Thursday, 29 December 2016

A couple of year ticks to see out 2016

The birding year ended with a self found bittern (Botaurus stellaris) at Burton Mill Pond, West Sussex on the 14th December. Found during a sunset bird-watch from roadside; and seen flying into roost in the reeds just metres from the viewing platform on the NE corner of the dam crest. I returned at dawn with camera in hand, but the bird was not re-located even as the light progressed. A patch tick for me, and as far as I could tell the only bittern being reported in West Sussex at the time?

A filthy twitch to Hill Head, Hampshire on the 28th enabled confiding views of the female snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) which had been present since the 14th of December. The bunting gave stunningly close views allowing photographers within feet of it.

Snow bunting, Hill Head 28th December 2016

This bird was a Hants tick and helped to stem the disappointment of missing out on the pair of snow bunting widely observed at Southsea sea front - one of my home patches - during November. I completely failed to see them at the time due to work and travel commitments.

A return to Burton Mill Pond at dusk on the 29th December produced an albeit brief second encounter with the local bittern.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Cornish Lifer - and possibly the worst ever record shot?

Returning from Lizard we stopped off at The Point overlooking Restronguet Creek, Truro; and after searching the low tide mud flats and tidal creek for half an hour - we finally found the Dalmation pelican (Pelecanus crispus), which has been reported in Cornwall and elsewhere in the UK since May 2016.

Dalmation pelican 19th November 2016

Like a Sesame Street muppet, the bird's massive head suddenly appeared from within a deep mud channel midway across the creek. It provided an opportunity for possibly my worst phone-scoped record shot ever?

It then took off and gave great but distant flight views before settling on the water approx. 1 km south of us. It still looked huge even at that distance, especially compared to the local swans, but afforded no opportunity for further record shots.

A Lifer. For a discussion of it's potential origins as a wild bird have a look at:

Birdguides - Dalmation pelican

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Hazleton Common, Horndean - a cracking site for reptiles!

I have visited Hazleton Common (LNR) three times between the 18th and 24th Sept - primarily on the lookout for reptiles and in particular the notable population of "black adder" (Vipera Berus) which are recorded here.

The site is just shy of 16 hectares, containing large areas of open "acid grassland", three ponds, waterlogged grassland and a couple of small areas of ancient woodland. Described as a "habitat in transition" the acid grassland has been managed to promote gorse and heather (Horndean Biodiversity Action Plan). These two plants can be found in particular towards the southern end of the site, as you walk towards the ponds.

The site contains four of the six native species of reptile, and the largest pond has records for great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) (Horndean Biodiversity Action Plan).

I found all four reptile species, but did not look for the GCN. Only a single black adder was seen on the 24th. By the end of the three visits I encountered a minimum of 8 slow worm (Anguis fragilis), 2 grass snake (Natrix natrix), 5 adder and a couple of common lizard (Lacerta vivipara). A good haul, although I have to be content with a single record shot of the black adder, as it disappears into bramble scrub.

slow worm
common lizard
heather (Calluna vulgaris)
black adder (record shot)

the three ponds

small copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

speckled wood (Pararge aegeria)

Other mobile species noted over the course of the visits included: small copper and speckled wood butterfly; ruddy darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) and southern hawker (Aeshna cyanea).


Horndean Biodiversity Action Plan can be found at: Horndean Biodiversity Action Plan

Horndean Biodiversity Group can be found at: Horndean Biodiversity Group

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Horndean - a new opportunity for wildlife and exploration

Having recently moved to Horndean in mid-August, we have been spending some of our free time exploring the local area on foot - heading out to Catherington Down, Catherington Lith, and further afield to Old Winchester Hill via the local network of footpaths, and the Monarchs Way.

Catherington Down, is just a short walk away - this west facing chalk grassland has both natural history and archaeological interest being an unimproved chalk grassland, SSSI and LNR; the grassland is clearly stepped in the ancient farming method of strip lynchets. Over a couple of visits spotted flycatcher, redstart, chiffchaff, - a wayward singing willow warbler, green woodpecker and tawny owl were all noted, along with buzzard and kestrel.

The chalk grassland flora deserves much future attention, as it apparently holds over 100 spp. of flowering plant (Horndean Parish Biodiversity Action Plan), including up to 7 species of orchid (Horndean Parish Council on site interpretation). Several short visits to look for autumn lady's tresses have been unsuccessful.

Two views of Catherington Down

Nearby the bijou Catherington Pond, will warrant more time and exploration for wetland flora and fauna. The Farmer Inn just up the road, has a Tuesday Curry Night, regular bands and is worth the walk homewards, back down the dark, steep, green lane at the end of a day.

Catherington Pond

Having previously arrived at Old Winchester Hill (OWH) by car, or on foot along the South Downs Way from Queen Elizabeth Country Park - exploring a new route across the farmland and downs; and along the Monarch's Way was refreshing; and provided ample vis-mig with redstart, whinchat, chiffchaff, willow warbler, and wheatear seen moving through the hedgerows, and weedy field margins.

On the way to OWH

A brown hairstreak flying at head height surprised us on a blackthorn lined bridleway. East Meon gave great views of buzzard, kestrel, raven cronking over and two red kite riding the thermals. A snail infested ash tree - prompted the purchase of a new ID guide.

OWH never fails to disappoint and during an anti-clockwise circumnavigation of the Iron Age Hill Fort we connected with the target species of silver-spotted skipper and Adonis blue, Roesel's bush-cricket joined us for lunch alighting on my rucksack.

Roesel's bush cricket

Retracing our steps home, we stopped at the Bat and Ball for quiet liquid refreshment, and some time out from the hot August afternoon.

Horndean Parish Biodiversity Action Plan

Friday, 22 July 2016

Widewater Lagoon

A few of the plants and animals associated with the vegetated shingle at Widewater Lagoon, Lancing.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Cicuta virosa L. Burton Mill Pond, West Sussex

Burton Mill Pond (looking South from the dam crest)

Burton Mill Pond is part of the Burton Park SSSI. The pond supports the nationally scarce Cicuta virosa commonly known as Cowbane, the plant can be seen easily from the path which runs along the dam crest.

Burton Mill Pond is the only site in Sussex where this plant is recorded, and is consequently one of the notable features of the SSSI (Natural England online). Within the site it has been recorded along all sides of the pond, and seems to favour the wettest edges and pools within the Phragmites and Carex dominated fen (Pers comm.)

Nationally the plants distribution is very scattered, although it has a stronghold in the Shropshire-Derbyshire plains, where it can be quite common (BSBI online).

Further reading:

Burton Park SSSI citation
BSBI species account