1st - headed onto Thursley Common this evening with Sam and Glen in search of Nightjars. Along the way we had a bit of fun with the odonates seeing several Large Red Damsels, a group of 5 roosting Small Red Damsels, a couple of Common Blue Damsels and an immature male Black Darter. Sweet! A lone Silver-studded Blue flitted across Shrike Hill as we awaited the first of several Nightjars. Short and sweet.
5th - after an horrifically late and extremely booze-fuelled night out we eventually headed down to Portland at 11am, some 6 hours later than planned!!!! The Butterfly Reserve was too windswept to be useful so we cut around the clifftop path behind The Mermaid's remains and set to exploring. Plenty of Ringlets and Meadow Browns, a dozen or more Marbled Whites, plenty of Speckled Woods, two Red Admirals and Small Skippers but no blues at all. We were here to see and photograph the local Silver-studded Blues which closely resemble the extinct cretaceus...or maybe they are pure? A Large Skipper and huge Volucella zonaria shared a rose. We found a pair of Green Shieldbugs Palomena prasina in cop on a leaf. Still no blues though.
We headed down to the High Angle Battery and the quarry by Nicodemus' Knob where we soon found a handful of cretaceus SILVER-STUDDED BLUES alongside several Small Skippers and Small Heaths. Two subliminal whooshes past us were probably Grayling...we'll get em later! A female Small Blue tailed us in one corner of the field and a quick look beneath debris revealed two Slow Worms. Nice. We shot back to Southampton and got drunk again with Sam's sister. When will I EVER learn????
6th - OK, so it was a bit of a wasted day after last night's efforts but, after dropping Sam at work, I popped into Jubilee Woods at Malden Rushett for another WLH check. Plenty of PURPLE HAIRSTREAK activity in the early evening sun and a Large Skipper 25ft up a large elm (!) but no WLHs yet again. A male GATEKEEPER flew from the grass into the canopy and stayed there, probably its maiden flight. A total of four Hutchinson's Commas were seen before I quit and wandered onto Epsom Common. Within minutes I had a WHITE ADMIRAL fly past me and another ten or so Purple Hairstreaks were noted in the canopy. A quick skirmish through the marginal weeds at the Great Pond added 20+ Common Emerald Damselflies and a lone Common Tern fishing the lake - which is a bloody good record locally!
12th - THE MID-JULY CUMBRIA AND SCOTLAND TRIP!!!!!
We set off in good time and arrived at our first site, Arnside Knott in Cumbria, by early afternoon. Within minutes of parking the car and heading upslope we encountered the first of c20 semele GRAYLINGS in the scree and boulders. Soon after, higher up the slope, we began seeing High Brown Fritillary and Dark Green Fritillary, the former feeding heavily on bramble blossoms and allowing a close approach. The Dark Greens seemed to prefer flowerheads amongst the grasses. Suddenly I spotted our first ever salmacis NORTHERN BROWN ARGUS flitting through the grasses. Calling Sam over, we excitedly took pics and grinned like idiots at this superb start to our trip. Further downslope, in the midst of a Rock-rose patch I found another salmacis Northern Brown Argus, this one with faint white forewing spots.
Male High Brown Fritillary at Arneside Knott
Male Northern Brown Argus ssp salmacis at Arneside Knott
Grayling ssp semele - also at Arneside Knott!
We merrily sped off towards Meathop Moss and, after doing battle with a few persistent horseflies, entered the Moss proper. I was stunned. A large area - maybe a square mile or so - of bog stretched ahead of us. I'd never seen such a carpet of Bog Asphodel before, whole swathes of yellow beneath birch before giving way to the bog. We wandered the boardwalk and then stepped into the bog. Sam saw our first davus LARGE HEATH and I gave chase, eventually netting it and posing it on our fingers for pics. Very nice too! Super quick big things were blasting across the heather patches. After a bit of an effort I finally realised they were male Oak Eggar moths, presumably on the hunt for virgin females. We spent a very happy time wandering along the boardwalk. We estimated fifteen Large Heaths along with a couple of Beautiful Yellow Underwings and 10+ Manchester Treble-bars. Large Skippers were noticeable along the edges of the Moss. We saw around ten or so plus a Buff Ermine, Clouded Border, Small Tortoiseshell, plenty of Common Lizards and more horseflies. I went unmolested. Sam was savaged!
That night we drove onto the Ardnamurchan Peninsular and wild-camped on the roadside just outside Poloch. En route we had a chance encounter with a Scottish Wildcat crossing the road ahead of us, my third ever!!!!! The noise of Snipe lulled us to sleep.
13th - woke up early and added splendida MEADOW BROWN to the Blitz whilst taking a leak. We washed in a tumbling stream before heading off to find some butterflies!
Our 'campsite' on Ardnamurchan...a tent with a view!!!
First we tried Ariundle Oakwoods and I can whole-heartedly recommend the place. Within twenty metres of leaving the carpark we found more splendida Meadow Browns, a thomsoni Green-veined White, a Golden-ringed Dragonfly in a water-filled ditch, a very worn and tatty insularum SPBF and a lovely scotica DARK GREEN FRITILLARY...sweet! We wandered through the woods and out into an open peat-bog area called Fairy Street (bet there's a cool story behind the name!) Here we saw a couple more insularum SPBF along with many dragonflies. Commonest was the large Golden-ringed Dragonfly, closely followed by Common Hawker then Large Red Damselflies. A couple of 4-spot Chasers and our first ever Northern Emerald summed up the ID'ed stuff but we both think we had Azure Hawker. I'm just not willing to string the mighty beast so we left it off the list. Bet it was one though...
Dark Green Fritillary ssp scotica - quite commonplace up here
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary ssp insularum on my finger!
Next on the agenda was Ardnamurchan Point. I love it here, even though this is only my third time at the site. It just feels so wild and rugged. Apart from the tourists and tea rooms! We didn't waste any time and hastened onto the rocks and ledges. A few minutes later and we skored our first atlantica GRAYLINGS and what marvellous beasts they are! The first individual was the perfect example, dark, dark body and wing-bases with a sharp delineation at the pale borders to the central band. Wingtips were dark again and throughout was a dark fleckling (is that a word?) of black scales. I loved it! Fave butterfly of the year so far. A rugged beast in its rugged environment. Wild and tough. Yep, I loved it. The next individual was less contrasty but still pretty dark. They allowed a close approach if we moved slowly enough (elbows and bum on wet rocks, yum!) We saw five individuals before rain swept in. We swept out - straight into the tea room and enjoyed some bloody tasty cake.
Grayling ssp atlantica - big, bold contrasty beasties!
Leaving the Point we headed eastwards along the coast road and checked a random hillside full of flowers and Cotton-grass. Several Small Heaths and splendida Meadow Browns later and I found a scotica LARGE HEATH which allowed a few poor pics. Great stuff, that just leaves polydama and we've cleared up on the races!! We headed north again and camped just south of Mallaig, ready for tomorrow's adventure...
14th - awoke early, had a Scottish fry-up and jumped the ferry to Rhum! Today we were after the endemic race of Small Heath known ONLY from Rhum, although it may also occur on neighbouring islands. The weather was dull and cloudy, not ideal. We spent the first hour or so watching the ferry ploughing through rafts of Manx Shearwaters, Guillemots, Razorbills and the occasional Black Guillemot. I saw a Puffin and two dolphins which Sam missed. We watched two adult Guillemots dive out of 'danger' as the ferry steamed past - leaving a small fledgling squeaking in distress on the surface, poor blighter. He was soon reunited with mom and dad again. A few Arctic Terns and Kittiwakes flew alongside. A Red-throated Diver went over. We went belowdecks for food and somehow missed the fact that the ship had berthed in Rhum's tiny harbour. With a mad panic we scrambled topside just in time to see the dock retreating as the ferry backed away and turned towards the open sea once more...WHAAAAAAAAAAATTT??? There hadn't even been an anouncement! Feeling like a couple of complete dolts we casually enquired where the next stop was and settled down to await our arrival on Canna. Prats.
We arrived to a windy and drizzle-splattered Canna. Not good. Then the rain started to fall a bit heavier. Nope, definitely not good. Nevertheless we persevered and one likely looking hillside gave us two somewhat windblown splendida Meadow Browns (hah, not so 'splendida' now, are we?) Wheatears on the beach were small consolation. We managed two more not-so-splendida Meadow Browns before heading back to the ferry. Somewhat perversely (I thought) the sun broke through and the rain stopped whilst we were still between islands. An hour later we docked at Rhum, quite dry by now. I could almost hear the rhoumensis Small Heaths chuckling at me..."next time Gibster, maybe next time"...arse.
The ferry to Rhum...except we forgot to get off...
'Allo 'Allo...eez zees a Fox Mirth caterpeelar??? Smells of honions...
15th - today we were in Speyside, not too far from Aviemore. The weather remained fairly rubbish, cloudy and damp. A light rain began to fall and we packed away a rather wet tent.
Figuring the butterflies would be tricky in these conditions, we tried our luck with dragonflies. Or damselflies, to be precise. We located a small lochan with boardwalk and within a few minutes we'd managed to spy a handful of the highly localised Northern Damselfly - a lifer for both of us!!! We counted a maximum of 18 individuals at this one site. Common Emerald Damselflies were also present, we saw 34 of them here.
A nearby pool with boardwalk is reputed to be a favoured spot for White-faced Darter. We gave it quite a while in varying weather conditions. We had visits by a 4-spot Chaser, Common Hawker, a Downy Emerald and had fun watching egg-carrying Raft Spiders. But no White-faced Darter. Curses.
The huge Raft Spider Dolomedes fimbriatus carrying her egg sac
We trooped up to Tulloch Moor (the grouse screen is gone) and explored the pond margins. More Northern Damselflies at the pondside and in the surrounding heathers. A few Common Emerald and Large Red Damselflies, then in a burst of sunshine we saw a Small Heath, a Scottish Dark Green Fritillary, a Northern SPBF, a 6-spot Burnet and a Common Lizard.
Always at the cutting-edge of fashion...
Finally the sun broke through...finally! We rushed up to Grantown-on-Spey and parked up opposite the 'Spey Valley Smokehouse'. Entering the meadows (signed up as The Bacharn Trail) we explored and found artaxerxes Northern Brown Argus in an area of Rock-rose. Excellent. A short while later we found another one, plus our third colony of Northern Damselflies around a manmade lake. Sweet, and I'd thought they might prove tricky! We saw hundreds of Chimney Sweep moths, a Small Heath, some 60+ Ringlets and a male Common Blue Damselfly.
Northern Brown Argus form artaxerxes at Grantown-on-Spey
16th - Not a fun day. The weather was crappier than ever and we needed to see Mountain Ringlet. Hmmm...we had to try, at least. So we followed directions as suggested by UKButterflies members and ended up by a dam at Ben Lawers. Beautiful place...but in the four hours we were there it was sunny for maybe ten minutes...total. We wasted our time here, despite many efforts to flush one into flight. Eventually we headed south for polydama Large Heath at Fallin. Nope, bugger all there either. Not a good day. We crashed in a room that night and tried to get drunk.
Right place...right time...WRONG weather
17th - The weather was still rubbish so we quit and headed southwards once more. We had hoped to try a couple of Cumbrian sites, but the rain changed our minds. As it happened, we ended up at Bookham Common back in Surrey!!!! Sunny warm weather had our spirits raised once more as we set off in search of goodies. And it didn't take long!
First up we wandered uphill to the Master Oaks and within a few minutes Sam called her first ever Purple Emperor flying into the canopy. By the time I got onto it, it was settled on a high perch - wings spread ready for action. Unfortunately for us the action was missing. We watched it for quite a while but it just sat there. Still, a lifer for Sam and my first for two years. We saw a few White Admirals, one was the all dark form obliterae which was my first of the year and Sam's second. A pair of Southern Hawkers were the first of the summer. Pretty soon we realised that large numbers of butterflies were feeding low down in brambles, thistles and other low vegetation. One small pathside clearing had over a dozen Purple Hairstreaks, eight Silver-washed Fritillaries, two Hutchinson's Commas, numerous 'browns' and a single stunning valesina Silver-washed Fritillary. True to form it seemed to prefer the shadows rather than feed in direct sunlight. A male briefly flew around it but generally it was ignored. Several other female SWFs were a duller, bronzed colour but still exhibiting orange ground colour, so not of the form valesina. Apparently these abberations are largely due to very hot temperatures whilst the caterpillar is in pupation. We watched the lovely wheeling courtship flight as a pair flew towards us at knee-height. Later on we saw a second pair doing the same courtship flight in another area of the common. Sam had never seen this behaviour before.
TOP TO BOTTOM: female, valesina female and male Silver-washed Fritillaries
Other offerings were Roesel's Bush-crickets, Common Green Grasshopper, Meadow Grasshopper, a very bleached Tortrix viridana, four immaculately fresh second generation Peacocks, a Common Darter and lots of sunshine.
20th - today we headed off to an old favourite of ours - Magdalen Hill Downs near Winchester. It was bloody hot and we were too late to catch the butterflies before they'd had time to warm up. First sighting was of numerous mines in the lilac of Caloptilia syringella. First butterfly was a Gatekeeper and we saw plenty more along the access track. The Horse-chestnut was suffering a fairly heavy infestation of Camararia ohridella, certainly heavier than last year. So much for the harsh winter knocking them for six! We saw Mother-of-Pearl leaf rolls in nettle beds and watched a Red Admiral egglaying onto nettles. The eggs were described by Sam as looking "like a tiny water melon"....fair play!
At the top of the track we struck out towards the chalk pit in search of Small Blues, but not before we netted our first Essex Skipper of the year! Two Small Skippers nearby allowed for a handy comparison. The meadow alongside was full of life. Butterflies abounded and consisted of many Ringlets, Meadow Browns, more Gatekeepers, Large White, Green-veined White, a pair of Brimstones, several Commas, a Peacock, several Marbled Whites and Small Whites, Common Blues, two Brown Argus and a handful of male Chalkhill Blues which appeared to have wandered a substantial distance from the slopes we saw them on last summer. And all before we'd even reached the chalk pit! We wandered the rim noting healthy plants of Kidney Vetch scattered across the ground. Soon Sam found a female Small Blue which we watched ovipositing.
Back in the open meadows we were astounded to see enormous numbers of burnets zig-zagging across the slopes. We guestimated in excess of a thousand were seen by us on our visit. Bloody wow! We found a couple of Small Coppers and Holly Blues which brought the butterfly total to a site count of 19 species. Chalkhill Blue numbers were moderate with the majority being males. We found one with furled wings, hopefully he'll expand properly. Certainly a lot less presence than witnessed last year, although I think we're earlier into the flight period this time around.
Orthoptera interest centred on the Roesel's Bush-cricket. We heard quite a few stridulating from the long grasses. I tracked one down to show Sam and was pleasantly surprised to note it was of the extra long winged macropterous form, diluta. Thereafter we noted that every single individual we saw was diluta. Several were seen flying across the slopes and into trees, creating a somewhat baffling flight silhouette - half dragonfly and half something completely different! The long trailing hindlegs were most noticeable as were the membranous wings creating the impression of a tiny biplane. Weird. It seems that diluta crops up naturally in hot summers, a mechanism evolved, it seems, to aid range expansion in suitable conditions. We also saw Dark Bush-cricket, Field Grasshoper, Meadow Grasshopper and Common Green Grasshopper.
Heading homewards we diverted to a stretch of river near Wrecclesham on the Hampshire side of the Surrey border. I've seen Scarce Chaser here in years gone by and thought I'd try again. No such luck but I was properly surprised to find a Golden-ringed Dragonfly and good numbers of Beautiful Demoiselles flying with Banded Demoiselles (just like they're not meant to, lol!) We also saw good numbers of Minnows and trout plus a few jumbo-sized Chub too. Sam went for a splash midstream and effectively scared off everything within the splash zone. A jolly good day, once more.
21st - Glen told us of a group of Southern Emerald Damselflies currently residing in a ditch at Cliffe Pools RSPB in north Kent. Sam's not hugely interested in damselflies but she came along anyway. I know Cliffe Pools well, having been birding here many times and seeing some decent stuff including Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers. Tis a good site. So I headed straight for the track opposite the second viewing ramp and scanned the ditches on both sides. Nada. We saw plenty of Ruddy Darters and Black-tailed Skimmers. A large Grass Snake swam across one water channel leaving Sam a bit gobsmacked, "but how is it swimming, it's got no legs!!!" I reminded her that fish don't have legs but they seem to manage quite well...
We finally figured we were at the wrong place so tried another ditch. This seemed much better for within ten minutes we'd seen a Small Red-eyed Damselfly, several Blue-tailed Damselflies and six or seven Scarce Emerald Damselflies. Despite an awful lot of scanning we utterly failed to find the Southern Emerald Damselflies, obvious though they should have been. Hmmmm. We saw a dozen species of butterflies, nothing too unusual though.
I dropped Sam at work before heading over to Boldermere at the A3/M25 junction. Usually pretty good for dragonflies, I was dismayed at the extent of marginal plant and scrub clearance recently undertaken. Guess it'll look pretty good in two or three years time though. I saw a single Small Red-eyed Damselfly and small numbers of Blue-tailed Damselflies and Common Blue Damselflies. And not a single dragonfly!
28th - so it's back up to Scotland on the trail of the missing species from last time. Targets were Large Heath polydama, Small Heath rhoumensis, Mountain Ringlets scotica and mnemon and Grayling scota. Would we get them all??? We only had two full days. Hmmm.....
First up was Kilconnell Flow just south of Dumfries. In fairly cloudy conditions we didn't do too well. Plenty of Black Darters and a few Four-spot Chasers plus a single Common Darter. During brief sunny spells we had a Large White and several distant Small/Green-veined Whites. Then Sam had a chocolatey brown butterfly flit out of the raised peat bog and drop in a cotton-grass dominated area. Then another. I missed both of these. I had to admit the unhappy truth - Sam had Large Heath polydama and I didn't. We quit as the rain set in.
We dropped down to Castlehill Point where a lovely coastal path led us along the rocky shoreline. Before long I almost stepped on a huge, fat Adder which Sam managed to photograph. Then we were in the thick of scota Grayling action! We encountered four individuals which allowed a close approach and several good pics ensued. Much browner-toned than the Ardnamurchan beasts and a bit more tolerant of our approach too. Wasting no time we ticked-and-ran our way to another nearby Large Heath site, Knowetop Lochs SWT. Despite the site reputedly holding good numbers we failed to find any. The sun burst through for a fifteen minute slot during which time we managed stuff like Ringlets (including an arete individual) lots of Black Darters and various damselflies. A Stoat bounding down the road was a worthy distraction, Sam managed some good pics too. With the weather looking rubbish we quit and headed towards tomorrow's destination of Ben Lawers. Rhum's population of Small Heaths will have to wait for another year.
29th - spent most of the day at Ben Lawers. First we tried the roadside area by the dam, but the weather was playing tricky and we managed a grand total of buggerall in two hours. Eventually I conceded that maybe the nature trail would be more profitable so we quit and headed down to the car parking area. We bought a site guide and headed up the trail. The sun broke through and before long we were sweating in the surprise heat. Surely we'd skore in these ideal conditions?!?
Suddenly I spied a brown butterfly weaving through ferns in a hollow - surely...it has to be??? To my immense dismay it turned out to be a Common Ringlet...whaaaaat!!! I didn't know they would be be up here with us. Grrrr. We had quite a few scotica Dark Green Fritillaries, a brief Small Heath and another dozen or so Ringlets keeping us company on the mountainside. Despite a lot of time and effort 'in the zone' we had to come away without Mountain Ringlet.
However, Sam had a skinnydip in a pool - hidden from prying eyes behind boulders. Which was fine til she slipped over and bumped her nut...could have been a whole heapload worse, those granite boulders are fragile, lol
We had a few Golden-ringed Dragonflies, a Common Hawker, Northern Spinach (a moth), a half grown Emperor moth larva, a Small Tortoiseshell and lots of Redpoll and Twite action. A lovely day, truly stunning scenery and more sunburn than I'd have thought possible! Back at the dam we gave it a while longer...another Small Tortoiseshell and two scotica Dark Green Frits but no Mountain Ringlets.
With heavy hearts we figured the flight season had finished. Surely we would have skored were they still on the wing? We had a last minute blast down to Fallin for another attempt at polydama Large Heath. We didn't see a single butterfly. Sam had work the next day so we departed southwards.
We've just one more trip planned for Scotland, sometime around the second or third week of August. Targets are Scotch Argus aethiops and caledonia and Speckled Wood oblita. I'm confident we'll do better next time!!!
3rd - I had the day to myself (Sam was being hungover at a friend's house after a night in the clubs... ) Deciding to stay local I swung across to Jubilee Woods at nearby Malden Rushett for about the sixth time...it just looks so darn good for White-letter Hairstreak and I don't know any local sites where they are reliable. Just gonna have to hunt my own ones down.
It was humid but cloudy when I arrived. I saw 6 crows in the field as I arrived. Using the old Magpie adage I figured one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for a wish, six for a letter...a letter, what - like a White-letter??? I scanned left across a bad of Creeping Thistles just in time to see a brown-looking hairstreak fall out of the trees and into the thistles. Whaaaat!!!!! Running across I completely lost track of where it had landed (schoolboy error!) and eventually gave up searching. It must've flown off again as I approached (or I really am rubbish at finding stuff?) I found a surprising number of Speckled Bush-crickets in the dry thistle heads, in excess of ten or so. Males and females with chirps coming from all directions. Odd. Or maybe not.
I wandered the margins finding a few Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and Common Blues. A Hornet was investigating the flowerheads and many impressive looking hoverflies were seen but not identified. Back at the thistle bed once more I added a Speckled Wood, hutchinsoni Comma, a Small White and then a Purple Hairstreak in the Ash. Finally I spotted a small brown butterfly cascading from the trees into the thistles. And this time I watched where it landed and kept eye-contact throughout as I closed the distance between us. I reached the appointed thistle head...er, nuffin...when a spanking White-letter Hairstreak suddenly popped into view from beneath the thistle head. Yey!!!!!!! Needless to say, rather a few pics ensued including one where its foot is resting on my fingertip! More than a little relieved, and grinning like a loony, I watched as it retreated back up into the canopy. I quit the site happy. My persistence had finally paid off. But what of Sam...? Her phone was still dead so I continued solo, next stop Fairmile Heath near Cobham.
Bank of Creeping Thistles beneath oaks, ashes and elms - WLH heaven!!!
First thing I saw was a Brown Hawker over the car parking area. Sweet. I set off in search of grasshoppers finding plenty of Meadow Grasshoppers, Field Grasshoppers and Mottled Grasshoppers but nothing better. Three Brown Arguses were nice and I finished by finding a pair of mating Bryony Ladybirds on the foodplant.
My next destination was Bookham Common. I only managed a short circuit (not literally, of course) before Sam called up, her phone now plugged in. Apparently she had blagged her way to another day off and wanted to join me asap. I noted 20-30 mostly worn and ragged Silver-washed Fritillaries, a few Meadow Browns and Ringlets, a Small Skipper, five Small Whites, a lovely Small Copper, 30-50+ Gatekeepers, a batch of Vapourer Moth eggs on the cocoon, a Holly Blue, a male Ruddy Darter, a male Black-tailed Skimmer and an exceptionally noisy juvenile Buzzard. Then I rushed back for Sami.
After a brief debate we called into Jubilee Woods for another attempt for WLH. We gave it 90mins or so. Plenty more Common Blues now that the sun was shining plus 6 or 7 Purple Hairstreaks. We found an absolutely tiny runt Ringlet, not much bigger than a Common Blue!!! But no sign of a WLH. Sam hates this place!
I took her across to Warren Farm and we cut through the ancient avenue into Nonsuch Park. Suddenly Sam was much, much happier even if we didn't see too much. The evening sun across the breeze-blown grasses and the 'magic tunnel' into the Farm itself seemed to be enough. Plus a bit of impromptu Canadian Goldenrod pulling. Always good for the frustration, that one lol. We managed five common butterfly species before scrumping a load of delicious yellow plums. Yumm.
Sami - caught here holding my plums!!!
4th - much to Sam's dismay I started off by suggesting Jubilee Wood for her WLH. A last minute check of Surrey BCs outings list had us hurrying in readiness for a Reigate Hill walk - targets Chalkhill Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper. The latter would be a life tick for Sam and an addition to the Blitz List. We had to go. Plus it was a site tick for me, so I was keen to be shown the best spots. We made it with one minute to go. The weather looked pretty ominous. Luckily we were ready for anything in our jeans and t-shirts, damn fools!
It took quite a while for the first butterfly to show, a Meadow Brown which Sam called first but Heavy Jenny took the credit for. Evils shot between them. Women, tut. I entertained myself by finding Luffia ferchaultella on Beech and Phyllonorycter coryli mines on Hazel. We watched dozens of tiny Camararia ohridella parading across mine-covered Horse-chestnut leaves. A lovely Argyresthia (probably albistria but I didn't have a book and didn't retain the specimen) made Sam gasp as she scrutinised it through a hand lens. Then it flew off before the camera could be swung into action.
We managed a few Gatekeepers and a Common Groundhopper before I kicked up a sheltering male Chalkhill Blue. Then the rain started so we took shelter beneath trees. Soon after the rain stopped the sun came out and temperatures rose quite nicely. Common Blues suddenly proliferated across one area along with many 6-spot Burnets. I found Rufous Grasshoppers to be quite numerous across the slopes, as suddenly were Small Heaths. We saw ten in a matter of minutes. Sam called the day's first Small Copper and then found a stunningly pristine Large Skipper on a flowerhead in some scrub. I commented on the super-obvious sex brand and perfect white cilia around the trailing edge to the wings. There was NO WAY this individual was more than just a few days old. Sam took a series of quite good pics. We showed one pic to the leader. None of us even knew Large Skippers had a second generation. Is this a recent development thanks to the hot summers? Who knows? I made a mental note to pose the question on UKButterflies that night.
Our supposed "Large Skipper"...fools!!!
After a quick lunch break we ventured across the very short turf at the top of the scarp. I subliminally spotted a small, pale looking butterfly as it was swept over the rim in the strong breeze. It was a Silver-spotted Skipper and Sam managed a couple of record shots. I called the others over but only one chap saw it before it vanished in the wind. Sam was happy but a little disappointed not to have seen it better. I decided we'd try Box Hill Zig-zags afterwards for another shot at Silver-spotted Skipper but kept quiet for now. She'd appreciate the surprise (if not the steep slope, heh heh!)
A Comma, Red Admiral, a few more Chalkhill Blues and a Speckled Wood summed up the site's butterfly tally. Nothing very exceptional but the weather was less than ideal throughout. We thanked Howard the leader before setting off to Holmwood Common on a Brown Hairstreak recce. However, halfway towards Dorking we were caught in a thunderstorm and torrential rain threatened to smash-in my cracked windscreen. Luckily it soon stopped, but we only gave Holmwood thirty minutes or so. We saw nothing anyway.
We arrived at Box Hill Zig-zags and Sam's face was an absolute picture when she realised I intended to climb the steep slope. She gamely followed but seemed a bit unfocused or disillusioned. She soon snapped into action when I repeated that Silver-spotted Skippers live on this very slope so to keep her eyes peeled. I think she figured I was just trying to exercise her legs!!! We saw hundreds of 6-spot Burnets, many in cop. Plus a few Common Blues. We climbed all the way to the top meadow whereupon we discovered maybe forty Common Blues and Brown Arguses roosting in grasses. The sun broke through and suddenly there were dozens of tiny wings spread throughout the grass. The Brown Arguses were typically belligerent and bullied their larger cousins relentlessly. Even Gatekeepers and a bashed Ringlet were under attack! A real surprise was a male Chalkhill Blue sunning with Common Blues, I don't think I've ever seen one here before. Sam took record shots anyway. A bit further into the meadow we stumbled across a stunning Silver-spotted Skipper which allowed a slow approach to within just a few inches. We sat with it for a long time, soaking up the event to the full. I think atlantica Grayling may have just slipped into second place as my fave butterfly of the year so far. The way back downslope to the car was much quicker than the climb up. Sam suddenly went, "wow!!!" at the sight of a large Roman Snail, her first apparently. They are quite common here although usually it is the empty shell that is seen. Lots (and lots!) more pics ensued. Bless my little bumpkin girl.
My fave butterfly of the Blitz so far (sorry atlantica!!)
Back home I asked UKButterflies about second generation Large Skippers to which Felix suggested it was a spotless Silver-spotted Skipper. Checking the photos (which only showed the upperside forewings) it soon became clear that we'd messed up royally...it was, in fact, a male Silver-spotted Skipper. Sam's first (and self-found!) What a plum!!! I ate humble pie on UKButterflies and hoped for the best
5th - it seems that the overwhelming general consensus on UKButterflies is that since Sam took the pic, and I re-identified the skipper, I'm completely in the clear and it's ALL Sam's fault. I love these people!!!!!
6th - we live in a house on the very edge of Epsom Common with our landlords. They're kind of into wildlife, the husband used to keep terrapins years ago and has recently taken to photographing the ones which live in the Great Pond. Yesterday he saw a soft-shelled turtle sunning itself with the usual Red-eared Terrapins but didn't get a pic. He knows the differences and saw it quite well at close range. I wonder if SARG (Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group) know about it yet??? Think I'll drop them an email.
10th/11th - headed down to Southampton for Sam's sister's birthday party. Twas all good fun, there were only 7 of us and Keiron was the only other guy. Fun and messiness into the night culminated with me sharing a bedroom with four (really rather well-endowed) 20-something year old girls. (Un?)fortunately Sam was one of them so no hope of anything untoward happening...tee hee Baby!
Fun times! Happy Birthday, Kate. Shame about your hangover, lol!!!! Back to the butterflies next week...
18th - Sam was at work today, I dropped her in and headed south down the A3. A rare solo event for me...where should I go? I didn't want to try for Brown Hairstreak without Sam (mainly coz she'd kill me) so returned to Site X, the secret Surrey quarry south of Milford. I was on site for less than 2 hours but managed 12 species of butterfly including a handful of 2nd generation Wood Whites, my target species here. 2nd generation Small Heaths were also in evidence, the whirling, spiralling dogfights most noticeable.
I headed back via Jubilee Woods but the weather had deteriorated somewhat and the only sighting of consequence was of numerous Phyllocnistis unipunctella mines on hybrid poplar leaves.
19th - Sam is beginning to hate me. I can tell. After yet another silly o'clock hometime last night, I had her up and on the road rather early. Sam isn't exactly at her best with less than 45 consecutive hours kip, nevermind three. But this was our only day off together for a while. Needs must, Baby!
Today we were in Dorset seeking the elusive Lulworth Skipper, a lifer for both of us! Sam wanted to see them at their namesake Cove so we spent some four hours on site quatering the slopes and concentrating on the areas with long grasses which faced south. Nada. Waste of time. Well no, that's not true at all. We found over 50 Meadow Browns, a handful of Small Heaths, quite a few Marbled Whites and both Grey Bush-cricket and Great Green Bush-cricket, both of which were lifers for Sam. I held both in my hands for pics. I have to admit, I felt just a tad nervous holding the jumbo-sized GGBC in my hand, they are known to iniflict a very painful bite. Remember, their smaller cousins were once used to bite warts from the human hand!!! I found a huge and venomous Wasp Spider in her web. Not a bloody chance I was gonna pick that thing up!!!
Suddenly we happened across a male and female WALL BROWN hiding in the grasses beneath a belt of gorse. Hurray, finally Wall is on the Blitz List! I was starting to get a bit nervous (well, just a teensy bit...) Sam called the only Grayling of the day. Brown Argus and Adonis Blues were both seen in low numbers and a family party of 4 Peregrines passed noisily overhead. Lovely...but no sign of any skippers whatsoever. Our tally of Wall Browns rose to c15 individuals. Apparently they've been regaining lost ground across the Sussex Downs this year and are turning up in places where they've been absent for ages. Good news, maybe Surrey will see a few records in the coming seasons? We quit and headed for Corfe Castle's reputedly skipper-strewn slopes.
Corfe was full of cars and daytrippers, just as bad as Lulworth in fact. We found a space for the car and started up the path towards the castle. No obvious way onto the slopes. Guess we'd have to pay an admission fee and join the throng? Suddenly a bunch of young kids with parents stopped in their tracks and formed a protective huddle around a giant caterpoillar which was ambling across the path. "We're making sure it doesn't get trodden on" explained one young girl. Sam was positively itching for a piccie. One of the mums advised us not to touch it because it was possibly a poisonous type (!!!!) so we waited for them to grow bored and bugger off before gleefully scooping the Privet Hawkmoth larva into my grasp for a series of pics. We were both surprised at the tenacity of its grip and placed it under the fenceline and out of harms way. Poisonous indeed. Kids today have got no hope with parents like that. We noted the rather extortionate entrance fee into the castle grounds and prudently decided to ask a NT chap if the Lulworths were present. He said, "not so far this year. You could try the ridge across the road?" We quit and decided to try Durlston Country Park - several UKButterfly Members have been lucky there over the past couple of weeks. I had been hoping to find our own elsewhere, but the day was moving on and we needed the skipper badly.
Durlston was an eye-opener. Beautifully laid out with numerous helpful Rangers on site. We asked for tips regards finding Lulworths and a Ranger took us to a scale model of the park. After a few minutes he'd explained the best spots and showed us the transect results for the past few weeks. He'd managed 23 species on last week's walk! Primed with info, we set off full of optimism. Within ten minutes we'd found a small area of short turf and wildflowers. We had a quick scan before Sam yelled, "SKIPPER!!!!" I ran across and was soon eye-balling our first ever LULWORTH SKIPPER!!! Well done, Baby! A short distance later, just across a bridge, we found two or three more Lulworth Skippers, all feeding up on flowerheads. Pale crescents on the forewing upperside varied in intensity between individuals. Sam papped the lot! Other highlights here included Adonis Blue, Holly Blue, a Wasp Spider, a Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Stigmella plagicolella mines including one leaf with TWO mines on it (something I've never seen before, and I've seen a lot of plagicolella mines. I kept the leaf) and bumping into Rory McGrath in the info centre. Short and rather rotund with rather massive calves. Sam went a bit mental and was determined to hassle him. I resolutely said no. He was with his kids and wouldn't want Sam asking for pics. She snuck a true Papparazzi-style shot anyway. Rory had no idea, lucky fella!
A quick stop at a newsagent store was productive, Red Bull and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which buzzed between 194 and 198 High Street, settling on the upperfloor brickwork. It seemed fascinated by an airbrick at one point! Sam has only ever seen one before, in Spain three years ago. Despite a wealth of opportunity she only managed one crappy pic. Women...lol.
We spent an hour or so wandering through Blashford Lakes HWT (even though it was shut for the night.) We didn't really see very much. Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Comma were all dayticks, bringing the butterfly list to a modest 16 species. We headed homewards very pleased with our day.
Lulworth Skipper is my 60th UK species. Whoop whoop for me!!!!!
23rd - up early and on the road at 4:40am! Destination Scotland. But first we revisited Arneside Knott for Scotch Argus aethiops. We arrived just in time for the rain to start...bloody useful - not! We sat it out until things started to brighten up (a tad) and hit the slopes. Pretty soon we'd notched up several Silver Y, a few grass-veneers, a handful of craneflies and the rain was back. Buggerit!!! I texted Adrian Riley for help. He'd know the best areas to concentrate our efforts when the rain stopped. No reply, cheers mate! After another hour or so the rain actually properly stopped and a thrash through a meadow resulted in my flushing three Meadow Browns and a female Pheasant. Horseflies and ticks were becoming an issue so we quit and headed through more rain and up to Speyside. The weather forecast predicted floods and heavy rain for tomorrow. Great....
24th - after throwing up our tent in the Rothiemurchus area we settled down to a very rainy and midge infested night's sleep. In the morning we discovered at least 100000000000 midges settled on the tent, all seemingly impatient for the taste of our blood. Two minutes later (and suddenly two pints of blood lighter) we leapt into the car and considered booking ourselves into the nearest lunatic asylum.
Eventually, the rain stopped. The clouds allowed windows of blue sky to show through and, amazingly, the sun came out. We headed towards Grantown-on-Spey in search of Scotch Argus aethiops and Speckled Wood oblita. C'mon sunshine, just a little longer please???
We found a really good looking site called Ladies Garden Wood which must've held dozens of Speckled Woods...but we never even made it out of the car. "We should go back to that place with the Northern Brown Arguses. It's never let us down yet. I like it there. We should go there instead. Shouldn't we, yes Facey??? Yes?" said Sam. I cast one last longing look into Oblita Woods and forlornly spun the car back onto the road. To be fair, Bacharn Trail was only a mile away. We arrived in time for the sunshine to disappear and it was cool enough for our breath to plume. Bloody hell! It's meant to be late August, fer cryin' out!!! Feeling a bit less than optimistic, we entered the grassy meadows and within twenty seconds I spun and pointed at a brown butterfly weaving across the flowers ahead of us, "THAT'S ONE!!!!!!" I bellowed as we followed the brown wings (and surely that's an orange band too?) until it dropped and allowed us to high-five as we life-ticked SCOTCH ARGUS aethiops. We did a wierd little jig thing in glee before we spotted another one further along the trail, and another! So much for "only flies in sunshine and warmth"!!! We wandered a loop and over the hour or so we spent on site we managed 30 individuals along with 15 Black Darters and 2 Common Emerald Damselflies. Superb stuff indeed and another species struck from the BlitzList Targets.
We just made it back to the car as another band of rain found us, before heading back to Ladies Garden Woods in search of oblita. The rain stopped, the sun came out again and we hit the woodland tracks. The habitat was really promising, mature deciduous and coniferous plantations with lots of ground cover and bracken/bramble components. I felt confident we'd skore the beast soon. A Common Swift flew overhead (the bird, not the moth) which I felt was quite late. Couldn't string it into an early Pallid though! We followed a trail, did a bit of off-roading, found another trail, didn't know where we were, found an open heather-filled area and suddenly found another Scotch Argus! Sweet. More pics before continuing through the woods. We found a large meadow and within moments were kicking up Scotch Argus left, right and centre! Another 37 for the tally plus a Black Darter. A pair of Red Squirrels scampered through the treetops nearby whilst another open area with stream added a Golden-ringed Darter, Common Hawker and 6 Scottish Green-veined Whites thompsoni to the daylist. But not a sniff of Speckled Wood, although I spied a possible flitting through the dappled trunks. Could've been a large moth though, maybe a thorn? Not good enough to tick, that's for sure.
The sun was properly out now. Sam suggested we try the Bacharn Trail again. So back in the car and off we went. This time we tried an area of birch and rowan woodland. Sam spied a Northern Brown Argus artaxerxes which we papped well, noting the hindwing underside patterning whereby the white spots were diagnostically lacking their black centrens. We found another 30 or so "new" Scotch Argus and a Scottish Green-veined White.
In need of a new site, we blasted down to Loch an Eileen and had a quick recce along the approach road. We found a few Antler Moths in ragwort heads but nothing much else. Suddenly my phone burst into life as Adrian Riley began a series of text messages regards Scotch Argus hints and tips. He seemed keen to keep us enthused, asked what we still needed and stated that I reminded him of himself when he was younger!!! We'd gone too far to give up now, nearly at the finishing post, incredible effort etc etc etc. We ended our texting with best wishes, I did a little dance around some trees so pleased was I that Adrian Riley had texted my phone. Sam thinks I'm a besotted stalker, lol! Despite Ade's best wishes (yep, Ade now coz we'z mates!), we failed to find oblita Speckled Wood. Maybe tomorrow..?
By now it was getting quite late so we quit for the day and, after a quick grubfest and beers whilst being serenaded by a country & western singer in a pub, headed back to the tent which, thankfully, was still there. The drier conditions had massively reduced the midge numbers present (or maybe our earlier blood letting had sated the evil little b*stards). Tawny Owls were heard that night as well as a distant cockerel (!)
25th - Today dawned quite bright and warmish. We slung the tent into the boot and hit Kingussie for showers and toilets. The showers are brilliant and the chatty lady who runs the place is very friendly, even if she does resemble a small troll. Seeing as how she wasn't a six foot, blonde, curvaceous Swedish goddess I double-checked my cubicle was securely locked.
After scouring the grime from our smelly bodies we walked a couple of the Kingussie Trails which meander through wooded areas, along the river and golf course. Once again it seemed ideal for the elusive oblita. Once again we failed to find it. Grrrrrrr. We did manage a couple of Small Tortoiseshells, a male Scotch Argus, 2 Small Coppers on ragwort, another Red Squirrel (in a birch!), plenty of leafmines including Stigmella floslactella and S.coryli on Hazel. Two Swifts overhead were as unexpected as yesterday's singleton.
I suggested Loch an Eileen for oblita. We found a rather lethargic Scotch Argus and had great fun posing it on our faces, fingers and, in Sam's case, on her tit! It seemed to approve of my blue sweatshirt, repeatedly flying off before looping back to land on my sleeve or cuff. I felt part of The Gang, Sam couldn't get it to come to her though, lol. We found more Antler Moths in ragwort heads and had a close encounter with a Grasshopper Warbler. One last look at promising land near Rothiemurchus added another Scotch Argus but no Speckled Wood. Eventually I admitted defeat and we blasted southwards towards Dumfries for our final target, Scotch Argus caledonia. The weather cheered up immensely the further south we drove and in gorgeous evening sunshine we explored Hightae Loch meadows finding Meadow Browns and whites but no Scotch Argus yet. Kipped in the car that night in a promising looking area, next to a farm with several Peacocks. Surreal.
26th - awoke to the sound of cows munching grass by the gateway we'd parked in. They don't like apple, it appears. Sam had to be back in London for work this afternoon so we didn't have much time to skore caledonia Scotch Argus. According to Ade's book (heh heh, that'll be me ol' mate Ade!) we were in good caledonia territory. We tried wandering a few of the better looking fields although access was a bit of a problem. Supposedly there's no such thing as trespass in Scotland, but up here you could be shot and buried or fed to the pigs and nobody would ever know. We played it safe and consequently failed to find anything. Moving along to Hightae Mill Loch we had limited success with a Small Copper, Green-veined White and a Red Admiral. A flock of 150+ Sand Martins on fence wires was a sight to see.
A random roadside stop added another Green-veined White, Small Copper and a male Common Darter. Hoddom Castle Riverside Walk produced a Red Admiral, 2 Peacocks, several Green-veined Whites, a Small Copper and 3 Goosanders on the river. And soaked feet. No Scotch Argus though...
Our very last stop was at the wide, flower rich embankment of a dual carriageway near Ecclefechan. Possibly the best bit of habbo all day, best find was a single Painted Lady on a thistle head. Time was severely against us. We just had to head back else Sam was going to be late. We crossed back into England at 10:50am. I won't go into massive detail, but somehow we were back in Epsom by 3:30pm and Sam made it into work just 2 minutes late...ahem, officer...
So, yet again we were hampered by poor weather. So far this year we have missed both races of Mountain Ringlet, rhoumensis Small Heath, caledonia Scotch Argus and oblita Speckled Wood. Next year we shall have to dedicate more time in the Highlands and put things right once and for all! 'Course that doesn't change the fact that of the 58 UK species we'd set out to see in 2010 we'd definitely missed one (Mountain Ringlet) and still need Brown Hairstreak and Clouded Yellow.
2011 will be different..........
1st - we needed to find our missing two species. First up was Brown Hairstreak. I'd been following the Sightings thread of UKButterflies and keeping tabs on where folk were finding the critter. Shipton Bellinger near the Wiltshire border of Hampshire seemed a fairly reliable place to start. Failing that we could try Noar Hill and finally Bookham and Ashtead Commons back in mid-Surrey. We'd already found the eggs on Ashtead way back at the end of January but the adult would be a lifer for Sam. We set off early to Shipton Bellinger, a new site for both of us.
Upon arrival we were amused to discover that the car park is named Sam's Car Park - pics ensued! Walking along the tracks between the privet/blackthorn/hawthorn hedges we soon started notching up the species. To the everpresent buzzing of Roesel's Bush-crickets, we tallied 23 Small Whites, 3 Brimstones, 8 Holly Blues, 16 Speckled Woods, 2 Common Blues, 20 Meadow Browns, 4 Large Whites, 1 Green-veined White and a grand total of 7 female BROWN HAIRSTREAKS!!! None were playing ball, however. The closest was still ten feet up an ivy bush allowing crappy pics only. One large Field Maple and two large Ash trees held five more, plus a couple of hedge-top flyby sightings. All good stuff, but I'd been hoping to encounter one nectaring low down where we could see it closely and grab some shots. Bumping into an elderly couple we were told that one such female was just down the track a few hundred metres. We chatted a while longer (they were yearlisting and were on 45 thus far without doing Scotland) before trying to find the hairstreak they'd just come from. No such luck although a huge Wasp Spider was a nice bonus. With the weather still hot and sunny we headed off to Noar Hill. My satnav took a major detour causing me to launch it across the road in temper before using the tried and tested method of built-in compass and map-reading skills. Poxy satnav. Sam said it was a "very rock n roll action, but stupid". Can't fault her logic, lol!
We arrived at Noar Hill and I showed Sam what Hemp Agrimony looked like (UKButterfly members have seen Brown Hairstreaks on this plant at Noar Hill). We entered the reserve by the top gate to find acre upon acre of Hemp Agrimony covering the hillsides. Bugger that!!!!! I've never seen so much of the stuff! Anyway, we set to scanning for butterflies nectaring within, finding a Small White, lots of Common Blues, quite a few Small Heaths, a Red Admiral and plenty of Speckled Bush-crickets and 7-spot Ladybirds. Moving closer to the scrubby patches I found Phyllonorycter coryli and Stigmella floslactella mines on the Hazel and Stigmella plagicolella on the Blackthorn.
Suddenly I noticed movement on a Hemp Agrimony head and there was a stunningly beautiful female Brown Hairstreak busily feeding away, quite unconcerned by our presence. Superb! Sam rattled off the shots before we found a second female nearby, soon followed by a male!!! We only managed a few quick record shots of the male, but you can see the upperwings in one pic and the greyer underwings in another. Double superb, neither of us had ever seen a male before.
Female Brown Hairstreak on Hemp Agrimony
Male Brown Hairstreak on Hemp Agrimony
Fully spread female Brown Hairstreak
Continuing into the open hollows we had a quick search for second brood skippers (or even first brood Small Skippers, where have they all gone to???) Plenty of Meadow Browns, a Brown Argus, a Small Tortoiseshell and 2 Large Whites plus a family party of 4 Spotted Flycatchers in the very topmost corner of the reserve. Lovely. We headed into Selborne and ate at The Queens Inn. Brand new owners, no card machine yet but the grub was pretty good. Pleased with our day, and the Brown Hairstreaks, we headed home.
2nd - a short, rather abortive outing onto Ashtead Common in search of local Brown Hairstreaks. We'd had a bit of a session in the pub last night and today's heat combined with our dehydration led to severe indifference! We did spend 30mins taking flight pics of digger wasps flying in and out of their holes which was nice. Unfortunately I later removed a tick from my thigh, not so nice. I must have had a dozen so far that I've had to remove! I'm just waiting for the first flu like symptoms and I'm getting double-dosed against Lyme's!!!! We saw Speckled Woods and horses. Then we went home. That is all.
9th - I regularly visit the excellent Portland Bird Observatory website - click here to see it for yourself - and today it announced the sighting of a female Long-tailed Blue photographed at Cheyne Weares. With a fantastic stroke of luck I had the following day off of work...Dorset here I come!!!! Sam seemed a tad miffed, what with having to go to work tomorrow. Ho hum, Baby...I'll let you know how I get on.
10th - set off rather later than planned but stilll made it to Portland in reasonable time. Weymouth is a bloody mess though, roadworks everywhere. Arriving at Cheyne Weares I wasted no time and quickly scrambled down the slope and into the quarry in search of yesterday's Long-tailed Blue. Within five minutes I was joined by Martin Cade, Warden of PBO and keen butterfly enthusiast. Together we searched various nooks and crannies before going our seperate ways. I found a few Wall Lizards (which were the only things with long tails that I could see) and a Hummingbird Hawkmoth along with Small White, Speckled Wood, a Holly Blue and Common Blue plus a few Chalkhill Blues.
I tried the other side of the car park finding more Common Blues and Chalkhill Blues as well as a few 2nd generation Adonis Blues. A Small Heath and a Silver Y summed up lepidopteran interest and I quit empty handed. I nipped up to the High Angle Battery where I stroked a sunbathing Adder before dropping into Fancy's Close in Easton where I was treated to the incredible sight of a Pectoral Sandpiper sitting on a grass lawn in front of houses just twenty feet from the nearest photographers!!!! It flattened itself onto the ground as a Kestrel flew over, but otherwise seemed utterly unconcerned by the attention it received. Weird!
14th - set off for Cornwall today, our good friend Danny is marrying his Lucy tomorrow and we're invited to the party. Actually, I'm ringbearer and witness whilst Sam is the official wedding photographer, so we kinda HAD to be there! We brought ex-Widerscope Member Glen with us. Nick Bond was meeting us at the venue, thus reuniting the entire Widerscope Team for the first time in about four years. To check out our stunningly hilarious website (which only Nick keeps updated nowadays) click here. We arrived in time to get pleasantly wasted and kipped in our tent in their garden.
15th - 17th - Ok. Well, large chunks are a bit hazy but Danny definitely married Lucy, they definitely looked fantastic, so did Sami and myself, there definitely was a band in the garden, we definitely found a dead Water Shrew on the lawn, we definitely tried to get pirate tattoos, the guy definitely refused us, and we very definitely almost missed the boat from Penzance to Scilly. And I definitely almost broke the land speed record getting us there. Definitely. Nothing very lepidopterous throughout, but Great Northern Diver, Sooty Shearwater and Basking Sharks were good sightings from the Scillonian III. Then we rediscovered beer...definitely...
18th - we were on Scilly for two reasons. Firstly because we'd been invited along on Dan and Lucy's honeymoon, and secondly because we needed two butterfly races - cassiteridum Meadow Brown and insula Speckled Wood. The first is only found on Scilly and westernmost Cornwall whilst the latter is endemic to the archipelago itself. We were staying at The Woolpack, the IOS Wildlife Trust's Volunteer Accomodation - which is way up on top of The Garrison. I know it well, I've stayed here several times before. The hill's a complete bugger when you're worse for wear and without a torch but I've never fallen over the edge yet...
I started the day asleep before Sam called me to see three INSULA SPECKLED WOODS on a bramble patch. Easy! Except they were gone when I arrived, being replaced by several Small Coppers. Luckily for me, the Speckled Woods were positively commonplace and we saw good numbers all over the island. Now, where are all the Meadow Browns..? We set off exploring. Small Whites and insula Speckled Woods were everywhere. We had three Red Admirals on ivy blossom, saw a Spoonbill roosting on distant rocks, added Large Whites to the list and found Whimbrel and Med Gulls on the beach. A Peregrine swooped into a party of 2 Ringed Plovers and a Dunlin right in front of us (it missed) as we added Green-veined White and more Small Coppers to the tally. Where was cassiteridum though..? Last addition to the daylist was Peacock. Hmmm, we were heading off-island tomorrow and had a pelagic planned for Monday. Tomorrow was our only chance for the Meadow Brown. Sam seemed a bit too pre-occupied with meeting the others for drinks or beach visits for my liking. We NEEDED the Meadow Brown soon, but would we skore???
Speckled Wood subspecies insula
19th - we wandered down to the quay and jumped a boat to Bryher. Personally I think Bryher is ace and I've seen lots of good stuff there such as Crimson Speckled (a rare migrant moth), plus Ortolan, rostrata Redpolls, Bonelli's Warbler, Booted Warblers, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Blyth's Pipit etc etc. Yep, it's been a good island for me - although there was that one time when I spent hours and hours awaiting an elusive Swainson's Thrush a few years back. It was later found dead under a bush (and I still need Swainson's for Britain). Sam's only ever gotten as far as the beach thus far so had no idea what to expect. We headed into cassiteridum habitat and entered Veronica Farm. Lots of searching the Pittosporum-lined fields resulted in MASSES of insula Speckled Woods and a few Small Coppers including one with the copper band across the hindwing upper surface reduced to a few tiny copper scales - an abberant! (Later discovered this is ab obsoleta, thanks to Pete Eeles for that!) Two male Commas were apparently quite good records, they are uncommon on Scilly it seems. We had a few Red Admirals and a Peacock and Small White too. I went for a solo wander on a desperate cassiteridum hunt. Time was running out and I wasn't about to 'waste' it by sitting on the beach with the others. No sirree. Despite our (my!) very best efforts we completely failed to find even one Meadow Brown. I was gobsmacked. I'd thought they would be easy here. Chatting to an islander it seems they went over at least a couple of weeks ago. Buggerit buggerit buggerit. The number of missing species and subspecies is just rubbish now. I was a bit humpy at this embarrassment. We should have been here weeks ago but had delayed in order to join Danny and Lucy. Now we were paying the price, although it seemed that only I was remotely bothered. To be fair, I wouldn't have missed this joint trip for anything less than Armageddon or a visit by Linsey Dawn McKenzie, Dan and Lucy are just too good a couple of friends that we'd have not joined them. But it still smarted that we'd missed the Meadow Brown.
Small Copper ab obsoleta - apparently quite a rarity!
Back on St Marys I decided that I needed some 'me time' and buggered off to sort my brain out. Unadulterated birding was what I needed. I stomped across to Porth Hellick and was soon taking pics of the juvenile Spotted Sandpiper alongside a small flock of alba White Wagtails. Fox Moth larva littered the trail and out by Porthellick House I found a Wryneck sitting right in the middle of the road!!!!! Get in there, Gibster!!!! My joy was shortlived, however, the sudden roar of a taxi as it rounded the bend at stupid speed saw my Wryneck fly up and over a tall hedge never to be seen again. Twaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat of a driver!!!! I went back to the Spotted Sandpiper to console myself and obtained more pics, tried to string a juv Ringed Plover into a Semi-P and dreamt of Tree Swallows over the lake. Feeling somewhat better with the world I headed back to The Garrison. Still no Meadow Browns though.
That night I danced with Sam to Bob Marley in the 'Cressa Disco and hopefully made up to her for being a right moody bugger all day. The following slow dance probably helped too. Crashing out in a drunken stupor as soon as we returned to The Woolpack possibly undid some of the good though...
20th - today we'd booked ourselves on Joe Pender's pelagic trip. He'd thrown the trip together last minute as a wedding present to Danny and there were only a dozen or so of us on board. Bob Flood and Higgo, plus Joe himself, were the Big Boys. Joe was hoping for Leach's Petrel. Sam was hoping not to chunder. I was hoping for Meadow Browns (just kiddin'!!!!!!) We set off and soon skored an Ocean Sunfish and had a pod of 7 or so Common Dolphins riding the pressure wave at the prow just six feet beneath our excited faces as we laid across the deck, hands and noses peering over the edge. Absolutely magical! Joe's dog alerted us to their presence in the first place by suddenly running up and down the deck whilst crying with excitement - he could hear the dolphin's echolocation!!!! The squeals and clicks are presumably just as obvious to his ears as a dog whistle. I took a pic of the dog staring overboard at the dolphins, clearly entranced. Just fabulous.
Birdwise we did pretty well with several Sooty Shearwaters including a few close ones on the water, lots of Manxies, a Puffin, quite a few Bonxies, 2 Arctic Terns, a juvenile Sabine's Gull on the water right next to a moulting adult bird (my first multiple sighting in UK waters!) quite a few Stormies and a superb dark phase juvenile Long-tailed Skua which stayed with us for some time.Nice call, Higgo!
Joe suddenly realised that we were fully 19 miles out and that Sam, Danny, Lucy and myself had to be on the Scillonian III before it left at 4:30pm. Consulting his GPS he figured we'd get back at 4:35pm...oh dear! He swung back for St Marys and didn't stop for anything, including a Grey Phalarope in the wake. Amazingly he sliced a few minutes off the ETA and we launched ourselves towards our ship at precisely 4:29-and-a-bit pm. Phew!!!! That's twice we've made the ship with seconds to spare.
From The Scillonian we saw a few Manxies and Bonxies but soon quit. So, not an entirely successful trip but the company was superb and we had a real blast. Back at Danny's we chugged a beer and hit the sack.
NB - Late news from St Marys...a Wryneck was seen in the middle of a road today, half a mile from my sighting!!!
21st - Sam had to be at work this afternoon. We were still in deepest, darkest Cornwall. We bade farewell to Dan who had work, then scoffed a massive breakfast in the pub with Lucy before heading back to London. Highlights en route were a few Small Whites and a Brimstone in Somerset. Back to work tomorrow...and I'm not looking forward to it at all.
30th - after a few days of generally rubbish weather, today was pleasantly warm and dry. Two sightings to report today; firstly a Small White seen near Hindhead. Secondly a rather surprising sighting of a Small Copper perched on the tail spoiler of a car which then proceeded to drive off down the road with the little fella still in situ...guess that's one way to discover pastures anew!!!!
Well the butterfly sightings are winding down rather too rapidly for my liking. I'm gonna miss my little flitting friends (apart from Mountain Ringlet, of course...) So I'll try and pad the blog out with some 'other stuff' to keep you entertained - assuming that you've been entertained thus far...
1st - it's now properly dark when I wake up for work in the mornings. Our bathroom has a skylight which we keep open when showering. Ordinarily this is fine. But for the past few days I've had wasps flying in and veering erratically around the bathroom. Bearing in mind that I'm butt naked and have my eyes closed when showering my head, I can't say that I'm very happy about the situation. I don't like indoor wasps.
If I leave the skylight shut the room fills with condensation. If I leave the lights off I bang my head. Needless to say I'm becoming adept at panicked wasp-swatting whilst not falling over in a wet bath!
Today there were three wasps flying around the bathroom in a derranged fashion. I felt somewhat vulnerable. The hatch was closed and I set to swatting! Gibster 3 - wasps 0. The hatch stays shut from now on, sod the condensation!
2nd - despite yesterday's rain and the red-tinged sky at dawn, today was lovely and summery right up until about 1pm. Consequently I actually had a couple of butterfly sightings. First up was a Speckled Wood which flew across the road in Pinner. A short while later a Small White briefly investigated the garden I was standing in, somewhere in the middle of Northwood. By 2pm the rain began and continued until well after dark.
Missed the AES show at Kempton for the second year running. Sam has yet to go. Will we eventually make it in 2011?
6th - a typically wet start gave way to a glorious sunny afternoon. I was delivering my wares in the Brighton/Newhaven/Eastbourne area today and I fully expected to see a Clouded Yellow flitting along the roadside verges. Telscombe Cliffs looked particularly perfect. Alas I saw bugger all. But the weather has definitely changed for the better. Tomorrow looks pretty darn good and Glen reckons the weekend should be gorgeous and reach 23 degrees! Fingers crossed the southerly airflow wafts a few Clouded Yellows this way...we still need it for the Blitz List.
I did manage a Small White in Hailsham and another in Epsom so they're still out there...
Sam and I are both off work tomorrow daytime so we plan to head out early and get 'in the zone' ready for the action. Read on to see how we fared...
7th - started off at Cuckmere Haven where it was nice and warm in the sunshine. As the day progressed the wind picked up a bit, but it was lovely and sunny to start. Despite the promising conditions we failed to find any Clouded Yellows, a pair of Small Coppers and a male and female Meadow Brown was the best we could muster. Back at the car park Sam pointed out a Red Admiral. So, five individuals of three species. Definitely tailing off!!! Birdwise a Barwit and 2 Grey Plovers offshore and a Yellow Wagtail over were the 'highlights'.
Next stop was Horseshoe Plantation at Birling Gap. This is where I had my first ever Adonis Blue many moons ago. A Speckled Wood and four Meadow Browns was all we found today though.
We cut across the meadows opposite, hoping to spook a Clouded Yellow from the clover fields. Nada. Eventually we found ourselves up on Beachy Head, too blowy for butterflies and the clouds were rolling in too. Plenty of Chiffchaff and Stonechat presence and masses of Swallows passing through low overhead - plus innumerable schoolkids on the clifftop path. Sam found a Fox Moth larva. I found a lone Silver Y. With that we conceded defeat and headed back to the car. A Red Admiral flying low across a field was the only addition, possibly just in from the continent... will Clouded Yellows follow? I've no idea of the numbers in France at the moment. We beat a hasty retreat, Sam had to be at work by 6pm.
Day total - 11 butterflies of 4 species.
mid October - well...the weather has been pretty miserable locally. Sunny but chilly or just plain dull and cold. Nothing to record butterflywise at all. Redwings and Meadow Pipits have been passing through. Walking to work is now conducted entirely in darkness. Roll on summertime!!!
21st - the first serious frost of the autumn here in Epsom. Had to don a jumper for the first time in months whilst heading to work in the dark. Tawny Owls have been calling lately. Today a Little Owl was heard! Last night the landlords had a Badger in the garden alongside a Red Fox!! All I've been seeing of late is Roe Deer and squirrels... I wonder if the low overnight temperatures have finally put paid to butterflies? Probably just going to be hibernators on sunny days from here on in.
22nd - not quite as cold today, by mid-afternoon it was positively warm. I finished work in good time and Sam met me in the local pub for a quick coupla pints. With typical style, she suddenly pointed skywards and there flew a Red Admiral, wheeling across the treetops before we lost it. Lovely! Well done, Bambina.
25th - another warm. sunny afternoon resulted in a Red Admiral flying in front of my truck at the junction of Albany Road and Walworth Road just up from Camberwell Green...very very near to the eponymous Camberwell Beauty site, I'd guess. Not so much the "leafy lane" nowadays though. Was somewhat disheartened to find THREE wasps sharing the bathroom with me today. When are the buggers ever gonna die off???
27th - saw a couple of active Harlequin Ladybirds today, including one which flew in through an open door. Both were of the deep red with bold black spots type. Just thought it made a change from random Red Admiral sightings. No sighting of last week's Badger either. Hope it didn't end up under a car...
1st - back to the evil ways once more - twitching Megas! An American Bittern has been discovered in Cornwall. For a full account of the twitch have a look at Sam's page here. Tis good! Anyway, whilst we were waiting at Trewey Common for the bird (it never appeared) we had three sightings of Red Admirals. Later, whilst looking at Kenidjack Valley, I had a single Red Admiral flashing across the scrub. Saw it a few times actually in the almost warmth. Sam was asleep in the car (bless) so missed the "excitement"...Then back to Trewey Common to catch the bird flying in to roost (it didn't). Later that night we learned that our bird had relocated to Wadebridge. We stayed local that night with Danny the Pirate and Lucy his Lady.
2nd - caught up with the AMERICAN BITTERN at Walmsley Sanctuary near Wadebridge then hit The Lost Gardens of Heligan where we had a Firecrest and an AMERICAN GREEN HERON down to 30ft in The Jungle. Sam also life ticked Whooper Swan, so a nice hat-trick for her. The American Bittern was a UK Lifer for me. But no butterflies...
5th - 15th - fairly crap weather, often cold and usually wet. Hence no sightings at all. Boo, roll on mid-March!!!!!
16th - it was bird night tonight, the monthly get together of The Surbiton & District Bird Watching Society (SDBWS). Last month the Outings Secretary approached Sam and asked if she could lead a butterfly walk next summer. Her choice of location! To say Sam was chuffed is putting it mildly. I stepped away, this was her moment. So you can imagine our dismay and disappointment to discover that next year's Outings Card had already been printed up and was being handed out to Members as they arrived. - minus a butterfly walk. A quick scan through the listed outings was not inspiring. For some unknown reason the Outings Secretary had figured that Epsom Common in mid July would make a fruitful bird walk (!) so we agreed to take it over and turn that outing into Sam's butterfly walk. Phew...at least we both know the site intimately and it is actually pretty good for butterflies. Fingers crossed for good weather, they'll have the best guide ever with Sam in the lead. As long as Heavy Jenny doesn't turn up and try to take over!!!
18th - Finally bit the bullet and treated myself to The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland (2nd edition). The result? Bloody marvellous, whatever took me so long in the first place??? It's a much sharper, cleaner book than the first edition. And happily sits rather better on the (massively overcrowded) bookcase. I'm always going to love my battered 1st edition, but this brings things bang up to date. The only (continuing) grumbles are regards the lack of space/illustrations given to many of the subspecies and lack of larval feeding signs for most species. But it's by far and away the best butterfly book I own (alongside Adrian Riley's guide which has been WELL AND TRULY used throughout most of the 2010 Blitz!)
Should also mention that, for the first time in months, Sam and I went across to Epsom Common. The sun was shining, the sky a lovely pale blue and hopes were high of lepidopteran action. An hour later and the temperature dropped and the rain started, ho hum! Despite that we managed to find a male Winter Moth (probably) and a female too (definitely, the lack of wings being a rather helpful clue) plus a few mines on hazel and Luffia ferchaultella. I found a single Tischeria ekebladella mine on a large Lucombe Oak (which is an almost evergreen Turkey x Cork Oak hybrid). A Harlequin Ladybird and Birch Shieldbug summed up the rather minimal insect interest. Note the lack of butterflies, although I did find an empty Purple Hairstreak egg on Pedunculate Oak. The Lucombe Oak looked particularly unsuitable for eggs, the buds being arranged very differently than on Pedunculate Oak.
30th - well, we were certainly warned...the weather has gone into Ice Age Phase 1 here in London (and it's already at Phase 2 in Scotland. Minus 26C yesterday!!!!! It's a mere minus 1 here but the snow is settling and it's deep! I think we can kiss goodbye to any more butterfly sightings...meep
1st to 3rd - the snow is still here. Temperatures in London have been as low as minus 9 Celsius. It was so bad that my truck got stuck in the snow in a side street in Sutton. We resorted to digging out the rear wheels and ramming a door under the OS rears!!! Finally worked...then - later that afternoon, as the temperatures dropped and the wet started to freeze into the dangerous stuff, we skidded on black ice in Streatham. I parked the truck, airbrakes and pedal brakes on, and watched in astonishment as we slowly started to slide into the camber! "Skating rink" comes to mind. Unfortunately my six rubber tyres weren't cutting it, so to speak. Time to quit before I started wiping out cars and pedestrians! The depot actually closed the following day - THATS how bad it was lol!
But I did manage to provide a feeding station for the birds. We have a large garden with bird table and a pond with running water. To that I added a few more bits. Quite a few actually. The extras were a hanger with peanuts, a hanger with niger seed, a hanger with grain, a hanger with sunflower hearts, 8 suet balls, a mealworm and suet hanger, 2 half coconuts with suet, a tray with cheese, apple and mealworms, several apples spiked onto branches and a patch of lawn I cleared of snow and then placed a tray of grain and apples in the centre. That was all though.
First day was a bit quiet at the feeders with a Grey Wagtail eating grain at the fishpond edge a delightful surprise! Plus Robins, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon, Blackbird etc etc. Six species. The second day was much better - all of the above plus a pair of Nuthatches, a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Coal Tits and a Jay. Sixteen species. Coolio! Back to work tomorrow, I'll probably miss Black Kite attacking the squirrels...
4th - We've had Paul Wetton join the site today, he managed to see and film ALL of the mainland breeding butterflies this year including Mountain Ringlet and Clouded Yellow (ie the two we missed) but he didn't worry about chasing the subspecies. Not quite as mad as we are then! For a sneaky preview of his self-produced dvds, and to order your own copy, have a look here. Tis good.
Talking of mad, I mentioned to Sami that we really ought to tackle Ireland sometime, get Real's Wood White and the various endemic races. She improved on that in a stroke - why not target ALL of the Irish species and subspecies? Heck, what a great idea! An initial spot of plotting and planning would indicate three seperate trips are required. Early May, early June and August. And a visit into The Burren is needed for each trip.
Main targets would be as follows:
|Dingy Skipper baynesi|
|Brimstone gravesi (this could be tricky) |
|Green-veined White britannica|
|Real's Wood White|
|Wood White juvernica|
|Small Copper hibernica|
|Common Blue mariscolore|
|Meadow Brown iernes|
I also need Large Heath polydama.
The "rest" of the Irish species are as follows:
So there you have it, the Irish Blitz List as seen for the first time ever!!! Due to a lack of holiday allowance and cash issues I feel our forays onto The Emerald Isle will be short and (hopefully) sweet. As long as the 13 endemics are safely in the bag, anything else will be a bonus. Added to the three Irish trips we still need Mountain Ringlets mnemon and scotica, Speckled Wood oblita, Scotch Argus caledonia and Small Heath rhoumensis, all in Scotland (or en route). So that's two trips into Scotland and three into Ireland...phew!
In 2012 we plan to keep it simple. Maybe just clear up all of the Iberian stuff... yeah riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!!!!
9th - wandered across to Ashtead Common today, a very noisy experience thanks to partially melted/refrozen snow. Crunch...crunch...crunch...(bloody hell!)...crunch...cru...ooh, and I'm almost at the blackthorn patch with the tagged Brown Hairstreak eggs. I didn't put in too much effort, but did manage to locate one tagged egg (tagged way back at the end of last year!) It was still there, snug in a fork but with the tell-tale exit hole on top. Disappointingly we never came back to search for the larva. Pillocks. Well, that's just one more item added to the 2011 Things To Do List. I didn't find any eggs from this year though. Rather interestingly, I found tracks outside our house which appear to belong to a rabbit moving at speed. I saw five foxes chasing each other last night, so the odds are stacked against rabbits, Plus I've never heard of rabbits anywhere near here. Guess I need to recheck my track ID skills...
16th - finally got my new car yesterday, a rather fetching Peugeot 307 with racing wheels and...er...kinda highish mileage. But the price wasn't too bad. Apart from the wheel balancing it seems ok, I'll give it a full winter service next week. Guess I'm going to be chasing Waxwings rather than butterflies though. Cars can make wonderful hides and Waxwings are pretty tolerant of vehicles anyway. I remember adding a sprig of berries to the bonnet of my old car and watching them come closer and closer...one made it to within about five feet of the bonnet but just wouldn't go that little bit further. Superb views though!
This morning I found the car door lock is frozen solid...hopefully just initial teething problems and not a sign of things to come???
On a happier note, Paul Wetton emailed me today that he's sending me the Butterfly Year dvds and to keep an eye out for them. I've ordered three sets, one for me and two for mates. Then I'm gonna hopefully drum up some business for Paul via my birdy mates. Right...defrost the car lock and off Waxwing hunting! Sami found two Kingfishers on the Hogsmill yesterday and even took pics of one. Plus a couple of cracking Goldcrest pics. I'm holding out for Waxwings though.
16th - Waxwing excitement is rocketing sky high...I feel it's just a matter of time before we bump into some...
21st - decided enough was enough. We went Waxwing twitching. A flock in Balham has been present for three days so we set off. Rather happily though, we found our own somewhat closer to home...47 atop a tall alder above the Scout Hall at Blue Gates/London Road between Ewell Village and Nonsuch Park. Seen from the moving car, I executed a perfectly safe and legal hand-brake skid into a snowy side turning and within moments were grinning at a sweetly trilling flock of northern lovelies. Sam managed a few poor pics, we staked out a nearby cotoneaster patch (they largely ignored it though) before we spotted another flock of 36 flying high over Stoneleigh. A few peeled off towards East Ewell. So, with somewhere over 80 Waxwings later we retired for McD's and then the Xmas social at our birdclub that night. Slides were...um...interesting? Then we hit the pub for last orders. Glad we finally connected with the Waxies!!!!
22nd - I'd finished delivering for the day and was within a mile of the depot when I suddenly spied c25 Waxwings perched in a tree in someone's front garden along Chessington Rd...WOW!!!! Another call to RBA and texts to Sam and the boys. That's over 100 in two days...sweet!
I'z on FIIIIIII-YER
25th - so it's Christmas Day blah blah blah. We'd driven down to Southampton last night to stay with Sam's family. Today we'd popped over to her sister's house to grab Kate and Shaye for the Grubfest that their brother was preparing. Halfway back to their mom's house (you still following this, lol?) I suddenly spied a small flock of Waxwings on a telegraph wire. We skidded to an abrupt halt and pretty soon we were being treated to the sight of 22 Waxwings devouring the last few berries on a forlorn looking shrub in the garden of 26 Howard Road, Shirley. Unbelievably this is my FOURTH self-found flock of Waxwings this week! Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet. We managed to hear them calling, Shaye thought their mohawks were cool, Kate's a closet birdwatcher in denial - so she loved em too. Happy, we notified RBA and sped off for a spectacular feeding frenzy of our own. Yumm.
28th - drove past last week's Waxwing site at Bluegates. That large Cotoneaster bush has been completely stripped bare of all berries! Glutonous guzzlers (sounds like a grunge band?) Just a few days of 2010 left now. Guess it really is time to admit that we aren't going to find a late flying Clouded Yellow after all.
31st December 2010 - well, that's it all wrapped up and finished for 2010...
...luckily for our devoted fan base (cheers to both of you guys!) the adventures continue tomorrow at www.butterflyblitz2011.webs.com so bookmark the new site and stay tuned. We ain't gone away yet!!!!