30th. Slimbridge, and a great opportunity to evaluate the new 100-400mm for bird photography. It's heavy, but the image quality is great. Excellent image stabilisation with sharp optics at 400mm, so the old 100-400mm and 400mm prime are redundant now. Some great birds, including 2 cattle egrets, female smew, avocets and spoonbill. I'm also hoping it will be great for large insects, given the close focusing distance.
I bought the Mark II Canon 100-400mm lens, and first tried it out at Shapwick Heath on 26th. a nice Christening - we spotted an otter - the first I've seen there for several years. It captured a very big eel. I also heard garden warbler, reed warbler and willow warbler and saw a couple of whitethroats. Two marsh harriers were also there.
Soon after I returned from Italy, the girls found a hedgehog on the drive - the first I've seen locally in ages. My daughter found a hedgehog on the drive - the first I've seen locally in ages.
On 12 April we started a road trip to Lucie’s house in Tuscany. On 12th we visited Chichester, visiting places from Lucie’s childhood, and seeing the Chagall stained glass window in the cathedral. I saw 5 red kites between Chieveley and Southampton. The night was spent in Brighton, before we took the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry on 13th.
We sailed past the lighthouse on Beachy Head and Belle Tout Lighthouse, where the Stow-on-the-Wold blue rock thrush presumably spent its last day in Britain. What a remarkable story - the Stow bird could be identified from its tail feathers, and appeared at Belle Tout on 6 April, a few days after last being seen at Stow. It could not be located the next day, and presumably made the crossing to the continent, and back home.
On the crossing I saw 2 harbour porpoises, a guillemot, 50+ gannets, 3 fulmars, 4 bonxies and a kittiwake.
On the 13th we drove through Normandy to Compiègne, where we stayed in a beautiful B & B and where swifts had arrived. Oil seed rape was in flower and dominated much of the landscape all the way to Tuscany. Subsidies for biofuel have increased the planting of this crop, and the large scale planting appears to be responsible for the rapid decline of farmland birds, at least in Germany.
I saw my first black redstart and serins of the trips near Reins. The longest driving day was on 14th, and we arrived at Mulhouse in the evening. Many kites, including some black kites, drifted above the roads. In Alsace white storks were widespread, including a pair nesting at a service station near Mulhouse. A peregrine called from Mulhouse cathedral. Cowslips lined the roads between Sussex and Alsace.
On 15th we drove across Switzerland to Cernobbio on Lake Como, which was beautiful. So wonderful to be back in Italy! I saw a ruddy shelduck, a marsh harrier and an alpine swift around Como on 16th.
We drove through Italy to Monterchi on 16th, and the best bird was a male Montagu’s harrier south of Bologna.
I spent 16th-23 April at Lucie’s house in Tuscany. Kiara and her boyfriend Dan joined us on her birthday for 4 days.
The area was transformed with greenery since my last visit in early March when the deciduous trees were leafless. The top field above Lucie's house had stunning views, and contained amazing insects and orchids.
Birds in the area included shy woodlarks in the top field, singing chiffchaffs and a wood warbler, common and black redstarts, serins, singing cuckoos, and nesting swallows and house martins.
Plants included ragged robin, flowering tree heath, star of Bethlehem, Provencal, early spider and green-winged orchids.
Insects included amazing owlflies, and a Cerambycid beetle, probably Morimus asper, with variable spotting on the elytra.
Butterflies included swallowtails, wood whites, sooty copper, red admiral, speckled wood, red admiral, Weaver's, Glanville and marsh fritillaries. Dingy skippers and small heaths were also common.
The wall lizards seem to be common wall lizards, Podarcis muralis nigriventris. This individual has ticks behind its front left leg.
The camera trap captured a, badger, hedgehog, fox, a wonderful porcupine and a bizarre group of 4 dogs. Roe deer, wild boar and porcupine were on the trap between 8-15 March. Flash video of the porcupine below.
1st. I spent late afternoon at Northwick Warth and saw 5 little ringed plovers, a dark-bellied brent goose, about 20 sand martins, 2 swallows, 3 white wagtails and 50+meadow pipits. I heard my first willow warbler of the year. As I was leaving I saw 2 short-eared owls in the distance, so headed to Aust Warth to photograph them. At least 3 were present, and a weasel popped up at close range.