Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Wednesday 20th. June 2012

Yesterday's 'away day' started very early , alarm at 0430 , getting back , 1900 , but was worth every minute . By the time we ate , 'that match' was on , so I didn't manage to post last night .For several years now , I have read with envy , reports of a rare butterfly that became extinct in the UK in 1979 , then re-introduced a few years later from Scandinavian stock on a few favourable West Country sites . The problem has always been the distance , short flight season , and as with all species the British weather , which so far this year , as we all know , has been terrible for butterflies . Once again I watched reports of the emergence and started planning the 'away day' with fellow enthusiast Keith . Late last week , it looked like a window of opportunity would open on Tuesday or Wednesday and we decided to go on the Tuesday , hence the early alarm call , to try and miss the M25 / M3 traffic , as we headed to Collard Hill , just outside Street in Somerset , some 150 miles away . The planning worked , and we pulled in at the car park at 0830 on a beautiful morning , already having seen people up on the hill searching for the butterflies as we passed by . We hot-footed it to join them , finding the overnight dew heavy in the long grass and soaking our walking boots in a matter of minutes , but I don't think we noticed at the time . A chap we spoke to had been there almost two hours already , without a sighting was not the news we wanted to hear , but started our own search on the information he gave us regarding the site . We decided to head up onto the Eastern Glade , and within minutes of our decision , found our first Large Blue flying amongst the tall grasses , before
coming to rest , and making the early start and wet feet well worth it . I checked out some Bramble
hoping to find other warming up , didn't , but found a fresh Small Tortoiseshell doing so . Later on , we got our first Marbled Whites , which slowly increased in number . With the sun getting warmer we searched the upper areas of the glade , meeting another chap who said he had specimens with open wings earlier almost at the top of the hill , which we headed for , finding a
single individual doing exactly that . The warmer temperature brought several more Large Blues out , but like other species , once warmed up , make photographing much harder , but their need to feed meant that the patches of Wild Thyme /Thymus serpyllum , a member of the Labiate family , were
the places to keep an eye on , and with a bit of luck , they would open their wings whilst nectaring . Keith came up trumps when watching a male , finding a female and spiralling into a courting
display , before dropping down into the vegetation to mate . Unfortunately I was way down the hill when he called , and by the time I scrambled back up they had gone deeper into the vegetation , but got this shot whilst feeling very unfit . By 1115 we were considering moving on , having seen some 10/15 specimens , much more than any reports I had read previously , and feeling very happy with ourselves . When I got that call from Keith , I was down the bottom of the hill photographing a special orchid that was on site . Along with several Bee Orchids were a few variant specimens of
Wasp Orchid , Ophrys apifera var. trollii , a new species for me . Another interesting find was this
Ermine Moth , one of two seen on site .The plan was , that if successful at Collard Hill , to try for another rare species , Marsh Fritillary , 34 miles away at Cotley Hill near Heytesbury , knowing that the species was coming to the end of it's flight period , but neither of us had seen it before . As we were leaving Collards Hill , I heard someone call 'mating pair', and as it
was just slightly higher and behind some trees , I decided to have a look , and was glad I did . As we walked back to the car park it was very warm and humid with it , but found very few butterflies on a small meadow we passed , but it did hold several Greater Butterfly , Bee and Common Spotted Orchids along with lots of Common Twayblade . We reached Cotley Hill about 1230 , and after a quick sandwich , headed off to see if we could find our second target . I had emailed the Wiltshire Butterfly Recorder and he had recommended the site , so we were quite hopeful . The weather was
holding as seen by the sky behind a hunting Kestrel , photographed with macro lens , found on our arrival , but clouds were building in the distance . Making our way along the bottom of the hill , alongside a field of Rapeseed , we didn't have to wait long for our target species , the endangered
Marsh Fritillary , albeit a worn specimen . At emergence , it is considered the most colourful of the Fritillaries , but if we had gone for their emergence , the Large Blue wouldn't have been out , so this
was the best compromise . Later on in the visit , we managed to get some underwing shots too . This
site turned up lots of other species too , including Dingy Skipper , Small Heath , Adonis (pictured) ,
Common and Small Blue (pictured) , Small Heath , Small and Large White , Meadow Brown , Brown
Argus and some very fresh Large Skipper , like this dapper male . We found about 10 of our target species and once again were well happy with our efforts , but equalling the star spot in our opinion ,
was the beautiful Small Elephant Hawk Moth that Keith spotted , tucked down deep in the long
grass , and being so docile , it was quite happy to pose on the finger , before being replaced where it was found . I was also able to add another Orchid to my recent list , as along with Pyramidal , lots of
Fragrant Orchids were also found . Although I haven't seen any locally yet , there were good numbers of 5-spot Burnet Moths on the wing , and also several mating pairs were found , but after complaints
of 'too much adult content' on a previous post from a fellow Blogger , have decided not to post those shots , in fear of more adverse comments . By 1430 , and with the wind getting up and the clouds rolling over , we decided to leave for the third part of this trilogy , but on our way back to the car , I was convinced that I was finally going to get a mating pair of Small Blues in the viewfinder . We watched them for several minutes , spiralling and landing , frustratingly , only to take off again . It
was a case of 'so near , yet so far' . The only consolation being that the previously mentioned comments will not be forthcoming . The third part of the trilogy involved stopping off at Esher Common , just off the M25 on our way home , having read of a good population of Silver-studded Blues  on site . By the time we arrived , the cloud was thicker , the temperature was dropping , and the car park I had read about was in woodland , not good when looking for a heathland species . Regardless , we set off looking for open heather areas , and particularly for the purple of Bell Heather / Erica cinerea , which I new was in flower , having seen it up on the Common locally , and having read was abundant on the site . We saw lots of trees and Honeysuckle , but no White Admirals , in fact we saw hardly a single butterfly as we searched . We asked local passers by if there were any Heather about , but hey just looked at us as if we were mad , they were probably right . A good two hours of walking did find small ares of Heather/ Bell Heather , none of which was in flower , and the highlight of the visit was a single Broad-bodied Chaser , enough said ? I did take one
shot of a Swan family on one of the lakes we passed , but we were glad to get back to the car and head home . All in all , a tiring , fascinating , rewarding day out , in a beautiful part of the country , with good company , what could be better .
And as Meatloaf said , 'Two out of Three ain't bad' .
A cautionary note to finish on . After wandering around in long grass all day , I had a bath before turning in . Waking this morning , I found blood on my pillow . I washed my hair , which thinking about it , should have done last night . Later I found a tick attached to the inside if my leg . First time I have picked one of those up in the wild . I compassionately did a text to Keith warning him , and got a reply that it was because I was moving too slowly on the hills and he was moving faster . Later in the day I got another , he found one attached to his knee . Slow ?


Warren Baker said...

What a brilliant day Greenie! Your photo's are getting better all the time - or do you save your best efforts for the rarer species :-)

Great read today, very cheering :-)

ShySongbird said...

Well, what a triumph Greenie!!!! I guessed you were after something very special when you mentioned it on Monday and when I started reading this post and you said 'a butterfly that became extinct' I immediately guessed what you were after. My goodness it was a long way to go but definitely worth it and you got some lovely photos. It would be wonderful if they eventually reach (or are introduced in) other parts of the country.

Well done with the lovely Marsh Fritillary and the Wasp (and other) Orchids as well. That S E Hawk Moth really is a beauty too!

An excellent post Greenie, most enjoyable! Sorry to read about the ticks, I always fear picking up one of those!

Phil said...

Now that's what I call a great day out Greenie.
An absolute butterfly feast in a summer that that seems to be a wash out for them.
Bad luck with the Silver-studded Skippers but Meatloaf was probably right.
I wonder what the locals thought about two strangers roaming around looking for someone called Heather. Best leave it a while before you go back!
A shame such a nice day should end with a ticking off!

Kingsdowner said...

Great stuff and a fascinating report. That was a successful day well planned.
And considering the lack of butterflies down here, you did especially well.
Notable wasp orchid too!