Monday 15 June 2020

Venus Pool - Black-tailed Skimmer

Not a lot of action in the Arable field but a confiding Black-tailed Skimmer gave a photo opportunity.
With this pattern it could either be a female or immature...

The distinctive 'black ladder' pattern...

And the yellow ante-nodal cross veins showing nicely

Will do nicely as an addition to the odonata pages at

Thursday 11 June 2020

Book review - Britain's Insects WILDGuides

Visitors to my blog will have noticed that many of my recent posts feature insects rather than birds. Like many other birders, I’ve developed a passion for selected insect families and am now broadening my horizons even further, seeing new insects, virtually every time I’m in the field. Whatever your level of interest, a good field guide is essential.  This will help to expand your knowledge and steer you to a successful and accurate identification of the ‘unknown’ species you are agonising over!

If you are in the market for a book that gives you the ability to identify insect species purely from visual observation or photographs in the field, I have some great news, a new title in the ‘Wildguides’ series entitled ‘Britain's Insects’, is now available!

Written by well-known expert and prolific author Paul D Brock, the Wildguides ‘mission’ of ensuring up to date content plus the best images from top photographers has combined to produce a masterpiece field guide ‘tome’. It is probably at the limit for a single softback volume too, weighing in at around 1.5kg, packed with 1653 insect species amongst the 608 pages. The photographs are larger than previous photo-guides on the subject and clearly chosen at angles to best demonstrate the key identification features of the species concerned.  A simplified description of the insect orders will help to narrow down which family an unknown insect belongs to by referring to common representatives. A little time spent here may save the beginner from simply leafing aimlessly through the whole book!

A glossary of technical terms is included which concentrates on those in frequent general use. Terms which are specific to a particular order are included in an annotated image at the beginning of a particular section. A brief section of watching and photographing insects together with some snippets of their behaviour takes the reader up to the species accounts. The text caters admirably for the beginner, using English names for every insect included plus the scientific name for each order, family, genus and species. The standard template of information for each species (page 33) is worth digesting before you read on, there is so much important coded information here. For each insect, measurements and key identification features are noted plus similar species (where relevant) to help the beginner avoid pitfalls. The likely habitat and specific foodplants will help you look in the right places plus a distribution map details where records currently exist. The phenology chart should help the user to search for a particular insect at the correct time.

The accounts vary in their coverage of the orders, including every species in some orders eg Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies) 27 pages, Orthoptera (Crickets and Grasshoppers) 30 pages and Lepidoptera (Butterflies but not all Moths) 83 pages. These are obviously some of the most showy and popular of our insects and likely to enthuse interest in other orders through chance encounters whilst in the field. A useful list of further reading where appropriate accompanies the first page of each order. One of the two additional more specialised field guides mentioned will become essential reading to recognise some of the vast array of female / immature patterns which may bewilder the novice but become a prime focus for the keen observer.

The Orthoptera section features a QR code for most of the UK Crickets and Grasshoppers. This code links to a sound recording of the species of interest, an app will be needed on your phone to read this. Close up images of the pronotum shape and structure help ease the observer into Grasshopper identification, all species are annotated with the key identification features.

Many families are prefaced with a table containing a descriptive identification key (two examples below). These will help give an understanding of the aspects and angles needed for photography to enable an identification to species level rather than identifying as simply ‘Cuckoo Wasp’ or Mason Wasp’ for example. 

The final 30 pages are devoted to conservation status and legislation, further reading and useful websites / online resources and insect societies. The index allows for searches using either common or scientific name and is well laid out. The rear cover flap features a useful alphabetical index to Orders as well, following the same nomenclature.

Published by Princeton University Press on 8th June 2021, the target price of £25.00 can currently be found as low as £18.31 at selected outlets online.

This is my second ‘Insect’ field guide written by Paul Brook and in case anyone is hesitating to add another book to their collection, I have to say they complement each other rather well! Apart from simply helping to identify insects, there is so much background information in the species accounts and elsewhere, it makes for good reading. The clear images are exemplary and unmatched at present. It is a ‘must have’ for everyone with a general interest in insects and I’m sure it will sneak into the libraries of quite a few seasoned experts too!

Tuesday 9 June 2020

On This Day (June 9th)... 2011 White throated Robin

#OnThisDay... June 9th 2011 One of the most memorable twitches in recent years (mainly for the ladder escapades!) I managed to see it with just one day to spare - it was gone by the Saturday of course!

I had a bit of a lie in before my alarm woke me at 6.30 and after an agonising wait, I finally got the news I was hoping for – the White-throated Robin was still showing (well) at Hartlepool Headland! It was 7.30 before I set off and given the traffic conditions, I was amazingly parked up just after 11.00 with news of the Robin still showing by the inner bowling green. The perimeter fence was pretty packed and eventually I found a spot from where I could see over the hedge (memo to self: either grow another 6 inches or take a box on twitches!) 

The bird was on my list a few minutes later (I won’t put the record shot here!) Eventually it worked it’s way closer then disappeared into the rose bed, only to reappear (a camera shake moment if ever there was one!) a mere 15m away!! 

Another angle.... 

The process repeated itself and I got another close encounter 5 mins later and more awesome views!


It wasn’t to last though, the Robin had been entertaining everyone for the past 5 hours and called ‘time’ by flying over the nearby wall into the allotments where there is strictly no access! 

After waiting for 10 mins or so, it was clearly not dashing back and having bumped into local ringer Mike Gee (who assured me it would be back later) we popped round to his house for a (celebratory for me) cup of tea…. 

The last time I was here back in February, I had a fantastic day in the company of Mike who lives here at the Headland, just a stones throw from the bowing green . We had finished up for a cuppa at his house then as he waxed lyrical about the vagrants this area has the potential to (and does) produce. 

Little did I suspect that I would be sat drinking a cuppa again three months later, after enjoying a brief but fantastic view of one of the most newsworthy and now ‘infamous’ megas of recent years, whilst chatting about it’s arrival and subsequent events…. 

It all started on Monday morning with the local lead ringer (Chris) noticing a very interesting bird (with orange flanks) near the Inner Bowling Green. The nets on the nearby allotments were set up and the bird was subsequently trapped here within 30 mins! The identity clearly not straight forward as the original assumption (Red-flanked Bluetail) was clearly in doubt. This bird appeared to be too large and did not have a blue tail , nevertheless female or immature RFB was still the more likely scenario? It was a great find and important bird whatever and the County recorder was soon on his way to have a look. The bird had to be released pretty soon and time was running out. The County recorder was in no doubt (a male would have been an easy ID) this was truly a MEGA – female White-throated Robin! News was put out and the bird released during the morning. The rest is history, including the infamous ‘storming of the Doctor’s wall! 

Ah well, chat and cuppa over, I was itching to see more of the Robjn so bid farewell and returned to the Bowling Green, alas no sign. In fact, no sign was to remain the case for the duration and the bird didn’t reappear that day! (The other Bowling Green and Doctor’s garden all remained well covered) 

The ladders came out again, enterprising birders and deals struck with the locals ensured I could amuse myself by watching the ‘goings on’...... 

Later in the afternoon, my curiosity got the better of me and I climbed one of the ladders to be greeted by this wonderful view! 

I asked where the ladder had come from? ”found it on top of someone’s car” came the reply – S**t I’d been set up and slid down the ladder in a nanosecond before the local boys in blue came looking for the culprits!! I knew (and hoped) they were joking too A reappearance seemed less likely with the noise of a bowls match in progress! 

In all, I stayed five hours on site, the last 4 ½ (mainly) in the company of folk who had arrived too late to see it! The depleted gallery.... 

Dipping birds like this are is not easy to deal with and I expect most stayed until dark and
 the bird still didn’t show – it did the following morning. I can count myself 'lucky Jim' once more, another 15 mins later arrival and I could have been staying until dark!

Sunday 7 June 2020

On this Day (June 7th)... 2009 Wood Sandpiper

It's never too late for a good wader to drop in... Wood Sandpiper at Chelmarsh Scrape on June 7th 2009

Crikey, as if one decent bird wasn't enough, this stormy weekend continued to produce! Wet + miserable = good birds? With Andy covering Mire lake (big clear out there), myself checking Venus Pool (Black tailed Godwit and two Common Terns through), it was Yvonne who hit the jackpot with a cracking find - Wood Sandpiper on Chelmarsh scrape! Not surprisingly, I was over there with Andy quite smartly - the bird was instantly obliging - record shots in the gloom and continuous rain were duly taken. Such a busy bird too, methodically covering much of the scrape, constantly picking up small insects from the water surface. 

A call back later that evening produced a few more shots - the light was better although the bird was backlit viewed from the 'ringers' hide. 

Almost needing a machete, I managed to break through the jungle surrounding the far hide! At least the light direction was better for photography from here but the Wood Sand a bit distant. A great bird nevertheless, best images of this species I've managed to date and thinking back - just like the Curlew Sandpiper, the first one I've had in Shropshire outside of the Autumn period! 

It's June and three more year ticks added to the County year list in a 36 hour period (two of these UK year too!) What is going on.......

Friday 5 June 2020

On this day (June 5th)... 2012 Aldbrough ROLLER!!

Wow, enjoyed looking back at this beauty from June 5th 2012!!

It just had to be done! jet-lagged and post travel lethargy had set in the previous week and one of the showiest birds to visit these shores was posing amazingly near Aldburgh, East Yorkshire. With a decent forecast for today, it was an early start - hoping the European Roller had stayed put!

The last Roller I went for in the Gower area disappeared the morning I went !! :-(

Approx 100miles en-route and with rock music pounding to reduce anxiety,  I finally got the thumbs up via my mobile - phew,  it was still there!!

On arrival at 9.45, there was space by the roadside too, here we go.......

Note the white post in the grassy margin, this was going to receive considerable attention over the next 5 hours..... 

It wasn't long before the post was 'in use' and a local Meadow Pipit seemed to take exception to this colourful invader! 

The extenders came out and whilst the resulting images aren't as sharp, some 'close ups' were managed!

Of course, the real beauty of a Roller is the wing and tail plumage - an incredible array of colours! It was soon hunting on the ground, in search of beetles etc.....

Wow, see what I mean, awesome plumage! Another beetle bites the dust......

Then posing nicely on the ground....

Sometimes closer, never less than about 30m (but that will do nicely!)

Then off again......

I spent quite a bit of time trying to catch the landing back on the post (from all angles) , more of that colourful wing display.....

The exquisite upperwing!

Rollers are often found on wires and this one landed briefly, only to prefer one of the metal supports?

I could have stayed until dusk but an evening talk at Ellesmere beckoned, reluctantly I hit the road! Roller on my list at last and most definitely in the all time top 5 twitched birds - and certainly the most brightly coloured - you little beauty!! ......