Saturday, 28 September 2013

Wood Ants (Formica Rufa) in Orlestone Forest

'Southern Wood Ant' Formica Rufa in Orlestone Forest
 Stood talking by a roadside pull-in at Orlestone forest with friends Bernard and Andil and lamenting the lack of woodland birds, we were distracted by the tiniest of movements close to the road-side. There, twigs, leaves, dried grasses were seemingly moving with a life of their own. A closer look showed it was the work of Wood Ants toing and froing. We had accidentally found their colony, a little 'Eureka' moment for me as it's has taken me years to find Wood ants in Orlestone forest and this was the first time.

By contrast at the Blean Wood complex, Canterbury, it's comparatively easy to find Wood Ants especially where the woods have been coppiced for the Heath Fritillary Butterfly. Over here in Orlestone forest, whenever I've actively looked for Wood Ants I've drawn a blank.

Looking at this colony, the site seems unnaturally located close to the road and there are several reasons for this: firstly, the colony is sited where the road is intersected by a woodland ride and combined with light from above the roadside, plenty of sunlight is present all year round - a big requirement for Wood Ants; secondly, the Ants have chosen the site due to a lucky accident by us humans. The site is located on the top of a raised bank of mud and stone built to stop illegal entrance to the forest by off-roaders. The loose mixture of stone and earth, has allowed the Ants to build and burrow easily into the bank far easier than the woodland floor.

Colony site is built on a partially over-grown raised bank.
The raised bank has another benefit for the colony too – protection from flooding.  Much of the surrounding woodland floor was flooded during the winter and spring months of 2012/13.  Perhaps this is also another reason why I haven't found any colonies in the past?

Our Orlestone Forest Wood Ants will need some protection in the future. If for any reason the Forestry Commision were to rebuild the bank, the colony would be destroyed.  I'd be very interested to know if anyone else knows of Wood Ants in Orlestone Forest and what their true status is.

'Southern Wood Ants' Formica Rufa

Friday, 20 September 2013

Juvenile Arctic Squa at the Dungeness fishing boats

Sadly just a view from behind, a juvenile Arctic Squa with a Greater Sandeel, freshly stolen from a Sandwich Tern.

At the fishing boats late afternoon, the tide was low and the weather calm, sunny and lovely, I watched four Arctic Squas harassing a dozen or so Sandwich terns at a distance just too far to be photographed.

I picked up one bird flying with rapid wing beats, low and direct across the sky - clearly it was on a raid. As I turned my scope across the horizon to keep up with its speed, it passed across one Tern after another until it hit its target bird, forcing it to drop its catch. The triumphant Squa caught the fish before it hit the sea. I estimated the bird had started its chase at least a kilometre away, and testament to the Arctic Squa's brilliant eyesight. It wasn't long before another Squa was ambushing another Tern in much the same way.

There seemed to be plenty of shoaling fish on the surface today, and in the calm sea the beleaguered Terns were quick to replenish their catch. As it's now Autumn, Great Crested Grebes are beginning to pick-up in number across Greatstone and Dungeness. Some were fishing in groups but most were thinly dispersed across the bay. A solitary Red Throated Diver, still in summer plumage, flew across them, sadly at some distance away. And to complete the afternoon, there were plenty of Porpoises present too.

Resigned that I wasn't going to get any closer views today, I turned and started to walk back across the shingle. I hadn't walked more than 20 feet when an Arctic Squa chased a Sandwich Tern just to my side, stealing the fish just metres above me.  The birds were so close and fast, tumbling across the sky, I just managed a brief burst of images of the winning juvenile Arctic Squa making off with its catch.

Clean your glasses, rub your eyes and squint hard, a Red Throated Diver retaining its summer plumage at the fishing boats.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Marsh Tit - Orlestone Forest

Before I forget, last Sunday morning walking in Faggs Wood, Orlestone forest, a first winter Marsh Tit briefly showed within a mixed Tit flock - sadly couldn't locate again for a picture. This is the first Marsh Tit I've seen locally in 18 years and was seen from a path which generally never fails to dissappoint!

Other than the Marsh Tit, a family party of Buzzards provided the only interest, calling frequently from high in the forest canopy.

Friday, 13 September 2013

A lazy Dungeness evening

Adult Sandwich Tern
 Last Thursday evening and the weather had swung warm and humid from a distinctly cool autumnal feel just the day before. Down at Dungeness the sun came out for a couple of hours too, - a little touch of summer had returned.

Despite it being high tide there was just one fishermen and no birdwatchers. Along the tide line, a passing flock of Common and Sandwich Terns went back and forth fishing, later settling to roost on the beach at dusk.

Out to sea, a pod of Porpoise bobbed up and down between the waves and further out still, two Arctic Squas chased distant Terns for their catch. With the air still feeling warm at seven 'o' clock and the low sun spreading a golden light across the point, I was reminded why Dungeness is so special and how I wished I was there more often.

Juvenile Common Tern

A selection of Sandwich Terns

Sandwich Terns ready to roost by the Fishing boats