Sunday, 26 July 2015

Sunday 26th. July 2015

A very windy visit to the slope below Biggin Hill Airport produced my first Chalkhill Blue of the
year , a freshly emerged male , hanging on for dear life on an umbellifer . The few other butterflies
around , like this Large White , were also making themselves as small as possible to resist being blown off their perch . The visit also produced a close up of the day flying moth Oncocera
semirubella that seemed pleased to get some warmth from my finger , but sadly no sign of either Clouded Yellow or Dark Green Fritillary , both seen on site last year . On the way home , I stopped off for a look at Salt Box Hill , a SSSI managed by London Wildlife Trust , having heard that the ponies and goats had been removed . The latter proved true , but only to the other fenced off area to the left of the steps down , and the probable cause was the SSSI being treated with chemicals ( ragging ) to control the scrub which is once again invading the area . To my knowledge , this will be the 5th. attempt to get the area to it's SSSI citation of being a 'chalk grassland ' , as at the moment it resembles no more than a field , mostly covered in scrub and weeds . Butterflies were at a premium , with just 10/15 Marbled White ( I have recorded 250+ on site in the past before grazing was introduced ) and a few Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper being recorded . The highlight for me was
another White Pyramidal Orchid , the third specimen I have seen and photographed this year , having never seeing one previously . Much more common were Bittersweet , Common Cleavers , Weld
( pictured ) and Plantains , all species of waste and scrubby areas , along with plenty of regenerating trees and scrub which seemed to have missed the ' rag ' .
Another windy visit was to New Hythe , the patch of Phil / Sharp by Nature . I hadn't visited since the Spring , when the scar and loss of habitat caused by a new pipeline being layed across the site was a real shock . Although the pipeline has been completed and ' remedial work ' done , unfortunately the habitat , especially that which was favoured by several Nightingale pairs will take years to recover , if ever . Whilst searching for Odonata on Abbeymead lake , my phone rang and it was Phil , who had seen my car in the car park . We met up and spent the rest of the morning catching up and having a good look around . The river was down , but a fly-by Kingfisher and an Oystercatcher were the only highlights from the ' bucket seat ' . As we passed between Brooklands and Abbeymead , Phill picked up Tern calls but we couldn't get a clear view , but later what appeared to be a family group showed
up again and a juvenile Common Tern made it into the viewfinder . The wind didn't help with the Odonata , but several Brown and Southern Hawker were seen , but most numerous species of
dragonfly was the Emperor , mostly in flight , but also a couple of ovipositing females . As we passed
the end of the Railway lake , Phil spotted this female Brown Hawker , busily ovipositing , before bing chased off by Black-tailed Skimmers . No sign of Water Vole in their favoured ditch , and returning to the car park along the Millstream , we searched for Sm. Red-eyed Damselfly , but once again the wind didn't do us any favours to be sure of their ID , with their larger relations occupying the same areas . Just before reaching the car park , a first of the year for me , the 'purring' of a Turtle Dove , which I also managed to get a brief glimpse as it flew off . We went our separate ways from the car park , me to White Hill above Shoreham , the Kent BC site managed specifically for the Chalkhill Blue , which I heard were on the wing from fellow enthusiast Keith . Once again , the wind made things difficult , along with the 12 or so males constantly charging around searching for females .
 Fortunately , the odd cloud passed over , enabling a few shots of the males at rest . No sign of any females having emerged yet on site .
On the way home , a stop near Lullingstone found the Green-flowered Helleborines in flower bud , but yet to open . Interestingly , this species has the ability to self-fertilise , sometimes in the unopened flower . 
As mentioned in the previous post , the White-letter Hairstreaks posed superbly for the Kent BC members last Sunday , but I didn't have a camera with me , so during the week I returned for a short visit and to get some shots . Four specimens came down to nectar on the Canadian Golden Rod , three
were males showing wear and damage from the aerial battles I had seen at the top on the Ash tree for the previous three weeks , but the fourth was a pristine female , larger in size and with longer tails on
the hindwing . Whilst waiting for the WLH to come down , good numbers of 6-spot Burnet moths , 
and on the CGRod , a small moth which I believe is a Small Purple Bar . 
The other interest seen was this very light coloured female Large Skipper , a species coming towards
 the end of it's flight period . 
On Thursday I did the High Elms transect which produced the best return of the year so far , of 21 species . Having said that , some species were again in low numbers , like just 2 Speckled Wood ( best count has only reached 5 ) , Small Heath - 1 ( the only record this season ) , Holly Blue-1 ( only
the second record ) , Brown Argus-1- pictured ( only the third record ) . Doing better , but still fewer than in previous years , the Silver-washed Fritillary-19 , but 8 of those recorded were females ( lower
picture ) , so hopefully that bodes well for next year , fingers crossed .
Yesterday I helped with the Down House transect , which like High Elms wasn't outstanding , but we did record 15/20 Small Copper , a species I have failed to record at HE at all this year , and two first for the year for the transect , Brown Argus and Silver-washed Fritillary .
And finally , a couple of the more unusual shots I managed to get of the Purple Emperors a week ago
 at High Elms . Pure luck to photographing them on the ground , only for them to take flight , and in
these two shots , leaving their shadows on the ground .

Monday, 20 July 2015

Monday 20th. July 2015

The dull , windy conditions last week somewhat curtailed outings , and several more visits were made to High Elms preparing for yesterday's Kent BC visit . No further Purple Emperor sightings , but the weather was not suitable for the males to come down , and the White-letter Hairstreaks weren't tempted by the now flowering Canadian Golden Rod either . Whilst waiting and hoping in the bottom glade , a few bits of interest were found .
On a grass seed head , several cocoons . I sent this picture to Martin / Martin's Butterflies , who was of the opinion that they were those of a parasite , Ichneumon or something similar . The female parasite would have layed her eggs on or in the host . Having hatched , the larvae concentrate on feeding on the non-essential organs of the host , thus keeping the host alive . Once fully grown , the larvae start on the essential organs of the host and kill it . They then pupate in cocoons like this , the host , now no more than a shrivelled  skin , dropping to the ground . Thanks for that Martin .
This Yellow and Black Longhorn Beetle / Rutpela maculate has been in very short supply this year , usually they are swarming all over the Bramble flowers , but very few seen .

Also on grass seed heads , lots of these tiny Mirid or Capsid bugs , with their 'goulish , smiling face' markings . 
The butterfly transect , snatched one windy afternoon , produced 20 species , the best so far this year , but was still woefully low in individual species numbers , apart from Meadow Brown and a surprising 23 Large White and 28 Small Skipper . Highlights were a first confirmed WLH , high in
the Ash tree , a second White Admiral , showing it had been out for some time , and two very fresh
Common Blue , the first specimens of the second brood seen on site this year , just hoping they will do better than the first brood which was very poor in number .
A few other finds at High Elms included ;
Finally managed to capture a male Gatekeeper , open winged ,
and later found that the females too had emerged .
Somewhat of a rarity on site this year , a Holly Blue . This a female .
Lots of courting Meadow Brown , but caught these two , male on left , taking a breather .
Towards the end of the week , an explosion in emergence of Comma . This one was shy , but on a nearby Buddleia bush a minimum of 12 were recorded , now changing from their early golden topwing colour , to their tawny red hue .
The female Silver-washed Fritillaries are now getting down to the important egg laying . Several seen laying their eggs up to 5 metres up tree trunks , but always with Violets growing underneath for their larvae to feed on .
6-spot Burnet Moths have also emerged , and are not wasting time .
Down in the grass on Burnt Gorse , was this colourful moth , Oncocera semirubella , apparently no common name yet , having migrated over from the continent , and now resident in Southern counties .
1/2 Brown Hawkers have been patrolling the bottom glade , but not perching , but on Saturday , this immature female Southern Hawker was willing to pose , just for a few seconds .
A look in on a very quiet Common , found the Broad-leaved Helleborines just about to burst bud into flower ,
and the strange looking fly Sicus ferrugineus , with it's abdomen curled under , was all I found .
Helping out with the Down House butterfly survey , plenty of 'Hull City supporters' , caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth were found on the Ragwort , their foodplant ,
and it was good to record 3 Small Copper , a species that seems to have declined dramatically locally.
Almost at the end of the transect , this striking female Painted Lady was found , nectaring on Purple Loosestrife in the walled garden .
My highlight was putting up two Roe Deer fawns , accidentally , from the long grass as we crossed the large meadow . They bounded in different directions and all I got was a rear end of one as it headed for the edge of the meadow .
Yesterday , 30+ Kent BC members came on the High Elms butterfly walk , in what turned out to be perfect conditions , after the opposite had been forecasted all week . Just 16 species were seen , but more importantly , the SWF put on a great show , 2 White-letter Hairstreak were found nectaring on the Canadian Golden Rod and gave all present plenty of time to get their pictures . White Admiral did let us down , as did Common and Holly Blue , Brown Argus , Red Admiral , Sm.Tortoiseshell , Dark Green Fritillary and especially , the Purple Emperor , but everyone seemed to go away happy with what had been seen and photographed .

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 .