Thursday, 18 May 2017

Common Clubtail

The postscript to my previous blog mused that maybe we should take a trip to Goring-on-Thames, mainly because the railway bridge to the south of the town is a hotspot for Common Clubtail dragonflies. So today we found ourselves parking in the town around 0930 and setting out on the walk along the river. Optimism wasn't high, and as we neared our target, it was plummeting, nothing was in the air and the expected temperatures hadn't materialised. At the bridge, a group of people were scanning the arches of the Brunel bridge, unfortunately its historic brickwork devoid of any exuviae, the tell tale remains of dragonfly emergence.

We had to give it a go, we had come all this way, so we hung around scouting the bushes hopefully. Finally another more experienced dragon hunter turned up and informed us that we had got it all wrong -" just look at those exuvia on the near bank concrete wall." I think he realised we were new to this particular species and was really patient with us. So we entertained ourselves by photographing the crusty remains and getting our eyes in by finding more. Just before 1300, with lunch long gone, we sat on a bench next to the river and took stock, we were just seconds from heading for home, but the sun came out and Banded Demoiselles rose from the adjacent meadow, butterflies were on the wing. Perhaps just one last look before we hit the road. Very glad we gave it one more chance as we found a recently emerged nymph in the grass at the very top of the bank - "got one" was the cry.

We set up camp next to the specimen, both to protect it from pedestrians and to afford us a good view to record the eagerly anticipated emergence. Doubt crept in, was it the real deal or some impostor. Well it was still alive as it wriggled violently to get a good grip on the grass stems. We then had a debate as to which point in time we would call it a life tick - did it count now or when it took to the skies?

I was enthralled to record, over a period of approximately 70 minutes, the transformation of what can be described as an "alien looking"  specimen to a teneral dragonfly, whose beauty will only increase in adulthood.

What follows is a set of shots taken over this period, far too many I know, but recording the significant changes.

T - 1254 - we recorded the recently emerged nymph, still glistening wet and very active

T+9 mins - the first signs of a split

T+10 - we can see that it is the right colour

T+11 - well on the way






T+26 - starting the wings

T+ 27 - wings at mid stage


T+32 - wings ready - almost.

T+49 - a short hop to the nearest bankside tree.

T+66 - moments before flight

And then it was gone, flying strongly up and over the railway bridge.

More diligent searching and we found a second specimen, this one attached to the concrete wall.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Dragon Hunt

Today was the first serious attempt at finding a Common Clubtail dragonfly, I think Common is a bit of a misnomer, Hard-to-find Clubtail might be a bit more suitable. However, we were limiting ourselves to what we would consider "the local patch". We walked the River Arun north of New Bridge near Billingshurst up to the mill above Rowner Farm, diligently searching the bankside vegetation and any structure likely to have an exuvia clinging to it.

When we arrived Hairy Dragonflies were already cruising up and down the watercourse, not stopping to pose of course. An abundance of brightly coloured Banded Demoiselles were perching on the extensive nettle beds. The adjacent Wey and Arun canal was also providing some specimens - Large Red Damselflies and blues were in evidence.

My pulse quickened slightly as we found a recently emerged Banded Demoiselle, hanging under a dock leaf, its crusty exuvia nearby.

By the swingbridge Martin found a "bug" clinging to a reed stem, this one had me puzzled as it was quite large, 2cm at least. First thoughts were of a diving beetle but my experience is limited. Anyway, when we got home I put some photographs out on Twitter and Sean Foote came up with the goods - Notonecta glauca. - thanks Sean. I then gave myself a good kicking as we have them in the garden pond and I have photographed them before. However in my defence this one was clearly larger than any I had encountered previously, and out of the water which is somewhat unusual,

 On towards the lock where we had our first real dragonfly - an extremely lethargic newly emerged Scarce Chaser, an immature male - a great find but sadly not the target we were looking for. My pulse returned slowly to its normal level.

The mill gave us very little, just a couple of Large Red Damselflies so we retraced our steps back towards the bridge. The rising temperatures had encouraged more insects to be active. First up was what I think is an Ephemera vulgata, a sub imago form with still opaque wings, just hanging out to dry.

A shield bug was trying to photobomb the scene so I duly recorded it - probably Coreus marginatus

A Noon Fly, Mesembrina meridian posed for the camera - the photographer reflected in the shiny abdomen.

Finally some Damselfly shots...

Male above, female below.

Perhaps a visit to Goring-on-Thames railway bridge is called for.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Field Cricket

Now I have to admit that for most people this blog page is not very interesting, but I have to say that I was well pleased to encounter my first Field Cricket, Gryllus campestris and to observe its fascinating behaviour at close quarters.
Each year, being a bit of a saddo, I produce a "target list" of the various specimens of wildlife that I would like to see and record photographically. This May I had scheduled a two week slot to find both the Field Cricket and a Clubtail dragonfly, all compressed between the Hawfinch trip and a visit to La Brenne in France. Of course the one big variable is the weather, and the cooler weather has meant that most insects seem to be late this year. However, this afternoon the sun was beating down from a clear sky and I decided that the time could be spent looking for the cricket.

Back in 1992 the Field Cricket was a racing certainty for extinction in the UK, and like lots of threatened species, was once common. Its preferred habitat is short dry grassland. Back then the loss of such heathland environment meant that it was confined to a single colony in West Sussex which was estimated to consist of just 100 specimens. Being flightless meant that migration to more suitable sites was impossible and without intervention it would be another sad loss for the UK. Happily, reintroductions by English Nature started in 1992 and the RSPB contributed from 2010, now there are at least ten sites where it can be found.

May is the best time to find them, the males construct a burrow with a sandy patio and use this to attract a mate with their curious stridulation which can be heard from a long distance. Hearing them is easy but locating one to photograph proved to be another problem. Still, on my first go I managed to record the following. Perhaps time for another go early next month.

Sorry about the camera shake and the focus noise, next time I shall know what I am doing!
For the nerds a sonogram created from Ravenlite,  high pass filter at 300hz to remove aircraft noise. 

Saturday, 6 May 2017


Just three days after returning from our birding trip to Mallorca we were on the road again. This time a couple of days in the Forest of Dean for a repeat of our Hawfest last year. Sadly the Hawfinches had decided to leave the feeding sites early and there were just a few birds present at the first site and at the second site just one calling  bird and nothing to be seen. A bit of a disappointment as we had a dual role, photographing the birds and recording any ringed birds. Last year we had a maximum count of 32 birds at one time, this year just 3 on the ground at a distance.The only ringed bird seen was a female which carried only a metal ring, no distinctive colour rings as far as I could see.

Light under the canopy was at a premium and cranking the iso up to get a shot invariably results in noisy pictures, nevertheless what I managed to record is below.

Big thank you to Jerry for allowing us to record his birds, sorry no data this year but it is still a privilege to be so close to such stunning birds.


The only bird carrying a ring.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Birding in Tenerife

More a blog of the birds we found on Tenerife than a trip report.

The main aim was to have a holiday in a destination that was new for both of us. I particularly wanted to record the Blue Chaffinch and, in the end, did it to death, see the previous blog here. I did the research and came up with a target list of 14 species which, of course, included the Tenerife endemics and a couple of bogey birds that I have never seen. Having read several trip reports we decided to stay up in Vilaflor, the highest village in Tenerife, altitude 4,500 feet and in the Canarian Pine forest. The Villalba hotel got the nod from Liz, I forgot to tell her how cool the air temperature might be at this time of year but emphasised the fact it was adjacent to the main sites for the chaffinch and that the garden had the potential to give at least five endemics,

Being retired has its advantages in that we can travel mid week and none of this early morning/late evening stuff. So we left Gatwick at around 0900 and some time after 1330 we were at Tenerife airport picking up the mobile hide from Avis. The temperature at the airport was a pleasant 19 degrees C but as we made our way up towards Vilaflor the temperature dropped rapidly, by the time we reached the hotel it was a cool 7 degrees and there was a deep shroud of mist cloaking the mountains. I was beginning to regret not bringing a fleece and a woolly hat.

I had got something right as the hotel was superb, the room was also spot on as we had asked for a veranda with a garden view. Whilst Liz simultaneously made a brew and unpacked I sat outside scanning the pines, the upshot was that I had four ticks in thirty minutes, first a blindingly obvious African Blue Tit, Cyanistes teneriffae, then an eye level pass of a Blue Chaffinch followed by vociferous Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Tenerife Chiffchaff.

As the light diminished we understood why the hotel central heating was full on and that the large log fire in the sitting room was necessary. Next morning the day dawned with a bright and crystal clear blue sky, sunshine and a white, frost covered landscape. I soon gave up a morning balcony vigil with the binoculars for a hearty breakfast and an early start.

Our first venue was the famous Las Lajas picnic site off the TF21 on the El Teide trail. Surprisingly we were the only people present and as we parked at the far end of the site, close to the drinking pool, the car thermometer registered 2.5 degrees but at least the sun was warm. The birds were up and singing and I soon got to grips with the song of the BC and the call is noticeably "croaky". Woodpeckers were drumming all over the forest and the ever present Chiffchaffs were obviously numerous. Nothing was using the drink so I took the camera for a walk into the scrub - small flocks of Canaries were searching the Canary Brooms and I got my first picture of the trip. Out of the wind the sun made it quite pleasant and the day was warming up, I was beginning to enjoy the trip.

Next, I spooked several BCs that were feeding on the ground, I expected them to fly a good distance, not a bit of it, up into the branches of the nearest tree and one of the males burst into full song whilst observing the photographic idiot below. I noticed that if I gave a quick burst, the noise of the shutter would cause the birds to cock their heads inquisitively, this became a ploy to get different poses when I was at another site.

By now the birds were coming in for drink so I hunkered down behind the ranger's hut  and had a whale of a time until the car park started to fill up with tourists on the Teide Trail.

The famous drinking pool at Las Lajas

First birds in were Blue Chaffinches followed closely by Canaries.......

..several Great Spotted Woodpeckers barged their way in and whilst they drank the other birds watched from a distance.

The mud brown belly indicative of ssp canariensis

African Blue Tits followed and even the Chiffchaffs nipped in occasionally

Note darker head...

... and lack of wing bar.

Having filled a memory card and at last removed my sweater I decided that it was time to move on to Pinar Chio, another picnic site on the road down from Boca Tauce to Chio. When we arrived there were BC everywhere, a few Woodpeckers and Canaries and a single Berthelot's Pipit, the only one that I saw over the seven days.

And a final Atlantic Canary
Feeling that things were going very well I decided to leave the birds and set off for Roque de Garachico, an island close to the north coast and a good site for sea-watching, my thinking was that I would get the Cory's Shearwater out of the way early as it would only be a sighting and the chance of a photograph remote. Ha! As we sat on the promenade scanning the island there was a vast empty sea, the only birds present being the Yellow-legged Gulls on the island and the ever present Rock Doves on the shore. I had driven all this way and the only return was getting the hang of driving on Tenerife's tortuous hairpin roads. Still, we had stopped at a "minimarket" in Santiago del Teide for picnic supplies and whilst sat in the car having lunch, observed several Buzzards and a Peregrine over the town.

On the way back to the hotel I dropped into the Pinar Chio site again, good move as the sun was now considerably lower in the sky and the light beneath the pines was ideal. I selected a drinking tap in the middle of the site, topped up the sump and sat with my back to the barbecue pit and snapped away. I didn't actually count the birds but I reckon that there were twenty BC in the vicinity of the drink and at least ten more on the outer periphery. The Berthelot's was still there but the Woodies declined to come and drink.

That night before dinner we rewarded ourselves with a drink in the sitting room, soaking up the radiant heat of a blazing Canary Pine log fire. Bliss

Not the normal Tenerife hotel feature!

Scanning through the photographs I realised that both the Woodpeckers and African Blue Tits could be improved so I planned a repeat of Las Lajas.

Next day the weather was exactly the same and an early start meant that we had Las Lajas to ourselves. Having filled another memory card I felt it was time to move on, the weather was turning poor and there was an afternoon forecast of rain. So off we went to explore Erjos Pools. As it happened, a good choice, as we were able to bird from the comfort of the mobile hide.

Erjos pools are a collection of small ponds in the valley to the south of Erjos and can be found here. We visited this venue several times as it was a staging post to other venues and a handy place to drop into. The local council have done quite a bit of work, making a passable track and keeping the walks open by strimming back the scrub - just like the RSPB do. Another reason was that on our first visit we had seen a male Chaffinch of the "tintillon" form, just a short glimpse of what is a cracking bird. None of the illustrators of any of the bird books I own have done it justice, the plumage on the head and nape appearing much darker on the bird we saw. Alas, only one sighting and no photograph. I understand that the bird has been renamed as Fringilla canariensis - so another tick in the bag.

Other birds included a host of Coots and Moorhens, Mallards and Rock Doves. Although I did manage to record Wood Sandpiper, Snipe, Barbary Partridge and some nest constructing African Blue Tits. The Buzzards and Kestrels were always distant and though there are reports of Bolle's Pigeon coming to drink, none were seen.




Waders were a bit scarce

Water quality reminiscent of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River - apologies to Rudyard

However I did manage to record the Tenerife Robin, Erithacus rubecula ssp.  superbus, noticeably paler on the belly and the presence of some Terrapins.

Saturday was a round trip, succumbing to the stunning scenery of Mount Teide but discouraged by the amount of tourist traffic. We ended the day at Alcala for a seawatch for Cory's - same result, in one hour we saw just one bird - a lone Yellow-legged Gull flying a long way offshore. I entertained myself photographing the Western Canaries Lizards, Gallotia galloti   , that inhabited the walls around the beach area, the kids were feeding them bits of bread.

Sunday was what Liz calls a "snobs" day - doing virtually nothing. I didn't want to have to drive anywhere as the roads were extremely busy. Locally, it was the Vilaflor Marathon so we ventured off on to the local trails behind the hotel - very fortuitous as we managed to record another endemic the Tenerife Goldcrest or Kinglet, I say record but they were virtually impossible to capture on camera - I thought ours were fast moving but these were greased lightning.

Air temperature had increased considerably and at last we found a butterfly! Vanessa vulcania, the Canaries version of the Red Admiral. Most specimens, I think, were just out of hibernation and finding a good looking one was hard, not only that, they weren't willing to nectar whilst they could be searching for a mate. We also noted several "ordinary" Red Admirals, Vanessa atalanta.

Monday was the first day of the pigeon hunt, we spent ten and half hours searching the known sites for little return. Success at the Mirador el Lance where Bolle's were flying across the cliffs and disappearing into the trees below the walkway, but no chance of a photograph. There were quite a few Kestrels here, doing aerobatics on the uplift from the cliff and I paid them a cursory glance, then I spotted something different a very pale, dark wing tipped falcon, which I subsequently lost, However Liz relocated it sitting on an electricity pylon - at a great distance. With the scope I could discern a brownish nape and I was getting really excited, putting the 2x extender on the lens I captured as many shots as I could. This is what I got - after consulting the experts it just might be a Barbary Falcon - make your own mind up - it goes in my log as a 75% tick. That means we will have to pay another visit then - perhaps another search on Fuerteventura or Lanzarote may pay dividends.


We parked up at the Ruiz Gorge for our picnic lunch, our only company was a Grey Wagtail perched on the defunct restaurant. I could hear pigeons calling and plenty of flapping in the trees but not a single sighting - by this time I was losing heart so we dropped to the coast at Alcala for another go at the Cory's. This time a result! There were literally hundreds passing the point - absolutely amazing - I guess that it was just time of day as we were there much later. When we returned to the hotel I celebrated with half a bucket of Ginebra y tonico, Liz preferring her Copita de vino blanco.


Monday was also an opportunity to record some of the stunning ladscape, not a thing I am into but I have to say that Tenerife is magnificent. Everybody does the Teide trail but at 0830 on a clear day we had it virtually to ourselves. As we dropped down the mountain trail past El Portillo, towards Aguamansa, the road conditions turned a little hairy, a couple of kilometres of solid ice made it "interesting"

Tuesday dawned with the same sunny start but I was spent, the previous day was a bit too much, I just couldn't face sawing away at the steering wheel on all those hairpins. We stayed local searching for more butterflies and recording some of the flora on what was the sunniest and warmest day of the holiday. The reward being another nice vulcania and a reticent Bath White.

Canary Red Admiral, Vanessa vulcania

Bath White

One of the Blue Chaffinches at the hotel.

Being the son of a seafarer and an ex-seafarer myself, there is a certain amount of irrational superstition in my life. At home as a youngster the word "rabbit" was forbidden, the portent of a disaster of "Titanic" proportions. We had to use terms like "underground  mutton" or "Wilfred". Not really helpful if your first pet is a large albino rabbit. Anyway, Liz and I were sat in a glade adjacent to the hotel when I was aware of large black animal moving in the scrub - a rabbit, half the size of a dog, black and with pink ears - too much ginebra? Now black rabbits have a mystical quality for me even though it was just an escaped Flemish Giant and I was elated to record him/her.

Target Birds

Blue Chaffinch                                                 Fringilla teydea                 
Barbary Falcon                                                Falco pelegrinoides
Barbary Partridge                                            Alectoris barbara
Canary Islands Chiffchaff                               Phylloscopus canariensis
Tenerife Robin                                                 Erithacus rubecula ssp superbus
Great Spotted Woodpecker                            Dendrocopus major ssp canariensis
Atlantic Canary                                                Serinus canaria
African Blue Tit                                                Cyanistes teneriffae
Common Chaffinch                                          Fringilla coelebs, ssp canariensis
Cory's Shearwater                                           Calonectris borealis
Bolle's Pigeon                                                  Columba Bollii
Laurel Pigeon                                                   Dipped!
Plain Swift                                                         Apus Unicolor
Canary Goldcrest                                             Regulus regulus ssp teneriffae


The hotel Villalba was a perfect venue for birding, quiet and way off the tourist itineraries. The restaurant was just superb and the staff the most friendly I have met. Very comfortable and I love the hotel's theme - a stylized woodpecker.

Great garden


Tenerife drivers - the white line down the middle of the road is to be ignored, the Avis sticker on the back window of the car translates as "get as close as you can" They act like spoilt children.