heard.

There were a number of fledgling and juvenile birds around. A young Kestrel was making a bit of a racket in the scrub immediately east of The Rezzy, but the highlight was my first confirmed evidence of breeding for Jays, with a juvenile accompanying a pair of adults in the tops of the Oaks in the north-east corner.

It's well worth spending some time looking at the brilliant website for the Bedfordshire Bird Atlas that's presently being compiled. I've enjoyed sending records in for the Ampthill Park tetrad and it's filling up now. You can find it at: