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!

Monday, 28 July 2014

28th July - I've Got Flowers, And Lots of Hours

After the thunderstorms of Friday afternoon it turned dry again through the weekend, remaining hot though.  Too hot for any serious walking so it was down to the moth trap.  I promised a round up of the latest new and interesting moths that have visited the garden and with the recent thunderstorms and warm weather it has been a good week.  First here are some that I have seen before, but I believe these are slightly better photographs.  First up the Black Arches.

The Small Emerald, a delightful pale green colour with bars of white.

The Spectacle, if you look at the head you can just see the two round markings that give it it's name.

The Iron Prominent, the prominents are members of the Notodontidae family of moths that includes an incredible 3,800 members, the Spectacle above and the Buff Tip, and the Lesser Swallow Prominent, which I have photographed are also from this family.  Typically they are heavy bodies and long winged, the wings being folded back at rest.  many species have a tuft of hair on the trailing edge of the fore wing, which protrudes upwards at rest giving them the name Prominent.  The Iron Prominent is so called due to the rusty specks on the wings

Now for some new moths, first some more from the Notodontidae family.  This is the Pebble Prominent.

A little bit worse for where on the back of the head.

This is a Sallow Kitten, and really beautifully marked moth.

This is a Yellow Tail, named for the yellow marking on the end of the abdomen that you can't see here, however the dark smudge at the top of the wing is another identification mark.

One of the commonest groups of moths around at the moment, and the one most likely to annoy those with open windows on a summer night are the Waves.  This one is the Riband Wave.

Similar to the waves are the carpets, although they are typically more marked and patterned than the waves.  This is the Scorched Carpet so named for the burn marks on the tips of the wings.

The Common Carpet.

The Spruce Carpet.

The Willow Beauty

The Phoenix

The Small Rivulet.

And the Barred Red, which has some very delicate markings on the upper wings

These beautifully marked and shaped moths, are from the Drepanid family and there are 15 species found of these moths in the UK.  They get the name Hook-tip from the distinctive hook shape at the top of the fore wing.  The first, the Scalloped Oak

The Oak Hook-tip

And the Pebble Hook-tip

These next moths are easily over looked, as they are quite small, but are so beautifully marked.  The Marbled Beauty

The Lesser Treble Bar

The Dark Brocade

The Dun-Bar

I am beginning to see greater numbers of the Orange and Yellow Underwings, moths typically associated with autumn.  They are large and quite heavy moths, and are also one of the commonest, being also migratory, they are very much attracted to light, and can turn up in large numbers.  Unfortunately at rest you do not get the chance to see the lovely yellow and orange underwing, this only really shows when they fly.

Usually a dull brown grey, these two do have some beautiful markings on the upper wing, first the Broad bordered Yellow Underwing.

And the Yellow Underwing

This next moth is a quite delicate looking moth from the Geometridae family, which includes the waves and carpets. The Early Thorn, a difficult moth to photograph as it will not stay still

This is the Herald, this is now close to the end of its flying season, and is probably the reason for the washed out appearance.

When I go to the moth trap in the morning, I am always hoping to find one of the spectacular large moths, the ones I have just posted here are beautiful in their own right with intricate detail, subtle colours, and amazing shapes.  But the there is just something about the large moths.  Maybe its because you never see them during the day, but in most cases they are just big and colourful.  There have been the usual hawk-moths this week, Elephants, and Poplars, but this one was a new one, the Garden Tiger.  Not an uncommon moth, but definitely a spectacular looking moth.

The fascination continues with these amazing insects, always something new to find, or hope for.

Friday, 25 July 2014

25th July - Following In Footsteps Overgrown With Moss

Another humid overcast start which was perfect for the moths overnight.  I will pull all the latest moth news together in a separate post over the next few days, there have been a lot of new moths and they deserve their own attention.

As I sat in my office on the telephone this morning I could hear quite a bit of a commotion going on with the House Martins outside, and I guessed that they might be starting to fledge.  After finishing my call I went outside to have a look and sure enough they seemed to be trying to get the young out.  There was a lot of different calls going on, and birds flying up to the nest and actually going inside.  You could see at least two birds looking out.

As well as going into the nest they would also settle on the wall, and call loudly to the nest.  I think this one is one of the fledged birds, as the feathers look very clean.

Things then moved on, birds would fly in and out of the nest, and it seemed as if they were looking to push them out.  At one time I counted four birds leaving, but there was still one in there.  Then I think the young birds flew up to the nest, and one actually settled on the back of another as they called to the bird in the nest.

It was quite mad, with birds flying around chattering and then all fying up to the nest and dropping away.

Then suddenly it went quiet, and it seemed as if all the birds were gone from the nest, but later on when I went out I could still hear calls from the nest, and birds flying up as if to feed the calls.

Thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon so I decided to set off at lunchtime to see what was about at the pond and in Old Down.  As I got out of the car at the pond a juvenile Blackbird was feeding on the newly cut grass.

I walked a little way around the pond, Azure Damselflies were still around in good numbers, and there were plenty of Gatekeepers on the sunny bank.  Over the pond itself two Emperor Dragonflies were hawking over the lily pads.

I left the pond and walked to the wood.  As I came through the entrance I disturbed quite a few butterflies.  The number of whites has increased over the last few days, and I managed to find this Green-veined White, even though it seemed determined to hide from me.

There were quite a few Small Whites too, a butterfly I have not seen that much of this year, in fact I think this is the first photograph.

Just as was the case on Tuesday there were plenty of Peacocks and Red Admirals.  The Peacocks looking splendid in the sunshine.

The Red Admirals too!

Then I found two butterflies that I have not seen in the wood before, first it was a Common Blue, flitting about in between the grass.

The other was a Marbled White, not something you expect to find in a wood, but I would imagine this one has come from the open fields, attracted by the open rides.  It also looks quite tatty, and therefore old.

The brambles were the attraction for the butterflies, and there were plenty of Meadow Browns, but every so often there would be a Gatekeeper.  You can see it looks like we will have another bumper blackberry autumn.

Another surprise for the time of year and not because it is unusual here in Old Down was a Brimstone.  It hangs there looking just like a leaf.

I walked around to the crossroads, and then headed west along the main path.  There were more Meadow Browns on the bramble, and whites flying around.  The wood was very quiet, so it was not that difficult to locate a calling Wren in the trees.  I am not sure what had upset it, maybe it was me, but it was clearly annoyed at something.

I walked along the diagonal footpath, hoping that the open area could produce something.  A Peacock flew through, and I managed to find this Essex Skipper in the grass.

I turned back towards the cross roads, then turned off to wards the Kitwood path.  As I turned onto the path I disturbed a young male Roe Deer from the grass.  It shot up, but did not go to far, and stood and watched me.

This time of year is the Roe Deer rutting season, and I had been told that if you make a squeaking sound the male becomes interested as he thinks its a doe.  I tried, and immediately the male lifted its head and started to lick the air.  I stopped then, the last thing I needed was amorous Roe Deer.

I was now walking along the path where there had been White Admirals earlier in the month.  But despite extensive looking all I could find was this Speckled Wood.

As I stood scanning the brambles I noticed a large butterfly settle onthe sweet chestnut leaves above.  All I could see was the shadow and tip of the wing, it was orange though.  Eventually it came down to the bramble, a Silver-washed Fritillary.

It flew off, but a little further along the path I came across another two.  These  though were flying low to the ground and settling for awhile before repeating the action.  They lay their eggs in tree bark, but this wasn't what they were settling on, so it was difficult to know why they were doing this.

I came out of the wood and walked through the barley field.  It looks now like it is ready for harvest.

As I walked along the path I flushed a Skylark, and then as the path became more open I saw a butterfly on the ground.  I knew immediately what it was, a Grayling, but a is the case with these butterflies it was off and away over the barley, a shame because it is a new one for the patch and I would have liked a photograph.

In the flower paddock there were more butterflies, plenty of Common Blues, and loads of Meadow Browns.  A few skippers were zipping about and this Small Skipper settled nicely.

Walking along Kitwood Lane I came across a Small Tortoiseshell which was the 17th butterfly for the day. 

I walked on to the pond, and went to see if the dragonflies were about, as I did I disturbed a juvenile Grey Heron that was in the water close to the bank, it flew up and across the pond then turned back and flew past me.

The dragonflies were still there, fighting each other for the best spot.  Only a short walk, but extremely productive.  Now for those thunderstorms.