Monday 25 April 2011

And then there were two.....

I was down at the farm again this morning (for the sixth day running!). The main target was yesterday's Vagrant Emperor, which I had missed by about an hour. After a fruitless wait around where it had been seen, I decided to check the pools. I met Tony at the dragonfly ponds and he had just found a Red-veined Darter. This is another scarce immigrant dragonfly and it obligingly posed for us:

Then I wandered over to Ruan Pool, the most northerly of the ponds on the reserve. As I approached I did a quick sweep with my binoculars - a large brown dragonfly hawking over the rushes made my pulse quicken. Quickly getting into a better position I could see the narrow pale blue band on the abdomen and the brown eyes with yellow band around the back of the head. Male Vagrant Emperor! A quick text to Tony, Dougy and Mark and, whilst waiting for them to show up, I realised there were two.

After half an hour we had all had terrific views of them. Mark emphasised how special this record is as, until the last few days, only a handful of people had ever seen this species in Britain. There were another five Red-veined Darters here too, a pair of which were in tandem and laying eggs in the water. Also flying in the last couple of days have been Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers and Common Blue, Emerald and Large Red Damselflies. Thanks to Tony Blunden for these shots of the V. Emperors:

On the way back to the car, I checked out some orchids that Dougy had found yesterday. They are Green-winged Orchids, the first ever found on the reserve. They have no doubt appeared due to the low-intensity grazing that has been carried out on the pastures over the last 10 years. What a fantastic Easter weekend it's been!

Thanks to Dougy Wright for the next two photos from the farm today (Sedge Warbler and Dunlins):

Sunday 24 April 2011

Easter Vagrants

This amazing Spring continues to produce some notable sightings. Today a very rare dragonfly, a Vagrant Emperor (Hemianax ephippiger), was present at the farm. There are only a handful of British records of this species, which hails from Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. However, at least eight others have been reported in the UK recently, including several in Cornwall. This is the 18th Odonata species recorded from the reserve.

The fine weather has also brought many human visitors over the Easter weekend. It can sometimes be difficult to achieve a balance between public access and non-disturbance of the wildlife, but most people seem to appreciate that we have a nature reserve and not a country park! I did have to ask two people to dismount from their bikes on the boardwalk today (that's a first!). More seriously, yesterday a local photographer apparently flushed the Hoopoe to obtain "action shots", selfishly disregarding birders and other photographers who had been watching from a more respectful distance. In the process he also disturbed two resting Green Sandpipers.

Friday 22 April 2011

The things you see down on the farm........

Dougy and I walked pretty well the whole site this morning, mapping all the birds. Tony and Matt added a couple of extra sightings too. The Hoopoe was still there, obliging several admirers; a Lesser Whitethroat was rattling away and showing well in the huge blackthorn hedges in the northern fields; and a beautiful male Ring Ouzel was feeding in the large southern field and perching on the fence. Dougy managed to get this shot from some distance:

I haven't had time to tally them all up from the maps yet, but here are some provisional totals: 3 male and 1 female Mallard, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Merlin, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Cuckoos, 1 Hoopoe, 4 Skylarks, 6 Meadow Pipits, 1 Pied Wagtail, 1 flava wagtail (not flavissima) 16 Wrens, 14 Robins, 9 Dunnocks, 5 Blackbirds, 5 Song Thrushes, 1 Ring Ouzel, 1 Wheatear, 9 Grasshopper Warblers, 9 Sedge Warblers, 9 Whitethroats, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 6 Blackcaps, 24 Willow Warblers, 6 Chiffchaffs, 12 Great Tits, 5 Blue Tits, 2 Long-tailed Tits, 1 Reed Bunting, 3 Jays. Also 3 Slow Worms and several Common Lizards.

But the most unusual sighting of the day was that of three scantily clad young females taking part in a photo-shoot in the cowshed. Bizarre but true! And Dougy missed it as he left early. I felt that I ought to say something, but I couldn't bring myself to approach them without feeling like a voyeur. Any suggestions?

Thursday 21 April 2011

Hoopoe - annual visitor!

As you can see, the Hoopoe is still around and today I was able to creep up to and get a photo of this stunning bird. This is the fourth year running one has turned up on the reserve - quite amazing! Or is it? Our hay meadows and pastures are only lightly grazed and get no fertiliser, so they are full of the kinds of invertebrates that Hoopoes feed on.

Dougy and I counted 12 Whitethroats (above) and six Grasshopper Warblers, both new farm records, as well as many Willow Warblers, a couple of Blackcaps and Wheatears and a Cuckoo. I'll be doing a full census of singing birds in the next day or so.

While I was away Dougy got this distant shot of a Roe Deer near Ruan Pool. This is a reserve first. An Otter was also seen briefly by Phil Bradshaw whilst checking his small mammal traps.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Two scarce migrants

As usual my absence from the country for the first couple of weeks of the month coincided with an almighty influx of rare birds into the county. Nothing very rare was reported from the farm, although a Bee-eater seen on the wires along the approach road came tantalisingly close.

With weather conditions still conducive to arriving migrants, I just have to get down there as often as I can just now. After a hectic morning's work, I arrived at mid afternoon today and enjoyed a gentle bimble around. The gorse and blackthorn hedges are in full bloom, the lady's smock is out in the meadows and orange-tips are on the wing. I counted six singing Sedge Warblers, a couple of Whitethroats and three Skylarks.

Walking along the edge of the heathland, I lifted my binoculars to check out a particular bush which I consider a sure bet for a shrike one day and was dumbfounded to see a Hoopoe fly in and land right beside it! After standing completely still for several minutes, it flopped across the Plantlife pond, landed right on top of the bank, preened its feathers and settled down for a good sunbathe. Of course, my camera was back in the car and by the time I returned to get a photo, the bird had vanished.

Tony arrived a few minutes later but the Hoopoe refused to show again. We walked back to the yard just as a Short-eared Owl appeared over the arable fields. Now this was much more co-operative and gave a fantastic display of hunting for the next half hour. Although Short-eared Owl has been recorded on the reserve a few times, this was my first here , so it was a great day for me.