Monday, 28 July 2014

Purbeck and the New Forest

With the kids breaking up for school and everyone deciding that Saturday had to be the day to travel, it was probably not the best idea to try and visit some sites on the south coast, but we went anyway. I wanted to go last weekend but the weather forecast did not seem all that good at the time so we held off until this weekend.
Luckily despite it being a hot sunny day, the journey down went very well with no delays and we got to Ballard Down before 10am. The heat was already quite high, but being so close to the coast it was not too bad and there was a slight breeze which helped a bit.
Compared to our previous visit a few years ago, the lower slope seemed to be very heavily grazed while there was a lot more tall grass in the small marjoram filled gully that runs up the slope from the main footpath. However the rest of the area we explored to the south east looked to be very good. There were reasonable numbers of Adonis Blues flying, plus a few Common and Chalkhill Blues, Brown Argus and a Small Copper. Browns consisted of large numbers of Meadows, some Marbled Whites Gatekeepers and a few Small Heaths. Four Clouded Yellows were a nice bonus as was a single Dingy Skipper, but the main reason for visiting, the Lulworth Skippers were much harder to locate, but eventually after about an hour we had seen three, one of which posed during a brief cloudy spell.

We left Ballard Down at 1100, and made our way back through Wareham and Poole passing long queues of traffic as we headed to the New Forest.
I had heard that one of the best areas for Scarce Blue Tailed Damsels is currently Ober Water, an area that was new to me. This species has eluded us at every site we have tried in the New Forest and I have yet to obtain any images-the last time I saw one was a long while back and I did not have my camera with me at the time.
Looking at the maps, and seeing how busy the area around the car parks were, we headed south west of the road and explored a promising area-talking to someone later this was the best bit to search. Right by the road, a fine male Redstart was calling from a small tree just above our heads, and it was not long before we encountered hoards of Beautiful Demoiselles and Keeled Skimmers. Large and Small red Damsels were plentiful and we also found several Golden Rings and  Common Darters. Blue Damsels were scarce-two pairs of Azure, one Common Blue and no blue tails of any kind. We had a Cuckoo flying around for a bit, and flushed a Woodcock which was a year tick, and later when we reached Ober Water itself, a Kingfisher flew through.
Butterflies were a bit hard to find, but we saw a few Silver Studded Blues, Meadow Browns Gatekeepers and Brimstones.
Having failed in our search for the Scarce Blue Tails we called in at Crockford Bridge. One Grayling by the road did not linger, and neither did a Dark Green Fritillary. Plenty of Keeled Skimmers, Golden Rings and Demoiselles  and the only Blue Damsels were the expected Southerns. Not sure why but again no Blue Tails of any kind could be found. Apart from the usual Silver Studded Blues, Gatekeepers and Skippers, the only interesting insects were Grasshoppers. At the car park we heard what I first assumed was a singing Grasshopper Warbler, but later discovered that the sound was coming from every bush and small tree. Never did locate anything but I am assuming that they were one of the larger Bush Crickets.
On our way home we made a detour and called in at Bentley Woods. Unfortunately it had clouded over and apart from plentiful Brimstones and skippers there was only a single Silver Washed Fritillary and one Southern Hawker flying. One or two Purple Emperors and Purple Hairstreaks had been seen recently but not for a few days.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Quiet at Amwell

Paid a visit to Amwell this morning, the first for several weeks. Thankfully the heat has subsided somewhat, but it was still warm and humid, despite being overcast.
Its very quiet on the bird front now, lots of not very interesting moulting ducks-including the injured and presumed resident Wigeon. Most of the Black headed Gulls have fledged, and despite them it looks like the Common terns have had a good year. There are some Green and Common Sandpipers present, though I only managed to see two or three Commons, but there were no other waders apart from the numerous Lapwing. Tony said that a Snipe has been seen recently. but it's been some time since I heard about the redshank and Oystercatchers.
Walked down to Hollycross with William as I was targeting butterflies and dragonflies. The Tumbling Bay lilies held a few Red Eyes-no sign yet of any Small red Eyes. No Demoiselles on the river which seems to be normal, numbers have been very low this year. The meadow had the expected Meadow Browns, a few Ringlets and Gatekeepers, Small and Essex Skippers and a lot of very fresh Peacocks.
Dragonflies were all over the place. Mostly Common Blues and Blue Tails. Azure numbers seem a bit low. Larger species included two Emperors, one Brown Hawker and one Black Tail Skimmer. No sign of any Darters, though they are flying here, and no sign yet of any Emeralds. Evidence of the Water Vole were obvious from the boardwalk with most of the bulrush being eaten, leading William to suggest controlling the Water Vole population to preserve the very scarce rush. Probably wont go down well with HMWT.
Had hoped to see a few more species but I guess the cloudy conditions were not helping. Did get a Holly Blue on the way back which was nice as we failed to get any blues at Hollycross.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Dark Red Helleborines

For a while now, we have intended to get up to Bishop Middleham Quarry in Durham for the Dark Red Helleborines, but circumstances have prevented us. However, yesterday was looking pretty good, and the timing was right so we went.
We arrived mid morning and already the heat was building up, and it got quite hot in the quarry.
The first thing I noticed were the large number of Fragrant Orchids, in full flower and appearing rather large. My suspicions were confirmed that they were Marsh Fragrants, and not the normal Chalk form that I am familiar with.

Looking around I spotted a few Dark red Helleborines, had a stroll and found many hundreds more-they were everywhere. The quarry is regarded as the best site for them in the UK and it is easy to see why.

The other thing the quarry is known for is the Castle Eden form of the Northern Brown Argus. i found one individual, rather worn, with fairly prominent white spots on the forewing, and later encountered another while I was with a local trying and failing to locate bee Orchids-he thinks they have gone over or been eaten.

We then headed south to the North Yorkshire Moors, stopping off for a bit to scan the moorland. Two red Grouse were found as well as a large number of meadow Pipits and Skylarks. A lot of Small Heath butterflies were also on the wing. Not what we wanted as we were targeting Large Heath.
Our first proper search site was the Fen Bogs reserve, unfortunately we arrived in the middle of a fell race and so it was rather busy. The reserve itself was quiet, but we could not locate any Large Heath despite the very warm sunny conditions. Lots of Small Heath, a single Dark Green Fritillary, some Keeled Skimmers, and Heath Spotted and Northern Marsh Orchids. Stopped on the North York Moor railway line but nothing was seen here. However a train passed and I was able to garb a few shots.

In view of the lack of Large Heaths we abandoned plans to visit another nearby site and headed home, diverting to Thorn Waste south of the Humber where we have had success in the past. By now the sun had gone in but the humidity had gone through the roof and it was rather unpleasant walking through the wood to the more open areas. Common Hawker, Common Darter and many Emerald damselflies were encountered. A few suspicious looking candidates always turned out to be well marked Meadow Browns once they had settled but eventually a butterfly was found with a distinctive bouncing flight and eventually it settled giving good views.

On the way back the sky got darker and it became difficult to keep track of the dragonflies-the Common Hawker did not settle unfortunately. However a female type Darter did, and I realised by the dark undersides that it was a Black Darter.

Back at the car, buzzing calls announced a nice bonus in a pair of Willow Tits in a small tit flock.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Tour de France

Uploaded a number of my Epping Forest images here

Monday, 7 July 2014

Epping Forest

Spent the day in Epping Forest. Had good views of lots of  Nuthatches, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Bank Vole.

Then this lot turned up.

Had a great day with Sarah waiting for the Tour de France. We parked at the Woodbine Pub and walked into the forest, and had a four hour wait for about 18 seconds of the main peloton to fly by.
It was pretty busy all day, with various official vehicles passing through all the time, and the publicity caravan was fun-I ended up with a Festina bag and Sarah took the Yorkshire Teabags home.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Butterfly Morning

I have started a very long weekend. As the Sonisphere concert at Knebworth kicks off tomorrow, the attendant road closures in Stevenage and the ensuing heavy traffic diversions where I work, I thought it best to avoid the area completely and stay well away.
Many years ago the late Jim Rudland gave me directions to a White Letter Hairstreak site in Welwyn at the Commons nature reserve which I forgot, but luckily William helped me out when I saw him last weekend. The parking etc was a bit uncertain but it turned out ok when I got there as there was room on the road opposite the nearby school.
Its a nice place for a stroll, and there were lots of Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Tortoiseshells and Commas. Birds were rather quiet as expected though one or two vocal Nuthatches were noted. Otherwise the time of the year and the heat kept things subdued.
Found a fantastic stand of Meadow Sweet as I walked west and I then found a nice flowery area full of Ringlets. One dull butterfly on a thistle looked promising and through the bins I could see it was a very fresh White Letter. It spent a lot of time patrolling a small area around an elm, dipping down to the flowers and occasionally interacting with the other butterflies. A local with an interest in butterflies stopped by and we had a chat for a while. Unfortunately it never came close enough  to the camera. I carried on for a bit, finding a second individual though this too was hard to approach.
I then headed off to Broxbourne Woods. More of the woods near the new car park have been cleared and this has had an impact on the woodland species. I met up with a first timer by Nick's seat and we had a chat. The now grassy area to the west was popular with the browns, including several Marbled Whites. I walked with him around the main trail where we picked up a White Admiral and many Silver Washed Fritillaries. One or two Brown Hawkers, a Southern Hawker and a few Emperors were patrolling the rides.
Shame there were no Purple Emperors-apparently there have been a couple of reports this year.