Natural History Diary : August 2017
Thursday 31st August
I returned to Farmoor this morning, to see about getting some better Shag photos. On the way up the causeway the only birds of note were a Dunlin and a Yellow-legged Gull. At the end of the causeway one of the Shags was sitting on the edge of the water inlet, looking very relaxed and not at all bothered by people pointing cameras at it. Since it didn't appear to be in any hurry to move, I had a look in the Pinkhill hedgerow, which turned up a couple of Chiffchaffs, and then walked to the area south of Shrike Meadow, where the bridge over the pond was a good place for watching dragonflies. There were at least four Migrant Hawkers and two Common Darters here (one of the darters was ovipositing), and a couple of damselflies. A Cetti's Warbler was calling repeatedly from the reedbed, and I saw it flying from one side of the pond to the other. Back on the reservoir, the Shag had gone for a bit of fishing in the shallows, but returned to the same spot; eventually it obliged by spreading its wings. After watching it for some time I headed back along the causeway. I spotted a Ringer Plover in flight, but it didn't land. There were many Pied Wagtails about, but I only saw one Yellow Wagtail. At the yacht club another Shag was fishing in the marina.
I stopped at the allotment on the way home, where I saw a Kestrel in the recently cut wheat field, and quite a few Small Whites. At home there were more Small Whites, and I found a Willow Beauty moth roosting on the back door.
Shag | Farmoor Shag | Farmoor Shag | Farmoor
Tuesday 29th August
I returned to Lollingdon Hill this morning. There wasn't a great deal to be seen, but there were two female Redstarts in the hedge on the south-west of the hill. I got some better pictures of one of them in a dead tree. I heard at least two Chiffchaffs and saw some Sparrowhawk interaction with a Red Kite. There were quite a few butterflies about, particularly Small Whites. I stopped to have a look at Lid's Down, an open-access area north of Aston Upthorpe Downs. It is quite a large area and I only looked at the north end, but it looks promising for future exploration. There were a few butterflies here, most notably a very late male Meadow Brown and a fresh Comma.
Redstart | Lollingdon Hill Redstart | Lollingdon Hill Comma | Lid's Down
Monday 28th August
I roused myself from bank holiday slumber for a quick trip to Farmoor this afternoon. A group of juvenile European Shag had turned up yesterday, and I managed to find six of them: four on the pontoon at the south end of F2, one on the north shore of F2 (in the company of a lot of Coot), and the sixth one on of the rafts on F1. The number of Egyptian Geese on the site had increased to four, and a Ruddy Shelduck was taking its ease on the west bank of F2 (this was a different bird, as it was showing a bit of a neck ring). Other birds of note were a dozen Little Grebes (juveniles were much more confiding than the adults, diving quite close to the shore), four Common Sandpipers, three Yellow Wagtails and a juvenile Wheatear.
Little Grebe | Farmoor Ruddy Shelduck | Farmoor Shag | Farmoor
Sunday 27th August
This morning there was clear blue sky, so I headed over to Pit 60 at Standlake Common. I had just got set up in the Langley Lane hide when a Kingfisher landed on one of the posts in front of the hide. That was a good start, but during the next hour and a half I didn't see much of interest. For some reason Mute Swans find this lake attractive; I counted forty-six of them. There were quite a lot of Canada Geese and the usual water birds. I heard a Cetti's Warbler. Eventually I spotted a Common Sandpiper flying low over the water, and a solitary Lapwing flew in. I did a bit better with butterflies; the Water Mint and other flowers along the water's edge attracted a Red Admiral, a Painted Lady, a Small Tortoiseshell and a male Brimstone. Along Langley Lane I saw five Speckled Woods. Again there were few Odonata about: a couple of Common Blue Damselflies and a Migrant Hawker was about it.
In the afternoon a Peacock came into the garden and fed on Echinopsis flowers, and a Migrant Hawker was overhead. There were a number of House Martins high up, and I was surprised to spot a Swift as well. Finally, I found an Orange Swift moth in the greenhouse.
Kingfisher | Pit 60 Gadwall | Pit 60 Orange Swift | Abingdon
Saturday 26th August
I visited Otmoor this morning. Again the weather didn't match the forecast, as it was fairly cloudy, although quite warm. There was little of note as I walked along the bridleway, just a Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering on a tree (I couldn't find it, though), and a large flock of Greylag Geese flying in from the MoD land and landing on Greenaways. Near the first screen I head a Cetti's Warbler. There were nine Common Lizards basking on a log in the "lizard lounge". The water level on the lagoon was quite low, exposing a lot of mud. A Kingfisher shot past at low level but didn't stop. There were many loafing Mallard and other ducks, most still in eclipse plumage, although one Gadwall was starting to show breeding plumage. There were at least a dozen Snipe on the mud, but as usual they were very difficult to see. A pair of Greenshank turned up, bu they were a long way from the screen. A Marsh Harrier was seen in the distance. A Green Sandpiper landed at the north end of the lagoon; eventually it gave good views as it flew round the reed bed. A Common Sandpiper was also seen.
By late morning there was more sunshine. I saw a Red Admiral basking on a bramble bush. I walked down the track to July's Meadow. I saw Common Blue, Brown Argus, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone and Green-veined White here. There weren't many dragonflies about; Ruddy Darters were the most numerous, and there was a Southern Hawker working the hedgerow on the south side of the Closes. There were several Small Whites here, feeding on Water Mint flowers. I walked half-way up the old roman road, and turned up some Speckled Woods.
In the afternoon I saw a Red Admiral and the usual whites in the garden.
Snipe | Otmoor Greenshank | Otmoor Small White | Otmoor
Thursday 24th August
Today I visited Pewsey Downs NNR in Wiltshire. The weather wasn't great, with only limited sunshine and a fairly brisk wind. Meadow Browns were the most numerous species, with at least forty-five seen. I saw eight Adonis Blues, all males, but I couldn't find any Wall Browns at all. Other species in double figures were Brown Argus, Small Heath and Small Tortoiseshell (all the lycaenids and the Small Heaths I saw were smaller than usual; this is probably because the lack of rain earlier in the year restricted the growth of larval foodplants). On the bird front I saw two Redstarts, four Buzzards, two Ravens and a Mistle Thrush.
Meadow Brown | Pewsey Downs Small Tortoiseshell | Pewsey Downs Adonis Blue | Pewsey Downs
Wednesday 23rd August
Today I went on the Abingdon Naturalist's Society field trip to Lollingdon Hill, near Cholsey, somewhere I've wanted to visit for a while. The trip leader was Paul Chandler, who runs the Cholsey Wildlife blog. As we crossed Cholsey Brook a Kingfisher flashed past. As we walked along the edge of a cultivated field a large flock of Linnets lifted off before landing again, at which point they became almost invisible. As we went up the footpath on the west side of the hill I saw a male Yellowhammer. A very faded Painted Lady was found. In the hedge line on the south-west side of the hill I saw at least three Redstarts. Numerous Swallows and some House Martins were overhead. I heard a Green Woodpecker. A Red Kite, a Kestrel and some Lesser Black-backed Gulls were seen. There weren't many butterflies about, as it was pretty cloudy. Most of those that were flying were unidentified whites, but I did see three Speckled Woods as well.
Later at the allotment I saw a Buzzard trying to use the wind to hover over the recently harvested wheat field. There were quite a few Small Whites about.
Red Kite | Lollingdon Hill Redstart | Lollingdon Hill Speckled Wood | Lollingdon Hill
Sunday 20th August
I got to Farmoor Reservoir shortly after it opened this morning. For a change it was sunny, and there was just a light breeze. The first birds I noticed were about thirty Swifts, which spent some time feeding before heading off in a south-westerly direction. There were some House Martins over the reservoir as well. As I continued up the causeway I spotted a Yellow-legged Gull on one of the rafts. I walked the whole length of the hedge at Pinkhill, and only saw a Chiffchaff, a Small White and a Common Darter. At the bridge over the pond to the south of Shrike Meadow a couple of Migrant Hawkers were patrolling, and one of them put itself in a good position for some in-flight shots. A trio of Buzzards engaged in some aerobatics over the field on the other side of the river. As I made my way through the numerous Greylag Geese on the western side of F2, I found an Egyptian Goose with them. At the south end of F2 I saw a Little Egret and the Ruddy Shelduck. A bit further round a second Egyptian Goose was on the water (this was definitely a different bird). There was a group of half-a-dozen Little Grebes, which as usual were camera-shy. Two of them were still in their summer plumage. When I got to the east side of F2, the scrubby grassland there produced some Common Blues, and a couple of Brown Argus and Small Coppers.
Migrant Hawker | Farmoor Egyptian Goose | Farmoor Little Grebe | Farmoor
Saturday 19th August
I saw a Hummingbird Hawkmoth in the centre of Abingdon this morning.
Thursday 17th August
I went to Lardon Chase (near Streatley) this afternoon. It was quite warm and sunny (with some irritating cloud), but there was a fairly brisk westerly wind which was blowing right across the hill, so butterflies favoured sheltered areas. The most numerous species by some margin was the Meadow Brown. I counted at least thirty Adonis Blues in an hour, of which two-thirds were males. I found one with black spots on its hind wings (as I'd seen in Croatia). There were still some Chalk Hill Blues, Common Blues and Brown Argus about. I was pleased to see at least four Small Coppers as well.
Adonis Blue ♂ | Lardon Chase Adonis Blue ♀ | Lardon Chase Chalk Hill Blue ♂ | Lardon Chase
Wednesday 16th August
I visited Whitecross Green Wood again this morning, as there was a field meeting to look for the Brown Hairstreak. Only one was found, a female, which was perched 15ft up an oak tree. Apart from a couple of tatty Silver-washed Fritillaries and a very late Large Skipper, butterfly and dragonfly species seen were the same as yesterday. I saw a Marsh Tit today, which I didn't see yesterday.
After lunch I relocated to Otmoor, and walked round the car park field. It wasn't very sunny so insect activity was reduced. I saw quite a few Ruddy and Common Darters, four Southern Hawkers and three Brown Hawkers. I only saw five species of butterfly, of which Meadow Browns were the most numerous. I also saw two Muntjac.
Purple Hairstreak ♀ | Whitecross Green Wood Small Copper | Whitecross Green Wood Ruddy Darter | Otmoor
Tuesday 15th August
I visited Whitecross Green Wood this afternoon, as I was in the area anyway. I was surprised to find a female Brown Hairstreak in the car park. She was fluttering from plant to plant (but not Blackthorn), staying on each for a short period before moving on. There were still a few Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers about, but they were all looking rather tired. Common Blues were still doing alright, though. I saw a Purple Hairstreak high up in an oak tree, but no more Brown Hairstreaks. There were lots of Common Darter and Migrant Hawker dragonflies along the rides, as well as a few Southern and Brown Hawkers.
Brown Hairstreak ♀ | Whitecross Green Wood Common Blue ♀ | Whitecross Green Wood Southern Hawker | Whitecross Green Wood
Sunday 13th August
As the weather was fine, most of today was spent sitting in the meadow. Buddleja bushes in the hedgerow attacted Peacocks, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshells and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. Birds seen included two Whitethroat, two Chiffchaff, a Sparrowhawk and two Yellow Wagtails. A Southern Hawker and several Common Darters were active around the pond. The moth trap catch was similar to the previous night, with the addition of a Brimstone moth, Straw Underwing and Rosy Rustic. A Wren turned up with a large caterpillar, which it proceeded to dismember and feed to its offspring. We reckoned that it was probably an Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar.
Red Admiral | West Walton Wren | West Walton Yellow Wagtail | West Walton
Saturday 12th August
The reason for going to Wisbech was to visit a friend of mine who has an 80x16m plot of land, the majority of which has been allowed to return to a natural state. He had also had a couple of ponds dug. This morning I saw Swallows and a late Swift overhead, and Goldfinches, Linnets, Wrens, a Comma and a Peacock in the meadow. The moth trap had caught 114 macro moths of 20 species. Flame Shoulder and Setaceous Hebrew Character were the most numerous. I photographed a White-point moth which had been caught the previous night.
A trip to Dersingham Bog around mid-day didn't produce any Black Darters, but we did see Migrant Hawkers, a female Emperor and some Common Darters. There were not many butterflies about, and only six species were recorded.
Flame Shoulder | West Walton Buff Ermine | West Walton White-point | West Walton
Friday 11th August
I visited Bucknell Wood (near Silverstone) this morning, en route to Wisbech. Almost immediately I started finding Silver-washed Fritillaries, all of them pretty worn but still feeding on flowers. There was even one pair doing their mating dance. Among them where three valesina females, which I hadn't seen in this country before. There were at least twenty SWFs altogether. Also numerous were Green-veined Whites, Peacocks and Gatekeepers. There was even a very worn Essex Skipper. I saw three Emperor Dragonflies and three Migrant Hawkers. I finally found what I'd come for: second-brood Wood Whites, of which I saw five. These were the first second-brood WWs I'd seen.
Wood White | Bucknell Wood Peacock | Bucknell Wood Migrant Hawker | Bucknell Wood
Thursday 10th August
After two cold and wet days, the sun came out again today and I made an afternoon visit to Farmoor. There was a juvenile Common Tern on the pontoon on F1. Its parent pitched up with a fish which was far too big for the juvenile to swallow. The adult flew around for a bit before forcing the fish down itself. There were lots of adult and juvenile Pied Wagtails on the causeway, probably more than thirty. There were several Yellow-legged Gulls and a Great Black-backed Gull on F1. There were still dozens of Coot on F2; I don't think I've ever seen so many there at this time of year. On the western slope of the reservoir I started to find Common Blue butterflies, but there wasn't much else about until I saw a juvenile Green Woodpecker on the track near the Pinkhill hide. Walking along the river bank produced a few Common Darters. When I got to the bridge over the pond at the south end of Shrike Meadow an indignant female Brown Hawker buzzed me before resuming ovipositing at the base of the bridge's support piles. I saw some Blue-tailed Damselflies and three Emperor Dragonflies here as well. There were quite a few Common Darters in the trees on the west side of F2. Back on the causeway a Yellow-legged Gull and a Great Black-backed Gull were on the wave wall, but they wouldn't tolerate a close approach. At the water's edge I saw a Dunlin, a juvenile Ringed Plover and three Common Sandpipers.
Common Tern | Farmoor Brown Hawker | Farmoor Common Darter ♀ | Farmoor
Yellow-legged Gull | Farmoor Great Black-backed Gull | Farmoor Ringed Plover | Farmoor
Tuesday 8th August
With the weather so poor today I had a look at the Cornell Labs bird cam. A magnificent Pileated Woodpecker showed up (along with lots of noisy Common Grackles).
Monday 7th August
A pretty dull day, but it brightened up for a short time in the afternoon. I saw a Hornet Hoverfly in the garden, a Migrant Hawker and a Southern Hawker both put in appearances, and a Small Tortoiseshell was nectaring on Plumbago flowers before flying up and landing on the roof of the house.
Sunday 6th August
I visited Parsonage Moor, Cothill Fen and Dry Sandford Pit this morning. There wasn't much of interest on Parsonage Moor - just a few butterflies and a Common Darter. Most of the activity on Cothill Fen was at the western end. There were several Meadow Browns and Green-veined Whites nectaring on various flowers, a few Common Darters low down and singleton Migrant and Southern Hawkers overhead. I also managed to find two Small Red Damselflies. The most unexpected sighting was of a pale yellow butterfly which was probably a Clouded Yellow f. helice (or, less likely, a Pale Clouded Yellow). Naturally it didn't stop for a photo!
At Dry Sandford Pit the buddleja bushes had attracted some butterflies. The most interesting one was a male Silver-washed Fritillary, which was in fairly good condition. Down in the marsh I found a single male Keeled Skimmer. In the lower part of the reserve I found several Common Blues, Brown Argus, Small Coppers, Brimstones, and a single Painted Lady which looked fresh. I saw a single Southern Hawkers, two Migrant Hawkers and a Brown Hawker.
At home several Large Whites and a Red Admiral passed through the garden. A Migrant Hawker was patrolling the airspace above my garden as well.
Small Red Damselfly | Cothill Fen Keeled Skimmer | Dry Sandford Pit Painted Lady | Dry Sandford Pit
Friday 4th August
Not much about today - the usual Large and Small Whites at the allotment, and three Large Whites in the garden at the same time.
Thursday 3rd August
Despite the very unseasonable weather (cloudy, cool, gusty wind) I visited Otmoor this morning. My first pass along the old roman road produced a few Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Green-veined Whites, two Dark Bush-crickets and a Common Spreadwing, but it was too windy to get a picture of the latter. I saw three Ravens overhead. I went into Saunders' Field, where it was a bit more sheltered, and found a Southern Hawker, Common and Ruddy Darters. As I was walking along the bridleway I head a Turtle Dove calling, but couldn't locate it. Two Hobbies were active over Greenaways. There was little insect activity because of the wind and cloud. I finally saw the juvenile male Hen Harrier which has been on the moor for a long time. It was hunting low over the vegetation on Ashgrave. The path down to the first screen was pretty uneventful, apart from a family party of Chiffchaffs near the hide. There was little of interest on the lagoon.
I made my way back to the car park. I saw a pair of Stock Doves over Greenaways. After something to eat I had another walk along the roman road as the sun had made an appearance. There were more dragonflies and butterflies about, including two immature Migrant Hawkers, and what I had really come to see, a male Brown Hairstreak nectaring on Angelica.
Next stop was Whitecross Green Wood, even though the weather conditions hadn't really improved. I saw three Southern Hawkers, a very tatty female Silver-washed Fritillary and a Painted Lady.
Dark Bush-cricket | Otmoor Ruddy Darter | Otmoor Brown Hairstreak | Otmoor
Tuesday 1st August
I visited Farmoor Reservoir this morning (my first visit since May). There wasn't a lot of interest as I walked along the causeway, but near the western end I saw a Dunlin and a large number of Coot (there must have been over 200 on F2). There were a few butterflies along the Pinkhill hedge line. I was looking for dragonflies, and found two Southern Hawkers, but they didn't settle. Along the riverbank I saw a few damselflies and Common Darters, and watched a rather worn Brown Hawker catch a ladybird. It then landed to eat its victim, so I was able to get a few shots.
Dunlin | Farmoor Brown Hawker | Farmoor Common Darter | Farmoor
From the river I went back up to the reservoir, and continued walking to the south end of F2. I'd seen a few juvenile Sand Martins earlier, but there were dozens of them flying low over the water here. There were some Swallows with them. A little further round I came upon the bird I'd been hoping to see - a Ruddy Shelduck. This was fairly cautious and wouldn't allow even a moderately close approach. There were four geese feeding on the bank, and one of them turned out to be an Egyptian Goose. This was much more obliging for photos. A bit further on I came upon two juvenile Red-crested Pochards taking their ease just offshore. Gulls seen today were two Great Black-backed (at a distance on F1, but unmistakeable), a Lesser Black-backed and a Herring. There were also two Common Terns.
In the afternoon a Red Admiral made a couple of visits to the garden.
Ruddy Shelduck | Farmoor Egyptian Goose | Farmoor Red-crested Pochard (juv) | Farmoor