Saturday, 1 September 2012


 Autumn always seems to creep up unnoticed. At the start of the week it was still Summer, then on thursday night, temperatures dropped to single figures and friday morning at New Hythe lakes felt distinctly Autumnal. Ah well, I don't mind too much, it's not really my favourite season, but I reckon it's one of the top four.
Just to confuse things more I heard two Chiffchaffs around the Brookland lake area who interspersed their usual hueeet, hueeet call at this time of year with short bursts of their Spring song. It was over Brooklands lake that a Kestrel glided past and out of sight, hardly a flicker of wings needed thanks to a helpful breeze. This was the only raptor species seen all week apart from a Sparrowhawk pursuing a Collared Dove through the garden yesterday.
Earlier in the week I paid a short visit to the lakes and counted no less than seven Common Sandpipers, all close together on the opposite bank of the river at the top end of the sunken marsh. I've personally never seen more than three at any one time here before, so this was a significant sighting and would be classed as a 'wader fest' at New Hythe I believe. Friday though, produced nil! Talking of the sunken marsh, I bravely tried to circumnavigate it to see if said waders were further downstream, but was soon forced back by overwhelming vegetation, trouble in the undergrowth department is never pleasant.
On the opposite side of the marsh, in the sunny SW corner I paused to watch Chaffinches, Chiffchaffs, Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Great Tits, a Blackbird, Common Whitethroat and a pristine Lesser Whitethroat. They had all been attracted there by the warmth of the sun, an abundance of insects and a well stocked larder of blackberries, elderberries, damsons and the already bright red hawthorn berries. Elsewhere though the bird life was predictably hard to find and my attention soon turned to other things.

 This Comma butterfly was basking on the nettles along the fishermen's path along the southern edge of Brooklands and was illuminated nicely by the early sun. Several more were seen during the morning along with a couple of Red Admirals and some very worn Meadow Browns, but Speckled Woods were easily the most prolific species of the day.

  Due to the coolness of the morning, dragonfly activity was slow to get get going and most of the individuals seen were Brown Hawkers who hung unseen in the undergrowth and flew up and away as I unwittingly disturbed them. Unlike some species, the Browns don't seem to fly back to the same perch, so when they're gone, they're gone so to speak.

 This Migrant Hawker above though, did come back and promptly settled just below another one. Territorial disputes temporarily shelved perhaps when there's serious warming up to be done first thing. The one pictured below kept curling its abdomen round as you can see. I'm not sure if this means anything in the dragon world or whether it was just having an early morning stretch, maybe it was yawning too.

There might be a lot of football on the telly right now but it's definitely the Cricket season out there in the undergrowth at the moment.

Where the sun warms the nettles, the crickets come out to bask and do whatever it is that crickets do in their spare time. The one above, a male, was one of dozens of the Dark Bush variety seen posing and catching some rays, his short stubby wings are not good for flying and serve only as sound producers.

Just past the NW corner of Abbey Mead a Willow TREE was recently felled, who ever did it, I like their style. Although I couldn't help wondering if the smiley face perhaps went all the way up through the trunk like the writing in a stick of seaside rock. 

I hadn't seen a Scorpion fly for some time, this one was along the path adjacent to Abbey Mead. They are such fascinating insects, this one was having a meal which I think was purloined from a spider's larder.

The picture below is perhaps my favourite Summer (Autumn) spot around the lakes. It's on the west side of Abbey Mead alongside the railway path. 

It's a gloriously sunny, quiet, usually undisturbed spot and is ideal for just sitting and watching the natural world get on with its business. Which is what I did for half an hour on friday, accompanied by countless species of Bees and Hoverflies as well as butterflies like the Red Admiral below and the occasional Herons who live across the way alongside the river.

During my all too brief sojourn beside the lake I was honoured to have this Common?  Darter land on my bare arm. Unfortunately I was alone so couldn't record the occasion with a picture. But luckily he flew off and landed nearby, this is him, pictured above.

I haven't posted a lizard pic for some time, hope you like it Jan! This is the first I've recorded on the east scrub for a while. I'd just seen about seven of his legless cousins (no, they weren't drunk they were Slow Worms), under a piece of refugia close by, but the now warm sun had given them the energy to evade my lens. The only other notable sightings in the scrub were a couple of raucous juvenile Green Woodpeckers, who seem to thrive here, a small charm of Goldfinches, also accompanied by juveniles and a fleeting glimpse of a Cetti's Warbler.

I took the millstream path back to the car park. It's full of the sight and distinctive smell of Himalayan Balsam (above). This is an introduced species and a major threat to native riverbank species. A relative of the Busy Lizzie, it grows quickly to over six feet in height and produces seed pods that 'explode' and cast their seeds a long distance. The upper reaches of the millstream, where Beautiful Demoiselles were found last year is now completely choked by it, and needless to say the  demoiselles weren't seen this year. The lower stretch will be the same very soon. I just don't understand why the Country Park authorities have done nothing to eradicate it.

Anyway, on a brighter note the stream itself is healthy enough if the fish species in it are anything to go by. Above is one of my favourites, a fantastic Jack Pike the top predator in the world of fresh water fish which I never tire of seeing.

This Tench (above) was bigger, probably two or three pounds in weight, it used to be called 'doctor fish' as it was thought that the coating of slime on this species had medicinal properties. I also spotted some quite large shoals of Roach, a once abundant species but one not so often seen now, especially in still water. Perch, Rudd, Bream and Carp also inhabit this lovely little stream, despite its close proximity to industrial units in places.

Finally, just for the cute factor, i've posted the picture above of a very recently fledged Dunnock that was sitting alongside the road where Carol and I parked to do part of the Rutland Water walk recently.


Bob Bushell said...

Lots of summer things to pass the time, my favourite is the Scorpion fly, it's a stunner.

Marc Heath said...

Nice selection of shots, and you are right, a Common Darter.

Greenie said...

Phil ,
Good mixture of sightings and yes too to your male CD . Like the Willow stump too . The Victorians have a lot to answer for , H.Balsam and Jap.Knotweed for starters .
Re. your male MH with curled abdomen , my thoughts are , that like most insects , eggs and sperm are formed in the end of the abdomen and fertilisation occurs with joined abdomens .
Dragon/damselfly males clasp their
mates with the end of their abdomen , so how do her eggs get fertilized by his sperm ? The males have secondary genitalia on the underside of segment 2 of the abdomen , into which he places a packet of sperm , produced in his primary genitalia on the underside of segment 8, before mating . Once he clasps his mate by the head , he encourages her to accept the sperm packet from his secondary genitalia using her reproductive organs , hence the 'wheel' or 'ring' that pairs are seen in . So I think your male was transferring a sperm packet before going out 'on the pull' .

ShySongbird said...

Aww, thank you Phil, yes I loved the Lizard :-) I rely on you for them because I've decided they're extinct here ;-)

Well, that was a lovely post, beautifully written in your uniquely witty style which is always such a pleasure to read, lots of lovely photos too. The view of the lake with the flowers in the foreground is really pretty, it does look like a lovely spot to spend time. Lovely photos of the Comma (I've only seen one this year!!) and my favourite butterfly, the Red Admiral. The Common Darter is a beauty too.

Warren Baker said...

Another excellent read Phil, with some very nice insect photography.

I'd keep an eye on that spot with the mixed feeding flock, you never know what might turn up there :-)