Wednesday, 21 June 2017

20th June - And The Sun was A Demon

This was the fourth day of temperatures in excess of thirty degrees, yet another was forecast for tomorrow which would mean the hottest spell of weather since 1995.  Late afternoon I decided to walk around the Plain Farm area, there are plent5y of fields that are good for butterflies and it was a time to maybe catch up with some of the newly emerging butterfly species.

As I stepped out of the car at the bottom of the footpath at the cattle grid I was greeted with the song of a Tree Pipit high in the Scots Pine.  The last time I was here back in late April I had found a Tree Pipit here, and it would seem that it was still about.  Whether or not it had found a mate remains to be known.


From the branch it launched itself off on its display flight.


"Parachuting" down to one of the small hawthorn bushes in the field below.


With the temperature in excess of thirty degrees still it seemed to be strenuous activity in the heat, and at times it would sit with the beak open panting.


And then would burst into song.


As I watched the first Marbled Whites of the year flew past me, but rather than pursue them now I considered there would probably be more elsewhere.  I scanned the field for another mid summer specialty here, the Common Spotted Orchid, and found a group standing out from within the long grass.


I walked up the hill, and could see several Meadow Browns about, but no sign of the hoped for Marbled Whites, it wasn't until I walked down the path towards the quarry that I came across some.  I followed them as they weaved their way through the long grass stems, their journey interrupted every so often to duel with another Marbled White or even a Meadow Brown.  However not once did they stop to nectar or rest, and I was left frustrated and without a picture.

Coming down past the quarry and up towards Plain Farm a lone Buzzard was being mobbed by at first a Kestrel, which was then joined by a Crow.


The intense heat of the late afternoon seemed to be suppressing everything, and it wasn't until I walked past the workshops that I saw anything of interest, and male Pied Wagtail foraging around the feet of the two bulls in the field.

Along the path towards the Dell cottages a Yellowhammer was singing, and on the wires were a few Linnets.


i did see briefly a small orange butterfly on a bank of bramble that I think may have been a Gatekeeper but was never able to completely confirm the ID.  Along the footpath there wer emore Meadow Browns and both Large and Small Whites, but no sign of the sought after Marbled Whites.

At the end of the path I walked through to the wheat field, at the edge there is a large patch of ground that is not cultivated and has thistles, vetch and daisies in bloom.

The Wheat is turning golden already, if this keeps up it could be an early harvest, as ye the dry weather does not seem to have affected the yield.


The whole field looking quite impressive in the early evening sunshine


I made my way through the grass, disturbing yet more Meadow Browns but no Marbled Whites, were they not here, or had they gone to roost already, it wasn't clear.  The ones I had seen earlier, were just three days short of being my earliest for the patch, and typically when they are first about they are difficult to photograph.

A little further on I picked out a small orange butterfly, getting closer I could see it was a Large Skipper.


there were in fact quite a few about taking an interest in the thistles.


The light now was becoming perfect.


I only really explored this patch of land since last year, and then there were quite a few orchids in amongst the grass.  It was the same this year, with plenty of variations of Common Spotted Orchid about, this one is a white version but there were other deeper purple specimens.


Providing a change from the many Meadow Browns that I disturbed were one or two Small Tortoiseshells, probably just emerged.


A different view from another angle.


I walked around in the vain hope that I just might flush out a Marbled White but it wasn't to be, so I decided to make my way to Charlwood Lane and then walk back to the car.  I stopped to check the fields and flushed two Stock Doves, that flew off to the other side of the field.  A bit distant I know, but please believe me they are Stock Doves.


At the horse field I stopped to watch and listen to the Swallows.  They were perched on the overhead wires.


It is amazing how vocal these little birds are, these three were chattering away to each other as if deep in conversation.  I was totally intrigued and wondered exactly what they were communicating to each other.  Unfortunately we will never know.


As I approached the car I noticed a patch of orange on a leaf in the sunshine that turned out to be another Large Skipper.


Back at the car it was nice to be able to get into the cool of the air conditioning.  I knew that once home the house would be hot and tonight would be another one where you felt like a basted chicken in an oven!

I don't normally comment on the titles to my posts but this one today comes from the song Summer, The First Time by Bobby Goldsbro, a cheesy early seventies hit that will always remind me of hot summer days, not for the full lyrics, please believe me, but for the orchestration, the long violin note that runs though the song, epitomises the sound and feel of a hot sticky day.  the sun today was definitely a demon and was a factor in much of what I probably didn't manage to capture.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

14th / 15th June - Sometimes You're The Windshield

Lots of things have happened since my last post, but I can say that all the days from our week in Northumberland have now been posted and can be seen here.  

The weather this week has been warm and dry, perfect then for insects and butterflies and moths, but strangely they seem to be in short supply.  My hope was that there would be plenty about, and now that I have found an area full of wild flowers everything seemed to be in place.  Unfortunately no one seems to have told the butterflies.

This post covers two days, my first outing being around lunch time on the 14th.  I parked at the pond where there was an Emperor dragonfly circling the pond just above the lily pads.


Identified from the similar Southern Hawker, which is also seen here later in the year, by the all green panel on the thorax, where the hawker has black markings.  There were in fact two present, and every so often there would be little scuffles and a chase around the pond. Face on the blur of the helicopter blades.


Side on once again, with the under carriage drawn up close to the body.


The only damselflies I could find were the Azure.


Leaving the pond I walked towards Old Down, but turned south, and walked alongside the field to the meadow just off the footpath.  A big surprise was that along the edge of the field I would have expected some butterflies, a few small or large white maybe, but there was nothing.

Climbing the style into the field it at first appeared empty too, but pretty soon I saw my first butterfly, and unusually it was a Small Tortoiseshell, not what I had expected.


I walked to the bottom of the hill in the hope that shelter from the wind would help, but it made no difference.  Then a few Meadow Browns flew past, but none settled long enough for a photograph.  As I walked back up the hill I saw what I had hoped for, a Common Blue, but it also never stopped, never mind it was the first of the year.

About halfway back to the main path on the trefoil was another Five Spot Burnet, or maybe it was the same one I saw at the start of the month, it did look a little worn.


I walked about, and stood and waited but nothing else appeared.  I still though have high hopes for this place as long as the flowers remain.

From there I walked into Old Down, and almost immediately started to disturb Meadow Browns, plus a few very mobile Speckled Woods.  The Meadow Browns were also very mobile but there was enough of them to find one that would settle.


Even opening the wings to warm up.


The thistles are now coming into flower, and getting the attention of the bumble bees.


And that was about it, very disappointing, things were also made a little more frustrating when during the evening while Helen and I were out for a run, in the field that lies between Alton Lane and Blackberry Lane adjacent to the Garthowen Garden Centre we saw a Roe Deer with a small kid in the middle of the long grass.  We watched them as they bounded through the grass to the safety of the surrounding trees, and I cursed the lack of camera!

Overnight I decided to put the moth trap out, with the hot weather and a change to fresher conditions I hoped it might turn up some interesting specimens.  It didn't do too badly.

A Brimstone Moth, a commonly found moth, and one that is likely to be found in the house when the windows are left open at night.


Next, the Coronet.  This moth can be found in forms with different shades of brown green and grey.  This one is a lovely grey with yellow markings.


A Buff Ermine


And a Common Footman, both of which are commonly found at this time of year coming to light.


The next moth is a first for the garden.  A Lychnis.  The caterpillars like to feed on both red and white campion, both of which I now have a lot of in the garden.


There were at least five of these small moths, the Flame.

A rather worn Willow Beauty


And a Figure of Eighty, so called because of the shapes on the fore wings that resemble the figure "80".


But as always it is the hawkmoths that you hope for, and this morning I was rewarded with the Privet Hawkmoth.


This is the UK's largest resident Hawkmoth with a wing span up to 12 centimetres.  Mainly distributed in the southern half of Britain.  It has a single generation in the year, and normally habits woodland and gardens, where it is normally on the wing in June and July.


It gets its name from the caterpillar that feeds on privet, and is quite spectacular, it being lime green with Lilac and white spots on the side.  The adult has distinctive pink and black barring on the body, and on the hind wings but these are not normally exposed.



So a typical June post with lots of bugs, and not a lot else as the June doldrums kick in.  Hopefully there will be a little more of interest as we head towards mid summer.

Monday, 5 June 2017

4th June - The Way You Want To Be

We have been away for the last week, this time, a trip to Northumberland, where the highlight was a visit to the Farne Islands, for those of you that have visited then yopu will know what an amazing experience it is, for those of you that have not been then I can thoroughly recommend it.   All the photographs and details will soon be posted on my "Away Blog" so please keep checking there.

Back in the garden, our disappearance for a week has not meant that our feathered friends have deserted us, it didn't take long for them all to return as soon as the feeders were topped up, and the mealworms served up.  It would seem the Blackbird has yet another brood in the nest to feed, and the Robins too are carrying the worms off so they must have young also.

Saturday morning as i started to work in the garden, I heard the alarm call of a Blackbird coming from my neighbour's garden.  I was able to look over the fence, and could see a brown bird on the lawn, at first I thought it was a female Blackbird, but then realised it was slightly larger, and was surrounded by feathers!  I immediately rushed indoors and grabbed the camera, fortunately when I got back it was still there.


A female Sparrowhawk with what I think is a House Sparrow, it definitely wasn't a Blackbird.


It was a strange feeling, I was probably watching one of the birds I had been feeding being ripped apart, but couldn't but help be enthralled to be so close to this apex predator.

As she ripped the feathers she continued to be vigilant, looking around her, while a Blackbird continued to scold.


This is probably the same female Sparrowhawk that has been around the area for some time, unfortunately when you attract birds to your garden in the sort of numbers that we do then very soon  it will come to the attention of the predators.  I would imagine she has a nest somewhere in the woods, maybe Old Down, and this is a known spot to find food.  In talking with the staff on the Rotherfield Estate they have tracked Sparrowhawks that have come considerable distances to take the young partridges and pheasants.


Finally she turned as if to leave, hopping with the unfortunate victim in her talons.

  
Then she flew off, the alarm calls rang out as she flew away, but the Blackbird's scolding ceased.  I called, and almost immediately our Blackbird appeared on the fence, so safe and sound.

Overnight Saturday I put the moth trap out, the garden is now full of flowers, and the honeysuckle too is very fragrant, however the results Sunday morning was very poor.  the only new moth for the year being a Buff Ermine.

It was a morning of clouds and sunshine with a fresher wind.  I waited for it to warm a little before heading out for a walk, the hope was that in the sunshine there might be some butterflies about.  As i reached the crossroads at Blackberry Lane and Brislands I was surprised to see there had been some changes to the sign post, a new one replacing the old one that I use in the heading of this blog.  I hope that they intend to paint it!.  But even if they do it doesn't look or feel the same





I walked along Brislands, and then down Gradwell and crossed to Old Down.  You can see that the field is full of Rye, patches of which are showing the ears of the seed heads.  Swallows from the horse paddocks were flying out across the field, challenging me once again to get  the ideal picture.




Walking through the wood, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps sang, and Goldcrests called from the conifers.  Walking along the path I noticed that there was a large amount of Cuckoo Spit on the grass and plants close to the path, the fact that I noticed it made me think this was different from previous years, but I can't be sure, maybe the dry weather has allowed the little collection of spit, produced by the nymphs of the Froghopper, to stay, and therefore be more visible.

Another feature of the wood was that the blue haze of the Bluebell carpet was now gone, and in its place were the reddish pink spires of the Foxgloves, although the Bramble seems to have swamped many of the places where they were seen in previous years.

 
The Foxglove is a biennial plant, and this may have an impact on the amount flowering every year.

I crossed to Kitwood and made my way to the pond.  As I arrived the drake Mallard was back, but there was no sign of the female, or the Moorhens.

I walked around to the Iris patch, the sun was now in, and the cloud cover was increasing.  On the Iris leaves were many Azure Blue Damselfies, sitting it out waiting for the sunshine to return.


I was able to get in quite close to them as they were not very active.


Incredible engineering.

 
 As I turned to leave the pond a large Carp broke the surface of the water, I wonder how many times this fish has been caught?


My next stop was the field at the back of the path that leads down to Lye Way farm.  Just before we went away this was looking very good for butterflies, but there were none there.  I was hoping that it hadn't been cut.  As I arrived I was pleased to see it was still in place, and that there was lots of trefoil now in flower.  Unfortunately no one had told the butterflies, and I couldn't see any.  The sun was still obscured by the clouds though.
 


A small trail took me down the hill past several ant hills covered in trefoil.  There were several bees, and as i looked closely through them I found my first Five Spot Burnet Moth of the year.  The potential then is definitely there for this little meadow, lets hope the owner resists cutting.

 
 I turned back, and headed into Old Down.  Despite the overcast conditions, which at this time of year with the now complete canopy can make the wood quite dark, a Red Admiral flew past.

A little further on I disturbed a brown butterfly from the grass, and it flew up and fortunately settled close by.  It was another first for the year, a Meadow Brown, and the earliest I have seen one since keeping records, the earliest by 15 days!
 


The Meadow Brown is the commonest butterfly in Hampshire, and after today my enthusiasm for this butterfly will wane as their numbers increase, but for now I can enjoy the first for the year.


The sun returned and in the patches of sunshine along the paths of the wood several Speckled Woods appeared, taking in the sun, and rising up to duel with any other that dared to enter their space.


As I walked out of the wood and headed home the sun once again decided to go away, and was replaced by some very dark clouds away to the west.  On reaching home the House Martins were busy around the houses, another sign that maybe we were due some rain.  It had been a typical early June walk.  The birds all busy with young, hidden behind the thick foliage of the trees and hedges.  The butterflies in that transition phase, and of course the weather becoming very typically June like.