In the last week I have been out and about a bit more getting some time in the great outdoors. This has been aided by some new insect repellant that seems to be working so far.
In the past week I have completed another bumble bee survey – better than last month but only half the number seen last year, spent a happy couple of hours just looking and photographing around Daventry, to be completed on Saturday with a WildSide recording sessions with the fab and enthusiastic Ryan Clark.
I’ve uploaded all of my sightings (or at least those that I can identify or have a semi-decent photo for) either onto iRecord or the local Biodiversity Records Centre, as well as entering my BeeWalk data so I am keeping last week’s resolution.
One of the joys of recording nature is that you are constantly discovering new things. During the BeeWalk this month we found a long-horned beetle that I’d not seen before, last month was my first Mother Shipton moth.
On Monday I was quite excited to discover that there were quite a lot of bee orchids flowering in Daventry (for once the mowers hadn’t done for them) and, quite unexpectedly I found a pyramidal orchid next to them. I am reliably informed that this might be the first record for this in the Daventry area.
Then, during the recording session at Mill Park Nature Reserve in Long Buckby, I found a small magpie moth. Completely new for me, and although quite common in the county, still something to get excited about I think.
And, the more you look, the more you learn and then the more closely you look. A virtuous naturing circle.
My next task is to start making a full list of the species I have seen and then keep it up to date!
After a day dedicated to bees last week, this weekend it was time for the butterflies to entice me into the sunshine. It started when I noticed a painted lady fluttering around the bottom of the garden. These migrants are certainly some of the most flamboyant of butterflies – as beautiful on the underside as the upper side of their wings. They were enjoying the buddleia which they were sharing with several red admirals a couple of peacocks and a small tortoiseshell.
So after a quick detour via the front garden where a small skipper was enjoying the verbena bonariensis I went for a wander to a field that I’d seen my first brown argus in last year. In fact it was apparently the first time in many years that it had been recorded in Daventry.
The field is much more overgrown than last year with fewer plants, but it was alive with the sound of grasshoppers and crickets. I only walked a short way in when I saw arguably one of our most beautiful butterfly, the small copper. I have only ever seen it in this field and at the country park in Daventry. It may be small, but it is dazzling. My pictures today really don’t do it justice, but it was constantly hiding behind grasses when it had its wings open.
I wasn’t really expecting to see a brown argus again, but luck was on my side and I got really good views. It is an inconspicuous looking butterfly, and often confused with a female common blue, but the brown spots on its forewing and the lack of blue even near the body convinced me I had found my quarry.
Speaking of common blues – there were quite a few of them about – some of them having a bit of a quarrel and some not. The males are a beautiful blue whereas the females have varying amounts of blue on them, all the way through to almost completely brown.
Sadly all of these butterflies were in a field that they are planning to put old people housing on. So, this could be the last time I see brown argus and small coppers in Daventry.
In the last few months I have been spending some time watching the ducks at Daventry Country Park. There don’t tend to be any unusual ducks there (at least not when I’m looking) but there are usually lots of them in the winter and several of the usual species.
One duck that I usually find there all year round is the gadwall. At first glance it is just a brown duck – the drakes and ducks are both brown. But, when you look more closely (unfortunately something my photo is not good enough to allow), there is an awful lot of detail – grey stripes and speckles – which makes them look very dapper indeed. The female looks very much like a mallard female, the picture above is a drake. Both sexes have the white flash on the wing bar, but the drake has that black patch at the rear end along with a black bill (the female’s is black on top and orange at the bottom) and beautiful chestnut feathers on the wings above the white bar.
Although the gadwall is here all year round, the numbers are boosted in the south east and midlands with birds from eastern Europe.
I don’t remember seeing gadwall when I was growing up (even on visits to Martin Mere). This might be because I just didn’t notice them or because back in the 1970s and 80s there weren’t many in the UK, especially not outside the south east. Numbers have increased about 5 per cent a year for the last 25 years. The release of captive birds, including a large number in Leicestershire, is a possible reason for their increased range and numbers.
So, next time you decide not to notice a grey-brown bird with a white wing patch – have a change of heart and a closer look – they really are a lovely dabbling duck.
Flushed with the success of actually completing a nature survey last year (Bumble Bee Conservation’s Bee Walk) I decided to start the New Year off with more naturing and decided to look for flowering plants to submit to BSBI ‘s New Year Plant Hunt. I’d had a bit of a look round Daventry last week and saw quite a few plants in flower including daisies and clover so I was hopeful it wouldn’t be a complete dud.
I should mention, that I am at least as bad at recognising plants as I am bees, but I took my camera with me to get some shots so I stood a slight chance of finding out what they were at some point. Unfortunately, a lot of the shots were not very good, but I still managed an ID of all the plants. Final count was 15! Not bad for an hour of looking around housing estates in Daventry really. (I also found a couple of mushrooms as well that I am hoping I have ID’d).
These are two of the shots I’m not ashamed of, first Blackthorn flowering over two months earlier than I would have expected and then a plant I have seen quite often but never recognised; green alakanet. I had thought it was a member of the speedwell family, but it isn’t. I am not surprised to discover it is a member of the Borage family – I thought those leaves looked familiar!
The full list of flowers that I found is as follows:
White Dead Nettle
Red Dead Nettle
Common Whitlow Grass
Common Field Speedwell
Common Mouse Ear
Smooth Sow Thistle.
The word common means that these should not be a surprise, but I have learned the names of 5 new flowers already and it is only the second of January!
It seems that these days mother nature has quite a few surprises out there waiting for me. But, then, it might be because I am going out looking for them more. So far in my morning / lunchtime nature ramblings I’ve been privileged to watch a kingfisher fishing on the River Nene most mornings for a couple of weeks, spied a treecreeper and goldcrest in amongst a flock of long-tailed tits and seen a goosander diving up and down. All within 10 minutes walk of Northampton Town Centre and all around 8am. I’ve also had the misfortune to listen to a very screechy jay several times – no problem with the jay, but that sound, now I’ve heard it, is unmistakeable.
My latest surprise came on Tuesday lunchtime – a sunny but breezy December afternoon, when I decided to go for a walk away from town and chose to wander down to Barnes Meadow Nature Reserve. I have to admit, I’ve not seen many water birds down at this end of the river, not that you can blame them, it’s a bit noisy and barren. Today though there were quite a few swans and Canada Geese. But, my big find of the day, were some Little Grebes, aka Dabchicks. These are dumpy, fluffy, compact little brown birds – a bit smaller than a moorhen. In the summer they are quite smart in their chestnut-red and black plumage, but in winter they are a little more subdued in their brown feathers. But, if you see them within a river’s width away they are quite distinctive, both in size and shape and the way they dive into the water. They dive more frequently than coots and moorhens and stay down for longer, looking for insects and small fish to eat. They also seem to almost throw themselves in the water, they are so fast.
I was quite surprised to see a couple of them quite close to the bridge over the river. I was even more surprised to see three more a little further on. What was even more surprising was the noise they made – I resolved to get back there in the same week with some sound recording gear to see if I could cut out some of the construction and road noise. It sounded much more tropical than you’d expect from a bird found on Britain’s muddy waters – I couldn’t decide if they were laughing or squabbling. Further along the river I found another couple, one that had been successful in its fishing ventures with a relatively large fish soon dispatched down its beak, both looking much brighter and redder in the sun. Then, I found a third group, and a fourth.
I know that these are quite a common bird, but it has been years since I saw one. Then, a couple of months ago I spotted three at the country park and now more than ten on the River Nene. The little devils are everywhere!
You can’t easily make them out – but there is a pair on the far side of the river in front of the scrubby tree in the centre.
Time for a confession. Before the start of this year I had never heard of a Brown Argus. I didn’t know that it was a butterfly. How bad is that. Moreover, I saw them in the results for the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey, and assumed that they were a specialist that I would never see. I saw pictures on Facebook and then thought nothing much more about them. In fact I wasn’t sure I would recognise one if I saw it.
Yesterday I took my camera out for a walk – for once the weather was warm and not very breezy. I saw a lot of gatekeepers, a very lovely small copper – a butterfly that I had never seen in Daventry before. I also saw some common blues flitting about the field edges. Lots of photographs were taken as you can probably imagine.
Today I decided to upload them and sort out the fuzzy from the sharp as well as those that might not be the best, but could be useful for ID purposes. After I had sorted and tagged them it occurred to me that I had assumed that the small brown butterflies were common blue females (which have wings that vary from blue through to brown) because they had frequently been disturbed by blue males. But, for some reason I thought I would see what the difference was between a brown argus and a female common blue.
A brown argus has no blue on the upper side of its wings, whereas there may be some blue scales on the female common blue. It also has more orangey spots along the edge and often a dark brown spot in the middle of its brown wings. Not much help because my photos were all of the underside of the wings. So, for the undersides the description was related to two spots with that form a figure of eight on the hindwing and the absence of a spot on the forewing for the Brown Argus. This didn’t seem to be much help either – I was a bit non-plussed until I saw what they were talking about in pictures on the UK Butterflies website. Suddenly I knew what to look for and guess what? Yes, one of the butterflies I photographed was in fact my very first Brown Argus – colour me happy!
I’m not sure if this is a viable population as my Northamptonshire butterfly book states that their range has contracted a lot in the county and that their traditional food plant is rock rose and, where this is not available, they have moved onto crane’s bill. Unfortunately the only things I could see around the field edge were ragwort and a chamomile, along with lots of grass. I will have to have a look around there to see if I can find the requisite flowers!
We wandered over to the park for a late evening walk this weekend. The further along the dam that we got the more insects there seemed to be. We turned and looked towards the sunset – there were so many insects it almost looked like a snow drift. They were rising up out of the grass – no wonder the swifts were so numerous.
Away from the water we didn’t expect to see so many, but as we looked across the fields it was as if they were smoking – the trees across from us looked hazy. I’ve seen film of starling murmurations where the birds move in waves and group and separate in response to signals from each neighbour. This looked like the insect equivalent – they moved in waves, obviously travelling along with the movement of air over the cereal crops. The swifts were having a great time. No swiftlets would be going hungry that night.
Up in the tress the greatest concentrations seemed to be round the oak trees. Was this because they are broadleaved and so more sheltered, was it because they were pushed by the wind to congregate or was it because oak trees are home to more insects than other trees. Or was I wrong, did it just look that way because of the light or because the oak trees were generally bigger than the willows? I have no idea.
Not only were the swifts out in force in the park that evening, but jackdaws were heading back in number, obviously it is a favourite roost of theirs. The same seems to be true of the local teenagers.
Despite my best intentions, I haven’t been to the country park since the last bank holiday in May even though I know the tern chicks should be hatching any time now. After a warm, sunny day spent unsuccessfully trying to photograph bees, I went looking for the chicks and I wasn’t disappointed.
I counted four chicks on the two new rafts – a couple looked slightly bigger than the other two – these latter were from one nest and stayed close to their parent. The older chicks were more mobile and spent some time wandering in and out of the pipe shelter that they’d been provided with. These were just the ones I can see. There are another four tern rafts that don’t give good views. I have a theory that those on the very old rafts might be the lower ranking or younger terns that might have had to make do with what they could get, in which case they might hatch a bit later. I could be completely wrong though. The oldest looking chick was just where I expected it to be following the early courtship and mating of the parents.
I also saw another tern removing bits of broken eggshell from the nest area, so hopefully there are some more fluffy little ternlets there.
The swan was at its grumpiest again. This time the family of greylag geese bore the brunt of his ire. Fortunately the adults were giving back as good as they got and, once again, they were both attacked by the terns dive-bombing their heads – serves them right.
I don’t know what has happened to the Canada goose family, but it appears to be the place to hang out for Canada geese – I gave up counting when I reached 84.
I was a bit concerned about the heron chick – I couldn’t see him anywhere and thought he’d either fallen into the water or was much older than I initially thought. I saw one of the adults across the water, and eventually saw the chick in the nest. I think he’d wandered up the branch a bit and was hidden from view behind a tree trunk.
Over the noise of traffic and terns I managed to use my new found powers of warbler ID and heard a willow warbler calling away as well as blackcap and chiffchaffs. These seem to be much noisier in the evening – I haven’t heard any in the last two weeks when I’ve been in the park early in the morning!
My new highlight though was a couple of little ringed plovers. I’ve seen them before at Brandon Marsh, but never at the country park – it seems there’s always something new to see here. Who needs exotic locations?
I went for a couple of walks last weekend, not entirely with birdwatching in mind. One was round the country park – I know now that there is both a reed warbler and a sedge warbler there at the moment. I have also realised that the sedge warbler that I thought was singing from the reeds in the Industrial Estate all these years was probably a reed warbler – or at least it is this year. And I can confirm that despite trying to confuse me by duetting with a reed bunting, there are more reed warblers around Barnes Meadow than sedge warblers and quite a lot of common whitethroats this year too.
Even better though, I found my first ever willow warbler on my local patch. I had wondered if they were there, but I just didn’t know it and they were. It was singing its little drifting down song from the top of a willow tree on the old railway track, 5 minutes from home. I even managed to pick it out with my binoculars. So a lifetime first for me – that’s four new warblers that I’ve seen this year, and one new one that I’ve heard but not seen.
Hopefully I will remember everything from my warbler ID course after a long winter when there are no warblers about to bring sunshine into the grey.
I am now obsessed with my close up binoculars (although I have to wonder what the 8x magnification looks like). A lack of nature over the weekend due to poor weather conditions has not stopped me though.
I’ve discovered a red-tailed bumble bee nest at the bottom of the garden. I watched several workers (I counted a maximum of five leaving without returning, but there might be more) coming and going. Most had orange pollen baskets full, although a couple seemed to come back without any provisions. I had a slight hope that the bees might have been the red shanked carder bee because I swear I saw some red hairs on the legs of one of them – but it might just have been pollen dust. I live in hope though and now I know where they live I can keep a watch. There was a different bumble species (possibly white-tailed) visiting the aquilegia and with full yellow pollen baskets, so I’m not sure where my red-tails were foraging.
The fern smut moths seem to be present in quite big numbers now I know what they look like. However, my ID skills stopped short of other micro moths – there was a very white one with black eyes that I have some terrible photos of to help with my ID. I watched a small orange fly with black spots on its wings (possibly a fruit fly) wait for a small spider to leave the corpse of another fly before moving in, and I saw another fly – probably a hoverfly, sitting on a leaf. I watched it lift its wings up to clean over the top of its abdomen with its hind legs and then clean each of its wings between these legs. The hind legs by the way were black but with a yellow stripe / underside. I mean, how cool is that, watching it carefully smooth each wing in turn between its legs?
And, there are so many spiders, many different types. How do you start to tell the difference? I noticed this one, a male Philodromus dispar, a type of crab spider sitting on a leaf. It was still there the next day. It seems to have two legs that are much smaller and thinner than the others. It does move, but it was back again in the same spot the next day.
I haven’t even started on the slugs and snails yet… So much to discover and I don’t even have to go very far.