30 Nov 2014

30 Nov 14 - Photospot7: Western Palearctic Partridges

I have been lucky to see all the Western Palearctic Partridges this year, with the exception of See-see Partridge. Maybe I be able to rectify that on a return trip to Turkey at some point in the future. I saw it there on my trip in 1986, but I won't have any photos as my camera could only take insect & general photographs in those days.

So here is the perfect excuse for another Photospot to look at the Western Palearctic Partridges in a bit more detail. Note, this post following the boundaries as defined in the Birds of the Western Palearctic, rather than the latest idea that has come from an author who has redefined the boundary to include the whole of the Arabian Peninsula to help him sell a book in the future. The problem I have with that approach is parts of the Southern Arabian Peninsula contain a good selection of species which are primarily of African origin, with a few Indian subcontinent species also occurring in the Southern Arabian Peninsula. Clearly, there are Palearctic species that also occur. I think the BWP authors got the boundaries right in the Arabian Peninsula & think that it is better to treat the Southern Arabian Peninsula as a separate area in its own right. As a consequence, this post will not include Philby's Rock Partridge and Arabian Red-legged Partridge as neither occur in the BWP boundaries that I have always followed. Hopefully, I will get to parts of their range in the future, in which I may get the chance to write a Photospot on the Arabian Peninsula Partridges.

There are 4 Alectoris Partridges in the Western P & this group is typical of the observations of Alfred Russel Wallace: who is the relatively unknown scientist who was working in parallel on theories of evolution. It was his observations & letters that seemed to finally spur Charles Darwin on to publish his Origin of Species & ended up with major credit for the theories of evolution. During his time travelling in Central & Eastern Indonesia, Wallace found that as he moved around the Indonesian Archipelago, that time & time again he was seeing species which looked similar to, but were not the same as the species from another area he had already visited. He deduced there must have been an original species that had evolved in different areas of its range, until the populations in the different parts of the original species range could be considered as different species. The 4 Alectoris Partridges (Rock Partridge, Chukar, Barbary Partridge, Red-legged Partridge) are good examples of this as they are all variations on a theme. Philby's Rock Partridge, Arabian Red-legged Partridge & Przevalski's Partridge (found in the Qinghai & Gansu provinces of China) are the remaining 3 Alectoris Partridges in the world.
Rock Partridge: Male. Velji Do, Cavtat, Croatia (4 May 14). Note, the thin white supercilium and black line along the full depth of the upper mandible
Rock Partridge: Male. Velji Do, Cavtat, Croatia (4 May 14). Note, the lack of any spotting below the clean cut black gorget. This species occurs in the Alps (France, Switzerland & Austria), the Italian Appennines, parts of the former Yugoslavia to Greece & Bulgaria. Another race with a broken gorget occurs on Sicily & is being proposed as a potential candidate for splitting from Rock Partridge
Chukar: Beit Yatir, Israel (8 April 14). Note, there is no obvious white supercilium and the black goes across the forehead, but does not extend down the side of the upper mandible. This species occurs from SE Bulgaria to Turkey, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Iran. It also occurs on Crete, Rhodes & Cyprus. There are other subspecies found outside of the Western P in Tajikstan, Afghanistan to Nepal, Mongolia, Tibet & China
Barbary Partridge: Oued Massa, Morocco (14 Feb 14). Clearly, the most diverse looking of the Alectoris group. Note, the light grey throat (white in the other 3) and black gorget with white spots. This species occurs in North Africa from Morocco to Libya & NW Egypt. It has been introduced to the Canaries, Southern Spain & Sardinia
Red-legged Partridge: Win Green, Wiltshire (28 June 14). Note, the broad white supercilium. The natural range of Red-legged Partridge is the Spanish Peninsula, France, NW Italy & Corsica. It was introduced into the UK in the 17th Century. It has even managed a cameo appearance in Once Upon a Time in the West (one of my all time favourite films & filmed in East Spain!!!)
Red-legged Partridge: Win Green, Wiltshire (28 June 14). Note, the diffuse gorget which merges into the extensive breast streaking. The black lores meets the side of the bill, (rather than the black continuing onto the base of the forehead as in Rock Partridge & Chukar)
Now for the other Western Palearctic Partridges. There are 2 Ammoperdix Partridges, both of which occur in the Western Palearctic.
Sand Partridge: Wadi Salvadora, Israel (7 April 14). Male. Males have this broad white facial pattern and broad flank stripes. Females do not have the white facial pattern or flank stripes. They occurs from Israel, Jordon to Saudi Arabia & Northern Egypt
Sand Partridge: Amran Pillars, Israel (10 April 14). Male. The superficially similar looking See-see Partridge is another semi desert species which occurs in Turkey, Syria, Iraq & Iran to SW Russia & Pakistan. Male See-see Partridges have a stronger white facial pattern with the white extending in front of the eye & a black line above the white band. Females look fairly similar to the female Sand Partridges, but can be separated on range
The final Western Palearctic Partridge is Grey Partridge. This is the only Perdix Partridge in the Western P. The remaining 2 Perdix species are found further East: Daurian Partridge (Mongolia, Manchuria & China) and Tibetan Partridge (Nepal to Tibet).
Grey Partridge: Sixpenny Handley, Dorset (13 June 14). Male on the right. This species has a fairly large Western P range occurring in most of Europe, except Northern & Central Scandanavia & most of the Iberian Peninsula. Another subspecies occurs in Transcaucasia
I've always regarded the Francolin group as closely related to the Partridges, but not Partridges. But as I've managed to photograph one of the 2 native Francolin species that occurs in the Western Palearctic, I've decided to included them in this post. They are Black Francolin & Double-spurred Francolin. I have seen Double-spurred Francolin in the mountains of Western Morocco in 1990, but unfortunately I have no photos. There is another subspecies which occurs in Senegal & Gambia to Central African Republic.
Black Francolin: Kfar Ruppin, Israel (13 April 14) Male. Female are essentially a scaly brown colouration. They occurs from Turkey, Israel, Iraq & Iran with other races occurring as far as the Northern parts of the Indian Subcontinent

29 Nov 2014

29 Nov 14 - Insect Photospot5 - Dorset Hawk Moths

The recent Oleander Hawk Moth has given me the urge to put together a Post of the Dorset Hawk Moths. I very erratically get in the mood to run my Moth trap for a few months, before the Birding or work commitments puts an end to running the trap. Over the last 17 years of living in Dorset, I've just about managed to get through all the seasons, but with the months spread over several years. I only really worry about running the trap in the garden & haven't worried about trying to run a trap elsewhere. Occasionally, I will make the effort to see the occasional good Moth that other people have caught, but I don't do this often. Hoping one of these years, I will get more time to run my Moth trap more regularly & catch some of the more regular vagrants I've yet to see in the garden. Anyway, for a touch of colour & elegance on the Blog, here are the Dorset Hawk Moths.
Convolvulus Hawk Moth: I have only seen one Convolvulus Hawk Moth (due to not having made any effort to go & see them since seeing my first one). I currently don't have any photos of this scarce migrant Hawk Moth. There are a number of photos on the Dorset Moth Group website, including this one: Convolvulus Hawk Moth taken by Weymouth Birder Paul Harris
Death's-head Hawk Moth: This is a rare migrant to Dorset with 72 records listed on the Dorset Moth Group website. Unfortunately, it is a species I have yet to see. A photo taken by Les Hill can be found on the Dorset Moth Group website
Privet Hawk Moth: This is a fairly common & widespread Hawk Moth in Dorset. Swanage (8 July 10)
Pine Hawk Moth: This is an uncommon & restricted resident in Dorset. Swanage (28 July 10)
Lime Hawk Moth: This is an uncommon & widespread resident in Dorset. Swanage (30 June 10)
Eyed Hawk Moth: This is an uncommon & restricted resident in Dorset. Swanage (12 June 10)
Poplar Hawk Moth: This is a common & widespread Hawk Moth in Dorset. Swanage (22 June 10)
Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk Moth: This is a rare & local resident. Powerstock Common (18 May 14)
Broad-bordered Bee Hawk Moth: This is a rare & local resident. A poor photo, but despite several attempts this Summer, I failed to photograph any of the individuals seen. Studland (2 June 13)
Hummingbird Hawk Moth: Despite being a erratic but regular migrant visitor to my garden, I still need to get a decent photo of a Hummingbird Hawk Moth. A great photo of a Hummingbird Hawk Moth in flight by Martin Cade can be found on the Dorset Moth Group Website
Oleander Hawk Moth: I was lucky to see a tweet that one was recently on display at Durlston and could get there with the camera before it was released that evening. This is a vagrant species to Dorset & it is only about the 5th Dorset record. Resting in a display box at the Durlston Castle isn't an ideal location for a photo, but it better for the Moth than being moved around to allow people to photograph it, with the risk it will become active & try escaping. Durlston (24 Oct 14)
Bedstraw Hawk Moth: This is a rare migrant with less than 40 Dorset records & one I have still to see in the UK. A photo of two Bedstraw Hawk Moths at Portland Bill can be found on the Dorset Moth Group website
Striped Hawk Moth: This is a species I haven't seen in the UK. The Dorset Moth group website lists this as a scarce & coastal migrant with about 450 records. Fortunately, I have seen this great looking Moth at En Gedi, Israel (7 April 14)
Elephant Hawk Moth: This and the next species are just great Hawk Moths. I never tire of seeing them. Swanage (15 June 14)
Small Elephant Hawk Moth: This is smaller & less commonly caught in my Moth trap. Swanage (26 July 10)
Silver-striped Hawk Moth: This is a species I haven't seen & the Dorset Moth group website lists this as a rare migrant with just 24 records. A photo of a Silver-striped Hawk Moth with a Striped Hawk Moth for comparison can be found on the Dorset Moth Group Website

28 Nov 2014

28 Nov 14 - Insect Photospot4 - Dorset Damselflies

This is the second Dragonfly Photospot, covering the Damselflies & Demoiselles that are found in Dorset. The main aim is to give the readers an appreciation of the variety of species that can be seen in Dorset, rather than focusing on the identification. There are plenty more photos of these species as well as useful identification features in earlier Posts: just click on the Label links on the right hand side of the Blog.
Banded Demoiselle: Male. This is a common species on a number of the clean Dorset rivers. Throop Mill (23 June 14)
Banded Demoiselle: Female. White Mill, Sturminster Marshall (28 June 14)
Beautiful Demoiselle: Male. This is more of a heathland pond species. Rempstone Forest (3 Aug 14)
Emerald Damselfly: Male. Currently, this is the only Emerald Damselfly found in Dorset, but there are other species that have recently colonised Kent & East Anglia and hopefully in time, they will reach Dorset. Rempstone Forest (3 Aug 14)
Emerald Damselfly: Female. Rempstone Forest (3 Aug 14)
White-legged Damselfly: Male. Canford School Water Meadows (29 June 14)
White-legged Damselfly: Female. Canford School Water Meadows (29 June 14)
Red-eyed Damselfly: This species seems to really like resting on water lilies well away from the water's edge. Throop Mill (23 June 14)
Red-eyed Damselfly: Mating Pair. Throop Mill (23 June 14)
Small Red-eyed Damselfly: This species is less widespread than Red-eyed Damselfly in Dorset with the Weymouth area being one of the more reliable sites to see it. It is a species I have yet to photograph
Large Red Damselfly: East Holme Water Meadows (6 June 14)
Large Red Damselfly: Mating Pair. Brownsea (21 June 14)
Small Red Damselfly: This species is smaller & daintier than Large Red Damselfly and is a heathland specialist. Arne (11 July 14)
Blue-tailed Damselfly: This is the common Blue-tailed Damselfly species in Dorset. Bestwall (19 June 14)
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly: This is a rarer of the two Blue-tailed Damselfly species in Dorset with a limited number of sites. It likes good boggy conditions or habitats with open edges to water and doesn't seem to be much of a flier compared to its commoner relative (4 Aug 14)
Common Blue Damselfly: Male. White Mill, Sturminster Marshall (28 June 14)
Azure Damselfly: Arne (8 June 14)
Southern Damselfly: This is the scarce species of the three Blue Damselflies. The main features to separate the 3 Dorset Blue Damselflies can be found here (9 July 12)

27 Nov 2014

27 Nov 14 - Insect Photospot3 - Dorset Dragonflies

Following on from the Butterfly Photospots, then now is a good time to look back on my other big Insect passion this Summer: the Dragonflies. I've really enjoyed looking at the Dragonflies & Damselflies. I have been looking at Dragonflies for the last few years now, after initially dabbling with the first Dragonflies back in my university days for a few years. However, it is only really this year that I think I've really got a good grasp on their identification features & I have been generally able to recall the features from memory, without having to dig out the field guides. I have still got a long way to go to get more knowledgeable, but it has been fun improving my knowledge significantly this year. So here is a Photospot on the Dorset Dragonflies. I will cover Dorset Damselflies & Demoiselles in another Photospot. Both Photospots are designed to give the readers an appreciation of the variety of species that can be seen, rather than focusing on the identification. There are plenty more photos of these species as well as useful identification features in earlier Posts: just click on the Label links on the right hand side of the Blog.
Emperor Dragonfly: Female egg-laying. This is one of the larger Dragonfly species & can be commonly found in Dorset over Summer
Living in Dorset is a real privilege as it is one of the best counties for seeing  Dragonflies on your doorstep. We have such a good selection of heaths, clean rivers & freshwater lakes that allows a great variety of species to be seen. They are not always straight-forward to identify, but that's part of the fun. Having a camera is one of the best ways to help identify them as it is a good idea to get some photos & then compare them against the book. The photos taken before Oct 13 were taken with an inexpensive Lumix camera, whereas the photos taken after that date were with the Canon 7D and usually a 15-85 Macro lens, although some of the more distant shots were taken with the 400mm f5.6 lens.
Banded Demoiselle: Male. The Demoiselles will be covered in the next post. An out of county photo from Goring-on-Thames (13 June 14)
There are a couple & inexpensive of excellent field guides to get you started:-
The Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland by Steve Brooks and Richard Lewington
Watching British Dragonflies by Steve Dudley, Caroline Dudley and Andrew Mackay
Both of these field guides provides excellent identification sections for each species as well as some cracking illustrations. A few of the vagrant species are not covered in the latter guide, but it has a lot of good site directions and species to help you find all of the regular UK species.
Common Blue Damselfly: The Damselflies will also be covered in the next post
One thing I have learnt this year, is it a good idea to get photos from as many different angles as possible. So while a top down view will provide a good in focus photo, it might not provide all the features. Often a side view of the thorax & abdomen is important to get & sometimes a face on view is also needed. The other good thing about photos taken with a good digital camera, is it allows some of the key features to be quickly zoomed up on the back of the camera to see those fine details, that might not be as easy to see in the field. Most of the Dragonflies & Damselflies are approachable with care, although some of the Hawkers can be really challenging to get a perched photo. The other good thing is like the Butterflies, you can often get some good photos with a relatively cheap digital camera, providing it can cope with close focus. Then you just need to learn how to get close without flushing your subject.
Southern Hawker: Adult with the larval case. Swanage (11 July 14). I was surprised to find this species egg-laying in moss next to my garden pond. I had assumed most species would lay their eggs in the water, but it seems this species lays eggs near to ponds & the eggs don't hatch until the following Spring. I guess the larva quickly move to the water at this point
Common Hawker: Despite its name this is not a common species in Dorset. I have seen it on the heaths around Studland, but failed to find any this year to photograph. It's always good to have a target for next year
Brown Hawker: Longham Lake (18 Aug 12)
Migrant Hawker: Male. This was one of the commoner Hawkers I saw this Autumn in Dorset and despite its name it breeds in Southern England (7 Aug 14)
Migrant Hawker: Female. South Haven, Studland (25 Aug 14)
Emperor Dragonfly: Bestwall (19 June 14)
Golden-ringed Dragonfly: East Holme Water Meadows (6 July 14)
Vagrant Emperor: I was lucky to hear this vagrant had gone to roost on a fence panel of one of the Weymouth Birders. Well worth twitching as I've not heard of any since in Dorset. Weymouth (11 May 11)
Hairy Dragonfly: This is easy to identify as it is the first of the Hawkers to fly. Soldiers Road, Hartland Heath (18 May 14)
Hairy Dragonfly: Mating pair. East Holme Water Meadows (12 July 14)
Downy Emerald: Morden Bog (26 May 13)
Downy Emerald: Studland (14 May 14)
Black-tailed Skimmer: Male. Brownsea (21 June 14)
Keeled Skimmer: Male. Greenlands Farm, Studland (3 Aug 14)
Keeled Skimmer: Female. Godlingston Heath (1 June 14)
Broad-bodied Chaser: Male. Higher Hyde (10 June 14)
Broad-bodied Chaser: Female. East Holme Water Meadows (6 July 14)
Four-spotted Chaser: Brownsea (21 June 14)
Scarce Chaser: Male. East Holme Water Meadows (12 June 14)
Scarce Chaser: Female. East Holme Water Meadows (12 June 14)
Black Darter: Rempstone Forest (3 Aug 14)
Ruddy Darter: Higher Hyde (11 July 14)
Ruddy Darter: South Haven, Studland (10 Sep 14)
Red-veined Darter: The only one I have seen was this individual at West Bexington (13 July 13)
Common Darter: As the name suggests this is a Common species which flies in the second half of the Summer & will typically carry on until the end of October or sometimes even later for the occasional individual. Arne (11 July 14)
Common Darter: I have covered the identification pitfalls between Common Darters & Red-veined Darters in this post. Rempstone Forest (3 Aug 14)
Additionally, Lesser Emperor & Yellow-winged Darter have occurred as vagrant Dragonflies in Dorset. I have been lucky enough to see Lesser Emperor at Longham Lakes in Aug 12 & Yellow-winged Darter at Holt Heath in 1994. I wasn't really into seeing Dragonflies for the latter species, but I'm glad I was persuaded to go & look for them, given how rare they are.