Thursday, 28 April 2011


Not just off patch today but off county. I joined Greenie of 'Greenie In The Wild' fame for a days fossicking around the Sussex Wildlife Trust's Old Lodge reserve in the heart of the superb Ashdown Forest. We met at 0800 under light cloud but with a promise of sun later, which we hoped would be sooner rather than later due to the very cold breeze.

Within a few hundred yards we bagged our first male Stonechat of the day. He was turned out in his best bib and tucker and was dressed to impress somebody, but not us. He was one of at least two males here vying for the attention of the local ladies.

As ever fence posts are popular for posing Chats, but the one above, like all the birds today wouldn't tolerate our presence close enough for some decent pictures but even at this distance he cuts the mustard in the now watery sunshine. As for the one below, who knows, semaphor, territorial displaying, waving, under arm problem? Your guess is as good, or bad, as mine.

Stonechats weren't the only birds about, we also saw and heard Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Song Thrushes, Green Woodpeckers, Gt Spotted Woodpeckers and of course, my favourite of the day, Redstarts.
We saw maybe four or five around the site, if my memory serves me right we only saw one female. The rest were stunning males, the long distance shot below gives an idea of the fantastic colour of these birds at this time, especially when they are lit up by the sun. Indeed, my favourite moment of the day was without doubt when two males had a bit of a scrap and rose up from the forest floor together, claw to claw and beak to beak, with wings spread and the sun illuminating them like a ball of orange fire. I commented to Greenie that a photograph of that moment would have been a once in a lifetime shot.

Talking of fire, the acrid smell of charcoal and scorched undergrowth greeted us further along the track. I don't know how big the area was that had been destroyed, or how many creatures had been burnt to a cinder, or how many birds had been forced to abandon nests, eggs, or chicks to escape the flames. But I hope that the person who decided to have a barbecue in that tinderbox on monday afternoon burnt his sausage, if you get my drift. I refer to him as a person only because I don't want to offend morons.

This part of the forest isn't a great butterfly habitat but I was pleased to find a couple of Green Hairstreaks on the Gorse. I know i've posted a few shots of them recently but I think they're worth it. Especially with a face like the one pictured below, it looks as if it was meant to be a character for a childrens book or a Disney film or something. As ever, left click to get up close and personal.

Two other birds on our wish list today were Tree Pipit and Wood Lark. Greenie soon picked up the song of the Pipit and soon we had our first one, my first ever, on a telegraph wire and another, better view of one later in the day. The Wood Lark however wasn't playing ball today, although we did hear a report of one or two being seen earlier in the day. I'll come back soon for that one. Another species that we saw but stayed out of reach of my lens was Lesser Redpoll, a bird that i've only seen once or twice this year, once in my garden and once at Sevenoaks WR.

Around lunchtime we stopped for a bit of a sky watch and witnessed a sky full of Buzzards, seven in all, who drifted up almost simultaneously in the distance and all circled on the warming thermals and disappeared together into the heat haze. This was followed by another great sighting. I noticed what I thought at first were another two Buzzards above a tree line in the middle distance, but closer inspection showed them to be Ravens. They are my first southern Ravens, just a pity we weren't in Kent!

Later in the afternoon we revisited a couple of small ponds to see if there had been damselfly activity in the now quite warm sunshine. Sure enough, it wasn't long before Greenie found some Large Reds, pictured above and below. Pity there were no dragonflies today but you can't have everything, and we'd certainly had a lot by now with a list of about 36 species I think.

But just when you thought i'd finished, and before you doze off, here's one of my favourite beetles, the Green Tiger. I think these are great, but that's only because i'm bigger than him. I wouldn't be so keen if I was smaller!

It was a great day out, and as usual I learned a lot from Greenie. I also learned that it's good to go somewhere new and see some different stuff sometimes. I wonder what's going on at New Hythe though!


ShySongbird said...

A most enjoyable read Phil, you clearly had a very nice visit. As I said to Greenie we don't see Stonechats here so it was nice to see yours.

Love the photos of the Green Hairstreak, something else I have never seen...I have a very long list of 'never seens' ;)

Warren Baker said...

An action packed day Phil, thought you might of had a Hobby, but it's still a tad early yet :-)

Greenie said...

Phil ,
I think between us we covered all that we saw , except of course the things we both forgot .
Great set of shots , I especially like the Green Tiger Beetle , great angle .
Will definitely throw a fleece in the car next time .

alan woodcock said...

Shame about the Woodlarks,I went to Ashdown last week and found just the one bird,but like you 4-5 Redstarts.

Alan Pavey said...

Really nice post Phil, several people have been to Ashdown recently that I know, reading this and talking to them makes me want to go great stuff :-)

Paul said...

Hi Phil, it looks like you guys had a great time off patch there.

Jason K said...

Great Green Hairstreak photos Phil...I'm still waiting to see my first of the year.

Nice Green Tiger too...they are great beetles as you say

Ken. said...

Hi Phil.
Looks like you had a great dat with Greenie. You certainlly saw plenty of wildlife. nice report with some nice photos to go with it.

Bob Bushell said...

Well, you have shot so many things that I can't remember them all. But the Stonechat is exquisite.