Monday, 29 July 2013

28th July - Quiet so Quiet

A very quiet weekend with nothinmg much in the way of news to report.  The late arriving overnight rain prevented me from putting out the moth trap, and the morning on Sunday was very blustery with intermittant sunny spells, which were quite hot and would start the butterflies off.

In the garden there were Gatekeeper, Meadow Browns, both Large and Small Whites and a superb Red Admiral, while on the newly planted lavender bushes there were Red-tailed Bumble Bees, and some anonymous Carder Bees.

Highlight of the morning though was a pair of Swifts heading south around midday.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

27th July - It Was Only a Matter of Time ...

I have been toying with the idea for some time now, but this week I finally took the plunge.  This afternoon the package arrived and I rapidly put it all together despite a few problems with the light bulb.

I now have a moth trap, and last night I set it up in the garden.  I was a bit worried as the forecast was for rain in the morning, but it was fine, and when I went out to it this morning there were plenty of moths in the box.

These are some of the best that I caught, but believe me identifying some of them is very difficult, but then that is the attraction.  It does open up a whole new world though, I won't have it on every night, but hopefully most weekends, and pretty soon the common moths will become obvious, and I will just wait for that fantastic Hawk Moth.

A Common Footman


A Leopard Moth, there were two of these gorgeous moths

An Early Thorn, that sits like a butterfly with the wings held up

A Small Rivulet

I don't know what this is I can't find it yet, but if anyone can help

A Buff Ermine, there were four of these in the trap

A beautiful Buff Arches

I love the names the moths have, this is a Grey Dagger, its grey with daggers on it!

Another fascinating name, a Heart and Dagger.

This is a Peppered Moth, again the name describes it wonderfully

I love the feathery antennae

and finally this tiny moth only has a latin name Yponomeuta Cagnagella, but is one of a group of ermels, or small ermines

Wonderful stuff, and hopefully some amazing and beautiful moths to come.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

24th July - Leave Them Burning and Then You're Gone

Today was likely to be the last day of the dry warm weather, the rain we were were promised yesterday did not appear, but the likelihood of rain this evening is very high, then after that it is back to the typical British Summer.  Still the British weather continues to confound, and reach extremes.  This has been our longest heatwave for 37 years, since that wonderful summer of 1976, Silly Love Songs, Don't Go Breaking My Heart and who can forget Dancing Queen.  Apparently yesterday was the 18th day of temperatures higher than 28C, there were 22 in 1976.  Amazing, there we were moaning about the Coldest spring for over 50 years, then bang! we are moaning about one of the warmest July's for nearly 40 years.

Anyway, I had the chance for a lunch time visit to Old Down, hopeful once again for some butterflies.  Walking from the pond, I left two Emperor Dragonflies zipping around the lily pads and above some really mucky water, a Moorhen was also paddling through it leaving a trail.  In hot weather algae seems to develop here and completely cover the surface.

At the entrance to the wood were the usual Gatekeepers (no pun intended), this time they were busy around the flowers in the cottage garden.

As I walked into the wood, my first thought was to wonder how long it would be before the path was flooded once again, and you have to negotiate the stones and conifers.  Today all I had to get past were the numbers of Meadow Browns and Whites that were attracted to the Bramble flowers.

Into the clearing and immediately my eye caught a splash of orange.  Sitting on the green nettle leaves was a Comma.  They have been quite numerous over the last few days, with individuals seen at most locations.  This one was joined by a second just after this photo was taken.

As has been the way for the last few weeks, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and both the Large and Small White butterflies were everywhere, and in amongst them was another Emperor Dragonfly, which as it flew around the open ride, was joined by a second.  They flew around quite happily to start with, then one decided it didn't like the company and turned to chase the other away through the trees.

I walked slowly along the path, scanning the Oak trees in the hope of Purple Hairstreak, I am absolutely sure they must be here, but I haven't found one yet.  The smallest butterfly I did find though was a large Skipper, nectaring on a Bramble flower.

The large muddy patch at the crossroads was almost dried up, and the robber flies are all gone, I waited here scanning the trees but was unsuccessful so I headed done the path towards the west.  The brambles were all lit up by the now warm sun, and were providing a magnet to the Large Whites, that would hang from the Bramble flowers.

I disturbed more Commas, three in total, they were on the path in front of me, and flew up and around the trees.  In these situations it is best to just stand and wait, and let the butterflies come to the bushes.  The wait wasn't too long before a Dark Green Fritillary came out of the trees and flirted with the bramble, every time it did this it looked like it would settle, then it would be buzzed by a white or a Meadow Brown, and it was off again.  I stood and waited for some time hoping that one would settle, but again I was out of luck.

Everything else would pause for a break, this Speckled Wood being a case in point.

I walked down the path, stopping to watch the sun lit areas, this Red Admiral appeared from nowhere, and sat in a Beech close to me.

I have become a little dismissive of the Meadow Browns, mainly because there are so many of them, but this one sitting in the sunlight at the back of the bramble bush showed off its lovely orangey brown colour.

The woods are extremely quiet this time of year, and apart from a couple of families picnicking as I arrived, and a couple of teenagers walking through there was very little else going on.  So when I heard rustling and running noises in the distance I really didn't think much of it at first.  The rustling was then accompanied by a sound that was a cross between a squeal, and a child trumpet.  That caught my attention, and I suddenly realised what might be going on.

late July, beech woods, the Roe deer rut.  Not as spectacular as the larger deer like fallow, sika and red, and definitely much earlier, the Roe Deer bucks become territorial towards the end of July, however rather than the classic rutting fights you see in the larger deer, the main action is when the does come into heat, and encourage the bucks to chase them.  The encouragement is a bird like call, which was what I could hear, and then both running through the wood, with buck making hoarse grunts, the other other sound I heard.  Apparently they run round trees and bushes, until the doe allows the buck to "catch" her.

I pulled myself away from the butterflies and watched as the buck chased the doe past me.  She did in fact run around a tree, then headed off, the buck stopped watched her go, then decided that he couldn't be bothered and walked away.  maybe she had entered another's territory.

It was very dark under the trees and difficult to photograph, but amazing to witness, something that I have been hoping to see for some time.

Back to the butterflies, the Dark Green continued to tease me, by flying past and looking to settle but then just move on, but a large butterfly did appear, a male Brimstone, that was quickly joined by another.  They were very pristine insects, and were very occupied with the bramble flowers.

On Saturday I watched a male that was continually buzzed by a Small White, and stayed rigidly on the flower.  This hover fly did much the same, but could not disturb the Brimstone from its feed.

With time pushing on, I had to leave the fritillary, and walk back to the car.  I had time so it was a slow walk, and I continued to scan the oaks in vain.  A Ringlet for once sat nicely in the sun, the small white rings on the under wing that give it the name clearly visible.

By the large Beech tee, the Emperor Dragonfly was still prowling the grasses, but there was only one now.  It continued with the tactic I had seen on Saturday of attempting to perch on the grasses and then fly off, but finally it stayed long enough for me to get close, and to get a photograph.

Close up an amazing animal, the delicacy of the wings very evident here, and the incredible way they are attached to the thorax.  The eye too, consisting of many lenses, catches the sun, and give the animal a character as the light shines off them.

I walked back to the car passing through the tunnel of butterflies at the conifers, and then past the gatekeepers.  Unfortunately the weather is set to change, but with that hopefully we will see a change in the wild life, with the prospect of migrants passing through, and the circle of life moving forward, looking on for another, anything will do.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

23rd July - When the Heat Starts Growing Horns

The heatwave is supposed to have broken, and all around us last night and today there have been quite heavy storms, but there has not been a drop of water over Four Marks.  I checked the radar before I left this evening, but everything was north of us, and it looked like it would continue dry.  There was some sunshine about so I set off wandering what an evening walk at Plain Farm might bring.

Where the grass has been left to grow there is plenty of knapweed, thistles and cow parsley, and it is always a good idea to check the white flowers of the parsley as they attract all manner of insects.  A splash of red caught my eye, and I liked the way this Seven-spot Ladybird was hanging from the petals.

Once again there was a lot of Meadow Browns and Ringlets flying around, not settling just fluttering over the flower heads and in between the grass stalks.  The thistle flowers were proving an attraction to the Bumble Bees, there were both Red-tailed, and White-tailed about.  This Red-tail was covered in pollen which looks to be very sticky on the thistle.

I walked back towards the quarry, and there were plenty of Marbled Whites flying too, these are one of my favourite butterflies, but this evening they would not settle for a photograph.  There were also one or two Commas flashing orange as they shot up from the path, and flew strongly across the tall grasses towards the trees.

I finally managed to find a Marbled White settled when I crossed from the quarry to the road leading to Plain Farm.  It was though some way off, so it is not the best of pictures.

I expected to see good numbers of swallows as I passed the cattle field, but there was only a couple of birds about.  Collared Doves were feeding around the barns, and Linnets and House Sparrows sang from the overhead wires, and of course there were Wood Pigeons everywhere.  I walked through the long grass, scattering more meadow Browns and Ringlets, but no skippers along the lane which was a surprise. 

After checking the field to the south, I ducked into the north field, and made my way around the outside of the field.  There were some pale blue or lilac flowers growing that were an attraction to the bumble bees.

Once I got home I have tried to identify the flower but without much luck, the closest I can get to is Salsify, but they seem redder in the guides.  If anyone knows what they are please let me know, there was a lot of them, but I have only ever seen them here.

I walk around the outside of the field, because the path through middle was not restored once the field was planted.  It is rapeseed oil here, and like a lot of the crop this year, it has not done very well.

As I came around the field towards the main path, I spotted a flower I did know, but haven't seen in the fields around here before, a Cornflower.  There are two types, this and the Perennial Cornflower.  The perennial has much thinner petals, and is a little deeper blue.

By now the sun had come out, and was quite warm, any threat of a storm had gone, but we are promised some more on Thursday.  I walked along the path checking the bramble and knapweed.  All I could find were the usual brown butterflies, and plenty of red-tailed and white-tailed Bumble Bees.

At the bottom of the path there were a few more Marbled Whites, but they kept going.  I was hopeful there would be some skipper in the field as I walked towards Charlwood, but as I fought through the bracken that had grown over the style, I was greeted by the sight of another field that had been mown for hay.

I walked up Charlwood, and when I reached Lye way, I noticed that the field there was only low grass, so I climbed the gate, and walked about the edge.  At last I was able to find some skippers.  Large at first, but there were also a few Small, that were very confiding, and interested in the thistle flowers.

Swallows were also flying around the field, and as a Chinook helicopter flew across with that thundering sound all the Wood Pigeons exploded from the trees in Dogford Wood.

I climbed back over the gate, and made my way back towards the car.  The bracken and bramble on the roadside was still in the sunshine, and once again there were several butterflies.  The vivid orange of the Comma always looks good against a lush green background, and this one was no exception as it sat on the frond of a Bracken.

By now it must have been cooling down, as I finally managed to find a settle Ringlet, enjoying the evening sunshine.

A relatively quiet walk this evening, but as I have so often said if you don't go out then you won't see anything.  No apologies for the number of butterfly pictures, I have to enjoy them while I can.  Not too long ago I was concerned there would be any butterflies, but as was predicted they have made a sterling comeback.

Post Script: Thanks (again) to Ian for identifying the mystery flower, it is Phacelia, probably Phacelia tanacetifolia, which was originally native to the Southwestern United States and northern Mexico, but it is now used in many places in agriculture as a cover crop, a bee plant, and attractant for other beneficial insects. It is planted alongside crop fields, where it is valued for its long, nectar-rich flowers which open in sequence, giving a long flowering period.  It is a good insectary plant, attracting pollinators such as honey bees.  This makes sense as it was planted alongside the Rapeseed, and was covered in lots of bees.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

20th July - I'm Admiral of Nothing at All

Frustratingly the morning was not the clear blues skies of previous days, but sunny spells, it also didn't feel as hot.  I headed off to Old Down in the hope that this would not stop the butterflies.  First stop though was the pond.  The water once again was covered in midges and flies, and there were Damsel Flies on the bank, and the lily pads, while a male Emperor Dragonfly flew in large circles over the water, occasionally flying up to catch an insect.

This Common Blue Damselfly sat nicely on a reed.

While on the water I found a new Damsel Fly, this is a Red-eyed Damselfly, and as well as this male close to the bank, there were a pair in the middle of the pond laying eggs.

Leaving the pond, I walked to the wood.  There were a few Gatekeepers by the cottage, a traditional site for these little butterflies.

In the wood, the thistles are growing really high, well over eight feet high.  The flowers though were an attraction to the hover flies, this one is from the genus Heliophilious

Once again an orange butterfly caught my attention, but once again it was a Comma.  The orange colour is very vivid against the lush green of the brambles and nettles.

Once again there were many white and brown butterflies about, but some of the whites were a little more interesting.  This is a Green-veined White, and they were more prepared to settle than the other whites.

The Peacock butterfly is usually dismissed as a common species, and overlooked, but the pattern on the upper wings is very exquisite, and against the black background looks superb.

I walked around the more open paths, stopping to wait around the sunny areas, on the path towards Brislands there was another Emperor Dragonfly hawking around the trees, but no other new butterflies.  I walked back to the crossroads, and could hear a Sparrowhawk calling from within the wood.  Above I could also hear Swallows, and I eventually was able to see them flying around the tops of the trees.

I took the path towards the west end, and again just stood by the bramble patches waiting for the sun to come out.  With one bit of sunshine a larger orange butterfly flew down from the trees and across the bramble.  It was Dark-green Fritillary, but it didn't stop.  I waited, but it didn't return, so I made my way back to the path towards Old Down cottage.  Another Fritillary flew around me, but never stopped to allow a photograph.  As I stood waiting, hoping, it would return I noticed a grey insect fly by.  I searched the bramble, and could just make it out through the leaves and flowers.

I only managed this one shot, and you can see it is a White Admiral, but it was off and away.  Again I waited to see if it would return, but it didn't.  I set off again back to the other path, and the other patches of bramble.  I stood watching Meadow Browns, and Ringlets as I waited for that special moment.  Then in front of me, and butterfly just dropped down and settled on the leaves in front of me.

I had hoped I could find a new butterfly today, and this was it, during the rest of the morning I saw four in total, which was really nice.

I walked back to the main path again, and watched another Emperor Dragonfly.  It would fly around the bushes, and every so often would look to settle on a grass, but its weight would drag it down.  I thought it strange that it wanted to settle on the grass when there was plenty of firmer plants around.  However it did this several times, and I suspect it was a hunting tactic to see if anything came off the grass it could eat.

As I walked around I found a few Speckled Woods, this one looks a little tatty sitting on a dock leaf.

I saw what looked like a Large White settled on a leaf, as I got closer it was buzzed by a Small White, but it didn't move so I got closer and could see it was a male Brimstone.

I decided to walk to another part of the wood.  This revealed another White Admiral, but more of interest was a family party of Marsh Tits  calling from the nearby trees.

As you would expect for July there was not that much bird activity, but every so often there would be a Chiffchaff burst into song, and as I watched the first White Admiral there was a Blackcap singing.  But almost everywhere was the sound of Blue and Great Tits calling.

I made my way back to the open areas, and finally managed to pin down a Large White.

They always look lovely on the thistle heads.  The Meadow Browns were now almost everywhere, and every so often you would come across pairs mating.  This pair were coupled together, but were being annoyed by a another female.  It would wait for the pair to settle then would buzz them, and the two would struggle to fly off, settling quickly only to be buzzed again.  In this shot you can see the difference between the two sexes, the male being larger and with a much larger eye on the wing.

I decided that that was going to be the best I would find today, so I headed back out of the wood, I wanted to check the field that had been so productive on Tuesday.  As I left the wood, another Gatekeeper sat on the leaves in the hedge by the cottage.

I was shocked as I climbed the style, the lovely grasses and thistles that had attracted the butterflies last week were gone.  The farmer had cut it all down, and it looked very bare.

I don't understand, I thought these areas were left to encourage wild life, and it was, so to cut it down, has completely defeated the objective, and if those butterflies were laying eggs, they have been destroyed.  It would seem to me the border has been left for the farmer to gather silage, which can't be right.

As I walked back this Peacock butterfly seemed to sum up the feeling as it sat on the soil that remained.

A succesful morning, a new Damselfly, and a new butterfly, lets see what this week brings.