Sunday, 29 July 2012


With rain forecast for later today, I went up to Therfield Heath in the morning. A walk through Fox Covert produced a bonus in the form of a pair of Spotted Flycatchers collecting food-no breeding birds at Amwell this year.
 The hillside,  despite the breeze was covered in Chalkhill Blues. The plants were pretty much the same as Watlington with the addition of a dark blue campanula-I forgot to mention Harebells for yesterday.

 A stop at Deadmans Hill produced a couple of Buzzards and a flock of Swallows feeding over a cut field. A few Linnets and Yellowhammers flying around but no Corn Buntings or Quail.

Butterflies and Frogs

Stayed up Friday night to watch the Olympic opening ceremony which was pretty impressive and a lot of fun. As a result of the very late night and not much sleep I was feeling pretty crap when I got up in the morning. Luckily we were not planning on doing much.
Totternhoe Knolls is a huge ex chalk quarry good for butterflies and plants, but being so large it is hard to know where to go. I have several references which helped a bit but in the end due to time (and heat!) we stuck to the south west section.
Lots of Meadow Browns and Ringlets as expected and Marbled Whites were everywhere. We had a few Skippers and Chalkhill Blues too. The flora in the quarry was interesting, with many Chiltern Gentians varying in size-some were huge. Not sure whether Autumn Gentian was present, or if there were any hybrids. We had hoped to find Frog Orchids, but apart from a couple of well past their best Pyramidals I only found a few Common Spotted gone to seed.

We were going to go to the south section of Aston Rowant but the nearby Watlington Hill looked promising so we went there instead. The hillside was covered in Self Heal, various Hawkweeds and Thistles, Perforate St Johns Wort, Cinquefoil and Centaury and as a result was very colourful. Overhead the constant calls of immature Red Kites was distracting. With less sun and a breeze, there were only a few Meadow browns flying which was a shame.
Orchids were hard to locate. The leaves of Twayblade were easy to find, but Frog Orchids were not. In some areas I had heard that plants were getting quite large so was expecting to find a few fairly easily. When I did locate one it was only an inch high! Careful scrutiny of the area produced eight more, including some with nice reddish tints, but none were more than two inches high.

A quick call in to the northern section of Aston Rowant did not last long as the wind was pretty strong and it was getting very cloudy. Only two Skippers were seen-both Small.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Hoddesdon and Broxbourne

Had the day off and took Mum down to see Sarah and Ed on Friday. Mum and Ed not feeling all that good so went out with Sarah a couple of times.
In the morning we went over to the old landfill/meadow where they walk Molly. In recent weeks they have occasionally seen a small 'fritillary' type butterfly but have not been able to identify with certainty. The weather was not all that good-thin cloud and a breeze but very humid.
We explored the landfill and also went south along the A10. Lots of Browns and whites, and also a couple of Small Coppers. Brown hawkers abundant, and we also saw a few Southern Hawkers and a female Ruddy Darter.

The afternoon was a bit more sunny and a lot warmer. We went over to Danemead in the hope of finding Broad Leaved Helleborine-there were none, not even a leaf on show. The main meadow was excellent-lots of Meadow brown and Ringlets, some Large Skippers, a single Small Heath and four superb Silver Washed Fritillaries. Sarah concluded that her mystery butterfly was rather smaller.
Along the brook we found two White Admirals on the brambles.
Lots of Brown hawkers again, and single Emperor and Southern Hawker.

 We had little time to do Broxbourne Wood but did a quick circuit. Apart from a singing Chiffchaff, birds were non existent. We had a large butterfly go over the tall sallows but it was only seen briefly-Admiral or Emperor perhaps. One rather dark Silver Washed did pose by the path.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Weekend Update

With the really bad weather over most of the Summer I have pretty much given up on butterflies and dragonflies but for once there has been a decent day.
 Yesterday I went to Rye Meads as it was raining on and off all morning and I preferred to sit in a hide with my camera rather than get wet at Amwell. Also I have not been there for a while so it made a bit of a change.
 One of the Kingfishers showing well on the camera outside the nest bank and had been for about twenty minutes-I suggested that it had been nailed there to pull in the visitors. Naturally by the time I got to the hide it had gone, but activity was high as the pair are feeding young on a regular basis. Unfortunately neither bird wanted to use any of the posts close to the hide so we had to be content with more distant views.

 I went up to the Meads but nothing much was happening so went down to the lagoons. I spent some time getting images of the terns and gulls flying past-the Common Tern colony is still doing well despite the large number of Black headed Gulls utilising the rafts,

 Colin (from Amwell) and his mate popped in so we had a chat, then as i was leaving he called me back as they had found a moulting drake Wigeon-rather unusual for the valley. We all walked back to the Draper Hide, but apart from a juvenile Little Egret we did not see anything-earlier they had a Green Sandpiper.

 Today the morning started warm and sunny so I thought I'd go to Broxbourne Woods. Shortly after arriving I had a Silver Washed Fritillary fly by. Lots of Meadow Browns and some Ringlets around. I met up with someone new to the site and walked round with him, and a local couple joined us briefly. No Emperors-not unexpected after recent weather, and no White Admirals either. The local couple  reckon that management in recent years has led to a significant decline.
We had a few Purple Hairstreaks, another Silver washed and a few large dragonflies-Brown and Southern hawker and an Emperor. The only one that posed was a female Black Tailed Skimmer.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

More Scotland

Working on a few images.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Last Bit

Tuesday the 26th started off bright and fresh, getting warmer and sunnier through the morning.
We arrived at Arneside Knott just after 0800 and explored the large open area of bracken and rough pasture back along the road. The early interest was down to a very vocal family of Ravens.

 After a while the first butterflies appeared and they all turned out to be Dark Green Fritillaries. Every one was checked, but none were High Brown. They were pretty much confined to the bracken, and gradually warming themselves. I suspect it was here I picked up a souvenir of the trip in the form of a tick on the leg. Hopefully the early treatment will prevent any complications.

 Back at the car park we met up with a couple and they mentioned that Gait Barrows would be worth investigating. We had researched the site but (out of date) information suggested that advance permits were required, but could not resist a visit.
 There were still signs for the Ladies Slipper Orchids. I had believed that they would be over, as Bird Forum orchid reports were from many weeks back. However I recently found out that two plants were still flowering while we were there-we did search but did not know where they had been planted.
 The Limestone Pavement was very interesting with many ferns, shrubs and even trees growing. Dark red Helleborines should have been present as plants were apparently well developed nearby but we did not see any.
 The first good butterfly was a single Northern Brown Argus of the Castle Eden form , which posed well.

 In the same area a Grayling was found-for some reason it lay on it's side on the limestone.

 The walk down through the damp wood was interesting with large stands of Dropwort. A few Common Spotted Orchids were also present. The marshy area at the bottom was full of Northern Marsh and Early Marsh orchids, with as usual plenty of hybrids. A few Common Blue Damselflies and a Brown Hawker were seen.
 We met up with a couple from Somerset-one of the Shapwick Heath wardens, so we had a chat about their breeding Great White Egrets and Little Bitterns while studying the orchids and damselflies.
 The return back to the car provided a bonus when a Fritillary flew in front of me and came down in the grass. I was only able to get a few shots of the underside, while Colin got the top. I knew as soon as I saw it that it was a High Brown.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Scotland Monday

Not much of Scotland now. The early morning of the 25th was dull and cool in Fort William so we decided not to go back to Loch Arkaig but to head south.
 The drive through Glen Coe was quite nice, with the Sun finally shining-but the bright hazy conditions meant that the eastern side which seemed the most photogenic would not be worth stopping for. The one time dark moody weather would have been welcome. Right at the southern end we did stop for a bit as the hills beyond Loch Tulla  looked nice.

 The A82 was shut alongside Loch Lomond (not too bad as I am not fond of that stretch so we had to divert to Loch Long and the Faslane submarine base-could not see any and I doubt if it would be a good idea to stop and look anyway. The drive through Helensburgh and Dumbarton made a change and the run through Glasgow and the A74 was pretty smooth, then it was over the border and into England.
 Apart from the time we went to Haweswater in 1996 after seeing the Spanish Sparrow at Waterside, I have never been in the Lakes, unlike Colin who had many holidays there, so it was all new to me. Unfortunately the weather had turned back to dull cloud and despite being somewhat off-season it was still very busy with lots of traffic and walkers. Colin did the tour guide bit, pointing out the various lakes as we drove through.
 We arrived at Honnister Pass not long past noon and assessed the situation. It was cloudy, slightly damp and cool-not what is recommended if you are hunting Mountain Ringlets. Despite that we decided to climb the old tram track to the top anyway. When I got to the top I met someone wearing bins having a rest so stopped to chat. He and another had been up since early morning, and once the temperature had risen a bit they had found perhaps fifteen Ringlets. As it looked to be getting a bit brighter he decided to stay and took us over to the main area. Over about an hour, we found at least a dozen, some very worn, some very fresh. The variability of the orange and dark spotting was remarkable.

 Having met up with a couple of other butterfly hunters we continued up for a while as the view to Buttermere would be worthwhile.

 A few plants were noted, but I have yet to identify most. Cinquefoils seemed numerous, and I found a few patches of Alpine Ladies Mantle. On the descent, I took time to photograph the ferns in the walls and rock clefts.

Sunday, 1 July 2012


The normal  Sunday at Amwell-the usual regulars present and we spent a large part of the morning chatting until Vicky taking time out from Rye Meads walked up and said "have you seen the Black Necked Grebes?" Whoops.
The two birds still in breeding plumage showed fairly well in the middle of the main lake all morning, and seemed to be feeding synchronously and always close together. Presumably a failed breeding pair.
Waders getting thin on the ground-single Redshank and Oystercatcher, though four of the latter have been seen. Large numbers of Swifts with a few Swallow and Sand Martin feeding over the water. Once the sun came out and it warmed up a bit we had a few raptors flying around including a couple of Red Kites and Hobbies.
There were several Little Egrets around, including three juveniles feeding in one of the bays.