Monday, 26 June 2017

25th June - All You Gotta Do Is Walk Away And Pass Me By

For several reasons my plans changed today.  The forecast had not been brilliant and the days started overcast, but around midday the sun came out, and I was in Winchester!  When I got home it was still quite warm, and there were still patches of blue sky about, but not as much as around midday.  However I decided to take a walk around Old Down, the lesson I have learnt during the recent short heatwave is that butterflies do not need hot weather, it just has to be warm.

I parked at the pond and walked around checking the damselflies, but there were only Azures.  I walked from the pond towards Old Down.  Above the bramble on the left hand side I saw what I thought were two Small Tortoiseshells, but as one settled back on the bramble it was definitely bigger, and the wing colour completely wrong.  It was in fact a rather pristine Painted Lady, definitely not an arrived migrant.



It didn't stay long, and was off over into the field, and after walking around to the other side I couldn't find it.

Not a bad start.  As I stood on the edge of the field I watched a distant Kestrel carry prey off to a loud calling young bird somewhere in the trees around the pond.  Above me a Yellowhammer called from the wires, and it was carrying a caterpillar, there must be a nest nearby.



Then over the pond I picked up a Swift, It flew over.  Swifts are not a common bird around Four Marks, there are breeding colonies in Alton and Alresford, but we only see them as they pass through.  At this time of year this is probably either a failed breeder or one that has finished for the year and is now on the return migration.  To back this up there have been several reports of birds heading out to sea from Portland in the last week.



I headed into Old Down and noticed that at the end of the field there was a large covering of daisies, I walked around here but couldn't find any other butterflies than Meadow Browns, but I was taken by this Hover Fly.




This is Helophilus pendulus and its scientific name means "dangling marsh-lover" (from Greek helo-, "marsh", -phil, "love", Latin pend-, "hang"). It is a very common species in Britain, where it is the commonest Helophilus species; it occurs as far north as the Shetland Islands, and also has a common name 'Sun Fly' although this is probably based on a mis-reading of helo- as helio-.

Walking into the wood I was greeted by the first of what would be many Meadow Browns, but amongst them was an orange butterfly.  Commas this year had been hard to find but it appears that the second flight are easier to see.


I turned off the main path walking through many more Meadow Browns.  I was heading for the Kitwood path in the hope I may be able to find a White Admiral.  However the sun went in, and there was little moving.  The Meadow Browns were in amongst the lovely grasses that were alongside the main path.



One female Meadow Brown, which unusually looks a lot better than the male sat up on a leaf with a nice dark background.



I checked the bramble along the Kitwood path, but still only Meadow Browns.  Then the sun came out and the butterflies took off, and were joined by a Southern Hawker dragonfly chasing them.  While it chased them it never made any effort to catch them.  Getting close then turning away as if realising that maybe they were not what it wanted.  Finally it settled on a bramble flower and you could see the distinctive black stripes on the thorax that tell it apart from the similar Emperor dragonfly that had been present at the pond earlier inthe month.



With the sun out another butterfly species appeared on the dry path in front of me, a Speckled Wood.  When it took off it too was chased by the Southern Hawker, and again rejected when it got close.


I walked down to the main path, and here there was a small triangle of grass in seed.  Once again many Meadow Browns, but also a Green-veined White which eventually settle on a nettle leaf.


I was about to walk on when a large butterfly buzzed me, and then flew strongly around the grass.  It was a Red Admiral, and was very busy buzzing around the grass, alighting and then moving on quickly as if testing to see if there was anything in the grasses, maybe a suitable mate.  At one point it briefly settled on my shoulder, before continuing its search.

I walked down towards the West End of the wood, disturbing many Meadow Browns once again from the bramble and the grass around the footpath.  I don't recall ever seeing so many butterflies in Old Down, there were literally clouds of them rising in front of me as I walked, quite an amazing sight.

As I reached the open area at the end of the path there was a bit of variation, a Comma sat, wings closed on a leaf, The shape of the wings has a sort of surreal look about, like the head of a tree person.  It was also possible to clearly see the white "C" that for some reason gives the butterfly its name 


Another view from the other side, like the trees in Lord of the Rings.


At the end of the path I stopped to look out over the field of wheat, what you don't get from the still photograph is the movement in the ears of wheat, and the sound as the breeze rustles them.


I walked back through the clouds of meadow Browns, and then headed back towards the pond.  Another Comma was sitting on a leaf, this time with teh wings open, and it looked like a butterfly once again.


Before i left, I thought it only right to at least photograph another Mesdow Brown to acknowledge the vast numbers present today.  Impossible to count but there must have easily been hundreds.  This is a female again, this time with wings open, sitting, waiting, for the advances of one of the many males around her.


With all the Meadow Browns I had probably overlooked any Ringlets, but I finally found one as I was about to leave the wood.  It settled, wings closed in amongst the leaves.


Back home with the clouds now fully covering the sky the House Martins were busy catching insects around the trees.  The young in the nest above the back garden have fledged and I noticed the House Sparrows inspecting the nest the other day, but I suspect the House Martins will raise another brood there.  At the Front of the house the young are still calling loudly and must be close to fledging, the parent busily bringing in food.


Despite no bright sunshine it was warm and muggy, and this probably contributed to the numbers of butterflies about, albeit many brown ones.  Nevertheless, it was an interesting walk with some lovely photo opportunities.  This was my 499th post on this blog, will the 500th be able to deliver something special?

Saturday, 24 June 2017

23rd June - Showing Wings They Borrowed From a Rainbow

After the clear skies of yesterday evening, the morning dawned sunny and clear which was not as the forecast, which was for an overcast day.  Through the morning the cloud did build up, but there was still plenty of sunshine at lunchtime to encourage me to go out to see what was about.  I headed once again to Swellinghill pond, and started by walking around the edge of the water in search of damselflies.  I was After a Red-eyed Damselfly, but couldn't find any on the irises or the lily pads.  There were though still plenty of Azure Damselflies.



From the pond the first place to check was the field to the south of the road and Old Down.  I am convinced the this meadow if allowed to stay, and not cut will deliver.  There were brighter signs as I walked along the side of the field with Large Whites and several Small Tortoiseshells sunning on the bare ground, and on the flowers within the grass.



The meadow was full of Meadow Browns, and the yellow trefoil that was in full flower last week was now looking a little tired.  A dash of orange revealed a Large Skipper in amongst the grass.



But what I was looking for was the Marbled Whites.  I walked to the bottom of the field where there was some shelter.  All I was flushing from the grass were the Meadow Browns until finally a Marbled White appeared, but it flew straight past me.  Then another appeared and this time it stopped within the grasses, and I was able to get close.



It looked like a newly emerged butterfly, the markings immaculate, and standing out amongst the green of the surrounding grasses.



I followed a very dark brown butterfly that I was convinced was a Ringlet, but it never stopped to allow me to confirm the identification.

As I left the meadow and walked towards Old Down there were more Small Tortoiseshells, and a single Red Admiral.  Walking into Old Down I was struck by the amazing number of Meadow Browns on the wing, in all I estimated there must have been over a hundred on the wing in the wood.  However another very dark butterfly caught my eye and this one stopped and was indeed a Ringlet.



Yet another early butterfly for the year, being eight days earlier than I have recorded previously.  After warming up it closed the wings and revealed the rings on the underside of the wings that give it the name.



I walked to the crossroads and then turned to the west.  The bramble here has increased significantly, and is now all coming into bloom.  Whether it was due to the bramble or the cooler temperatures, but the place was covered in butterflies, completely different to last week.  They were mostly Meadow Browns but also a few Small Whites.  An orange butterfly stood out though and I was quite excited at what might be maybe a fritillary.  It wasn't though, but it was first for the year, an unusually late first record of a Comma.



Then another orange butterfly settled on the bramble flowers in a sheltered spot.  This time though it was a Silver-washed Fritillary, and a striking specimen at that.



Just like the Ringlet this is my earliest for the patch by eight days, this year is breaking all records.



It never raised its wings to show the lovely silver wash on the underside of the wings, but did give a tantalising glimpse.



I saw two flying above the bramble, their size allowing them to bully the other smaller Meadow Browns, then settling back down on the flower heads, a stunning butterfly.



My time was coming to an end, and I had to make my way back to the car, but a Speckled Wood on a leaf in the open couldn't be resisted.



And yet another Ringlet, this time in a better position to show the lovely white fringe to the chocolate upper wings.



Only a brief visit, and unexpected after seeing the forecast yesterday.  The sun brought out the butterflies in force, and in good numbers,and again very early.  The dry conditions must be contributing to this.  Hopefully this year will be recognised as a good one for butterflies and they can enjoy a revival.

Friday, 23 June 2017

22nd June - See How For Him Lifetime's Fears Disappear

Midsummer's eve was last night, and as we move into the second half of the Earth' annual cycle the weather returned to something we are all more accepted too.  Gone were the thirty plus degree temperatures, and back was a fresh breeze plenty of cloud and a temperature around twenty degrees.

Undeterred I had planned to go out around the patch until after dusk, but first stop was Swellinghill pond.  It was still rather early and I didn't expect any bats, but there were Swallows taking an interest in the insects rising above the water.  I walked around the pond and found an adult Moorhen with the first confirmed breeding of the year, and well developed youngster feeding in amongst the reeds and lily pads.


From the pond I walked into Old Down, and took a very overgrown perimeter path.  In the fields there were tractors collecting the hay, and above the fields Buzzards calling.

The woods were full of the sound of young birds begging for food, and as I walked back out of the wood I stopped to watch a family group of Long-tailed Tits.


The young birds have now lost the red eye ring and are looking a lot more like the adult birds.


As I watched suddenly the calls increased and I sensed the rush of air and the sound of wings beside me, and I saw a male Sparrowhawk fly low over the grass and then up into the trees.  I couldn't see if it took anything as they flew into the party of Long-tailed Tits but almost immediately flew on and out the back into another tree, and then away out of sight.  It was a reminder that the tits are not the only family looking for food.

From the wood I then headed on to Newtown Farm, parking at the bottom of the Lye Way bridleway at the footpath.  I could just make out a reddish brown shape in the field, and it then moved to reveal itself, a Roe Deer.


Roe Deer have been hard to find this year.  They are best seen at dawn or dusk and this time of year is the best time to see them with the short nights.  It turned at the sound of the camera shutter.


I then realised that there was another deer actually in the field, watching me, or at least looking where the sounds were coming from.


The deer in the the middle of the field the turned and then bounded away through the wheat field.


As I watched the deer alarm calls went out again as a Buzzard flew across the field through the deepening gloom.


There had been some sun when I first went out, but had succumbed to the clouds.  However as I walked up the hill the sun appeared once again as it began to dip below the clouds before slipping under the horizon.  Looking back down the hill the bottom half of the footpath was lit up by the golden light.


The fields around Newtown Farm have always been used for cereal crops, but now they have been turned over top grass for probably cattle.  In the grass was a Brown Hare, sitting up and watching the surrounding field.  You can see the large eyes that suit its crepuscular habits, and all round vision.


Another change here, the old barn that could have been a good location for Barn Owls has gone, and they are building a new barn with metal girder frame.  

The fields that were used for grazing are now given over to arable, with wheat the crop this year.  The sun just setting over the distant trees, and lighting up the ripening wheat.


A little further on there was another Brown Hare again in a field left over to grazing.


Raising the ears as I edged closer.


It then ran off, and I followed it and managed to get closer once it stopped and sat again to review its surroundings


By now it was around 9.00pm, and getting gloomy around the trees.  I walked on and scanned across the distant fields and found two more Roe Deer feeding on the edge of the field.


So far everything was coming together, I had hoped for the deer and hare, but I was here for a dusk specialty, the Woodcock.  At this time of year they can be seen "roding" over the trees and along the rides, and  as they do it uttering a strange growling and warting call and whistle.

I found a place along a ride where it was open but around the trees.  I stood waiting, listening to the song of several Song Thrushes.  Down the ride the sky was turning pink.


Finally at 9.45 the first bird appeared, I heard it first and tracked the call as it flew over the trees, finding a clear spot to aim for, and then hope the bird flies into it.  This one did, just.


I am not sure if it was the same bird circling but another came back from the same direction then flew up the ride.  The wing beats seem to be rapid and much more fluttered, if that is the right word.  As it came overhead I managed to get some more shots.



More came, but it was now to gloomy to manage any better shots.  Just after 10.00pm I decided to make my way back.  The conifers around me now taking on some strange shapes, this one looking very much like a witch riding a broomstick.


I had the bat detector with me and several were about, the detector picking up their echo location calls.  The majority were around 45KHz which meant they were probably Pipistrelle Bats, they were small and buzzed around the trees very much in the same way the Swallows and House Martins do during daylight.

Using the detector to alert me when a bat was lose I tried to get a picture as they came out into the lighter sky.  This was the best I could do.


I walked down the hill through the trees, and the detector picked up a much larger bat at 55KHz, I am not sure but from the sound, having checked it on the internet, I think it was a Long-eared Bat, either grey or brown.

I good evening with a lot of interest and the wonderful sight and experience of roding Woodcocks