Wednesday, 27 July 2022

26th July - What's She Gonna Do About HIM?

July has been extremely dry, with Hampshire having only 2% of the average rainfall and to be frank that was a waste of time, probably evaporating just after it fell.  Watering the garden has become essential and I know in times like these one should be frugal with water but I don't want to see a lot of my wife's hard work go to waste.  So it was then that I decided to use the static spray to water the beds at around six thirty.  

It was a pleasant evening with plenty of sunshine, there are plenty of trees in the garden, mostly Acer and several Amelanchiers, and the garden is about the size of a tennis court with levels. 

After about five minutes watering I noticed a large butterfly had appeared and was flying in and out of the water spray, I could see white flashes as it passed by me and from the flight, which consisted of glides through the water spray and then flicks of the wings as it turned to re-enter the water, I was almost certain of the identification but just couldn't believe it!

It flew around me and then flew to the kitchen windowsill where it settled and the identification was settled and I just couldn't believe it, a female Purple Emperor in my garden!  I rushed into the house to get the closest camera, my phone.  Back inthe garden the Emperor was still there and I could get close.

This butterfly spends most of its time in woodland canopy where it feeds on aphid honeydew, with the occasional close encounter when it comes down to feed on sap runs or, in the case of the male, animal droppings, carrion or moist ground that provide much-needed salts and minerals.

The male butterfly is one of the most beautiful of all of the butterflies found in the British Isles. From certain angles it appears to have black wings intersected with white bands. However, when the wings are at a certain angle to the sun, the most beautiful purple sheen is displayed.  The female, on the other hand, is a deep brown, with bolder white markings, but does not possess the purple sheen found in the male, she is also larger than the male  Possible confusion species could be the White Admiral, but this species is smaller with rounded wings and flies with a flitting movement and not he gliding behaviour of the Purple Emperor.  This one is also showing signs of wear and damage in the wings. 

From the window sill the butterfly flew off and circled the garden once more to land in one of the trees where I was able to watch it drinking the water from the leaves.

A typical first-appearance date for this butterfly is between June 20th -25th, with most adults then emerging over a three-week period. The flight period is reasonably short and by early August the adult butterfly season is over.  This is the latest I have ever seen one and with the good weather this summer I would think could be one of the latest sightings

So what was it doing here in my garden?  For perspective, we live in a close and established estate, there is an oak tree along Lymington Bottom about 50 metres away, but I wouldn't say this was the ideal woodland canopy habitat.  Old Down Wood has plenty of oak and I have also found plenty of sallow, I have always been hopeful of finding Purple Emperor and indeed Purple Hairstreak (which also turned up in the garden 13 days ago!) but I have never been able to find any sign or activity or either.

The females apparently will travel good distances to seek out suitable sallow, but how far I don't know, the closest known habitat where Purple Emperor could also be found would be Bentley Wood, which is close to the railway station at Bentley (not the one on the Wiltshire / Hampshire border), and that is again close to Alice Holt.  I will never know where it came from but will have to have a closer and more intense search of Old down Wood next year. 

I managed to also get some video of her as she imbibed on the leaves.  It did mean I became soaked from the spray, but believe me it was worth it.

I can only say I was really buzzing, this was the 20th butterfly species in the garden, which in itself is quite impressive.  I was bucked with Purple Hairstreak due to the particular habitats they have but to then get Purple Emperor is just incredible.  On top of that this is the 30th butterfly species found around the Four Marks patch, there have been several stand out wildlife experiences this year so far, but this is up there close to the top.

Thursday, 14 July 2022

13th July - The Purple One

With the extremely hot weather we have been experiencing there has been an increase in the butterflies visiting the garden.  Up to today the most significant was a Ringlet that bounced its way through the garden on the 10th, but this was surpassed this afternoon when I picked up a small grey looking butterfly that was flitting around the trees in the garden.  I knew immediately what it was and watched as it finally settled on the euonymus bush.

A Purple Hairstreak in the garden!  We don't have any oak trees in the garden and the nearest is probably on the corner of Reads Field with Lymington Bottom.  But here in front of me was a Purple Hairstreak, the 19th butterfly I have seen actually in the garden and the 29th in the Four Marks area.  The only way I could get a record shot though was to use my phone and here is an extremely poor record.

Purple Hairstreak are normally associated with oak trees and can be difficult to see as they spend most of the time flying around the tops of the canopy where they feed on honey dew.  I have spent a lot of time in Old Down Wood scanning the oak trees in hope of seeing one but have never been successful, so to have one in the garden is quite mind blowing.  When I did make the effort to go and get the camera it decided to leave, which again is a shame so I am left with the record.

Other sightings of note was a Swift seen over the garden on Sunday the 10th and the fact that there are House Martins back in Reads Field but only a handful of nests.

Our tame Blackbird was ousted this year by, we believe, one of his sons.  The son has had two broods and as been aggressively protecting the mealworm sources.  He behaves just like his father, stares us out from the patio table and will come into the kitchen.

What has been nice is that our blackbird has also returned to be fed, although he is a little nervous and will fly off if the son is about.  It would appear he has not bred this year but it is just so good to have him back.

Monday, 25 April 2022

23rd April - I'm Walking Down Your Street Again

 Having had a great morning's sea watch at Hill Head and then some quality butterflies at Browndown and Noar Hill, I thought with being close it was a good chance to see if I could show Ian Morris in Old Down Wood.  We parked at the pond and walked into the wood where we came across a wonderful bed of Bluebells, with the afternoon sunshine the blue was well enhanced and contrasting with the bark of the fallen silver birch bough.

A Red Admiral settled on the dried path in front of us added to the count of different butterflies through the day.  This had been the first true butterfly day of the year with numbers reaching double figures.

A little further along and there was a Firecrest singing.  I have never had one in this location before which only goes to show how this species is increasing both locally and in the south of England.

Leaving the Firecrest we talked about the one butterfly that we would have expected to have seen today but so far hadn't showed, then of course it did, the Speckled Wood.

Reaching the owl's tree there was plenty of signs that it had been about, but true to form it wasn't there.  Once again it had gone missing and despite a search of teh surrounding trees we were not able to find it.  As we left the area alarm calls rang out and a Buzzard glided past us and up into a branch.

We walked back to the pond where fortunately one of the other specialties showed well for Ian at the back of the pond around the holly trees, the Firecrest.  Here are a few more shots of the pair.

A disappointing end to what had been a really good day, I had hoped the owl would be there, but that is nature I suppose, its not an animal collection that is there for all to see, there is always uncertainty and today it was missing!

Friday, 22 April 2022

20th April - The Warmer Weather's So Much Finer

The Easter Holiday weekend saw some beautiful weather with the hottest day of the year so far on Good Friday and four days of wall to wall sunshine and glorious azure blue skies.  And where was I?  Well working in the garden!  This though did present some opportunity with two new butterflies for the year making their way across the garden.  On the 16th a Holly Blue and on the 18th a male Orange Tip.  Neither of course stopped and even if they had of I didn't have a camera close by.

While the temperatures dropped off into the week, the sunshine remained and this provided the opportunity for an afternoon walk.  I was hoping for some afternoon butterflies after having seen another Holly Blue in the garden, but they were conspicuous by their absence throughout the walk.

I headed along Brislands Lane and stopped at the junction with Gradwell Lane when I heard a familiar song.  It was another Firecrest and showed well in the bushes along the road side.

I thought I would take the opportunity to give some background to the Firecrest.  This tiny, restless jewel of a bird vies with the Goldcrest for the title of the UK's smallest bird. Compared to the Goldcrest, the Firecrest is brighter and 'cleaner' looking, with a green back, white belly, bronze 'collar' and a black and white eye-stripe. They have a yellow and black stripe on their heads, which has a bright orange centre in males. Like Goldcrests, they move through trees and bushes in search of small insects.

A member of the Kinglet family, the Firecrest's scientific name has a royal ring to it. Regulus ignicapilla translates roughly as the fire-capped little king, a reference to the beautiful orange crown of the male.

The Firecrest is monogamous. The male sings during the breeding season, often with its crest raised, and has a display which involves pointing its bill at another bird, showing the crest and strong face pattern. This differs from the display of the plainer-faced Goldcrest, which bows its head to emphasise the crest.

The breeding territory is about 1.2 acres and may overlap with neighbouring Goldcrest territories. Firecrest will sometimes defend their territories against Goldcrests with the crest raised and a great deal of wing-fluttering, but the amount of actual competition between the species may not be very great.

Unlike more specialised woodland birds which forage on trunks, the crests do not need large woodlands, and their population density is independent of forest size. In winter the Firecrest is less reliant on conifers than the Goldcrest, moving from forest to fringes and scrub. It occurs singly or in pairs, spending much time in the tree canopy, although frequently venturing into bushes and other lower vegetation.

The first breeding of Firecrests in the UK was observed in Hampshire back in 1962.  Since then the species was more likely to be seen on migration, but just recently breeding numbers have significantly increased.  Current figures suggest over 500 breeding pairs but the likelihood is that this number is far greater.  Firecrests thrive in fairly urban areas on the continent, provided that suitable habitat is available in parks or large gardens.  Locally around Four Marks they are more likely to be found in gardens, showing a preference to Holly trees rather than the dense conifers

Leaving the Firecrest I continued out into the open fields away from the houses and gardens.  In the field alongside Old Down Wood there was a group of what I thought initially were Woodpigeons, but as they flew I realised they were Stock Dove.  I flight I was able to count them, there were 19 in total, by far the highest number I have seen on the patch.

Fortunately the Stock Dove flew around and settled back into the field and I was able to get some records of them, both from the road

And from the path that leads into Old Down Wood.

I took the perimeter path to take in the Bluebells that were now coming through, I would estimate that they are currently at about 50% emerged, the blue haze still entwined with the green.  Here is a selection of the best views as I walked around.

One other plant I was looking for was the Early Purple Orchid.  As you can see it is yet to flower, but won't be far off.

A Yellowhammer called from the top of the trees on the edge of the wood.  It is not usual to see them here so the numbers must be expanding.

While there were a few Blackcaps singing amongst the resident Robins, Wren, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes, the dominant singer was the Chiffchaff.  Setting up territories, their songs were essential in letting those that look to move in and take over.

This is the best time of year to photograph them with just the emerging leaves to provide the scenic accessories

This shows very clearly the short primary projection of the Chiffchaff aside from song one of the more reliable ways of telling the Chiffchaff from the closely related Willow Warbler.

It was a pleasant two hour walk, only shame was the sun decided to hide behind clouds and there were no butterflies.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

14th April - One More Time?

Way back in 2012 when I started this blog Helen and I were walking through Old Down Wood, early March to be exact.  We were alerted to the scolding calls of Blackbirds and a Jay, you can read the account from the blog post here.  This was my first encounter with the Tawny Owl we affectionately know a "Morris" named after my later father-in-law who passed away in early 2013, he was not well when I tried to show him the owl later in 2012 and unfortunately the owl was never there, but his memory amongst many has lived on with the owl over the last ten years.

So was he going to be about in 2022 for my eleventh year of watching it in the same tree?.  An earlier visit in the year to the spot reveled signs of an owl, but not the hoped for reunion.  So it was this in mind as I visited once again.  The tree has changed with some of the branches dropped and in places the leaves a little denser.  Scanning up and down the tree at first there was no sign of anything unusual.  A different angle helps sometimes and I moved slightly and in doing so I was able to see a brown shape that could only be a tail.  Moving a little more revealed the whole Owl, it was back and in place for its eleventh year as far as I know, but could even be more.

I didn't hang around and risk disturbing the owl, it was watching me as I tried to negotiate my way out of the bramble.  Great to find the owl once again.  I will visit him some more before the end of the season.

Having parked at the pond I took the opportunity to look for the Firecrest in the trees at the back of the pond.  Once again it showed really well.

Along with most places in Hampshire the spring migration has been held up by cold northerly winds a shift to warm weather over Easter will probably speed things up and hopefully we will see an increase in butterflies and some of the commoner migrants returning.