Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Brandon Night Survey

The Amazing Glow Worm Beetle
Each year around this time Dee and I like to take in a night visit to Brandon Marsh and amongst other things we love to go searching for Glow Worms. These amazing and fascinating little bio-luminescent creatures are great fun to find. Females have only a few weeks in which to attract a mate and lay eggs. After this, sadly they die. As well as attracting a mate, the glowing green abdomen is also a warning to predators to stay away.

This years visit was also going to be a little different! Over recent years Brandon Marsh has played host on two separate occasions to the amazing Spotted Crake and because of this the reserve has been a part of this years RSPB Spotted Crake Survey, only the second time this has been done. The RSPB survey, organised at Brandon by Alban and Jim from the Brandon team, has been taking place during May and June and having missed out on the previous surveys due to our travels we had arranged for our visit to coincide with the final one.

The Illusive Spotted Crake (library Image)
Spotted Crakes are virtually impossible to see during the breeding season — anyone trying to do so will most likely end up disappointed, and with wet feet — but their distinctive, repetitive 'whiplash' call is far-carrying across lowland wetlands on calm nights. Spotted Crakes may call through most of the night, from half an hour after sunset onwards, and in good listening conditions (rare so far this year) may be heard from a kilometre or more away.

Tonight (Monday) was absolutely perfect weather for both events with not a breath of wind and a comfortable temperature of around 18C. On arrival at around 8:45pm Dee and I made straight for the Carlton Hide and here we were greeted by Martin Durkin another Brandon regular, with the words every nature lover wants to here "you should have been here 10 minutes earlier". Martin had spotted a lone Otter at the top end of the pool!

Brandon Otters 28/04/12
Notwithstanding I like to pride myself on the fact that I have a good working knowledge of the reserve (spending most waking hour here) and I wasn't too disappointed at this point. Smugly I predicted the path that the Otter may take to reach the nearby River Avon, having surveyed the area a number of times and finding spraint I was quietly confident. Thankfully I was rewarded some 15 minutes later when two Otters took my predicted path, but enough of the self praise just an amazing thing to see, especially for my wife Dee.

Brandon Marsh after dark is such an amazingly different environment and the rest of the evening was just a sheer delight. Orchids, Daubenton's Bats skimming across Kingfisher Pool, Pipistrelle Bats flying past your ears and the eerie call of a Barn Owl hunting and a Muntjac calling. Sadly, but as expected no Spotted Crake was forthcoming but an end count of seven Glow Worms delighted everyone. (Alban, Jim, Abi, Lee, Martin, Dee and myself. It was also a pleasure to meet Lesley Davis the trusts Ranger from Ufton Fields Nature Reserve)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Not all Gloom!

Another weekend another deluge and another poor showing of Butterflies and Odonata at Brandon this weekend. However, the most frightening thing is that from here on the nights begin to draw in! But enough doom and gloom and time to concentrate on the good stuff and to be honest the past several days haven't been too bad at all.

One of the highlights locally occurred when I popped outside to secure the ropes on Friday afternoon as three Whimbrel were overflying the marina heading east, great timing. Another positive from a local perspective was my first sighting this year of a Kingfisher, when I noticed one zooming through the moorings yesterday evening.

Two visits to Brandon Marsh over the weekend and I can start with some good news regarding the Barn Owl young I reported on within my post of May 29th. After a few concerned texts and emails regarding their well-being (if you recall one of the parents was taken by a fox) I can tell you that a welfare check took place this morning managed by Jim Rushforth and I can confirm that all 3 Owlets have fledged successfully!

During my Saturday visit, were I missed an unprecedented flyover of 9 Raven by arriving late, it was necessary to check out some of the off-track areas of the reserve and during my tour I was amazed to find that the place is literally awash with Common Spotted Orchid, I stopped counting when I reached 50. Having said that please do not venture off the main tracks at Brandon as there are plenty to be found within the public areas. I can also tell you that for someone who works the reserve and knows it extremely well there are some newly formed dangerous deep water areas!

Black-tailed Godwit (record shot)
Saturday morning also produced ♂Cuckoo, Hobby and a calling Lesser Whitethroat at Carlton Hide. There are still lots of young birds to be found and I was fortunate enough to be able to take several images of a young Pied Wagtail near the 'Tip' area, being ably attended by both parents. The only Butterfly noted during my visit was a lone Speckled Wood in New Hare Covert and remarkably my first young Grass Snake of the year.

Today I arrived a little later than normal but was fortunate enough to see a rather pristine looking Black-tailed Godwit which arrived on East Marsh Pool mid-morning. The usual Ringed and Little-ringed plover were also recorded along with 6 Oystercatcher, including the 2 recent juveniles. There was also evidence of Grey Wagtail breeding on the reserve when an adult male and youngster were seen on Goose Pool.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brandon Butterflies

White Admiral
This year's wild spring weather has baffled our butterflies with some species emerging earlier than usual while others have been further delayed by the deluge. A warm March saw a number of spring specialists emerging very early, but these butterfly-friendly conditions were followed by the wettest April on record probably affecting the first generation of many species.

As we're all aware the wet weather continued well into May and this is already the wettest June on record. It's also been a colder month than normal and this further reduces feeding and mating activity.

My First Gatekeeper 2012
By coincidence thanks to Tony Pratley this is the first year that Brandon Marsh Voluntary Conservation Team have been involved in a weekly Transect for Butterfly Conservation Warwickshire and the early results already raise cause for concern.

After last weeks disastrous transect were amazingly no Butterflies were recorded at all I'm happy to report that although not prolific by any means today's results were slightly more encouraging. The transect area itself only produced 2 Common Blue, Meadow Brown and the first Gatekeeper of the year but while touring the remainder of the reserve Large White, Brimstone and White Admiral boosted the count. Lets hope that that this trend continues but unfortunately the weather once again may play a further part later in the week.

Bee Orchid
On to other matters at Brandon and East Marsh Pool produced ♂♀Muntjac on wigeon bank and a couple of Green Sandpiper this morning along with 5 Oystercatcher, 2 Little-ringed Plover, 4 Shelduck and unusual for this time of year a ♀Shoveler along with 3♂. A Grey Wagtail was also seen passing over the Big Hide mid-morning and at least 2 Hobby were on the wing, one taking Damselflies over the River Meadow.

A number of Moths were also recorded today including Chimney Sweeper, Yellow Shell, Mother Shipton and Cinnabar. Dragonflies included ♀Broad-bodied Chaser and Common Darter.

I'm also happy to report that a Treecreeper family I've been monitoring housing four young have now fledged and all four were seen being well attended by the parents. Several Nuthatch young are also doing well and an excellent count of at least 11 Bee Orchids around the 'Tip' area is a very encouraging count for the reserve.

Friday, June 15, 2012


With my next trip abroad not planned until September it's time to settle back enjoy the summer and concentrate on the local patch and Brandon Marsh. That is of course if the summer ever arrives here in the UK!

Over the past few weeks I've made various visits to Brandon, including spending a little time yesterday morning extracting trees which came down in the last storm. I'm hopeful that the current battering doesn't have me extracting the chain-saw equipment once again from it's summer hibernation.

Treecreeper Parent
As you would imagine Brandon is awash with young birds of all types Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Little Grebe and Goldcrest amongst the many species that I've been monitoring and seem to be faring well. It's interesting too that there's still a healthy number of Cuckoo's on site, Thursday morning I managed three, including one calling♂ and a bubbling♀, a sign that they haven't quite finished yet. It's also a real possibility that we may have nesting Hobbies, if confirmed this would be the first breeding pair for the site so fingers crossed.

Although the Butterfly and Dragonfly population of Brandon have been badly affected by the weather Damselfly's seem to be on a roll. A visit to the river meadow produced very encouraging amounts of Banded Demoiselle and Common Blue. Various Moths are also in good numbers with Cinnabar, Chimney Sweep, Burnet Companion and Long Horn doing well.

Water Shrew (Rare to Brandon)
I've also been lucky enough to come across a new site species for me more recently in the form of Water Shrew, the largest of the British Shrew and quite a rarity to Brandon. Even more encouraging is that both animals were spotted on completely different parts of the reserve. These are amazing little mammals that are very well adapted to an aquatic environment such as Brandon. They have a dark black-brown coat of short fur that is paler underneath and which is waterproof and stays dry, even while swimming. Unlike the other shrews found in Britain they have hidden ears, only visible as white tufts which they can close when they are in the water.

Skylark Success
From a local perspective things seem to be faring quite well too. After a personal request the marina manager was good enough to allow the dog walking meadow to grow untamed away from the walking tracks and this has already paid great dividends. A brood of 4 skylark I've been keeping an eye on have now successfully fledged, a great success story and the grass cutting pile from the rest of the marina houses at least 2 Grass Snakes. When we are eventually blessed with a summer I'll be interested to see what other gems the meadow may reveal. Kudos to the management!

Monday, June 04, 2012

France Update 3 (Final Day)

La Brenne is said to be one of France’s best kept secrets, this is probably due to the size of the area and its ability to remain hidden from the casual tourist. There are many private and restricted sections within the park but a good map and guide will open up a wealth of opportunities. It is an area of rich flora and fauna delicately preserved by its ‘National Park’ status. For Dee and I a visit here is always a 'must do' no matter what the weather!

Cattle Egret
Since gaining its ‘National Park’ status in 1989 the area is now established as an exceptional location for bird life with over 260 species recorded of which 150 stay to breed. Its not only birdlife that flourishes as the area is home to an abundant array of butterflies and dragonflies. The plant-life is also richly diverse ranging from orchids to vast reed beds to heathland and ancient oaks. The woodlands and heaths provide natural shelter for wild boer, roe and red deer.

Black-necked Grebe
The hour or so's drive through the back roads to La Brenne offered several good stop off points and at one such point a flooded area of field offered Greenshank, Redshank and White Wagtail. A short drive further and to our delight we located a colony of Bee-eater, with around 6 birds in residence. Before we reached our first bird hide at Etang (lake) Purais we'd further recorded; Stonechat, Whinchat, Red-backed Shrike, Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting, Black Kite, Marsh Harrier and Honey Buzzard.

Turtle Dove
Etang Purais was a shock to the system. This particular lake usually houses a Whiskered Tern population of anything between 100 and 400 pairs, in fact one of the largest in France. Dee and I settled into the hide and upon opening the slats were shocked to find the lake completely dry! Having now investigated it seems that the lake is prone to occasional periods of extreme drought and it would appear that this year is one of those occurrences. Thankfully our main stop at Reserve Naturelle de Cherine had no such problems.

Great Egret
The hide visited at Etang de la Sous had the usual large nesting population of Black-headed Gulls and Dee and I arrived just in time to see a ♀Marsh Harrier attack the flock. After things had settled down we took stock recording of note: Black-necked Grebe, Little Egret, Black Tern, Whiskered Tern, Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Cattle Egret, Purple Heron and Honey Buzzard.

At Etang des Essarts our timing was once again impeccable as a Great Egret was out in the open and towards the back of the lake a Feruginous Duck was seen amongst the Tufted population. Our final bird count of the day also included Pochard, Eurasian Teal, Wigeon, Spotted flycatcher and Woodlark. With the sun now coming through a number of Butterflies were on the wing and these included Wall, Silver-Washed Fritillary, Short-Tailed Blue and Grizzled Skipper. Our final bird of the day was a Spotted Crake, sadly only heard but brought to an end another excellent few days in France. More images of our visit can be found on my Flickr site.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

France Update 2

Poppy Fields Galore!
After yesterdays high of 30C and last nights amazing thunderstorm which dispensed with the humidity we awoke Sunday morning to a much fresher day. With temps now in the low 20s and a light breeze it was by far a more comfortable environment.

One of our favourite things about rural France is the fact that you can simply get into the car and drive with impunity around the back lanes of the many small sleepy towns and villages, sometimes without seeing a soul for miles. The surrounding countryside is extremely diverse and unlike England isn't covered in a carpet of garish bright yellow rapeseed! Instead there are various orchards and many fields of wheat, barley, maize and of course grape vine, plus alongside many roads vast sections of poppies making the vista come alive with an abundance of colour.

Stunning ♂Montagu's Harrier
Dee and I took a morning drive stopping at various points, well to be honest every time we spotted something perched on a bush or wire, or indeed anything that looked remotely interesting in flight. To this end it wasn't long before we'd recorded Marsh, Hen and ♂♀Montagu's Harrier, Kestrel, Common Buzzard and a number of smaller species such as Cirl Bunting, Stonechat, Red-backed Shrike and many Corn Bunting.

Cirl Bunting
Having visited once or twice before we stopped off to pay our respects at a memorial to the French resistance which is located in Forest Domaniale de Mareuil just outside Chauvigny and took a stroll through the nearby wood. It seems that Nightingales and Cuckoo's are in good numbers here in France, everywhere we seem to visit has one and here was no exception. A very vocal Western Bonelli's Warbler was a pleasure to hear and a brief call of Firecrest before we decided we'd been harassed enough by the mosquito population and headed back to the sanctuary of the car.

European Tree Frog
La Pinail Nature Reserve is one of our favourites and is situated only 10 miles from Dee's parents house and is in the Châtellerault area, this is the only Natural Reserve of France to be found in the district known as La Vienne. The result of millstone quarrying has given way to a mosaic of 3,000 ponds which are surrounded by moor and heathland rich in rare fauna and flora. After a delicious lunch back at the house Dee, her mum Susan and I spent a very enjoyable few hours investigating this amazing place.

Black-veined White
During our stay we managed a good selection of Odanata, recording the rare White-faced Darter, Butterflies such as Gatekeeper, Azure Blue, Scarce Swallowtail, Black-veined White and various frogs including the Common Water Frog, Pool Frog and the amazing European Tree frog! Birds of the day: Stonechat, Whinchat, Meadow Pipit, Marsh Harrier, Hobby, Melodious Warbler but unfortunately no sign of Dartford Warbler a scarce but regular breeder on the site!

Saturday, June 02, 2012

French Weekend Update 1

Unexpected Stone Curlew!
Dee and I decided to take advantage of the extended weekend and headed for her parents house in France, landing in La Rochelle Saturday morning at around 9am local time. After meeting up with Dee's mum Susan, who'd kindly driven the two hours to the airport from her home in Sainte Radegonde, we enjoyed a nice breakfast overlooking the harbour.

Glossy Ibis
Having left the UK in heavy rain and a chilly 10C it was a pleasant surprise to be sat in glorious sunshine and a balmy 26C. Dee and Susan had done some prior research in relation to our visit, in particular the two hour drive back to her parents and had come up with an intriguing stop off on route at a "Park Ornithologique" called Les Oiseaux du Marais Poitevin.

A winding path takes you through seven hectares of wild marsh and there are also a number of places to stop and just absorb this amazingly diverse habitat. On arrival it was obvious that we'd stumbled onto a little gem, with Nightingales singing, Golden Orioles calling and Turtle Dove purring it was a dilemma on just where to Begin. One of the other bonuses was that a lot of the paths were tree lined and with the temperature now touching 30C this was very welcome indeed.

Purple Gallinule
The woodland areas had Redstart at least 3 Nightingale in song but despite getting several good views I never managed any decent images. Same too of the Golden Oriole but to be honest I was just happy to get a good look. The reserve also has a number of canals running through with several larger bodies of water and here Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, Night Heron, Egyptian Goose, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, Purple Gallinule and a pair of Garganey were the best of the bunch.

A variety of other species were on offer around the reserve which included Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly, Four-spotted Chaser Dragonfly, a very active Hedgehog plus several Avocet, Oystercatcher and Black-winged Stilt, but the real surprise of the day was a stunning Stone Curlew, which despite its shyness offered a number of amazing photographic opportunities which I accepted with pleasure!

After a stop off for lunch we eventually arrived at Dee's parents house in Sainte Radegonde at around 6pm. After enjoying an excellent barbecue later in the evening, where a nesting Black Redstart kept me well distracted, we were treated to a stunning thunderstorm, the pyrotechnics had to be seen to be believed but I can't remember the last time I saw a storm of that magnitude!