Now some of you may admire my determination (others may just call me stubborn) but I tried, yet again, this morning to find and admire the spotted flycatchers which seem to be nesting above Jupp's View. Needless to say, I failed! But I found and enjoyed plenty of other wildlife in compensation...all 9 little fluffy humbugs (the shelducklings) are still doing well and were pursuing 2 ringed plovers who were competing with them for the best muddy spot on the North Brooks. In Nettley's picnic area, there was plenty of warbler action with a family of common whitethroat hopping about the bramble bushes, a garden warbler in song, and a pair of blackcaps at either end; the males happily singing away and the females with their lovely conker-brown heads searching for food. A bit of sunshine had woken up some of the insects with speckled wood butterflies, a broad bodied chaser dragonfly, and my first large skipper butterfly of the year, making the most of the early morning warmth. Back along Green Lane for a fabulous plump, pink, male bullfinch and, on the very last day of May, a nightingale still performing beautifully in Fattengates Courtyard. So, flycatchers or not, I've still got a smile on my face.
Last night's guided walk (20.45 - 22.30) around the heath produced a few interesting things, but the hoped-for nightjars were a little unreliable. Churring was heard from about 21.15 onwards but was always a little distant, and although one bird flew right over us, it then didn't give another fly-past. We found a young tawny owl 'squeaking' high up in a conifer, and saw a few bats flying around on the top of 'the clump'. We also watched a stag beetle taking to the evening air in a manner that only stag beetles can manage - simultaneously powerful, impressive and completely directionless. We finished off by enjoying the blue-green light of a glow worm in the edge of the car park (well found Patrick!).
Hobbies - at least 2, possibly more, were putting on a fantastic show hunting dragonflies over the north brooks yesterday (best seen from Nettley's hide or Jupp's view). A marsh harrier was also seen hunting the brooks. Spotted flycatchers can be found nr Jupp's view and on the edge of the heath (nr the black pond). Lots of young birds are emerging from various sites around the trail - mostly blue and great tits, but there was a brood of flightless, clumsy and comical magpies nr the centre this morning. Judging by the noise coming from various nest sites, house sparrow fledglings will also be all around the visitor centre very soon. Young lapwings are present nr west mead hide and on the north brooks, and a pair of shelducks have 9 tiny ducklings in tow. A couple of male wigeon are still present. Nightingales (at least 3) were still singing well nr the visitor centre, along with garden warbler, blackcap and lesser whitethroat - I got a picture of one of the nightingales (see gallery).
Forgive me the title, but I just couldn't resist it. I've been out and about exploring the heathland trail over the last couple of days and the dragons and tigers bit is apt - I will just have to replace the bears with the similar-sized Highland cows.
Reports of a spotted flycatcher out on the heathland trail near Black Pond reached my ears on Sunday afternoon, and forsaking a tea-break I went out to track it down. Now none of you can say I'm not determined and I am pleased to report that my persistence did pay off and finally (after several weeks of trying) I have seen a spotted flycatcher on the reserve this year. Having decided not to give up on birdwatching after all (!) I enjoyed listening to all the activity as families of blue, great and coal tits, nuthatches and treecreepers enjoyed themselves flitting amongst the branches or down and up the trunks of the oaks and beeches on this part of the trail.
Flushed with success, I turned my attention to the bugs, which do seem to co-operate rather more readily with me than the birds. During sunny spells, Black Pond is alive with four-spotted chaser dragonflies involved in territorial clashes; they perch ever-alert on the dead branches or rushes on the pond edges until a rival flies overhead, when they dash of in pursuit. Green tiger beetles can be found along the sandy paths on 'the triangle' and on the 'heathland zig zags' just as you head down towards the pond on the public footpath. I spent the best part of my lunch hour today trying to sneak up on one of these fabulous creatures. Just as you got close enough to take a photograph, it would scuttle a little further along the track or go whirring off into the bracken. My best attempt is attached...
Back at the visitor centre we're still playing 'who can see the first hobby of the day?' We've been lucky - the combination of 'the big bins' and their favouring of the river bank for hunting means that we've been able to compete with our volunteers and wardens who are out on the reserve itself. Our brood of shelduckling are looking delightful out on the North Brooks, and every nestbox seems to have noisy nestlings in residence.
I'm now looking forward to our upcoming evening events and the prospect of churring nightjars, bats, moths and glow worms - can't wait!
I seem to have identified a bit of a trend...over the last few Wednesdays I have had the day off and one of my volunteers, Russ, has spotted some fantastic and unusual birds here. Three weeks ago the wryneck was around, two weeks ago he spotted a pied flycatcher and this week, heard a golden oriole. I'm trying hard not to feel agrieved, just looking at the rota a little bit more carefully now! So a little suggestion if you're keen to find some of the rarer visitors to the reserve here - come on a Wednesday, track down our volunteer Russ and follow hot on his heels around the nature trail.
Given that it was such a lovely evening, I went out for an after-work stroll with the intention of finding the pair of spotted flycatchers that have been seen over the last week or so down towards Nettley's Hide and Jupp's View. This is my second attempt; I know where to look for them and what to look and listen out for, I've even told lots of visitors where to look for them and they've returned successful, but once again my mission failed. Oh well, it's difficult to be grumpy for long when you're here; out on the North Brooks I was greeted by a very welcome sight - our first brood of shelducklings of the year. These black and white striped ducklings closely resemble little fluffy humbugs and are currently being escorted around the pools by Mum and Dad. If we're lucky enough to have any further broods, we could see a shelduck creche - this is normally supervised by a non-breeding adult who can then be followed by a whole train of ducklings.
Naturally I'm still enjoying all the things that buzz and flutter - feisty small copper butterflies at the bottom of the zig zags, common blues, commas and whites around the picnic area above Nettleys, speckled woods in the sunny patches in the Hanger wood and my first emperor dragonfly of the year. I'm going off in search of my favourite beetle today - the green tiger beetle - a fast-flying, sun-loving, ferocious creature who enjoys the sandy paths out on the heathland trail. I may just take a look around black pond whilst I'm out there and see if I can find some 4-spotted chasers as well.