Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Redstart, Ferry Meadows

Don Gardener struck again with yet another Redstart for the Peterborough area. This one is much more showy than other recent ones and, as an adult male, was much more photogenic. I managed a few hurried digiscope pics before trains and trainspotters caused it to retreat from where it fed along the railway line near the bridge over the Nene.

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Digiscoped with the Nikon CP995, Leica APO77 and 20x eyepiece.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Along the Railway

Another largely bird-free walk, this time from Castor Mill to Wansford Station and back following the Nene Valley Railway for a lot of the time.

Forest Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes) at Water Newton Lock

This young Rat at the picnic area at Wansford Station was extremely bold. One group of diners had barely left before it was out hoovering up the remains.
Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus)

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum), female

A popular target for many of the large number of rail enthusiasts along the route: the recently restored steam engine, Mayflower.
"Mayflower", Class 'B1', No 1306

Nikon CP995

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Old Sulehay Fungi

A good long walk around Old Sulehay forest looked like being practically bird-free before we came across a huge mixed flock of small birds. Most of the small birds in the wood must have been among the 60 or 70 Blue, Great, Long-tailed, Marsh and Coal Tits, Treecreepers and Nuthatches. Before that the main interest had been the plants.

Common Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)

Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum)

Many Zoned Bracket/Polypore (Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor)

Clustered Tough-shank (Collybia confluens) (Thanks to Alan Silverside for ID)

Ants-eye view of a fungus

The fruit of the Arum Lilly (Zantedeschia Aethiopica), AKA Lord's & Ladies or Cuckoo Pint. I photographed one of the flowers back in April.

A busy Badger sett

Nikon CP995.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Otter or Loch Ness Monster?

This was quite remarkable. I had only called in at Ferry Meadows (near Peterborough) on the way home from work just in case any terns had dropped in during the storms. There were few birds but just over half way across Gunwade Lake I noticed something in the water swimming west. There were a couple of people on the bank and it briefly crossed my mind that their dog was rather a long way out. However it was quickly obvious this was no dog.

As it swam further on I was sure it was an Otter. As it passed the other side of the pedaloes a few Black-headed Gulls started to circle around near it and it stopped for a while raising itself out of the water a bit to fend them off. At no point did it dive under the water.

Then it moved on towards the little bridge and I saw a more familiar bit of Ferry Meadows wildlife approaching: unmistakable through the scope, it was Don Gardener on the far bank cycling home. Surely he would stop and scan the water. It was agonising. I couldn't contact him so just willed him to look and sure enough he soon stopped, lifted his bins and then I watched the look of realisation on his face. Yes! He had it too!

Finally it swam into the vegetation in the bank near the bridge and was gone but it must have taken nearly ten minutes to cross the lake and was watched for a good proportion of that time. It was good to go over the events again with Don in the evening on the phone. We are both absolutely thrilled to bits.

That makes it three Otters I have seen this year after one on the west coast of Scotland and another on the Norfolk Broads!

European Otter (Lutra lutra) - honest!

Digiscoped with the Nikon CP995, Leica APO77 and 32x eyepiece.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Figwort Sawfly

The latest addition to our garden fauna is this wasp-sized sawfly. The larvae feed on Mullein (Verbascum) and other scrophulariaceae.

Figwort Sawfly (Tenthredo scrophulariae)

Nikon CP995.

Many thanks to Bioimages and Steve Covey for helping to confirm the identification.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Wow! A sunny day!

A brief respite from the dreadful summer's weather during the weekend provided the opportunity for walking and canoeing around Elton and helped to bring out a few more insects.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) on Prickly Sow-thistle (Sonchus asper), an excellent food source for insects.

Dark Bush-cricket(Pholidoptera griseoaptera). Female.

This butterfly was feeding on our "Great Orme": a hebe and possibly the finest plant in the garden for attracting insects.
Peacock (Inachis io)

Nikon CP995.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004


A couple of Shield-bugs (pentatomidae) have posed for shots recently. The Forest was in the moth trap one morning in Wales and the Birch on Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) in the garden.

Birch Shield-bug (Elasmostethus interstinctus)

Forest Shield-bug (Pentatoma rufipes)

Nikon CP995.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Tanholt take 2

After a week out of the area during which two Pied Flycatchers turned up in the area, including one in the garden of the Toadsnatcher, I gave my favoured patch another look. However, I could barely find any birds at all let alone rarities so again the insects took centre stage.

Migrant and Brown Hawker dragonflies were abundant but rarely rested enough for the camera.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum)

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

The hoverflies were mainly using the abundant Prickly Sow-thistle (Sonchus asper).

Eristalis nemorum. Male.

Sphaerophoria sp., probably scripta. Female.

Eristalis tenax. Male.

Syrphus sp., probably ribessii. Male.

Nikon CP995.

Many thanks to Steven Falk for his help with identification of the hoverflies from these photographs.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Cliff-nesting House Martins

On Friday morning we visited the excellent Welsh Wildlife Centre run by the Wildlife Trust at Teifi Marshes. As is often the case at such places much of the wildlife was in hiding but we did get top quality views of a Purple Hairstreak from the treetop hide and a few Common Lizards were scurrying about. We then headed back to the coast for the last of our clifftop walks.

The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path is well known for the stunning scenery around places like the St David's area and Strumble Head but I had no idea that the coastline further north and east is every bit as dramatic. That can certainly be said of Ceibwr Bay. The outlandish loops and folds formed by tectonic squeezing of the rocks paint the surface of the cliffs here as they dive in and out of little coves with exciting caves and a natural arch.

This landscape hosted one of the most interesting wildlife experiences for me as the Fulmars shared the cliff with nesting House Martins. The familiar mud nests cling to rocky overhangs on the cliffs and in the caves and give us a view of these birds as they must have been before man provided alternative cliff-like structures inland.

One or two Raven were again a feature here and up to 5 Chough regularly patrolled the clifftop. An adult Peregrine dashed past at one point and the Grey Seals were at their most confiding at times. More Gannet, Fulmar and Manx Shearwater passed by offshore and were joined this time by a few Kittiwake. The clifftop was once again packed with butterflies and in addition there were good numbers of Six-spot Burnet moths and a couple of migrants in the shape of a Painted Lady butterfly and a Rush Veneer moth. The sea was again rather calm so it wasn't too surprising to once again pick out a small party of Harbour Porpoise, perhaps the same group that we saw earlier in the week.

So it was time to say farewell to the estuary and coasts of the Pembrokeshire/Ceredigion border. A superb holiday with some cracking wildlife.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Gryf Rhys-Jones and other ancient monuments

On Thursday we had planned to visit Fishguard, but frankly, when we got there it didn't really seem up to much and despite nearly running Gryf Rhys-Jones over in our hurry to leave we managed to pick up some grub and head for Pentre Ifan burial chamber. This remarkable set of stones dates from about 3500BC and it is impossible not to wonder at the effort involved in moving the enormous slabs, which still appear to teeter precariously despite remaining solidly in place for five and half thousand years. The collosal capstone rests on the pinpoints of three uprights and walking through and around the structure it frames stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

We saw none of the fairies that local legend speaks of but a Raven was just one of what must be a thriving local population. One party of 9 we saw from the road was bettered by an astonishing flock of 17 on the slopes of Mynydd Caregog; comfortably the most I have ever seen gathered together. A Hobby dashed past us not far from there as we headed back north to Cilgerran and its fabulous castle. The steep, wooded hillsides of the Teifi here are packed with woodland birds and we explored the precipitous parapets of the ruin to the tune of Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Jay.

Back at the house a Greenshank was added to the Whimbrel, Curlew, Common Sandpiper and Oystercatcher that were regular along the estuary and a Little Egret was feeding just below on the mud. We also watched a Little Egret from the extreme comfort of the Ferry Inn later that evening and as many as 20 Common Sandpipers flew in a noisy group together up and down the river as high tide approached.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A hot welsh walk

Most of Tuesday was spent on a long coastal walk and the weather caught us out a bit by being much hotter and sunnier than expected. It was a good job we had taken plenty of water with us. I won't say exactly where we were because one of the best sightings was of adult and juvenile Peregrines flying about the cliffs, perching on the rocks and, in the case of the youngster, making a hell of a racket. Right at the start of the walk our first two Choughs of the holiday landed on a gate right in front of us. That was easy we thought, expecting to see more of them during the day, but as it turned out they were the only ones we saw that day.

Also not long after setting out the calm seas and good visibility meant I was able to pick out another group of cetaceans offshore. A bit further away this time but the small dark fins of our smallest cetacean meant these were easily identifiable as a group of, perhaps three, Harbour Porpoise. Grey Seals were much more obliging on this walk and there was one in particular loafing on a rock that would have easily passed for a mermaid - provided you had been at sea for long enough and were well soaked in rum anyway.
Grey Seal (Halichoerus grypus)

Digiscoped with the Nikon CP995, Leica APO77 and 20x eyepiece.

Gatekeeper and Wall butterflies were particularly numerous and several Grayling were the first for me. A copulating pair, approachable as they were engrossed in whatever they were doing, provided an ideal photographic opportunity.

Grayling (Hipparchia semele)

Common Blue, Green-veined, and Small White, Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Peacock and Speckled Wood were among the butterflies along with many grass moths, an Orange Swift and an Antler Moth, which landed next to us while we were munching our sandwiches. Several juvenile Common Lizards scurried for cover from their warm grassy basking places as we passed.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

Antler Moth (Cerapteryx graminis) - on Somerfield carrier bag!

This little chap landed on one of us during the walk and turns out to be Ochsenheimeria taurella, a highly distinctive micro moth and the only one in its family (Ochsenheimeridae).

We got back in time to have a quick look around St Dogmaels abbey, where a Grey Wagtail was feeding in the millpond of the nearby watermill. In the evening a Dark Green Fritillary briefly visited the garden but unfortunately did not sit long enough for a photograph. It was still brilliant to see this large unfamiliar butterfly that does not occur in the Peterborough area at all.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Mwnt and the Dolphins of Cardigan Bay

We spent most of the Sunday doing some reading and jigsaw puzzles as Wales looked like living up to its wet reputation but by Monday we were able to take our first really good walk. We chose the headland at Mwnt (no spelling mistake!) partly so that my 8 year old son could visit the butterfly centre nearby for a look at the huge and colourful tropical species on show there (I just hope the trade in these creatures is sustainable as none of the species are overwintered at the centre).

Owl Butterfly (Caligo memnon) - Thanks to Coatlicue for ID assistance

Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas)

The small beach at Mwnt is very popular and we were surprised to find the National Trust car park filling rapidly with visitors drawn to the clear water, sand and steep cliffs of the idilic little cove. As we walked out on the northern side of the hill and the sea came fully into view just about the first thing the binoculars picked out was the fin of a cetacean breaking surface. I quickly set up the scope and we sat down to enjoy a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins pass slowly by heading west towards Cardigan Island. The most we saw above the suface at once was eleven but there must have been 15 or more in total. There were several calves among the group and these showed up as much paler grey as well as being smaller than the adults.

Gannets, Fulmars and a few Shags were regular and there was a steady stream of Manx Shearwaters going north well offshore but a Sandwich Tern was just about the only other seabird we saw. Grey Seal heads bobbed up every now and then but mainy stayed hidden. Meanwhile the clifftop gave us the first indication of the large numbers of butterflies we were to encounter in the area. Gatekeepers were particularly abundant and there were plenty of Wall butterflies. Before we left we could still see the dolphins, now scattered and distant around Cardigan Island.

Wall Butterfly (Lasiommata megera)

Saturday, August 07, 2004

To Wales then

So who would have thought that a week in Wales (notoriously damp even at the best of times) would mean avoiding torrential rain in Peterborough (the driest city in Britain)! We were to stay on the border of Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion at St Dogmaels near Cardigan and this would be our first visit to south or central Wales for 8 years.

Our reward for taking the tortuous route through Welshpool and Newport (where are the signposts in Newport BTW?) was the layby on the A44 at Bwlch Nant yr Arian just east of Aberyswyth. Pulling in here gave us entertaining views of up to 27 Red Kites wheeling around together including the partial albino/leucistic bird. I have seen pictures of this ghost of a bird but it was great to see it standing out among all the other Kites. As a bit of a bonus here a Golden-ringed Dragonfly belted past just maintaining sub-light speed.

We eventually arrived at the cottage and settled down to a sunny evening on the balcony overlooking a bend in the Teifi estuary.