Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ardeches, France

The Pont d'Arc, the Ardeche's most famous landmark...and just down the road from us in the Ardeche Gorges.

Top wildlife sightings so far:

Number 1) Day 5: Watching a plane coming in to land from Sampzon, high above our campsite, we both suddenly spotted a big bird right in front of us as the plane banked away. It was a Bonelli’s Eagle – the signature bird for the Ardeche and the no.1 species I was hoping to see! It filled the binoculars as I watched before going into a stoop and disappearing at speed below the lip of the cliff in front of us. Wow!

Number 2) Day 3: Carole and I spent a few hours on the beach beside the region’s famous Pont d’Arc, the massive stone bridge formation in the Ardeche Gorge. I was watching a few Crag Martins flying to-and-fro in front of the rock wall opposite when they were suddenly joined by 2 large Alpine Swifts for several minutes.

Number 3) Day 5: Late afternoon I spent an absorbing few hours by the River Ardeche alongside the campsite. Highlights included Kingfisher, flypasts by Little Egrets and a Raven, but most exciting was the discovery of several patches of Otter spraint at the far end of the ‘boulder field’, some of them just a few days old….I shall be now be out early morning hoping for a live sighting.

Number 4) Days 1-5: The variety of butterflies, even for this time of year! We’ve seen Swallowtail, Wall, Grayling, Adonis Blue, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Clouded Yellow, Large & Small White (or their equivalents down here) and a number of others that I haven’t identified yet.

Number 5) Days 1-5: A Black Redstart in Bedfordshire results in ‘scopes being thrown over shoulders and birders heading for the site where it’s been seen. Here I’ve seen them in more places than any other bird, both in towns in valleys and in scrub at the top of hills. We saw 3 feeding together on berries today. They’re one of my favourite birds and I hope we see many more over the coming days!

Number 6) Day 5: 2 Great White Egrets noticed flying really high over Roc Sampzon. They looked really dramatic against the blue sky.

Friday, September 25, 2009


We're off on holiday to the Ardeches in France for a fortnight in the next few hours - I'll try to post some reports from France if I can. We're going by plane to Nimes, so I've got a bit less space available than usual....but I've still managed to pack my scope & tripod, bins, several small mammal traps, deer decoy, crayfish net and a few other bits and pieces. Unfortunately, my portable hide will be staying at home! :-)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Duck End Nature Reserve, Maulden

This afternoon, Sue Raven and I joined our BNHS Mammal Recorder, Richard Lawrence, in a Water Vole survey at Duck End Nature Reserve.

At Pond 1 were were encouraged to find these lengths of grass leaves under some vegetation. Water Voles & the much smaller Field Vole both make these little piles. Field Voles are more likely to be found in the meadow area and Galler's Pasture next to the main reserve, but they will travel and use areas like this, so we needed more evidence.

This looked really promising - some nice lengths of plant material found in some vegetation at the side of the Pond 4 boardwalk. Surely not Field Vole - we needed some droppings to confirm the presence of Water Voles.

Then things really got exciting as we discovered a run next to the water with lots of grass piled up in equal lengths...we just needed some droppings to confirm Water Vole and congratulate one another....

And, yes, there were some droppings further down the run...but they were too small for Water Vole. Well, at least we've confirmed Field Vole!

This looked promising at Pond 2...right next to the water...but it was too big and not fibrous enough....Muntjac!

At Pond 3, we found this run with puddled droppings...classic Water Vole, except the droppings were too small again! This must be a Field Vole having fun with us!!

After Richard & Sue had gone, I went back to Pond 4 and sat on 'Stephen's bench' overlooking the northern end. It would have been great to end the day with a photo of a live Water Vole....but this was all I managed: a Dunnock enjoying a drink. The Grey Squirrel was too quick for me!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Maulden Heath

Arriving at Maulden Heath late afternoon after warm sunshine for most of the day, I knew there was very little chance of catching up with any adders. But you never know, so I wandered around the brash heaps....and came across this beauty!

This Ichneumon Wasp spent some time exploring this log before inserting its ovipositor in search of some unfortunate grub...I hadn't realised that the ovipositor is usually enclosed in a sheath. Before witnessing this, though, it did occur to me that that what I thought was the ovipositor looked a bit thick and blunt for this kind of work!

There were a number of flies around, including this Noon Fly (Mesembrina meridiana), one of several on a farm gate - all the information I've seen says that the larvae develop in cattle dung, but there's only horses and sheep around here!

The Noon Fly is unmistakable in its dramatic orange and black livery. Here's another view - it's blowing a bubble, something that flies often engage in!

This was also on the gate enjoying the sunshine. It's the Kite-tailed Robberfly (Machimus atricapilllus) - you can just see the 'tab' of hairs towards the end of the underside of the abdomen.

But this was the best find of the day. I had been examining a Badger path that led under the fence when I suddenly noticed this Hoverfly on a Knapweed bloom. It's Rhingia rostrata, a scarce species that has only recently been found in Bedfordshire. It's reckoned that the larvae develop in Badger latrines!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Amazing bat photos!

I was stunned when, last week, I came across these photos of bats taken by Kim Taylor over his Guildford garden pond. According to The Times, Kim, a wildlife photographer said, "I was playing badminton in the garden with my children and I saw one (bat) dive to the pond. That gave me the idea."

The top photo shows a Brown Long-eared Bat assuaging its thirst. Then there's a dramatic photo of a Daubenton's Bat, a species that is renowned for hunting over water. The last photo shows how he does it...incredible. Well done, Kim!

[Photo source:]

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ampthill Park

The status and distribution of some insects can go through dramatic changes. One such is this beauty with its yellow pronotum stripe: the Roesel's Bush-cricket which, until the 1980s, was only found near to the coast in eastern and south-eastern England. Since then it has spread inland and is now common in many of its favoured damp grassy habitats in Bedfordshire, including the Flushes at Ampthill Park where its high-pitched song...imagine standing under an electricity pylon in the heard. Why Roesel's? It was named after a German entomologist, Johann Rosel von Rosenhof.
Andy & Melissa Banthorpe were also around. Andy swept this Drinker Moth caterpillar from the grassland - it was tiny...I'm used to seeing the big 'granddaddy' caterpillars! We also found a Drinker Moth pupa that had been parasitised. The most interesting sighting for me was a very small patch of water and mud that was attracting several species of Hoverfly: Episyrphus balteatus, Meliscaeva auricollis, Platycheirus albimanus, Dasysyrphus albostriatus, a number of Syrphus species and, most frustratingly, an individual which was either Melangyna cincta or Meliscaeva cinctella, either of which would be a new species for the Park...I knew I should have taken my net!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chandos Road, Ampthill

Last night was NATIONAL MOTH NIGHT, 2009. I set the trap up and thought it was appropriate to share a few of the moths present this morning...

The Light Emerald is a beautiful moth - there were 4 in the trap this morning.

I think that this may be a Mallow. If so, it's my first one for the garden. Andy & Melissa Banthorpe, our Beds Macro-moth Recorders will have to confirm for me whether it is or not.
Update: Sunday morning - Andy has now confirmed that this moth is, in fact, a Grey Pine Carpet: another demonstration, if one was needed, of the importance of our Recorders. It's still another new moth for the garden, though - number 178!

Here are 2 definite new moths for the garden: Lunar Underwing and Black Rustic.

And here are 3 for our Micro-moth Recorder, David Manning, to look at for me. This is another new one if it's what I think it is - Garden Rose Tortrix (Acleris variegana).
Update: Sunday afternoon - David's ok with this id.

This one's got me beat. If I was to hazard a guess, I'd go for Cyclamen Tortrix (Clepsis spectrana).
Update: Sunday afternoon - David is not able to make a definite id on this photo. He thinks that it may be another one of my old friends in the next photo...

But I'm fairly confident with this one. I've had a lot of these over the past year. It's the Light Brown Apple Moth (Epiphyas postvittana), the scourge of Australian orchards which first turned up in this country in 1911 before spreading across the south....and to my garden!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Duck End Nature Reserve

A late lunch was spent in a slow wander around the reserve.

Can you spot the Bank Voles? You should be able to find 3 (you might need to click on the photo for a closer view!). They were alongside a nest under a corrugated tin refuge. I have a real fondness for Bank Voles - they're so confiding!

The Yellow-legged Centurion (Sargus flavipes)is a species of Soldierfly, so-called because of the gaudy colours which resemble military parade uniforms. This is my 9th Soldierfly species for this reserve.

Other wildlife included a Kingfisher (heard but not seen), Migrant Hawker and Common Darter dragonflies, and several Hoverfly species: Platycheirus scutatus (male & female); Eristalis pertinax; Neoascia podagrica and Myathropa florea.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Rookery Pit

Rookery Pit is just a few miles up the road from where I live, and it's a wonderful site for wildlife. At the moment there is a battle going on with various groups trying to build either a 200,000 tonne rubbish burner, or a 600,000 tonne incinerator there. I wish I had a few £million to buy the pit and secure it for its wildlife. Late this afternoon I watched a Marsh Harrier, 2 Hobbys, 2 Buzzards and at least 4 Kestrels flying around. Rabbits were abundant, and a Chinese Water Deer walked across the bottom of the pit before clambering up the slope and into the fields beyond. On the way back to the car I disturbed a Snipe from the field manure heap - it launched itself into space with its characteristic scaap call, said to resemble tearing cloth.

Only two Hoverfly species spotted this afternoon: Eristalis pertinax, and this Sphaerophoria scripta. This is a male, and the fact that the wings are shorter than the abdomen is a giveaway.

There were still good numbers of Common Darters around. The photo's a bit out of focus, but I've put it in because I confess that I've never noticed the little golden ring on the top-centre of the thorax before!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ampthill Park

This morning I spent a couple of hours with the Greensand Volunteers who were working on the main Flushes at Ampthill Park. Apart from the obligatory tea-breaks, I stopped a few times: once to watch a Hobby flying gracefully over the top of The Darkenings, and then to watch 3 Buzzards - 2 adults and a juvenile - enjoying themselves in the breeze alongside the private woodland where they nested this year. At one point I watched one of them sweep by a tree and grasp something with outstretched talons. It swept into the air before dropping acorn! I've never seen this behaviour before. Another one came past with a large stick dangling from its talons. As I watched the Buzzards I noticed a number of Swallows heading in a southerly direction. Birdguides earlier reported 21,000 Swallows south past Spurn Head (plus 6,500 House Martins & 800 Sand Martins), so there's obviously some serious migration going on today!

This is Bob walking away from the mower, not towards it. He's just ran over a Wasp's nest. You can't see the occupants but, believe me, they're there! Mowing and cutting back this Flush over the past year or two has resulted in a real flush of plants and invertebrates in the spring and early summer.

And here's one of last year's Wasps' nests that Frances found while she was strimming. Good job this one was empty!

Here's Frances trying to get Colin's attention to tell him it's time for tea! Notice the bench and Silver Birch scrub in the background...

....we cut back some of the scrub here to open up the view from the bench. If you sit there now you can see right across the southern end of the Flush, the woodland edge, and parts of the field to the north. I'll be there at dawn and/or dusk as soon as I can to see what turns up!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Chandos Road, Ampthill.

I woke up (late!) to 2 new moths in the trap this morning: Svensson's Copper Underwing & Lesser Yellow Underwing. That brings the confirmed annual total for this little paved plot with borders to 173 species...incredible!

I'm glad that I got out last night, because I haven't had chance to get out this morning in the midst of a flurry of preparations for Carole's parents' Golden Wedding Anniversary family celebration here next week, and sorting John out before we take him down to Southampton for a gig in the next half-an-hour or so. But Vicky, our postlady, has just delivered the British Mammals CD that I ordered earlier in the week. I'm looking forward to listening to the angry squeaks of Edible Dormice, the plop of Water Voles, the snuffling of Hedgehogs, the screams of Foxes, the whickering of Badger cubs, the whistles of Otters, the trilling of Stoats, the flipper slaps of Common Seals, the grunting of Wild Boar, the belching of Fallow Deer and the barks of Roe Deer....amongst others!! Of course, I'll have to make sure I'm on my own when I put the CD on the system!! :-)

Maulden Wood

It's just gone midnight and I've arrived home after a few hours in Maulden Wood with several members of the Beds Bat Group. Bob Cornes, our Bat Recorder, rang earlier and asked if I'd like to come....well, that was a no brainer!! 3 mist nets were set up along a couple of rides in the midst of the wood and, from 8pm until soon after 11pm, we sat and waited, chatted and checked the nets from time to time, and kept our eyes open and ears peeled for the sound of bats close by on the detectors. The moon was full & bright, so much so that there was no need for the head torches where the rides were more open. Maybe that's one of the reasons why we didn't catch anything this evening, or maybe the breeze didn't help. But we did pick up 5 species on the detectors: the 'slapping' Common (45Kz) & Soprano (55Kz) Pipistrelles (including several social calls), Brown Long-eared, a Myotis species (probably Natterer's) and, most exciting of all for me, a Barbastelle which buzzed as it presumably leap-frogged over the top of the net right in front of where we were seated! I ended up with Bat Detector's arm aching as a result of holding the bat detector rigidly for such a long time! As we made our way back to the cars, with a group of Tawny Owls calling close by, and a Muntjac Deer barking in the distance, I decided that I just can't wait to do this again!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stewartby Lake

I spent a few hours walking, reading & reflecting at Stewartby Lake this morning. 2 Kingfishers, clothed in pastel red & electric blue, fished along the shore. A creaking overhead announced the impressive arrival of some 50 or so Common Terns. Large numbers of Sand Martins were skimming just above the water's surface hunting for flies. Further inland, these two characters were also hunting very effectively for various invertebrates on the wing:

A male Southern Hawker. This species is always really inquisitive. A few days ago I had one hovering face-on just inches in front of me as I sat at the side of a woodland pond. No wonder they are regularly caught by cats!

And a male Migrant Hawker.

I love watching these Hawker Dragonflies as they patrol their patch with amazing manoeuvrability. Early this afternoon I also caught up with a large Brown Hawker over the reeds by the River Ouse at Priory Country Park...though a magnificent Hobby riding the wind overhead gave the greatest thrill!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Maulden Heath

Not a brilliant photo, but this was a new Hoverfly for me today: Ferdinandea Cuprea. These woodland Hoverflies are noted for their habit of resting in dappled sunshine, just like this one!

I spent some time reading at the southern end of the Heath. I took the Buttolo decoy with me and, pausing now and again from my book, I would give it a squeeze. After 10 minutes or so I looked up from the page to find a female Muntjac staring at me from about 25m away before eventually continuing on her way. No more than 5 minutes later I looked up to see a buck staring at me from just about the same place. He too seemed fairly unconcerned at my presence and spent some time wandering through an adjacent copse, browsing and regarding me inquisitively from time to time. Wonderful!