Sunday, 12 July 2015

Sunday 12th. July 2015

A cool breeze was blowing as I started along the top path at Old Lodge Reserve on Ashdown Forest , and an lack of any bird calls was disappointing , to say the least . By the time I reached the far end of the path and started downhill , only Coal Tit and Chiffchaff had been heard and nothing seen . That changed dramatically with the 'churring' of a Nightjar ( approx. 0830 ) , coming from the horse fields behind the large house . Though the 'churring' continued spasmodically , I didn't get a sighting . Added to that , a couple of Spotted Flycatchers showed briefly high in the canopy . With the 'churring stopping , I made my way back up to the small ponds to search for Odonata , and although nothing was flying on the first one , a female Emperor Dragonfly was found having recently emerged  and
having pumped up her wings , was now in the process of pumping up her abdomen . Unfortunately , the only clear shot was looking directly into the sun and over water , not the best option . On another
pond , Small Red Damselfly were found , some having recently emerged like this female form
intermedia , but also more mature specimens like this male with his red legs showing well . It was whilst I was photographing this individual that two birders walked past questioning ' You didn't se that did you ?' .' See what' ? I replied . 'That Nightjar that flew directly over your head' was their reply . You can't be looking everywhere I suppose . Some compensation for that miss was finding an
immature male Scarce Emerald Damselfly , as can be seen the eyes have not yet turned blue as in a
mature male . Two more female Emperor Dragonflies were found , one busy ovipositing , whilst the
other was trying to settle , but being harassed by males of other species and moved on , not wanting her to oviposit on their patch . On the way down to the stream , a few Heath Spotted-orchid were

found amongst the Heather and Gorse , including a single almost white specimen . The stream in the valley was devoid of Odonata on my arrival , even though it was more sheltered . I searched the banks for ages , hoped for a perched Golden-ringed Dragonfly , but only finding a male Emperor for my time . I returned to the top ponds adding Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chaser , Large Red , Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies , but no sign of the hoped for Black Darter . I returned to the stream and after another long wait , did get fly-bys of Golden-ringed Dragonfly and a male Keeled Skimmer , but both were in view for just a matter of seconds before disappearing . Before
starting my return to the car park , I did find one of the larger Hoverflies , Volucella Bombylans . That return was uneventful apart from finding a female Keeled Skimmer which I followed for ages
before settling on a very un-photographic background , but beggars can't be choosers . Amazingly , the most numerous species found was Large Skipper butterflies , they were everywhere . From Old Lodge I drove to a couple of nearby ponds , an area where I have found the Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly in the past , but like last year , I didn't find a single specimen , I think they have been lost from the site  now . Whilst searching , Common Sundew / Drosera rotundifolia were found in good
numbers , some just starting to come into flower . Heading back to the ponds , I spent some time trying to get some shots of a male Emperor in flight . I took loads of shots , the majority ending up in

the bin , but the odd one or two of this extremely difficult to get in the viewfinder in flight dragonfly I thought were reasonable . I probably would have tried for longer , but a couple parked up , letting two Spaniels out from the back of the car . They walked right past me , then encouraged the two dogs into the pond within metres of where I was standing . I packed up and thanked them for consideration , to which their reply was 'What?' .
An email from fellow enthusiast Keith  that his Dad had found a white Pyramidal Orchid near Chelsfield , had me making contact , and the next day visiting the site with Stan . Chancing the
forecast rain , we headed along the footpath and I was soon getting a few shots of this rare form of the orchid . A big thanks to Keith and Stan for letting me in on it . That afternoon , another visit to High Elms , now with the visit from Kent Butterfly Conservation in mind . Silver-washed Fritillaries still showing well , but no females seen yet , but still no sighting of White Admiral and still no positive sighting of White-letter Hairstreak , but in the bottom glade , the Hemp Agrimony and Canadian Golden Rod , the favoured nectaring flowers of the WLH are just opening , so hopefully they will come down soon . On the way home along Shire Lane I sadly watched helplessly as a female Mallard lost two of her ducklings as they crossed the road in front of me . They had cleared my side and were about to mount the kerb and back beyond , when two cars came around the corner towards them . The female flew up the bank , but the four ducklings tried to outrun the cars , but the first car flattened the back two and the second car went over but didn't hit the other two . With the female calling desperately from the top of the bank , the two survivors were struggling to get up the kerb and bank to her . I parked up with hazards flashing , and with thoughtful drivers approaching managed to get the two ducklings up the bank . There was nothing I could do for their two pancaked siblings .
A visit to the area below Biggin Hill Airport in hope of Chalkhill Blue was unsuccessful , but 37

Marbled White , including a mating pair were recorded , as was my first Gatekeeper of the year . That was followed by helping with the Down House butterfly transect which turned out to be very average
apart from 4 Dark Green Fritillary . The highlight was back in the walled garden , where we found a Hummingbird-hawk Moth nectaring on Vipers Bugloss . With the good weather holding , in the afternoon I did the High Elms butterfly transect . 16 species were recorded , the only notable entries
were 43 Marbled White and 16 Silver-washed Fritillary , which included 3 females , this one seemingly already having received the attention of a male .
A visit to Cliffe Pools with fellow enthusiast Keith in the hope of repeating last year's findings of 3 Emerald Damselfly species started well with a bit of birding on the way to the site producing several Avocet including a very young chick with one pair , 10+ Greenshank and a couple of summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwit along with lots of Gulls and Tufted Duck . Surprisingly , during the whole visit to this 'big sky' site , not a single Swift or hirondine was seen , and raptors only just managed a mention with a single Kestrel and Marsh Harrier . The two ditches that we visited last year and got Emerald , Scarce Emerald and Southern Emerald Damselfly proved to be almost devoid of any Odonata at all . That together with a strong breeze blowing over the site , made it a very
disappointing visit . Ruddy Darters were all over the Bramble bushes , some in tandem , but non were seen ovipositing . Black-tailed Skimmers mainly along the track and just 4 Emeralds , of some species ,  the wind made it impossible to get a good look at them on the far side of the ditch , was all
that was found in four hours searching . A good number of Gatekeeper , 10+ of Red Admiral and Peacock , lots of Small Skipper , and more Essex Skipper than I have seen for ages , not surprising as
we could see Essex across the Thames !! Only other interest found was this White Satin moth , I think , which had emerged from it's cocoon but something went wrong and it didn't fly off . Since
happening , something else had laid it's eggs on the carcass , providing food when their offspring hatched .
Yesterday I made a morning visit to High Elms , again with the Kent BC visit in mind . It was good to see plenty of Silver-washed Fritillaries around , but still no White-letter Hairstreaks , one of the hoped for species on the visit , showing in the bottom glade . I was just about to move on to Burnt
Gorse , when a pristine male Purple Emperor dropped onto the path a couple of metres away and started looking for minerals . It was very twitchy , hopping back and forth along the narrow path . I was alone with him for about 3/4 minutes before a dog walker marched through and spooked him . I stayed in the glade hoping he might return . He didn't , but , his mate did . A second male , definitely not pristine , did a couple of laps of the glade , before landing on the path . This individual showed
combat damage to the hindwings , no doubt inflicted around the master tree by another male . A shame , but I wasn't arguing , two male PE within half an hour , I've only had one other sighting in over 20 years of watching on the site . By now the dog walking traffic was really busy , and when six came through together , that was it , he was off too . When I got home I rang fellow enthusiast Keith with the news , and he went after lunch , and had two sightings during his time there , but no groundings . In a short brighter spell this morning , I visited again , but what sun there was , was very watery , but no sign today . Would be nice if they turn up for next Sunday's walk , but we would need better weather than today , that's for sure .


Marc Heath said...

Super write up Greenie with some lovely shots. With reference to the Emerald Damselfly shot, I feel this might be a Common Emerald Damselfly. Whilst it looks like its still 'bluing'up on S1/S2, the inner anal appendages when zoomed in appear quite thin and straight. I might well be wrong but just an observation.

Derek Faulkner said...

As Marc has said, that was a really good write up Greenie, marred only by the really awful spectacle of seeing the two ducklings get flattened.

Phil said...

And another great post Greenie.
Don't know how you managed the in flight Emperors Greenie and the hummingbird Hawkmoths are far from easy too. Shame about the ducklings, not a pretty sight obviously.
I too had trouble with a very inconsiderate dog owner in Ashdown while trying to get a pic of a Brilliant Emerald. Came close to getting my lights punched out I think.
Nice to get the Purple Emperor, still haven't seen one in this country yet, always good to have something on the list to get though.

Warren Baker said...

Lots of Goodies there Greenie, might well pay a visit to Old Lodge this coming Thursday, lets hope for a little less dog activity though, bloody dog owners!

roger.wood800 said...

Another great post, Greenie. If, by Biggin Hill, you're referring to Salt Box Hill, I was there last week and was pleasantly surprised to see it's no longer covered in scrub and is now looking much healthier. The livestock is gone and there seems to be evidence of a switch to herbicides to tackle the scrub, but it appears to be producing the right results if the Marbled Whites, DGFs and orchids are anything to go by.
As regards Purple Emperors, I've had pretty much the same experience with dogs (at Gt Bookham Common) just last year. Me and another guy had seen one at much the same time and I waited for him to get his shots before moving nearer to get mine. A black Labrador crashing through the undergrowth meant I never got the chance. Looking at it philosophically it simply meant having to make a return visit this year... as soon as the weather turns a bit brighter again.