Wednesday, 30 July 2014

29th July - A Splendid Time Is Guaranteed For All

Another warm and sunny day, and late afternoon we drove down to Plain farm for an evening walk around an area that over the last few weeks i have not given enough attention too.  As we walked up the hill though it was quiet, the grass by the sides of the fields had been cut and there was little in the way of butterflies, when I was last here there at the start of July there were marbled Whites and Meadow Browns everywhere.  

One notable difference though was the height of the maize in the field.  It is now standing at least two metres high, and is it's own small forest.  I noticed some movement in opne of the gaps left by the the tractor tyres, and watched a male Pheasant scurry away from us.

Disappointed by the lack of butterflies we walked the main path past the high thistles that normally provide an attraction for them, still there were very few of them.  There is a good Barn owl roost site I always check, but has never delivered, and today as we past it I was reluctant to spend the time.  But Helen goaded me so i went and had a look.  

I always look on the ground for pellets, and I noticed today that there were fresh ones.  Unfortunately looking on the ground is not the best way to see everything, and I heard a noise above me, and I turned to watch a Barn Owl fly out.  Fortunately I was able to get the camera up, and get some shots as it flew away from me, but I was annoyed as there was my chance to photograph it quite close if only I had been more confident of it being there.

However on behalf of the owl, I did feel bad about disturbing it, it must have been quite a shock to suddenly emerge into bright sunlight, and the warmth of the sun.  We walked along the path a little further to see if we could locate it, but it must have sought shade in the conifers of the garden.

We made our way around the path and headed to the quarry.  As we came into the shady areas the number of butterflies increased.  This Essex Skipper catching the eye in the cut grass.

I then noticed a marbled White on the grass with wings held open.  i took a few photographs, thinking that there would not be that many more about now, as we were coming to the end of the flying season.  It sat quite still on the tip of a grass shoot.

Once finished with the photographs I moved on but  the butterfly didn't move.  We could get quite close, and eventually Helen touched and it didn't move.  It appears that the flying season for this Marbled White had definitely ended, the butterfly was dead, and had probably passed away clutching the grass stem.  I am not sure what it was doing, trying to lay eggs or just exhausted, either way it was a strange find, so we left it there, still beautiful even in death.

We walked down to the road, the sun was coming through the leaves and creating little sunny glades that were filled with Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers.  Once again the bramble was the attention, both the flowers and the unripe berries.

We crossed the road and walked up towards Plain Farm.  We could both hear and see that the grain dryer was on, a dust haze was in front of us, producing shards of sunlight.  Just before we reached the dryer I saw in the yard a group of Grey Partridges.  One had an orange ring on its leg indicating it is one of the released birds from the estate.  There has been a programme of releasing them here, with the released birds breeding and increasing the population, unfortunately the end game must be for them to be shot, but for now we can enjoy them.

As we walked past the barns and out amongst the fields I picked out a large bird of prey heading towards us.  It was flying like a Red Kite, but the shape of the bird was all wrong.  Fortunately it came close and eventually over our heads.  It was in fact a Red Kite, and it was looking a little worse for wear.  The forked tail was gone and a few primaries were damaged.  It was an adult bird and I then saw what must be the cause, a distant pristine bird, which I assumed to be a juvenile, the feather damage coming from the continual effort to feed and raise the young.

The adult drifted over us, while the young bird stayed away off over a distant field.  The adult then continued on its way over towards the Mountains plantation.  I have seen adult birds around the patch in the last two months, and assumed they must have young, and here was evidence of Red Kite breeding success, but it looks like only one bird has fledged.

We watched the young bird continue distantly to the west and then out of sight.  Passing the cottages the area by the lane was covered in thistles, knapweed and ragwort, there were more butterflies, Large Whites and Meadow Browns, and Gatekeepers and Ringlets on the hedge.  I found another Marbled White, this time alive, but as you can see the dark patches on the wings have faded, now being a distinctive brown colour, which is more in keeping with its family members the brown butterflies.  Will this be the last one I photograph this summer?

Scanning across to the patches of ragwort I found what I was looking for, the caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth.  They are a distinctive yellow and black striped caterpillar.  They absorb toxins from their food plant and become unpalatable to predators, but not apparently to each other.  The Cinnabar caterpillar can turn on its on kind if food is short, and sometimes for no particular reason.

Walking on two Red Kites returned, one was the juvenile bird, and the other an adult, but from the feather damage this was not the same bird as we had seen earlier, it was probably the other parent.  The only way to tell the difference in the sexes is by size, and this bird did appear smaller than the earlier one, and this bird was not as damaged on the tail feathers as the other, but was lacking a few primary feathers, as a result of this I would consider this bird the male.

It drifted over us, constantly scanning the ground, and heading into the next field.  Following it was the young bird, you can see the difference in the markings on the breast and belly with them not so dark, and the more pristine look about the whole plumage.  The fork tail also does not appear as pronounced as in an adult, and if you look close (I have had the benefit of the original full size photographs) the eyes appear slightly more duller than the adult.

Over the next few weeks any Red Kite around the patch will likely be a juvenile, as the adults will now undergo a moult.  While this takes place they rest up in trees reducing the amount of time in the air.  The moult can take anything up to two months to complete.  With this in mind here is the second adult again, as it came back over us in one final pass.

Despite being early evening the sun was hot, and we were finding it very warm as we walked along the path.  The heat too was creating weird sounds as we walked down the path towards Charlwood.  Around us there were popping sounds as the seed pods of the broom and gorse bushes were drying out and cracking open to disperse the seeds.  With every pop you expected to get hit by flying seeds.  The sides of the path were covered in knapweed, and these were in turn covered with bees and insects.  We only managed to find one small skipper though amongst again the many Meadow Browns.

At the far end of the footpath the trees provided some very welcome shade, and the gap in the trees leading to the next field funnelled a very welcome cool breeze.  The scene across the field though was one of a typical English landscape in late summer.

We walked around the field, and onto Charlwood.  In the hedges on both sides young Yellowhammers would put in brief appearances before flying back into the cover.  Above us Swallows would chatter away, and then swoop down across the cut grass paddocks around the houses and stables.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker called from a distant tree but never showed itself, it was nice though to see and hear birds, it has been a while but they are starting to come back.

Another sign of summer advancing towards autumn was the appearance of ripe Blackberries on the bramble in the hedges.  these appear to be early, but every year you will find those that ripen in sunny hot spots earlier than others.  The bramble is a very important plant for wildlife, the berries providing food for birds, animals and even insects as they over ripen, the flowers nectar for insects and butterflies, and the bush itself providing cover for nesting birds.  The Bramble itself is a complex plant with over 200 different micro species depending on the size of leaf, the prickles and the thickness of stem.  Something to ponder as you pick Blackberries in the coming weeks.

A surprise bird flew over as we passed the turn, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, it went as soon as it came, but why it was here was a mystery.

We walked along Lye Way back towards the car.  A Wren rattled out an alarm call, but with no sign other than us of any danger.  At least three Chiffchaffs called from the birch trees by the side of the road, probably young birds keeping contact.  I briefly saw one but they stayed out of the sight.  

There had been no Hares today, probably too hot, they would most likely be about in the late evening as it cools down, but we did find some Harebells by the side of the road.  These delicate flowers are a welcome addition to the grasses at this time of year, and are very popular with the bumble bees.

As we approached the car we could hear tractors, which was strange as the field was full of maize, and it was too soon to be harvesting those yet.  As we reached the car we could see the tractor was making hay while the sun continued to shine.

The weather looks to break on Friday, so this is probably the reason for the frantic cutting, I expect to see black bales in the next few days as the hay is collected up.

It was a very welcome to be able to see birds again today, with some very nice sightings, but tonight it's Mr Kite who is topping the bill!

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