Monday, 31 July 2017

A walk in the woods & Brown Argus Aberration

I had much of Saturday (22/07) to myself so during the morning, with a bit of sun on show, I went for my regular walk in Bucknell Wood for a mooch about for butterflies, not expecting to see anything too extraordinary. However, it turned out to be a really fruitful visit.

First up, I was hoping to find some second brood Wood Whites and I managed to come across at least 3 pretty fresh ones which was cool.

There were still plenty of Silver-Washed Fritillaries about, including 3-4 Valezina forms too.

Around one of the two main path crossroads, I was chuffed to finally break my Bucknell Small Copper hoodoo, clapping my eyes on one holding territory, initially picked up with the binoculars! In fact, I ended up finding a further two in a couple of other areas. This was my 29th butterfly species in Bucknell. It would be cool to make it to 30...fingers crossed we get a late summer burst of Clouded Yellows!

There appears to have been a really good 2nd brood emergence of Small Copper so far and these were some of a number I've seen recently. Encouraging, as in the last two or three years, I've really struggled to find any locally.

Also at the same crossroads was a stunning 'out of the box fresh' Painted Lady which performed nicely, together with several pristine Red Admirals feeding away on the Knapweed flower heads and Bramble flowers.

Finally, I also connected with a couple of Brown Argus, usually very scarce in Bucknell.

A heavy rain shower eventually curtailed my walk but a fab visit, notching a total of 21 species.

The next day (Sunday 23/07) I popped into Summer Leys for a look, before going out for Sunday roast with my parents. Bird-wise, it was relatively uneventful with a distant Green Sandpiper, as well as juvenile LRP & Redshank, but that was about it.

With a bit of sun beginning to show, I thought I'd have a little dabble looking for Brown Argus in the area close to the car park. After a short while I managed to locate a lovely fresh female, however this one no ordinary Brown Argus. It was clearly an aberration with a number of spots missing from it's underwing.

With some help from my good mate and Northants Butterfly Recorder, Dave James, we managed to find a match and it appears to be an ab. glomerata + obsoleta. What a beaut!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Helmdon butterflies

Went for a couple of prolonged walks along the old railway line at nearby Helmdon on Sunday 16/07 & Monday 17/07.

This roughly 2 mile stretch of old railway bed is a fantastically wildlife-rich stretch of rough grassland and scrub. It is also in the process of being further improved by the landowner. It was really refreshing speaking with him the other day and hearing his enthusiasm and eagerness to improve the site for wildlife

I never see anything too outrageous there, however the sheer number of butterflies, bees, birds etc always makes it a worthwhile walk. Marbled Whites are the star of the show with probably hundreds along the entire stretch when at their peak. Last weekend, their numbers were unfortunately diminishing, however there were still a good 30-40 ghosting over the grassland.

There were tonnes of Small & Essex Skippers, in their hundreds I should think. There was barely a patch of grass that didn't have several roosting or buzzing about.

I've seen a few Painted Lady here over the past couple of years, always along the same stretch. On Monday, I located another pristine one, feeding on thistles.

There was a good variety of several other species about too, including my first ever Small Copper here, a couple of second brood Brown Argus and several Common Blues.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Bee Eaters

On Sunday 02/07 I had planned with Dan Watson to head to the Notts / Leicestershire border, to see the group of Bee-Eaters now in situ at a quarry close to the village of East Leake.

Unfortunately, Dan couldn't make it in the end. On what was a very hot day, I headed out late morning for a leisurely stroll locally, looking for butterflies. The heat was making me feel lethargic and lazy! Could I be bothered to go for the Bee-Eaters?!

In the end, knowing I was pretty busy for the next couple of weekends, I decided to go for it! Plus, the reward would be seeing Bee-Eaters, after all! 

I'm very much glad I did, despite the M1 50mph average speed zone taking what seemed like forever!!

I parked up and headed to the RSPB viewpoint. Soon after, I was enjoying some great scope views of up to 6 birds, albeit looking into the sun. They were very vocal during my time there and were also feeding regularly. They of course, captured quite a few Bees, but also several dragonflies, which was entertaining watching them trying to get them down the hatch!

It had been not far off 10 years since I last saw Bee-Eaters, in Southern Spain and these were my first in the UK full-stop.

After a good hour of enjoying the spectacle, it was time to make the journey home and brave the M1 once again. A great little outing...I may be back!  

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Local Lepidoptera

I always really look forward to June/July. It is a great time for butterflies in south Northants with several, special species to find. I'm very lucky to have several great woods within just 10-15 minutes drive away from my Brackley home, as well as a few bits of half-decent unimproved grassland habitat too.

So far this summer, has seen a cracking run of good weather, resulting in many of the June/July butterflies emerging as much as 2 weeks earlier than normal.

My main highlight has to be the charismatic Purple Emperors. While there are nowhere near the numbers of somewhere like Fermyn Woods, I get an enormous amount of satisfaction out of encountering one locally, plus I usually get them pretty much all to myself!

My first one this year was exceptionally early, Wednesday 21/06 to be exact. It was a typically close encounter as I paused at a crossroads of paths in Bucknell Woods. Out of nowhere, a pristine male Purple Emperor swooped down and landed on my chest, before zooming off again a few seconds later...amazing!

Certainly from an Emperor point of view, I've had my best ever year locally, in terms of number of encounters, seeing them and seeing them well nearly every visit!

Silver Washed Fritillaries also appear to have had a bumper year, with nearly every bramble bush holding several at a time it seems! A friend of mine recently completed his transect of Bucknell last week and counted over 70!

Year on year, the appearances of the beautiful Valezina form seems to increase. I've been lucky enough to see several again in 2017.

White Admirals have had a run of poor years, however in Bucknell this year, they appear to have had a resurgence this year with approximately 20 at their peak this year. Previously, you were lucky to make double figures. Wood Whites are a real Bucknell & Hazelborough speciality. 2017 has seen over a 100 at their peak in Bucknell and there were still a handful hanging on into July.

Marbled Whites a pretty numerous in the Brackley area and can be found at a number of grassland sites, as well as being quite numerous along the A43 road verges. The best site locally though is Helmdon Old Railway Sidings and this year they seem to have done particularly well. Quite a few had a tendency for basking on a large patch of Rose Bay Willowherb, offering a great photo opportunity...

Finally, last week it was good to encounter my first White-Letter Hairstreaks, always one of the trickier butterflies to find locally, religiously keeping to their treetop home. Luckily 3 came down one evening to nectar.

Purple Hairstreaks seem to be very numerous this year. I watched about 20 around one Ash tree alone, a couple of evenings ago in Bucknell. There were also plenty buzzing around some of their favoured oaks in the late evening sun. I'm still though yet to see one come down from the tree tops so far though! 

I'll finish my post with a cracking, fresh Red Admiral which was aggressively holding territory in Bucknell Wood a couple of evenings ago. What a beauty!

Tuesday, 4 July 2017


Myself, Dan Watson & Gareth Blockley had recently planned a much anticipated long weekend on the Northumberland coast for a bit of a seabird fix.

Day 1

We set off on the morning of Friday 16/06 and slowly wended our way north. We planned in a couple of stops on the way to break it up a little, starting with the slightly unassuming Bowesfield Marsh in Stockton-on-Tees. A Marsh Warbler had been holding territory there for the fast few days and was well worth a crack, not being too far off the route.

It was the middle of the day and pretty blowy, so not the best conditions to see the bird, but we gave it a go! We scoured the relatively discrete area it had been seen in, however we were struggling...there was no sign. A Grasshopper Warbler began reeling closeby and provided a welcome distraction, showing really nicely sat on a nearby bush.

This seemed to spark the Marsh Warbler into gear and soon it was uttering a few scrappy phrases of song. Eventually it showed a few times amongst the bank of brambles in front of us. He never gave a full rendition of song, but rather a few further phrases. I had seen quite a few in Poland last year, however this was a nice, welcome UK tick for me, so the trip had begun very well indeed!

The Marshie then disappeared again and so we made our leave still further north, with next stop being the little fishing port of Amble, on the Northumberland coast.

Amble is the place from which to embark on trips around Coquet Island, the best site in the UK for Roseate Terns, hosting approximately 100 pairs. As well as the Rosys, the island also plays host to a great range of seabirds, with Puffins also particularly prevalent.

We were a touch early for our 6pm boat and so we sat by the quay and scanned the river mouth and harbour enjoying our first Eiders, Sandwich Terns and a few other bits & pieces.

The weather was very gloomy indeed, but still, at least it wasn't raining! As we approached the island, we began encountering the first few Puffins and Guillemots, as well as a sizable feeding flock of terns comprising quite a few Arctics, as well as our first Roseate Tern, yipee! My first Rosy for a good few years.

The island itself was a huge hive of activity with Common, Arctic & Sandwich Terns zooming around, as well as good numbers of Auks, FulmarsKittiwakes & Black Headed Gulls. Quite a few Grey Seals were hauled out on the rocks and in the water too.

The boat slowly made it's way around the island. The edge of the Roseate Tern colony was pointed out to us by our guide and we were able to enjoy some half decent views of the birds around their nestboxes and also sat out on the rocks. Due to it being low tide however, we weren't able to get quite as close as usual. Still, how good was it to see so many Roseates!

We headed back to Amble very happy with what we'd seen. A very enjoyable warm up gig if you like, before Saturday's seabird spectacular on the Farnes!

We left Amble and made our way onto Seahouses. Here, we enjoyed some bloody lovely fish & chips for dinner, sat around the harbour fending off the swarm of Black Headed Gulls and enjoying the gorgeous sunset! Finally, Gareth drove us the last few miles to just the other side of Bamburgh, to our digs for the weekend, a lovely Airbnb pad overlooking Budle on!

Day 2

As we awoke, it was clear that as per the forecast, Saturday was to be an absolute scorcher!

We were booked on the Farnes all-dayer boat trip, setting off at 09:30am from Seahouses. The trip gave us the opportunity to spend a couple of hours on both Staple Island & Inner Farne. I was super excited, as my 3-4 previous visits to the Farnes were just 1 hour stopovers on Inner Farne, so this time I could really take my time, not rush around and just enjoy it all a lot more. Dan had been before, but it was Gareth's first time on the islands...he was in for a treat!

Numbnuts here forgot to bring a hat, so before we could embark, I popped into one of the several 'kiss me quick' souvenir shops & bought myself a lovely blue number, to protect myself from Inner Farne's ruthless Arctic Terns!

It doesn't take too long to reach the islands from Seahouses and after some 15-20 minutes, we were clocking our first Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes etc. Soon after that, we encountered the first cliffs, with that familiar honk of guano in the air!

The plan was to first do a shortened cruise around the island, taking in a few cliffs and the local Grey Seal colony.

On then to Staple Island, for the first two-hour stint. We climbed the rocky steps and were immediately greeted with point blank views of some obliging Puffins, as well as a few Shag on their nests.

We all went off exploring. I spent a bit of time watching the Puffins toing and froing, zooming into their burrows with bills full of sand eels. Most made it unscathed, however the odd one was not so lucky, being mugged of their catch by the local Lesser Black Backs.

I then spent a bit of time taking in the cliffs, home to hundreds of Guillemots, Kittiwakes and smaller numbers of Razorbills.

It was also good to see a couple of Fulmar up nice and close...but not too close! I'd forgotten how ridiculously awkward they are getting around on land, waddling and dragging themselves about! A couple of Rock Pipit were also around, carrying food, so presumably their nest was closeby.

Seeing a stationary Puffin with a bill full of sand eels is far from easy, as they invariably shoot straight down into their burrows before they are attacked by the gulls. However, just before leaving the island, we were treated to lovely close views of one particularly obliging bird, allowing me the opportunity to get the photo I've always wanted to get!

On then to Inner Farne, to run the tern gauntlet, my absolute highlight of the Farnes! It didn't disappoint and we were soon making our way up the boardwalk with the clicking alarm calls of Arctic Terns ringing in our ears!

We spent the rest of our time enjoying the rest of what the island had to offer ie. more crippling views of quite literally thousands of seabirds!

Before we left the island, we were in for one last treat, with one particular Arctic Tern deciding our heads were an excellent place to watch over it's territory! Brilliant!

While waiting for our boat at the jetty, it was interesting to note a number of 1st-summer Portlandica Arctic Terns loafing around the rocks. Having seen next to no Portlandica Terns before, I haven't been able to escape them in recent weeks! See here.

It was then time to head back to the flat for dinner, a few beers and the nursing of my horrifically sun burnt legs! Johny Lobster-legs was born!

Day 3

Sunday was a pretty chilled affair. It was also another scorcher of a day. How lucky were we!? We took a drive, late morning up towards the Cheviots and birded various bits of woodland and moorland.

We didn't discover anything too outrageous, finding a Redstart, a Cuckoo, several Stonechat, Curlews & plenty of Willow Warblers. We then headed back to the coast and spent the afternoon on Holy Island, wandering around for a few hours, again bathed in beautiful sunshine.

Once on the island, we stopped for a look at the Snook. Here there were lots of Orchids on show including Common Spotted, Northern Marsh & 100s of Marsh Helleborines beginning to emerge, with one or two just coming into flower.

We parked up and had a wander around Lindisfarne and along the southern shore. This brought several news birds for the trip including Red Breasted Merganser, Grey Plover, Bar Tailed Godwit & Ringed Plover. There were also plenty of Terns offshore with Arctics & Sandwich particularly prominent. The views from along here were stunning; pretty much 360. Check out the weird heat-hazy reflection of the distant Farne Islands too!

We turned our attention to a bit of rock-pooling along here, spying a young Wheatear on the adjacent cliff too. A nearby breeder or was Autumn underway already?!

It was then back to the flat, via Seahouses to grab a curry. We also popped into Monks House Pool near Bamburgh, adding a couple of Black Tailed Godwit to the trip list. The day finished with a few beers and a stunning sunset over Budle on!

Day 4

It was sadly time to begin our long journey back south! Yet again the skies were blue and the sun was beaming down nicely. Before leaving Gareth realised we had a small colony of Tree Sparrows around where we were staying. I don't know how we hadn't found these already, but there we go! I spent a bit of time watching them before we left.

We had a quick fruitless scan offshore at Bamburgh and then had a check of Monks House Pool, a small body of water next to the road between Seahouses and Bamburgh. This appears to be a great little site and certainly has a track record of attracting some good birds. We'd checked it daily since we had arrived here and had seen a few bits and bobs already. On this particular visit however, we did particularly well, pulling out of the bag both an adult Wood Sandpiper and a 1st-summer Little Gull, which soon headed off north.

A brief stop in Seahouses, then off we went! We planned a couple of birding stops en route to break up the journey a little. First up was Bothal Pond near Ashington (Northumberland). A summer plumaged Slavonian Grebe had been there the last few days and was well worth a look, being only a few miles off our route. The one sticking point was that it had disappeared over night! We were consoled with a distant Wood Sandpiper and a few Tree Sparrows before heading on again.

Our last birding stop was to again have a look at the Stockton Marsh Warbler. The weather though was uncomfortably hot and visiting again in the middle of the day, our chances were small. We gave it a good look but the warbler unsurprisingly failed to show. 

It was a sweltering journey home but we got back with no real delays, drawing to a close an unforgettable trip! Somethings tells me it won't be too long until we return...

A walk in the woods & Brown Argus Aberration

I had much of Saturday (22/07) to myself so during the morning, with a bit of sun on show, I went for my regular walk in Bucknell Wood for a...