AFON visits Knepp

AFON visit to the Knepp Wildlands ~ 16-17th July 2016 ~ 

Last weekend I joined fellow A Focus on Nature members at Knepp Wildlands in Sussex. The weekend started with an introduction from Charles Burrell, owner of Knepp Castle, about their re-wilding project. After we'd heard all about this fantastic project, we headed out to see it for ourselves. 
Knepp Wildlands
The next few hours were spent doing a walking tour of the wildlands with Knepp Ecologist, Penny Green, filling us in on the different species found on site, showing us how the place has been completely transformed since traditional farming ceased and searching for invertebrates and other small critters through the use of sweep nets. 
Long-winged Conehead nymph (Conocephalus discolor)
Grasshopper species
Common Green Grasshopper (Omocestus viridulus)
Cicadella viridis
Bee species
Back at the campsite we had a BBQ dinner, where everyone got to know each other a bit more and got to catch up with old friends. At around 8.30pm we headed out in hope of seeing some of the Barn Owls that are nesting on the site. We had to be silent and sit at the other end of the field so as not to disturb them. We watched one of the adults go into a barn with food and even though we were quite far away you could hear the chicks hissing!! Once the adult flew out again we headed off to look at the 2 moths traps that had been set. 
Common Footman (Eilema lurideola)
There were plenty of moths flying around them, but there were even more flying ants and midges! We then headed to the lake to spotlight some Daubenton's Bats. We had at least 4 individuals hunting over the lake which was cool! After that, some headed to bed while others headed back to the moth traps to see what else had been attracted. Eventually, the rest of us gave up and headed to bed around 00.30am in preparation for a 4.45am start! Even at that time it was very warm and close, which made getting to sleep rather difficult.
Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor)
My alarm went off at 4.45am and I got ready and headed to the ringing. On the way, I stopped to have a peek at the moth traps but didn't look too closely so as not to disturb anything in them! I arrived at the location of the ringing demonstration and waited for Tony to appear. He was still in the middle of putting some nets up, so wasn't quite ready to begin yet...just as well as there were only 2 or 3 of us up at that point! 

Tony carried on doing the rounds while I got on with ringing the birds, showing and explaining the process to those present. Those up early were treated to a great start to the day, in the form of a Turtle Dove purring away quite close behind us. Most of those present went to see it, but I carried on ringing since we had caught quite a few birds, including some juveniles. As the morning wore on, more people arrived after their lie in and some of the trainees present assisted me with the ringing in order to reduce the time birds spent waiting and so that they could get some experience of some new species.
Me with a Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) ©Max Hellicar
Adult Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca) ©Max Hellicar
Male Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula©Sorrel Lyall
At about 9.45 the catching had slowed down a lot, so some of the latecomers headed off in search of Turtle Doves and most of the rest headed back to base to grab some food before the Butterfly walk at 10.30. Luckily for them it was perfect timing and they were all treated to incredible views of a Purple Emperor down on a cow pat. I too was lucky since Oli Simms texted me to tell let me know about the Purple Emp, so me and the last few people headed back with high expectations! 

When I got there, there was no butterfly to be seen -  it had just flown up into the trees. I couldn't pick it up though. With my phone charge almost at 0% and with no camera on me, I decided to give it 10 minutes before heading back to get my camera. Luckily this patience paid off and the butterfly fluttered down to the ground and was happy feeding while I used the last of my phone's charged to take some photos of it.

Once my phone had died I decided to head back and get my camera, in the hope that the Purple Emperor would still be there by the time I returned. Sadly it wasn't, so I waited for a bit hoping it would reappear but unfortunately I had no such luck, meaning you'll have to make do with my photos from my phone.
Purple Emperor Butterfly (Apatura iris)
The rest of the gang then appeared, ready for the Butterfly walk. We headed off around the Wildlands once more and saw lots of Purple Emperors, Purple Hairstreaks and other butterflies before myself, and a few others, decided to head back for lunch around 12.30. It wasn't until about 14.00 that the rest of the group returned, slightly thirsty and a tad warm from being out in the sun for so long! 
Speckled Bush-cricket (Leptophyes puntatsissima)
Cinnabar Moth caterpillar (Tyria jacobaeae)
Ruby-tailed Wasp (Chrysis ignita)
We all then had lunch and went through the second moth trap. It was absolutely heaving with moths of all colours, shapes and sizes and it was just brilliant to go through a trap with people on hand who were able to instantly ID everything that came out! Once the trap was emptied, people started saying their goodbyes and heading off.
Epiblema costipunctana
Rosy Footman (Miltochrista miniata)
Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina)
Bordered Beauty (Epione repandaria)
Drinker Moth (Euthrix potatoria)
It was a fantastic weekend and was just brilliant to be in the company of such knowledgeable and like-minded people. I want to say a huge thank you to Simon Phelps and Tony Davis for organising the event, and to Penny Green and Knepp for hosting us. Hopefully there will be another event at Knepp in the not-too-distant-future!!
Brown Long-eared Bat (Plecotus auritus)
(Almost complete) group photo for good measure... ©Beth Aucott

Mauritius: The Birds

Mauritius: The Birds ~ July 2016 ~ 

I recently went on holiday with my family to Mauritius. For those who don't know, Mauritius is a small island located about 2,000km off the southeast coast of Africa. It's not very big as it's only 65km long and 45km wide with a land area of 1,864.8km2. When we arrived, I was surprised at the amount of development and at the extensive monocultures of sugar cane, which take up almost every field and lined nearly all the roads we travelled along.

In this post I want to focus on the bird species that I saw during my visit and following posts will look at some of the other cool wildlife that I managed to see.

First off, one of the most common species that we saw, the Red-whiskered Bulbul. They are charismatic birds and their call was one that you could hear almost constantly throughout the day at our hotel.
Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus)
Next up is another common species which roamed the hotel grounds in small flocks, pinging away. It is also an endemic species, which came as a surprise to me once I looked it up in my book! It is the Mauritius Grey White-eye.
Mauritius Grey White-eye (Zosterops mauritianus)
I didn't have any specific targets in mind since it wasn't a birding trip per se, however one group of birds that I have always wanted to see are Tropicbirds. It was much to my surprise that while relaxing at the hotel I had a few Red-tailed Tropicbirds go over very high up (so sadly my photos of them are pretty rubbish). But when my dad and I spent the morning at Black River Gorges National Park, we saw loads of White-tailed Tropicbirds in the gorges, with a few flying right over us in between rain showers.
White-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon lepturus)
Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda)
A species that I am used to seeing in winter in the UK, and one that wasn't on my radar at all for the trip, was Whimbrel! It took me by complete surprise (though I'm not sure why) and was rather confiding at times.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Along with the Whimbrel, the Green-backed Heron was a species that stayed amongst the rocks in order to catch its prey. It was also a new species for me so I was very pleased to get some nice views (and photos).
Green-backed Heron (Butorides virescens)
Another extremely common species was the Barred Ground Dove. These acted much like the House Sparrows and Starlings here in the UK and scoffed everything that people dropped.
Barred Ground Dove (Geopelia striata)
A really neat species that was fairly common around the hotel was the Village Weaver. These birds take strands of plants and use it to weave their intricate nests which you can see in the photo:
Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus)
Now onto some of the more unusual species that I saw. I was very lucky when I went to Black River Gorges National Park that, although it rained on and off all day, I managed to see a number of more difficult species, including some of the endemics. Sadly I missed Mauritius Kestrel, which I think was down to the weather being grim, but I did a lot better than I'd hoped, so overall it was a great morning!
Mauritius Cuckoo-shrike (Coracina typica)
Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone desolata)
Mauritius (Echo) Parakeet (Psittacula eques)
So those are the main species from Black River Gorges. We also saw the Tropicbirds that I mentioned earlier, some Common Waxbills (too quick for good photos) and plenty more Mauritius Grey White-eyes, which I also mentioned earlier.

Below are some of the other species that we saw during our holiday and I'll put a little description in the caption of each one.
Mascarene Swiftlet (Aerodramus francicus) - this bird had been teasing me
for a number of days by whizzing around our hotel so I was very
pleased to get a decent photo for ID purposes!
Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata) - I only saw this one individual
on our holiday despite my book saying they are common on Mauritius. It
was just in the hotel grounds very briefly so I was glad to get a photo!
Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis) - a common and noisy bird
that picked up scraps on the beach and around the restaurants.
Female Village Weaver (Ploceus cucullatus) - much more inconspicuous than the
males. This one popped up out of a bush right in front of me before flying off.
Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) - taken from the boat we went scuba diving
from. At first I thought it was a Gannet but was ecstatic to review
my pictures and see my first species of booby!
Yellow-fronted Canary (Crithagra mozambica) - the males were very
noisy by the swimming pools but usually remained hidden in the vegetation,
except this individual which sat right out in the open for a little while. 
A colour ringed Mauritius Fody (Foudia rubra) being elusive. They
are colour ringed as part of a study on their breeding habits and success
and so that researchers no the island can tell bloodlines in the field.
A good species to end on - the iconic Pink Pigeon. Saved from extinction by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Mauritian Wildlife Foundation.

Pink Pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) - on our last full day in Mauritius we visited Ile aux Aigrettes,
a nature reserve run by the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation. We saw Giant Tortoises, Mauritius
Fruit Bats, Telfair's Skink, Mauritius Olive White-eye and Mauritius Fody, amongst other things!
Overall I had a great time and would definitely recommend Mauritius to any birders or naturalists who've never been there before! Keep an eye on my blog over the coming days/weeks for the next instalments of reptiles, butterflies and everything else I saw on my trip.

30 Days Wild - Week 4

30 Days Wild: Week 4 (and a bit) ~ 22-30th June 2016 ~ 

You can find weeks 1, 2 & 3 below:

Week 1 -
Week 2 -
Week 3

Here's what I got up to in the last week and a bit of June...

Day 22: I emptied the moth trap first thing then was studying for the rest of the day, before going for a walk up to my patch in the evening.
L->R: Dark Arches, Flame Shoulder, Endotricha flammealis, Bee Orchid.

Day 23: Who said moths were boring?!
L->R: Dichomeris marginella, The Flame, Scythropia crataegella, Broad-barred White,
Double-striped Pug, Blotched Emerald, Pseudargyrotoza conwagana.

Day 24: A super walk round patch produced lots of insects and butterflies.
L->R: (top) Caterpillar sp, Pyramidal Orchid, Silver-studded Blue, Black-and-yellow Longhorn Beetle, Small Heath (bottom) Silver-studded Blue, Grasshopper sp, Scorpionfly, Burnet moth caterpillar, Common Blue.
Day 25: I had a great day down at Martin Down NNR in Hampshire, with my friend Max Hellicar. We saw Turtle Doves, lots of insects, flowers and butterflies and also got drenched just as we were heading back to the car. Once back home we headed to my patch where we found a Turtle Dove, my first ever on patch, so that was pretty cool! I also set the moth trap.
L->R: (top) Gasteruption jaculator, Turtle Dove, Marbled White, Tree Pipit, Pyramidal Orchid,
(bottom), Bloody-nosed Beetle, Yellowhammer, Small Heath, Corn Bunting, Dark Green Fritillary.
Day 26: Emptied the moth trap then went for a wonderful walk round patch with my parents and our dog.
L->R: (top) Our dog, Heath SPotted Orchid,The stream on patch, Large Skipper, Glyphipterix thrasonella, Red Polar Leaf Beetle larvae (bottom), female Common Blue Damselfly, Common Darter, male Beautiful Demoiselle, male Common Blue Damselfly, Comma Butterfly, Golden-ringed Dragonfly.
Day 27: A walk round patch and some cool moths.
L->R: Bell Heather, Uncertain, Yellow Shell, Marbled Orchard Tortrix, Eudonia lacustrata, Anania coronata.
Day 28: Attended a University open day and around the campus there was lots of wildlife including wild flower patches, bees and also lots of Swifts screaming around in the skies above. Sadly no photos from today.

Day 29: No photos again I'm afraid. In the evening I went up to the park with our dog, a tennis ball and a tennis racket and had great fun hitting the ball as far as I could for the dog to chase and run around like the loony that she is!

Day 30: Where has this month gone?! Sadly the weather put me off doing much today so all I got up to was studying, checking I have everything for our holiday and a quick run up at the park with our dog, though I think I wore her out!
The dog was a bit knackered.

So I'm not really sure where June has gone because a lot sure happened in it! Here's to many more wild days & crazy adventures.