Tuesday, 9 August 2022

Local Wildlife Sightings, August 2022

 Drought conditions continued well into August, after a July that brought a measly six millimetres of rain to my Royston garden. Grasses turned pale brown as temperatures soared again to 29C by the end of the first week. Both birds and insects were hard to find, the latter having to search hard for nectar in the few remaining flowers. My search for 200 invertebrate species on my 'local patch' became progressively harder, although I was able to add common darter, migrant hawker, brown hawker and (male and female) banded demoiselle dragonflies to the list. Common darters were also seen and photographed when I visited RSPB Sandy on the 3rd. As usual, small red-eyed damselflies were seen in the large, old pond in the gardens at Sandy.

Female Common Darter, RSPB Sandy, 3 August

Female Common Darter, Royston, 8 August

Small Red-eyed Damselflies, RSPB Sandy, 3 August

I saw the first of the second generation Adonis blues (a male) on Church Hill on the 5th. At least two males were also on the wing when I visited the Old Rifle Range on the 8th. Common blue and brown argus butterflies were seen in decent numbers, both on The Heath and at known sites to the south of Royston, understandably preferring to stay in the few remaining greener, shadier areas. Leaving the bathroom light on after dark served as a decent 'moth trap', attracting a variety of species (of course the moths were free to leave once the light was turned off). At the beginning of the month there was a surge in numbers of a rather attractive fly (if flies can ever be considered attractive), ereothrix rufomaculata, which could often be seen crawling around on top of ragwort flowers (image below).

Male Adonis Blue, Church Hill, 5 August

Ereothrix Rufomaculata on Ragwort, Therfield Heath, 1 August

Friday, 5 August 2022

UK Wildlife Sightings August 2022

 I paid a second visit of the summer to the Grand Union Canal at Wilstone and Wilstone Reservoir on the 2nd. An unidentified emerald damselfly, caught in a spider's web and close to death, was the only notable sighting along the canal but the reservoir, with plenty of mud around the fringes as water levels continued to fall, provided a bonanza of wader species (greenshank, redshank, dunlin and common sandpiper along with the ever-present lapwings). A water rail emerged on more than one occasion to feed on the mud and I was able to pick out and photograph the garganeys (a female and a juvenile) that had been present for a few days beforehand. As I was leaving a bird watcher pointed out to me a juvenile black-necked grebe that had flown in after I had arrived. I was lucky to catch this bird, because it had gone the following day. The only disappointment was that I couldn't pick out any Mediterranean gulls (seen on the previous and following days) from amongst the hundreds of black-headed gulls that were loafing around.

Female (right) and Juvenile Garganey, Wilstone, 2 August

Female Emerald or Scarce Emerald Damselfly caught in Web, Wilstone, 2 July

The lure of adding another bird species to my UK list saw me driving down to Romsey in Hampshire on the 4th. My target bird was a whiskered tern, the only one of the three 'marsh terns' (the others being black tern and white-winged tern) that I had yet to see here. The bird spent most of its time perching on various branches of dead trees, at one point coming close enough for me to get a few 'record shots' With a bit of imagination the dark belly, dark red bill and legs of the tern can be seen in the image below! An osprey was also present and I noticed that an artificial nest had been erected, presumably with the plan of attracting ospreys to breed here. On the way home I stopped off to look for silver-spotted skipper butterflies at Aston Rowant nature reserve on the Oxfordshire - Buckinghamshire border. I arrived in the early evening and the site was very quiet (except for the noise of the drone being flown by an annoying individual) - I did eventually manage to see a couple of the skippers, but they proved to be too fast for me to photograph.

Record Shot of a Whiskered Tern, Romney, 4 August

Spotted flycatchers are becoming quite rare in Hertfordshire, but on a family visit to Althorp (the Spencer family seat and last resting place of Princess Diana) on the 6th I was amazed to see these flycatchers in three separate areas. A recently-fledged juvenile was sitting on a seat in a shelter, with its parents calling to it outside. I managed to get a photo of it before quickly moving on.

Recently Fledged Spotted Flycatcher Chick, Althorp, 6 August

It isn't every day that a mega, 'UK first' bird species is discovered less than an hour's drive away from home, but this happened on the 7th when a 'Cape gull' (African sub-species of kelp gull) was found at Grafham Water (Cambs.). I let 'the great and the good' share the bird on this Sunday, before visiting on the following day, when only 30-40 bird watchers were present. The bird didn't exactly play 'hard to get', spending most of its time perched on the railings leading from the dam to the water tower, but my first view of it was on the side of the dam, maybe 40 feet away! When the bird was perched on railings it was accompanied by at least four other species of gull (yellow-legged, herring, lesser and great black-backed) and at one point (image) one of each species was photographed side by side! A possible first summer Caspian gull was also present on the railings for a short time. What an afternoon for gull watchers!

Cape Gull, Grafham Water, 8 August

Five Different Gull Species (Cape Gull in the Middle), Grafham Water, 8 August

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Local Wildlife Sightings July 2022


I had to wait until the 2nd to see my first chalkhill blues on The Heath. By the 4th they had increased in number to perhaps 30-40 (all males seen) in the Old Rifle Range area, but surprisingly few were seen on Church Hill where marbled white, despite a big decrease in numbers, was still the dominant species. Once again, a very large colony of Essex skippers was located along a field margin on the Hertfordshire Way, south of Royston, with an estimated 100-150 individuals on the wing early in the month. Very few small skippers were seen in this area, although they were common elsewhere. Ringlet butterflies, which have a short flight season, peaked in the first week of the month. The commonest moths appeared to be 'grass veneer' moths, which were present in huge numbers at the bottom of Church Hill. Around 20 brassy longhorn moths were seen on and around field scabious plants, near the hospital, on the 4th. Some interesting hoverflies were seen on The Heath.

Small Skipper, Therfield Heath, 1 July

Male Chalkhill Blue, Therfield Heath, 2 July

I ventured to Scales Park (a large, privately owned area of mixed woodland near Anstey and Meesden, with a public bridleway running through the woods) on the 5th. I have seen purple emperor here, but had no luck on this occasion. However, a couple of male silver-washed fritillaries were seen including a relatively confiding specimen, which allowed me to take some photographs.

Male Silver-washed Fritillary, Scales Park, 5 July

Covid-19 finally caught up with me early in the month and forced me into isolation for a few days, although I did venture out on my own once or twice, looking for and photographing invertebrates in the fields around my house. On my return to The Heath, male and female silver-washed fritillaries (12th) and an unexpected clouded yellow (23rd) took my 'local patch' butterfly list up to 29, with only small blue (colony apparently on a private site to the east of Royston) missing. Chalkhill blue numbers rapidly increased on The Heath to an estimated 2,000+ as the 'heatwave' temperature continued to rise to a record-breaking 39C on the 19th. As temperatures cooled somewhat from the 20th numbers of second generation brown argus, holly blue and common blue started to increase. A second generation small copper on the Old Rifle Range was an unusual sighting on the 23rd. However, my most surprising sighting of the month was of a white-letter hairstreak in the back garden on the very hot afternoon of the 18th. Presumably this had come from one of the Elm trees in Green Walk Plantation (at the bottom of my road) - needless to say, this was a garden 'first' on a 'white-letter day'!

Mating Chalkhill Blue Butterflies, Therfield Heath, 18 July

Clouded Yellow, Therfield Heath, 23 July

White-letter Hairstreak in my Royston Garden, 18 July

The middle of the month saw the emergence of big numbers of six-spotted burnet moths in the area. Another long overdue local 'first' for me on the 18th was a Jersey tiger moth, seen a few hundred yards from my house. This species is spreading rapidly northwards and has been present in the Royston area for 2-3 years now. My next challenge will be to photograph this moth! On the 19th (yes, the hottest day on record) I visited Hertford Heath and Balls Wood, looking for dragonflies and purple emperor butterflies. I saw my first southern migrant hawker dragonfly (a recent 'Climate Change' import from southern Europe). Some excellent photographs of this individual have been taken, but mine were, unfortunately, not worth keeping. However, I did manage to photograph a scarce emerald damselfly (image below). The most unusual sighting was that of over 100 (I kid you not) purple hairstreak butterflies at ground level, both on the mud that was all that was left of the water in the dragonfly pools and in vegetation throughout Balls Wood. Perhaps the sun had become too hot for them to stay in the oak trees where they normally hide? Certainly, very few other butterflies were on the wing in temperatures that were rising towards 100F.

Scarce Emerald Damselfly, Hertford Heath, 19 July

Purple Hairstreak, Balls Wood (Hertford Heath), 19 July

Other Wildlife

A lesser whitethroat was amongst a number of warblers heard singing on The Heath on the 2nd and the 4th. This may indicate that they will attempt to raise a second brood. Sadly, there was no sign of any spotted flycatchers in the woods across The Heath, although I have yet to do a comprehensive search. Two ravens were seen when I visited Scales Park on the 5th (see above). I've recorded ravens here on a number of occasions - I assume that they nest in the woods. On the 16th I was doing a quick 'recce' for butterflies on the Old Rifle Range, in preparation for leading a Herts. and Middlesex Butterfly Conservation walk, when I heard once familiar purring coming from trees on the hillside to the west of the valley - a turtle dove! It is six years since I've recorded a turtle dove on my local patch. The bird continued to sing intermittently for 45 minutes and appeared on a couple of occasions, flying between bushes. I guess that this bird was a 'wanderer', although it is possible that it may have bred, unseen and unheard, locally. The bird was seen in the same area on the following day and there was another report later in the week, although I failed to record it on two further visits. The coot family (five young) was seen at Phillups Lake on the 6th and the 20th. The Canada goose family (three young) was also seen here on the former date and I was pleased to see a juvenile little grebe, together with its parents, here on the latter date. My annual swift survey, counting birds seen as I walked on the evening of the 22nd from my house on the southern edge of Royston to Tesco in the north, gave an approximate count of 85 birds, very similar to last year's total. It is, of course, impossible to get an accurate count of birds that are wheeling about rapidly, close to their nesting sites. Comparing with last year I guess that there were (sadly) fewer breeding sites available this year but that breeding success (in better weather) has been higher for this still declining species.

After a week away I walked up to Hatchpen Farm on the 31st, recording 14 corn buntings, three house martins and a swift there. A large flock of black-headed and lesser black-backed gulls was in a field on the Newsells Stud Farm estate, following light overnight rain. In the driest July on record (6mm of rain in Royston) I then got soaked by a shower as I walked home!

UK Wildlife Sightings July 2022

 I visited Wilstone Reservoir and the nearby Grand Union canal on the 4th. There was no sign of the golden oriole that had been recorded at the reservoir the previous afternoon but I had, as usual, good views of the uncommon white-legged damselflies that live along a stretch of the canal near Wilstone village. Black-tailed skimmers, an emperor dragonfly, banded demoiselles and a variety of (mainly blue-tailed) damselflies were also seen along the canal.

Mating Blue-tailed Damselflies, near Wilstone, 4 July

Male White-legged Damselfly, near Wilstone, 4 July

A positive Covid-19 test the following day resulted in a week of isolation. Fortunately, my symptoms were mild but it was frustrating to have to have to stay at home for a week. I was back on the road again on the 11th, spending a couple of hours on a hot, sunny day at the Swanton Novers (Norfolk) watchpoint, waiting for a sighting of one of the summering (and, presumably, nesting) honey buzzards which never came. I moved on to Kelling Heath, where frustrations grew as I searched for silver-studded blue butterflies. Surely their season couldn't be over already? It appeared that this was, indeed, the case, but I did manage to find and photograph a single female on a part of the heath that I don't normally visit. Finally, I made my way to RSPB Titchwell Marsh, where I had an enjoyable time photographing sanderlings in their breeding finery, running along the beach. July is the only month when adults of my favourite bird species can be seen in full summer plumage in the UK, as they start to return from their nesting sites further north.

Female Silver-studded Blue, Kelling Heath, 11 July

Running Sanderling, RSPB Titchwell Marsh, 11 July

The appearance of a family of six black-winged stilts at WWT Welney on the 14th encouraged me to visit. I guess that the birds had nested nearby but news had, understandably, been suppressed. I was lucky to see the birds because they had disappeared by the following day. These gangly waders are quite cute!

Adult Black-winged Stilt in Flight, WWT Welney, 14 July

Juvenile Black-winged Stilt, WWT Welney, 14 July

With the hot weather continuing, I took the opportunity to visit Thursley Common (Surrey) again, this time looking for dragonflies. The Moat Pond, adjacent to the car park, is an excellent spot to see two rare dragonflies, downy emerald and brilliant emerald. However, these are extremely difficult to photograph as they fly low along shady edges of the pond and then rest in the conifers that fringe the pond. Both species are on the wing in July. On this occasion I probably saw both species in flight and I also managed to photograph one individual, resting above my head in a conifer. Close examination of the images (one shown below) suggests that this was a downy emerald based, amongst other things, on the very hairy thorax (not visible on this image). Other 'regular' Thursley dragonflies seen included small red damselfly, keeled skimmer and black darter.

Male Downy (?) Emerald Dragonfly, Thursley Common, 15 July

Male Black Darter, Thursley Common, 15 July

I went back to Titchwell on the 22nd. An elusive wood sandpiper was eventually found on the freshmarsh and I took the opportunity to photograph avocets here, as well as sanderlings on the beach on a rather overcast day. This was my last field trip of the month, as I was abroad (for the first time in nearly three years), enjoying more hot weather in the South of France with my partner. Since this is a 'UK Sightings' blog I won't go into detail about what we saw there. However, the towns of Nimes and Arles were notable only for their lack of bird species variety (feral pigeons and more feral pigeons...), whilst the Pont de Gard held nesting crag martins - Alpine and common swifts were also seen here. The dominant butterfly species was the (not so) scarce swallowtail and the dominant dragonfly species was black-tailed skimmer. One other notable sighting was of a juvenile black redstart, hawking insects from the tables and chairs of a cafe where we were having our evening meal! I may add a couple of images if I ever get round to editing them!

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. I flushed a grey partridge on Church Hill on the 15th. On the same day, the family of five Canada geese was still on Phillup's Lake, as were three tufted ducks (two males) and at least one little grebe (heard but not seen). A recently fledged kestrel was seen and heard calling near the hospital on the 20th and families of wrens and rooks were also seen in the area.


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. Research established that this was probably a ruderal bumble bee, a species that is slowly spreading in England, although still uncommon. Melanism is quite common in this species, but far less common in other species of large (but smaller!) bumble bees. An image of the bee is below.

Marbled White, Therfield Heath, 11 June

Ruderal (?) Bumble Bee, Therfield Heath, 8 June

Warm weather in mid-month saw the emergence of ringlet and small skipper butterflies and the first white-letter hairstreaks were seen on elms along the Icknield Way, south of The Heath, on the 21st. I had hoped to see chalkhill blue butterflies before I went on holiday the following day. Typically, they were reported on the 22nd and I didn't actually get to see one until July. What I did see on the 21st was a brassy longhorn moth, the earliest I have seen this species of micro-moth, which is closely associated with field scabious wild flowers.

Brassy Longhorn Moth, Royston, 21 June

I added gatekeeper butterfly to my year list during a brief visit to The Heath, following my return from holiday on the 30th.

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 - image below. Later in the month, further spikes of fragrant and bee orchids were seen in the Church Hill area and small numbers of common spotted orchids were to be found at the usual sites, but no pyramidal orchids were seen by me on The Heath this year.

Fragrant Orchid, Therfield Heath, 8 June

Whilst pyramidal orchids may have been scarce this year on The Heath, I found a fabulous show when I visited Hillbrow in Letchworth on the 13th, looking for small blue butterflies (15-20 seen). Hundreds of pyramidal orchids were showing, together with a few common spotted orchids. However, the star of the show was a huge lizard orchid, the first I've seen in Hertfordshire (although, to be fair, I've never gone out looking for them). A close-up image of some of the distinctive flowers is shown below.

Lizard Orchid (Detail), Hillbrow, Letchworth, 13 June

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.

On the 4th my partner and I visited Wells in North Norfolk, walking along the beach to Holkham and then back, inland of the pines. I was surprised to see a couple of juvenile crossbills on the beach alongside linnets - they flew away into the pines, vocalising with their characteristic "chip chip" calls. On the 9th I made my annual visit to Glapthorn Meadowss to view and photograph black hairstreak butterflies. I had intended to combine this with a trip to Fineshade Wood (Rockingham Forest) to get my first view of chequered skipper butterflies in the UK, at their recent introduction site. Normally, the first half of June is the best time to see this species in Scotland, where the only other UK colonies can be found. However, as I learnt to my cost, the flight season in England is very different and had finished by early June - something that I must remember if I want to see this species next year!

Black Hairstreak Butterfly, Glapthorn Meadows, 9 June

I had hoped to see the black-browed albatross when I made a photographic journey up to RSPB Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire on the 14th. However, as luck would have it, he was away on one of his fishing trips (in this case for nearly a week), so I had to content myself with photographing the 'regulars', in particular the gannets, during my stay.

Young Gannet Encroaching too close to a Nest Site, RSPB Bempton Cliffs, 14 June

Gannet Greeting, RSPB Bempton Cliffs, 14 June

Puffin, RSPB Bempton Cliffs, 14 June

In preparation for an RSPB trip that I was leading on the 19th I visited RSPB Strumpshaw Fen (Norfolk) on the 16th. Swallowtail butterflies were hard to find on both trips, although I did eventually see one in flight on the later date. A white admiral butterfly, seen in woodland on the reserve on the 19th, was my first of the year. A good selection of dragonflies was on the wing on both occasions, with scarce chasers and Norfolk (green-eyed) hawkers particularly prominent. All the expected reed bed birds were present, with the exception of bittern, which was neither seen nor heard.

Male Marsh Harrier, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, 19 June

Male (above) and Female Scarce Chaser Dragonflies, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, 19 June

A particularly gruelling season of RSPB field trips came to a conclusion on the 20th, when I led a walk around RSPB Lakenheath Fen. We recorded 60 species, with multiple sightings of marsh harrier, cuckoo and hobby, but for myself the most exciting moment was the sight of ten (or possibly eleven) common cranes in the air together just off the reserve.

Eight Common Cranes in Flight near RSPB Lakenheath Fen, 20 June

A day before our holiday (see below) I nipped up to Cottenham (north of Cambridge) to see the white stork that had taken up residence there. Wood sandpiper had also been reported from the site, but I was only able to find green sandpipers (seven in all) there.

White Stork, near Cottenham, 21 June

Scotland, 22-29 June

Dumfries and Galloway in South West Scotland is one of the most beautiful parts of Britain, with sandy beaches, rocky coasts, mountains and valleys - beauty in every direction that you look. My partner and I have been on holiday here in the past and on this occasion we were joined by my brother and sister-in-law for a couple of days. We were based in the village of Kippford. Our hotel had a wonderful view over the estuary, which harboured a good variety of water birds and waders, whilst I soon discovered that the woodland behind the hotel had common crossbills, ravens and tawny owls amongst many other species. On the first couple of nights we were serenaded by the sound of curlews and oystercatchers on the estuary. Unfortunately, there is one problem with SW Scotland - the weather! We were often subjected to gale force winds and driving rain for the remainder of the holiday and had to close our window due to the noise of the wind whistling through the rigging of the boats at the nearby sailing club. However, we did manage a full day out to the far west, where black guillemots were seen in Portpatrick Harbour (probably the best place in Britain to photograph this species) and a good variety of sea birds was seen on the Mull of Galloway. Rock pipits were nesting in a garden a couple of doors away from the hotel, apparently feeding their young on shrimps (see image)! They disappeared a couple of days before we left - hopefully the young had fledged successfully. I managed to see 80 species (including a common scoter, perhaps blown into the estuary by the wind) during the week - not bad, considering the poor weather and the fact that this was not a bird watching holiday (despite what my partner might have thought)!

Black Guillemot with Lunch, Portpatrick Harbour, 24 June

Rock Pipit with Food (Shrimps?), Kippford, 26 June

Instead of sorting myself out and doing all the things that you are supposed to do when you get back from holiday I decided to go to see the bee-eaters, which had taken up residence in Trimingham, south of Cromer, on the 30th. The weather deteriorated on the way and it was raining heavily on arrival. The car park attendant waived the £5 parking fee, saying that the birds hadn't been seen for a while and were unlikely to appear in the rain. However, for once my luck was in and four birds appeared after about 20 minutes during a brief respite from the rain, posing on (distant) telegraph wires and on bushes. I managed a few 'record shots' before leaving for what turned out to be an interminable journey home. If the birds nest successfully they could be present until August and I may go to see them again, hopefully in better weather!

Bee-eaters on Telegraph Wires, Trimingham, 30 June

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....