Thursday, 27 September 2012

Gnome in Norfolk: Booted & Barred

I don't often go to Norfolk (in fact I've been precisely three times previously) as it's beyond my self-imposed two hour travel limit. However, I am starting to realise (I know, I'm a bit slow to catch on) that this does rather limit me, especially with regards to seeing drift migrant species that appear on the east coast in the autumn and that if I wanted to see these sorts of birds then I was going to have to pull my finger out and make a bit of an effort occasionally. Now a collection of migrant goodies had turned up in Norfolk to focus my mind on this issue with Booted Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Barred Warbler being the highlights so I thought that I would make a bit of an effort and see how I got on with it. In the past I've usually driven up the night before, stayed in a B&B and then enjoyed a full day's birding before driving back but this time I thought that I'd have a crack at the full-on endurance all-in-one-day round trip. I set the alarm for 6am but, similarly to the Baillon's twitch, I didn't sleep that well and was wide awake by 5am so decided to get up and get on. By 5:45am I was out the door and with the Sat Nav set for Burnham Overy where the Booted and Barred Warblers were, off I went. By a little after 9am, after a quick diversion to drive once around the Wolverton Triangle (no luck of course) I arrived at my destination feeling rather tired but keen to see what was about.

Burnham Overy is rather picturesque

The only Norfolk RBA text en route had been the Barred Warbler which was still present in the dunes there but as I was getting my gear out of the car the Booted Warbler reported in as well so it looked like I was in luck. I wandered along the bank with the estuary on the left and fields to the right. A huge flock of Pink-footed Geese flew over, honking loudly as they went, always an impressive sight. A few Bearded Tits were "pinging" away in the reeds as I walked and Redshank were calling plaintively from the mud flats. Skylarks would regularly fly over calling and the weather was pleasantly warm and sunny with little wind. All in all it felt good to be there with the possibilities of some nice birds just a short walk away ahead of me.

Pink-footed Geese - always a marvellous Norfolk sight!

The previous day the Booted Warbler was being seen towards the end of the bank as it neared the dunes but there were surprisingly few birders around in this area though I could see a small crowd staking out the brambles in the dunes where presumably the Barred Warbler was. Below the bank was scrub and Suaeda (I had to look up what this was, it's a succulent-leaved plant that you tend to get in coastal locations) and the Booted apparently was roaming around in this area. There were quite a few other birds kicking about with Reed Buntings and Linnets a plenty and several other warblers such as Chiffies and Willlow Warblers all to look through. Soon enough someone spotted the Booted. It turned out to be quite easy to pick out with it's remarkably pale brown colour. The bird was very mobile, continually popping up and flying off to another section which made it very difficult to try and photograph. On one occasion I had a clear view and was trying to get a shot when some SLR-toting tosser stepped literally right in front of me (and he knew I was there) so desperate was he for a killer photo. Anyway, I didn't manage a shot myself but got plenty of good views of the bird. It's shape was rather striking as well: the curve of the body went in quite sharply at the under-tail coverts which contrasted with the long stiff tail to give a distinctive profile shape. I was glad that there was no wind though as it would have been much more difficult trying to spot it in windy conditions. After a bit of background reading the previous day I'd discovered that Booted Warblers (considered conspecific with Skyes until a recent split) breed from Central Russia to Western China and then migrate to winter on the Indian sub-continent so this poor bird was way off course, no doubt driven by the strong easterlies and perhaps also a poor sense of direction.

The Booted Warbler area

This Willow Warbler was more willing to have its photo taken

Next it was on to the Barred Warbler, located in a patch of brambles by the start of the boardwalk. Here a group of birders were staring intently at the brambles where periodically the Barred Warbler would fly out and into another patch. Apparently it wasn't really showing other than flight views but I joined the crowd and pretty soon had seen it fly across several times. They really are hulking great things as warblers go, much more chunky than the accompanying Reed Buntings that were also flying about. After a while I realised that I wasn't going to get any better views than that and so I went for a wander in the dunes where there were mipits and Wheatears flitting about. Someone else reported some Whinchats and Redstarts there as well though I didn't see any myself.

Staking out the brambles for the Barred Warbler

After a while I went back for more Booted Warbler action and then decided that I'd better move on to my next target which was to see if I could connect with any of the Red-breasted Flycatchers which were about. Yesterday there'd been three (one at Warham Greens, one in Holkham pines and one at Holme) though RBA had been ominously silent on this front despite a Gnome RFI request. In the absence of any news I thought that I'd stick to my original plan and try Warham Greens first and then Holme on the way back. Some twenty minutes later I arrived at the Garden Drove (the westernmost of the three tracks that lead north to the Warham Greens area. I parked on the hardstanding half way down and headed down the track where I soon met up with a couple of other birders. They'd been there for quite some time and hadn't managed to find the Red-breasted Flycatcher at all though they've found a Yellow-browed Warbler, a Pied Flycatcher and a Redstart for their troubles. We hung around for a while and I soon managed to see all three of their birds working their way back and forth through the trees near the copse. However, the RB Fly was conspicuous by its absence. We did spot a buzzard flying by that looked possible for a Honey though we never got good enough views of it to be certain. In the end we had to admit defeat and headed back up the track to the cars.

 Warham Pied Flycatcher: it was hard work trying to photograph highly
 mobile birds in the canopy and I failed with the Yellow-browed though
 the Pied held still for just long enough for me to rattle off a few shots

My final destination was Holme though there'd been no news on the Flycatcher there either and I didn't hold out much hope. Nevertheless I thought that it would at least be interesting to pop in in order to acquaint myself with the site. Holme consists of two nature reserves: the NWT area with a car park guarded by a pay hut (thankfully closed) and at the end of the track the NOA reserve. I first parked up in the NWT car park and had a quick wander around. A couple of birders there were on the bank waiting for the juvenile Rose-coloured Starling to fly over. It had been reported that morning but they'd been there for hours without any luck. Some enquiries about the Flycatcher confirmed my fears that there'd been no sign of it that day. I therefore did a token tour around the scrub area by the car park and then drove on to check out the NOA area. There in the car park and with no realistic prospects of finding the Flycatcher I started to feel rather tired with the early start and lack of sleep catching up with me. Accordingly I had a forty minute "power nap" before deciding to head back home.I stopped off at Wolverton again and did the longer circuit around both parts of the triangles. At one point I got all excited when a game bird crossed the road but it turned out to be a Red-legged Partridge. The journey home was largely uneventful apart from getting stuck on a one junction "short-cut" on the M1 for three quarters of an hour. I arrived back at around 7pm very tired but pleased with my day trip to Norfolk and it's top birding action.

As a reminder for me if no one else, here's a picture of the Booted Warbler
 taken by Carl Chapman (c) (Wildlife Tours & Education) 
one of the co-finders of the bird
 - see the account of the find here: Letter from Norfolk

As I write this up I see that there's been no sign of either the Booted or the Barred Warbles in Norfolk today so it looks like I was lucky in getting them on their last days there. This only adds to my sense of satisfaction with my trip!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Farmoor BioBlitz

Periodically the Oxford Ornithological Society organises an event at Farmoor as a publicity and membership drive. I don't normally bother going to these (I'm already a member) but on Sunday the event was going to be a "bio blitz", a bid to identify and classify all the different species of flaura and fauna in a given area over a 24 hour period. The bit that particularly caught my eye was the moth trapping, especially since they'd persuaded Richard Lewington, the famous insect illustrator and brother to Ian, to come along and identify the trapped moths. I was thinking that this would be a good opportunity to see some new moths that I wouldn't come across in my urban garden as well as a chance to meet the man himself. Accordingly I turned up bright and early at 8am on Sunday morning at Farmoor when the traps were due to be opened.

It turned out that they'd set two traps, one in the car park by Gate 3 and one over at Pinkhill where there is a pond and extensive reeds and sedges etc. This latter location would have been very interesting but unfortunately that trap didn't work (the light had gone off) and it was empty. This left us with the car park trap plus a few moths they'd collected by hand from around the lights in the general area. Richard went through the car park trap (a huge Robinson) which was packed with midges and frankly a rather poor selection of moths given that it had been a good night for mothing. There were the usual suspects for this time of year: Square-spot Rustics, Setaceous Hebrew Characters, Large and Lesser Yellow Underwings but it wasn't much of a catch as Richard freely admitted. There was just a single micro which managed to escape but given how few moths there were I wasn't going to let it get away so easily and tracked it to a patch of grass a short distance away where it was potted up and ID'd. I then went through the potted moths that were picked up from the lights and managed to find a couple which were new to me - not such a difficult task given that I've only been mothing a few months in my urban garden. Whilst the trapping session hadn't been the moth cornucopia that I'd hoped for it did get me thinking that I should definitely make the effort to go to some other moth trapping events in the future as a way to expand my paltry moth repertoire.

Centre-barred Sallow
Canary-shouldered Thorn
The errant micro: Eudonia Pallida

Richard Lewington pondering a moth. He seems to share 
his brother's penchant for wearing shorts in all weathers

After the mothing sesion I wandered across the causeway (nothing of note to report) to Pinkhill where there was a bird ringing demonstration. This was entertaining and we saw the usual suspects in the hand and even got to hold and release some of them ourselves. I leant how to sex a starling (females have an orange ring in their eye whereas it's all black in a male). We were also shown how to tell apart a Willow Warbler and a Chiffchaff by counting the emarginations on the outer primary feathers: if I remember correctly the outer 6 primaries are emarginated for a Chiffchaff whereas it's only the outer five for Willow Warbler. All good stuff and I decided to bring L my six year old son next time as I'm sure he would have enjoyed seeing and holding the birds (actually he's getting quite interested in the butterflies and moths in the garden at present and likes having the moths on his hand). Anyway, after a while I wandered back across the causeway and headed back home.

The ringing demonstration

The usual suspects in hand

I had intended to come back in the evening when Ian Lewington was going to lead a gull roost session but my VLW's niece came over for dinner and I started to feel a bit under the weather so I decided to give it a miss. All in all however, it was definitely an interesting experience and I'll certainly be back for the next one.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Rainham Crake

I still maintain that I'm not much of a twitcher, despite growing evidence to the contrary. Don't get me wrong, I like seeing rare birds and am prepared to travel a moderate distance to do so (hence my two hour rule) but I don't like dipping (hence my bedded down & predictable rule) so I'm fairly fussy as to what I'll go and see. The lack of many birds fulfilling these requirements over the summer meant that I was rather starved of twitching action and despite my successful Dowitcher twitch last week I was still hungry for more. Therefore when a juvenile Baillon's Crake appeared on the radar at Rainham Marshes (within my two hour rule) I watched developments with a keen interest. It certainly seemed to be well established and was being seen each day but from reading up on the Bird Forum thread the views were difficult to come by to say the least. It was skulking away deep in a reed bed and people were getting occasional glimpses through gaps in the reeds but these were fleeting and few other people were getting onto it. On some days it might come out fully, often at dawn or dusk but often it would not break cover and apparently many people had put in large numbers of hours over several days without any success. All in all it wasn't an ideal twitchable candidate for me but somehow reading all the reports had got to me and I decided that I would like to have a crack at it despite these drawbacks. To add to the uncertainty there was the additional random factor of when the reserve would open: official opening hours were 09:30 am to 5pm though they'd opened early and stayed open late over the weekend when it was first found. Despite the official opening time often a volunteer would come in early and open up which made it all rather difficult to know what time to turn up. I decided to aim for 08:30 so I wouldn't have to hang around too long in case there was no early opening but I would get a bit of a head start if there was. Thus it was that, after a fitful night's sleep spent anticipating the alarm clock, I found myself leaving the house at 6:30 am and headed off into the rush hour traffic towards Rainham.

I arrived on time having managed to survive the M25 in rush hour. There were more than a dozen or so cars in the car park when I pulled up so clearly others had had the same idea of gambling on an early start. The first thing I noticed was this cheeky fox hanging around in the car park bold as brass though he sloped off as other cars started arriving.

He appears to have a bit of a sore on his hind leg but could move perfectly well

By the Visitor Centre I met up with Howard (the warden) who's been doing sterling work ensuring that visiting twitchers had maximum access to the bird where possible. He informed me that the bird had been seen today and the reserve was already open. I got directions to the hide from him and set off on the twenty minute hike to the hide which was on the main loop in the North West corner (about as far as possible from the Visitor Centre). En route I heard a Yellow Wagtail but apart from that there was little of note. I arrived at the hide to find twenty or so birders already inside and the prime right-hand side area already taken up though I did manage to get a seat at the left-hand end and so settled down for what I anticipated would be a long wait. Apparently the bird had been seen first thing when the hide was opened up at 6am but not since. There were a couple of familiar faces in the hide: Phil Woollen (whom I'd met at Lodmoor last week) was there again down from Cheshire for the morning, and Sean Foote, a moth expert who sorts me out on the Bird Forum Moth ID forum with my ID problems.

The view from the hide. The nearest "island" of reeds on
 the right-hand side is the one that the Crake favours

I passed the time scanning the front of the reeds from my vantage point and taking periodic breaks in order to stare out into the distance at nothing in particular. It was a lovely sunny morning though with a bit of a nip in the air and it was very pleasant to sit in the sun waiting for some Crake action.

A Common Darter settled in front of the hide as a welcome
 distraction from scanning the reeds

After getting on for about three quarters of an hour of this suddenly someone at the right-hand end called out that they'd seen the Crake. Despite this, as predicted it was nigh on impossible to get onto it even if one went to stand behind them. The general tactics seemed to be to focus on a gap in the reeds and wait for it to pass it so even if it was called out by the time everyone else came over it had already gone. Nevertheless a few more people started seeing it and eventually it broke cover and had a good preen out in the open for several minutes enabling everyone to see it. I'd moved from my original spot to get a better view so didn't have my cameras with me for when it emerged so I didn't get to take any footage. Below instead are some excerpts from others who'd managed to capture it on film.

 Top drawer (or should that be shelf) crake porn taken that evening
courtesy of Jonathan Lethbridge (c) (see his great blog here)...

...and here's some video taken by Sean Foote (c) of the bird when it was out in the open

Relief inside the packed Tower Butts Hide shortly after the bird had shown

After a few minutes the bird returned to the reeds and went back to skulking mode. There was palpable relief in the hide after it's showing and I too felt elated actually to have seen it so well and so quickly it being only about 10am now. I knew that I wouldn't get better views than I'd had so there seemed little point in hanging around for more occasional glimpses and I decided to head off back to the car. As I walked back there was a steady stream of birders heading towards the Tower Butt hide, presumably encouraged by the reports of it showing again.

Back at the car I considered my options. Having negotiated a full day pass from my VLW for birding it seemed rather a pity to return home so soon. Instead I thought that I might head home "via" the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire where there had been some good birds reported recently including a White-rumped Sandpiper. As you may be starting to appreciate, my idea of things being "on the way" is quite flexible! It would take a little over two hours to get there, I could spend a couple of hours there birding, two hours to get home and I would be back in time for dinner. That sounded like a plan. I therefore set the Gnome Mobile co-ordinates for the Ouse Washes and duly set off in the direction of the M11. It's always interesting when you hit Cambridgeshire as to just how flat the countryside is. Miles and miles of farmland with long straight roads going through them. It does almost remind me of driving through America on holiday a couple of years ago though there everything is on an altogether different scale. Anyway, the roads got progressively smaller as I neared my destination and the last couple of miles were little more than a bumpy track. Suddenly I turned a corner and there was the Old Bedford River and shortly thereafter the RSPB car park. I parked up, crossed the bridge over the river and headed towards the Kingfisher Hide to take a look.

 The Ouse Washes RSPB Hides Map

The view from Kingfisher Hide looking out over the Washes 
with the River Delph in the foreground

The basic layout was the Old Bedford River, then the Old Bedford River Bank (a large raised bank) which overlooked the River Delph and the Ouse Washes flood plain which in turn was bounded by the New Bedford River (or "Hundred Foot Drain") on the far side. In the distance were some reedbeds but close in the Washes were wonderfully flooded but showing plenty of mud and were teeming with birds. There were a series of fields with hides stationed at intervals along the Bank. The Kingfisher Hide overlooked the main hotspot for waders but the Grose Hide overlooked the area which was more favoured by the ducks. I started at the Kingfisher Hide which was half full when I arrived. I asked about the White-rumped Sandpiper and apprently it had been seen early that morning but not since and no one there had been able to find it. After a while one chap did pipe up that he thought he had it though he seemed incapable of giving directions of any kind. He then lost it but a short while later claimed to have it again in his scope. As he wasn't very forthcoming with directions I went over to get a bearing as to where he was looking and then asked if I could take a quick look in his scope. Disappointingly it turned out just to be a Curlew Sandpiper that he was looking at. There were loads of good waders about: plenty of Greenshank, Ruff, Dunlin and Ringed Plover, a couple of Curlew Sandpiper, two Green Sandpipers and one Spotted Redshank. On the egret front there were loads of Little Egrets, one Great White Egret right at the back in the reedbed, one Spoonbill feeding away in the pool and an immature Glossy Ibis kicking about. Occasionally a Marsh Harrier or a Hobby would go over and all the birds would go up. The second time this happened a lot of the small waders went of somewhere else so there was clearly another spot where they were at least resting if not actually feeding and this may have accounted for the lack of the White-rumped Sandiper. On the River Delph at the front there were a couple of Kingfishers zipping about as well as some Coots and very noisy Little Grebes. All in all it was a fabulous spot with all sorts of great birds to look at, definitely worth a visit despite the non-appearance of the vagrant Sandpiper. I even bumped into David Cudden and his wife in the hide: he's an Oxford birder who contributes photos to the Oxon Bird Log that I run with Jason Coppock - it's a small world.

Digiscoped Glossy Ibis...

...and some video of the Spoonbill

Anyway, time was marching on so I went back to the car and set the co-ordinates for home. An uneventful couple of hours later I was back home with the family, drinking a long-overdue cup of tea, hearing how everyone else's day had been and basking in the warm glow of a Grand Day's Birding and a successfully-twitched Mega.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Uncharacteristic Cupboard Twitching

Now as regular readers will know, I'm not a great twitcher. I diligently work my patch on Port Meadow and will make occasional forays out of county for something that's reasonably close and nicely bedded down (i.e. showing predictably over a a series of days) - these rules are designed to minimise the pain of dipping. To go for something the first proper day it's being reported in almost unheard of for me (Cream Coloured Courser being the only exception that I can recall). However there have been a couple of contributing factors which today lead me to break this general rule and go for a bit of full-on filthy twitching.

The first factor has been the lack of any off-county outings for three months now. My last outing was the Courser in May and apart from a family holiday in Cornwall I've not been birding out of the county at all since then. The summer doldrums had come and driven me to take up mothing (which I'm really enjoying). Autumn is basically upon us but throughout August there'd been nothing within range: all the good stuff appearing in the furthest reaches of Scotland or along the East coast far up country. All this had lead to a build up of twitchers lust or whatever you call it: a longing to go and see something good!

The second factor is eBay. Occasional my VLW decides to buy some piece of furniture, often for the house in Cornwall though now that is furnished and let out. However, she's been searching for a narrow cupboard that will fit in a small alcove in our front lounge for several years now. It's a particularly narrow space and until now she'd not been able to find anything that would fit. However, recently she came across the perfect piece and with some tactical sniping at the end of the auction we managed to secure it for a bargain price. The item was located in Bath and the seller was flexible on when it could be picked up. As it fell to me to drive over and pick it up (a huge Brownie point bonus) this effectively meant that I could wait for a good bird to turn up in that general area and then combine the two in the one trip with the full blessing of my VLW. It's effectively a free "Twitch a bird near Bath" card.

Now "near Bath" is very much open to interpretation and I can be quite liberal in such matters when it suits. A Short-billed Dowitcher had been found yesterday at Lodmoor in Weymouth. Initially identified as a Long-billed but by the evening "promoted" to Short-billed when better photographs finally emerged. When it was reported as still being present first thing the next day I started to wonder just how far Weymouth is from Bath. Actually on the map, Bath isn't that far off a straight line from Oxford to Weymouth and after showing this fact to my VLW on a map even she was convinced enough to sanction my spontaneous twitch - I guess that she was just keen to get her cupboard. Anyway, it was a little after 9 a.m. that I set off and arrived some two and a half hours later at Lodmoor, a site that I'm familiar with, having stopped off there a couple of times  en route to Cornwall (Weymouth is pretty much en route to anywhere vaguely south-west of Oxford in my book). I arrived and gave Badger a call, fully expecting him to have been there from first light. To my amazement I found that he was still on his way with Ewan "Two Eyes" and that I'd actually arrived for a twitch before him - unheard of! On the journey I'd been following progress and after the first couple of reports it had all gone ominously quiet after 8 am and sure enough it had not been seen since then. En route I'd been progressively thinking that I might have been a bit premature on all this and that waiting for it to become better established might have been wiser. Still I was there now.

All the birders were lined up along the south-west side of the reserve where it had been last seen but somehow I really didn't fancy standing around for hours waiting so I decided to wander around a bit, safe in the knowledge that should it re-appear then word would quickly be put out on RBA. I bumped into a chap called Phil Woollen (who has a blog called The Wirral Birder) who'd also been thinking that other parts of the reserve should be checked out so we worked our way around together. It was remarkably empty on the rest of the reserve with just a few Common Sandpipers to show for our efforts though I did manage to find a Painted Lady, presumably freshly "in off". We kept checking back at the line of birders on the opposite side to see if they looked like they were watching something but they seemed to be mooching around still. By this time getting on for a couple of hours had passed and with the clock very much ticking for me (I still had to get over to Bath) I was very much starting to resign myself to a massive dip.

I took a few half-hearted photos whilst wandering around

As we were working our way back round to where the main twitching crowd was I got a call from Badger and Ewan who'd finally arrived and I said that I'd see them round there. A short time later classic twitch Chinese Whispers started: they called back saying they'd overheard another guy in the car park who'd got a call that someone had seen the bird though the directions seemed to be wrong as the next thing they turned up along the south-east (sea-ward) side and we assured them that there was no one else birding along there. We all hurried on back to the south-west corner where eventually through some phone calls Phil determined that it was in fact in that corner where it had been seen. We elected to go along the road to the tip and view from the vantage point of the old rubbish dump which offered an elevated outlook over the marsh. Eventually the rumour mill filtered through to us determining the narrow channel where it had briefly been seen though of course there was nothing to be seen. The next half an hour or so was spent staring at this channel and chatting. Suddenly a shout from Lee Evans woke us all up: he had the bird in view though from a more acute angle where he could see further down the channel. We all rushed over to where he was and arranged ourselves so we could all more or less see. Suddenly the bird was out in the open, creeping along the edge of the reeds and with hurried directions we got onto it. It was on show for a couple of minutes during which time we all saw it apart from poor old Joan Thompson who was too short to view it through any of the offered scopes. I managed to get reasonable views and to check out the strong patterning on the tertials though it wasn't out long enough for me to take any photos or video footage. We kept expecting it to re-appear in the same spot but some half an hour later it had not reappeared and I'd run out of time. Thankful at having seen it I headed back to the car park whilst Badger and Ewan decided to head down to the lower but closer viewing point on the reserve itself.

Some of the twitchers on the rubbish mound overlooking the reserve. 
That's LGRE in the white shirt.

I programmed the cupboard address into the Sat Nav, fired up the Gnome-mobile and headed off towards Bath. En route I picked up regular RBA texts saying that the bird was showing again briefly before finally giving itself up properly and "showing well" so had I'd been able to stay I would eventually have got a prolonged look at it. However, given that I'd been staring a dip full in the face, I wasn't complaining about my views! I arrived at Bath and the vendor's house after a couple of hours journey - thank heavens for the Sat Nat or I'd never have navigated myself through Bath itself and it's one-way systems. After that it was a quick call to my VLW to say when I'd be back for dinner and then the final leg of the journey back from Bath to Oxford. It had been a long and tiring day though I'd managed to see my target bird and to get the cupboard so everyone was happy.

This is what all the fuss was about, well worth twitching!...

...with this as a bonus (c) Badger

This gives me an opportunity to waffle about ID a little - something I'm very interested in but often don't seem actually to be able to put into practice! There's an interesting article here about Dowitcher ID which is worth a read. The bottom line though is that for juveniles (such as our bird) the strongly-marked tertials is the best diagnostic though the relative amount of black and white in the tail is also useful: SB has more white than black as you can more or less see from the above photo and vice versa for LB though this isn't always diagnostic. Also LBD has a unique diagnostic call mono-syllabic call whereas SBD had a di-syllabic one though apparently LBD can do something like it as well.

...and here is some superb Badger (c) video

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Otmoor Brown Hairstreaks

Readers may remember that earlier on in the summer I'd decided to try to see all the Hairstreak species this summer. I'd managed Green and Black successfully but rather came unstuck with White-letter with very few of them reported in or around the county this year. Despite this failure I could easily have got Purple at Bernwood had I had a mind to but somehow other things got in the way. However, with autumn fast approaching I thought that I'd have a final Hairstreak outing and would try to catch up with some Browns at Otmoor so with that in mind it was a matter of waiting for some good weather.

Today dawned a classic early September day: there was no wind, bright sunshine and a sense of calm before the onset of autumn. Spiders were everywhere in the garden as I emptied my moth trap this morning. It was a good catch by recent standards with more than a dozen Large Yellow Underwing all sulking in my Heath-Robinson trap. Other highlights were a Common Wave, a Square-spot Rustic, a couple of Setaceous Hebrew Character, two Green Carpets, a Marbled Beauty and a Vine's Rustic. The Wave was my 100th moth for the garden list, a rather modest total given that I've now run 20 sessions over the summer period but as I've mentioned previously, our urban garden is probably not ideally situated for moths.

Square-spot Rustic

 ..and Common Wave (no. 100 on the garden list)

As the weather looked so perfect for butterfly hunting I decided to head off to Otmoor as soon as work permitted. Fortunately, the financial markets (which occupy my working day) were very quiet today because of the US holiday so I was able to get away at around 10 a.m. and a short while later I pulled up in the car park. I headed straight down the Roman Road behind the car park where I'd been told that the best spot was the "master" Ash tree there. Quite what a "master" tree is was beyond me (though I subsequently Googled it - see here) so I thought that I would look for a tall Ash tree along the track. I soon found the first butterfly of the day, a typically co-operative Speckled Wood that posed for me nicely.

Speckled Wood's always pose nicely

Towards the end of the "road" (past the muddy puddle in case you're interested) the trees turned to Oak on the right and there were a few Ash on the left. I started scanning the latter and soon found a tree that had quite a bit of butterfly activity. These turned out mostly to be more Speckled Woods though high up near the top I did managed to spot a blob of orange. Thanks to my Super-zoom camera this is what I saw:

Brown Hairstreak high up in the tree

Job done! I wasn't going to get much better views than that I expected so I decided to head over to Long Meadow to catch up with the Redstarts there. These birds seem to be getting quite common in the county in the autumn now though they seem studiously to be avoiding my patch at Port Meadow and I've yet to see one there though a couple have been reported over the last few years. Anyway, I was keen to see these beauties and sure enough soon found a pair of them flitting about the isolated Hawthorn bushes and in the Blackthorn along the edges along with a couple of Lesser Whitethroats and a Willow Warbler. They were rather mobile so I don't know whether I was seeing the same two all the time or whether there were quite a few of them. Because of the range and their movement I didn't bother trying to photograph them. I did kick up a micro moth which I diligently photographed though when I got home and studied the shot it turned out to be a very worn Garden Grass-veneer, a very common grassland micro.

For illustrative purposes here's a Long Meadow
 Redstart that Badger (c) took recently

What to do next? I thought that I'd check out the Saunder's Ground for Whinchat and Wheatears and the Pill to see if there was anything interesting there. I'd come on this trip in my running gear though so far had only run the short distance from the Roman Road to Long Meadow and felt that I ought to make a bit of an effort. So I dutifully slogged my way across the Saunder's Ground though it was rather boggy and my feet were soon soaked. There were no Wheatears along the bordering hedge and near the gate there were several cows with their young calves standing right by the gate. There'd been a sign at the entrance warning people about the cows and they looked rather protective of their young so I decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Not that I have a problem with cows and I'll happily walk right through them on Port Meadow but I was getting bad vibes off these ones.

I ran back through the bog and decided to head back to the car park via the Bridleway and the main track by the bird feeders rather than the Roman Road. Just past the feeders I met a couple of women who were staring intently into a Blackthorn hedge. It turned out to be a Brown Hairstreak laying eggs. This was much better than the distant neck-straining views of earlier and I took some shots.

Egg-laying Brown Hairstreak

It then flitted across the path to settle on some wild flowers where it even opened its wings. Whilst we were watching it another one flew past us and settled on the other side of the hedge that bordered the Closes.

...and even an upper wing shot!

It's a shame it was rather a tatty specimen but I couldn't complain about the views I was getting. I headed back home for a shower and to check up on the markets (they were completely stagnant so I'd not missed anything). Whilst sorting out my photos I noticed that the Hairstreak in the tree had large chunks missing from its wings also and I did wonder whether it might have been the same one though a closer study of the details of the missing portions convinced me that it had indeed been a separate one so I'd managed a total of three different ones today. It had been a nice end to the butterfly season for me and a good excuse to spend some time outside on a gorgeous autumn day.