Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Heath Fritillaries

Em & I spent last weekend down in Kent, attending our friends' wedding just outside Canterbury. On the Sunday (24/06) I planned to fit in a short visit to nearby East Blean Woods (hangover permitting!), in order to see a new butterfly for me...Heath Fritillary.

Reading up on the site previously, the Heath Fritillaries appeared to be relatively straightforward and with it being a stunning summer's day, I was hopeful!

Straightforward they definitely were and no sooner had I got out of the car there were several flitting around and nectaring in the car park. My 50th UK butterfly species!

After getting a few photos, I peeled myself away to explore further and go for a walk. As it turned out, we probably only ended up going a couple of hundred metres along the path, to a fairly discreet cleared area that quite simply held tonnes more Heath Fritillaries! It was one heck of a sight and I really don't think I've seen as many butterflies in one place before. It was amazing!

We spent a good hour here enjoying the spectacle, with Em sat in the sun reading her book, although even she was stunned by how many butterflies there were! A couple of White Admiral showed themselves and my first Purple Hairstreak of the year flashed past too. Having had my fix and also helping up a poor old bloke who had a nasty fall while also looking at the butterflies, we walked back to the car.

A short way from the car park, I happened to look down to see a fresh male Purple Hairstreak sat clinging to a piece of grass by the path. An exciting find, especially as they spend the majority of their time in the top of an oak tree! The poor thing appeared to have a damaged wing though and it was very docile, resorting to crawling about a bit.

A great little visit and a surprisingly good hangover cure!

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Hairstreak bonanza

2018 appears to have been an amazing year for Black Hairstreaks, with record-breaking numbers across it's range. Reasons for this are not initially clear, however it is likely to have been a combination of factors, including a particularly warm May and the lack of a parasitic wasp, that normally preys upon the lava.

Seeing the numerous photos of Black Hairstreaks popping up on twitter and hearing of the numbers being seen, I was eager not to miss out! I do really need to suss out the Oxfordshire sites close to me as these will potentially be far more convenient! However having been at my parents on Friday night near Northampton, I decided I would take the drive up to Glapthorn, north Northants on Saturday morning, knowing this would give me the best chance of some photos.

The weather wasn't looking great and in fact it rained a bit on route. It was though warm and knowing I'd seen them active under cloudy skies in previous years, I was hopeful.

I parked up at about 10:30am and walked the short distance to the area of brambles that they favour for nectaring. I needn't have no time I saw my first one twirling around on a nearby bramble flower.

The more I walked around this relatively discreet area, the more I got my eye in and was finding them all over the place. Many were now looking rather worn, including one that clearly had a few problems when emerging, looking a bit crinkly!

Pleasingly, there were also a handful of beautiful fresh butterflies which, judging by the length of their tails, were females.

Thankfully, the weather held, even getting a few rays of hazy sun through the cloud at times. Furthermore, for an hour and a half of the two hours I was there, I had the place completely to myself!

I stayed until 12:30pm and then I had to head back home to Brackley, virtually driving the entire length of Northants in the process! But what a brilliant morning!

Sunday, 17 June 2018


Spent a really nice week's holiday in Madeira at the start of June. What a stunning island it is, with flowers out everywhere and some very picturesque scenery.

There's also a some interesting wildlife, with several endemic species / sub species to see. Endemic to Madeira were the Madeiran Firecest, Trocaz Pigeon & the Maderensis subspecies of Chaffinch. The Chaffinches and Firecrests were fairly numerous, particularly in higher areas. The Trocaz Pigeons were a little more tricky, however I did eventually find quite a few from the Balcoes watchpoint near Ribeiro Frio and the valley below it from the track to Faja Da Nogueira.

Other species found only on Madeira and the Canaries included Plain Swift, Atlantic Canary & Berthelot's Pipit. The first two were very numerous around the island, while the Pipits were more scarce, seen on higher plains and on Grande Deserta Island.

We took a day trip to the Desertas Islands on the Wednesday - specifically to Grande Deserta. We enjoyed views of Spotted, Bottlenosed & Common Dolphins, as well as a bonus Loggerhead Turtle! There wasn't a great deal of seabird variety - you'll need to do more of a pealgic trip for that, however we still saw plenty of Cory's Shearwaters, Bulwer's Petrels, 2 Roseate Terns, Common Terns & Yellow-Legged Gulls.

There was a select few of interesting butterflies. The main highlight of these were my first ever Monarchs which were relatively frequent in most areas and were quite a sight too! Other species included Clouded Yellows, Lang's Short-Tailed Blue, Long-Tailed Blue, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral & Painted Lady.

Finally, I also had a couple of decent finds. A Peregrine cruised over our hotel one afternoon, mobbed by one of the local Kestrels. This appears to be an exceptionally rare bird in Madeira and I'm waiting to hear back on how many previous records there are, but it ain't many!

We were also told how scarce Monk Seals were around Madeira and that we'd be very lucky to see one. However, it appears we may have got lucky with a very large seal (2-3 metres in length) feeding off Funchal sea front for a while towards the end of the week.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Patch mega!

Yesterday was a grey and humid morning and so before work, I felt it was worth a stroll around Grimsbury Res before work, in the hope a wader or late tern may have dropped in. It was an uneventful circuit with nothing particularly of note to mention. Towards the end of my walk, near to the SE corner of the reservoir, I heard a burst of song a short way ahead, from trees along the river. It was different and having heard it three or so times, I realised it was something good. I scratched my head and then it dawned on me that it was almost certainly a bloody Pied Flycatcher! It's a song I've heard several times, including this spring, but living and birding where I do, it’s just something that isn't instinctively familiar.

The bird seemed to be the other side of the trees by the river. Luckily there was a short path closeby that took me straight down the few metres to the river's edge. I soon got onto the singing bird, up in a nearby willow, indeed confirming I'd found a singing male Pied Flycatcher! Wowee!!

I got the news out to everyone and then watched it for 10-15 minutes or so. I wish it was longer but I had to go to work! Every spring I long to find a male Pied Flycatcher, but this exceeded anything as it was singing too and on the in June of all months! One of my favourite ever finds for sure. I went back at lunchtime, eager to get more of a fix, however it had unfortunately vanished and was not to be seen again. 

I've popped up to the res most days recently, not seeing all that much really, however on Wednesday (30/05), our great run of Sanderlings continued with one strolling about with a male LRP in the evening.

Finally, the only other thing of interest this week was my first Bee Orchid of the year, at Croughton Quarry, near Brackley. It properly came into flower yesterday and was also the first I've seen here.

Swallowtails in the sun

I'd seen that around a week previously, Swallowtails were now out in their favoured Norfolk Broads haunts. So I earmarked the late May Bank Holiday to potentially get across to see them, providing I was both free and the forecast was set relatively fair.

As it turned out, yes I was free and it seemed the Norwich area was set for a decent spell of sun! Em was going to come with me but in the end decided to do a few things at home. So, I set off mega early on Monday (28/05) morning, through the mist and gloom hanging over the Midlands. In fact it wasn't until just 35 minutes away from Strumpshaw Fen that the gloom actually lifted!

I arrived at Strumpshaw about 09:10am in glorious sunshine, very little wind and barely a cloud in the sky! I decided to immediately do a circuit of the reserve, in the optimistic hope I may be lucky enough to find an early basking Swallowtail along the way.

I soon encountered my first Swallowtail of the day, zipping past me and on the circuit I saw another two, including one hyperactively feeding on Campion near to the Doctor's garden.

This was the theme for much of the day, with lovely flight views every now and then, as they bombed around in the sweltering hot sun.

Marsh Harriers were very obvious throughout the day, cruising over the reedbeds. Other birds of note included a distant Hobby, a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, a couple of Cuckoo and a calling Bearded Tit. A visit to the hides also produced some nice close views of a variety of ducks too.

After walking around for ages this was my best photo of a Swallowtail...

I decided to get myself a late afternoon coffee from the small visitor centre, to give me a boost of energy for one last look round. This was quickly put on hold, as a fully tailed Swallowtail was settled in the small butterfly garden closeby. Woohoo!

Just when I thought my chances of getting better views of one had gone for the day, this beauty spent a good 10 minutes buzzing from flower to flower often swooping away, only to return a few seconds later. It drew in quite a crowd who to be fair, weren't too pushy and obstructive with everyone getting their turn at capturing a photo.

Following all the excitement, I went and got a celebratory ice-cream and sat eating it, watching presumably the same Swallowtail nectaring from the Flag Irises in front of the viewing screen closeby. That seemed like a suitable way to end things for the day and off back to Brackley I went!

Heath Fritillaries

Em & I spent last weekend down in Kent, attending our friends' wedding just outside Canterbury. On the Sunday (24/06) I planned to f...