The weather remained unsettled in the first half of November, with a mixture of wind and rain but with a few brighter, sunny days. Royston missed the worst effects of a couple of named storms. Temperatures dropped to just above freezing on a couple of nights, with a slight frost. Insect activity predictably dropped away, with just Winter Gnats, Bluebottles, Common Wasps and Eristalis hoverflies showing in sheltered, sunny areas by the middle of the month, although a single Red Admiral briefly fluttered into life on a cold but very sunny morning on the 11th.
Thursday 16 November 2023
I was back at RSPB Titchwell Marsh on the 3rd, looking for photos of birds in flight. A Velvet Scoter was seen on the sea, accompanying a large flock of Common Scoters and several dragonflies were still on the wing (mating pairs were seen!), on a generally quiet visit.
Sunday 12 November 2023
Towards the end of October my partner and I spent a few days in Valencia in south-east Spain. This was not only a holiday break, but a chance for us both to do some (particularly architectural) photography in Spain's third city, which is situated on the Mediterranean coast. The weather was very warm (mid-20s Celsius during the day) and dry, very different to the weather that I had been subjected to back home. In addition to some spectacular architecture (foremost being that of the City of Arts and Sciences), Valencia is situated very close to the Albufera National Park, which we visited for a few hours on one day.
Our hotel was near the beach and a very short distance from the harbour and docks. Every morning I went on pre-breakfast walks in various directions, always close to the sea. Familiar gulls seen were Black-headed, Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed, but I was also pleased to see a number of Audouin's Gulls, always singly. This is a comparatively rare gull, that nests nearby and over-winters here. Valencia has several parks and green spaces and I read somewhere that three species of parakeet can be found here. However, the only parakeets that I came across were Monk Parakeets, an introduced species (as all Europe's parakeets are), which is becoming common and widespread in many parts of Spain. Crag Martins were seen hawking insects around the coastal hotels, but small passerines other than House Sparrows and Robins were thin on the ground. The commonest species of bird appeared to be Collared Doves (seen practically everywhere) and the ubiquitous Feral Pigeons.
Thursday 12 October 2023
After some rain early in the month, which prompted the appearance of some autumnal fungi, we had several days of very warm weather, with afternoon temperatures of 20-25C. This latest 'Indian Summer' broke on the 11th, with a deluge of rain followed by much cooler weather. Bird-wise, the first half of the month was very quiet. Apart from a handful of Chiffchaffs, the only summer visitor that I recorded was a late Swallow, seen heading south over Hatchpen Farm on the 2nd. A flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, seen at both ends of The Heath early in the month, contained a single adult Herring Gull. With the exception of Meadow Pipits (short distance migrants), no passage migrants were seen locally in the first twelve days, although there were reports from other parts of the county of Redwings flying over and a Ring Ouzel was recorded in Stevenage.
Wednesday 11 October 2023
The theme of American waders (or 'shorebirds', as they are known in the USA) continued into October, starting with a visit to North Point Pools (east of Wells on the North Norfolk coast) on the 3rd, where I saw my second UK Wilson's Phalarope (distant views only - no images). Afterwards I walked along the coastal path to Wells Harbour (Razorbill, Greenshank and Red-throated Diver) and along the beach to Holkham Gap, coming back to Wells along the path that skirts Wells Woods - a total of around eight miles in very warm, sunny weather.
Friday 8 September 2023
Apologies once again for the sporadic nature of my updates. This is due to a combination of a particularly busy period and the fact that I use my own edited images, and image editing, labelling and indexing sometimes lags weeks behind the current date. Things should become somewhat easier (and the blogs shorter) as we leave the invertebrate-filled summer behind.
Having abandoned July and August, summer finally returned with a bang from the beginning of September, as we entered a ten day heatwave. The highest temperature of the year in the UK came on the 7th, a particularly unusual statistic. My walks in the local area became more sporadic and less interesting, as most insect life declined. On The Heath, few butterflies remained by the end of the first week, but some (mainly female) Adonis Blues were still present on the Old Rifle Range. A Painted Lady was seen near Royston Hospital on the 5th and one or two pristine Comma butterflies suggested a small second generation. The expected passage of song birds never really took off during the heatwave - presumably the fine, dry weather encouraged them to fly straight through. My 2023 'bogey bird' became the Whinchat, as visits to sites (some local) where they had been reported failed to produce any, although I did find a couple of Stonechats on my travels. House Martins (up to 20) were seen feeding over the local fields on a few occasions and three were seen at dusk, feeding over Royston town centre on the 7th.
During late August and early September I made three visits to Clothall Common, near Baldock. A colony of Chalkhill Blue butterflies has been established for a few years in an area close to the A505 bypass, and good numbers of both males and females were seen on each visit. Small Blue butterflies and, from 2022, Adonis Blue butterflies have also been seen there but I could not get good evidence for either species being present on my visits. I did take some photos of the under-wings of (presumably) female Chalkhill Blues there and will, when time permits, compare them with those of female Adonis Blues, as part of a project to look for differences between the very similar females of the two species.
Wednesday 6 September 2023
When it comes to looking for wild birds, I'm a real sucker for punishment. On the 6th I decided to return to RSPB Titchwell Marsh, where the American Golden Plover that I had missed on 25 August had been seen on every subsequent day. Of course, the bird didn't appear. A report was put out later, saying that the bird had been seen from the Parrinder Hide at a time when I was there, but this must have been erroneous. In the midst of a heatwave, Titchwell was misty throughout my visit. The best bird seen was a Wood Sandpiper, whilst a few Spoonbills (83 seen here on the 5th) were still on the Freshmarsh. Other interesting sightings included Slender Groundhopper (my first), Wasp Spiders and a family of Wood Mice.