31 July, 2013

Summer's NOT Over

EDIT: Well, screwed up again. What can you do? Here's the original post for your amusement...

"Summer's Over"


Not the weather, as it's still far too 'orrible to call Autumn yet, no. I mean the True Indicators of Summer's Departure;

Swifts have gone.


And on exactly the same date as last year, too. It's been a bit of a funny year for Swifts, with the conditions meaning they've never all been up where I can count them properly. It may be that numbers are down, but they seem to have done so well in the heatwave [it really was pretty much perfect timing for them to fledge and feed up their young] that I can't be sure.

Anyway, the highest count I got was 63 - which is very very low for 'juveniles and all', but it was a definite undercount, with a lot of birds in dead sky. This is [one of] the trouble[s] with all these deep little valleys; you just can't get 'em all unless they're high. And this year they weren't. Drat.

Having posted this, they will of course immediately show up and all fly past in line ahead, before forming skywriting; "Ha Ha" But that's birding....


Yep, knew as I typed it... This evening, a yearly high count of 108 Swift [and 6+ House Martin] feeding merrily, nice and high, and not going anywhere [yet].

28 July, 2013

Tipping Down? Must Be The Totnes Show!

Another day, another post.. whatever is going on??

Well, there's been more surprises and no mistake. Firstly last night, when I was very surprised to hear something that wasn't a Herring Gull calling in the darkness* "Kerrick!" WTF...?!?!? Sarnies?!?!!!!
Now that's not a call I expected to hear.. Migrating waders, passerines.. Yeah, but terns?? Garden Tick!

Today, after looking at the weather and going "Meh.." I stayed put, lazily did not bash the Patch and was rewarded. It's about time I got in on the juvie YLG action and out the window is a pretty nice way to do it! :)  Certainly beats having to yomp down to the Harbour.. ;)

With a bit of wind but no sign of anything other than lurky clouds, I gave up on July for seawatching and went for a wander with the Folks. [This may well have been a tactical error, what with the contents of Devon Bird News.. :(** ] We wandered about the Bovey-Becka Woods, with the faint chance of butterflies if the sun came out. It didn't, with at first the odd butterfly between the showers giving way to non-stop rain varying between light and Yikes! A juvenile Grey Wagtail was cute and at least 50 House Martins were vocal. Also a smart Ringlet hiding from the rain.

LBD found a ball in the WLH field and had a great time diving into the Bovey after it. To think, this is a dog who is capable of doing a 180° turn in mid air to avoid going into the garden and getting her paddy-paws damp...

[[*Well, as close to darkness as you can get here..]]
[[**Then again, if I'd gone to the Nose, gotten soaked, and missed it... Ah, that's birding, folks!]]

27 July, 2013


A very pleasant surprise this week, with not one but two Common Darter emerging from the Pond! An interesting exuvia appeared yesterday and then this morning a female was caught in the act. Hopefully, some nice photos will appear at some point.

Common Darter and exuvia

How's that for a textbook shot?
[If they were properly sharp..]

While the darter got away, rain intervened and took out her exuvia while I was putting my camera away - drat! I did get the other one, and had lots of fun trying to confirm the ID - Common vs Ruddy is not easy [especially when the dratted thing has the temerity to not conform to what the book says it should..] and without seeing the dragonfly I needed to be sure.

Another nice surprise was my first ever Swallowtail Moth, in the canteen at work! No phones allowed, so not even a crappy shot, alas, as it sat wonderfully and was a nice intact one.. Ah well.

On to today, with nice overcast weather with enough breeze to put a crimp in my plan to go chasing odonata. Well, I decided, as it was about 10° cooler [at last] I ought to do some of the other things I gave up on during the heatwave.. I went for a wander up on't Moor!

This took in both river valley, and high moor. The reason I'm not being specific is because of this little beauty [the bird, not the shite phonebinned pic!];

Dipper strikes a pose

Being S1 as well as wonderful, and it still being breeding season, you're not even getting a river! [Sorry]

I did see a few hardy dragons and butterflies - Golden-rings and a female Common Hawker, with no butterflies beyond the standard - and met a few Horseflies [bastards] causing me to be a little more rapid now and again than I would have liked. Star bird was a Peregrine! [[This 'no places' thing really has it's uses]] Which I encountered twice, both times perched! Utterly beautiful... :) I even got a photo, but alas it's a place-identifiable one [if you know t'Moor very well] so you're spared it [[It's also awful, but when does that stop me ;) ]]. Coming a very close second was a cute little juvie Whinchat, in a new Whinchat location [for me, anyway].

I covered a bit of ground, got some much-needed exercise [oh those hills hurt too much..], and generally had a good time. If not for the humidity, it would have been perfect walking conditions, and if not for the wandering showers, perfect viewing conditions. I can say that at one point I laid eyes on Fraggle Rock*, which isn't bad going! I also didn't get bitten by anything [though a mozzie got me last night - bastard!] or stung by the mob of jaspers that descended upon me at one point.

Now, if only that Swinhoe's would turn it's pretty little face this-a-way...

Let's see.. 'Petrels Night and Day', check. SWBCM, check. All I need is a waterproof portable CD player and I'm in business!  :D

[[*So that's 9 possible rivers - I think that's cryptic enough :) ]]

21 July, 2013

Too Hot To Pun...

Last couple of days it's dropped off a bit, but the humidity has risen to compensate. I'm not amused.

Right then, same old same old; work was hotter than the analogy of your choice, yay it's the weekend, time for a Bug Hunt.

With the wind actually blowing and it still being slightly early for the later stuff, I decided against any major expeditions and instead went to Stover, primarily to see if any hawker spp. were on the wing yet. Southern had been reported once, so it seemed a good bet.

Needless to say, plan did not survive contact with reality, [let alone the enemy]. There were lots of odonata about, oh yes. Azure and Common Blue Damselflies everywhere, with large Red and Blue-tailed frequent, and the first Emerald out. Dragons were dominated by Four-spotted Chasers - easily 20 if not 30 males! A couple of Keeled Skimmers, 3 or more Emperors, and lone Broad-bodied Chaser and Black-tailed Skimmer were the rest around those water bodies not dried up. Drat?

The day was saved by the lepidoptera, with surprise after surprise; the best being the Large Skipper, which held a brambly bush by the canal bridge against all comers - including a cracking Silver-washed Fritillary! Twice! I really hope a shot of him comes out, this butterfly deserves publicity [[So why put him on this blog, then?? ;) ]]. I really wasn't expecting to see either there - this is right by the lake, after all - but there is a lot of rough wet grass there, and the trees do come right to the water, so really I should.

EDIT: Well, not exactly in focus, but here he is;

On the lake, the juvenile GC Grebes are still going, though two of them seem to have suffered head injuries and now think they are Mallards. The sight of grebes coming in for bread seems wrong... [Though I suppose it does help to illustrate that birds will take advantage of any easy food source, no matter what they're 'supposed' to eat ;) ] Also on the avian front, juvenile phylloscs and tits were about in pleasing numbers, a dozen House Martins and a Swift hawked over the lake, and a small party of Crossbills flew over [no great big wingbars were seen.. :( ]

Wandering away from the water, a smart [and presumably second brood] Holly Blue was only a prelude to a very welcome surprise; under the pylons I picked up a flitter of wings in a small but very bushy Oak.. Holy Shit - Purple Hairstreak! It perched on a low enough branch to photo, so maybe you'll get a bit of it here;

EDIT: Or not. Bloody wind blew the leaf it was on up - you can just about make out the edge of one wing, with purple sheen, but it's an article of faith, not a proper photo... Bugger.

Unfortunately, having taken the first quick shot, when I repositioned to get a good one, a big gust of wind sent the branch swaying and the butterfly flying.. far far away.. Bugger.

Finally, another break; not 20 yards further along I met another dragonfly - my first Common Hawker of the year. :)

Today I gave the Patch an overdue bashing. Despite a fresh breeze [to say the least] it still managed to be 'orribly hot in places. I covered a lot of ground with not much hope, so not much to be dashed. Best bird? Bullfinch. Best butterfly? Another smart Holly Blue. Much else? Nope. Plenty of juvenile Herrings, but no YLGs here yet.

Speaking of here yet - just had the first rumble of thunder!

And finally. The answer to the 'Spot the Dragonfly' competition [What do you mean, 'What Spot the Dragonfly competition??' The one from a few posts back.]

Due to the overwhelming response, I'll extend the contest to a 'Name that Dragon'. The dragonfly was hiding in the picture of the Dreaded Bystock Crocodile, here it is in close up;

Eyeing up the croc...

15 July, 2013


I'm going to keep the moaning brief;

It's just too hot and too dry. Pleeeeease can we have some nice seawatching weather for the weekend????

Right then.

Saturday saw - yes, you guessed it - Another Bug Hunt. Not taking my utter dip of Southerns the week before lying down, I tried Somewhere Else. Hopefully the pics will come out, because I scored Big Time!  :D  Never mind one or two, they were the most numerous odonate present! Also on site in good numbers were Keeled Skimmers, with a few Black-taileds also. A couple of Broad-bodied Chasers held onto the only proper water bodies and at least 3 Golden-ringeds were very mobile. I had hoped for other scarce damselflies, but aside from one Scarce Blue-tailed - which settled next to a pair of Southerns as I was lining up on them, making me miss them as I went "!", then lose it as I looked for them... - I struck out. Large Reds, yes, and a pool covered in Azures, too.

Speaking of Azures, when I got home I found a poor male Azure dead in the greenhouse... He'd desiccated and become almost black, making me wonder quite what species it was; at first sight he looked like a Blue-tail! Good light and my handlens the next morning revealed the truth.

Getting back to the day out... The relentless sun eventually drove me to give up my hunt after about 3 1/2 hours and seek shade. I found some with a view [bonus!] and stayed put a few hours more, hoping something might fly past. 2 Kestrels, 2 Buzzards, 3 Ravens, a whole heap of immature large gulls, and a paraglider twice! The latter at point-blank range [just before he crashed landed], then climbing past me to fly again. That's dedication in 31° heat.....

On my way home, following a delivery van gave me the opportunity to go "!!!" at the thermometer hitting 36° in more than one sheltered sunny spot, with the worrying phenomena of melting tarmac to go along with it... The road looking shiny in the heat is nothing new, but hearing what seemed to be the sound of water under my tyres at the same time was. Then noticing said van was leaving tread marks! I backed off a long way [not wanting a car covered in tar, thank you very much..] and wondered to myself just how many corners they cut to make the road surface dissolve in, let's face it, not entirely unlikely temperatures.

After all that excitement, I couldn't face more heat and spent Sunday cowering in the shade... I do have Garden stuff to report; odd visits by Green and Gold finches being good, but the early morning sight of at least 17, yes 17 juvenile House Sparrows [must be simultaneous fledgings] was brilliant! It's been a long while since a Sparrow count went over 20... :D

10 July, 2013

What's That In The Sky???

Having consulted many tomes of ancient knowledge, I think they're what's known as 'clouds'...

Anyway, it has continued to be damned hot, with blazing sunshine and all manner of warmth. Joy.

On Sunday, the Sister and her family descended. All were assembled for a day of not doing a great deal due to the heat... :)  [Don't fret, no baby pics!] The Hounds of Hell were very well behaved - they've reached an entente cordiale with each other based on mutual ignorance* - both indoors and out, which was good. We took an afternoon stroll with the primary aim of getting ice cream** and managed to get me a Patch Tick in the process! Butterfly, mind, and nothing rare, but seeing a Purple Hairstreak within 30' of the ground is a treat anywhere. :D  This one was less than 10', in the company of a few Speckled Woods. The Big White Butterfly Book does say this is a way to see them reasonably close to [not counting the recently-emerged] and I've been intending to try it, getting a surprise one only spurs me on!

Speaking of butterflies.. Normally incredibly slow drivers vex me mightily when I just want to get home from work [or indeed just get anywhere..], but today I have one to thank for my first Silver-washed Fritillary of the year. It's not quite the same experience as watching them basking at minimum focussing range, true, but today's fly-past cheered me right up anyway! :)

Finally.. The same combe that was home to the Hairstreak was also overflown by at least 10 House Martins.. Now where they all came from is an interesting question! It is of course possible that they're from the big[ger] colony around Preston - possibly adding to the Ellacombe birds - but there's a fair chance I've another Patch colony out there somewhere.. I'll get back to you if I find them.

[[*There's a historical joke in there somewhere..]]
[[The Downs Hotel on {surprise surprise} Babbacombe Downs has particularly excellent scream. It's a stone's throw from Angels, too. Definitely something going on around there..]]

07 July, 2013


After that last diversion, back to more regular fare...

So, all this 'ot sunny weather meant another Bug Hunt was on the cards today. First up was another trip to Bystock, where last weekend had been reported many Small Red Damselflies. After last year's failure - due to pesky gusts of wind blowing the little git out of my focal plane [grr] - I'm determined to try again.

There was a whole heap of odonata at the res, with swarms of Emperors and 4-Spots battling over a layer of Azures and Common Blues. No less than 3 terrapins were trying to bask on one bit of wood [some balancing required!] and the pool now has an extra deterrent to stop bathers, anglers, and boaters... a crocodile!! :D

I'm not kidding. It's green.

Isn't it wonderful? :)

Getting up to the Small Red pools, the Keeled Skimmers were out in force but there was not a sign of any Small Red Damselflies! Plenty of Large Reds, some of which were quite dinky little things - so small Large Red Damsels, then - but none of what I was after... Bugger.

Keeled Skimmer strikes a pose

After much searching of every possible nook they might be hiding in, I accepted my dip and went looking for butterflies.. I found some, very pretty little things too, this one being notable;

Getting it to sit still at all - let alone long enough to stalk, frame, and focus - was an exercise in mobile patience. 

 but then the first Horsefly of the year found me. Repellent 1 Rainbow-eyed Bugger 0, but I took the hint and legged it before she demanded a rematch...

Time for rations, so I headed back to the main pool and plonked down on a shady bench [so civilised!]. I was wondering if any hawkers were on the wing yet, and sitting and watching for a while would be a good way to see. Answer: no. But a Downy Emerald made an appearance, so not a total waste.

I then went on to a site for Southern Damselflies, where despite everything seeming to be right, I dipped utterly. Have I missed them again? As with Bystock, indeed even more so than Bystock, there were lots of Keeled Skimmers on the wing. Also a worn but still pretty Green Hairstreak that actually let me photo it! Ta-da.....

Looking much less green in this than it's true amazing metallic emerald 

Both locations had mature Golden-ringed Dragonflies and immature Black-tailed Skimmers [though only one of each].

I kept half an eye upwards, but no southbound Frigatebirds to report.....

[[P.S. Anybody spot the dragonfly? No, not the KS, the other one. Can you find it? ]]

05 July, 2013

More Surprises

I don't know what the weather thinks it's doing, really I don't. I mean, it's blazing sunshine out there..anyone would think it was summer or something..?!?

After another merry week in the little tin box, you might guess I have very little to report. But wait! This is not so..

Monday night was witness to some shock audiomig! There I was, lying in my bed when I hear a loud series of calls from above; "Now that's a wader!" Not just any wader, either; one of those 'Oh, I know that one...' calls that irritate you into getting out of bed and firing up BWPi...  LRP! Which of course I should have remembered as I heard that call [in between floods of rain] by the Otter earlier this year... Still, not to smack myself over the head for what is a Patch Tick! :D

That moment of excitement aside... I've finally been able to actually see House Martins occupying nests in the local colony and just today, two new juvenile Blackbirds have shown up :) An utter lack of any finches coming into the Garden is worrying, as is the absence of House Sparrows in the nest boxes or next door, though others further off seem to be doing ok.

Rather than stop here, I'm going to start rambling at you [["Start?!?" I hear you cry..]].
First of all... Holy Shit have you seen that Frigatebird?!?!???!!!!!!!!! Conveniently located at Bowmore [home of rather nice whisky for toasting Seconds for Britain] and not dead either, which is a bonus. Unlike that poor White-throated Needletail... I could very easily got into full-on rant mode here. In fact I stopped myself blogging last week because I knew I would.

I shall limit myself to a quickie: Wind turbines kill birds. Fact. Statistics can be massaged to say whatever the buyer wants - found birds do not equal all birds, especially when scavenger populations soar - and the sea hides many sins..
As for the 'they're green and good and can do no wrong' argument; Wind turbines require a 100% subsidy [think about it] to even operate. They also require 100% coverage by conventional [ie. burning things] power stations because the wind is not predictable, which also means they often can't run when the wind is blowing because there's too much capacity. Those power stations run less efficiently due to the stop-start nature of the demand. The turbines themselves are anything but green to build, import [yes, all of them], and dispose of after their operational life [which is much less than a power station].
That said, I think they're still preferable to a fucking tidal barrage...

In a marked contrast to most naysayers, here are some actual alternatives; submarine tidal - no barrages, turbines in pods - already in trial but much less lucrative than building a massive silt trap; nuclear - the only source of energy that doesn't involve burning carbon and does work right now. Get over the propaganda and look up pebble bed reactors; wave action - again in trials, though probably less useful than tidal; geothermal - even if only to provide hot water for heating, this could make a big difference; solar - every south-facing roof not covered in grass should have panels.

Yes, that was the little rant.

And now for something completely different..
I spend far too long online. I know this. I blame all those birds that I'm compelled to look for news of. After I've done that, I indulge in another of my addictions - no not that you filthy-minded perverts ;) - webcomics..
I'll share a couple with you, on the off chance you've a day or twenty to lose. Even if you've never thought of that sort of thing as appealing, give 'em a go. Nice big archives to lose yourself in - I spent my recent lay up catching up on the years of this sci-fi beauty; Schlock Mercenary  Just little strips with the odd full page, nice simple style and plenty of humour.
A much classier affair is Girl Genius, whose tagline 'Adventure! Romance! Mad Science!' ain't the half of it. Winner of three consecutive Hugo Awards and imho the Best Thing Online..

Well, first in-blog links ever. What's wrong with me? Must be something to do with too much sunshine, too much coffee, and finally not needing painkillers... Next thing you know, I'll be plugging blogs!
Oh wait, did that already.