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.


  1. So right in your observation of the dragonfly. Was watching a four spotted chaser at Titchfield Haven this afternoon. Amazing machines, so perfectly constructed and unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs...if it is broken, why fix it?
    Can just imagine the Roe Buck thinking...'You're a tease, you turn them on' to the Doe.... ;)


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