Sunday, 27 July 2014

Sunday 27th. July 2014

A catch up on the last few very humid , sunny days .
On Thursday morning , helped with the Down House butterfly survey again , with numbers down
from last week , but did produce a few freshly emerged Small Copper , pictured , a species that seems to be very much in decline this year , and two Dark Green Fritillaries amongst the more common species . In the Sandwalk Wood , the Violet ( not Violent as previously described ) Helleborines were
found in full flower , but always difficult to do justice in a photograph due to their preferred gloomy environment . After lunch I did the High Elms transect , and like at Down House , found numbers down from last week . 16 species were recorded , with at last a single White-letter Hairstreak being

found in the bottom glade , nectaring on the Canadian Golden Rod and the Hemp Agrimony . I have heard since that Keith had 5/7 specimens on Saturday which is good news . A first record of the year
on transect was a female Holly Blue found along the bridlepath , another species that has been is short supply this year . But for some butterflies it was the end of the line , like this Ringlet that
stopped to nectar on the CGR , only to find a Crab Spider waiting in ambush , and now the spider's meal as it's wings flapped lifelessly in the breeze . On Friday , I returned to New Hythe , hoping to get a shot of the male Lesser Emperor seen on Wednesday . Conditions had changed with the wind blowing across the lake rather than down it , which reduced markedly any Odonata sightings , never mind the LE . Three hours of scanning failed to produce a single sighting of the LE , and I arrived back at the car park like a wet rag having humped a heavy camera bag up and down the lake side for that time . A late evening phone call from the other Keith , meant a change of plan for an Odonata visit to East Kent , planned for Sunday , but having to be rearranged for Saturday . We set off with 4 hoped for targets , The LE and 3 members of the Emerald Damselfly family , Scarce , Southern and Willow . Our first stop was at Cliffe Pools , were we arrived in perfect conditions and headed out along the track towards the Black Barn . On the way , we couldn't help but stop to see what was in the roost on Radar Pool . A scan of the far bank produced Blak-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit , still in breeding plumage , as was a single Spotted Redshank , Greenshank , Avocet and  lots of Lt.Egret , amongst the more common species . Later in the visit we added Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard . Getting back to the job in hand we arrived at the 'usual' area , and started to scan the ditches . As the sun got higher , the wind also picked up , making things difficult with emergent vegetation swaying in that wind . My 'favoured spot' from previous years failed miserably so the search had to be expanded over a greater area . Eventually the first of two of the species hoped for on
site was found , Scarce Emerald Damselfly . The male , looking very similar to the male Emerald Damsefly , but lacking one half of a segment of pruinescence , just behind the thorax , and a female ,
one of just a few found . We were also lucky enough to find a pair in 'the ring' , but they insisted on
keeping to the vegetation alongside the ditch , making getting a shot more difficult . Other species
photographed in the ring included Blue-tailed Damselfly , the female on the left being of the form rufescens , and Ruddy Darter , which I must say was another species found to be well down on
previous years , but more numerous on site than Common Darter . The book says the flight season foe Black-tailed Skimmer lasts till early August , so finding a very freshly emerged specimen still
drying it's wings was somewhat unexpected . A couple of Southern Emerald Damselfies were spotted , but proved difficult to photograph in the conditions , so was pleased to come across a freshly
emerged female that was willing to pose , showing it's diagnostic bi-coloured pterostigma , and also enjoyed by a fellow enthusiast who was hoping to see the species on site . Other interest found during
the visit included lots of adult Marsh Frogs , who seem to have had a good breeding season , with lots of juveniles about , including this specimen , which although larger than many of the other juveniles ,
unusually still had it's 'tadpole tail' . The most dominant butterfly species on site was the Gatekeeper , with every Bramble bush being decorated with them . Their numbers were in the hundreds , including
this mating pair , and there must have been lots more pairs too . Red Admiral , Peacock Comma , Meadow Brown , and the three Whites , were also recorded . Leaving the site , we joined the M2 to go south of Reculver to look for Willow Emerald Damselfly . The first matrix sign we passed informed of congestion from Junct. 4 to 7 , and we were almost at the first . We decided to give it a try , but almost immediately after passing Junct.4 , being caught up in 'stop/go' traffic . By Junct. 5 , we decided to give up on the WDF on this trip and headed for New Hythe for another attempt to see / photograph the Lesser Emperor . After a quick bite of lunch , and noticing Terry's car in the car park , we set off for the area where he and I had fleeting glimpses of the species on Wednesday . A stint at the most productive area was unsuccessful , so we headed along the lake to the other area , stopping off at a couple of spots in between . It was at one of these that we had our first glimpse of the visit of the male flashing by . Another sighting at the area where it settled briefly on Wednesday , produced another fly by . After a while we returned to the first sighting area and had another fly by , as with others , close in and low to the water . Feeling like it was playing with us , we decided to return to the 'settled' area as it gave a better view of any approach . That it did as we had several more fly bys , but noticing that it was favouring a particular patch of reeds . Keith took up position one side and myself on the other side about 10 mtrs .apart . We had 6/8 more glimpses , and each time we fired off shots as it sped around and disappeared , usually finishing up as a blur when looked at on the back of the camera . But , somehow , both Keith an I managed to get two reasonable shots each , albeit 'rear end'
shots , but show the diagnostic blue saddle on the brown abdomen , a shot for me that has taken 10 hours in the recent humid conditions , but well worth it . Mind you , some person , no names , managed to get their 'rear end' shot in well under half that time . As we made our way back to the car , Keith mentioned it would be great if one of the many Brown Hawkers seen during the visit ,
would just settle for a shot . Within seconds , a male did just that , and finished off the day nicely . I would add that I checked the soles of Keith's boots before he got in the car ! Just as well today's visit was rearranged , as whilst writing this , it's been nothing but cloud .

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Wednesday 23rd. July 2014

Having being told by fellow enthusiast Terry Laws on Sunday's butterfly walk that the Lesser Emperor dragonfly had been seen at New Hythe recently , I got permission from the 'resident Blogger' and headed off to try and see this species , that would be a first for me . Before Wrotham Hill I was in sunshine and cloud , after it was solid cloud , and so it was as I arrived , and for some time before those clouds broke . Finding a lightly spot , I passed the time watching a noisy flock of
Lesser Black-backed Gulls , showing off their acrobatic flying skills . Every now and again , a pair
got into a fight , plummeting  down still engaged in combat until disappearing behind surrounding
trees so I never saw the final outcome . With the sun came a few Odonata sightings , Brown Hawker ,
Black -tailed Skimmer ( pictured , this male obviously very active with the ladies from the amount of blue pruinescence that has been rubbed off his abdomen by their legs during mating ) , Common Darter and Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselfly , but no sign of the hoped for Lesser Emperor . A bit later , three birders came by , one being Terry , who after visiting the scrub area over the railway , joined me in the search . Still without a sighting , we decided to move along the lake to a
more sheltered area , on the way finding an immature male Southern Hawker , and the search continued . Having found Red-eyed Damselfly on Lilly pads earlier , Small Red-eyed Damselfly
were found at the new spot , identified not only by size but by the blue on the underside of segment 8.
In the time in this area , we had three fly-by sightings of a male Lesser Emperor , enough to make positive ID , but not enough to get a shot , most frustrating . In between sightings , we had several visits from a female Emperor Dragonfly , ovipositing on floating vegetation and here on a branch
sticking out of the water . The end of her abdomen can be seen well into the material as she deposited a single egg . I also noticed a piece of vegetation about 3cms. long , with a caterpillar type grub at
one end , moving like a snake on sand , propelling the vegetation along . We weren't sure if it was in
trouble or not , so decided to rescue it . On dry land , it stayed in it's tube just showing it's head . Unsure of what was best to do , I returned it to the water but very close to the bank , in case it was trying to get to land . Next time I looked it was gone . Any ideas would be appreciated . Before leaving , we decided to have a last look at the first area again , on the way finding a Brimstone
Moth , and on arriving , couldn't believe our eyes to see a male Lesser Emperor in combat with a male Black-tailed Skimmer . They soon parted and the LE settled just 1 mtr. off the ground and 3 mtrs. away , with no obstructions between . We grabbed our cameras , and as we were about to hit the button , the male BTS returned and chased off the LE , not to be seen again . So near but so far , but by far the best sighting of the day . We did wait for the hoped for return , and whilst waiting were
visited by a family group of Mute Swan . All day long , we had been plagued by horse flies , and at one stage Terry swatted one that fell to the ground . Before it recovered I picked it up by the wing
and got a few shots to ID the species . Checking the books when I got home , it appears to be
Chrysops relictus , a member of the Tabanidae family , and how about those for a pair of eyes . As Terry and I were about to leave the car park , we heard a Turtle Dove 'purring' near the Millstream . We went and tried to see it and although it called another couple of times , we didn't see it .
Today was an away day with Martin , starting at Chobham Common where the target was Grayling .
Already hot on arrival , a walk to the top of the mount did find the species but  didn't cool us down , but a few of these very plain butterflies that usually land on the ground with wings closed were
found . One actually did show a bit more underwing than the others did , shame about the dead grass
in front . Just two Silver-studded Blues were found , including this female , in what looked perfect habitat for the species . Only other interest found were lots of tunnel webs of the Labyrinth Spider /
Agelena labyrinthica , and at the entrance to one was a spider , legs in front , ready to rush out and grab anything landing on it's web . Our second site was up on the Downs above Dorking , where the target species was Silver-spotted Skipper . Walking in the heat was bad enough , walking uphill was really hard work , but it was worth it when we got to the site to find good numbers of SSS . The heat also meant that none were staying still , especially the testosterone charged males , and a photograph of one was almost impossible . Some of the females were egg laying , which gave a better chance of a
photo like this one . When she moved on , I searched for her egg , finding it laid singly on Sheep's-
fescue grass , the sole food plant of the species . Any eggs layed will remain as such through the Winter , hatch in the Spring , pupate and appear as adults this time next year . I did finally manage to
get a male in the viewfinder , while he was attempted to court the female above him . His chat up line can't have been good though , as soon after , she flew off , leaving him in his own . Our last stop of the day was a quick look around Hutchinsons Bank , where we were pleased to find two female Chalkhill Blues on the wing , the offspring of adults seen on site last Summer .

Monday, 21 July 2014

Monday 21st. July 2014

Yesterday dawned with sunshine and blue skies , perfect weather for the Kent Butterfly Conservation visit to High Elms . With a start time of 1030 , by 0900 cloud had rolled in and the sun was gone , but at least it was warm and dry . We set off from the car park , heading straight for Burnt Gorse , where fellow enthusiast Keith had seen good numbers of Silver-washed Fritillaries , when he visited the previous afternoon . Half way there , a stop at a bramble patch produced 3 SWF , 2 White Admiral and a Peacock , at least two of the species that people were coming to see were in the bag and I felt the pressure was eased on me . Burnt Gorse was a good as Keith had said , and plenty of photo opportunities too . The species found kept coming including Dark Green Fritillary , Essex Skipper and Comma . Whilst there , Peter , the chap who showed me the art of finding Small Skipper eggs , worked his magic for the group , much to their delight . Dropping down onto the field edge , he was at it again , finding just hatched Red Admiral caterpillar and eggs on a small stand of stinging nettles . Climbing back into the woods , we soon arrived at the bottom glade , with the hope of finding the White Letter Hairstreak nectaring on the Canadian Golden Rod , and maybe another sighting of the ginandromorph SWF , but they failed to show , even though ex-ranger Terry had seen them on Thursday morning . Climbing back uphill , we arrived at the Orchid Bank and once again searched for WLH without success . Making our way back towards the car park , I took the group through the Larch plantation , probably the best area for seeing White Admiral . Peter suggested we had a look for it's eggs and maybe , even find a caterpillar . The group waited patiently , and once again , Peter worked his magic , finding both egg and caterpillar , much to their amazement , and some got photos of both , even though the light was very poor . By the time we got back to the car park , 18 species had been seen . Happy , most of the group left , but a few stayed on for a look over the road on the Conservation Field , where just Brown Argus was added to the list . 19 out of a possible 25 was not a bad return on a mediocre weather day for butterflies . The species that we dipped were WLH and Purple Hairstreak , Red Admiral , Small Tortoiseshell , Holly Blue and Small Copper .
This afternoon , I went back with my camera to get a few shots of the WA egg and caterpillar . Surprisingly I managed to refind the ones Peter had shown us and also found two further caterpillars , following what Peter had told us . The egg , looking like a sea urchin , layed on the edge of a
Honeysuckle leaf , was hard enough to photograph , but the caterpillar , measuring about 0.75 cm
long and just about 1 mm. wide , posing on the mid-rib of the half eaten leaf , was an absolute nightmare .
And finally , on yet another unsuccessful WHL hunt last Friday in the bottom glade , a calling Common Buzzard caught my attention . Soon it drifted into view being harassed by a Kestrel . I only had the 100mm macro lens , but fired off a few shots .
I didn't see how the confrontation finished , as they drifted behind the surrounding trees . I just wish that I had had a larger lens with me .

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Wednesday 16th. July 2014

A catch up on the last few days . Morning visits up onto the Commons are producing small numbers of Purple Hairstreak , but none yet prepared to be photographed . Broad-leaved Helleborine , at least
45 flowers spikes , are now coming into bloom . Would have been more if the deer had left them
alone . The Canadian Golden Rod is a magnet at the moment for freshly emerged Brimstones . I still haven't managed to find a pupa . At High Elms , no further sighting of the gynandromorph SWF ,
but two mating pairs were found , one in the bottom glade and one on Burnt Gorse . On the bridle
path below the Beech Walk , Clouded Magpie moth was found , like the WLH , this species depends
on Wych Elm for it's foodplant . I still haven't found any WLH , but I had an email from the Ranger at High Elms , that he is sure he saw one yesterday afternoon , just in time for Sunday . Comma are
also emerging , at this time there is a good chance to find the form 'hutchinsoni' , like this one with golden brown underside . Later specimens will show dark undersides .
This morning I decided to visit Bough Beech Reservoir before more butterfly hunting , in the hope of seeing the Great White Egret that has take up residence there recently . I expected a dot in the
distance , but was surprised to find it within 20 mtrs. of the causeway on the North lake . Later , it
came out of the water down the far end of the causeway , but with the build up of passing traffic , it soon flew to the far side of the lake . Other species seen on the visit included ,
Little Ringed Plover , a juvenile ,
incessant calling by juveniles meant that the adults were kept busy providing food ,
two Greenshank were looking for food in the shallows ,
sometimes joined by Common Sandpiper ,
which itself was joined by one of four Green Sandpiper ,
that is when it didn't want to be on it's own .
All along , the Common Terns were back and forward with food for their families .
Along the causeway , many ducks were in moult , like this male Mandarin , looking far different from the dashing sight it was in breeding plumage . I had read that a Night Heron had been seen there , but that was as far as it went , until a call from the far end of the causeway 'Night Heron in flight' had me
chasing down that end , only to get a rushed , rear end shot of the bird , just as it was about to drop out of view , honest , it is !
A Spoonbill had been spotted on the right hand spit halfway down the reservoir , as normal , asleep with head tucked in and facing away . How surprised we were when down the reservoir , from that
area flew the said Spoonbill , to be joined over the causeway by a second . The pair then circled , gaining height all the time , till they were specks in the sky . Talking specks in the sky , an unusual
sight of 14 Cormorant riding the thermals , becoming specks themselves .
Two other species seen on that side of the causeway were , several juvenile Lapwing ,
and a couple of Grey Wagtail , fossicking along the waterline . A Raven was also seen , 'cronking' as it was seen off by the local Corvids , and Common Buzzard , Sparrowhawk and Kestrel along with the more common species . Just like the good old days at Bough Beech .
Never did get butterfly hunting , as cloud rolled in , but it didn't cool things down .