The weather changed overnight and there was a few showers around in the morning, but they did not provide anything like the rain the gardens need at the moment. This little patch of Hampshire seems to have avoided the storms of the last few days. By the afternoon the sun was out, but with some menacing dark clouds as well. Late afternoon I set off for Plain Farm in the hope that the sun would stay out, and that the rain would not start now to re-address the balance.
Parking at the bottom of the hill up to the Rotherfield allowed me to search the grassland at the edge of the Mountains Plantation. I was hoping that I could see the groups of Common Spotted Orchids that were here last year, and they were, their pinkish red flower spikes standing out in the brown grass.
As I looked at the Orchids I could see Marbled Whites flying in front of them.
I set off up the hill with the sun out and it feeling warm. Ahead of me the dark clouds were rolling away, but unsettlingly, behind, more were making their way towards me. I walked up to the pond but it was very low in water, surrounded by thick vegetation and the surface covered in pond weed. A few Meadow Browns flew about but that was very much it.
I checked the hut for signs of the owl, but couldn't decide if they were new or old pellets on the floor. There was definitely no sign of any bird. I walked along the side of the wall where Meadow Browns and a few Small Tortoiseshells could be seen on the hedge and ivy. The only birds about seemed to be Woodpigeons, these all seemed to be flying in different shapes as if to get my attention so that maybe I would think they were something else.
The grass here has been left to grow, and in amongst it are Thistles and Knapweed. The majority of the butterflies were brown, but an orange movement caught my eye and revealed this tired looking female Large Skipper.
I turned back on myself, and made my way back to the path that leads to the quarry. The sun was still out but the clouds were coming ever closer, and more worryingly away in the distance there was the blurred grey of rain falling visible.
Again the grass was quite tall, but also there were plenty of Common Hogweed in flower. This plant has pinkish or white flowers with 5 petals. They are arranged in large umbels of up to 20 cm of diameter with 15 to 30 rays, and are a huge attraction to all sorts of small bugs, insects, and hover flies. On this flower there was a False Oil Beetle, or as it can also be known Swollen-thighed Beetle. There is also a Red Soldier Beetle present and lots of small black flies.
The sun had now gone but there was still quite a few butterflies about. The first to settle was this Small Skipper, the first for the year.
But it was the Marbled Whites I spent the time watching and photographing. A lovely butterfly with exquisite black and white markings.
Despite its name, the Marbled White is more closely related to the subfamily known as the "browns" that the "whites". Its black and white markings distinguish it from all other species found in the British Isles. This butterfly is found in distinct and often large colonies, south of a line between Glamorganshire in the west and North-east Yorkshire in the east, although it is not found in much of eastern England.
Early morning is usually a good time to see this species, as it warms up with wings held open. They can be quite conspicuous, even from a distance, as it may be the only white object among the grassland. At good sites it is not uncommon at good sites to see a flower head containing several adults all vying for space as they feed. Just before I took this photograph there were two others present as well as a Meadow Brown
The female differs from the male by having more brown and white markings on the underwing as can be seen in this photograph.
It had become quite dull now, and in these conditions the Marbled Whites will rest on grass stems, as well as the flower heads of any of their nectar sources, such as Thistle or Knapweed. This individual seemed to be looking for somewhere to settle having dropped down into the grass stems.
The dullness finally gave up its rain, and I headed down the hill towards the quarry wrapping the camera in its cover and zipping up my kagoule.
I waited a while in the quarry sheltering under the trees, but as the rain eased I decided to head on up the lane through Plain Farm. It has been a while since I walked around here, in fact the last time was in May, and coincidently that was the last time I walked in rain around the patch.
The only thing of interest as I walked up the hill was a couple of male Pheasants that were squaring up to each other in the field. I waited to see if there were any fireworks, but they both backed down, and moved away. By the time I reached the workshops the rain had eased off and I was able to get the camera back out.
I could hear birds calling in the hedgerows, several House Sparrows a single Bullfinch and Chaffinch. I stopped to check the fields and came across a group of Great Tits. This was a family party the young birds following the adults. who seemed to be calling them.
The young birds collecting together to beg back at their parents. Interestingly there was a bedraggled looking Blue Tit congregating with the young Great Tits.
I could now hear a calling Whitethroat, but there was no sign of it, just movement in the bushes. On the overhead wires were several Linnets and a few Goldfinches, and what seemed like a Yellowhammer family.
I walked on and past the cottages and then headed towards Charlwood Lane. On the path in front of me I thought I saw two Hares, but on closer inspection they turned out to be cousins, a pair of Rabbits. One shot away leaving the other frozen on the path.
A little further along I could hear a quiet snippet of sub song, that as I got closer I was able to identify, at last a Willow Warbler and it was in the site I had hoped to find it earlier in the year. I had given up hope and did not expect to find one today. As I approached closer to what seemed the source of the song it changed to the two syllable call, then the bird appeared all too briefly at the top of a small bush, and flew away over my head. All I could see was a greenish wash, and if I hadn't heard the song I would have to put it down as an unidentifiable warbler.
I paused then to look around. The fields were full of cereal crops, barley close in and wheat away in the distance. Not the best conditions to see wildlife, we need the harvest to clear the fields. The sun was coming back out, and as a result was lighting the distant trees and contrasting them against the steely grey clouds away in the distance.
I walked around to the stile into the lane, and stopped for awhile to watch a lone Buzzard circling above the trees. Like the trees the sun was catching the plumage as it circled against the dark distant clouds.
And that was about it, apart from a few Yellowhammers in song, and a Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing at the small pond there was very little else of interest as I walked the lane on my way back to the car.
As I came down the hill towards my car I could see a patch of poppies that were growing on the edge of the field, an injection of colour on a day that was dominated by the various shades of blacks and whites.
I made my way home driving around the lanes in the hope of something else of interest, needless to say it did not happen. However a short rain interrupted walk of one bird and butterfly year tick, I shouldn't be too despondent.