Tuesday, 31 May 2011

cambridgeshire day 3

My Family had decided that today would be the day that they were going to go to Duxford-the aviation museum . However, they decided that they would leave me at RSPB Lakenfen Heath fen nature reserve, which I only heard about yesterday. I don't know why this site doesn't get more press, after all, not all nature reserves have breeding golden orioles. And the cranes too, plus all the other stuff-bitterns, bearded tits, water rail, cettis warbler, hobby, marsh harrier! So as you can imagine (if your a birdwatcher) I was quite optimistic about seeing something interesting. However, the interesting stuff started as soon as I got up. In the woods at the back of the caravan there was a jay foraging. I tried to get some photos but the light was really too poor and with the changing of the shutter speed really didn't do much to help.

However, after it had finished foraging, ti moved out onto a more open branch, so i tried again but once more it was slightly too dark for me to get the shots I wanted.

But then i had an idea. I decided to put some seed down and then going inside the caravan and open the window. It worked too, the jay came down from the woods and landed right next to the caravan. It was also good because, not only was the bird in the open, it was also in bright sunshine-showing off all its great plumage.

-Jay (Don't ask what the pure tan smudge along the bottom on the top photo is, it was not there on the camera!)So, that sums up what happened prior to the outing to where-ever each o us were heading. I was dropped off at lakenheath fen first because of convenience but it also meant I could spend much longer there! There was a very good visitor center there, and there everything was explained to me. Every bird that was found there was pointed out, where they could be found, on the reserve so I knew exactly whereto go for the orioles. Apparently there were three orioles, one female and two males. One male had paired with the female in the large poplar plantation, but the other male was still singing and was in the smaller plantation, so in theory that would be the easier bird to fin and see. Also that bird was near to the main reedbed where the bitterns and marsh harriers could be seen. However the first thing that I saw was a small brown mass moving towards me along the path-it was a weasel, and that was about 2min into the reserve! The first bird that I saw was a greater spotted woodpecker, . The first part of the reserve didn't really have much, it was mainly deciduous woodland and so there were none of the reserve specialities. Only common garden birds, which were also found on the feeders at the start-blue tit, great tit, dunnock etc. The first bird that was something of a speciality was a flyover cuckoo, although there were about 5 singing across the reserve, that I can hear!

moving further into the reserve there were some of the more typical marshland birds such as the marsh harrier. I was watching a pair through the bins and was rewarded with spectacular views a food pass, the first time I have ever seen one, I as i was watching through my bins I didn't get any photos, but sometimes there are more important things than photos, such as memories! overall there must have been about 4 marsh harriers in the sky at one time which was spectacular to see, considering that the size of reedbed was only about 2km square, in the region where they were!

-marsh harrier
All this was going on on the other side to the poplar plantation that held the lone male oriole. At the far end of the plantation was a small crowd of birder, so I naturally wondered if the bird might be showing. sadly that was not the case, I met a couple of B.O.G birders there and they said that they had not seen it yet. As I walked towards the crowd to try my luck I spotted a few dragonflies buzzing round. sadly they did not stay still so I couldn't give the a positive I'd
but I thought that they must be hairy dragonflies because of the few glimpses I had got and the flight season.. If they were then there would be firsts for me, which would be nice. But as i say, I couldn't find one that would stay still!
On the other hand, the damselflys were very abundant and they would stay still . I spotted this pair mating but what caught my eye was the lower individual and that it was purple. It turns out that this is because it is the form Volacea, That at being the subspecies. The actual species is the blue tailed damselfly.

-blue tailed damselfly-(blue tailed typical and violacea)
But that wasn't it on the damselfly half. I really can't identify damselflys very well, so I just take loads of photos of them and then analyse them at home. However it does seem that this individual is a variable damselfly-which is a first to me. So I had been here about 20mins and already and I had already seen a new bit of behavior and a new species.

-variable damselfly
I decided to leave the Oriole station and go for a wander around the reserve. I spotted a pheasant and in the pools there were a couple of great crested grebes. i reached the far "viewing station" (they don't have hides here) but I didn't stay long-I was probably too eager to see what I could see.. If I had waited then I might have seen Crane or cettis warbler, as that's where they were found. However I didn't so there is no point looking back. I decided to walk along the the riverbank crest along the edge of the north side of the reserve. To be honest the first half of the walk along the side between the large plantation, with the pair of orioles, passed without anything going on.
However once I was passed that area and could see the main reedbed then wildlife started to appear. By this point the weather had became a bit cloudy so I was beginning wonder if i was going to see any dragonflies landed at all. However I managed to find one pair on the riverbank crest. They were in the process of mating so were easy to track down, or so i though. I managed the photo below but then they disappeared, perhaps into a tree, but either way I couldn't re-find them. I checked the photo to see what they were but, based on the photo, I couldn't work It out. I thought that they must be Hairy dragonflies but couldn't really see enough hair. It was only when I got back that I learnt that only hairy dragonflies have hair, so they had to be hairy dragonflies. so there you are-confirmation of a new species for me this holiday.

-Hairy dragonflies
Not much further on from where i saw the dragonflies I spotted a new bird for me. At first i couldn't get a good enough view, but as time passed it came closer and it appeared to be a hobby. in fact there were two, hunting along the river. I spent about 10mins photographing them before I opted to just watch them instead. There was one that hunted right in front of me, I( couldn't see what it was catching, but you could clearly see the feet go up and grab something-presumably insects. When i looked at the photos I was quite impressed. Obviously its nothing on Sean Gray but It clearly shows all the aspects of hobbies which made me pretty happy. I was really impressed, and it was also my first new bird at the site, but i go the feeling that it had been coming!

there were actually about 3 hobbies all hunting their own stretch of river. One of them was also hunting the reedbed but flying over to hunt the river too, so I got good views of that one.
Just before the reserve re-entry point there was a small pool between the footpath and the river, which had meandered away temporarily, and on the pool were a small number of wildfowl, no gargany but there were summer gadwall and mallards, plus coots and mute swans.
Eventually there was a stile to get back into the reserve, on the east side of the main reedbed. the sun had come out now so it was quite a nice day. This would have been about 11.30 or 12.00 so the afternoon was looking good. The path back to where most of the reserve was (lone male oriole plantation and the viewpoint over the main reedbed) was quite overgrown but pleasant. It was mown grass with tall weeds on one side and reeds on the other. On the weedy side I happened to begin exploring, after searching for a damselfly, and I spotted these crazy beetles. They were about 2cm long, but then another 2cm on to for their impressive antennae. Naturally with however-many beetles there are in the UK I had no intention of actually putting a species to them, however my dads insect Field guide did actually have them in-they are called: Agapantha villosoviridescens or alternatively just "cool beetles"! there were about 3 all in close proximity to each other, and two of them seemed to be squaring up, but no fight ever happened, but even without the drama they were certainly very spectacular!

-Agapantha villosoviridescens (Golden-bloomed grey longhorn beetle) 
nearer the main path, opposite the view point I spotted this damselfly and thought that it must be a dark (or menalistic) variable damselfly, but actually its a female common blue, blue phase which is something I have never seen before, hence the confusion. But how have I never seen one before, there should be just as many females as males in a population?
-female common blue damselfly
And continuing the damselfly theme, back on the main path I spotted another species to add to my site list-this rather handsome large red damselfly. Its the first time I have ever seen a damselfly eating so it was pretty cool to see.
-large red damselflywhilst i was walking back to the place where the birders were on "oriole patrol" a mighty grey heron jumped out of the reeds and flew just over the path to the other side, but its certainly the closest I have ever been to a full size heron (I don't know about the full size of the Arran individual). Its a good sign that the environment has so many fish that it can support grey herons and a decent population of bitterns.
-Grey Heron
I decided to re-stakeout the oriole viewpoint as everyone else seemed to have left. I waited for a while without a sign, but then the real torture started-it started to sing. Its a really weird call, it seems almost tropical, but when you can't see the bird after half an hour, it can also be really annoying.
After a frustrating half an hour I decided to walk round the back of the plantation and see if I could try to find the bird round there. Round the back there was still no bird, but it continued to sing just to infuriate me and the other birders there. Whats even more annoying was that it only sang for infrequent bursts so that you couldn't work out where it was. It sang from one end of the plantation, so you walked over there, but then sang from the other end whilst you were looking at the other end to the end that it was actually at. As you can see, Oriole watching is not fun!
Whilst I waited I decided to take some photos of the damselflies around, such as the azure damselfly below. Its curious that in Norfolk last year there were hardly any azure damselflies mainly common blue, but here there were mainly azure and there were only a few commons.
-Azure damselfly
Eventually I decided to give up with the oriole for the time being and go walk near to the main reedbed on the far side of this plantation. It was a good descision because soon after I had walked round I spotted a bittern flying around-only my second ever. I had heard them booming a little bit, amidst the noise produced by the reed an sedge warblers. They really are spectacular, the bitterns, but from a distance you don't really get the same awe as you get through your binoculars. so the brown smudge in the record photo below is not a patch on the handsomeness of the actual bird.
And on the note of reed and sedge warblers I have not mentioned them. They really added to the variety of the reedbed and the feeling that you really were in one of the ancient fens, rather than a rebuilt, RSPB nature reserve, so here's to reed and sedge warblers!
As I walked down the path I had walked down 3 times already that day to see if i could get closer to the bittern should it re-emerge from the reeds. However, it was agood thing I did, not for the bittern, and not the oriole but I finally managed to find a Hairy dragonfly perched conveniatly for a photo. At first the sun wasn't out so, although i diddnt know it, the photos looked a bit dull and drab, but the after a while the sun came out and really gave the insect the justice it deserved.
Its curious when you see them how small they are compared to other hawkers. And how early they fly too. Normally I would never see a hairy dragonfly because they fly so early but it just so happens that this time weI was in the right place at the right time. Its great to see them with their blue eyes and green colours.

-Hairy dragonfly
After that stunning find the day only needed an Oriole to be perfect. so naturally i fell for the trap and went back to go and try and find it. another five minuets and I realised once again that I was wasting my time, and that I would be better off trying for something else. However to try and keep me at the oriole site for a bit longer, a large skipper butterfly landed by the side of the path, so I took some photos.

-large skipper
When I had finished looking at the skipper I once more began looking for the Oriole. Whilst I was facing away from the reedbed I heard a tremendous noise and turned round to find two bitterns together in flight. I don't know if they were fighting or courting or maybe just both spooked by the same predator but either way it was quite something. Most people don't see a bittern at all, but I had just seen two in the sky at the same time.

It was whilst I was watching the bitterns that the first big fat raindrops began to fall. It really was a day of contrasts, in terms of the weather but this was the first rain we had been dealt all day. I made my way towards the viewpoint as there was a shelter there. I stayed round the side facing the pond which had grebes on it, but as the rain picked up a bit of force I had to move round the other side where it was sheltered. Then it really began to thunder down, During the duration of the 10min drenching there must have been about 20 birders under the space of a 3m long shelter with only about 4m square of shelter.
But as i said, it was only a short shower as showers go so eventually the birders sheltering all split up. I returned round to the side where I had been prior to the serious rain. Quite a few of the birders went there about 10 so there was quite a party looking for stuff. And stuff they did find. A kingfisher started hunting up one of the channels, fishing from the reeds. Once more I opted for the binoculars rather than the camera becuase the bird was some distance away, but through the binoculars it became really close and I got great views of it fishing.

Once more I foolishly returned to the oriole site, and once more i was left disspointed in oriole terms. But there were other birds there and dragonflies too. I managed to find another Hairy dragonfly, this time a female perched. I thought that the raindrops and the evening light made a great base for the photo, but the reeds in the way made the best photo impossible so I had to clip off both wingtips (not actually!).

-Hairy Dragonfly
In terms of birdlife I managed two more great species to add to my day list in the form of spotted flycatcher and blackcap. I had heard a lot of guys talking about spotted flycatcher so I guess that it must be something quite special down there, having said that, it is also in calderdale! But even so it was great to be able to see. Both birds were with a minuet of each other, but the photos leave a lot to be desired-find them if you can!

-spotted flycatcher 
By now the "day list" was pretty impressive. I decided to walk over to the far viewpoint, the one I had missed out, and where cranes and cettis warbler lived. The evening light made it quite a plesant view. There were a couple of other birders there. One of them said that he could see lots of hobbies in the distance, but when I asked where he pointed to a tree about 1km away. When I had a look I agree that there were indeed a lot of black dots flying around the tree. He said that he could they were hobbies by the way they were flying, but to me they just looked like swifts.
However, he did let me look through his scope at a couple of male cuckoos that landed in a tree in the middle of the reedbed behind us, And because of that I got my best ever view of a cuckoo (which doesnt say a lot when I have only seen about 4 ever, all in the past two days). But even so, it was a smashing view, and I even got a view of it cuckoo-ing. There were two, but the bird perched lower suddenly flew up and chased the other off, so then there was only one.
In terms of the speciallities at this viewpoint, I saw no trace of crane. One guy said that he had seen one just stroll across the train-line which would obviously been a great view. However there was a cettis warbler there, I know only by its explosive song. there was one burst of song and then I saw a flash of beautiful red-brown whizz past me, so wheather or not it counts I don't know, but there was no doubting what it was. The bird continued to sing but I diddnt get another view of it.
Once i had finished there, I decided that it might be an idea to get back to the visitor center, for when my parents came to pick me up they would'nt have to wait. I decided to go back through the reserve because it gave the oriole one last chance to show is golden features. Naturally I stopped when i reached the site but once more I had no luck. That however was only in terms of the oriole. There were a fe other things there to look at, for example, another feamle blue tailed damselfly.

-Female common blue damselfly
I was just about to leave for the visitor center, when I spotted a large bird flying in. I could tell straight away by the fact that the neck was not held out, that it was not a crane, so i thought it must be a heron, given how high it was flying. But no, it was another bittern and through the bins, I got the best view of all day as it circled the reeds and then dropped its feet for landing. The only bad part was where I was standing, Because when I eventually got the camera out, there was a collection of exceptionally tall reeds standing in front of me

My parents were not in the car park when i arrived at the visitor center, so i decided to go for the short walk around the back of the visitor center, where there were aparently turtle doves, and also look at one of the ponds where there might be gargany. Walking through the low reeds and sedge, I spotted a whitethroat, my first of the day. When i reached the viewpoint for the aparent gargany pool I spotted abother cuckoo, this one flying right by me. It landed in the tree next to me, where it was mobbed inssesantly by an angry reed warbler until it flew off. Sadly because of the poor light the photos were not up to much, but they show how close the bird was.

I got up to have a look for gargany but the light was so poor that I couldn't make out one duck sillhuet from another, so even if there was one there, I would never have been able to tell. One the river there was a common tern, though, which was nice to see and another bird to add to the list.
A walk round the "turtle dove" site produced nothing at all except for a deer that I spooked, which bolted into the undergrowth. This deer was nodoubt a roe deer, and my theory was proved right when I spotted another deer next to the visitor center as I walked to the car for my lift back home.
-roe deerso as you cn see, this site is well worth a visit. I think the below list is pretty much as good as it gets, bar the obviouse-crane, gargany, turtle dove and... the oriole! Overall it was a really good day but in case you cant be bothered reading all the paragrapohs I have written below is a list of all the things I saw today.

Because there is so much text in this post-here is a concise list off all the things I saw today:
Greater-spotted woodpecker
marsh harrier+food pass
sedge warbler
reed warbler
great tit
blue tit
grey heron
reed bunting
mute swan
great-crested grebe
black-headed gull
canada goose
heard an oriole
tufted duck
spotted flycatcher
cetti's warbler
bearded tit
green woodpecker
sand martin
common tern
pied wagtail
collard dove
roe deer

Hairy dragonfly
blue-tailed damselfly (typical and voilacea)
Banded demoiselle
variable damselfly
azure damselfly
common blue damselfly
large red damselfly
red admiral
small tortoishell
large skipper
agapantha villosoviridescens (the beetle)

So I spent about 10 hours at the reserve an arrived back at the caravan at about 8.00pm so It was a full days work, but well worth it. luckily it didn't rain all day, like yesterday.