Sunday, 2 June 2013


There's a large stand of marsh grass in the corner of my pond and this was the chosen emergence route for dozens of Large Red damselflies during the week. The larvae (above) are surprisingly alert and always moved round to the back of the grass stems as I tried to approach for a picture. These were the first damsels of the year for me so I was kind of pleased that they were 'home grown' so to speak.

I photographed the pair above a few days later. Hopefully in the process of ensuring another emergence in two years time. I believe two years is the general life cycle for this and other similar species. 

On Wednesday last week I managed a couple of hours at New Hythe lakes after completing the first of the two field visits on my BBS square (Breeding Bird Survey) in Meopham. I'm a couple of weeks late really but given that everything else is late i'm hoping the results will be OK. Anyway, not a great deal to report from NH but I was pleased to see that the resident Mute Swan pair were now proud parents to two very young cygnets. It looks like they'll have another three or four siblings very soon with a bit of luck.

Also on the same lake was this family of Canada Geese, taking shelter from the cool breeze on one of the fishermen's swims. What I found amusing was how they're all tucked up facing the same way and taking absolutely no notice of me. Obviously too comfortable to move, or they're trying to tell me something.
Other delights during my short visit included three Oystercatchers and a Shelduck on the river upstream and six Grey Herons all fishing the river opposite bucket seat wood. There was one Grey Wag over the car park, a Kestrel hunted over the sunken marsh and a Cuckoo called from various perches, like they do.
One or two Nightingales were still singing sporadically and Cetti's Warblers announced their presence with their usual gusto. Perhaps best of all were the dozens, maybe hundreds, of Swifts, who swirled and swerved around me as I stood on the mound by Brooklands lake. Sometimes passing so close that I could hear their wing beats. I wondered if on a still day I might have almost felt the air move, such was the closeness of their passes.
Rain stopped play a little later, so I headed back to the car. Pausing only to take the picture below of  probably the female swan sheltering her brood from the cool rain. Although if you look closely, one of the cygnets is peeping out for a look at maybe its first rain shower.

By happy coincidence, a free day on Friday coincided with reasonable weather, so I went to Dungeness. First stop was the beach, where an energy sapping walk along the shingle produced little of note. Best sighting for me had to be this Harbour Porpoise who was hunting for fish very close to the shoreline. I've only ever seen them much further out to sea here. The trapping area around the Dungeness Bird Observatory was also quiet so I moved on to the RSPB reserve.

I usually spend a bit of time at the entrance watching the resident Tree Sparrows bu there was a camera crew filming something in the undergrowth (in the style of David Bellamy), so I moved on after taking a quick, distant shot of one of said sparrows relaxing at home.

The sun hadn't burnt through the clouds as I walked along the first part of the track where I sometimes find Grass Snakes and Common Lizards basking. I did spot a couple of lizards but they scurried away quickly despite the coolness. There were also a few assorted damselflies waiting for the sun to warm them up but one particular reed (above) seemed to be the favoured hang out.

The humble Chaffinch. Often overlooked in the search for something more exotic. How exotic is this handsome male in all his finery. He perched atop the Gorse and sang his heart out. Good on him.

At last! I found a dragonfly, the first of the year for me. This is the Hairy Dragonfly, usually the first hawker on the wing and so called because of its hairy thorax. This one was low in the vegetation, waiting for the energy giving sun. Not sure if this would have emerged that morning but the wings do look a bit soft.

Soon after, I found this Common Lizard who was tempted out by a few weak rays. He had flattened himself nicely against the warm wood to gain maximum exposure to the sun and was not going to move just because I turned up.
My next sighting was also a sun lover, none other than Greenie of 'Greenie in the Wild' fame. This was the third time recently that our paths had crossed. Who's stalking who Fred? We walked on for a while noting Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Shelduck and a couple of Sedge Warblers.

But our attention was held mainly by the sheer quantity of the caterpillars above, pictured in a nursery tent I found later. Every bramble bush was absolutely covered in them, all across the site. We speculated as to what moth species they would eventually be but missed the obvious clue. With numbers reaching plague proportions they had to be the caterpillar of the Brown-tailed moth, the hairs of which will cause a severe rash if touched.

In among the thousands of Brown-tails were quite a lot of these more benign and somewhat bigger specimens above. They are the caterpillar of The Drinker moth (thanks for confirmation Greenie), named apparently for the larval habit of sipping dew. 

At the junction of Denge Marsh hide Greenie and I went our separate ways and soon after I was lucky enough to find a species of moth hanging in the long grass which was completely new to me. This is a magnificent Eyed Hawkmoth.

The large 'eyes' on the hindwings are hidden by the forewings in this picture. They are used to scare off potential enemies so maybe that's why they were visible soon after I found it. I was really pleased to find such a super specimen, especially as i've never seen one before.
I stopped on the mound for a while in the hope of hearing a booming Bittern. I didn't hear it this time but a pair of Marsh Harriers and more Hobby's than you can shake a stick at was fine by me.

I only found two butterflies, both were Small Coppers, a pretty little butterfly but hard to follow in flight.

I ventured over to the ARC site for a quick look from the Hanson hide and the Willow Trail. Neither of which produced much. But I did bump into the man himself again, that's four times now. Good to see you Fred!


Marc Heath said...

Great report and shots, the top Small Copper being very nice with a nice contrast in the background.

Greenie said...

Phil ,
Good to meet up with you too .
Talking of 'too' , I think you have too many Drinker caterpillar shots on your post and not enough Brown-tailed Moth caterpillar shots .
Might have something to do with imbibing at the weekend ?
Wish I had seen the Eyed Hawk Moth . I heard distant booming , but over on the ARC side .

Phil said...

Thanks Greenie. Senior moment, that's my excuse:-)

Marianne said...

Good stuff going on at NH and Dunge, some lovely 'new life' moments there with the damsel larva and the hatchling cygnets. That shot of all the Blue-tailed Damsels on the leaf is incredible - a couple of 'rosacea' forms among them too. I'd say the Hairy's milky eyes point to it being newly emerged.

ShySongbird said...

A great read again Phil and a lovely array of photos too. Well done on your 'home grown' damsels! Lovely to see the tiny cygnets. I completely agree about the more commonly seen birds being overlooked, such a shame I think. Your photos of the Chaffinch on the Gorse are beautiful. Good to see you're finding lizards...I actually found one myself the other day :-)

Ken. said...

Nice to see that your pond is now coming to life, it must be exciting to find out just what your new garden has to offer.
I hope to have a day like yours as Dunge soon, great variety of wildlife seen. Would liked to have seen your Hawkmoth. I have only ever see on species, the Elephant Hawkmoth.
Nice photo's Phil.