Sunday, 28 June 2015

Sunday 28th. June 2015

Catching up with a few recent visits :
Not expecting much , a look up on the Greensand Ridge produced 10 Adders , including this male ( head centre ) and female ( head left ) , looking more pre-mating than post-mating , and another male
 that had obviously had a good meal over the last few days .
The High Elms butterfly transect improved somewhat with 13 species being recorded . The highlight was a brief sighting of a very clean Tortoiseshell butterfly on the top rail of the 5 bar gate on Burnt Gorse . When I spotted it , it was wings open and four things stood out , the size , noticeably larger than a Small , the colour , rusty red unlike the vibrant red of the Small , no white markings on the forewing and four black spots on the forewing . Without taking my eyes off the butterfly , I slowly raised my camera . Half way to my eye , it snapped it's wings shut and at shoulder level it took off like an Exocet missile , clearing the surrounding tall trees in no time . I stood there cursing my luck that I had just missed a shot of either a Scarce / Yellow-Legged or Large Tortoiseshell . The few seconds I had , I wasn't able to be more specific . It still hurts now as my only other sighting was about 10 years ago up on the Common , and that was a tatty individual , but I did get 2 shots before that one disappeared . A couple of visits since failed to get another sighting .
Small consolation was finding about 50 Yellow Birdsnest  / Monotropa hypopitys , a long way short of the 1,000+ that were found a few years ago .
A large hoverfly , Volucella pellucens , was nectaring on Dog Rose ,
whilst nearby , a similar but smaller insect , which I haven't been able to ID yet , was doing likewise .
A look up on the Common , got my first Ringlet of the year ,
and a very fresh female Small Tortoiseshell looking to oviposit .
On the same Brambles , a well marked micro moth , which I have been informed is an Orange-spot Piercer ,
and in the long grass , Crow Garlic / Allium vineale , a member of the Lily family , just starting to flower .
A visit to Sevenoaks Reserve for Odonata was thwarted by cloud rolling in shortly after my arrival , but managed this pair of Common Blue Damselfly in tandem before the sun went .
Out front of Willow Hide , two cygnets waited for mum to deliver the tasty weed from the bottom .
Canada Goose numbers will definitely be larger next year as proved on Long Lake . Two Kingfishers were seen in the Willows beyond and large Carp were thrashing the water whilst spawning .
A morning visit to Cliffe Pools found just three Scarce Emerald Damselflies , all males and all
immatures , as they were only just getting the pruinescence on the first two segments and the end of
the abdomen . No Emerald Damselfly sightings , and apart from a few immature Ruddy Darter . The most numerous species found were Blue-tailed Damselfly and in the butterfly world , Small Heath were everywhere .
The next four hours I spent wondering around Ranscombe Farm at Cuxton , a Plant Life Reserve .
Just a few of the plant species seen were ;
Common Broomrape / Orobanche minor ,
Corn Cockle / Agrostemma githago , a member of the Pink family ,
Vervain / Verbena officinalis , a member of the Verbena family ,
Field Pansy / Viola arvensis , a member of the Violet family ,
and my favourite on the day , Wild Liquorice / Astragalus glycyphyllos , a member of the Pea family. Apart from a couple of Common Buzzard over the woods , the best non plant interest was a Plum
Weevil / Otiorhynchus clavipes , a first for me .
 On my way home , I stopped off at Farningham Woods for my yearly dose of Deptford Pink / Dianthus armeria , a rare and one of my favourite flowers .
Carol's contribution to this post was finding this female Peppered Moth , whilst watering the garden .
And finally , my favourite shot from Ranscombe Farm , a pair of Sicus ferrugineus caught in a compromising position and being photo bombed by a mining bee .

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Saturday 20th.June 2015

A much anticipated outing came to fruition last Thursday , when fellow enthusiast Keith and myself headed across Kent with four species on our target list . Norfolk Hawker , Scarce Chaser , Variable Damselfly and Hairy Dragonfly . The journey went extremely well , in fact getting into the Canterbury area before the sun had lifted the temperature to an Odonata level . So we stopped off in the village of Blean to look for the rare Heath Fritillary butterfly on a site that I had never visited before , Church Wood . There was still a chill in the air as we entered the wood , but the sun was just starting to reach one corner of a coppiced clearing , and it was here where we started our search . It
wasn't long before the first butterfly was found , enjoying the warming rays of the morning sun , as
we were . Other specimens were still waiting for that warmth as the still sat on their overnight roost , knowing that their time would come soon . With the sun came the urge to breed and the females
became the object of attention of the amorous. males , but the 'abdomen pointing skywards' was the
only response that was seen . In a very short time , the sun flooded more of the coppiced area and the
butterflies became more and more active , some stopping to breakfast on the nectar of Common Spotted Orchid . Whilst looking around , I also found a , for once , a non moving Speckled Yellow
moth , but as soon as this one shot was taken , it became very mobile indeed . WE left the Heath Fritillaries to do their thing , got back to the car , and made the short journey to Westbere Lakes . As hoped for , on arrival the temperature had risen and a light wind gave us great hopes to find out target species . Reaching the ditch that runs down to the river , we started searching , but found things very quiet apart from a couple of blue Skimmer / Chaser dragonflies that didn't hang around to be identified any further . Even damselflies were almost non-existent . I must admit , my mind went back to my only other visit to the site on a cool , cloudy and windy day , when just one fly-by sighting of Norfolk Hawker was achieved . Reaching the river , we turned right and followed it upstream . A few Banded Demoiselle were found , and we started inspecting every blue damselfly , most of which were Azure or Common . Eventually , a male Variable Damselfly was found , which
really raised our hopes . This species is well named as the markings can indeed be very variable , but the incomplete antihumeral stripes , the wine glass symbol on segment 2 and the two small black spots on the last light blue segment on the abdomen , were enough to confirm one down , three to go .
I had wandered further along the river and was photographing one of what turned out to several Red Admirals seen on site , when the sound of wings passed very close overhead and I got a glimpse of a brown , Hawker sized dragonfly drop down behind a tree onto vegetation on the other side of a ditch .I called to Keith what I had seen and soon the two of us were searching . Keith then spotted the
dragonfly , perched on a Nettle stem . We then prayed that it didn't fly off before we could get the
male Norfolk Hawker into our viewfinders . Fortunately it didn't , and we were able to get our shots , albeit at distance , two down , two to go . I got what I wanted and moved on again , passing an angler with a wheelbarrow loaded with tackle . Keith stayed put , and shortly afterward had the NH , or another one , land on the side of the path , so close that he couldn't even focus on it , when the angler came back with his wheelbarrow , passing Keith and spooking the NH . I then came across an area totally dominated by Blue-tailed Damselflies , I don't think I have ever seen so many in one place . Slowly moving further upstream , a likely looking spot on the river produced our first male Scarce
Chaser , three down , one to go . The 'high fives' were coming fast and furious now . Several more males and a distant female SC were found before we turned around and retraced our stepd downstream . The next excitement came when we reached a spot whre two trees had been felled and were laying between the path and the ditch , when I spotted a flash of orange , fluttering amongst
some leaves . This turned out to be our first female Scarce Chaser . She too stayed in the area , just changing position a couple of times and allowing us to get close . Most of the anglers swims were gated , but some were approached just by paths cut though the vegetation , and these we investigated on our return to the main ditch . Along these paths we found several immature / female Black-tailed Skimmers , which drove Keith mad as he tried to sneak up on them , camera ready , only for them to fly a few metres further down the path before he got his shot . He persisted though , and was successful . Whilst Keith was so occupied , I photographed a couple of plants , one that I saw here
last visit , Common Valerian / Valeriana officinalis , related to the Red Valerian / Centranthus ruber , that is found all over at the moment . The other was a species that I haven't seen for over 25 years ,
yet here it was in abundance , Skullcap / Scutellaria galericulata , a member of the square stalked Labiate family . I was as pleased to see this as I was to see our target species . Whilst on the edge of the lake , Keith found a pair of SC in tandem , but unfortunately they didn't stay for a shot . Reaching the end of the main ditch again , carried on downstream as the path narrowed . A second Painted
Lady was found , along with a couple more Small Tortoiseshell , bringing their total up to 10 recorded . Still found SC and VD but nothing different . We returned to the main ditch again and
found at least two more NH and whilst watching one , I heard and spotted a dragonfly crashing
through the reeds . A short wait and a female Hairy Dragonfly proceeded to oviposit directly in front of me , whilst the male patrolled above her , interspersed with attacks from a male Emperor Dragonfly which appeared in the ditch . Four down . A few more SC and a couple of BTS were seen
and a photo opportunity with one of the , I must say , vocally quite restrained , Marsh Frogs on the site . As we made our way back to the car , Keith spotted a dragonfly land on a pile of cut branches in front of us . Slowly making our way forward , Keith spotted a male Hairy Dragonfly , and managed to fire off a couple of shots before it departed , and before I managed to locate him . We decided to stop at Grove Ferry on the way home and also to have our lunch , it now being almost 4 pm . Sustained , we headed down the track towards the viewing ramp under a sky bereft of any birds . From the ramp , a few distant wildfowl on the scrape , but again , not a single Hobby or Tern , and Hirondine were only represented by 3 Swallow that Keith picked up at distance . A Cuckoo did fly by and landed in a copse to the right of the scrape . We had a look from the dipping platform of the educational hide and heard a couple of Bearded Tit 'pings' , but were surprised to find yet two more
Norfolk Hawkers scrapping over the water and in between fights , perching . And finally , my strangest shot of the day was when trying to photograph a pair of BTD in the ring , a second male
flew in and clasped the paired male for a split second , before flying off . And has anyone got an idea what this is ? It was standing in water , about a metre or so above the surface , found to the left of the
main ditch , just off the main path . It's made of straw with a wire support around it and open at both ends .
All in all , a brilliant day out , in reasonable weather and in good company .

Friday, 19 June 2015

Friday 19th. June 2015

Firstly , an identification of the larva that I thought was a Saw Fly on the end of the last post . It turns out to be the caterpillar of the strangely named Dingy Flat-bodied moth .
Now , a picture catch up on some recent outings :
An unusual Broad-leaved Helliborine on the Orchid Bank at High Elms , the variegation being caused by a virus in the soil .
Also on the Orchid Bank , a single Greater Butterfly-orchid . Identified as such by the non-parallel
and widely spaced pollinia of the flower , brown ended in the hood in this shot . The Lesser Butterfly-orchid has parallel and close pollinia .
A stop at Bough Beech Reservoir found the water level dropped , far too late to attract any migrant waders , but provided roost for Common Terns , a Mallard and a passing Great Crested Grebe .
Nearby , another probably queen Hornet , in flight this time ,
and a first Darter of the year , an immature Ruddy .
A frustrating hour or so at Long Lake , Sevenoaks Reserve , spent trying to photograph Downy Emerald in flight produced much for the recycle bin , but the odd usable shot too .
Fortunately on the odd occasion , it did come to rest .
Plenty of Red-eyed Damselflies around , and they were making sure that there would be plenty around next year too .
In the garden , this female , wonderfully named , Gasteruption jaculator , one of the Ichneumons that is reasonably easy to identify , was looking for a host into which it would lay her eggs .
Another fast moving and unidentified Ichneumon , was dragging what looked like  a spider , much heavier than itself , into a wood pile , no doubt to lay on and provide food for it's offspring .
Up on the Common , a single Bee Orchid , a first of the species this year for me ,
and lots of Common Cow-Wheat in the open glades .
At Spring Park Pond , 2/3 female Red Admirals were busy ovipositing ,
leaving their sigly layed eggs on the topsides of Common Nettle leaves ,
and a freshly emerged Speckled Wood gave an unusually posed photo opportunity .
A trip to Lullingstone Country Park produced my first Marbled White ( 1 of 3 ) of the year .
Also starting their flight period , Dark Green Fritillary , one of 6 recorded .
They spent most of the time in the ground vegetation , occasionally nectaring from their favoured Greater Knapweed .
Two Small Skipper were also first of the year sightings .
Two Cinnabar moths were also seen .
A female Painted Lady , ovipositing on Greater Knapweed , was the most unexpected sighting .
Arriving for the High Elms butterfly transect , this Ichneumon sp. was breakfasting on a small one .
The transect itself gets no better , with just 37 butterflies , Meadow Brown (26) , Common Blue (4) , Speckled Wood (2) , Green-veined White (2) and Large Skipper (1) going into the notebook . It's now nearly mid-Summer , when will the butterfly drought end ?
Most interesting thing found was this Horse Fly / Tabanus bromius .
How about that for a pair of eyes ?
Yesterday , I made a long anticipated trip to eastern Kent with fellow enthusiast Keith , but I will have to do another post , or this one will go on for ever .