Saturday, 6 July 2019

Beaut of a day in Dorset

I've been thinking about getting down to Dorset for a day of reptiles and butterflies.

So with me free to spend the day out, I made my way south on Sunday 30/06, starting at Higher Hyde Heath, near Wool - a reserve that boasts all 6 UK reptile species, together with several other gems.

I arrived just after 10am and began by taking the circular route through what is a really big site. It was already pretty warm, under light cloud initially. Having passed through some woods, I made my way out onto a large area of slightly boggy heath.

I was immediately greeted by the sight of several, mostly pristine Silver-Studded Blues, basking on the heather by the path. The more I looked, I realised they were everywhere - it was ace! It was only the second time I'd seen SSBs and wow, they are a stunning butterfly. Heck of a good start to the day.

A group of 9 vocal Crossbills headed over, before I carried on round, seeing stacks loads more Silver-Studded Blues.

Having completed the loop, I then tried a different track towards the hide and onto the larger heath area. I bumped into three other people, also looking for reptiles. Carefully keeping our eyes out, we managed to see a couple of Common Lizards out basking on low-lying bramble leaves, as well as a Slow Worm. Two down, four to go!

One of the people I was walking around with, was a regular to the site and he next lead us onto the edge of a bit of wasteland that I'd heard about, reading up on the site. Here were a few piles of old broken rooftiles, ideal for basking reptiles and where I had my best chance of seeing a Sand Lizard. Fingers crossed!

As luck would have it, a female Sand Lizard was waiting for us - very chilled on the edge of the largest pile of tiles. Absolute result! I was amazed how beautiful they are and although they don't have the bright green of the males, they have a series of lovely markings down their side and back.

The others left, but I hung around for a while, in the hope of seeing a male. None materialised and so I carried onto the open heath, encountering a fresh female Silver-Washed Fritillary on the way.

Out on the heath, I was chuffed to spot an Adder curled up in some grass, on the edge of a patch of gorse, basking away. I managed a quick photo before it slid away into the undergrowth. 

Four reptile species down, I wandered further onto the heath, encountering several vocal Woodlarks, Stonechats and a few flyover Siskins, as well as constant Silver-Studded Blues.

With no sign of any more reptiles and time pressing on, I decided to head back for one more look for Sand Lizards at the tiles. Again the / a female Sand Lizard was on view, showing fantastically well, while a Common Lizard made a brief appearance too.

I waited a while longer, tip-toeing around. I decided I'd give it a few more minutes, before moving on. Just when I thought I wasn't going to see one, amazingly a beaut of a male Sand Lizard appeared and slowly trundled past my feet, onto the edge of the tiles. YES!

He then slowly moved to the top and sat there resplendent for a few minutes, showing off his beautiful colours. What a creature - I was buzzing!!

On the shortish walk back to the car, I had a quick look in a small overgrown area by the path, where the people I'd met earlier had found a Grass Snake and a Sand Lizard first thing. I was very surprised to stumble across presumably the same small Grass Snake which quickly zipped off. A great end to my visit which had yielded 5 out of the 6 Reptile species - very good going indeed!

While it was quite breezy, the sun was really quite hot now. I had a bit of lunch and then cracked on, driving 15 minutes down the road to West Lulworth. It was time to look for my first ever Lulworth Skippers!

I found somewhere to park in the village, before walking a short way through the village, up Bindon Road and onto the vast Bindon Hill. This is a large hill / ridge overlooking Lulworth Cove and is covered in fantastic, wildlife-rich grassland. It is regarded as one of the better places to see the Lulworth Skipper, in the UK, confined to just this part of Dorset.

Walking the steep incline, lots of Pyramidal Orchids of all shapes, sizes and shades of pink were dotted around. The butterflies were great too with lots of Marbled Whites and unexpectedly, good numbers of Dark Green Fritillaries. As is typical of DGFs, they rarely stopped for more than a second, so I consider it quite an achievement that I actually managed a photo!

It took a little while, however eventually I discovered what looked to be a Lulworth Skipper, being small and dark. It appeared to be a male, however to be doubly certain I'd seen a Lulworth, I needed to find a female which have a diagnostic sun ray pattern on their forewings. As luck would have it, I didn't have to wait long - in fact walking around, there were quite a few. UK butterfly species no. 53!

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the undulating top of the hill, an ancient Iron Age Hill Fort site, complete with ditches and ramparts. Some of these dips in the landscape proved good for butterflies, offering shelter from the stiff on-shore breeze. 

One such dip, produced a surprise male Silver-Studded Blue for a short while, together with a couple of Painted Ladies and more Marbled White, Dark-Green Fritillaries and Lulworth Skippers closeby too.

Having taken in the views of Lulworth Cove below me, I slowly made my way back down, again enjoying more of the same 

It was now 17:30pm and so I set off back to Northants, completing a bloody successful day, full of highlights.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Local Dark Green Frit!

The wild, unkempt rough grassland & scrubby habitats around Croughton Quarry, (just over 5 minutes from my home in Brackley), have become a bit of a lure to me in recent summers, producing a great array of wildlife of all shapes and sizes, while also regularly throwing up the odd new surprise.

One such, completely unexpected surprise on Sunday 23/06, was a freshly emerged Dark-Green Fritillary that dropped in and began nectaring on oxe-eye daisies right in front of me! I couldn't believe it. Unfortunately, after no more than a minute, a Marbled White crashed into it and off it zoomed, never to return!

The nearest populations of DGFs are in a few specialist Oxfordshire grasslands-type habitats, though none I'm aware of closeby. In Northants, where Croughton is, the only known sites are towards the northern end of the county - so a heck of a good local record. But where has it come from??

I'm desperate to find out - it must be pretty bloody close as it was so fresh! I guess it's possible I may have somehow overlooked a tiny population here, or perhaps the adjacent US Airforce base supports a population within what is a vast grassy area. Who knows - hopefully I'll find out somehow.

This June has also been particularly great for orchids, with a total of:

29 Bees, 4 Pyramidal, at least 33 Southern Marsh X Common Spotted & 3 Common Spotted. The biggest counts of all of these I've had a Croughton, by far!!

The Bee Orchids are definitely my favourites - they're just so fascinating and I love the big smiley faces on them - brilliant!

Small Heath butterflies are usually about in small numbers at this time of year. At the moment though, together with the Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns, their numbers have exploded, with at least 58 back on 23/06!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Black Hairstreaks & Marbled Whites

I had a day off work on Wednesday 19/06. Inbetween doing a few things at home, I managed to pop out in the morning for a quick look at nearby Croughton Quarry, in search of my first Marbled Whites of 2019.

My luck was in, soon coming across two sedate, freshly-emerged beauties. It always puts a big smile on my face seeing my first Marbled White of the year - a real sign of the summer, that gives a special sense of happiness that once again, my favourite butterfly is on the wing. Good times!

I decided to pop out again during the afternoon, however the weather was a bit indifferent with a bit of rain around - not ideal to look for butterflies. Still, it was mild, so I decided to go and suss out some Black Hairstreaks knowing their numbers were peaking at most sites, in good numbers too.

I would usually head up to North Northants to see them, however it was high time I found somewhere a little closer. A bit of mooching around online, suggested Hewin's Wood near Calvert (Bucks), was a good bet, and was just half an hour away.

I wasn't to be disappointed and within 30 seconds of getting out of the car there, I was seeing several flitting around the blackthorn, just a few metres into the site. The place was littered with them, mostly moving around the tops of the blackthorn and still very much active, despite a flurry of drizzle and cloud.

Then the big highlight - as a freshly emerged Black Hairstreak slowly fluttered into me, before continuing down (showing it's rarely seen cluster of orangey marks on the inside of the wings) onto a low branch close by. WOWEE, how lucky was that! It then just sat there for some 10 minutes, allowing me to fully appreciate it and get my best photos of one yet. A truly magic moment!

That couldn't be bettered really, but it was cool to explore the site a little more, seeing many more Black Hairstreaks, my first White Admiral of the year, a lovely showing of Common Spotted Orchids and a couple of Small Heaths.

I eventually tore myself away and headed back to the car. However there was one more distraction in store, as another pristine Black Hairstreak settled right next to my car, by the side of the road - amazing! I then sat on the bonnet of my car and took a few more lovely pics to finish off a brilliant little trip out. Well worth it and so close to home!

Summer seabird

As is predictable at this time of year, the Grimsbury Res patch has been quiet, as we enter the period between spring and autumn migration.

So it was a  surprise, during a breezy and unsettled period of weather on Tuesday 11/06 - as part of Storm Miguel - that a pristine adult Kittiwake appeared, flying around the res with a Lesser Black Backed Gull. Unfortunately it didn't hang around long enough for anyone else and vanished as I looked down to send a text on my phone!

Amazingly the 5th year in a row and 6th Kittiwake I've recorded during my time patching Grimbo! 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Soggy Somerset

On Sunday 09/06, myself and Gareth once again drove down to Somerset for a catch up with our good old mate Dan Watson, for a day around the Somerset levels.

Having met up with Dan in Axebridge, we all hopped in his car and headed for the marshes. 

We began at a random bit of marsh habitat on the way to Catcott Lows. The site immediately produced a Great White Egret and vocal Cuckoo and Cetti's Warbler, among other things.

Then onto Catcott. A look from the hide produced a few Cattle Egrets, some 50+ Black-Tailed Godwits, as well as a couple of Hobby zooming about after insects.

On the drive out, 3 Cattle Egrets showed particularly well with several cattle quite close to the road.

On then to Shapwick Heath & Ham Wall for the rest of the day to have a mooch about for rare Herons and anything else of interest.

Before we'd even left the car park, one of the highlights of the day appeared with a Hummingbird Hawkmoth buzzing around the flowers by the little visitor hut and toilet block. Brilliant to watch and a fun challenge to photograph too!

We strolled on to the Shapwick Heath side - however just approaching Meare Heath, the heavens truly opened - in fact I don't think I've seen rain like it for years! It was proper mad! We broke into a light jog and made it to the nearby hide before we got too drenched.

A gap in the rain, allowed us to sneak on to the hide over looking Noah Lake. Here we had a good scan seeing a couple of Great White Egret, a flyover Hobby and a Cetti's Warbler going backwards and forwards between it's nearby nest.

The rain was getting a bit relentless and annoying by this point. It lightened a bit and so we decided to hot-foot back to the car and sit it out there for a bit, before having a look at Ham Wall. Thankfully it eventually abated and we headed off up the path for a look around the reserve.

A major surprise soon loomed into view as an unringed Crane appeared relatively low, slowly circling over the reedbeds, before slowly drifting off west. Some great views and soon the rain was forgotten!

A walk down towards the 2nd viewing platform and back produced brief views of a Bittern low over the reeds, as well as at least 4 booming regularly. One or two Bearded Tits could be heard and Dan and Gareth got brief views too. Other regular Ham Wall birds included Marsh Harrier, squealing Water Rail, Great White Egret, lots of Gadwall and a few Pochard.

Time had flashed by and before we knew it, it was time that we had better hit the road back home. So we dropped Dan back in Axebridge and hit the M5! A top catch-up despite the weather.

Beaut of a day in Dorset

I've been thinking about getting down to Dorset for a day of reptiles and butterflies. So with me free to spend the day out, I made my...