Thursday 28 July 2011

Leybourne Lakes, Maidstone, Kent. July 2011

A few days at home with my family has left the blog unattended, but I am still here. At Junction 4 on the M20 in Kent, UK, is a complex of lakes with a couple of streams, scrub and some rough grassland. Known variously as Snodland, Larkfield or Leybourne Lakes, there is 24hr access to the public areas, though some parts have been gated and reserved for private fishing clubs.

The stream is home to odonata which includes Banded Demoiselle and Common Bluetail. During a couple of visits during the second half of July, Brown Hawkers, Aeshna Grandis were seen cruising up and down the choked stream near the water sports centre by the big left bend on Lunsford Lane (Google Earth ref; 51 18’ 55”N 00 26’ 06”E )

Indian balsam, an invasive, but beautiful waterside plant, was in full bloom and attracting bees and other insects to its orchid-like flowers. A female Blackbird looked a little ruffled, but sat well for her portrait. Another birder, Tim, happened along and we walked together for a while. Reed Warblers were seen on the small lake and some young Robins were seen being attended by their parents. Further along the stream, Common Whitethroat, were seen and a Reed Warbler was heard singing.

Further north, a small parking area at the end of the lane coming off the Snodland by-pass gives access to the lake complex by the water treatment plant (Google Earth ref: 51 19’09”N 00 26’ 42”E). The path here is banked on either side with flowering thistles and stinging nettles. Green Finches and Goldfinches were seen briefly here. Wrens were still singing as the season progresses. A Green Woodpecker was calling from nearby, but we couldn’t see it. Many of the Blue Tits and Great Tits were still in their subtle, yellow-faced, juvenile outfits. We thought that we heard a Little Grebe calling, but it had turned into a young Coot by the time we found it.

A Common Blue Damselfly sat very patiently for me as I experimented with the Live View facility on my Canon. It takes up a lot of battery power and doesn’t do very well with moving subjects, but I liked the manual focus magnification feature.

A female Tufted Duck was tending her brood on a small lake. The 6 ducklings, scudded about her reminding me of little, dark Scalextric cars.

Bird species seen; 22

Cormorant 1, Mute Swan 6, Mallard 4, Tufted Duck 1, Common Moorhen 2, Common Coot 6, Herring Gull 3, Black-headed Gull 25, Common Woodpigeon 25, Eurasian Collared Dove 4, Northern Wren 2, Dunnock 1, Common Blackbird 1, Eurasian Robin 2, Eurasian Reed Warbler 4, Common Whitethroat 3, Great Tit 5, Blue Tit 6, Eurasian Magpie 8, Chaffinch 2, European Greenfinch 2, European Goldfinch 8.

Odonata species seen;

Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendens 15, Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum 6, Common Bluetail Ishnura elegans 2, Brown Hawker  Aeshna grandis 3, Blue Emperor, Anax imperator 2 Common Darter Sympetrum striolatum1,

To find other posts about this site follow the links below;

The nearby Mote Park can be explored through this post;

Visit the dedicted UK page for other posts about the Isles.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Hakovshim Garden, Tel Aviv

It happens from time to time and today it hit me hard. I was in Tel Aviv and had planned a trip to Park Hayarkan, about 4kms north along the coast, but was simply unable to scrape myself out of bed. I can only fall back on a post from my last visit and add the Google Earth ref; 32 06’ 00”N 34 48’ 14”E which is where the river passes beneath the Ayalon Highway. From here, eastwards, the habitat is much more conducive to birds than the sports pitches closer to the sea.

 Spotted Prinia from 2009

Just after we arrived, I had managed a quick walk into Hakovshim Garden, close to the hotel. There was only a few minutes of evening left, but I managed to steal a few pictures of Hoopoes and White-spectacled Bulbuls. I must have been playing with the screen brightness for my camera because all the images appeared horribly over-exposed. I compensated by purposefully under-exposing all the shots only to find that I have had to re-brighten them all to show here.

The garden is only about 2 or 3 acres, but can often produce a good list of birds. A group of men are living rough here and look to have become a permanent fixture. They did not appear to pay me any attention as I walked and I did not feel threatened, they have no facilities though and have made foot placement a priority if looking for birds in the bushes.

The area closest to the parking lot is often the most productive, but also holds the highest incidence of shoe soilers. Graceful Prinias were seen here this evening with Common Bulbuls and Barn Swallows overhead. This is a great spot for migrants as they pass through.

Across the road are lawns and a few mature trees that contained Common Myna, Hoopoe and White-spectacled Bulbul. 

Birds seen; 9

Laughing Dove 4, Eurasian Hoopoe 6, Barn Swallow 25, White-eyed Bulbul 6, Graceful Prinia 3, Great Tit 2, Hooded Crow 8, Common Myna 3, House Sparrow 20.

Black-capped Jay from 2009

Hakovshim Garden, Tel Aviv, TLV

Monday 18 July 2011

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, IAD

I have been humming John Denver songs ever since I discovered that the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah National Park are only a one hour drive from our slip hotel in Tyson’s Corner. On an IAD itinerary, I found myself with a day off and a companion in the shape of AM. We had a car and a tent and were out of the hotel by 05.00.

After stopping for provisions, we made it to the park entrance at Front Royal (Google Earth ref; 38 54’ 11”N 78 14’ 33”W) by 06.30. Immediately we found our first White-tailed Deer and very shortly after that, our first Black Bear. We had stopped at the visitor centre at Dickey Ridge (Google Earth ref; 38 52’ 18”N 78 12’ 17”W) and were taking an exploratory walk around.

American Goldfinches were common and Eastern Towhees were calling from the trees. We had moved onto a short circular road (which I think was intended as an overflow car park) to get a better look at a Red-bellied Woodpecker when AM noticed something moving in the weeds by the road and as we watched, a small bear’s head popped out. It must have been as surprised as we were for it darted back into cover with a little yelp. We quickly withdrew as its mother was almost certainly close by and might have reacted badly to the cub’s scare. We returned a few moments later, safe in the car, but the bear had moved on. 
I must commend AM for her reaction to the bear and for showing no qualms about taking another walk further down the road which brought Worm-eating Warbler, Tufted Titmouse and the ubiquitous Chipping Sparrow. We were still on a bit of a high when we saw our second bear of the morning. This one was moving through the woods by the side of the road, feeding and snuffling through the roots and leaf litter. We watched for a while until it came down into the roadside weeds and then out onto the tarmac, crossing the road right in front of us. AM felt the urge to get out of the car, but thankfully resisted.

We were on Skyline Drive which runs for 105 miles north and south through the park. There are plenty of pull-ins, viewpoints and often there is enough room on the shoulder to pull over to look at something exciting. Park regulations require that you pull completely off the road if stopped. Maps, details of facilities and charges can be found at the National Parks Service website for Shenandoah.

Surely we had used up all our luck after we found a third bear which gave us a desultory look before continuing on its way through the woods. We had set out with a philosophy that you don’t see bears if you don’t go down to the woods, but had been realistic about our chances of actually finding one. To find three was way beyond what we had expected.

At Elk Wallow (Google earth ref; 38 44’ 20”N 78 18’ 36”W), we stopped for a breakfast burrito and a chat with a fine chap named Russ. He gave us a tip which was to wear a sheet of Bounce (the fabric conditioning sheet) inside our hats to keep the insects away. We weren’t sure if he was setting us up, and suspected a conspiracy to take the rise out of English people when someone repeated the same advice to us later on.

At Big Meadow (38 31’ 42”N 78 26’ 14”W), we paid the $20, pitched camp, brewed up and then took a short walk along the legendary Appalachian Trail. It was a non-descript forest path for the stretch that we walked, but it runs for more than 2000 miles from Georgia in the south to Maine in the north and was brought to the attention of the non-hiking public by Bill Bryson in his 1997 book, ‘A Walk in the Woods.’ White-tailed Deer were seen in the gloom along The Trail as well as White-breasted Nuthatch, Wood Thrush and Northern Cardinal.

An evening ranger walk from the visitors' centre at Big Meadow was not what we had expected, but was interesting in its own quirky way. More importantly, Northern Bobwhites were calling from the meadow which gave us (well, me) a focus for the next morning.

There are stories about AM and what an important part tea plays in her morning regimen, but she agreed to have a walk out across the meadow to find the bobwhite before breakfast. I shall put our stroke of luck down to AM’s self-sacrificing attitude, because I don’t usually deserve such good fortune.

A Northern Bobwhite was calling just a few meters from where we parked the car and allowed us a very close approach while putting all his effort into his characteristic and emphatic “Bob, Bob White.”

There were plenty of deer around the campsite as well as Eastern Chipmunk and a Grey Catbird that came onto our pitch to serenade AM.

We de-camped and began our journey home, stopping occasionally at lookout points and finding Indigo Bunting, Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Common Yellowthroat. The bunting proved elusive and would not sit still long enough for me to get a good focus. I had missed a few of them on the first day as they fed from thistles with American Goldfinches at the pull-ins. I would have given some good stuff for that picture.

At the Elk Wallow picnic area, we took our last walk into the woods and added Pileated Woodpecker to our list after reaching as far as the AT again. We had warmed to Russ on the outbound journey and dropped in to the service area to see him again. He told us that 3 or 4 bear sightings in a day was about the norm, but let’s not forget that this was also the man who had us wearing fabric conditioning sheets to ward off the insects, so it was hard to know how much credence to give him.

Whether you use Bounce sheets or proper repellent, you will need something if you visit the mountains in July. We used liberal amounts of repellent as well as the fabric conditioning sheets and were still pestered by tiny flying insects. Bites though, were mercifully very few.

We rounded off the trip with a final (fourth, so below par for 2 days according to Russ) bear sighting as the weather began to close in and we headed for the park gate to drive the 60 miles back along Route 66 to Tyson’s Corner.

Here is a tip for anyone hiring a car from IAD, Washington Dulles Airport; have some quarters to hand. Toll roads from the airport demand exact change. The toll on Route 267 East is 75 cents and you pay twice, so will need 6 quarters. I felt very foolish blocking the toll gate and having to walk back along the line begging for change. Twice.

Another tip for walking in bear country is to make a noise so that the bears know that you are coming. Seasoned walkers often use bells attached to their hiking sticks to alert the animals to their approach. Remember that a surprised bear is a dangerous bear and use your common sense; do not approach bears and do not leave food out.

Birds seen; 28

Turkey Vulture 9, Northern Bobwhite 1, Mourning Dove 4, Chimney Swift 6, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 4, Red-bellied Woodpecker 2, Pileated Woodpecker 2, Eastern Phoebe 2, Barn Swallow 32, Cedar Waxwing 10, Brown Thrasher 4, American Robin 14, Wood Thrush 1, Tufted Titmouse 19, White-breasted Nuthatch 4, Blue Jay 4, American Crow 21, Common Raven 4, House Sparrow 12, American Goldfinch 40, Black and white Warbler 2, Worm-eating Warbler 1, Common Yellowthroat 1, Eastern Towhee 17, Chipping Sparrow 65, Northern Cardinal 4, Indigo Bunting 7, Brown-headed Cowbird.

Mammals seen; 4

Black Bear 4, Eastern Chipmunk 6, White-tailed Deer, Grey Squirrel 25.

Other posts from this destination can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for other posts from the region.

Chipping Sparrow
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, IAD

Saturday 16 July 2011

Raglan's Wood, July 2011

The headline act during my last visit to Raglan’s Wood had been a herd of White-tailed Deer that allowed me to pass within a few feet of them. The bird watching on that occasion had been very poor and Blogger had threatened to move my account from the ‘Birds’ section to ‘Outdoors General’ as a result.

This time the deer were gone, but there were more birds as well as some nice odonata and a big surprise. I entered the woods from Tyspring St. American Robins were very obvious with plenty of young birds still staying close to the adults. A Pileated Woodpecker was concentrating its attentions around the base of a tree and stayed low on each new trunk it visited. An Eastern Towhee called with its variable trill.

A Northern Cardinal was looking very shabby. I don’t believe it is just the rigours of raising a family that has caused him to let himself go like this. Perhaps he had had a narrow escape from a predator. A pair of Red-shouldered Hawks was attending their young one further along.
The path emerges onto a firebreak and there is a stream to the right. Grey Catbird, House Finch, American Goldfinch and an Eastern Phoebe were seen here, but I concentrated my attentions on a Variable Dancer, Argia fumipennis, that sat well for me.

The stream is easy to cross here and I continued through the back of the parking lots towards Tyson’s Pond. At the outfall from the pond I stopped to watch some Blue Dashers, Pachydiplex longipennis,chasing each other around. Just as I was about to leave, I noticed something curled up, sunning itself a few feet away. It was a Northern Watersnake.

This was the show-stopper for me today and I spent quite a while with it before moving on. I also found three shed skins in the vicinity which makes me think that they must be common around here. The Northern Watersnake is non-venomous, but can be aggressive and bite just the same. It also gives off a bad-smelling musk when provoked. It is quite similar to the dangerous Copperhead pit viper, so give it a wide berth to be on the safe side.

 The path took me back into the woods where Carolina Wrens scolded me as I passed and American crows mobbed something high in a tree.

The path leads out to a wet meadow with a concrete drain running through it and I indulged myself with the dragonflies and damsels as described in Ed Lam’s wonderful field guide. One individual held its wings at half mast causing me to think of it as a Lestes sp., but then threw me into confusion by closing them as any other zygo might. I tentatively considered Great Spreadwing Archilestes grandis after noting a pale thoracic stripe on another photo, but fell for the female Variable Dancer as a much safer bet.

Common Whitetails were indeed common in an outfall for the ditch that was filled with reeds and surrounded by rocks. Both sexes were easy to see well.

Back at Tyson’s pond the snake had moved on, but a tiny patch of reeds held half a dozen odes that kept me uncomfortably on my knees for a while.

Close to the edge, Eastern Amberwing, Perithemis tenera, shared the airspace with an Eastern Pondhawk, Erythemis simplicicollis while a large dark dragonfly eluded identification further from the bank.

The reeds held Familiar Bluet, Enallagma civile, which were lining up to be photographed and a damaged female Blue Dasher who had somehow lost one wing and crumpled another.

A Green Heron “squarked” as it came in to land, just along the bank. It wheeled suddenly when it saw me and eventually landed further up. It kept its eye on the skies rather than me, but I couldn’t see what it was watching for.

The journey home retraced my steps across the stream and through the woods. Downy Woodpeckers put in an appearance on the large trunks and a female Northern Cardinal looked out from her foragings, looking fresher-faced than the male from earlier.

Birds seen; 22

Green Heron 1, Turkey Vulture 1, Black Vulture 1, Red-shouldered Hawk 3, Mourning Dove 2, Chimney Swift 4, Red-bellied Woodpecker 1, Downy Woodpecker 2, Northern Flicker 2, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Eastern Wood-pewwee 1, Eastern Phoebe 2, Carolina Wren 2, Grey Catbird 2, American Robin 35, Tufted Titmouse 4, Blue Jay 2, American Crow 12, Common Starling 15, House Sparrow 6, House Finch 3, Northern Cardinal 2.

Odonata seen; 5

Variable Dancer Argia fumipennis 40, Familiar Bluet Enallagma civile 8, Eastern Amberwing Perithemis tenera 2, Blue Dasher Pachydiplex longipennis 6, Eastern Pondhawk Erythemis simplicicollis 1,
Reptiles seen; 1

Northern Watersnake 1.

Directions for Raglan’s Wood can be found from the previous post.

Other posts from this destination can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for other posts from the region.

Thursday 14 July 2011

Great Falls Park, July.

A colleague asked if she might join me on a visit to Great Falls Park near Tyson’s Corner during an IAD itinerary. AM hadn’t cycled since she was a child and I had my doubts, but she coped very well with the mostly downhill ride to the river and battled bravely back up, although we did have to impose ourselves on the service station at the top of the hill for a drink and a gallon of axle grease. The conclusion reached is that whether you are old and fat or out of practice, the 6kms ride from Tyson's Corner is achievable

We started with a few gratuitous shots of the river before making our way upstream, hoping to catch sight of the Bald Eagles. There were only a few birds to be seen and even fewer that would sit for photos. By a small stream, we came across a number of (is there a special collective noun for odonata?) Ebony Jewelwings Calopteryx maculata and AM waited while I took some pictures. I must give her credit for her patience as well as her cycling proficiency.

The eagles were not found, but Double-crested Cormorants were seen fishing in the flat water above the weir. We continued along the riverbank which was smooth and flat for most of the mile or so to the visitors centre at River Bend (air conditioning and drinks, Google Earth ref; 39 01’ 07”N 77 14’ 45”W ).

It would not be possible to ride along this path and we had abandoned our bikes a little way downstream from the weir. If you wanted to come out of the park at River Bend, it would be possible to carry the bike over the rougher stretches of the path. The return to Old Dominion Road is by no means straight forward so check your directions! Boats and canoes are available for hire at the visitor centre and we spent a while giggling at the inexperienced rowers.

A Great Blue Heron gave us a nice view as it perched on a log close to the bank. It was gaping and rippling the loose skin beneath its bill to cool itself in the heat.

Odonata made up much of the day, with Common Whitetails sitting well. Unfortunately they were perched by a busy path and were continually disturbed by passers by on this Fourth of July weekend. The picnic areas were jam-packed with celebrating families and the excitement was enough to disturb many of the birds, so we settled for odonata such as this Stream Bluet Enallagma exsulans which was found after a little paddle in the Potomac River.

This Blue-tipped Dancer Argia tibialis was very approachable and allowed me a close, if uncomfortable chance to take lots of shots. So few birds were seen that the list below has been padded out with a few that we saw during a quick practice pedal around Tyson’s Corner.

Birds seen; 27

Double-crested Cormorant 8, Great Blue Heron 3, Canada Goose 8, Mallard 6, Turkey Vulture 4, Black Vulture 1, Red-shouldered Hawk 3, Mourning Dove 2, Red-bellied Woodpecker 3, Northern Flicker 2, Barn Swallow 5, Carolina Wren 3, Grey Catbird 3, Northern Mockingbird 3, American Robin 12, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 1, Tufted Titmouse 15, White-breasted Nuthatch 3, Blue Jay 4, American Crow 6, American Goldfinch 4, Scarlet Tanager 1, Chipping Sparrow 3, Song Sparrow 2, Northern Cardinal 4, Red-winged Blackbird 3, Common Grackle 6.

Mammals seen; 1

White-tailed Deer 6.
Odonata seen; 5

Ebony Jewelwing Calopteryx maculata 8, Stream Bluet Enallagma exsulans 4, Blue-tipped Dancer Argia tibialis 1, Common Green Darner 3, Common White-tail 4.

This is my third outing to Great Falls Park and the bird-watching in my experience is usually better than this. A number of factors may include a late start, high temperatures and very busy weekend celebrations. Directions and seasonal variations can be seen by following the links below;

Other posts from close by are found from these links;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada for more posts from the region.

Monday 4 July 2011

High Resolution Images from June 2011

High Resolution Images from June 2011

The images in the main blog have been reduced in size to 600 pixels or less across to facilitate quick loading. It goes against all my sensibilities to reduce the resolution, so each month I shall select a few shots that warrant being seen in in hi-res.
These posts may take slightly longer to load, so please be patient.

The links will take you to the original post.

The White-winged Doves in Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens were abundant and hungry. They really enjoyed eating the pulpy red flowers on top of the cacti.

After finding all the roads into the mountains were closed, I despaired of finding anything to take pictures of. This immature Red-tailed Hawk was seen on a wire on the road back down from Ramsey Canyon.

I was supposed to be looking for Black Skimmers when this Great Egret flew across my line of sight at Bolsa Chica.
Other galleries can be found at the dedicated High Resolution page.

Sunday 3 July 2011

Cabrillo Beach, San Pedro, LAX

Cabrillo Beach is the site where I first faced the dilemma of separating the little ‘peeps.’ A pier (Google Earth ref; 33 42’ 30”N 118 16’ 37”W) stretches out into the protected waters behind the breakwater. A fishing vessel was already pulling in nets and I realised that they must have been after bait to supply the fishing charters setting out from the harbour.

It was surrounded by Brown Pelicans, Forster’s and Elegant Terns and Western Gulls. It turned in tight circles and hauled in the nets a couple of times to the birds’ obvious delight. A couple of Western Grebes looked down their bills at the clamour and sedately continued with their early morning business.

Heerman’s Gulls roosted in a small flock on the beach, but were greatly outnumbered by the larger Western Gulls. A Forster’s Tern had been keeping track of 10000 Birds’ ‘Poop Week’ and was keen to make a contribution.

Elegant Terns rested on the floats of a static net. They are noisy even when they are taking it easy.

Close by is a small lagoon called Salinas de San Pedro (Google Earth ref; 33 42’ 49”N 118 17’ 07”W). This was once a prolific site and I used to spend a lot of time here when we used to stay in the area. At 07.00 on a Monday morning, the gate was padlocked, preventing entry onto the viewing platform (wouldn’t you know it). A small gap in the fence allowed me to see some Black-crowned Night Herons roosting on the balustrade, obviously not used to being disturbed. A notice on the gate said that the key could be collected from the aquarium when it opened.

The feral cats here are fed by a kindly if misguided soul. They also inadvertently provide for a family of Racoons. A mother and four kits (?), cubs (?), pups (?) were taking advantage of the free handouts while another adult with two youngsters gleaned for breakfast in the margins of the lagoon.
Back on the beach some immature Western Gulls were combing the waterline and making great reflections in the receding waves.

The Monday morning commute was building up and I had to get the car back to Long Beach Airport and then back to the hotel for pickup. Bus 111 runs back and forth from the Long Beach Transit Mall stop C. It is not as frequent as one would hope and takes about 40 minutes, so leave ample time for the return.

Birds seen; 19

Western Grebe 3, Brown Pelican 200, Great Blue Heron 1, Double-crested Cormorant 8, Snowy Egret 1, Black-crowned Night Heron 5, Willet 3, Heerman’s Gull 40, Western Gull 300, Elegant Tern 60, Forster’s Tern 12, Mourning Dove 3, Allen’s Hummingbird 1, Cliff Swallow 15, Northern Mockingbird 2, American Crow 10, Common Starling 20, House Sparrow 15, California Towhee 1.

Cabrillo Beach, San Pedro, LAX