Welcome to the Buteo Wildlife blog, a record of some of the wildlife that we have been seeing and occasional identification articles that will hopefully be useful for those trying to learn about wildlife.

If you enjoy reading this blog, join us on one of our tours - days and weekends looking for wildlife. Visit our website for details: www.buteowildlife.co.uk
Note that tours with clients may not always feature prominently on this blog because we are unlikely to have time for photography when out with clients - and walls of text don't tend to make the most interesting posts. If there is time for a few snatched photos they may not always be of the highest quality - but we'll use them anyway!

To try and keep posts in chronological order they may sometimes be given earlier dates/times than when they are actually posted. Apologies, for this - it's not meant to mislead anyone (and we will try to avoid this happening too often).

31 July 2012

Dragonflies at Denham Country Park (26th July 2012).

I had agreed to give a talk on the identification and surveying of dragonflies and damselflies, followed by a short walk, for the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust at the Colne Valley Visitors Centre, Denham Country Park, on 4th August, and visited today to have a look around the area.

Very good numbers of Banded Demoiselles were present on some of the rivers in the area, with (Large) Red-eyed Damselflies and a single Small Red-eyed Damselfly on the nearby Grand union Canal, and several Emperor Dragonflies and Brown hawkers around, as well as my first Migrant Hawkers of the year. Hopefully the weather will be as good on the day!
Red-eyed Damselfly (or Large Red-eye).
This one was photographed during my recent trip to France. There is less blue at either end of the abdomen than on the similar Small Red-eyed Damselfly (compare with the photo in the 'Hunting French Dragons' post).

A walk through the Lee Valley (9th July 2012).

Leaving my car at the garage for a service and MOT gave me a good reason reason to visit some sites in the Lee Valley which I don't regularly get to...

In a year when I have heard many people speculating that it has been a poor breeding season for many species because of the wet weather, it was nice to see a lot of family groups, of tits and warblers including many with very recently fledged young. Other adults were still obviously feeding young in the nest, and I had to move away from where I was watching from on a couple of occasions because a Common Whitethroat and then a Chiffchaff were reluctant to take food to their nest because they had decided I was too close, and potentially a threat!
Passing the King George V Reservoir I found that very large numbers of Common Swifts had gathered to feed. I estimated that at least 300 were present over the northern end of the reservoir, along with smaller numbers of House Martins, Sand Martins, and Swallows, and more could be seen further back. In this case it seemed likely that the majority of the Swifts were adults because the young don't tend to fledge until around mid month, and I certainly couldn't see any obvious juveniles among them - but close views are usually needed to see the scaly plumage and more extensive white faces that identify the young ones.
Pyramidal Orchids, and Common Spotted Orchids were in bloom at a nearby site, along with a lot of Tufted Vetch, and I managed to find a few spikes of Bee Orchid flowers, but the later were well passed their best now.
Pyramidal Orchid

Bee Orchid (past its best).

Tufted Vetch - growing far more prominently than the orchids!
Further up the valley, a Cuckoo flew across in front of me, near the White Water Centre at Waltham Cross - where spectator stands for the Olympics were rapidly being put together, and at another sport orientated site a Common Tern posed on a buoy in Cheshunt Gravel Pit, which is the site of the Herts Young Mariners Base, so is used by for sailing, canoeing, and other outdoor pursuits.
Common Tern.
Not the best of photos, but taken by holding the camera on my mobile phone to the eyepiece of my binoculars - so it shows that you don't always need to carry cameras with big, heavy lens to photograph birds!

Garden Wildlife (8th July 2012).

It's not always necessary to go out to find interesting wildlife, especially if you take an interest in some of the smaller creatures than can be found. These are some of the insects that were found in a Hertfordshire garden during a brief sunny spell between showers:

Dragonflies in the Lee Valley (1st July 2012).

I had been asked to lead a walk for the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, which was intended to look at some of the wildlife at Cornmill Meadows - concentrating on the dragonflies in particular. Unfortunately, as can be the case during a typical British summer, the weather wasn't ideal for dragonflies, with largely overcast weather, with only brief sunny periods, and a cooler temperature plus little more wind than is desirable. Nether the less, around a dozen people turned up for the walk so we set off to see what we could find.
We did struggle to find any of the larger dragonfly species, but a good variety of their smaller relatives, the damselflies, were found including the Banded Demoiselles (one of our largest damselflies), and White-legged Damselfly (a scarce species locally). The people who attended the walk were thankfully not only interested in the dragonflies and damselflies, so I was able also able to show them a variety of other species, mostly relatively common, but interesting enough for a short local walk.
The shallow wader scrapes had a number of Lapwings on them, and a Hobby was hunting over the meadows - perhaps as disappointed as us by the lack of dragonflies! Butterflies were also not particularly active, but walking through areas with longer grass disturbed Meadow Browns, Large Skippers and Ringlets, and Peacocks, Red Admirals, and a few 'whites' were also seen. Field Grasshoppers and Roesel's Bush Crickets were also found in the meadows.

The Brecks - Thick-knees and Goat-suckers! (30th June 2012).

Dave and I took a small group on an afternoon and evening tour of some of the sites in "The Brecks", a patchwork of mainly conifer plantations and sandy heathland sites on the Suffolk and Norfolk border.
The main targets for the afternoon were Stone Curlew (one of a group of waders known as "Thick-knees"), and Nightjar (a species which folklore would have us believe feeds by sucking milk from the udders of goats - hence the strange archaic name!), which meant that we planned to stay late into the evening with the hope of seeing Nightjars when they became active at dusk.
As we wouldn't be finishing until late we had also arranged a late meeting time, beginning the days bird and wildlife watching with a visit to the RSPB reserve at Lakenheath Fen soon after midday.
The weather conditions at Lakenheath were not ideal as a relatively strong wind meant that the birds in the poplar plantations and reedbeds were keeping low. Bird of prey put on a good showing though, with Marsh Harriers quartering the reedbeds and nearby farmland, Kestrel and Hobbys overhead, and a Common Buzzard perched on a tree in a hedge by an arable field. A pair of Kingfishers flew in and landed for a while at the edge of a reedbed pool - which was appreciated by the group and others who were present, and a few Reed and Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats also gave good views (eventually!).
The brown lower mandible shows that this is a female (males have all black bills).
Sheltered areas also produced a good variety of other interesting wildlife, starting off with a Lesser Stag Beetle found on the path near the visitors centre. A few butterflies, including Red Admirals, CommasGatekeepers, and Meadow Browns were active, and later on Sunny spells produced some activity from a few dragonflies and damselflies, including a Four-spotted Chaser and a Red-eyed Damselfly, both of which provided exceptionally good views when I was able to set a telescope up on them.
Lesser Stag Beetle.
A stop at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust Reserve at Weeting Heath provided our first views of two Stone Curlew (which some of the group hadn't seen before), but they weren't particularly active and soon walked off over the brow of the hill from where others could be heard calling. We were left watching the numerous rabbits which help to keep the site grazed, and therefore suitable for the Stone Curlews to breed, and a large feeding flock of Rooks and Jackdaws.

Nearby there were Coal Tits and at least one Willow Tit in the small area of woodland, between the hides and car park, as well as many other small birds such as Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps, Goldcrests, and various finches.
Although the views that we had already had of Stone Curlew had been good, we visited another site nearby with the hope of seeing a little bit more activity, and it was pleasing not to be disappointed. We saw several more individuals, including some that flew past not too far from us, and were again able to listen to their somewhat eerie calls. One pair showed exceptionally well, and we were able to spend some time watching them feeding.
Other birds were also very evident, with male Yellowhammers and the Green Woodpeckers which were very noticeable here being favourites of some of the group. A feeding Hobby, which passed close to us several times, apparently feeding on beetles which were caught and eaten on the wing, was also greatly appreciated.
After stopping for a fish and chip supper in Brandon we headed for an area of young conifer plantation that had reached the right age to be attractive to Nightjars. As we waited for the light to fall to a level at which the Nightjars would hopefully show, we were a little surprised to find very large numbers of Summer Chafers, fairly large beetles similar to the larger Cockchafer, taking flight and headily off noisily, and clumsily, to other parts of the clearing. Quite a few moths, of various sorts, were also seen - but not well enough to be identified in the rapidly failing light.
Woodcocks appeared while it was still just about light enough to make out some detail on the plumage, and we were treated to several passes as they flew over just above tree top height on their 'roding' display flights. The sharp, whistled "Ts-wick" calls, audible from quite a distance, were usually the first sign of one approaching, and we were also able to hear the curious croaking call which is rarely heard because it is only audible at close range, usually when they pass almost directly overhead. A few Tawny Owls  were also calling, but could not be seen.
Unfortunately we didn't see any Nightjars until later in the evening when it was too dark to see much detail, but after being heard calling a few times a female did give very good silhouette views as it flew slowly past parallel with the path we were stood on. At one point it passed within about six feet of Dave, while he was looking in the other direction - much to the amusement of the rest of the group, all of whom watched this from just down the track!

Hunting French Dragons. (18th - 29th June 2012).

I spent the end of June travelling through France with the intention of finding and photographing some of the European Odonata (dragonfly and damselfly species) which aren't found in Britain - as well as taking the opportunity to see what other interesting wildlife I could find.
After initially spending a few days in the Champagne region, where it was unfortunately as overcast as the weather the UK has been experiencing for most of the summer so far this year, I headed south through the Bourgogne and Auvergne regions, briefly visiting La Crau and the eastern edge of the Camargue before heading back north. Travelling all the way to the Mediterranean increased the number of species that I was able to find because some prefer the warmer climates of the south, but more importantly it gave me a much better chance of finding the sunny weather that dragonflies require before they are active!
By the time I returned to the UK I had seen 58 different species of dragonfly and damselfly, and had photographed 50 of these - not a bad total, especially when you consider that only just over 50 species have ever been recorded in Britain and Ireland. The geographic position of the British isles, and the fact that they have long been separated from mainland Europe, means that many species that are widespread on the continent do not usually occur here, and this is true of all types of wildlife. It is perhaps most noticeable if you have an interest in bird. It is rarely difficult to find at least some bird species that are rare in the UK on even the shortest stay somewhere on the continent, you don't even need to make a special effort to search for them - although it helps if you want to see a large variety, or are keen to see specific species.
A selection of some of the highlights of the trip (including birds and other wildlife) is shown below:
Common Winter Damselfly.

Copper Demoiselle.

Crescent Bluet/Irish Damselfly.

Small Red-eye/Small Red-eyed Damselfly.
This one is in the process of cleaning its wings by moving the abdomen up and down between the wings, and rubbing it against them.

Orange Featherleg.

Broad Scarlet/Scarlet Darter.

Yellow Clubtail.
Lesser Emperor.
A female laying her eggs.
Yellow-spotted Emerald.

Yellow-winged Darter.


Melodius Warbler.

I have no idea why it was carrying the leaf - but it flew off with it!

Alpine Swifts.

Grass snake.

Marsh Frog.

Scarce Swallowtails.
Large groups of these were coming down to damp areas at the edge of the Ardeche to take in moisture, and perhaps salts.