A quest to see all the British butterflies in one calendar year!

Subtitle

Sami's Superb Stories!!!   

 

 Me ogling May's PBF. Pleased? Moi?

Hi all! Going to start my diary from when all the action started - March. Nobody wants to hear about mountains of butterfly-free snow!

          March 15th: Epsom Common

Sunny and warm but slightly overcast

First butterflies of the year!! Took long enough, and the first flutter really got me going! Welcome back! I counted five Brimstone but didn't get to photograph any. Also saw two unknown lepidoptera (small, orange, skipper-like?)

Other nature of note: 3 herons fighting in mid-air and squawking prehistorically, 1 little grebe, (good record for Epsom's Great Pond) 2 kestrels hunting, 1 pair of mandarin ducks.

     March 16th: Epsom Common

Bright and sunny

2x Brimstone, 1x Comma

Both photographed, Brimstone on finger! Had to chase it through brambles where it then decided  to hide from me - I was oblivious to the pain as I shoved my arm into a particularly dense patch of thorns, I just needed to get that shot!! Arm's scratched to pieces. Heck, no pain - no gain!! Feels really good to be back photographing butterflies again.

Other nature of note: Nuthatch noisily cracking a nut! On the way home from work at about half midnight I saw my second ever Epsom fox, to 10 feet, and heard a tawny owl!

Brimstone

     March 17th:Epsom Common

Mostly warm and sunny but with some chilly spells.

1x Small Tortoiseshell, (photographed! Saw it up on the grazing area by some gorse. Only got a record shot but it's still proof!! Come on Sami!!) 3x Orange Underwing (the moth that I thought was a skipper on the 15th of March- there has been much debate over this on the UKbutterflies forum but I conceed to the experts now who so gleefully dashed my hopes of seeing Epsom's first ever mega-early Skippers. Yes, I'm talking about you, Seth), 1x unknown (pleb pointed out 2 butterflies to me, I turned around in time to see one fly over the tree line. Possibly small tort?)

Other nature of note: 2 pairs of mandarin, 1 snake fly, 1 sparrowhawk, 50+ redwing, LOADS of great spotted woodpeckers! 1 yellowhammer. On the way home from work I saw a fox in the same place as last time - and THREE DEER outside our house!!

     March 18th:

Humid, sticky and warm. But I was too busy/hormonal to do any butterfly watching. Seth went onto the common after work tho and found a Purple Hairstreak egg, which we are going to keep, raise as our own, and call Ronnie.

That is all.

     March 19th and 20th - my birthday!!!

Don’t expect me to have been sober enough to go on the common these last two days. I wasn’t.

Seth bought me the most AMAZING pair of Opticron binoculars for my birthday!!!! I’m a very lucky lady - Epsom Common had better watch out now that I can see!!!!!                                             

March 21st:Epsom Common

Seth and I hit the common today with no sign of a birthday hangover!

Overcast at first, sunny later

6x Comma, (photographed) 1x Peacock (not photographed! Dammit!!!!) 3x Brimstone (not photographed.) That takes Seth up to 3 for the year, and I’m on 4.  We also found 4 Purple Hairstreak eggs between 2 trees without too much difficulty, we got 2 each! My first ever self-found butterfly eggs  I have to admit tho, I feel a little glum that Seth has managed to claw back some species and nearly catch up with me. I was enjoying the 3-nil score! Still one ahead of you tho baby, watchya back...

Other nature of note: 3 adders! Photographed bathing in the sunshine, hissed at us when we got close! Seth was thrilled  5 Roe Deer, 2 Orange Underwings, LOADS of buzzards, 13 stock doves, Tawny Owl calling in broad daylight, Chiffchaff calling, one Goldcrest, loads of noisy Jays, my first Linnets and Bullfinches for the common, beautiful. Seth also I.D’d several psychids and we photographed and later named a shiny red fungus I’ve never seen before. Several Mandarins too. Great day out with MY NEW BINS!!!!!!! 

Sam in her birding/butterflying attire - plus brand new bins!!

     March 22nd:

Back to work today. Hit the common for maybe half an hour but it was too breezy and I woke up too late. Nature highlight? A bee!

     March 23rd:

Hung around at home again today. Saw 2 foxes during the course of the day, both in the garden. Also ticked blackcap for my bird yearlist this morning, which Seth doesn’t have yet! There’s LOOOOOOAAAAADDDS of frogspawn in the pond now, but I still haven’t seen a butterfly in the garden yet.

     March 24th:

        Seth reckons he got blackcap this morning. Stringer?  Didn't get out again today because I was having fun starting off this lovely new website of ours. But whilst I was at work the most WONDERFUL thing happened!! I received the following text from Seth whilst I was at work: "Big news... Ronnie has hatched already and I've had to transfer him to a fresh bud!!!! 2 weeks premature and underweight, but it's a healthy baby boy :-) :-) :-) xxx". I was so excited I ran around telling all the other waiters (you can imagine the responses I got) and in my delirium almost asked the manager to leave early so I could see my beautiful first-born cater-child, but stopped myself before they had an(other) excuse to cart me away. I told Seth I drew the line at breast-feeding so he went out to get a fresh bud for Ronnie. After work I rushed home (to the sound of a tawny owl, and a vixen either noisily begging for sex or noisily begging for the sex to stop,) went straight to the bathroom (Ronnie's nursery) but couldn't see him. Midnight being no barrier to my enthusiasm, I woke Seth up so he could sleepily reassure me he was probably inside a bud, not to worry, and that "I'm going to take Ronnie go-karting tomorrow". Bless :)

Ronnie's empty egg

March 25th:

Woke up early under the pretense of making Seth's lunch, but really I wanted to say good morning to Ronnie (somebody please stop me when this gets out of hand.) And he was visible! Bigger than I expected, and handsome too. There's something in the way he stares blankly from that big shiny head and eats everything in sight that reminds me of his father.

 

 

 

March 27th:

Getting serious cabin fever. Really want to get out there butterflying but it just doesn't seem to be happening. Could someone please arrange a nice sunny day off for me?! My only comforts are Seth and our little boy Ronnie, both of whom are helping me through this lepidoptera drought. Ronnie's enthusuiastic munching and bum-wiggling and his father's habit of bringing me Morgans Spiced and Diet Cherry Coke every few minutes are keeping me going. I swear Ronnie's already getting chubbier and Seth has been getting him fresh buds daily. He's crawling and gurgling the odd vowel - I mean on some sub-sonic level that only proud mummies can hear. I want him to grow up to either be an art teacher in some hip suburb, a train driver, or a butterfly.

March 28th:

A lovely day on Epsom Common with Seth. We found an Emperor Moth cocoon! It's huge, with hair sticking out, we've taken it home, put it in a bucket with a hairnet over the top, and I've called him Moe. The newest addition to our family!!! We also saw a Peacock, elusive again, not even a record shot. Grrr , followed by a Comma which Seth netted - we got photos of it on Seth's nose!!! Found plenty of Purple Hairstreak eggs on the trees close to our house, I'll tag them soon. I'll be adding photos of today later!!!
 
30th March:
 
I had a day off today and it was sunny! Miracle! Was drizzly in patches but I headed out to the common in the hope of spotting something. No luck, but it was great to get out there again. On the oak tree closest to our house I found 7 Purple Hairstreak eggs within 20 minutes and tagged all of them with shiny silver string so we can go back and look for caterpillars. Nice one. When I got back our landlady was in a panic - Moe’s house had fallen off its table, landed in a puddle, Moe had come loose and was completely submerged. I’ve moved him back inside but I’m not holding out much hope 
 

31st March:  
Went outside to get Ronnie a new bud. Not worth butterfly-hunting tho, it’s pi**ing it down. Got him two fresh buds and executed my first caterpillar-transfer with much skill and patience, but he doesn’t seem interested at all. He’s wandering all over the shop and rearing up, shaking his head around. Seth reckons he might be about to shed his skin… news to me! Hope he settles down soon.
Then it was off to work… but when I got there I found out I wasn’t supposed to be working! Decided to stay on for the money tho. Nearing the end of the night I got a text but it wasn’t coming through so I nipped outside and logged onto the internet, which sometimes kick-starts my messages. The first email nearly knocked me over, and read:  

Subject: RE: Sam's Butterfly Dream!
Hi Sam
I'm delighted to advise that our Family Foundation has agreed to support your application by purchasing on your behalf a mid range camera and lens as requested to the value of £500.
In return we ask that you work to raise the awareness of the UK Butterfly Conservation amongst your local community by promoting your pictures in local libraries and schools.  We will also need the registered chairty number of the Buterrfly Conservation for our records.
Please advise the required specification of camera and lense and my colleague Jason will arrange for the purchase this on your behalf, and your Director of Operations Dan Houzego will bring to you in our Kingston restaurant at the next opportunity.
Congratulations once again on your successful application!  We look forward to seeing your new work and understanding the value you add to awareness of the plight of UK Butterflies as a result fo this support. 
Best Wishes & Good Luck!
Kind Regards
Caryn
On Behalf of Friday’s Family Foundation


WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! Never in a million years did I think they’d give me the grant!!! The following email came after I told them which model I was interested in:

Thanks for the camera spec detail Sam. Jason and Dan will be in touch soon to let you know when we have your camera.  We appreciate with the butterfly season fast approaching time is of the essence!
Congratulations once again - we look forward to hearing about your great work
Kind Regards
Caryn
On Behalf of Friday’s Family Foundation

Did you see that? MY GREAT WORK!!! I’m a champion, no, a saviour of the entire nation’s population of butterflies. My ego is immensely inflated and I’m riding a wave of euphoria… Oh, and I heard a tawny owl on the way home, and chucked some old meat out for the foxes. But who cares, eh?!
 

1st April:
Couldn’t sleep at all last night, too excited about my new camera! After Seth went to work this morning I decided to test out a little April Fool’s Trick… and texted him this: ‘Been worried about the bad weather affecting the eggs I tagged outside. So I brought them all into the bathroom and have set up a nursery.’ I proceeded to name them all (Molly, Jonnie, Don etc) and awaited the reply... which was as anxious and panicky as I expected! Reassured him that they’re all still in the wild but think I put him on edge ;) Headed out on to the common today, it was sunny in patches but just too windy for butterflies. Spent a nice time out there tho, found some new places. Nature highlights? A pheasant, 2 kestrels, 2 owl pellets, and half a frog. On the way back I picked up a new bud for Ronnie. Completed another successful transfer then watched him for a while thru the lens. He’s hit puberty, which is probably why he’s been so lairy recently. He’s got one of those embarrassing downy teenage moustaches, but all over his body. I can’t judge tho, he’s my only child, and with two exceedingly hairy parents, it was inevitable. PS - Just did a spell check, the word ‘Opticron’ (as in my binoculars) wasn’t recognised, but it suggested ‘Optic Ron’!! I like it!!!
 
14th April:
Well, it's been a while! only just recovered from the tragic passing of Ronnie, to tell you the truth. It was a dreadful day that I was going to write about but decided against at the last minute. After his death and the subsequent mourning I didn't get out much. Saw a possible Comma and a definite Peacock on the way to work on 2 different days, but that was it. Plus loads of foxes, tawny owls, deer, woodpeckers etc.... still brilliant to live on the Common.  Finally made it out again, in the sunshine, and with a full day off - and my Seth - on the:
 
11th April:
Yes, OK, I realise my dates are a bit messed up, but bear with me. It was a lovely day and even tho the last few weeks have been distilled and our combined blood alcohol level has neared that of paint stripper we managed to wake up relatively early. We were on site by 11am (o.k, I know that's not particularly early, but impressive by my recent standards) and the weather, tho breezy and not as bright as the day we slept through yesterday, was great. We decided to do a full nature day and I started off by finding the day's first ladybird - a 10-spot on oak tree I have already tagged for hairstreak eggs. A lifer for me!! My next find was an Aromatic Crispy rat, yellow teeth bared in an eternal sneer... yum. And next to it - another ladybird! This time the more common 7-spot. I think I could get into ladybirds, but they're shiny buggers which are difficult to photograph. More ladybirds followed (see Seth's diary.) Orange Underwings were all over the place and I finally managed to grab a shot thanks to Seth's superb netting ability. Butterflies were out in OK numbers but we struggled to find anything other than Peacocks for quite a while. I did some real down-and-dirty wildlife photography, and lying flat in the mud, took my first Peacock photos this year - of a particularly hungry individual sucking poo juice through its proboscis. Lovely. Nice shots tho, finally!!  Good day for reptiles - one Common Lizard who scuttled away too quickly for my camera, 3 grass snakes and 2 adders coiled up together. A Comma added to the 16 (!!!) Peacocks of the day. Stopping for a chat with Seth's EcoVols, Seth pointed out yet another Peacock, but it just didn't look right - "RED ADMIRAL"!!!! We both whooped simultaneously. Takes me to 5 for the year. No photo tho :( Seth found several moths of interest which he writes about better than I could in his diary. We also found our second dead mammal, a shrew, and took some funny (depends what frame of mind you're in) photos of it. It was being pestered by a handsome Sexton Beetle which in turn was running with mites... ick. Apparently they hitch-hike on the carrion beetle until he gets to the next corpse. What a life!! Seth took us to a site I'd never been to before where he's previously found the biggest concentration of Orange Ladybirds ever recorded in Surrey, and as if by magic, it was still good for them. We managed several species, doing wonders for our ladybird yearlist which is coming along nicely. Seth showed me lots more new sites after that, I had no idea how big the common was!! Some parts were really difficult to get through, clearings and ponds hidden here and there. A white shape on the ground in one of these clearings caught my eye and I brushed some mud off it - a ceramic pipe bowl like those we used to find on Scilly!!! Nice find, very exciting, I'm going to take it to the museum to find out more. As the sun began to dim and the air to chill we sloped off back to the pub just in time for the quiz and a pint of ale. We came 7th out of 9 but not even that could put a dampener on a wonderful and productive day out :)  
 
 15th April:

Seth saw Orange-tip today, which puts him in the lead. I’m not a happy bunny and have no further comment.
 
16th April:

Cornwall today to see The Pirate! Had a lovely dinner with him and his lady Lucy last night then it was off to kip ready for court today. Court case was a waste of time and they didn’t even call me!! So Seth took me to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I don’t think he was very impressed and the butterflies were practically absent on such a windy day but I loved seeing the boardwalks and picturing them in our reserve in Nicaragua. There were loads of beautiful plants and trees and the sky was full of birdsong. Lighten up baby, this is lovely! Seth pointed out a really handsome Redstart which was a year tick and a treat. Followed by Pizza Hut, followed by a barbecue… we stuffed ourselves silly and had a giggle with the Par Pair. Danny’s garden hide is amazing!! I want one. Quite a few tipples later and it was bedtime again.

17th April:

I've been shocking at filling in my diary! And plenty has happened :) My new camera is here and I'm in the process of learning how to use it. Its first day out secured us 4 year ticks including one lifer, so it's a lucky camera!! I added Grizzled Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell and Green Hairestreak :) I'm now on 12 species for the year, not bad at all. Seth has Holly Blue, Small and Large White up on me but I'll catch up soon :) Every butterfly I've seen so far has been photographed, which is great... the three that Seth has seen haven't, however. Hmm, baby, am I gonna have to ask for proof? ;) We're on target, kitted up (thanks to TGI Fridays and my birthday binoculars from Seth) and on for a great year. I'm feeling optimistic, and I promise to update more often!!

 

Me amongst the "Headley Warreners" 

 

It's still great living on the common and I'm starting to put different species on the map. There are definitely butterfly-rich areas, like the gas-pipe ride; as well as areas good for treecreepers, woodpeckers, deer, kestrels, known blue-tit nests, adders etc. It's really great to get to know an area like that through working it individually or together, it's amazing what people miss because they're not looking. Seth has met up with some of the Ecovols recently, it would be nice to think we might be able to get involved with them too, they seem a knowledgeable bunch.

9th May:

In between the weather reverting back to winter and actually putting some proper hours in at work, I haven't been out much at all. Really miss the common. Also been feeling a bit uneasy about the fact that I couldn't get used to the new camera. Its first day out got us good record shots using the long lens, but I couldn't get close enough to get arty, and most were not quite in focus. Hmm. So today on our Big Day Out looking for Pearl-bordered Fritillaries I decided to use the kit lens to see if that would make any difference. We set off early in the van that Seth borrowed from work (a great butterflymobile!!) and got to Bentley Wood under an overcast sky. Dammit. For some reason I was full of optimism tho - Bentley's a site I've never been to before but have heard a lot about, and I felt like it owed us a good day. The area we were to look in was lovely, I'm sure the rest of the wood/meadows have lots to offer too. We weren't really sure what to look for - Seth suggested they might be hanging in roost from the top of dry grasses and twigs etc so we were keeping our eyes low. But then a couple with the same objective told us they were more likely to be higher off the ground in trees and bushes. Eh?! So I tried the stop and look tactic, scanning around me from a fixed point. Still no luck. So I walked off to catch up with Seth... and instantly spotted a bright orange shape sunning itself on the ground he had just walked past! It was so obvious. As I got the camera out with shaking hands I shouted for Seth to come over. He was urgently begging me to try for an underwing shot - little did we know that the butterflies would be so willing in the next few hours that we'd be able to take hundreds of photos from loads of different angles, and even get arty with different backgrounds and camera settings! As I was snapping away at this gorgeous insect with a massive grin on my face two other couples came along. I felt proud being able to point out the first individual of the day :) Their cameras were impressive and they gave me some pointers after I told them I'm completely new to the DSLR game. My screen was showing I'd already taken some nice shots - finally! Now I can stop getting worried about the camera. The men both agreed mine is the perfect camera for a beginner and I was chuffed with the results. Get in!

Self-found lifer, Pearl-bordered Fritillary ON MY LIST!!!!! 

 

I can't remember the last time I smiled that much. The four were lovely and we swapped details. The same couple who gave us the information earlier returned and soon there were 8 of us admiring and photographing c.4 stunning individuals, one with strikingly black markings which stood out from the others. We got shots with different coloured shirts in the background, shots on twigs, leaves, grass and even fingers (I impressed the others with the way I convinced one butterfly to crawl right onto me, they said they'd never seen it done before!)  I was flat on my belly trying to get the perfect angle, swapping tips and taking turns with the other photographers. This is how butterfly photography is supposed to be, up close and personal, instead of standing 6 feet away like I had to with the other lens!! When we went back to the truck for lunch, my ankles scratched to pieces and my face flushed with pleasure, I knew this was my favourite hobby of all time, so fulfilling, educational, challenging, and so much fun. And great that Seth and I can enjoy it together. 

 

I start a twitch!!!! Clive and Glenn 'papping' MY Pearl-bordered Frit

 So we finished the day on 16 for Seth, 13 for Sam. Not bad!! Thanks Pearl-bordered Fritillaries :)

12th May:

Fortunately I don't seem to get a hangover from real ale. Which, after the amount Seth and I consumed in the pub last night is very lucky indeed. Nevertheless we still struggled to get out of bed and didn't leave the house until midday - slackers! Arriving on the common it was immediately apparent that something wierd was happening on an epic scale - the emergence of hundreds, if not thousands, of St Marks Flies. They were everywhere! Some spots were even no go zones. When Seth finally pointed out my first Small White of the year and I rushed to photograph it, it felt like true wildlife photography; battling though swarms of bizarre looking insects which were trying to get in my mouth, nose, ears and hair, struggling to see the flash of white in a sea of shiny black abdomens... but I got the photo. Whoopee!! 14 species for me now, and all photographed to boot. The weather was a bit rubbish and more than once we sheltered under trees to get out of the rain.

SMALL WHITE at last, just 24 days after Seth added it to The Blitzlist 

 

A flock of swifts over the grazing area was lovely to witness, especially as I only ticked them for the year a couple of days ago!! I counted 52 through the bins but they were coming in a steady stream and there were undoubtedly many more. They reminded me of an amazing moment we had watching Mississippi Kites migrating over El Lagartillo in Nicaragua, an incredible sight.

I tried my hand at photographing other insects, including some flies and moths. Need to get the hang of this camera before the summer really kicks in. An Orange-tip resting on a dandelion during a drizzly patch allowed Seth and I to give this camera lark a bit more practice. It didn't move once throughout the entire photoshoot! Thanks little one. Later on we looked for Orange-tip eggs on the garlic mustard. I've found some before so hoped it would be easy - but perhaps not as easy as it proved to be!! There was an abundance of eggs, some in multiples, which went against everything Seth had told me. Confused/over-eager female perhaps?

 A reaaaaaallllly easy-going female Orange-tip, ripe for the posing!!!

 It was a nice day all told, not many butterflies but I'm glad I've clawed back another species. Only 2 left to go baby and it'll be neck and neck... ;) 

 13th May:

Sam’s solo day out!! Been a while since I hit the common on my own, so I went out today as I don’t have work til 7pm. The weather was lovely, just slightly overcast now and again, despite Seth insisting that it was gonna chuck on me today ;) St Marks Flies were still everywhere and I took loads of fots of them lined up on brambles and gorse. First butterfly of the day was a Small White, swiftly followed by a Brimstone. Both were too busy for photo’s. Then I saw one of the large brown moths Seth ID’d yesterday. There were loads of small pale moths on the gorse in the grazing area, which now really smells like coconut! Walking round the back of the pond I stopped in the same place we had seen the female Orange-tip on the dandelion - and it was still there! Got loads more photos of it, this time feeding. Niiiiiiiice! 
 
I wandered over to the gas-pipe ride, but the clouds had sent the butterflies into hiding. Saw a nice grass snake tho, and a Nuthatch noisily and frantically smashing a nut against a branch. One of my favourite birds still, along with Treecreeper which I also saw on the way back, first one in a while. I took a detour, ended up in a car park (where the hell am I?!) and luckily found my way out onto the green by the Stew Pond. As I expected, there was a battered Peacock in its usual spot of the nettle patch, allowing for some rubbish record shots, and another Brimstone. Further along the path I saw one and a half dead frogs, and my FIRST EVER LIVE SHREW! Whoop!
 
I followed another Small White into a thicker part of woodland where I soon stumbled upon a Speckled Wood, taking more rubbish shots from a distance. Nevertheless, it was nice to see, and had really bright yellow markings on the wings. I emerged onto the main path and barely took two steps before I found… an egg. A bird’s egg, in the middle of the path. It was a moral dilemma for less than 2 seconds, in which time I decided that the laws of nature and Seth’s wrath at me bringing it home could not outweigh the fact that it was minutes away from getting crushed by joggers or eaten by a hedgehog… I couldn’t let it happen! So I’ve brought it home, wrapped it up in a fluffy tea towel and put it on top of the radiator. I can already picture Seth’s reaction, but I meant well…!!
 
14th May:
Seth won't let me keep the egg more to the point, if I EVER find a tick in my belly button again like I did this morning, I'm CALLING THE WHOLE THING OFF.
 
17th May:
Up early, tick-free and enthusiastic, to twitch Duke of Burgundys at Noar Hill. We've been there before and it was successful, so again I was feeling optimistic.  We took The Butterfly Truck - I'm getting used to travelling in a Mercedes! ;) As we walked up to the site I said 'blackcap!!' Then did a little dance when Seth told me I'd got it right, I didn't know it was a bird call that had sunk in yet. Whoop! When Seth pointed out a BRILLIANT Cuckoo I decided it was a bonus prize for getting a song right. Hopefully it'll happen every time now!! Another incentive to start learning my birds. The weather was not looking promising but when we got there at least the drizzle had stopped - enough for Seth to quickly find us a Dingy Skipper! Pics followed. It soon started to rain lightly again - why was I still feeling positive?!?! Seth took position perched on top of a hilly bit and set to scanning. When he shouted 'Small Copper!!' then quickly changed his mind to 'bloody Duke!!' I rushed over with the camera. An annoying bit of grass was in the way, and in trying to move it off I scared away the butterfly, which turned out to be the only one we saw that day. I did get some shots tho. We also got a grasshopper and a groundhopper, which Seth will stick on the list. A Lesser Whitethroat was also a year tick. I'm on 141 birds and 15 butterflies so far!!
After that we headed to the local pub where the service and food was a nice surprise. A quick nap in the truck on the way home and it was off to work again. Sun didn't come out again so at least I didn't miss out. Good day, but would have been better if the weather had treated us well!!
 
18th May:
After a lovely 3 course meal and 3 bottles of wine in the sunny garden,  Seth found a tick embedded in my shoulder. This is going to become a problem.....
 
19th May:
After the horror of finding out that Seth went on a sneaky solo trip and got Small Blue yesterday I was animated into doing something about it. I thought I'd go to the same site and try my luck as I had a day off today, and Seth, credit to him, drew me a map of how to get there. (I ended up not testing it, it probably led into a river.) But just after he left for work, early, I decided to try my luck and look on the Surrey Butterfly Conservation website to see if there were any walks on. I was in luck!! David Gardner, lepidopterist extraordinaire, was to be leading a walk on Norbury Park at 11am. Result! I had a shower and got straight on the train to Box Hill/Westhumble. Only a couple of stops away and I got there an hour early. The entrance to the park turned out to be right next to the station and I was very happily surprised to see how beautiful it was, cattle grazing, foxes and pheasants running around, sun shining down on Box Hill (Michael Caine lives there!! My hero!!). I managaged to get several Orange-tips, a Comma (the only one of the day) a Peacock, a couple of Speckled Woods, and a few Brimstones before the walk even started I started walking up the track to the meeting point but hadn't realised how far it was - luckily, Francis (a fellow bird/butterfly watcher who we've met on other walks) pulled over and drove me the rest of the way. Thanks Francis!! It was an impressive turnout, much more than I expected. FairWeathers!
The site was stunning, what a beautiful area. David told us lots about the history of the site, and very interesting it was too. The butterflies soon started adding up. I found it difficult to take many photos as there were so many people trying to get views of the same insect. But I still managed to get a few.  Green-veined White (and several unidentifiable whites) joined the melee. Speckled Yellow moths were also a lovely sight. Brown Silver-lines also made an appearance, along with the first Cinnabars of the year. I FINALLY got a Holly Blue pointed out to me to - I'm catching up with you baby!! Out on the grasslands, which had stunning views of the surrounding countryside, I also managed to get first shots of Small Heaths - a species Seth doesn't have yet.  Whoopee!!! Sam doesn't quite take the lead, but she's nipping at your heels, my sweet 
I also pointed out Green Hairstreaks to the rest of the group, 2 delightful little insects rubbing their wings together - and ovipositing on thyme!! Got some cracking shots of that. A Scorched Carpet was another very pretty moth. A Grizzled Skipper was seen by many, but missed by me Other nature of note included a Burnet Companion, Green Houndstongue, a Common Spotted Orchid, and another brilliant Cuckoo, which lit up many faces.
I'd spent a while chatting to Bruce, a Surbiton Bird Club member who also shares an interest in butterflies. He kindly offered to take me to Denbies Hill after the walk to see if we could find Adonis Blues. Typically tho, the sky clouded over and the wind picked up just as we got there. Was nice to see the site tho, I'll be back on Sunday. I got the train back home and Seth and I got wasted in the local pub. Lovely day, 9 species all day. Here are my totals: 13 Orange-tips, 8 Speckled Woods, 2 Green-veined Whites, 1 Comma, 5 Peacocks, 12+ Brimstones, 1 Holly Blue, 2 Small Heaths and 2 Green Hairstreaks. Niiiiiiiiiiiiiice! 
 
20th May:
 
Seth and I planned to wake up early this morning and head to Denbies to do a pre-B.C outing reccy. No such luck, hungover to hell we fell out of bed at midday. Don't judge us!! After sorting out the car's MOT and tax - we're finally mobile and legal!! - Seth and I headed to pick Glen up from work, from where we would be going to Bookham Common, a new site for me, to find a new bird - the Nightingale. I was excited! The weather was gorgeous when we got there and I had the long lens on the camera, ready for anything! I still need to get the hang of it tho as I've mostly been using the kit lens for macro.
It's a lovely site but Seth reckons it was much quieter than it should be at this time of year. Saying that, tho, we did hear a Nightingale singing- a bird I've always wanted to hear. Yes!!! Glen and I think we got a glimpse as something flitted from one side of the path to another, but I guess we'll never know if it was our bird or not. Lovely to hear it singing tho, despite Seth saying it was pretty rubbish compared to normal Nightingale exhuberance. I don't care, I was chuffed. Onwards to a Chinese dinner, a couple of beers, and a good night's sleep ready for tomorrow...

                                                                              24th May:

30 degrees today = sun worshipper turns her red/purple face to her deity!! Bring out the sunlounger! Bring out the book! Bring out the goddess! Bring out the aftersun and let the orange times begin!!! :)

                                                                              25th May

Burnt myself to a crisp again today. Saw and photographed a speckled wood in the garden, also got pics of a galloping squirrel and a very dedicated great tit who was flying back and forth from a nearby tree to the nest box to feed its screaming children every few minutes. I got exhausted looking at it! Unfortunately I soon had to pack up and go to work, but I'd been in the sun since 9am, see what colour I'll end up tomorrow! Knowing me, probably a mosaic of several :)

 2nd June:
 
After a lateish night at work last night, this morning the alarm went off at 2am for Seth and I to head to Scotland! We both love Scotland, and were eager to get Chequered Skipper, some other Scottish races and also some bonus birds for my yearlist. I'm the top ranking female birder on Surfbirds at the mo, I want it to stay that way! Seth pointed out a Hooded Crow, my first year tick of the trip, and a very attractive bird. At Loch Lochy (!) I saw a dark bird on the water, and without bins, shouted 'diver!' Seth said it could be that or a grebe, and I replied that I thought it had "all of the head characteristics of a diver" - how did I know that?!? Pulling over to a lay-by I confirmed thru bins that it was indeed a diver, Seth I.D'd it as a Black-throated. Get in!! I was very proud of myself, as 99% of all divers I've seen have been 6000 miles away thru a scope. Seth was rightly impressed :) Not long after that, I shouted 'diver again!', quickly changed it to 'grebe!!' as it raced along the water comically with its young in tow, seemingly running on the surface... but Seth put me right and told me it was actually a Goosander, ruining my short-lived pride but giving me the opportunity to enjoy another good-looking bird that I've never met in close quarters before, like the diver. Both were year ticks and photos of both followed. It's a long ol' drive to Scotland and as I wasn't behind the wheel I had the luxury of napping a little. I slept straight thru Gretna Green there and back, reckon Seth must have drugged me coz he knows I'm getting ideas
Minutes after the Goosander Seth spotted something out of the driver's side window which then darted in front of the windscreen - a Common Sandpiper!! We timed it at 22mph down winding lanes and it appeared to ride ahead of our wake like a dolphin does, skimming just above the bonnet for a short distance, matching our speed. What a magical experience. Seth and I were both grinning like loonies when it eventually left us
We finally arrived at our Chequered Skipper site exhausted but enthusiastic. I felt exceedingly optimistic even tho it took us 30 mins to realise we were at the wrong part of the site....  but with the help of Adrian Riley's instructions we made it to the right bit. It was obviously rich in insects, beetles were well represented and an abundance of moths (predominantly Brown Silver-lines and Common Heath) stirred us into a frenzy pretending to be butterflies. Neither of us had seen our target species before and I wasn't entirely sure what it would look like in the field. I heard a cuckoo, which is always nice. 
 
And then...
 
Seth pointed out the noise of crows agging at something. This usually means there's a bird of prey in the area so we both looked up. I wanted to call 'buzzard' as this is what I was expecting. But something shut my mouth as I watched a monster being chased off above our heads by two hooded crows, and nearly fell over when Seth yelled 'GOLDEN EAGLE!!' Devastatingly I only had the short lens on but I set to reeling off shots anyway. Seth, chivalrous gorgeous man that he is, grabbed the camera and thrust his binoculars into my hands. I watched, spellbound, as the crows chased this enormous bird off their patch, less than 100m above my head. My heart was doing backflips as I followed its progress across the mountainside, over the forests, its wings making surprisingly little effort to keep its giant body in the air. Absolute magic, especially as I've only ever seen 2 before, both at the same time and miles above me, just pinpricks even thru a scope. A man with binoculars missed the spectacle and appeared on the path seconds after the eagle had disappeared over a ridge. But we had photographic proof!! What an incredible moment, thanks Seth :) :)
 
We introduced ourselves to the man, Roger, who was also looking for the skippers. He seemed gutted to miss the eagle so I hoped we could help him with the rest of his afternoon. The three of us searched for some time and after a while, even my optimism was starting to fade as the clouds of biting midges found me and the light grew dimmer...
 
until...
 
I went off hunting on my own in some marshy grasses at the bottom of the reserve. And there, not a foot in front of me, perched a gorgeous little butterfly whose colours I now realised could never be mistaken for those of the dull moths we'd seen today!! I shouted 'I'VE GOT ONE!' and Seth's head appeared over the hill, followed by Roger's. Seth panted 'are you sure? are you sure?' as he scrambled towards me but I didn't reply, grin back once again as I knelt in the wet mud; face, nose, ears and eyes full of midges, taking photos from every angle. This was true wildlife photography! Travelling the length of the British Isles, hunting on a site for hours, ticks climbing all over me and midges filling my clothes, self finding a lifer which was also a rarity, covered in mud and sweat in dimming light, taking shot after shot with a smile on my face. The two men were soon taking turns with cameras and bins, Seth gently blowing on the insect to encourage it to open its wings, which it soon did. We spent some time with it until the midges became unbearable. It turned out to be the only one of the day and I was delighted to have been able to find it myself. We gave Roger one of our new website cards and he gave us his email address so we could send him some of our photos. The three of us were ecstatic and Seth and I headed off happily to a b and b for the night, where the celebrations continued in the local pub! It would have been a nightmare not to get this species on this trip, and could possibly have ruined our big year attempt entirely. A brilliant first day in Scotland!!!

3rd June:
 
 After a hint from our friendly b+b owner we headed off to the woodland trail next to Spean Bridge station. After risking a railway bridge with the car that I was convinced was for pedestrians only we parked by the golf club and started walking into Killiechonate Woods. Two singing Wood Warblers were coin-spinning yearticks but had no patience for photos. The Whites that headed towards us down the path (in the second day of sunny weather - lucky us!!) were none but.... Scottish Green-veined Whites!! A tick for the Blitzlist, and we even found a suspected aberration later on. We added Peacock and Orange-tips as we ascended the really beautiful path. Reaching the top, surrounded by mountains, Seth took us off the main route to somewhere he reckoned would be good for Chequered Skippers. I happened to need a wee so I went off to do my business in the heather whilst Seth sat on a high point scanning the surrounding area for butterflies with his bins. As I was pulling my jeans up Seth shouted the words we've come to cherish - 'I'VE GOT ONE!!' I followed his directions and soon fell upon our second ever Chequered Skipper, settled nicely for photos! Get in! I was pleased that Seth had finally managed to find his own, too ;) We found 4 in that small area alone, and, energised, set off to self-find some more good sites. Several Crossbills flew overhead as we made our way around the main circular track. We soon met up with a lovely couple, also out butterflying, who entertained us with tales of their life on Uist. They also told us that along the side of the track we were walking along they had earlier spotted even more skippers... and 4 came into view almost immediately! Amazing, I never expected such numbers. I couldn't have been more excited, therefore, when we stumbled upon a stunning bluebell patch in a 'trackside clearing', just as Adrian Riley had recommended, and clambered down to discover....over 20 Chequered Skippers flying aound!! Seth had the biggest grin on his face as we got even more photos. It was a brilliant site and it felt even nicer to be able to find the spot ourselves. It was getting crazy hot and we'd run out of water so we returned to the carpark. Along the way we passed an incredible river which reminded me of Nicaragua, except with less giant kingfishers and Oropendula nests ;) Then Seth cried out the unmentionable word - 'DI*PER!' It's a bird I like and haven't seen since our last Scottish birding trip, but unfortunately I was too slow (or it was too quick) to get any photos. I did however get some record shots of an exotic looking bird that I was sure would be new to science... which turned out to be a lowly chaffinch :(  So off we went to the stifling car and then on to the pub. 2 pints later we decided to pitch our tent in the wild wild woods.... so we snuck our stuff up to a suitably hidden spot, pitched the tent super-speed to avoid the midges, then headed back to the pub. This is the life!!! By the time we headed back to the tent I was half-cut enough to stay warm all night, even tho Seth hogged the airbed and I slept on the floor. But it was a good night's sleep to the sound of Tawny Owls and other sounds of the forest :) Nanight... 

 

28th June
As we both work full time we need to make the most of our time off together, especially now the pressure is mounting to tick all of the species on our Blitzlist. So whilst I was working a double shift late into the night last night Seth was devising a ridiculously elaborate and lengthy itinerary for our free time tomorrow and Tuesday.
No rest for the wicked - I got home from work at gone 1am and the alarm was set for 5. Grumpy and twitching with tiredness I showered and fell into the car. Once the music was on and the sunlight began to warm my sleep-puffy face tho I began to get in the mood. Another big butterfly adventure beckoned!
First stop: Collard Hill in Somerset for Large Blues, a lifer for both of us and a species with a fascinating history and life cycle.

A volunteer site warden greeted us as we got out of the car and pointed us in the right direction. The slope the species lives on is very steep and appears to just drop away. Could my exhausted little legs keep up the pace Seth has set us over the next two days if the habitat is going to be this challenging?
Marbled Whites were in abundance - one of my favourite butterflies and also a year tick. We counted 40-60+, plus 30-50 Meadow Browns. But where are the Blues?
The first one we found wasn’t stopping for photos. Nor was the next, or the next… in  fact, of the 8+ we saw none were going to make it easy for us. I half-heartedly chased a few and then handed the baton to Seth. I lay back in my Marbled-White coloured dress (first time I’ve been butterflying in a dress, very impractical, what was I thinking?! I changed for the next stage of the trip!) and did some sunbathing. What a cop-out! Seth could distantly be seen chasing the buggers as they mocked him by passing him at speed up and down the steep hillside. At intervals he’d come and show me the latest blurry record shot, dripping with sweat from his curly head, panting, flustered and pi**ed off. I would mumble my approval and settle back to catch more rays. Which makes me a BAD person. Eventually we gave up on what was obviously a lost cause, the butterflies were too active despite our best attempts to arrive early. We did get some shots but none were postcard-worthy…
Seth and I both saw a Painted Lady each at the site, and the Warden confirmed that several had been recorded there already this year. One Red Admiral also made an appearance amongst good numbers of more common species. We got back in the car; sweaty, disillusioned and, in my case, with the rosy beginnings of patchy sunburn.

Next Stop: Heddon Valley in Devon for High Brown, Dark Green and Silver-washed Fritillaries.  The first two are lifers for me and Silver-washed is another favourite. I have very fond memories of watching them soar around Itchen Valley Country Park at the very beginning of my interest in butterflies. But I was never able to take a photo of them - will that change today? The road to Heddon was stunning. Twisting lanes and awesome coastline did a good job of waking me up!! As we pulled into the valley by the lovely Hunter’s Inn Seth spotted a Silver-washed Fritillary fly over the car - that’s gotta be a good omen! And it sure turned out to be - as we descended into gorgeous woods alongside a crystal-clear river we saw 7 more and I managed my first ever photos. The weather was perfect and I felt that familiar optimism creeping back. 15+ Large Skippers allowed for some more good photos, and Seth loudly pointed out a hutchinsoni Comma whilst another butterflier watched on - showing off baby? Doesn’t matter, he’s allowed to!! In the same spot as the Comma in a bramble patch behind an old stone wall the three of us watched as Common Blues fought off Large Skippers; Ringlets and Specked Woods danced and other species joined in the melee - at one point 4 different species were engaged in a single dogfight! Which would have been spectacular enough had a large Fritillary not joined in - which Seth ID’d as our first ever High Brown!! Another butterfly watcher joined us and the four of us took photos, watched and delighted by this very rare species. It turned out to be the only one we saw all day. So, two down, but where is our Dark Green? Weirdly, we also saw a couple of battered Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, I wasn’t expecting to see them at all! We continued down the track towards a beautiful craggy cove where Seth and I posed for photos and found our first Small Skipper of the year. We also saw a family of stunning Grey Wagtails which made my morning even better. I wanted to have a paddle in the water but Seth reminded me this was no time for frolicking - on to the next species!!
So we hit the road, which was lined by Red Admirals sunning themselves and launching out of our way just in time. Back to the gorse and heather-covered hillsides, back along coastal lanes above a sparkling blue sea, on through counties I’ve never been to before, not stopping until we reached our next destination: Shropshire, to find a bed for the night. We found the truck stop by our next site where we had been advised to park and looked around for a decent place to pitch our tent. And then it started raining. The rain, exhaustion and filth covering our sweaty bodies encouraged us to look elsewhere and book a room. Which we did, in the ‘local’ pub which seemingly only caters to truckers and coach parties as I haven’t seen any houses yet and this appears to be the back end of nowhere! Nevertheless, despite the isolated Bates Motel feel about the place, the room was comfy and after a much-needed pint and bath we watched Jurassic Park III (we don’t own a TV so this was quite a novelty) and slipped into a deep, deep sleep. A successful day, but no Dark Green Fritillaries - making it the first species we’ve ever gone for and missed. Oh dear. What will tomorrow bring?

29th June:
A slightly later morning today but I still appreciated the tea in bed that Seth brought me. Yum. No time to relax and lie-in tho, as we headed straight to Prees Heath for Silver Studded Blue masseyi.
Our chat with Sir Lord Adrian Riley OBE enlightened us to the fact that his efforts and findings were pivotal in the survival and protection of this site, which was constantly threatened with development until he identified that the subspecies existed here, leading Butterfly Conservation to take control of the area with help from generous donors. And what a decision they made. Upon entering the site we were surrounded by more Common Blues than I have ever seen in my life in one place, at least 50 in a tiny area. Pushing on we spotted our first Silver Studded Blue masseyi - which proved to be one of over A HUNDRED we saw that morning in a mind-bogglingly small and vulnerable area. Thank God this area was protected, it would have been a real tragedy to have wiped out this spectacle. Blues swarming around our feet, mating, freshly emerged, sunbathing, some perched at the top of grasses with ants still dropping off them after emergence. We were both stunned by the numbers and set to taking photos, which proved easy.

We stayed as long as our stomachs would allow but the smell of a full English breakfast wafting down the road eventually won us over and we reluctantly headed back. Breakfast was excellent and the memory of being surrounded by dozens of tiny bright blue butterflies will stay with me forever. The site was also great for birds and we saw kestrels, buzzards, yellowhammers and great spotted woodpeckers amongst other species. A quick coffee down our necks and then it was back in the car for both of us.

Onto the next Blitzlist target: Great Orme for Great Orme Grayling and Western Silver Studded Blue. Wales is a country tick for me!
The trip was another picturesque one, I had no idea Wales was so beautiful. I went crazy when I saw beach after beach along the coast practically empty on such a hot day. I need to come here for a holiday coz I soon got the feeling there’d be no time for swimming yet again today - which turned out to be true. Seth wasn’t having any of it. Aw, c’mon baby, just 5 minutes!!
The Great Orme jutted out menacingly and I had terrifying flashbacks of chasing the Large Blue up and down the slopes… We’d arrived in the heat of the day, would we fail miserably today? We grabbed an ice cream and started the ascent. Not 6 steps up and we found our first Great Orme Grayling! A stunning butterfly, easier to photograph than I thought it would be, and much more colourful than I remembered my last Grayling having been (which happens to be the only individual I’ve ever seen before today.) Whoopee!! We saw 5 all together, one landed on Seth’s leg!
Flash! Went something overhead. Zoom! As it went past again. What was that? A fritillary, but which one? Seth went back down to the car to fetch his binoculars whilst I headed up the hill. It was a Dark Green Fritillary! Seth saw it at point blank range and we even managed to get some photos. What are the odds of clawing back yesterday’s species… in a different country?!?! We saw 4 altogether!! We were both thrilled and headed further up together. Luckily we didn’t have to go far before we unbelievably found our TENTH year tick in 48 hours, the delightfully tiny and bright Western Silver Studded Blue. The female is an incredible metallic colour and we got some great photos. They were obviously different to this morning’s race and thrilling to watch.
I’d been watching a weird group of crows for a while. I asked Seth what they were. ‘Jackdaws’ he replied, without looking up. But as we went back to the car Seth realised the exciting truth - Choughs!! We trained our bins on them and enjoyed their fleeting appearance. A lifer for me, and yet another bonus on what was turning out to be an incredible trip.

 BACK AGAIN!!!!!

After a long absence Sami is back...

 

Is that a Scotch Argus on my top, or am I just glad to see you???   

 

Due to a mis-spent youth my memory is shot so I find it pretty difficult to keep up with diaries. Have you noticed? Seth has, and it's one of his top pet hates now, so I'm going to have to try and make an effort.

so... 27th August.

Got back from Scotland yesterday afternoon in record time due to Seth's *ahem* "perfectly safe and legal driving". Unfortunately I still only had about an hour before I shot off to work for the evening. Sigh.

We'd had a great time in Scotland again, which is why it was even more difficult to go back to stinky work, especially covered in itchy midge and mozzie bites!! Guests must like the plague look tho, because I ended up making a fair amount of tips considering how little effort I was putting in!

This Scotland trip was always going to be touch and go - had we left it too late? Would the nasty weather front passing through leave us alone? We turned out to have mixed fortunes.

Leaving Epsom a mere 3.5 hours after I got back from work S.U.C.K.S. Seth was very understanding and let me sleep, read and be generally antisocial for most of the trip up. My eyes automatically open as soon as we hit the mountains tho, it's where I belong!!

We arrived at Arneside Knott at 8.50 on the 23rd, just as the first band of drizzle misted up the air. Great. Not to be deterred, we began to make our way up the familiar slope in search of our quarry. One racing pigeon, one nuclear warning alarm (wtf?!) ... and no butterflies. Hmm. I think we were both feeling pretty pessimistic after hours of searching meadows, and in the end I left Seth to it as I slept in the car by the roadside. He managed a couple of Meadow Browns before even he lost the will to go on in the miserable weather and we quit for the night. We pitched our tent in a parking area in Rothiemurchus which was signposted 'no overnight parking or camping'. With that in mind we set to battling through clouds of gnawing midges to set up our tent :) We recently invested in a double air mattress which made things a lot more comfortable than usual but I still got bitten to pieces by the few bugs that had found their way in. Anyway, snuggle time it was. Nyum nyum zzzzz.....

Would the next day be any different? We woke early(ish) on the 24th to... more rain. Disillusioned and sure that nobody would be out and about today, we left the tent in situ in the hope that it would be there when we returned that night. Waving it goodbye (although it probably couldn't see us through the thick fog of midges that were STILL harrassing us) we set off to check other sites for our elusive Scotch Argus. In Grantown-on-Spey Seth spotted some beautiful woods and we pulled into the carpark. 'Ladies Garden Woods' looked great but I was getting the feeling that it wasn't quite right... why don't we try the nearby Bacharn Trail which had proved so good for Northern Brown Argus on our last trip? I had great hopes for it as it was so rich last time we went. So Seth sighed and turned around before I even gave him the chance to get out of the car. It just felt right.... 

On arrival, Seth was first onto the site, followed closely by me (as always!!) The sun began to peep through and it was a matter of maybe 2 minutes before Seth leapt into action and set off to chase a beautiful orange and brown butterfly. It settled, I got pictures, we both grinned like lunatics.... then grinned and grinned as more popped up all around us. It was a Scotch Argus!!!  :) We flushed some, others were resting in the tops of the grasses, others flying even in the still dullish weather. Amazing. This is the second time this site has come through for us and we were thrilled. They were much prettier insects than I imagined, and bigger too. They were also really quite variable - some were completely trashed, others really fresh, some had large eyespots and others small; the colours were quite variable too. I set to taking photos of as many individuals as possible to record their individuality.

It proved good for dragonflies and damselflies too. I almost felt like I had self-found the butterfly as I'd taken us to the right site, but alas, that title falls to Poi. Hugs, giggles and even more grins later and we shot back to Ladies Garden Wood as the sun began to make more of an effort to push through. It turned out to be equally good for the Scotch Argus!! We hit nearly 40 in our time there.

The woods alone were worth the trip, beautiful. I even nearly got a proposal from Seth... but he quickly backtracked. Will he ever pop the question? Watch this space.... ;)

2 Red Squirrels chased each other through the pines as we decided to return yet again to the Bacharn Trail to test our luck. What would we find? Maybe the elusive Speckled Wood oblita??

No such luck there but we did manage dozens more Scotch Argus and I even found a bonus Northern Brown Argus which hung around for Seth to take some nice underwing photos. 1 Green-veined White later and we called it a day. Success!! What would the rest of the trip bring us? We kipped in the car that night after picking up our tent. Got bitten to pieces once again.....

No-one's watching...quick, give us a kiss!!!

 4th November 2010

I am RUBBISH at keeping a diary!

I fail miserably at keeping notebooks in order and am lazy and confused 99% of the time. I've also got a pants memory. It's been an incredible year and thankfully Seth's here to keep a record of everything. We've had some amazing moments: memorable, frustrating, tiring, jubilant, educational, social... and we came so close to an incredible target. We might just have missed our goal but we tried bloody hard whilst both holding down jobs, and through car issues, weather issues and not-finishing-work-til-1am-and-leaving-the-house-at-5-issues! Seth did an incredible job of planning the whole year and put heaps of research from loads of different sources into his itineraries and wallcharts! right down to colour coded stickers :) I would never been able to attempt anything like this without him. We spent a lot of money, Seth drove a hell of a lot of miles... at peak season we were rocketing around the country, from London to Cornwall to Scotland and even across to Scilly to hunt down our quarry.

I've learnt so much this year. My photography skills are improving, my eye is keener, and I've learnt more than i wanted to know about how fragile some of these habitats are. Some butterflies are now contained to tiny, delicate patches of woodland or meadowland and it's easy to see now after our personal experiences with each species how close many are to being wiped out. I'll be developing my postcards through the winter to recognise this and raise money for Butterfly Conservation. Also to balance out our carbon footprint from this year!

Butterflies aren't the only nature we've encountered. My insect and mammal list is swelling and we've encountered loads of great birds along the way.

And when all the butterflies of the year have gone... it's time to twitch those birds Gibster-Style!  

...just like we did this past weekend. On Saturday night I worked from 5pm-midnight then headed straight to the pub for pre-halloween drinks with my workmates. We stopped drinking at 7am, had a couple of hours kip, then i headed straight back to work. At 9pm Seth texted to say that the American Bittern could be ours... if I'd let him drive me straight from work to Cornwall to see it. At midnight Seth picked me up from work and dragged my hungover ass, still in halloween costume, into the car. Just before dawn we arrived on site in Cornwall, and I got changed in the car into my birding gear as curious birders walked past. Some may have seen more than they bargained for! Many layers and a very 'classy' bodywarmer later we were ready for bittern action. It was to be a long time coming. A crowd of about 60 had gathered (less than the day before's 250 but still impressive) and we stood silently with baited breath as the sun began to rise. We expected a dawn or dusk hit on the bird so it should be here... any moment... now? No sign. As light and the cold descended on us you could see people getting edgy.

A group of hardcore Western-Pal Belgian birders were edgiest. As their ringleader mentioned several times - 'in Belgium we would 'av flooshed ze bird already!' The crowds laughed but etiquette said to wait and watch, and no one was about to offer themselves up to be the one to trudge through the fields as onlookers took photos of them and posted their evil bird-flushing ways on the internet.

We waited some more.

Hours passed and now everyone was in agreement. The bird should be flushed. But who would do it, and would the farmer agree to it? At the first sign of an agreement, the Belgian ringleader, who later turned out to be the famous (and gorgeous) Vincent Legrand, ran off to confront the farmer in his tractor. His sweet-talking and gorgeous ways (ahem) must have worked because he was soon sprinting back with a big grin on his face. A birder was chosen from the crowd to be sacrificed to the field and certain notoriety and was released like a bloodhound. He did one round of the field. We waited. He tracked back. My eyes were glued to my bins and the crowd was silent and expectant. He shrugged and was urged to try the line of pines. Nothing. If the bird was there it would have flushed by now. It was seen coming into roost here last night - where is it?

The Belgians needed to rush off to get the boat back and looked miserable. The crowd dissapated and we too drifted off to find food after a few more hours. We returned later to maybe a dozen of the most hardcore twitchers who were still waiting. We stayed until nightfall. The bird wasn't there.

A McDonalds dinner did nothing for our misery, but a few pints with Danny and Lucy soon cheered us up. And when news came over the pager that the bird had been spotted just a few miles away we were jubilant. We'd put in 11 hours today watching an empty field. Would tomorrow be more profitable? Our drunken bodies fell into bed and we snored into the morning. Danny left for work early. A couple of hours later he called with the news - 'the bird has been sighted again this morning, it's not a hoax! the bird is there! get in the fu**ing car!!' 

We abandoned plans for a full English in the pub and Seth put pedal to the metal.

We did 72mph in a 30.

We parked up on the roadside and ran for the gate.

We passed several jubilant birders leaving the site who insisted that the bird was 'showing well'.

Flushed, we arrived at the first hide to 4 birders telling us it HAD been showing well... until it disappeared ten minutes ago. We watched for a bit in the cramped hide with no sign, and decided to try the tower hide, which provided a better view... of nothing. More birders arrived, including some familiar faces from yesterday who had travelled across the country to head home last night and back again this morning. There was no disguising their feelings.

I'll be honest, I was beginning to believe we wouldn't get the bittern. My eyes were starting to mist over and my normally boundless optimism was waning. Until someone at the far end of the hide shouted "i've got - the bird- bittern - there's the bittern!!" We rushed with bins and scopes and desperately tried to locate it. No luck, the birder had just seen it fly up and back down again into the grasses. 

I can't describe the feeling when it was then spotted wandering out into full view, in full sunlight, stretching its neck up as if to say 'look, here i am, what's all the fuss about!'

I couldn't keep my eyes off it as it walked around and even took flight a couple of times to give the photographers amongst us a thrill. In any context this would be a stunning bird to see, but for Seth and I, and many others, it was a bird we had worked bloody hard for. Seth was straight on the phone. First to the pager line to pass on the good news, then in a loud voice he gushed 'mate i've got the f***ing bird! it's f***ing right here mate! Wow this is f***ing great!!!' A few of us around him giggled at his enthusiasm and a few of the older birders blushed at his language.He didn't even realise he was doing it, when I told him later he blushed too :) as I watched the bittern some more i felt a tear come to my eyes. Really? Was this just sleep deprivation or has a bird actually touched me? I knew that it had. And now I feel like a twitcher :)

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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