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).

26 August 2012

A brilliant day at Rainham (26th August 2012).

A day with no rain in the forecast so I decided to head over to RSPB Rainham Marshes. The pools held a good selection of the usual waders with Ruff, Green and Common Sandpipers, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwits and Little Ringed Plovers. There was a juvenile Marsh Harrier patrolling over the marsh and four Hobbies. Four Whinchats dotted along the fence of one of the fields were a sign that autumn migration is well under way. An adult and a juvenile Water Vole were feeding in a couple of the ditches.

After lunch the idea of a bit of skywatching seemed appealing and turned up another Marsh Harrier with Hobbies feeding on dragonflies. Then at about 3 o'clock I decided to check what I thought at first was a juvenile gull flying towards me from the centre of the reserve only to realise that it was an Arctic Skua which flew over my head, past the visitor centre and out to the river. I and another birder made our way through to the river wall to try to relocate it only to see a ringtail Montagu's Harrier drifting along the south side in company with two Marsh Harriers. A short time after that Arctic Terns started drifting upriver, there were ten in all and then someone picked up a Spoonbill also flying upriver on the south side. The Arctic Terns kept going through until about 4 o'clock when it all went quiet again. Quite a good afternoon!

25 August 2012

Cliffe Pools (8th August 2012).

Another trip in search of waders, travelling a little further from East London this time for a longer day in the field - not much further as the birds fly though, we were more or less just across the Thames at the RSPB reserve at Cliffe.
It was high tide when we arrived, which meant that large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Common Redshank were roosting on some of the islands in the freshwater pools, or feeding in the shallow areas. Scanning through these soon revealed small numbers of Dunlin and, seemingly tagged on to the largest group of Dunlin, a single juvenile Little Stint. The stint could seen to be clearly smaller than the Dunlins that could be seen in the same telescope view, and with the obvious pale 'braces' on the back that is a plumage feature of juveniles of a few similar wader species.
Several Greenshank were also found, including a colour ringed individual, although most of these seemed to be keeping separate from most of the other waders. By the end of the day we had probably seen a minimum of 30 on the various pools. All of these species were seen before we had even passed the first pool, and we added Common Sandpiper and a Spotted Redshank, which flew over calling, before we continued. On the other pools the waders kept coming, with Avocets, Green Sandpipers, Common Snipe, and at least three Wood Sandpipers. The latter were a 'lifer' for Chris, who was with me, and the presence of both juvenile, and breeding plumaged adult Green Sandpipers nearby allowed a good comparison of the identification features - breeding plumaged Green Sandpiper in particular can often be quite noticeably spotted above, and are sometimes mistaken for Wood Sandpipers.

We diverted our attention briefly from the birds to have a look at some of the invertebrates on the site, in particular looking for some of the dragonfly species that were present, although (as always) other invertebrates were also of interest.
A Migrant Hawker dragonfly landed not too far away, but on the other side of a ditch, and stayed long enough for some good 'scope views and a couple of 'phone scoped' images, and a few Scarce Emerald Damselflies were to be found in the same ditch, as well as more widespread damselfly species such as Blue-tailed Damselflies. We also found a Short-winged Conehead (a type of cricket) at the edge of the ditch, and found both Ruddy Darters and Common Darters.

Back to the birds, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Blackcaps, and Common Whitethroats were lurking in the reed edges and in bramble and hawthorn scrub, and a couple of Stock Doves also put in an appearance. When we reached the Thames foreshore there were Grey Plovers, Avocets and Shelduck present as well as a variety of gulls.

A prolonged sunny spell brought Marbled White Butterflies and Large & Essex Skippers out, and also seemed to entice many of the ant colonies to fly. Warm sunny days are what the newly mature virgin queen ants, and the flying males, require at this time of year before they leave the nests in which they were raised and mix with ants from other colonies on their mating flights. After mating the females will lose their wings and seek out somewhere to start a new colony and the males will die. The precise environmental conditions that lead to these mating flights do not seem to be fully understood, but whatever they are they tend to trigger the emergence of flying ants from all of the nests in a given area. Birds quickly learn to take advantage of events such as this, and within minutes large numbers of Black-headed Gulls had gathered, milling around in the sky as they snapped up as many ants as they could. Once the first gulls had begun to gather, others made a bee-line straight for them, with the result being that all those that had been foraging on the foreshore were soon over the land and trying to catch ants. In excess of 200 Black-headed Gulls were soon in the air over the reserve, as well as a handful of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a single adult Common Gull (scarce in the region at this time of year), and surprisingly at least 5 Common Terns - I have never seen terns feeding on flying ants before but these were clearly doing just that. It was quite surprising how quickly the gulls dispersed again a while later when it clouded over again.
Later sunny spells, one of which happily occurred as we were passing some Buddleia bushes, brought numerous butterflies out, including a single Painted Lady (perhaps a newly arrived migrant?), and a Common Lizard also showed itself briefly. A mouse, presumably a Wood Mouse, was seen briefly running down the trunk of an Elder bush, where it has presumably been feeding, and rustling noises in the bushes almost certainly indicated the presence of other rodents which remained unseen.
A final highlight was a juvenile or female Common Redstart which showed itself briefly at the edge of the path as we passed through an area of bushes on our way back to the car park.

Larkswood Invertebrates (12th August 2012).

I had been invited to attend a work party meeting of the Friends of Larkswood, who do some conservation work in Larkswood, an area of woodland in Chingford. The aim of todays task was to improve the habitat around one of the woodland clearings for invertebrates, and while this was going on we were going to try some invertebrate sampling to see what sort of species were already present, and show those involved with the work party some of the wildlife that was 'hiding in the undergrowth'.
We found a good variety of species present, with some of the more noticeable including Roesel's Bush Crickets, Speckled Bush Crickets, Field Grasshoppers, and Forest Shieldbugs.
Roesel's Bush Cricket (top) and Speckled Bush Cricket, both females as shown by the long ovipositors - photos taken with a camera phone!

The difference made by the work party was clear to see as well, despite them only working for a relatively short period of time, and they, and anyone else involved with practical conservation work in their local area, should be congratulated for taking the time to get involved.

17 August 2012

Waders on the move at last (15th August 2012).

There was certainly some evidence of Autumn migration at RSPB Rainham Marshes with good numbers of waders around. Up until now there have just been a few Green Sandpipers and Snipe with the occasional Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel. Today those four species were all present with 6, 25, 4 and 1 respectively. There were, however, several more species of wader on the various pools with single Greenshank and Common Sandpiper, 4 Ruff and the star bird of the day, a juvenile Wood Sandpiper which was alongside a juvenile Ruff at one stage providing an excellent comparison between the two. There were also at least 4 Yellow Wagtails flying around and I counted 27 Little Egrets.
Before I arrived there had been Black and Sandwich Terns seen on the River and a Little Stint in Aveley Bay.

15 August 2012

An Introduction to Dragonflies (4th August 2012).

As I, and the first of the attendees, arrived at the Denham Country Park visitors centre ready for the introduction to identifying and recording dragonflies and damselflies which I had been asked to give, the heavens opened - not the ideal conditions for going out to search for odonata! The intention was for me to give a short talk about the behaviour and identification of dragonflies before we headed out into the field, so we crossed our fingers and hoped that the weather would improve.

Thankfully the rain had stopped, and it had brightened up somewhat, by the time that we went out in search of some live dragonflies and damselflies, and we were soon finding numerous Common Blue Damselflies, and the larger, more spectacular Banded Demoiselles. One or two Brown hawkers also showed well, although only in flight, and Red-eyed Damselflies again showed well on the Grand Union Canal. It took a while to find the first Red-eyed Damselfly, but after I had found one we went on to see several, both perched on floating vegetation and skimming low over the surface of the water, and I think that most of the participants were soon confidently picking them out from the Common Blues by themselves - even in flight.

A single Emperor Dragonfly was found hawking over a small field in a wooded area as we walked back to the visitors centre, and while watching this we also had good views of a Kestrel, which kept returning to its chosen perch on a dead branch high up a tree. A few butterflies, including Speckled Woods, also caught peoples eye while we were out.

We avoided the rain and managed to find a reasonable number of species despite less than ideal weather conditions, and hopefully everyone enjoyed the event (feedback certainly seemed positive).

I didn't have a chance for any photos today, so here's one from the talk - a Four-spotted Chaser covered with early morning dew:

In search of waders (2nd August 2012).

Today I spent the morning and early part of the afternoon by the River Thames, not far outside of London, at East Tilbury. I was with someone who wanted to try and find some waders and other wildlife, and had suggested that this would potentially be a good site to try, especially as the tide times were advantageous with high tide at around midday.

As soon as we arrived by the riverside we found good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, with a flock of over a hundred, in various stages of moult, feeding on the exposed mud at the edge of the water. Excellent 'scope views were very easy to obtain, and as the tide came in the feeding flock was gradually pushed closer to the riverside path. Several birds in the flock had been colour ringed, some with 'leg flags' (coloured rings with projections to make them even more visible), and it will be interesting to discover where they had come from.
A group of Black-tailed Godwits including one of the colour ringed individuals (I will post details about the origins of these when I know them).

Nearby a Whimbrel was feeding near to the path, and both Curlews and Oystercatchers were around in small numbers. Away from the waterside Starlings, House Sparrows, Greenfinches, and Linnets, the later including a couple of cracking males with extensive bright red breasts and foreheads, were among the resident bird species feeding on a variety of plant seeds. Small numbers of Common Whitethroats, Chiffchaffs, and Blackcaps found in scrubby areas probably including both some which had bred locally and migrants passing through from further afield.
Juvenile House Sparrow and Starling - the Starling starting to moult into first winter plumage.

Walking a little further east along the riverside meant that we came across more waders, including somewhere in the region of 500 Avocets, which included quite good numbers of juveniles. These probably included birds from breeding areas in north Kent, as well as other nearby parts of Essex (none breed at East Tilbury). A few Grey Plovers, Dunlin, and Redshank, and a single Turnstone, mostly in breeding plumage added more variety.
The sunny weather meant that there were some interesting invertebrates to see as well, and we had an interesting conversation with a ranger working on improving habitat for Sea Aster Mining Bees (Colletes halophilus - a bee species which is restricted to coastal parts of the UK because of it's habitat preferences. It was a little early in the year for them to be flying, but apparently the habitat work has so far proved very successful in improving the numbers of the species at East Tilbury.
One of the bees that we did manage to find (I haven't yet checked whether it can be identified from the photo!).

A couple of European Stonechats showed very well to finish off the morning, with this bright male posing well for extended viewing and some photos:

Amwell (28th July 2012).

Twelve people joined me for this walk, at Amwell Nature Reserve at the north end of the Lee Valley Regional Park. Most of the participants met me at Stanstead Abbots railway station, a short walk from the reserve, and we started to see interesting wildlife on our way to the reserve, including Blackcaps and Sedge Warblers as we walked along by the New River (not particularly 'new' now, the waterway was opened in 1613 after being constructed to supply drinking water to the people of London).

We met a few more people nearer to the main viewpoint over the reserve, and then quickly made a start on finding out what the reserve had to offer.
Late summer can be one of the quietest times of year for birdwatching because for many species the breeding season is starting to come to an end, and they are often moulting worn feathers in preparation for migration or the forthcoming winter. This means that there is little bird song to be heard, and the birds are often secretive. Autumn migration has already commenced by the end of July though, and the Common Sandpipers that were feeding on the muddy edges of islands in the gravel pit that the reserve encompasses were a sign of this. Common Sandpipers don't breed locally so these were among the first migrants on their way back south.

Other birds were still busy trying to raise broods of young, including Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings seen carrying food, and Great Crested Grebes with their stripy 'humbug' youngsters. Others had clearly already fledged their young, and we saw quite a quite a few fully fledged, and independent, juveniles, including Grey Herons and Green Woodpeckers. We were lucky with the weather, considering how the British summer can be, and the frequent sunny spells suited the resident Common Buzzards well - we had superb views of them overhead. A Hobby also showed very well above us, as it hunted flying insects.
A 'phone-scoped' Green Woodpecker - this one an adult male.

Warm, sunny weather meant that insects were active, so we found far more than we would have otherwise managed. Dragonflies and butterflies tend to be the insects that attract most attention and we found a good variety of both, including Emperors, Brown Hawkers, Common & Ruddy Darters (dragonflies), Red Admirals, Gatekeepers, Peacocks, and Large and Green-veined Whites (butterflies). Other interesting invertebrate finds were Dingy Footman moths, Cinnabar Moth caterpillars, and a variety of hoverflies.
Dingy Footman.

Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on Ragwort.

We found plenty of other interesting birds as well, in addition to those already mentioned, with Kingfishers, a less than cooperative Marsh Tit (perhaps more than one?) which was calling frequently but gave only glimpses, and Little Egrets, among the highlights. More commonly seen species weren't ignored though, with Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Cormorants among the species that showed well from the main viewpoint.
All together, a very enjoyable day.
Cormorant in a well known pose!