Tuesday 29 March 2016

Firecrest Everywhere.

Yesterday I once again checked out the Wall Brown larvae. 5 were seen with another 2 new ones. Having seen a couple of Raven at the top of the hill I thought I would sit there for a while to see if any came near. Once sat I saw a falcon some distance away. On checking through the binoculars it was clear it was a Hobby. I sent Matt a text to tell him of the sighting and he informed me it was the first record for the UK this year!! On checking Birdguides later another was seen in Somerset during the day.

There have been many Firecrest seen locally over the weekend so today I called down the Cuckmere where Matt had been seeing them. I walked all the way down to the beach and then back checking areas of bushes. Apart from my first Swallow of the year and the Greenshank on the scrape I didn't see anything else until I was just about back to the car where I saw a female Black Redstart. I was then putting the gear in the car when I saw a tiny bird by the car park. It was, at last a Firecrest. A few shots managed of this delightful little bird.

Firecrest in the Cuckmere.


This afternoon with Pete it was off to Birling Gap. Here we saw at least 8 Firecrest, some in the wood and some in a large Gorse bush.

Firecrest checking for insects.

Firecrest in Gorse.

Tawny Owl hiding.

On the way back we checked a local Adder hot-spot and these didn't disappoint with at least 7 seen with at one time 5 curled up together.

Male Adder.

4 Adders basking together.

Finally we came across a really smart male Stonechat. Sitting at the top of a bush he was catching small flies that were flying around the bush.

Male Stonechat watching the flies.

Male Stonechat posing well.

Sunday 27 March 2016

A Good Good Friday.

The sun was shining on Good Friday and even the wind was not too bad. I decided in the end to just stay local and to check out the Wall Brown larva activity. As it happens I was showing a friend the larvae on Thursday in pretty dull cool conditions when 3 were seen as well as a Speckled Wood larva. On the Friday in the warmer conditions the larvae were generally higher up the grass feeding well. The 3 from the day before were seen but 2 new ones also showed. All but one were pretty near fully grown, it is at this time that they disperse from their feeding area to pupate and become extremely hard to find. I did take a few new photos of the larvae showing the feeding activity on the grass.

The smallest Wall Brown larva. Approx 60% grown.

Near fully grown Wall Brown larva resting following feeding.

It was so warm on the bank several adult butterflies were active, only the hibernating species still with up to 6 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Brimstone and a Peacock seen.

Small Tortoiseshell.

I could also hear some amphibians calling in the ditches nearby so a little bit of creeping around to investigate proved the noise to be from Common Toads. These were well in the weeds in the middle of the ditch.

Common Toad.

Friday 25 March 2016

Cool For Cats in the Kruger.

I suppose in all safaris the main target is the large cats. During our week we had several cat sightings including a view of a hunting Leopard on our very first game drive just after we arrived. With the rain though sightings of this cat became much harder although we did end up with 4 Leopard sightings by the end of the week. The easiest of the cats was the Lion with many sightings including single males to family groups.

Lioness stalking.

Young Lion.

A Family of Lions.

Resting Lioness.

3 Young Male Lions.

Our best experience with a Leopard came after we had returned from the morning game drive. The drive had finished in torrential rain and we were drenched and cold. We went to the main lodge for a warm up and a coffee. Suddenly David, our guide appeared saying that a Leopard was up a tree not far away and if we want to go and try for it to be at the truck in 5 minutes. Well, a quick change back in the wet gear and we were off. David then did an impression of a rally driver and we once again got totally soaked as we raced towards where the cat was reported. Halfway there a message came through the radio saying the cat had dropped down from the tree and we all thought our chance had gone. As we arrived 2 other trucks from our base were there and they were looking out to our right. We then saw the Leopard walking along quite close to us. It was clear it was in a hunting mood as it stopped in cover a couple of times before it moved gradually away from the track and was soon lost to view. We arrived just in the nick of time for a wonderful experience. Bear in mind all the following shots were taken in really poor light. The rain was still falling as well although it had eased off a little.

The Leopard. What a beauty!!

In a bush looking for prey.

The Leopard slowly moving away.

The other cat we had good views of was the Cheetah. These cats are not often seen in the area as they prefer savannah rather than the bush terrain, however a group of 3 brothers do have a large territory in the area and we were lucky to see them twice. Once when it was nearly dark and then on another day in the early evening. We were watching some Lions when a car stopped nearby and told us the Cheetahs were a few miles up the road. After a bit of a drive we came across them as they walked towards a fallen tree. Each scent marked the tree before climbing up on the tree to look around. After a few minutes of watching these beauties they wandered off together. We were once again so lucky to get such good views. Even better was that it was our last evening and we were the only truck there watching them.


Cheetah scent marking.

Having a stretch.

Cheetah scanning the area.

The Cheetah, another great cat!!

And so our great safari had come to an end. Such a memorable experience with Chris, made even better thanks to all the great staff at Jock Safari Lodge and a special thanks to David for helping us see so much in, at times, difficult conditions. The chef there also helped me put on a couple of pounds with his fabulous cooking!!

Thursday 24 March 2016

Spoonbills, Sandpipers and a Shieldbug.

A short break from Africa posts!! Yesterday evening I had a call from Matt informing me there were 4 Spoonbills in the Cuckmere. All the Spoonbills I've seen in the past have always been singles, so I called down quickly before the light went totally. As it was around 5pm the light was not ideal. The birds were not hard to find and they were quite close together so a few group shots were possible.

Four Spoonbill and 2 Little Egret.

The Four Spoonbill.

Today I called in at Tide Mills in the hope of seeing my first Wheatear of the year. A walk along the East Pier produced a Redshank sitting on the top of the Pier and below a minimum of 10 Purple Sandpipers were seen as well as 3 Turnstone. The Sandpipers will soon be moving back to their breeding grounds soon and with the uncertainty of the future of the Pier this may be the last time I see them here. On leaving the Pier a Wheatear was seen in the so called Reptile survey area.

Two Turnstone on the East Pier.

Purple Sandpiper foraging on the Pier.

On Tuesday, the weather was perfect for seeing overwintering butterflies. A stroll around Abbotts Wood produced the goods with at least 7 Brimstone, 2 Comma and 1 Peacock seen. The Comma was my first of this species this year bringing my year species total to 5. Whilst looking for Purple Hairstreak eggs I came across a Hawthorn Shieldbug on the Oak .

Hawthorn Shieldbug.

Back to Africa in the next post!!

Wednesday 23 March 2016

The African Wild Dog Hunt.

During an afternoon game drive news came in that a pack of African Wild Dogs were resting near the road. Although it was around 30 minutes away David, the guide thought it was well worth going for. He knew more or less the site where they were reported and as we approached we started looking in earnest for them. In the area we came across a large family of Elephant, but no dogs. It was thought the Elephants had moved the dogs on so we carried on along the road hoping to pick them up. After about a mile it was decided we were not going to be lucky so we turned around and drove back the way we had come. Suddenly we saw the pack trotting along the middle of the road, around 15-20 dogs. The truck stopped and they moved past us ignoring us completely.

One of the leading African Wild Dogs.

Planning the hunt.

The dogs then stopped in the road and it was clear they were planning together to start a hunt. The majority of the dogs stayed on the road but 3 or 4 dogs went into the cover either side of the road and were seen running along 10 or so metres apart hoping to pick up a scent or disturb a prey animal. Those staying on the road kept pace with those in the bush occasionally stopping to investigate scents on the road.

Finding a scent on the road.

2 African Wild Dogs working together.

Although it was clear they were working as a team they didn't appear to be communicating at all by noise. Each time a clearing in the bushes came we could see the dogs in the bush working their way along with the dogs on the road watching them.

Some in the bush.

Some staying on the road.

We had followed them for around a mile when in the distance we saw 3 Zebra crossing the road. At this both the Zebra and Dogs stopped and looked at each other. The Zebras then carried on across the road and all the dogs ran into the bush at an angle to intercept them. Once again there didn't appear to be any noise between the dogs but those in the bush to the right all appeared and joined the others. We carried on a bit further hoping to see what was happening but all we heard was a panicking noise from a Zebra and 2 remaining Zebra deep in the bush, so it seems that the dogs had singled out the weakest Zebra and hunted it down.

Still working together.

Is that dinner ahead or just a Zebra crossing??

From the first sighting of the dogs to when they vanished into the bush in pursuit of the Zebra exactly 30 minutes had passed. This was one of the most memorable things we witnessed during our African trip.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

African Adventures Part 3.

As already mentioned, after a very hot first day, when we managed to watch 3 Cheetah brothers whilst lightning was going on in the distance, the rains came in some style. For the following 3 days we had heavy rain on and off and it was on the 5th day the dry riverbed started to flow for the first time in 3 years. The staff at the camp all came to enjoy the spectacle. At the front of the stream a large Catfish was swimming and probably picking up food. It was 11am when I spotted the stream starting and it was only 7 minutes later when the flow had picked up as shown on the following pictures. 

One of the Cheetah brothers. Nearly dark and lightning in the distance.

The water starts to flow. 11am.

7 minutes later and the flow is faster and stronger.

This unique event was one of several sightings we had that were unusual. On another day we had just witnessed a Wild Dog hunt that will be my next post. Following the dogs we were going down a track when we came across 2 Giraffes that were fighting. It wasn't such a battle as seen on David Attenborough's great Africa series, but it was still great to witness something like this. For about 10 minutes the 2 animals were sizing each other up and bashing their heads against the other ones neck and body.

The 2 fighting Giraffes.

A mixture of a few other birds and creatures we saw during the week follows.

Marabou Stork coming in to land.

The pattern of a Zebra.

The rare Black Rhino complete with a Red-billed Oxpecker.

White Rhino with baby. (Hope for the future)!!