Friday, 27 July 2012

26th July - A Gorgeous Opal Crown Sat On His Head

By mid day it was quite warm, so I decided to go to Swelling Hill Pond to see if the warmth had brought out any dragonflies and butterflies.  After seeing the Emperor Dragonfly last week I wanted to try and get some pictures in flight, and as I turned up I could see one hawking over the lily pads.  As well as the dragonfly there were plenty of Azure Damselflies around the edge of the pond, and on the bramble on the banks, a few small white butterflies also drifted through.  I set myself by the edge of the pond to photograph the emperor as it flew past.  I had to switch between manual and auto focus as the dragonfly circled around the pond, but I was pleased with the end product.  This is a male Emperor Dragonfly, and in the sunlight the the abdominal segments stood out as a vivid blue, unfortunately this doesn't come out too well in these pictures, but I feel they do portray this magnificent insect in its element.

Leaving the pond I walked over to Old Down Wood, on the approach a pair of small orange butterflies were around the hedge, I could see they were Gatekeepers but they wouldn't settle.  A first for the year they are much later than last year, and I was beginning to worry that they were not going to be around.  I left them and entered a very warm wood.  It was still muddy but not as bad as it has been.  A few Meadow Browns circled around the brambles, but ahead I saw what I hoped would be about, a single Silver-washed Fritillary flying back and forth in a sunlit area.  I waited as it kept circling around me and dropping close to the bramble leaves only to fly off again.  Finally it landed on an emerging hogweed flower, and I took my chance.  It is quite a large butterfly, and a very strong flyer.

I walked through to the crossroads, and then headed off to the west checking the bramble areas lit up by the sun.  As usual there were plenty of meadow browns, and I was surprised to see a Marbled White fly through.  Turning back another silver-washed fritillary few across and around the track, this time not stopping.  It was time to make my way back, and as I walked along the lane, another Gatekeeper teased me but refused to sit still. 

Late afternoon it was still very warm and I went back to Old Down to see if the butterflies may have slowed down a bit.  Walking from the pond a Gatekeeper continued to tease me as it flitted around the beech hedge, I gave up in the end, convincing myself I would find another more confiding individual when it cooled down.

As I walked into the wood I disturbed a large dark butterfly with white in the wings, I couldn't see it clearly but it was quite big, and I assumed it to be a white admiral.  I waited for awhile but all I saw was meadow browns.  I walked on and immediately saw a nice big orange butterfly in front of me.  As I got closer I could see it was a Silver-washed Fritillary.  Once again it flew very strongly over the bramble that was lit up by the sun.  As it did so it was suddenly joined by two others, and I watched them going around and up and down engaging in little duels every so often before swooping down towards the leaves.  One did settle, and gave this lovely tantalising view against the green of the beech and bramble leaves.

Not only did the silver-washed engage in duels with each other, but every time they came close to a flower with a meadow brown nectaring on it the meadow brown would take off and chase the larger butterfly away.  I stood and watched the fun for a while, then decided to walk around to the crossroads.  A pair of jays were calling loudly, and a wren and robin both called out in alarm.  The jays flew off as I walked by and everything calmed down after that.  I walked down the west footpath, and when I came to the main bracken patch I saw another orange butterfly but this time without the vibrancy of the silver washed.  It was also more inclined to settle, and when I got a good look I could see that this one was a Dark Green Fritillary.  It was turning out to be a good butterfly day at last!

As I walked back up the path another Emperor Dragonfly appeared, flying around the trees but fortunately this time it settled on the leaves of the tree, and I was able to photograph it as it sat in the sun.

This one I identified as a female, the abdominal segments having brown as well as the turquoise blue.  It breeds in still waters, of which there are plenty in the wood, and also likes areas of thick vegetation, exactly the conditions we now have in Old Down.

Today was turning out to be a success, so I decided to try my luck down at Plain Farm.  As I drove there I could see that the farmers were making the most of the warm weather, some of the fields had been harvested, and mown for hay.  One or two small haystacks were also starting to appear.

As I got out of the car the thistles in the filed were an attraction for Marbled Whites.  The thistles look really impressive with the purple flowers contrasting against the sage green sepals and leaves.  This one looked very impressive as it caught the evening sun.

I walked through the farm yard, and up the hill.  The verge lining the lane was now densely covered in hogweed, thistles and some ragwort.  Ringlet butterflies seemed to be everywhere.  Whereas before it was the meadow brown, the ringlet was now by far the most numerous.  I started to count them but gave up, there must have been in excess of a hundred along the verge.  This picture gives an idea of how thick and tall the grasses and flowers are.

I finally managed to get a Gatekeeper to sit still, allowing me to at last to record the first of the year.  I saw a few more a little later but they were not so confiding.

I waded into the grass, and started to flush Small Skippers from the small thistles.  At first they were difficult to follow, but I finally managed to get a few sitting on the grass seed heads, which allowed me to get a few shots.  Small Skipper was the first for the year as well, and the first I have found around the patch.

From the lane I took the footpath through the rough ground.  As I walked through field it was hard to imagine that only a week ago it was raining heavily, and that it hadn't stopped since April.  It was hot and dry in the field, and reminded me of times birding in Spain.  The filed was full of thistles, teasel and ragwort.  Butterflies were everywhere, but mainly Large and Small Whites, the Large Whites preferring the thistle flowers while the Small Whites were attracted by the ragwort.

As the sun became lower the teasels became back lit by the evening light, giving a lovely seen across what is basically waste ground.  The area I assume from some of the platforms in the trees is probably being left for the game shooting, and I did manage to startle a few pheasants as I walked through it.

Another feature of this area was the number of Hares I saw.  I know I keep going on about them, but every time I walk through here, they catch my eye, or I find something else amazing about them.  This time I counted 14 individuals between the rough ground, down the lane, and even in the area where I parked the car.  These are a few images taken as I stumbled across them.  Don't you just love those long floppy ears!

Just over a week ago I was wondering whether the summer was going to produce anything from a wildlife perspective, it was wet cold and miserable.  The highlights for July were looking more like low lights, and I had lost the enthusiasm to go looking.  However some warmth and some sunshine has transformed that.  Today was a very special day, some stunning shots of the dragonfly, the amount of butterflies, and the lovely flowers, exactly what I expected from a summer's day when I set off on this journey back in January.

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