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Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Turn Of Duty - on Thursday 11th May, 2017

This year I have taken a bit of a back seat as a volunteer on the Rutland Osprey Project. Rather than book up for a regular fortnightly afternoon turn of duty, I decided to hold off, and just offer to fill in when there were gaps in the roster. This would give me the opportunity to enjoy being present at different times of day.

On this occasion, pal John had been rostered for an evening shift (17h00 to 20h00) on his own and so I put my name down to be his sidekick for the evening. 

On the way to pick up John at 14h30, I passed by my Little Owl  Site No.02 and found the male owl roosting in the remains of the roof.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (male) - my Site No.02
Having picked up John, we set off via our usual route. The first owl we saw was at my Site No.37. It took a while before we noticed that there were two birds there - only the second time we have seen a pair here, and we missed seeing the pair the first time until we looked at the photos!

Little Owls (Athene noctua) - my Site No.37
At my Site No.34, an owl was seen roosting at the foot of a hedge. It is reasonable to assume that this was the male of the pair here.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (male) - my Site No.34
No further owls were seen before we reached Rutland Water. 

On arrival we checked in at the Visitor Centre and set off for Waderscrape Hide, where the Osprey monitoring takes place, and where we look after the visitors who come to see the Ospreys. The hide is a comfortable one, with good (but distant) views of the Osprey nest and there is a large screen which gives close-up views via a nest-cam.

On the way to the hide I photographed a couple of beetles, just to try and keep my hand in at macro-photography.

unidentified beetle species - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
We arrived at Waderscrape Hide to be told by the people that we were taking over from that Sedge Warblers had been showing well, as had Water Vole, and that the people on duty before them had also seen a Water Rail.

Immediately the Sedge Warblers made their presence known, and I found myself distracted from the Ospreys by these delightful little birds. I'm not sure if it was just the one bird that was wearing a bracelet, or if there had been a mass ringing session, as all my photos show a ringed bird!

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Osprey action was a little limited on this occasion as the female Osprey was busy incubating eggs at that time and the male Osprey went off fishing just before our shift started. From memory, he was gone a good hour and a half. In spite of the fine weather our last visitor left after about an hour, so we amused ourselves by watching the other wildlife action. 

I can say, with confidence, that I saw more Water Vole action in that one shift than I have seen in total over the whole of my ten years as volunteer on the Osprey Project. There were at least four voles, and we saw two altercations between voles, one of which went on for a minute or two and seemed to be particularly violent. Sadly, I was not able to capture the punch-ups as the action was so fast and most of the time took place in the thick of the reed-bed, its progress being only visible by the crashing disturbance of the reeds which was accompanied by squeals. 

Here are a few images from the evening.

Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
When the male Osprey returned he took a fish to the 'T' perch that is close to the nest. He spent a long time consuming his share before dropping the remains of the fish into the water, leaving the female to go hungry. It seems that he had been making a bit of a habit of this lately - it would be interesting to know why!

I was hoping for some flight shot opportunities but the only birds to pass anything like close enough were a pair of Greylag Geese.

Greylag Geese (Anser anser) - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
It was around 18h50 when a Water Rail suddenly appeared from the reeds and flew across in front of the hide. I was totally unprepared for the shot, and it was into the sun anyway. I was better prepared when a second bird appeared from the same place, but passed in front of the hide on foot, occasionally emerging from behind the reeds in front of the hide. 

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)  - Rutland Water, Lyndon Reserve
Although it had been sunny for much of the afternoon, the air had been rather misty, making distance viewing difficult. As the sun dropped the difficulty increased to the point that we could no longer see what was going on with the Ospreys through the 'scopes - it was just a blaze of bright light - so we finished our shift a few minutes early, there being no action to note.

On our way back to the car, John remarked that he felt cold - the significance of this was lost on me at the time, although I did think that he'd been acting a little disinterested during the evening. John rarely ever feels the cold. A call from John on the Saturday to say that he'd returned home on the Thursday to find he was running a temperature of 103 degrees F suddenly made sense of the situation.

As we approached my Little Owl Site No.41 I could see the silhouette of an owl poking out from the stump of what used to be the nest tree. I pulled up alongside and took ages to find the owl in the near dark conditions. It took me even longer to find it through the viewfinder and I don't think that John, who was on the owl's side of the car, ever did find it? 

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
It had been a super evening out, but I'm sorry to say that John is still not well, and is staying close to home. I hope that you're better soon, John.


The day after we were on duty, the first of the Osprey chicks hatched out (12th May). A second chick hatched out the following day. Sadly, one of these two chicks died in the night of 14th May - possibly as a result of an accidental injury inflicted by the female Osprey. The third chick hatched on 16th May, and both remaining chicks were doing well. The fourth hatching was on 18th May, but but the chick didn't make it through the night. Four eggs is a relatively unusual situation, and raising all four was never going to be easy. The success rate at Rutland Water has been very good in the past, and whilst upsetting, this is not a major setback. If the remaining two chicks can be taken through to a successful fledging it will still be a positive result. We wish these tiny chicks a long and healthy future.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Visit to Ketton Quarry - on 5th May, 2017

John had been unavailable for our semi-regular Thursday afternoon out on 4th, due to one of his dogs being unwell. We'd tentatively postponed our excursion until the following day but, in the event,  John didn't feel confident enough to leave the dog on the Friday either, so I set off late-morning for Ketton Quarry in Rutland in the hope of finding some butterflies, snakes and lizards to photograph. However, the weather looked questionable as, although it was sunny, there was a stiff breeze blowing.

I took the usual countrified route and, stopping at one of my Little Owl sites, found a Red-legged Partridge to photograph.

Red-legged  Partridge (Alectoris rufa)
Due to the windy conditions I was not surprised that the only Little Owl I saw was tucked well in at my Site No.34.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
 Further up the road a Meadow Pipit was on a roadside post.

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)
I arrived at Ketton Quarry just before mid-day, and took the decision to have half my picnic lunch before setting off into the site.

Suitably refreshed, as I entered  the site I noticed that the leaves of the Twayblade Orchids were showing well. As I was hoping for some close-up work on butterflies, I took a shot of a dandelion head to check my settings. I found that I rather liked the results, so I kept one of the photos.

Dandelion sp. - Ketton Quarry
I spent some time in the  area which can be good for lizards and snakes, and also butterflies at times. In spite of it being nicely sheltered from the wind, it came up with nothing, so I headed up to an area which is a good place for Green Hairstreak butterfly at the right time of year. I found one almost immediately at the start of the usual hedgeline (also nicely sheltered and in the sun) but it stayed high in a bush and I couldn't get closer than around 3 metres.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Ketton Quarry
I continued along the hedgeline and, near the far end, found an extremely obliging specimen.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Ketton Quarry
For those of you unfamiliar with this tiny, but beautiful, butterfly, it is the only green butterfly found in UK . It is only just over half an inch (1.5 cm) from head to wing-tip. I've yet to find one settle with its wings open, but the upper side of the wings is a milk-chocolate brown.

Also in this area were a couple of Holly Blue butterflies. These are a bit bigger than the Green Hairstreak, but still very small. This one represents the female of the species, with its dark wing-tips. Sadly, this one also kept its distance.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female) - Ketton Quarry
Having spent some time here, I set off down into the adjacent hollow. Nothing of note was found here, but I did manage some shots of a female Brimstone butterfly and a Bee-fly.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (female) - Ketton Quarry
Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) - Ketton Quarry
On my way out of this area, I stopped at the hedge again, and took more shots of the Green Hairstreak and a Holly Blue (this time a male) which was a little more obliging. I tried getting a head-on image of the Green Hairstreak, but it had a very strange behavioural pattern - as I approached, it quickly turned from head-on to side-on. When I backed off it switched back again. I tried this many times - each time with the same result! In the second hairstreak image, you can just detect the brown of the upper wing surface.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) - Ketton Quarry
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (male) - Ketton Quarry
I next set off into an area which can be good for skipper butterflies, but none were seen. I only took some shots of a day-flying moth - the Common Heath.

Common Heath (Ematurga atomaria) - Ketton Quarry
On my way back towards the entrance, I stopped to shoot a male Brimstone.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (male) - Ketton Quarry
As my return journey took me past the hedge that had been so rewarding, I had a quick look once more, and took some more shots. The first was of a wasp!

Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) - Ketton Quarry
The second was of the male Holly Blue as, so far that day,  I'd not managed to capture the underside of this butterfly.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (male) - Ketton Quarry
I headed back to the area that I'd started in, which I believe is known as 'The Barbecue' to local enthusiasts. I'd almost given up when I found my first Dingy Skipper of the year. This butterfly is even smaller than the Green Hairstreak.

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) (male) - Ketton Quarry
I had one last-ditch attempt to find some lizards, visiting a narrow gully where I'd seen lizards several times in the past, but there was a cold wind blasting up the gully, so I gave up, having the rest of my picnic lunch at 16h30, before I headed for home! 

Thus ended another rather rewarding, and highly enjoyable, day

Thank you for dropping by.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Visit to Alvecote Wood - on 30th April, 2017

Alvecote Wood is a great place for, amongst other things, dragonflies and damselflies. It is only about 12 miles (20 km) from my home, but is privately owned, and has limited access. It is only open to the public on the last Sunday of each month (between 10h00 and 16h00) and every Wednesday evening (between 18h00 and 20h00).

As I had not yet managed to see a dragonfly or damselfly this year (first emergences in these parts tend to be way behind those in the south and south-west of England), I felt that a visit to Alvecote Wood on this day might give me my first sightings of the year. Although it was rather windy, the sun was shining brightly and it was quite warm if one avoided being in the wind.

I set off from home a little later than intended, so took fast route that I am not used to rather than the scenic route. The only problem was that, at the point where I intended to rejoin my customary route, I took a wrong turn and ended up on a Motorway with no exit for nearly 8 miles (12 km). In the event, this turned out to be an even quicker route, and I arrived ten minutes before opening time. Luckily the owners, Sarah and Stephen, were there and I was allowed in.

Having had a quick chat, I set off and immediately came across a Muntjac on the path.

Reeves' Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi) (male) - Alvecote Wood
Muntjac are not popular with the owners of Alvecote wood as they are not a native species, having been released from captive 'collections'. They are, however, present in considerable numbers, and they do damage to plant life, particularly plants of the primrose family - a delightful feature of Alvecote wood.

My stroll through the wood to get to the ponds was a pleasant one and the omens felt good.

path through Alvecote Wood
Having left the wood, there were a few butterflies about, but the wind was blowing strongly. The first two ponds yielded nothing, but the wind would have made things hopeless for photography anyway.

Fortunately the two lower ponds were in a sheltered position and I found my first damselfly of the year almost immediately - the hoped-for Large Red Damselfly. This is a very common species in these parts, and are reliably the first Odonata species to appear. I believe, however, that it's still relatively unusual for them to appear in April.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Alvecote Wood
 I soon found a second, more obliging, specimen.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Alvecote Wood
The shine on the wings, and the orange eyes, indicate that these males were relatively fresh. Those eyes will turn red with age.

More searching had me finding a female that had just emerged and was clinging to a reed just above the exuvia - the casing of the nymph that she had emerged from. I'd would dearly have loved to capture the actual emergence, but had to content myself with watching the newly emerged damselfly develop into a a fledged adult. Sadly this specimen was very low down, and to photograph it I had to kneel down on the soggy edge to the pond and bend over with my head nearly touching the water. As the process took over two hours, I found it necessary to abandon the position for a while every so often in order to straighten out the kinks in my arms, knees, back and neck - nearly falling over from dizziness as I did so. Please excuse, on these grounds, the somewhat dodgy photography.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
You can see in the above image that the abdomen is virtually colourless and not fully extended but the wings are forming nicely and extending just beyond the tip of the abdomen. In the next image, the abdomen has extended further, and the wings are longer, although still cloudy.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
In the next image, she has started to climb, the abdomen has lengthened further, and the wings are starting to become clearer. The pterostigma (spots towards the ends of the wings) are now showing.

She's now climbed a little further in the next image, and the abdomen and wings are at their full length. There's still a way to go, however!

In the next image, the wings are almost totally clear, and she's now taking on colour as she dries out.

All this time she'd been alert, and here eyesight was working - although how fully, I don't know. What I do know is that, from the start, if I approached her she dipped round to the rear of the reed. I did manage to get a shot of her from above, however.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
She now steadily made her way up the reed to the tip.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral female) - Alvecote Wood
Shortly after this she flew - she'll have gone somewhere safe, away from the pond, until she is fully settled and ready for her new life.

After she'd gone, I carefully collected the exuvia, and it is now with the small collection I have as souvenirs of such moments, stored in clear pots on my bookshelf.

As already stated, I'd had to have some breaks from this activity, and I used this time to search for other subjects. The Dandelions were attracting plenty of insects.

Green-veined White (Pieris napi) (male) - Alvecote Wood
Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) - Alvecote Wood
It was, of course, the damselflies that got most of my attention at these times, however.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (female) - Alvecote Wood

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - Alvecote Wood
I'd been too busy to fully notice that I'd overdone the sessions with my body in strange positions, but a short period of relaxation on a nearby bench brought it home to me rather strongly. I struggled on the way back to the car, but did manage to take a few more photos as I went.

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) - Alvecote Woods
These are, of course, genuine British Bluebells. The Spanish Bluebells, found in so many British Gardens, are rather different. I've just read that the British Isles is home to around half the world's bluebells!

The next image is of a classic scene that changes dramatically throughout the year, and is always a pleasure to view.

from Alvecote Wood
Thus ended a highly enjoyable day - I'm still recovering!

My thanks to Stephen and Sarah for allowing access to this wonderful place.

I suspect that my next post might be on butterflies!

Thank you for dropping by.