Complete beast

No, not the sweet fledgling Stonechat that flitted about as today’s guided walk into Ainsdale Local Nature Reserve began, through orchid-strewn slacks.
The beast in question was this female Emperor dragonfly that swept up to grab a Dark Green Fritillary on the wing (very dramatic), before retiring to a nearby clump of Sea Spurge to eat the butterfly alive!

I wouldn’t mind but it was one of my first Dark Green Frits of the summer, and I was just getting through counselling after watching an Emperor rip the wings off a considerably smaller Small Skipper a year or two ago…
How could you do that to a nice fresh frit??? I’ve never seen one take such big prey before. Beast!
Still, at least the group today got very good close views of a newly emerged Dark Green Frit, even if it was in its last twitching death throes once the dragon had discarded it.

The Serengeti eat ya heart out – oh no, wait that’s exactly what the Anax just did to the Frit…
8+ of our biggest dragonflies cruising the pools and egg laying today, with a rough count of 20 Red Veined Darters in the area between the Slack 169 complex and the frontal dunes – although it was hard to get an accurate assessment while trying to show folk Natterjack toadlets, Centaurys, Painted Ladies, Skullcap, Skylarks, Ploughman’s Spikenard, six species of orchid etc etc – coulda been more, coulda been less.
Whatever, the dunes were on spectacular form.

Broad Bodied Chasers and Four Spot Chasers on the wing too, and five teneral Common Darters to add to the mix.
A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling away nearer to Ainsdale Discovery Centre and small groups of Swifts rode the hot air above the growing angry cloud masses of a very humid morning.
Thanks to the Friends of Mere Sands Wood for joining me on a hugely enjoyable walk.
We were back at Ainsdale Discovery Centre before 2pm, but I could have happily spent another few hours out there…

Sun breaks through, dragons come out.

The mercury was rocketing, but a 40 minute recce of the frontal dunes south of Shore Road, Ainsdale, was productive this afternoon.
Several of the slacks and pools were alive with dragonflies – Broad Bodied and Four Spot Chasers, Emperors galore and at least three, possibly as many as five, Red Veined Darters.

I was pleased to bump into ’em, but given Phil Smith and Trevor Davenport had found a few down at Hightown yesterday, I wasn’t overly surprised – conditions are perfect for the splendid ruby ones again, and a few have been popping up at traditional sites around the country over the last few days.
Chased by Emperors over the water (don’t you dare eat these jewels!) and understandably restless, as long as you kept a respectful distance, occasionally they settled on any perch or ridge they could find on the hot sand.

Under lowering cloud

As the cloudbase darkened and started to look angry they began to appear – black specks way out on the horizon, but hurtling towards us at astonishing speed, then screaming over our heads and gone gone gone.
Sometimes the best summer days have cloud and rain, or they do at Spurn, where Neill Hunt and I enjoyed a textbook movement of non-breeding Common Swifts on Thursday.
The devil birds scorched down the east coast ahead of heavy showers, before looping back over the North Sea.
Between 4 and 5,000 of them passed counters at “Numpties” during the course of the day, and we were lucky to witness a good proportion of the spectacle.

Neill drove us over on Wednesday evening and based at the Hunt Hacienda at Sandy Beaches caravan park, we birded the place until late on Friday afternoon.
The Swift passage was a high point, but even at this time of year the place has plenty of other marvellous stuff…

There were large numbers of Painted Ladies about, most very worn, with Red Admiral, Small Heath and Common Blues, and plenty of fledging Whitethroats, singing Skylarks, Marsh Harriers, and on Thursday up at Kilnsea Wetlands a Little Gull amongst the roosting BHGs, LBBs and Herring Gulls.
I was sure I had a female Garganey out on the water there but all the ducks scattered before I could get others on it.

We picked up Hobby twice as they danced over the peninsula before settling down for afternoon with the hard core at Numpties on Thursday, where clickers were overheating as pulses of Swifts rocketed through.
The radio crackled in the summer drowse….”1,500 Swifts over Beacon Ponds”…
We may have missed the morning’s Pallid Swift, but it was still exciting, and as we scanned to the north west I ‘scoped a rakish harrier flapping down the Humber in the wibbly wobbly afternoon haze.
It never came that close, but the ringtail seemed to be a Montagu’s – Spurn was delivering the goods again.
Surprisingly after a de rigueur lunchtime snifter at the Crown and Anchor five Whimbrel, Barwits, Knot and Grey Plover were back on the Humber mud already – non-breeders like the dashing Swifts presumably.
Roe Deer were everywhere.

We’d just about earned our Swift badges (I lost mine again by nodding off at my post and snoring fit to register on the Richter scale the next day – damn you Timothy Taylor!) and were stumbling back to the car on Thursday evening when I heard a dry rattling call.
Seconds after a tiny female Serin, very pale in the hard sun, but still with a bright yellow rump, launched itself off a hawthorn by Pallas’s Pond, and bounded past us, calling several times before it disappeared over the Warren at 6.25pm.
Classic Spurn.
Back at the caravan the radio crackled into life again… “Six Spoonbill over Beacon Ponds”… and shortly afterwards we were treated to a fly-by by the big galoots as they went south first, then came back north, then went south again as they tried to figure out where exactly to go…

Just the thing to go with an evening constitutional before, er, a night in the Crown and Anchor.
The sun was cracking the flags next morning, so Friday was a quieter day birdwise – a few hundred Swifts went through, but nothing like the previous day’s movement.
The brighter weather meant that we got great views of at least two Vagrant Emperor dragonflies around the Warren and Numpties – these blue saddled beauties have been present for a few days and are part of a wider influx.
They often flew close by but never settled long enough for me to get a picture, but any dragonfly tick is cause for celebration…
Common Blue Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly, Four Spot Chaser and Emperor were also on the wing.

A Grey Wagtail went south, but not much else was on the move, so we pulled out at 5pm yesterday and headed back west.
A brief detour took us to Pugneys Country Park by Wakefield, where a Great Reed Warbler has been on territory in a reedbed in the north east corner of the site by a sluice for the last week or two.

Unco-operative at first, after 20 minutes or so it clambered to the top of the reed-stems to serenade the clouds of midges gathering at the waterside with its demented football rattle song.
Big, noisy and bonkers, just as they always are.

Another fine visit to the east coast – as ever thanks to Neill for his hospitality, and thanks too to all the Spurn regulars for the friendship and freely offered info over two superb days in the field (and in the Crown and Anchor….).

Round Two

With the lads stuffing their faces and fit to burst before disappearing down any uncovered chimneys around Dempsey Towers (Jackdaws are a class albeit brutal act), it’s not quite time to throw in the summer towel just yet.
True I have already descended into the murky, if wonderfully fragrant, depths of botany this week with a major orchid/invert splurge in the South Lakes (see previous entry), but Blackcaps, Goldcrest, Blackbirds, Chiffchaff and even Nuthatch are starting to sing again closer to home.
The Blackcaps have raised a brood in our garden for the fourth year running, but more Nuthatch action is always welcome.
Groppers are reeling in the dunes too.
Swifts remain so scarce as to be noteworthy above Dempsey Towers. Sigh.
Red Admiral, Painted Lady and Speckled Woods are zooming about, but I’m trying to keep my concentration locked on the feathery stuff still – after all, it’s only a week or two before waders start coming back down again…
Until then, why not let me know what you’re seeing in your garden or farther afield, whether its got feathers or not…???

More mint cake Padre?

A smashing whistle-stop tour of a number of sites around the South Lakes this afternoon, shamelessly orchid chasing.
Early cloud gave way to brighter sunny periods, but a strong wind made things difficult.
After a bit of searching I managed to locate a single flowering Fly Orchid (only just, the top bloom was still doing the business, but the rest of the plant was going over) at Latterbarrow.

Delighted to see it though – the plant may have been on the way out for the year, but I’ve not seen one before, so to me it was as crisp as a freshly sharpened Cumberland pencil.
2B or not 2B. Ha ha ha.
Hordes of Common Spotted there, with one or two Heathy looking ones, a few Great Butterfly Orchids and two Common (?) Fragrant Orchids.

Northern Brown Argus tazzed around like lunatics, the strong breeze making it even harder to watch them, but I only had one Small Pearl Bordered Frit, and that was raggedy.
I drove the short distance to Foulshaw, where the distant Osprey nest had an occupant, just visible with the ‘scope on full zoom, while four or five Large Heath butterflies clung to the vegetation for dear life and a White Faced Darter hurtled past on the breeze.
Green Tiger Beetles scurried about, and Redpoll, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps were singing before I pulled out and headed up to Scout Scar in the early evening.
It was glorious up there, but even windier, making the flowering Lesser Butterfly Orchids on the tops seem positively defiant – they looked way too delicate to withstand the wind…but withstand it they did.

The petrified remains of the spring’s Early Purple Orchids clung on, while I think this Fragrant Orchid below is a Heath FO – can more experienced orchid hunters enlighten me??

Superb plants, with Redstart, Tree Pipit and Raven up there too, so I didn’t ignore feathery things completely today.
A spiffing afternoon.

Cow and chicken

The Cattle Egret was looking chipper and keeping busy amongst the herd on Rimmer’s Marsh this evening.
Marshside was cool and dark after the rain, with Swifts and House Martins from the housing estate swooping down real low, while Little Ringed Plover and Dunlin scuttled amongst the roosting Blackwits in front of the Sandgrounders flaps.

Whitethroats and Sedgies still singing on Hesketh Drive and Gadwall sliding into eclipse.
Sometimes a brief visit is all you need.

Long time, no sea.

Rain rattling off the roof slates and wind gusting around the eaves this morning meant that even though the tide wasn’t particularly high and peaking mid-afternoon, a seawatch beckoned.
I got down to the Tobacco Dump for 1315, and while it was hardly jumping, it was good to be scanning the waves again after far too long.

Tobacco Dump, Formby, 8/6/19, 1315-1545,
Frequent showers, wind SW/W f5-4, tide high at 15.35:

Gannet 52
Manx Shearwater 2
Common Scoter 31
Razorbill 2
Bonxie 1
skua sp 1
Arctic Tern 1
Sandwich Tern 2

At first the wind and squalls were quite strong, but fell away later.
It was time to give my brolly a good battering (at £2 from any of those big sport superstores, golf umbrellas are a cheap investment, but worth their weight in seawatching gold for keeping rain and wind off you, even if they tend to have the life expectancy of an ice cream in a microwave).
The bay was quiet, but a steady movement of Gannets was gliding north just beyond the surf, almost all sub-adult birds.
They dragged a bruiser of a Bonxie with them, perhaps tracking the Gannets in the hope one caught something it could rob.
Another, smaller skua was dancing about beyond the range of safe id in the murk 2/3rds out (almost certainly an Arctic), but terns were striking by their virtual absence, while a small huddle of Common Scoters hunkered down on the swell.

Later in the afternoon a few of the Gannets started moving back south.

Light and shade

Bored by the rain I headed up to Pilling Lane Ends this afternoon for a butchers at the long-staying Iberian Chiffchaff.
The bird was singing from the copse between the car park and pool and after a few minutes of restless zipping about, settled down and performed very well.

I even managed a video clip of the bird singing away, which you can watch on YouTube here – I know, I know, kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
Don’t laugh.
I was interested to compare the Pilling Iberian to a bird that was singing from the top of the poplars at Dempsey Towers on April 19th.
That bird looked like a fairly coventional, if bright Chiffchaff, despite an intriguing song that wasn’t normal, but didn’t quite fit Iberian.
Here’s some pics of that one – I didn’t manage a recording unfortunately, but think it was “mixed song” Chiffy…

Unlike the goggled-up bird above, today’s bird was singing textbook Iberian (at times a perfect match for the Collins Bird Guide app recording) and showed the lovely yellowish breast, longer paler bill, dark eyestripe and bright supercililum.
The wings and tail looked long too – half Willow Warbler, half Chiffchaff.

In the shade of the canopy in the rain it looked very green, and a bit scruffy, but when it came out of the shade to sing on the edge of the copse the subtleties of its plumage were more obvious.

Different contact call and brown, rather than black, legs when it came out of the shade, but it did pump its tail occasionally like a normal Chiffy.
A thoroughly educational afternoon then.
It’s been awhile since I watched one at full throttle down in Coto Donana, or tried to enjoy the grotbag at Potteric Carr as it struggled to make itself heard over the roar of motorway…

It waits for no one

It all grows up so quickly – just a week or two away from Plex and the place is disappearing under summer vegetation and crops, and the urgency of spring is fading.
Haskayne Cutting was sliding into drowsy summer with Yellowhammer song slowing in the fizzing elderflower heads, fledged young phylloscs in the more mature trees and an intoxicating carpet of Northern and Southern Marsh Orchids amongst the dazzling yellow spearworts.

The wildflowers on the field edges are superb at the moment too – almost as striking as the orchids.
Out on the fields I grilled growing pigeon flocks in the hope of picking up a scallopy chestnut back (remember those days???), but had to make do with good numbers of Stock Dove shuffling about to a soundtrack of Corn Buntings grinding and strangling notes down towards summer’s snoozy time…

Don’t forget to let me know what you’re seeing via the comments thingy – always great to hear what others are up to, whatever corner of the globe you’re enjoying!