Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Local Wildlife Sightings June 2022


I go searching for owls at a few locations during June, when breeding activity reaches a crescendo. On a cool, damp but still evening on the 5th I wandered up the Hertfordshire Way towards Hatchpen Farm. In a patch of woodland that separates Royston farmland from the Newsells Stud Farm a juvenile tawny owl was calling and, as I approached, one of its parents flew a short distance away. Further on a little owl was seen, close to a regular nesting site (on private land). There was no sign of the little owl when I returned a few minutes later, but the juvenile tawny owl was calling, having moved to the other side of the path, and once again I saw an adult owl fly away from the same area. Back in Royston a tawny owl was hooting from the Royston Hospital area. This was no surprise, as I've heard it hooting practically every night since early spring. I guess that this is a young male, trying to establish a territory. However, it has clearly failed to attract any female owls so far! 

Newly-fledged goldfinches were noticed on my bird feeders on the 2nd, although adults were by far the most common visitors. The local blue tits were noted in the garden on the 4th, feeding young with bits of suet. Whilst I was out photographing invertebrates (see below) on the 8th I heard a quail singing ("wet my lips, wet my lips") in a field about a mile from the house. The Royston area is regarded by many as the best in the country for quail - I hear them most years in the general area between Royston and Wallington - and both my UK sightings have been nearby.


The weather was more changeable in early June than it had been in May, but I was able to get out and about to 'blitz' the local area on the 2nd and the 8th. Highlights on the 2nd were my first sighting of a marbled white butterfly this year (also Hertfordshire's first sighting), a garden 'first' in the form of a (female) large red damselfly, and finding a pair of mating common blue butterflies, together with at least 30 burnet companion moths on the lovely little wildflower meadow situated a few hundred yards from my house. Common blue and brown argus butterflies were active at two other known sites and Adonis blues were still active at both ends of The Heath.

Male Adonis Blue Butterfly, Church Hill, 2 June

Mating Common Blue Butterflies, Royston, 2 June

Female Large Red Damselfly, My Garden, 2 June

I added large skipper and dark green fritillary to my year list when I visited The Heath (Old Rifle Range area) on the 8th. Common and Adonis blues and brown argus butterflies were active here, but when I visited Church Hill in the evening (after a heavy rain shower) the only butterflies I found were marbled whites and meadow browns. Other invertebrates found on the 8th included a very large (20+ mm), almost completely black bumble bee. I've seen this species, or something like it, in France and Spain. Has it now crossed the channel and established itself in the UK? I must do some research. Images to follow.

Wild Flowers
June is the best month for seeing wild orchids, both locally and nationally. Whilst the white helleborines in Fox Covert had 'gone over' by the start of the month, I found three spikes of fragrant orchid and three spikes of bee orchid when I visited The Heath on the 8th. I caught the fragrant orchid spike at just the right time - images to follow!

Monday, 6 June 2022

UK Wildlife Sightings, June 2022

 When a bird that I haven't seen before in the UK turns up in the south-eastern quarter of England I start to take an interest in it. When it is a raptor, and a mega-rarity, I feel the urge to see it, if at all possible. Fortunately, the long-staying Eleonora's falcon at Worth Marsh (near Sandwich) in Kent stayed for over a week and, at the first opportunity, I drove down to Kent on the 1st. This falcon is larger than a hobby, but otherwise quite similar in its appearance and habits. I was lucky to visit on a day when it spent long periods in the air and was able to compare its behaviour to that of the local hobbies, which were often in the air at the same time. Although the Eleonora's falcon is not a slouch, its actions were slower and more deliberate than those of the dashing hobbies. This bird had a notched tail, which made it relatively easy to pick out, but the other differences could only be teased out by photographing the bird in flight and comparing it with a hobby in flight when its longer tail, yellowish breast 'wash' and darker wing coverts could be clearly seen. The Eleonora's falcon lacks the red 'trousers' of the hobby, but the facial markings of the birds were rather more similar than appears to be the case according to the field guides - see the composite image below. Whilst I was at Worth Marsh I was able to catch up with a female red-footed falcon nearby. Presumably this bird arrived at the same time as the Eleonora's falcon and it appears that they left together, a couple of days after my visit.

Eleonora's Falcon in Flight, Worth Marsh, Kent, 1 June

Comparison of Hobby (left) and Eleonora's Falcon (right) at Worth Marsh on 1 June. Note the longer tail, yellowish 'wash' on the Breast and dark Wing Coverts of the Eleonora's Falcon. The birds were photographed within a few minutes of each other.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Local Wildlife Sightings May 2022

It was a relief to find that the weather in May was much kinder to wildlife than it had been in the cold, wet spring of 2021. There was plenty of warm sunshine, but also enough rain to keep trees and plants growing vigorously. Although temperatures dipped towards the end of the month, this critical time for breeding and nesting will hopefully result in much greater breeding success (particularly for birds) than was seen in 2021. May is also the month when my attention switches over (though not completely) from birds and mammals to invertebrates, so I've divided this month's page into two sections. May is also the time of year when I spend a lot of my life out 'in the field', so my apologies for the less than regular updates.


After 'dipping' on wood sandpiper on two occasions (at Broom Gravel Pits in Bedfordshire and Amwell) I set off with some trepidation when I heard that a black tern was at Dernford Farm Reservoir, a short drive from Royston, on the 3rd. However, not only was the bird present when I arrived but it spent some time resting on a raft a few feet away from the edge of the lake, giving me my best ever views of this rather attractive 'marsh tern'. As an added bonus a couple of common sandpipers were present too. This reservoir has had more than its fair share of rarities in the last couple of years and is fast becoming one of my favourite local wildlife havens.

Black Tern, Dernford Farm Reservoir, 3 May

Black Tern (left) and Common Tern, Dernford Farm Reservoir, 3 May

Common Sandpipers in Flight, Dernford Farm Reservoir, 3 May

The female ring ouzel remained at the west end of Therfield Heath until at least the 3rd. Willow warblers were singing on territory for at least two weeks, both at Church Hill (where a bird sang throughout May) and near my home in Royston, suggesting possible breeding. A willow warbler, heard in Reed village on the 9th, had a peculiar 'willowchaff' song of the type that I discussed in this blog a year ago, but all the other birds in the area (more than I heard last year) had the normal, rather beautiful, 'descending cadence' structure to their songs. Several lesser whitethroats were on territory in the area. I didn't find any garden warblers on my walks around Royston this year but, as usual, there was one surprise visitor in the form of a sedge warbler, seen and heard behind Royston Hospital on the 17th. After their apparent complete breeding failure last year, I was very pleased to see a couple of spotted flycatchers back on territory near the Therfield Road on the 16th. Swifts were a little late to arrive in Royston, turning up around the 12th. As usual, house martins came back even later, with five being seen at Hatchpen Farm on the 18th. I was attracted at the same time by an unusual song, reminiscent of corn buntings and swifts, which turned out to belong to a male yellow wagtail! Although often seen and heard, I'm not sure that I've actually heard a yellow wagtail singing before. The resident pair of Canada geese on Phillup's Lake had three young in tow when I visited on the 9th. Also present were a mallard family (four chicks), a coot and a little grebe. A family party of long-tailed tits was seen in Fox Covert on the 17th and two more family groups of this species were seen on The Heath on the 24th, giving hope that this species will recover quickly after last year's poor breeding season. A family party of great tits and at least one recently-fledged song thrush were also seen here on the 24th.

Canada Goose with Young, Phillup's Lake (Reed End), 9 May

Male Yellow Wagtail, Hatchpen Farm, 18 May

By the month's end I had seen family parties of blue tits, great tits and robins close to home, a juvenile song thrush in the woods overlooking the sporting club and a family of coots (five young) at Phillup's Lake, my first evidence of this species breeding in the Royston area.

Invertebrates - Butterflies
Orange-tip, green-veined white, peacock, holly blue and comma butterflies were very active in warm weather coming in to May. I visited Church Hill on the 6th, hoping to see first generation Adonis blue butterflies on the wing. Although none were seen (they were first reported from here on the 8th) I did find a number of brown argus butterflies and one common blue (the first to be reported in Herts. this year). Male Adonis blues were on the wing when I returned on the 9th, with numbers increasing through the month to around 40 on the 23rd, when there was roughly a (1:1) ratio of males to females and a couple of variants were found. Small heath butterflies were seen in good numbers later in the month at both ends of The Heath, a new generation of red admirals was on the wing from the middle of May and brimstones were present in good numbers throughout. Adonis blues (eight males) were noted at the east end of The Heath on the 17th. A painted lady, seen close to my home on the 23rd, was likely to be the first of many, as there was a big influx from The Continent in the second half of May. A speckled wood (my first local sighting this year) was on the wing on The Heath on the 24th.

Male Adonis Blue, Church Hill, 9 May

Male Brown Argus, Church Hill, 6 May

Male Orange-tip, Fox Covert, 9 May

Invertebrates - the Rest
This year's wildlife project is to try to see, photograph and identify 200 different invertebrate species within a two mile radius of my house. I suspect that identification will be the most difficult part of the exercise, and I have already photographed a few species that I can't identify - including the insect (image below), which had the proportions of a crane fly but enormously long antennae. Does anybody recognise it? I've already seen a number of small bees, flies and spiders (including two species of crab spider and a tiny wasp spider), but there is much work to do to achieve my target. Dragonflies are surprisingly common around Royston, considering the lack of water in the area, and after seeing both azure and large red damselflies close to the house in early May I was lucky to see and photograph a beautiful broad-bodied chaser nearby on the 23rd. Scorpion flies seem to be particularly common this year - or maybe I just noticed more as I was looking for other species on leaves or other vegetation.

Broad-bodied Chaser Dragonfly, Royston, 23 May

Mystery Insect, Royston, 17 May

A half-eaten dead slow worm was found on The Heath on the 10th. I have seen quite a few dead slow worms over the years, but have never found a live specimen! I wasn't aware that they were present in the Royston area, common lizards being the only reptilian species that I knew about here. Of course, this reptile may have been deposited from elsewhere....

UK Wildlife Sightings May 2022

 I made my first visit of the year to Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits on the morning of the 2nd. At least five garden warblers were singing as I made my way round the main pit and a couple of reed warblers showed well. I heard a distant cuckoo.

Garden Warbler, Tyttenhanger, 2 May

On the 5th I travelled over to Thornham, hoping to see the seven dotterel that had been reported earlier in the day. However, those of us who spent a lot of time looking in the fields where they had last been seen came away disappointed. I also made a quick visit to Thornham Harbour, where highlights included a pair of whimbrel, some summer-plumaged ruff and a fairly obliging male wheatear (a wheatear was also seen near to where the dotterel had been reported).

Wheatear on Marker Post, Thornham Harbour, 5 May

Two Whimbrel, Thornham Harbour, 5 May

My annual visit to Bison Hill (Whipsnade) on the 6th to see some of our rarer early season butterflies was rewarded with good views of Duke of Burgundy, dingy skipper, grizzled skipper and green hairstreak.

Dingy Skipper, Bison Hill, 6 May

Duke of Burgundy, Bison Hill, 6 May

Grizzled Skipper, Bison Hill, 6 May

I visited RSPB Minsmere twice in the middle of the month, doing a reconnaissance trip on the 11th for an RSPB trip that I was leading on the 15th. On the first visit I saw four of the resident glossy ibises and added little tern and kittiwake to my UK year list. Unfortunately the little terns were not there for the RSPB Local Group visit, but we did see two curlew sandpipers and lots of bitterns (or the same bitterns making regular flights!) and hobbies. At least two glossy ibises were still present.

Overhead Bittern, RSPB Minsmere, 15 May

Hobby in Flight, RSPB Minsmere, 15 May

Singing Sedge Warbler, RSPB Minsmere, 11 May

Turnstone in Summer Plumage, RSPB Minsmere, 11 May

Sandwiched in between these trips was a visit to Thursley Common (Surrey) on the 13th. I was hoping to see and photograph 'Colin the Cuckoo' for the third consecutive year, but he was rather tardy in showing up (he did eventually appear), so I settled for wandering around the heathland on a hot morning, seeing and photographing woodlarks (several pairs were present), redstarts and various dragonflies.

Male Woodlark Singing, Thursley Common, 13 May

A visit to Rutland Water on the 19th to see the nesting ospreys at the Lyndon Reserve was enlivened by watching a common tern desperately trying to catch a fish to present to (presumably) his partner, who was calling the whole time whilst sitting on a post near the hide from where the osprey nest (and ospreys) could be seen. After 30 minutes he still hadn't caught anything as I left and she was still calling....

Common Tern Hovering, Rutland Water, 19 May

Osprey in Flight, Rutland Water, 19 May

On the 22nd I suggested to my partner that we should visit The Wash coast and do a walk between Snettisham and Heacham. She usually knows if I have an ulterior motive for a visit, so she wasn't surprised to see quite a few bird watchers with telescopes heading the other way as we set off along the main path to Heacham from Snettisham village. They had been to see the great reed warblers that had taken up residence half way between the towns. One of the birds was quite showy, and I was able to get a few photos of him before we moved on. Later on the walk (which we both enjoyed!) there was the bonus of a purring turtle dove, a bird that is sadly declining to likely extinction as a UK breeding species.

Great Reed Warbler, Snettisham, 22 May

On the 27th I made my annual pilgrimage to Cutthroat Bridge in the Peak District. I was feeling under the weather so did a shorter walk than usual, but one that took in the main areas of bird watching interest. Once again, red grouse were hard to find although I did get a distant view of a single bird. However, tree pipits (which I didn't see here last year) were common, with males singing (mainly) from telegraph wires. I also saw male and female ring ouzels and a lovely male pied flycatcher. A spotted flycatcher was seen at the start of the walk and stonechats, curlews and cuckoos were seen and heard.

Male Pied Flycatcher near Cutthroat Bridge, 27 May

Male Ring Ouzel, Derwent Edge, 27 May

Young Stonechat, Cutthroat Bridge, 27 May

Monday, 18 April 2022

Local Wildlife Sightings April 2022

 Cold weather in the first week, combined with strong winds on the 6th and 7th (which almost blew the garden fencing down) brought migration from the south to a virtual halt, whilst winter visitors had largely departed in March. An early wheatear was seen near Ashwell on the 2nd, whilst a few immature large gulls were seen at Hatchpen Farm, including a probable 3rd winter yellow-legged gull. A very windy walk round the villages on the 7th produced a pair of tufted ducks and a little grebe at Phillup's Lake and a flock of around 50 fieldfares at Hatchpen Farm, where there was some mining bee activity. A few lapwings were still hanging on at the NE corner of Greys Farm.

Tufted Ducks, Phillups Lake, Reed End, 7 April

There was a big change in the weather from the 8th and by the 13th we were basking in the sun and temperatures of 18-20C. Common migrant birds flooded into the region over the next week, with blackcaps, in particular, becoming widespread and common. After dropping my car off for repair near Rushden on the 12th I walked back along footpaths to Royston (around 10 miles), seeing my first willow warbler of the year near Blagrove Common nature reserve, as well as green-veined and orange tip butterflies. A wheatear was seen in a field near Chapel Green. Further singing willow warblers (now essentially a passage migrant in the Royston area) were seen at the west end of Therfield Heath on the 15th and at the Newsells Stud Farm on the 18th. A wheatear was at Greys Farm on the 15th and four swallows were back at Hatchpen Farm on the 18th. One swallow showed interesting behaviour, standing on the cattle grid at the entrance to the farm before dropping down under the grid and re-emerging around 20 seconds later. Was it looking for invertebrate food or nesting material? There was an excellent display of pasque flowers through the first half of the month on Church Hill. Six butterfly species (brimstone, comma, green-veined white, orange tip, peacock and small tortoiseshell) were seen on a 'there and back' walk with my partner up the Icknield Way to the 'Fox and Duck' in Therfield on the 17th.

Pasque Flowers on the side of Church Hill, 11 April

Female Green-veined White Butterfly, Fox Covert, 11 April

Another visit to Amwell, on the morning of the 14th, was rewarded with sightings of my first sedge warblers and common whitethroat of the year, although there was no sign of the reported cuckoo. After getting good views of a singing Cetti's warbler near the edge of Hollycross Lake I walked back across the field towards the gate leading to the main track, only to be confronted with the sight of a barn owl, sitting on a dead tree stump around 50 yards away! It stayed whilst I scrabbled to get my camera out and even allowed me to get a little closer before eventually flying away. Sadly, my images revealed that it was an injured bird, having lost one eye and showing some other damage. Although barn owls hunt mainly using their acute hearing, I fear that this bird will struggle to survive in the wild for long.

Barn Owl, Amwell, 14 April, Showing its 'Good Side'

One-eyed Barn Owl, Amwell, 14 April

As more and more insects were emerging I spent some time at Hatchpen Farm, photographing and trying to identify the mining bees and their cleptoparasites that live there. Both male and female hairy-footed flower bees were identified from photographs, as were male and female armed melecta bees, which parasitise the hairy-footed flower bees. Nearby, a couple of Gooden's nomad bees were seen These parasitise a variety of andrena mining bees, although none of these could be found at the site. Whether there is any relationship between the nomad bee and the other species seen remains to be clarified: I must do some more research into their interactions.

Female Armed Melecta Bee, Reed, 18 April

Male Armed Melecta Bee, Reed, 18 April

Female Hairy-footed Flower Bee, Reed, 18 April

Male Hairy-footed Flower Bee, Reed, 18 April

Gooden's Nomad Bee, Reed, 18 April

I do the vast majority of my local bird watching on my own, but I can't cover all of my 'local patch' by myself on a very regular basis. Fortunately there are other bird watchers who cover local sites. I am grateful to Doug Radford (who found the bird) and Andy Symes (for spreading the news) when a female ring ouzel was found on the side of Church Hill on the 25th. I saw and photographed the bird the following day and it was still present when I visited again on the 29th. Ring ouzels are spring passage migrants, which stop off in the Royston area almost every year (but none seen in 2021!). This bird was probably heading to Scandinavia, although they nest in upland areas as close to us as the Peak District. Later on the 26th I visited Phillup's Lake in Reed End, where swallows and house martins were feeding over the water and three pairs of Canada geese were showing aggression and chasing each other around the lake.

Female Ring Ouzel, Church Hill, 26 April

Canada Goose Aggression, Phillup's Lake, 26 April

House Martin about to catch a Fly (near top right), Phillup's Lake, 26 April

Sunday, 17 April 2022

UK Wildlife Sightings April 2022

 Car problems (I eventually had a new clutch and gearbox fitted) restricted my movements in the early part of the month, although I did manage to get away to Suffolk for the weekend with my partner (in her car) from the 8th to the 10th. On one of our walks we passed RSPB Minsmere reserve, where I added a new species (barnacle goose!) to my year list but, with bird migration 'on hold' due to northerly winds in the UK and storms in France, I wasn't missing out on anything exciting. However, the weather improved considerably from the 10th, with temperatures reaching 20C by the 13th, and the common migrant species came flooding in to the country. With the car repaired I visited a couple of Hertfordshire 'hot spots', Amwell and the Tring reservoirs, on the 14th. I classify Amwell as 'local' (see my concurrent blog post for April), whereas the more distant Tring reservoirs yielded a swallow (my first hirundine of the year!), around 20 common terns (at Startops End) and, bizarrely, a pink-footed goose (a very rare winter visitor to Hertfordshire) at Wilstone, where I was able to photograph it both on the reservoir and in an adjoining field.

Common Tern in Flight, Startops End Reservoir, 14 April

Two Little Egrets, Wilstone Reservoir, 14 April

Pink-footed Goose, Wilstone Reservoir, 14 April

I visited the Pegsdon Hills reserve on the following evening, partly to do a reconnaissance for a forthcoming RSPB walk and partly to look for ring ouzels, which had been reported there. After much searching I managed to see a male bird, close to the top of Deacon Hill. Two visits to Fingringhoe Wick EWT reserve, on the 19th and 24th, followed. Fingringhoe Wick, situated near Colchester on the estuary of the River Colne, is renowned for its high population of nightingales. My visit on the 19th was a 'recce' for the RSPB Local Group coach trip on the 24th. Nightingales were seen and (more importantly) heard on both visits, with all the RSPB Local Group members being able to see at least one nightingale on the coach visit - success! I also saw a whimbrel on both occasions and, on the 24th, insect sightings included green hairstreak butterfly, large red damselfly and scorpion fly.

Green Hairstreak Butterfly, Fingringhoe Wick EWT, 24 April

Nightingale, Fingringhoe Wick EWT, 24 April

Record Shot of Whimbrel, Fingringhoe Wick EWT, 19 April

Another warm, sunny day on the 21st saw me at RSPB Titchwell Marsh again, where I added Temminck's stint and Sandwich tern to my year list. I had hoped to take more images of sanderling for one of my photographic projects but the birds proved rather flighty. However, several ringed plovers, outside the roped-off nesting area near Thornham Point, proved more obliging, as did a flyover marsh harrier.

Marsh Harrier, RSPB Titchwell Marsh, 21 April

Ringed Plover, Thornham Point, 21 April

April was an extremely dry month, with no rain in Royston after the 8th. However, as the month progressed the wind swung round again to the north and conditions became cooler and cloudier. Bird migration slowed down again, too. I did manage one more outing, to RSPB Lakenheath Fen on the 28th, where I was able to add hobby, cuckoo, reed warbler and greenshank to my year list. A garganey was seen on the Hockwold Washes, where an impressive selection of waders included avocets, three male ruff in breeding plumage and both bar-tailed (an inland rarity) and black-tailed godwits.

Male Garganey, RSPB Lakenheath Fen, 28 April

Singing Sedge Warbler, RSPB Lakenheath Fen, 28 April

Singing Whitethroat, RSPB Lakenheath Fen, 28 April