Sunday, 22 May 2016

Spurn Safari

Today we joined a Spurn Safari, organised by the YWT aboard their Unimog, a large, all terrain military vehicle that allows to traverse the low-lying sand bar that now separates Kilnsea from the point itself. The day was lovely, warm, blue skies, and with barely any wind.
We arrived in the morning and pottered around the dunes near The Warren, before a picnic. I photographed a Nomad bee on the clay cliffs with the hope of identifying it later, it turned to be Nomada goodeniana. 
Nomada goodeniana.
A yellowish, large dragonfly passed by, settling on some the marram grass, a lovely four-spotted chaser, Libellula quadrimaculata.
I collected some brown-lipped snails, there is always a good range of colour variants in the dunes, pink and yellow are not rare.
 This is the temporary visitor centre, a container with a front of boards. The old buildings around the Warren have now been dismantled.

A sand-hopper, Talitrus saltator.
A well marked male wolf spider, kindly identified by Matt Prince at Twitter as Alopecosa pulverulenta.

 After a picnic by the seawatching hide, we met by the Unimog. It is an imposingly tall vehicle and I wondered how we would climb onto it. All sorted! some comfortable steps were pushed alongside the vehicle by our guide Andy. Before we got going, he gave us a brief talk on Spurn. The breach in the autumn storms of 2013, meant that the road was washed away and cars couldn't make the trip to the point, hence the Unimog.
After about 20 minutes of bumpy ride along the sandy spit - with some hair-raising moments where the vehicle wobbled on the sand inclines - we were by the light house.

Since our last visit the lighthouse has been restored and is now open to the public. We climbed the 145 steps to the top, peeping on each window along the way to admire the view.
View from the top of the lighthouse towards Kilnsea, the Unimog visible.
The view towards the point.
 Andy had warned us of the brown-tail moth caterpillars and their irritating hairs. These hairy caterpillars were about in plague proportions, hundreds climbed the lighthouse itself and the sea buckthorn and other bushes were stripped naked of leaves.
Brown tail moth caterpillar
 There were other abundant hairy caterpillars, like the woolly bears, the caterpillar of the Garden Tiger, Arctia caja, which we often saw feeding on nettles. These roll into a ball when disturbed.
Garden Tiger caterpillar.
And several very large final instars of the Oak Eggar caterpillar, Lasiocampa quercus on the move.

 A view from the other side of the lighthouse showing its windows, which allow viewing as you climb it.

Although not as many as caterpillars, there were some butterflies on the wing. A single male Common Blue near the lighthouse, several Peacocks, a Green-veined white and a Large White. We may (or not) have briefly seen a Green Hairstreak.
Male Common Blue butterfly
On the point visitor centre, I was pleased to find a thriving colony of Pholcus phalangioides in the toilets (where else!).
We had a guided walk around the point, which covers a surprisingly large area. Birds were quite scarce all day, but Whitethroats and Lesser Whitethroats were singing. Many swallows about, with a few House Martins and a couple of Swifts.
 Overall a lovely day out, the views from the vantage point of the unimog are fantastic, and there was the bonus of being able to climb to the top of the lighthouse.

More information
Check the YWT events website for dates and times for a Spurn Safari.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

South Landing in Spring

Five months after my trip to South Landing, I visited again on Monday. The forecast was cloudy, but it was a pleasant surprise to see that it was actually warm and sunny, with some very light high cloud and no wind, a perfect day to see insects on the cliffs. In the car park there were many singing birds, including Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Yellowhammer, Whitethroat and Blackcap. The morning to come was forecasted by a Hairy-Footed flower bee feeding on borage by the visitor centre.
Female Hairy Footed flower bee, Anthophora plumipes.
Whitethroat singing.
At the beach, the tide was quite low, but rising and the sea as flat as a lake. I walked west on the sandy strip at the base of the cliff and then on the exposed rock, as always, marvelling at the enormous size of the exposed limpets. Three fulmars circled the cliffs, later settling on a shelf. A male Pied Wagtail, possibly nesting nearby, posed briefly on a rock.
Pied Wagtail
Chattering Fulmar pair.
Herring Gull looking alarmed.
I then returned to the landing higher up, right on the base of the cliff, and it bas buzzing with Tiger Beetles, Cicindela campestris. They are tricky to photograph with the sun blazing on the white of the chalk, so I used the flash to try and remove the strong shading. If you approach slowly and don't make sudden movements, you can get right to them with a bit of luck.

 I spotted some mating pairs quite high on the cliff, but later a pair was on the clay at head hight. I laid low hugging the rock and got this face on shot, showing how the male grips the female with his jaws when mating.

There were plenty of bees nesting on the cliffs. Some hairy-footed flower bees, many cleptoparasites, including nomad bees and ruby tailed wasps. This is the area with plenty of Tiger Beetles and bees.

I think this is a Halictus rubicundus.
A Nomada marshamella.
A mining bee, possibly Andrena nigroaenea.

I walked east from the landing. A pair of carrion crows fed on the beach, quite undisturbed with my slow progress up the beach.
A very nice surprise was the thriving colony of Sand Martins, according to the local Pat, due to some cliff falls exposing clay over the chalk. There were at least 10 pairs flying about.
A view of the new Sand Martin colony.
A sand martin on the cliff.
Another surprise was my first Marsh Harrier of the year, flying over.

Many butterflies on the wing: Several Wall Browns, two Peacocks, many Green-veined white, a Red Admiral, a male Orange tip, and a Speckled Wood on the ravine. 
Wall Brown enjoying the dandelions.
Speckled Wood.
Green-Veined White.
Another Wall Brown.
Nomada flava (likely) on daisy.
Yellowhammer by the visitor centre.
After photographing the walls on the landing itself, as I was having lunch, I made my way up the cliff and around the ravine before heading home.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Tophill Low in May

I often go to Tophill low on poor forecast days to take advantage of the various hides in case of rain. I treated myself to a warm, sunny day that felt more summer than spring. I decided to go to the Southern end of the reserve in the morning. As I opened the car door I heard a cuckoo. The car park is always full of bird song, and it is not rare to hear 15 species in a few minutes without leaving your car. I moved onto the lagoons, where there was a moorhen family and a couple of Greylag families. A pair of Little Ringed plovers fed on the muddy shore of the north lagoon. A Cetti's Warbler sung near the S Lagoon hide entrance. They were all over, especially on the south end of the reserve. Marsh Frogs were also calling, but I failed to spot a single one.
 I stopped for quite a while at South Marsh East. The gulls were in full swing, and 5 gull species were present, although only Herring, Black-headed and Lesser black-backed were sitting on nests. A few common gulls and greater black-backed immatures enjoyed the company of the others. A Buzzard flushed the gulls and several of the larger gulls took it on, mobbing it until it disappeared into the distance. There was an Oystercatcher and a couple of Common Terns around. A male Ruff was on one of the distant islands. Much entertainment was provided by a very close Little Ringed Plover pair.
 I moved onto South Marsh West. A Reed Warbler was singing close to the hide, and he played hide and seek in the reeds.
 On Watton, a pair of cormorants enjoyed a very vigorous wash, followed by some wing drying. There was a Canada Geese family and a pair of Lapwing, but I couldn't see any young. As I left, a Lesser Whitethroat sung by the path atop hawthorns.
By O reservoir I spotted a large dragonfly, which settled on the brambles by the path. I was pleased to find it was a male Hairy Hawker (top shot), a new species for me.
 I moved onto the North side of the reserve. A Pied Wagtail foraged atop the D reservoir wall, mostly, I guess on the very numerous Marsh flies. With the clear skies D reservoir was a beautiful turquoise, not many birds about, the only one of note a drake Red Crested Pochard. Nothing much on the feeders. The woodland was busy with female chaffinches hawking for insects. One was hovering under the roof of the old visitor centre hunting for spiders. Obviously feeding chicks while males sung non stop.
 I had my lunch at N Marsh in the usual company of a Moorhen. Later, a family of Greylag turned up. I had heard the call of the cuckoo at Watton and now here. I wonder if a single male had been moving around the reserve or there were more than one. I had also seen a cuckoo flying as I approached the reserve at Bridge House Farm.
At Hempholme meadows nothing much other than the loud chorus of the Marsh Frogs. They might all be quiet, but as one started calling several others joined in from different points in the marshes, each with a distinctive individual voice. On the way back at D woods, I noticed lots of Large Red Damselflies on the grassy sides.
 On the butterfly front, there were Orange Tip, Green-veined white, many Peacock and a Red Admiral in D woods.
All in all, 64 bird species, which I think it is the most species I've seen in the UK in one day!
Young Moorhen chick
Alder fly, Sialis sp.
Great black-backed immature eyeing the sky.
Common Tern
Lesser black backed mobbing buzzard
Little ringed plover
Male Ruff
Reed Warbler singing from deep in the reeds.
A male zebra spider Salticus scenicus on a hide window.
Pied Wagtail.
Red crested pochard feeding.
Greylag family.
Male blackcap at D woods.
Male pheasant by the feeders.
Male chaffinch singing. The females were much harder to capture as they were very busy feeding chicks.
Male Red Damselfly.
Male Red Damselfly