Friday, 18 September 2020

Sutton Park - Redstart

It seemed like a good idea but Dave Chapman and I picked the wrong day to have another go for the Red-backed Shrike! An overnight clear-out seemed to have included it sadly, despite walking extensively around the hotspots with one or two others on site as well!

The only consolation was an obliging female Common Redstart, catching what few flies were around and favouring the same area as the Shrike so we spent a few minutes there!

Generally using the lower branches to wait for prey...

And giving a flash of that bright red tail:

Another fly bit the dust!

Just one opportunity for a totally uncluttered background on a more distant branch!

Job done...

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Catherton Common - Bog Bush Crickets

My quest to see and photograph all the resident Shropshire Orthoptera had gone really well over the past two months but I still needed one more 'Cricket'  - Bog Bush Cricket. The two hotspots likely to produce them were Catherton Common in the south or Whixall Moss and I opted for the former site with Cramer Gutter the most likely spot...

Five minutes into the hunt, I disturbed my first one, a striking all grey female...

Dorsal view...

Crawling through the gense spines of a gorse bush, the next was the first of three green forms, nicely marked on the upper parts...

Cricket number three showed really well albeit very briefly and I managed just a single decent image...

And finally, number four gave clear views of the head / wings...

Just one more species to go and my quest will be complete - Lesser Marsh Grasshopper, potentially the most difficult? Watch this space...

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Venus Pool - WestMidsAllDayer

It's that time of year again! The Autumn #WestMidsAllDayer and I must admit having had a couple of recce visits the previous week, prospects did not look good! Especially as there was no access to the hides making viewing of the pool quite difficult! I hadn't banked on a good showing of lady luck plus a brilliant team of birders, working to a plan...

This is just a summary of the collective efforts and no pics (of birds) as with a dodgy chest muscle I couldn't carry camera gear! With an early start, there was the usual stampede of ticks and by 9.00 we had just reached the 50 mark. The stand out bird was a Ringed Plover with early Redstart, Kingfisher, Egyptian Goose, Little Egret and Grey Wagtail. The next hour saw a couple of waders emerge from cover, Green and Common Sandpiper plus a noisy Cettis Warbler, all viewed from the causeway. Eyes to the skies picked out Red Kite, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk and with some help from call, Siskin, Meadow Pipit and Yellow Wagtail

The Cound Stank end produced House Sparrow and Collared Dove, always difficult at VP when you need one plus a single Dipper on the brook viewable from the bank in the last field. A Hobby put in a first  appearance, seen now and then throughout the day. We had seen numerous Chiffchaff but other warblers were thin on the ground, a few Blackcap but at 11.00, a Lesser Whitethroat showed briefly by the car park bringing the total up to 73. The next hour delivered Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and an unexpected Stonechat plus the bogey bird we completely dipped in May - Rook!

The birds routinely take an afternoon siesta during 'Big Days' but a continuous trickle kept our enthusiasm going. A Goosander flew a circuit high over the pool, Sand Martin joined Swallow and House Martin in the hirundine count and Mistle / Song Thrushes finally gave themselves up! By 2.00 we still hadn't seen a Bullfinch but that all changed with one along from the Fen hide. There was no shortage of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, 100's of them were feeding on a nearby ploughed field and flying in / out plus a few Herring and single Common Gull.

We started the evening shift on 83, resigning ourselves that it was likely to be the final tally? You never ever give up!  A drake Gadwall was spotted on the pool from the causeway and the only Yellowhammer of the day flew out of the hedge near the entrance to the arable field. The star bird of the day then picked the moment to appear - an OSPREY which glided over the pool being harrassed by gulls! It drifted to the river but was then seen in flight again over the 'Oak Tree' in the arable field.

It was now gone 7.00 and our main hope was to put another VP bogey on the list? Starling are ten a penny in Cross Houses but like Hen's Teeth at VP in a bird race! An amazing murmuration of two birds were spotted from the far side of the pool, closely followed by a noisy Water Rail and as dusk was rolling in, a Tawny Owl brought proceedings to a close! We had finished on 89, eclipsing the previous highest total of 80!

My conclusion! Forget the hides in future, having to bird on the hoof rather that sitting on a comfy bench made us visit everwhere and yes all the birds on the pool were hard work but I'd like to think we never missed anything dropping in! We could have had more? Peregrine was notably absent and Sedge / Reed Warbler usually remain but where was a Skylark? An early Pochard or Pintail would have been nice, maybe a Dunlin, Curlew... but that's all for another (BIG) day...

A big thank you and 'well done' to everyone who helped on the day! You know who you are :-) 

The final tally, together with a summary including all the other Midland sites / reserves will be posted soon...I'll post the link via twitter...  Meanwhile, here's our list from an amazing #WestMidsAllDayer (Sept 5th 2020)


Venus Pool - Big day insects

In addition to the birds, plenty of insects were still on show in the arable field! We were lucky to have two female Speckled Bush Crickets on show! Here's the first...

Plus the second one, easy to distinguish as she had a complete set of legs!

Roesel's Bush Cricket were all over the reserve but never easy to get them in the open!

Migrant Hawker perched up first thing...

Small Copper showing a bit of wear...

An unidentified as yet Digger Wasp species?

And at the end of the day, this lonesome Ivy Bee...

What a day!

Monday, 31 August 2020

Sutton Park - Red-backed Shrike!!

I've seen quite a few juv Red-backed Shrike over the years but only one adult male and that was back in 2008! The West Midlands produced a cracking  male on Saturday My first chance to get over to Sutton Coldfield came on the Bank Holiday Monday with Dave Chapman and whilst the sun didn't shine, at least the shrike was showing well, busy catching insects all morning! 

Another Bee bites the dust but Beetles and Moths seem to have been the main quarry...

A bit of weak sunshine, helped during the early part of the morning...

At least there were one of two chances for flight shots!

And just before 'siesta' time, a prolonged perch in the nearest bush to the path...

We had a great (albeit frustrating) day and it's great to be back amongst the birds plus a few West familiar faces!

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Venus Pool - aberrant femaleCommon Blue!!

There was nothing much going on at Venus Pool! Given the freezing wind 90% of the butterflies were hunkered down so they were there for the taking once found? This striking female Common Blue, looked for all the world from a distance like a male in colouration but turned out to be bluest of blue I've ever seen!

Sadly it flew moments after taking this image so I never got to see the underwing...

I did a bit of digging on the UK Butterflies site and it's a ringer for the caeruleomarginata aberration. Whatever, it was runner up for of the day!

Venus Pool - Common Hawker!!

Here's the insect of the day! I'd just finished photographing the best looking female Common Blue butterfly I've seen when I became aware of a Hawker dragonfly perched up nicely near to the arable field entrance. I joined the mini gallery and my mind was racing - soooo blue and right timing for Migrant, but...? The 'golf tee' was missing from the thorax. It couldn't be a Southern Hawker Hawker either and noticing the brown leading edge to the wings, I realised it had to be a male Common Hawker!!

These are notoriously difficult to photograph perched, plus what the heck was one doing at Venus Pool?! It's the first one I've ever seen / photographed here. Looking somewhat cool in this relaxed pose... The bright yellow costa (leading edge to the wings) in all the images, is bright yellow against clean wings and this is diagnostic.

I angled the camera to correct. This shouldn't be at VP, the habitat is not to their liking but they do disperse over a large area from their breeding site!

And those gorgeous blue eyes!

Seen in side view, the yellow costa is even more evident...

Even better in close up!

Thanks for the 'heads up' Brian!

Checked my list and this is species No 20 that I've seen at VP reserve and that includes Black Darter, another acid bog specialist which shouldn't have turned up either! You little stunner!

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Dudmaston - Small red-eyed Damselfly up close

I'd booked a second visit to Dudmaston, just in case! Given more good weather, I was hoping for more insects and maybe some close ups away from the water of Small Red-eyed Damselfly? I certainly managed the latter, here's some of the highlights...

Starting those aptly named 'tomato red' eyes!

This male just warming up for the acrobatics by doing a handstand?

Then a nice clean background for some portraits...

Had to be a close up to finish?

It's hard to imagine that this species has only been detected as resident in the county for the past two years. If Dudmaston is anything to go by and there are other locations, the future looks assured :-)

Dudmaston - Dark Bush Cricket

Every Cricket I've found / seen these past two months has been accidental and today's newbie followed this familiar pattern. I saw some movement out of the corner of my eye and....

Dark Bush Cricket!! What a beast, sporting enough armour to put a tank to shame!

Whilst the body has an indestructible feel to it, the same can't be said for the antennae with one half missing!

I wonder which species lady luck will deliver next?

Monday, 24 August 2020

Dudmaston - Small Red-eyed Damselfly action!

I sensed that my earlier visits to Dudmaston were a little premature as Small Red-eyed Damselflies get into their stride as 'Red-eyed' are on the way out?  Today's visit was a good move as there were plenty on show and even better, they were showing rather well with one thing on their mind!

Let's get the male pose out of the way and then action all the way!

First find your partner...

Eggs are finally laid...

And with the sun shining for a change, a chance for reflections?

I don't know what to make of these few group shots, more like a frenzied orgy with unattached males just waiting for their chance? Up to eight individuals on this lily stem (with confusing reflections!)

This shows the romantic 'caveman style' just drag her along whilst a few eggs are unloaded?

With females disappearing from the lake at a rate of knots once they are let go from mating, the best chance of studying female colour patterns was by a judicious crop! The base colour starts off yellow green in youngsters, developing via green to blue. This is a young female!

While this one is progressing nicely developing a lot of blue! I suspect there are no really mature forms about at this stage of development.

Waiting room... there's always a male standing by in case the female becomes 'available'!