The fight for Hilltop

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Friday 28 July 2017 10:15

The most butterflies we saw all week were on the top of Red-necked Nightjar Hill on the last morning. Almost all of which were in the last ten metres of the top of the hill, exhibiting territorial 'hilltopping' behaviour. There was a hierarchy that went from Swallowtail, to Scarce Swallowtail to king of the hill which was Two-tailed Pasha. Here they are in reverse order.

They even went for people whenever they moved into their territory. This little guy was so dull and small that they ignored him however. If you think Small Heath are boring, I give you Dusky Heath. It's like a Small Heath but without any of its meagre redeeming features. Smaller spots, fewer markings and even more diminutive - it's even less contrasting and more beige, who knew that was possible?

Other than that, a few orange Speckled Woods, Meadow Browns, Southern Gatekeepers and an unidentified clouded yellow and white was all I saw. Oh and this African Grass Blue in Tavira.

Rango Unchained

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 27 July 2017 20:02

Now for the reptiles, we didn't see many actually, only one or two of everything. And what was by far the highlight of the trip. Here is the Mediterranean Chameleon. It took quite a bit of searching in the National Forest around a place called Monte Gordo. We finally picked one up on a fence! Only a week ago I had no idea these occurred in Europe so I was just blown away by it and how weird it was. And how quickly it changed colour!

In Castro Verde we spotted a few Spanish Terrapins by a load of Cattle Egrets in a creek.

We saw one each of Turkish an Moorish Geckos but didn't get anywhere near then for a photo. The only other lizards we saw were these Large Psammodromus.

Iberian Lyons

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Tuesday 25 July 2017 20:17

Birding in the Algarve, even in July was really awesome. It's probably down to the fact that I have never been to the Iberian Peninsula before but I was blown away by how good it was, right from the get go. Azure-winged Magpies, possibly the commonest bird I encountered there (maybe joint with Collared Dove) did not disappoint. They really reminded me of big Long-tailed Tits the way they group together, suddenly passing through the garden like a squad of marines, at least one always remaining still and providing cover. Then they'd suddenly all squabble over something before flying off. We saw between 50 and a 100 of these each day, the first spotted before picking up the hire car at the airport. The rasping Jay-like sounds become a real part of the mood of the place.

Here is the whole list of all the birds seen in the seven days we were there. Species in bold were lifers for me (ten in all - I added Iberian Green Woodpecker thank to Seth Gibson) and those underlined were seen from the accommodation:

Little Grebe
Cattle Egret - everywhere!
Little Egret
Grey Heron
White Stork - everywhere!
Glossy Ibis - (two flocks of around 50 birds flew over airport, never saw them again!)
Spoonbill - two flew over
Flamingo - seen from the plane and later in flight
Griffon Vulture - several with the two species below in Castro Verde
Black Vulture - two juveniles (one fighting with below)
Spanish Imperial Eagle - one juvenile
Short-toed Eagle
Booted Eagle
Red Kite
Black Kite
Marsh harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Lesser Kestrel - in Castro Verde
Red-legged Partridge
Great Bustard - two families in Castro Verde
Black-winged Stilt
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Knot - one
Common Sandpiper
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Little Tern
Sandwich Tern
Feral Pigeon
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove - one in the National Forest
Tawny Owl
Barn Owl - one dead by road in Castro Verde
Little Owl
Scops Owl
Red-necked Nightjar
Pallid Swift
Hoopoe - only saw three, one in the garden
Roller - about 30 in Castro Verde
Iberian Green Woodpecker
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker - one family in the national forest
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark
Red-rumped swallow
House Martin
Spanish Wagtail
Rufous Bush Robin
Stonechat - only in Castro Verde
Blue Rock Thrush - one male in Tavira
Sardinian Warbler
Fan-tailed Warbler
Great Tit
Blue Tit
Short-toed Treecreeper
Woodchat Shrike
Iberian Grey Shrike
Azure-winged Magpie
Magpie - quite uncommon
Crow - uncommon, only seen in Castro Verde
Raven - one pair in Castro Verde
Spotless Starling
Golden Oriole - one noisy family group
House Sparrow
Corn Bunting - lots in Castro Verde

Quite a list for high summer!
There are more Golden Orioles (aka Papa Figos) in this photo than I have ever seen before!

Bee-eaters are everywhere!

White Storks are ten-a-penny.

So are these leggy mates or Black-winged Stilts as i call them.

Roller was probably the most sought after bird but they provided disappointing views, often being flighty or frustratingly far away. This was the only shot I managed thinking I'd get better ones later but then they all disappeared! They look like they're made of Play Dough!

I've also never seen so many Red-rumped Swallows, they're everywhere!

I'm not sure what the highlight was. Seeing a Black Vulture fight a Spanish Imperial Eagle in the air with Black Kite and Griffon Vulture was probably the most intense. Seconds later, they all completely vanished!

However, I think the encounter with the Red-necked Nightjar was the most memorable. On the day we arrived I played a recording of the song online as I knew it sounded different to Nightjar but didn't know how different. I was amazed just how different it was. I awoke at 5.45 am, it was mostly still dark. From the balcony looking towards this hill was the unmistakable sound of Red-necked Nightjar! It was a few miles away though and I really don't know if I would have picked up on it if I hadn't listened to it the day before.

So on the last night we climbed the hill at dusk. Saw an impressive green flash, the ISS and an Iridium flare. But best of all, prolonged and point blank views of Red-necked Nightjar!

We climbed the hill on the last morning and there at the top was this feather. Not only is this a Red-necked Nightjar feather but it's one of the few feathers that can identify it as it shows the paler shoulder compared to that of Nightjar. I would love to go back to Portugal, I could imagine the spring being out of this world and the autumn raptor migration must be amazing! The highlight of the whole trip was not a bird though. That will have to wait for another day...

27/07/17 UPDATE: Thanks to Seth I realised I had a tenth new bird, Iberian Green Woodpecker. I had heard what I assumed were Green Woodpeckers from the accommodation all week but found it odd that I had not even caught a glimpse of one in flight. On the evening we saw the nightjars, I finally got a glimpse of male and was surprised at how much red it had on its face and how dark it was underneath. I also thought they sounded different, a little higher-pitched. I wonder if they are also a little shier? I heard one Green Woodpecker back here and immediately looked up and saw it fly. These birds were far from obvious in flight, often calling from one bush only to be heard from another nearby without being seen in flight.

Venus in furze

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Sunday 16 July 2017 09:45

Last week I stumbled across loads of this lovely little leaf beetle on young gorse at Beachy Head. I had no idea what it was at first, being a beetle I'd never heard off. That's what's so great about studying beetles. You keep seeing things that are a total surprise, even though I have seen 1145 species, that's only just over a quarter of all the UK species. Anyway, this is Calomicrus circumfusus and hasn't been seen in Sussex for 25 years. It's only the 5th county record which is odd as it eats gorse which is in plentiful supply. At Beachy Head it was quite restricted though, we didn't see it anywhere else except in that one patch.

I had another lifer for me, the tiny mirid bug Macrotylus paykulli which feeds on Restharrow. easy to find by sweeping large patches of the foodplant.

This gall is caused by the mite Aceria squalida and attacks the flower heads of Small Scabious.

We also saw a couple of Spring Dumble Dors (Trypocopris vernalis). Here and Seaford Head are still the only places I have ever seen this beetle. Never seen it in the spring however so I don't think the name is that good for identification. I've only seen this on chalk. You can just see the punctured pronotum which separates it from T. pyrenaeus which we get on the heaths at Iping and Stedham.

And a few Sermylassa halensis, common on the chalk but always nice to see.

Right, I'm off to Portugal for a week. Will I finally see a Roller!?

6666 the number of the beasts

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 8 July 2017 15:53

I'm two thirds of the way to seeing ten thousand species! Yesterday I went to Graffham Common with my old boss/new volunteer aculeate surveyor, James Power. As has been the way with Graffham Common this year, we were not dissapointed. The highlight for me was seeing SEVEN of these stonking longhorn beetles. I've only recorded Stictoleptura rubra once before a couple of years ago in Suffolk under fairly strange circumstances, so I was pleased to see six males and one female (the female is the big red one that looks a bit like a cardinal beetle). She was beaten of fallen pine foliage where all the males were nectaring on bramble or flying about. It's only the third Sussex record where the first was recorded in 2014 at Iping Common. We now have quite a list of interesting longhorns from Graffham Common over the years. 

Other highlights included this hand caught Golded-haired Robberfly Choerades marginatus.

We also recorded the nationally scarce spider Achaearanea riparia, the wasp Astata boops and one of the Epeolus. In fact Graffham's spider list is on 124 species, which make up 15% of everything recorded there. At 851 species we'll soon breach the 1000 mark for this amazing new nature reserve. The whole reserve network is hurtling towards the 10,000 species mark with 94 species added since I put it together earlier this year. There are only 114 species needed to get there, will it be this year or next year, who knows?!

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