January work rota:- Week 1: off 1st (Bank Holiday) 6th & 7th. Week 2: off 14th & 15th. Week 3: off 16th & 21st. Week 4: off 27th & 28th.
The three day break from 14 to 16th is to be spent at Portland Bill, Dorset. Sami's coming along as is Glen, Dan, Nick (all keen birders), Lucy (newbie birder and contender for highest female yearlist if Sami doesn't watch out), Debs (Glen's non-birding missus who could potentially liven things up nicely!) and last but not least (except in height!) is Jo (Nick's better half and no kind of birder at all!) Butterfly interest is likely to be non-existent, maybe an overwintering Small Tortoiseshell in the Bird Observatory blocks? But Martin will probably run lights so maybe a moth or two can be discovered. Mostly this is about birding and boozing with good friends.
1st - went birding to north Kent today. Sami was too ill to come out and play, so I went with Glen instead. We started at Reculver Towers and over the next couple of hours managed to notch up a half-decent birdlist including an utterly invisible Lapland Bunting (heard only), 3 Shorelarks, 5 Snow Buntings, an impressive 121 Red-throated Divers heading east, good numbers of Pochard over and masses of Wigeon and Brents on the sea. We met a local chap who lives somewhere near Blean Woods. He's a pretty sharp birder and is also into butterflies and dragonflies. He's seen tons of Heath Frits in Blean but reminded us that their 'flight window' is pretty short. We'll need to hit 'em again this summer!
Next stop was Sheppey. A quick visit to Funton Creek added Avocets and Pintail but nothing else of much worth. Onto Sheppey proper we headed for Elmley Farm seeing a huge female Peregrine perched on a gateway overlooking a grazing flock of White-fronted Geese and a couple of Egyptian Geese, a site tick for me!
The road to Capel Fleet gave us distant Whooper Swans, a few Ruff, 46 Corn Buntings on overhead wires and Common Buzzard. No sign of the reported Rough-leg though. Someone's phone rang and we were duly notified of Waxwings at nearby Harty Ferry Inn. A mad Wacky Races style blast along the unforgiving road saw us reach the pub in good time. Within moments we were grinning at 10 Waxwings in a nearby tree followed by 2 Velvet Scoter flying up the Swale, then a lone Barwit and lots of Ringed Plovers. A Chiffchaff and ringtail Hen Harrier were at the marsh followed by an adult male Hen Harrier over the pub.
The weather then closed in completely and we quit in pouring rain. My daylist totalled 88 species, but not a sniff of anything remotely lepidopterous. Not even a bramble mine. Boo.
2nd - straight back to work again today, one day off is quite enough it would seem. Within 200 metres of leaving the house I heard a male Tawny Owl calling away from nearby trees followed by a Song Thrush alarm-calling through the darkness. Sweet. During the course of the day I added Lesser Black-backed Gull and Rose-ringed Parakeets to the Yearlist. Leaving work I heard a Goldcrest calling from ornamental conifers and a Grey Wagtail pitched in to the pond near my house. So, the bird yearlist is up to 94. Not much change on the lepidopteran scene though.
The only bit of good news is that Sam still hasn't gotten out birding yet so her bird yearlist is on about ten. But it does include Nuthatch in the garden and Tufted Duck from the bus - both of which I still need for 2011. Unfortunately Glen snuck off to Barnes WWT today and topped out at 99 species. I don't like being in second place but I'm not off work for another four days...then I'll show him!
EDIT: I just logged on to Birdguides to see what rare birds I'm currently missing and found this listed -
Cetacean News: Bearded Seal still in Orkney on slipway at Finstown
Now, I'm no expert...but...seals ain't cetaceans by any stretch of the imagination! Or am I being stoopid again?
3rd - a frosty start today, the first here for a few days. Not a hope of butterfly activity. Managed a male Tufted Duck from the M25 though so the bird yearlist has crept up to 95. I've come down with a stinking cold, sneezes - snot - coughing - the whole shabang. Feeling a bit low but I'll have to pull myself together by Thursday (6th) because I've got two days off work. Hairstreak eggs beckon...as does that brand new clickamatic camera...
4th - darnit!!! I was hoping to add at least one species to my bird yearlist each day for as many consecutive days as possible. Day four and I draw a blank. Grrrrrrrrrr. Although I'm fairly sure I caught a snatch of Coal Tit call. But nothing stringy is getting onto MY yearlist (unlike Sami who's already yearticked the pinioned Mute Swans at Bourne Hall, not that she's ever going to believe me, lol!) Undoubtedly the best sighting of the day was of a flock of c25-30 Waxwings in the Epsom Riding for the Disabled Association's paddock along Hook Road. That's my fifth self-found flock in the last couple of weeks and the first this year.
We had a couple of hours of decent sunshine today. Temperatures in South London hit the dizzy heights of 5 degrees Celsius for a short while. I thought I spotted a Peacock drift into a flowerbed, turns out it was just a discoloured dark leaf. Buggerit. I'm determined to be the first to see a butterfly this year - Sam had three species with pics last year before I'd even had a sighting!
5th - a crappy ol' day at work but the morning weather was gloriously bright and sunny. Whilst I was faffing around in South London, Sami was busily training for our mammoth Big Walk. She caught the train to Belmont and walked all the way to Reigate station along the North Section of the Banstead to Horley Millennium Trail. The whole trail is 18 miles long. Sam did about half (it has a north and south section) before deteriorating weather conditions caused her to quit whilst still dry! Bloody awesome effort though...I'm so proud of my little Sweetie (she's currently laying in bed, snoring her head off..at 6pm lol!!!!) My turn next - gulp!
Still absolutely nothing to report of a lepidopteran nature. No new birds either, but we've both got the next two days off work so hopefully there'll be something worthwhile for you to read. Anything will do!
6th - spent a few hours getting absolutely soaked at Barnes Wetland Centre today. Sam's coat wasn't as waterproof as mine so she really did get wet! We managed fairly well despite the constant rain, although small birds were difficult to locate. I found a Bittern perched up in a reedbed which started a mini-twitch. Other highlights were a Chiffchaff, a Peregrine swooping across the main lagoon, my first Snipe of the year, a flock of 5 Mistle Thrushes - again the first for the year, a Shelduck and a male Pintail which Sam found first and watching displaying Teal. We accidentally found the male Tufted x Ring-necked Duck hybrid showing the full suite of intermediate characters, but later discovered we'd overlooked a female Scaup. Boo!
Next we wandered through the Woodland Gardens in Bushy Park hoping for some small bird action. We'd left it a bit late and the constant rain heralded an early dusk. We added Mandarin to our lists plus Green Woodpecker and Jay for Sam. Daylist was 48 species and my yearlist total is 99.
7th - after a bit of a lazy lay in for Sam (I'd been shopping and all kinds already...thankfully my snotty cold has passed!) we hit the Hogsmill Riverside Walk in Ewell Village. It's a really good area for Kingfishers and before long we were watching a female Kingfisher at close range, later followed by a male bird further upstream. We had eight or nine sightings in total, probably just the same 2 or 3 individuals though. A nice flock of 70+ Redwings were working their way through the leaf litter and afforded excellent, prolonged views. Sam called a Coal Tit which I completely missed, luckily I found 2 more in a treetop later on, the second yeartick of the day. A female Grey Wagtail and at least 10 Goldcrests (including 4 together!) were other notables. I fed a Grey Squirrel from my fingertips. Sam tried the same trick with a Coot - it pecked her hand, swiftly earning the name C*nt rather than Coot!!!
We briefly tried Epsom Common for Treecreeper or Nuthatch but the rain set in causing us to quit early once more.
Lepidoptera-wise, the year has finally kicked off I found larval webs of Infurctinea argentimaculella along the Hogsmill and pulled an inactive larva into view, followed by a single Narycia duplicella case on a sign post on Epsom Common. Nice for the first Psychid of 2011 to be anything other than ferchaultella! A Yew Artichoke Gall was the only other invert interest noted. My bird yearlist is 101.
8th - today I was pleasantly surprised to find myself delivering around the Coulsdon/Caterham area before heading into town. At approximately 11am I heard a familiar trill, looking up I saw c30 Waxwings drop behind houses just down the hill from where I was parked. I had to install a TV set-up and by the time I was finished there was no sign of the flock. I phoned them through to RBA anyway. This winter really is proving to be simply phenomenal for Waxwings! Nothing lepidopterous though...
11th - by way of a change, I found myself delivering in the Marlow/Maidenhead area this morning and despite the drizzle and low murk found myself straining to see the first Red Kite of the year. It didn't take long, one individual calling mournfully (well, it sounded kinda mournful to me) as it circled not much more than 30 feet overhead. These really are top-class birds! I think they're simply terrific and it staggers me that probably 50% of the locals don't even notice they're there. Nature-blindness, as Glen would say. I didn't keep count but reckon I must have seen at least 20 kites. Later on I almost trod on a 7-spot Ladybird, my first of the year.
Back home, just after dinner to be precise, Sami said, "Look, a moth!" and pointed to the kitchen wall behind me. And there sat a male Epiphyas postvittana in all his glory. First (adult) moth of the year, yippee!!! Pity it's such a trash species here in the London suburbs, even if it does have a rather interesting British history and is an amazing example of population explosion and range expansion. Still just an Epi though. Bird yearlist is 102. Moth yearlist is 3.
← Epiphyas postvittana - Light Brown Apple Moth (male)
This is not my image, I've blatantly lifted it from the internet. But this is what we saw (except our walls are painted magnolia rather than being bare plywood...)
This page was severely suffering from a lack of pics...I had to do something!
Once mostly restricted to the far south-west of Britain, in recent years this accidental importation has spread like wildfire and is now often the commonest moth encountered in the London area at this time of year.
Once again Sami was the first to spot something of lepidopteran interest.
Typically I was still enjoying my dinner!
13th - I put my car in for a full service today and mentioned the 'wandering' habit it has. The garage eventually got back to me mid-afternoon. Service done, headlamp fixed, wheels checked..."Mr Gibson? Hello mate. Erm, there's a slight problem with the wheels...they're ALL being held on by the WRONG length wheelnuts, some are crossed, a couple more are hanging on by just two turns of the thread and some of the spacers are missing!" Unsurprisingly I've left the car with them overnight, they are going to TRY and track down the correct wheel nuts for me tomorrow, hopefully in time for us to head off to Portland Bill before traffic builds up. Or I may have to hire a car. Either way, the mechanic seemed genuinely keen to let me know how lucky it was I asked them to check the wheels. He seemed pretty certain a wheel could have worked loose at high speeds (and, lets face it, I do have a bit of a reputation for high speed driving). Gulp, we were pretty damn lucky there!!! Fingers crossed the garage finds the necessary wheelnuts quickly!
14th - well the garage can't find the necessary wheelnuts. Now they're on about drilling into the hubs...sigh. On a brighter note, the car hire place next door to the garage have managed to find me a car for 5:30pm tonight (a returnee which they're letting me take early after I mentioned that I wouldn't make it to my own birthday piss-up in Portland without a set of wheels - sweet!) So I'm still forking out cash left, right and centre but it would be criminal to leave Glen, Debs, Danny and Lucy alone in the Obs tonight. They'd doubtless string all sorts of rare birds and moths in our absence! Nick and Jo are arriving midday tomorrow (i.e. 5pm if I know Nick's promptness!) so The Pulpit is going to be a-rocking and a-rolling to the sounds of merriment and drunken tales of glee.
Also, that clever Dominic Mitchell seems to have located an adult Slaty-backed Gull in Rainham (45mins drive from here!) which, if accepted as that species (and it looks good judging from the internet pics so far), will be the 2nd for Europe (one was at a rubbish tip in Latvia a couple of years ago) and the first recorded in Britain. Have a look at it on his blogsite here. Bit of a crippler really. I still need American Herring Gull and Audouin's in Britain, but I've got all of the others (apart from the near-mythical Great Black-headed, of course). I'm not a hardcore Larophile by any stretch, but the pull towards Rainham is quite strong...bugger not having a car grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. And you know that it ain't gonna stay for long, tis the nature of the beast. Who knows where it'll go this weekend once the dump stops operating at midday Saturday.
So that's my last post until we return on Sunday evening. The weather is pretty awful in Dorset at the moment. Tomorrow is meant to be a bit better, if still rather blowy, Sunday could be rubbish though. Tune in on 17th to see how we fared. Hasta pronto, aficionados!
15th - after last night's drunken catch-up talk we awoke disgracefully late, duly saw the Blackcap in the Obs garden, and added a plethora of yearticks to the birdlist. The sea was full of passage Guillemots and Razorbills. A lone Black-throated Diver was a decent flyby. We had 5 Purple Sandpipers at The Bill before heading off-island. A brief stop at Ferrybridge resulted in a Black Brant whilst Radipole had four Mediterranean Gulls in the car park including a 1st winter bird with a green ring on its left leg - R69X in white lettering. Probably a French bird, I'll send off details. Next up was Lodmoor where Glen eventually found us the Long-billed Dowitcher, asleep amongst Snipe. Sam's first ever! A good day's birding, despite the incessantly strong SW winds. Bird yearlist is 116.
Black Brant at Ferrybridge
16th - added Fulmar and a few Common Scoter to the tally at The Bill before heading homewards with Sam, Glen and Debs all in the car. A bit of a detour to Abbotsbury was worthwhile with the first Scaup and Goldeneye of 2011. The Scaup were new for Sam's list. Heading eastwards again, we reached Blashford Lakes near Ringwood. This is an excellent site, if a bit popular with the dudes. We saw plenty of good species including a Mealy Redpoll, several Bramblings, a Bittern, a female Ruddy Duck and - best of all - I heard a Grey Heron calling high overhead and looked up to see two herons heading northwards with a Great White Egret right behind them!!! Excellent, my 3rd British self-found GWE and incredibly the second one at this site! RBA were duly notified and the news put out on the pager system. Sweet. Sami saw it, Glen was looking at the wrong herons lol!!! An Avocet, Kingfisher and 46 Goosanders were best of the rest so we moved on to our final birding destination of the day, Blackwater Arboretum. After a bit of a wait we eventually connected with 5 or 6 Hawfinches. Debs pulled out a calling Marsh Tit (not bad for a non-birder) and I found a single case of Taleporia tubulosa on a Norway Spruce. Bird list is 130 species. Moth list is 4 species.
19th - aw heck, I went and did it again...was delivering on an estate in West Drayton when I heard the unmistakeable trilling call of a Waxwing. I spun around and found myself face to face with 14 Waxwings in a treetop, occasionally dropping into an adjacent garden to feed on berries. I called it through to RBA, just in time for them to fly off over rooftops. Typical! Definitely the closest views so far, down to around 20ft or so. Stunning birds, even my work colleague seemed suitably impressed by their crests and kamikaze feeding frenzies!
Ought to mention that earlier today I heard a calling Nuthatch and phoned Sam so that she could verify the call via the phoneline. For some reason she seemed a bit peeved, Baby - it wasn't that early, tee hee. Birdlist is 131 species.
20th - spoke to Glen today, he said that "my" Great White Egret at Blashford has been seen again yesterday and today. Sweeeeeeeeet !!!!!
21st - it's my birthday!!!
Today we headed up to Norfolk with Glen, rare birds being foremost on the agenda. We hit Cantley Marshes in time to see c200 Taiga Bean Geese disappear over the river with the Lesser White-front somewhere within their ranks. Boo. Would've been a lifer for Sami and Glen but dodgy 'flight only views' are not permissible, lol! A Barn Owl was great to see as it quartered a distant reed-lined ditch, but scant consolation. We headed up to the coast in search of more success. At Cley we bumped into Bryan Bland (my notebook entry reads: Bryan Bland - 1 ad - winter plumage) who pointed us in the right direction of the drake American Wigeon and 6 Shorelarks at East Bank. Not much happening to sea so we hit Holkham where we picked up the adult Ross' Goose amongst throngs of Pink-feet and had a couple of flighty Lapland Buntings with Skylarks on the saltmarsh. No luck with the Northern Harrier - we simply ran out of daylight.
Whilst at Holkham I decided to check the elm suckers for White-letter Hairstreak eggs. Sam was a bit gobsmacked that I was turning my back on tens of thousands of geese on the marsh below us, frankly I've been here many times, seen the geese well before, and was keen to locate WLH eggs. In the 20mins I searched I had a lot of strange looks (but nobody had the courage to ask me what the heck I was doing, lol!), found a 7-spot Ladybird and a few Coleophora cases, but not a whiff of WLH eggs. Persistence is needed, I feel. At least I tried.
Birdlist is 135 species (plus Ross' Goose)
Before and after the Birthday Piss-up
24th - today I have massively improved my chances of successfully locating White-letter Hairstreak eggs, basically I asked for help on UKButterflies! Read the thread here. Thanks to Liz Goodyear's in-depth knowledge of the subject I'm now somewhat wiser than before. These are the links that Liz kindly suggested:
Read them and learn...well I did anyway! Thanks again Liz, tis much appreciated. Just watch this space...
26th - watched a rather neat display of kleptoparasitism today, involving a Mistle Thrush and an adult Black-headed Gull. The gull positioned itself about five feet behind the thrush and kept watch as the thrush searched the grassy field for worms. Twice the thrush lunged forward for a worm and both times the gull flapped in to steal the worm. After the second lost worm the thrush flew away over treetops - doubtless in search of happier hunting grounds.
I've seen Black-headed Gulls pirating diving Coots on open water, but never from another species on land. All very interesting...
"But not as interesting as hearing that you've seen a bloody butterfly", I hear you cry. " I thought this was supposed to be a butterfly website, not one all about poxy birds!"
Well guess what - it's bloody January and there ain't much to see butterfly-wise just yet! On 28th I'm going hairstreak egg hunting. With my brand new camera. Tune back then for (hopefully) more interesting stuff!
27th - well, today was the day that I finally started my Land's End to John O' Groats (henceforth LEJOG) training...we left home at the crack of noon and walked from Epsom to Ashtead, through Leatherhead, towards Fetcham and ended up at Bookham station. 7.8 miles in one hit. We wandered up to The Olde Windsor Castle (bartender was completely stoned but the grub was superb) before deciding to walk back to Epsom again. So a grand total of JUST OVER SIXTEEN MILES which is possibly the farthest I've walked for over a decade! We took about 2hrs 20 each way, allowing for brief stops to look at nature stuff. I was somewhat relieved to find that apart from a bout of slight backache (I suffer from poor posture) I managed to survive unscathed. No problems with feet, knees, shin splints or hips. But it is very early days...
Whilst on the walk I found this mystery caterpillar (presumably a Noctuid), several lots of Phyllonorycter leucographella on Pyracantha, a whole heapload of mystery Ectoedemia mines on Quercus ilex and had a search of Ivy berries for overwintering Holly Blue larvae (none found). Plenty of incidental bird interest too. Tomorrow I'm off in search of White-letter Hairstreak eggs at Jubilee Woods...fingers crossed!
28th - I had bold plans for today. Unfortunately I'm also an idiot, so things didn't quite pan out as expected...but it was still a worthwhile exercise.
Armed with hints and tips for successfully finding White-letter Hairstreak eggs, I strode off towards Malden Rushett a couple of miles away. Strode boldly into a bitingly cold wind without hat, gloves or even a jumper. Just t-shirt and coat. I figured I'd soon warm up but the weather was truly 'orrible. Hints of sunshine up ahead kept me optimistic. I arrived at the appointed elm-lined field in excellent time, 1.8miles in 25 minutes with no fatigue. Then I set to checking twigs, buds, scars, high, low - everywhere in fact. One isolated tree, in a good sunlit situation seemed worthy of some serious attention. The sight of many overwintering Coleophora cases led me to believe that I was 'in the zone'! Surely any second now I'd strike lucky? Where was that diminutive flying saucer??? The cold was getting to me, I was shivering and my fingers were burning. Then I noticed the top of my hand was a weird kinda blue colour. Fkkit, time to quit!
I shivered my way to the local pub, had an excellent burger, and re-evaluated my plans. Obviously I had to get out of the bitter wind. Blue hands are not cool! Across the road is an area of half-decent woodland with a wooded path leading between open fields. I decided to try searching for Brown Hairstreak eggs in the blackthorn hedge, hopefully in the lee of the wind!
In the woods I quickly picked up the usual suspects in the world of micros, namely Luffia ferchaultella, Psyche casta, Proutia betulina, Emmetia marginea mines on bramble, a Bucculatrix ulmella cocoon on an oak and a really nice example of Nemapogon clematella feeding signs amongst the Hypoxylon fungi on a hazel twig. I also found old Coleophora mines on Greater Stitchwort which can be narrowed down to just two species...no sign of the culprit so I guess I'll just have to check again in a few months time.
Anyway, back to the hedge-lined path. There's quite a lot of blackthorn but mostly it's tall, leggy, lichen covered stuff so unsuitable for egglaying Brown Hairstreaks. As I neared Rushett Lane the path widened and the first signs of young blackthorn suckering was seen. Before too long I'd found a single BROWN HAIRSTREAK EGG tucked away at the base of a spine some 12 inches above ground level. Hurrah, a new site record!!! I tried a fistful of shots with my new camera but it simply refused to focus on the twig, just the background scenery. Curses!
I tagged the egg for ease of relocation then noticed a sign telling of 3 days clearance work next week...Aaaarrggghhh! Luckily I'm well known with the Lower Mole Countryside Management Project (the clearance team) so all it took was a phonecall and they were made aware of the presence of Brown Hairstreak eggs and their preferred habitat. Conor, one of the leaders, took it all in his stride and has altered the clearance plan accordingly. Sweet!
This is their description of the task as written on their website:-
This bridleway is an important link between Ashtead and Chessington, passing through an area of farmland and woodland which provides an important corridor for wildlife. The hedgerow bordering the bridleway has become overgrown, narrowing the path and making access difficult. We will be cutting back the encroaching scrub on both sides of the bridleway."
So, regards butterfly sightings, I'm in the lead again for the second year running. Any comments, Sami Baby???
Finished work amazingly early and shot back up to Jubilee Wood at Malden Rushett in search of WLH eggs. This time I made sure I was suitably wrapped up against the bitter cold! I gave the elms quite a lot of attention, refinding yesterday's Coleophoras but still no sign of WLH eggs. Dammit. Feeling the need for a change, I began inspecting the blackthorn bushes and within 15 minutes I'd located a pair of Brown Hairstreak eggs on the same sucker. Sweet. Even figured out a way to take a meaningful pic with the new camera - through a 10x hand lens!!! Both eggs were on two year old growth situated approximately 15 and 20 inches above ground level. The thicket faces the sun and must be lovely in the summer. Just a mass of grey twigs at the moment though...
After quitting egg-hunting, I popped into Ewell Village for some fish 'n chips. Sitting in the car, stuffing my facehole with delicious cod, I suddenly noticed 8 Waxwings sitting on top of a lam-post next to the parade of shops. They seemed very nervy, constantly off for a short flight across the road, into treetops, then back to the lamp-post. Rather chuffed I texted a few mates only to hear back from Glen that there were 9 earlier. Back home I checked Surreybirders, Colin Manville (who lives locally) found them this morning. Buggerit, I'm still putting them down as self-found!
January Summary - No sign of any butterflies, best has been finding BROWN HAIRSTREAK EGGS at two sites near Malden Rushett (TQ177614 and TQ171618 - annoyingly both in the same tetrad, but probably a new species for the sites). Moth sightings have been restricted to the microlepidoptera, mostly mines or Psychids with a single Epiphyas postvittana being the only adult moth seen so far this year! Birdwise it's a bit better. The month started well before slowing down somewhat. Highlights have been daytrips to Kent on 1st (Shorelarks, Lap Bunting, Waxwings, RT Diver passage), Dorset on 15th and 16th (Long-billed Dowitcher, good auk passage, Scaup, Purple Sands), Hampshire on 16th (Bittern, a Mealy Redpoll, Hawfinches, and a self-found Great White Egret!), Norfolk on 21st (200 Taiga Bean Geese, Ross' Goose, American Wigeon, Shorelarks), self-sound Waxwing flocks on 4th, 8th, 19th and 29th and a Bittern on 6th.
Butterflies - 1. Moths - 11. Birds- 135.
February work rota:- Week 1: off 3rd & 4th Week 2: off 10th & 11th Week 3: off 18th & 19th Week 4: off 24th & 25th
1st - finished work ridiculously early (again!) and dragged Sam up to Barnes WWT in search of the female Scaup we overlooked on 6th. We headed straight to the Wildside area and at the hide soon located the female Scaup. Nice one! I put a few people onto it before it started swimming closer to the hide, eventually becoming one of the closest birds. At this point I suddenly realised it was associating with an immature Scaup...brilliant you'd think...except that the bills of both birds exhibited too much black across the tip, with a tell-tale paler blue subterminal band present. The bulk of the upper mandibles exhibited a weird smoky swirling of greys and blues. Dammit, both birds were hybrids! I shot some video footage and pics as they dived and preened right next to the hide (never a good sign for a supposedly wary seaduck!) Somewhat miffed, I took consolation in calling Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler - both of which Sami missed tee hee. We gave up waiting for a staked-out Bittern to materialise from a reedbed and headed for the Peacock Tower (Sam had to be at work later, so we only hit part of the reserve).
From the top of the tower another birder called us over to watch a Water Rail scampering across open terrain before bolting for cover in sedges, which was soon followed by a Water Pipit on the shingle island below. It was spooked by three crows and temporarily lost from view before I refound it ten minutes later. We had crappy views into the sun, but good enough to clinch the species. I spotted the drake Ring-necked x Tufted Duck hybrid before we quit. Heading back to the centre we stealthily chased an alarm-calling Cetti's Warbler along a boardwalk, Sami's ridiculously squeaky shoe being our only give-away! It eventually gave us brief views as it flitted from cover to cover, Sam was surprised at how "chocolatey coloured" it was.
Whilst Sam was at work that night, I Googled the Barnes Scaup and found pics of a pure-looking female bird which had apparently been frequenting the Main Lake for the duration of its stay. The two birds we saw were Scaupish, but not pure. Humphh...another one that got away! Bird list is 138 species.
And here's the proper Scaup on the Main Lake that we didn't see!
3rd - despite the foul weather forecast, today was lovely and warm. I was half expecting the first butterfly of the year at any moment. I headed off to Mickleham's Happy Valley in search of Bacotia sepium, a Psychid at its only known Surrey site - six very large Larches in the valley. I've found them here before, as larval cases on fallen trunks, but failed to find them a couple of years back.
At the larches I started with the bud-laden twigs finding masses of overwintering Coleophora laricella cases and a single 7-spot Ladybird but absolutely nothing else at all. So another blank search for sepium...worryingly the National Trust have cleared away the large fallen branches that I recorded it on several years ago. On a happier note, my first ever Surrey Raven flew over calling loudly! About time too. Other bird interest included a couple of Buzzards, a demented Nuthatch who simply wouldn't shut up and a couple of Marsh Tits back by the car park.
← This stand of larches comprises the ENTIRE known distribution of
Bacotia sepium in Surrey. Except I couldn't find any today...
Next stop was The Drift by East Horsley golf club. I parked up and began a wander through the wet woodland. Within no time I found the frassy feeding signs of Nemapogon clematella on Hazels and Infurctinea argentimaculella cases on a fallen tree's Lepraria-covered root ball. Various tree trunks, posts and a large sign board were checked for Psychids. I found lots of Psyche casta cases and the first Spring Usher of the year. A lengthy check of Hart's-tongue eventually revealed the overwintering/feeding cases of Psychoides filicivora (I've recorded them here before and checked the ID - definitely not verhuella, the head capsules differ in colour). Not much else of interest so I quit for the day and headed for home. Moth yearlist is now 13 species.
Undamaged Hart's-tongue spores Note the case of Psychoides filicivora on
the left side of the midrib and the rows of
untidily devoured spores (sori)
4th - a day out with Sami today. We kept it local, first to Woking where we failed to connect with any Waxwings (there had been up to 70 reported yesterday) then off to Thursley Common NNR in search of an overwintering Great Grey Shrike. Some three hours later we quit the site without a sniff of our quarry. Darn wind was so strong we had difficulty simply standing still at times! However, not a complete loss - bearing in mind I've been birding in Surrey for 25 years and only saw my first Surrey Raven yesterday - top sighting was of a pair of Ravens that flew effortlessly into the strong wind allowing prolonged and excellent views as they soared across Shrike Hill and disappeared low over trees by the Moat Pond. Sweeeeeeeeeeet!! A few Lesser Redpolls and a brief Buzzard summed up the rather limited bird interest. We sped across to the outlet area of Frensham Great Pond and skored a calling Firecrest. Nice one. Next up, on the way home again, we dropped into Papercourt Sailing Pit in the hope of sawbills. No luck there, although healthy numbers of Pochard were good to see. A quick hunt through the fields in search of Little Owls provided us with a wheeling flock of c350 Jackdaws proving what superb aerobatic skills they have. We watched spellbound as they spilled out of the sky and into a large tree to roost for the night. Which more than compensated for the lack of owls. The only lepidopterous sighting was of Psyche casta at Thursley. Bird list is now at 139.
6th - Sam finished work early tonight, 9:40pm to be precise, so I picked her up from her workplace and we shot off to grab a takeaway Ruby. This was good for two reasons - firstly because we were hungry and curry seemed the perfect choice, and secondly because there was a smart-looking Emmelina monodactyla sitting on the curry house window, the first of the year. Excellent. monodactyla is a common moth in these parts, flying from end of summer through till the following spring. It is the very last microlepidopterous species listed in the Bradley & Fletcher List with a B&F number of 1524. Then come the butterflies followed by the macrolepidoptera which kicks off with December Moth (B&F 1631). Moth yearlist is now 14 species.
Learn something new every day don't you? Yep, I'm positively brimming with useless facts!
8th - finished work quite early again and blasted off to Bookham Common. The sun was shining, the temperature was a balmy 12 degrees - I fully expected to see a butterfly. I gave it a couple of hours before quitting in the rapidly cooling afternoon. I managed to find my first PURPLE HAIRSTREAK EGGS of the year on Pedunculate Oak. Unfortunately they were both parasitised so not really tickable. Lots and lots of flies (big midges perhaps?) bobbing up and down in the sunny woodland rides. Often in pairs, I haven't a clue of the species (or even family) but I'm guessing the odd flight action is either a mating display or a territorial display? Lots of Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, a few Marsh Tits and quite a few singing Treecreepers were avian highlights. The heronry is showing signs of activity, 12 herons were perched up in the sunlit canopy.
I later read a REALLY interesting article about pan-listing whereby you keep a note of ALL animals, plants and fungi you've ever seen in the UK and then enter your total onto a competitive table. Read about it here and here. Something to keep me occupied over the next few nights...I reckon I'm hovering around the 2000 mark. We'll see. Actually, my best mate Rich Fuller came up with the idea of an "Organism List" at least ten years ago, which is basically the same thing as a pan-list. There are some rules; you are not allowed to count zoo animals, pets, plants grown for gardens or as crops, bacteria only ever found in a culture, etc etc. Jonty Denton is about to hit the 10,000 species barrier, possibly the highest number of organisms ever seen in the UK by one person. Or possibly not...
Also, I forgot to mention that I saw another male Spring Usher a couple of days back. Somewhere in south London, found whilst delivering a washing machine I believe. That is all for today.
10th - Sam was off work today too, so I took her on a Magical Mystery Tour down the A3 and ended up at Wisley Gardens in the pouring rain. Fun...not! I'm not hugely impressed with things like public gardens (particularly in the wet and when nothing's flowering anyway!) but the lure of the butterfly-filled glasshouse was strong. Striding past bare flowerbeds, leafless shrubs and buggy-pushing mothers with huge umbrellas we soon entered the glasshouse and then the tropical section with its butterflies. Hmmm...schoolkids everywhere. Maybe I could push a few into the pools?
Entering through the plastic curtain-door we were immediately assaulted by three Morphos chasing a big, dark something - sweet! Over the next ninety minutes we saw plenty of butterfly action, posed with numerous resting Owl Butterflies and chased restless Glasswings in an attempt to photograph one. We saw several butterflies in cop but no larva or larval damage. Maybe the foodplants are absent? Apparently the stock comes from Stratford-upon-Avon with no breeding done on site. I shot a couple of video clips of battling Morphos and a feeding frenzy on a feeding table.
Eventually we quit. I can THOROUGHLY recommend the Glasshouse Cafe's stew. Tis good - if somewhat extortionately priced. Then we wandered the gardens in the rain. I found a Luffia on a Tilia but nothing sillier and that was it. The nearby Anchor Pub has become a bit of a poncy restaurant but the Guinness was very pleasingly refreshing.
11th - today we kept it very local and visited Bushy Park in search of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers in the Woodland Gardens. The sun eventually broke through the cloud cover and we had several Great Spotted Woodpeckers calling and drumming. Twice I thought I heard Lesser Spot drummings, but nothing utterly conclusive. I guess we'll have to come back in another month or so when they'll be vocalising and drumming much more regularly. Sam found a small flock of Lesser Redpolls in birches right above my head (!) and pointed out some decent sized Chub in the stream. I found some hibernating 7-spot Ladybirds and a Harlequin Ladybird on the back of a signboard. Nothing much else of note was seen so we quit in time for Sam to start her afternoon shift.
12th - I have a confession to make. A horrible, sneaky thing really. I'm currently obsessing over a phenomenon known by the mysterious moniker of Pan-species Listing. This is not about recording the bugs dwelling in my saucepans, it's much more insidious than that! It's all to do with a certain entomologist called Mark Telfer who wrote this article for Birdguides a couple of weeks back. His personal website is here. But be warned, if there's a modicum of list-keeping in your soul you may find it hard to resist the lure of creating your own Pan-species List. Don't say you haven't been warned! And you definitely shouldn't visit Graeme Lyon's site either! My own P-SL is currently up to just over 2200 species, but I've still got to add in the fungi and a few of the more obscure orders, as well as everything to do with the seashore (apart from fish). I'm hoping to top 2300 species when finished. Then I can get my evenings back again!
14th Valentine's Day - the day started quite normally. I woke up at 6am, off to work at 6:30am, arrived at work just before 7am. Somehow I managed to finish by 1pm which was when Glen texted me the news that the Oriental Turtle Dove in Chipping Norton, seen once a few weeks ago, had reappeared and was showing in a garden with access right now. Blimey!!! I phoned Sam (who was off today anyway) to get our stuff together and we were off. Picked Glen up by 2pm (he told his manager there was a 'family crisis' and left the office) and was on site by ten to four. It would have been earlier but I had a pressing call of nature I had to answer before we set off (couple of extra mins) followed by getting stuck behind some muppet doing 37mph in a 50 zone with no opportunity to overtake on the twisty roads. Hence we should have arrived at 3:45 instead of 3:50. I tell you all of this for a reason. We arrived just in time for some bloke to tell us, "it was perched on top of that roof just 2 minutes ago, mate." We waited for a reappearance. The garden it had been frequenting was now out of bounds (the householder had determined that viewing was permitted from 10am to 4pm only, and at a cost of £5 per person. It was now past 4pm. At least we saved fifteen quid, the bloody mercenary b*stard) We scanned between the houses and into gardens. We snuck furtively around gardens. We were invited into neighbouring gardens by the curious but amenable residents. We watched it growing darker. It got dark. We quit...if only we'd arrived two minutes earlier. Hitting the motorway I treated Sam to a romantic Burger King meal. We drank coke. We headed homewards and I soon fell asleep. Sam, I think, will remember this particular Valentine's for all the wrong reasons. If she hasn't ditched or killed me beforehand, we're going to try for the dove again this Friday.
15th - Sami's still speaking to me!!!! In stark contrast to yesterday, I didn't get back from work until gone 7pm and we left almost straight away for the monthly indoor meeting of the Surbiton Bird Club. Dominic Couzens was tonight's guest speaker, giving a talk entitled 'Birds Behaving Badly'. He told us some pretty interesting stuff too. Then we hit the pub and chatted birds into the night. Life's good once more. Shame there's still not a sniff of a butterfly despite some warmish days of late.
16th - yet another early finish for me today, I was back home by 2pm. Sam didn't have to be at work until 5pm so we shot off to Sunbury Cross where we were treated to the sight of over 200 Waxwings perched in trees just overhead (I feared I'd be shat upon if I stood directly beneath the flock. Sam obviously didn't consider this to be a danger and walked right up to them, clicking away with her camera). Happy that Waxwing was well and truly on her yearlist, I took Sam back into Bushy Park for a second crack at Lesser spots. A Stock Dove was a long overdue addition to Sam's yearlist. We watched an Egyptian Goose fly up into a large oak tree and disappear into a nest cavity which made Sam goggle in amazement!!! Still no luck with the blasted Lesser spots but we saw Great Spotted Woodpeckers well enough. Maybe next time?
18th - Today was the day we WOULD see that darn Oriental Turtle Dove! Sam and Glen had both booked the day off of work, the car was all fuelled up, no messing around this time...we were off by half six and on site by half eight. We joined the queue before realising that the bird was actually viewable from the road. A quick panic later, I managed to locks my bins onto the arse of a dove. Two seconds later it flew off revealing greyish tips to a damaged tail...hmmmm, decidedly underwhelming views of my first ever ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE!!! Sam and Glen both missed it and I wanted tickable views. Eventually we were in the kitchen and joined a tight throng of twitchers between the fridge and table. The bird was 40 feet ahead of us but in a bush and "not currently showing"...a much hated phrase! A Blackcap, Brambling and family party of Bullfinches were nice but we wanted the dove. Unfortunately for me it chose to fly off whilst I was scanning the bush. I missed it go, so did Sam who was by now becoming somewhat caught up in the twitching mentality. Basically she was pissed off and stated that she "wasn't leaving without that dove!" Good girl!!!
We were ushered out as 9 o'clock arrived, the chap had to go to work or some such lame excuse. Back outside we trolled the street until one guy offered us entry to his garden for fine views of the trees. After about 15 mins I spotted a distant 'pigeon' almost silhouetted against the grey skies. Hmmm? I tried for detail but was interrupted by a guy suddenly announcing that he had the bird in his scope!!! Sam went into panic mode and I quickly pushed her to the front of the queue where she had excellent, if brief views. The bird flew down and out of sight, as had my bird. Yep, I'd been on the OTD. Phew, pressure off! With happy grins we all agreed we wanted better views and off we went back up the road again. Happily one householder was permitting twitchers access to his wide driveway. We realised the bird was on show and, with a bit of barging, I found myself next to Johnny Allen standing on a recycling box for extra height. The OTD was preening on a post just three gardens away and afforded excellent views. I took my fill before relinquishing my spot for others. Sam had good views but couldn't manage anything better than record shots with her camera. Happy days! We quit for our next target... Britain's first ever Slaty-backed Gull currently residing somewhere near Rainham Marshes in Essex.
Two hours later we arrived to find the RSPB reserve shut. Parking was at a premium but we squeezed in and set off on the long walk towards the landfill site, current location of our quarry. Eventually we joined the ranks of birders scoping through the assorted gulls loafing on the marsh a mile or so in front of us. This was going to be tricky! During the next couple of hours we managed a 1st winter Iceland Gull and a Lesser Black-back with an abnormally heavy amount of head streaking which some people happily ticked as the Slaty-back. I found a small Epiphyas postvittana larva in Broom. A feeding lock of 81 Stock Doves was notable. Sam had an urgent need of a loo, successfully sneaking into a straggly bush isn't quite as easy for a lady - particularly with a couple of hundred scopes in the vicinity!! So we quit early and called into the motorway services.
There was still enough light left for us to continue birding. I suggested we try Holmethorpe Sandpits which have had three redhead Smew recently. We didn't find the Smew but Yellowhammer finally threw itself onto the yearlist and some 40 Little Grebes was a noteworthy count. Winter thrushes were present in fair numbers and we watched c100 Fieldfares drop in to roost followed by c150 Redwings.
So we missed the Slaty-backed Gull (it wasn't seen by anybody that afternoon) and we dipped the Smew but we did manage to connect with the Oriental Turtle Dove, my 428th BOU British bird and a bit of a belter too!!!! Later we joined some pals down the pub (Sam, being the only female present, had to put up with much flirting and male rubbish but she managed admirably) We were thrown out around 1am, fell out of the kebab shop around quarter to two and hit the sack around 3am. A looooooong day indeed! Birdlist for the year is now at 143 species. Slow stuff.
22nd - found myself nose to nose with my first Pholcus phalangiodes of the year today, underneath a customer's sink! We usually see them in the corners of our bathroom, seeing this one made me realise that 'our' ones seem to have been absent for a while. Hmmmm....
Also of note, the laptop blew up with a fizz and a few sparks. The power lead had worn through where it joins the laptop and the internal wires were bared. Luckily Sam has a spare, although Windows has been uninstalled (don't ask...) hence I can't connect the camera and upload pics. So you'll just have to be patient until things resolve. I'll back-date the pics when I can.
23rd - I was parked up outside a customer's house this morning, trying to make sense of an odd phone-call, when I heard the unmistakeable trill of flying Waxwings. Throwing my confused mate out of the truck I yelled, "count those birds!!!" and got back to the phone-call. Happily my colleague is well aware of my odd habits and duly counted the fast-moving flock. "About 25 I'd say, but they didn't stop." Good enough for me, I phoned the sighting through to RBA who duly put it out on the pagers. First self-found flock since 29th January! Sweet. Tomorrow is meant to be quite a nice day weather-wise. Sam and Glen are off too. We'll probably end up on Thursley in search of the two Great Grey Shrikes.
(EDIT - A flock of 50 Waxwings were found the following day several streets away from my sighting.)
24th - there's been a lot of behind-the-scenes excitement in the UKButterflies forum regarding today's weather predictions of 14C and sunny. Who'll be the first to spot something, for doubtless the sightings page will jolt into action if the weather does as forecast!
We set off, picked up Glen and Paul (both birders) and headed off coastwards. First stop was Pagham LNR between Chichester and Selsey. We spent about four hours here, picking up 70 species of birds (highlights included Scaup, Kingfisher, Peregrine and Med Gull) and noting quite a lot of insect activity. I was almost certain we'd see a butterfly, particularly in the lanes leading from The Severals to Church Norton cemetery. Dozens of 7-spot Ladybirds were emerging across walls and bramble patches. Episyrphus balteatus, the Winter Hoverfly, was noted in the cemetery as was Bombus terrestris the Buff-tailed Bumblebee and I somehow managed quite a nice pic of a Honeybee hovering in front of a Snowdrop. But no butterflies...
We briefly detoured to Dell Quay but the tide was wrong and we only added a handful of bird species. By now the sunshine was pretty full-on and I'd stripped out of my jacket. And still no butterflies, although I did find a nice stand of flowering Elm which necessitated an obligatory WLH egg hunt - unsuccessfully of course!
We shot back up the A3 and were soon at Thursley Common NNR, where we stayed until late afternoon. What a brilliant site this is! We were on the hunt of a Great Grey Shrike which has been present for some weeks now. The sound of singing Woodlarks greeted us and we saw several in aerial song flights, with more singing from trees or overhead wires. Somehow these were the first ones that Sami has ever seen - and what a way to see them! Superb. But our quarry was the shrike. We split up and before long Glen whistled us over a hilltop. Just as we reached him the bird dropped out of sight and was lost. Grrrr. We waited for quite a while before figuring we'd need to move elsewhere for a different vantage point. An hour or so later I spotted the bird across the bog, flitting between birch saplings. Pretty soon Sam was scoping her first ever Great Grey Shrike to the sound of Woodlark song tumbling from the sky above us. An Acleris notana (or ferrugana?) provided moth interest whilst I got to grips taking shots of the various mosses that have colonised a recently burnt area. What a great day!
We popped into the pub for a quick coupla pints and back at home my first Small Quaker of the year fluttered around the security lights. Logging on to UKButterflies confirmed my fears - several people had their first Brimstones today including a couple in Surrey...I've got my second day off tomorrow. Fingers crossed the weather is warm and sunny again. February has been a bit lacking butterfly interest thus far! Birdlist is now 145 for the year.
(EDIT - a UKButterfly member was also at Pagham today and commented on the lovely warm weather, on seeing a Kingfisher and Little Egret PLUS finding a Small Tortoiseshell....DAMMIT!!!!)
25th - it wasn't. Boo! I stayed on Epsom Common today. Weather was 11C and cloudy with just the odd outbreak of warmer sunshine. Hence my sole butterfly sighting was of a PURPLE HAIRSTREAK EGG on Pedunculate Oak. Hmmm. Moth-wise there were quite a few Tortricodes alternella flying around and a low Buzzard was definite bird highlight of the day. In a bid to increase my Pan-species List I checked under a few logs finding a variety of snails and a fierce looking spider. Checking the pics with my spider book confirmed the genus as Dysdera but I stupidly neglected to count the number of spines on the hind-most femur which would have told me whether it was D.crocota (1-3 spines) or D.erythrina (no spines). A schoolboy error, when will I ever learn!!! The huge chelicerae (spider jargon for jaws) house long, curved fangs which enable this genus to pierce the armour of woodlice - a prey item that most other spiders either reject or are unable to tackle. I then took a few snail pics before finding a craggy Silver Birch adorned with copious amounts of algae, lichens and mosses. These in turn harboured quite a healthy colony of Infurctinea argentimaculella along with several actively moving cases of Narycia duplicella and a few Luffia ferchaultella.
Purple Hairstreak ova...apologies for my grubby hand!
Back home I suddenly realised I'd lost my wallet somewhere on the common...panic! Unbelievably I found it under the bench I'd sat on for a drink/chocolate break. Sweet!!! Shame I spent all of yesterday faffing around with birds not butterflies. I'm hopeful of another opportunity before the month is out, which leaves me just three days to find summat...unfortunately the weather forecast is crappy so I think I've blown it for a February butterfly.
27th - haha! The whole wurld's gone mad!!!!
Regards Pan-species Listing, firstly Sam has befriended Graeme Lyons (of Lyon's Den notoriety and an avid p-s lister) on Facebook. Then the Sunday Telegraph print a whole story about the top two pan-species listing giants and their race to beat the other one to 10,000 species at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8349274/Species-spotters-battle-it-out-to-become-the-first-to-10000.html, and finally I received an email from Mark Telfer himself warning me that everybody involved with pan-species listing on his site needs to fend for themselves if 'The Press' come knocking!!!
Crazy I tells ye! Crazy!
28th - well, the month ended with a wet slosh. Rain, drizzle and a bit more rain. So no February butterflies for The Gibster. Not this year anyway. Tomorrow is forecast to be sleety, but we're only TWO WEEKS AWAY from it being proper butterfly time YAY!!! (Apologies if that's a bit too camp. I don't really wander around saying 'yay', but it kind of sums up the ol' feelings quite nicely). I've heard that Spring may hit with a bit of a sudden thump this year and the omens are good for early butterfly emergences. Fingers crossed! See you in March...
March work rota:- Week 1: off 3rd & 4th Week 2: off 10th & 11th Week 3: off 17th & 18th Week 4: off 20th & 26th.
1st - rainy and dull all day today, but I did stumble across this "advanced lepidoptery site", which can be viewed at http://britishlepidoptera.weebly.com/index.html plus a dead-easy looking key to the British Bumblebees at this site: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/research/projects/bombus/key_british_colour.html followed by this link to British earthworms, which I'm also keen to try out! It's at http://www.opalexplorenature.org/Earthwormguide
3rd - poor ol' Sami decided to get flu on my day off, the menace lol! Hence I didn't manage to slink off until 3pm. A quick stomp across Epsom Common yielded lots of earthworms (pics galore!) under logs. Plus various centipedes, millipedes and what appeared to be a Harvestman with eggs all over its back! I found two Vapourer Moth egg batches but not much else at all.
Birdwise a male Yellowhammer was singing in the grazing area and a lone Barnacle Goose had appeared at Stamford Pond. Definitely a duffer, it allowed approach to within ten feet, but was fully winged and unringed. Who knows how long it will stay for. Still, always nice to get an Epsom Common Tick after 25 years doing the site! I notified the local bird recorder, oddly enough he didn't rush over to see it lol.
4th - Sam's still not well, but she's reached 'moaning and groaning' stage rather than 'dying' stage. So I left her to it and shot off into the sunshine! I headed to a site called Dick Focks Wood (honest!) which is a Forestry Commision site near Ranmore. I gave it 90mins and quit. Buggerall happening there other than two displaying Goldcrests and a whisper of potential in a few months time. Even rolling logs proved largely fruitless.
In need of cheering up I headed southwards towards Nutbourne where I know a very special site. I was confident of a butterfly in the afternoon sunshine, temperatures were definitely over 10C. Alas it was not to be, an accidentally flushed Woodcock and 7 Buzzards were highlights. I saw a bumblebee and a couple of smaller bees nectaring on Colt's Foot (about the only thing flowering, apart from a few daisies!) plus lots of Leucoptera spartifoliella mines on the broom. So STILL no butterflies, it can only be a matter of days now though...he hopes...
Yesterday's Barnacle Goose has gone, it really was just a one day wonder!
5th - finished work early today and, after dropping Sam into work, I shot off to Howell Hill SWT in search of elms. I'm becoming obsessed with finding WLH eggs! The reserve itself is apparently devoid of elms, although small roses are doing well - I'm scratched to buggery around the shins! Across the fields, alongside the golf course, is a decent hedge full of elm suckers. I gave it easily two hours checking the twigs. I don;t think I've ever seen so many Coleophora cases on elm before. Bloomin hundreds of 'em! Some of the elm buds were the largest I've seen this year, and it was these that held many Coleophoras. I'm guessing they are the healthiest, most vital branches? Still no WLH eggs though. Eventually it began getting dimmer and my hands were cold. Not good. But I feel the site is a good one, so I'll check again soon.
6th - I GOT A LIFER!!!!!
Delivering to a chap in Ashford, Middlesex this afternoon. The sun was shining, lots of blue sky, but still way too chilly for butterfly activity. Suddenly I noticed a medium sized (ie smaller than a bumble) bee hovering at daffodils. Immediately obvious was the very pale lemony-yellow face and duller golden body. I suspected Hairy-footed Bee, due entirely to "Susie" (a UKButterfly member who knows her bees) who ID'ed one on-line just a few days ago. The photo and description were still fresh in my mind. I remember she said that one of the sexes was entirely black, and guess what happened next...an entirely black bee flew up to the hovering yellow-faced bee, they did a little aerial jig, and then zipped off over the fence in tandem! Aaaaah, must be love! What a great way to ID a lifer. Much more satisfying than comparing a pic to the key! Cheers Susie! Also thanks to Matsukaze, another UKButterfly member for putting a scientific name to Portland's "Ashen Bee", seen a couple of years ago. My bee list now stands at a whopping 4 species. Watch out Graeme Lyons, I'm snapping at your heels...not lol!
10th - typically, after a few days of warmth and sunshine, my day off work was grey, dull and windy. Buggerit. So, not much hope of butterfly activity. What shall I do? Looking at the trees and bushes being buffeted by the wind I decidd against WLH ova searching. So...ah! Small Copper larvae should be active - maybe. I decided to shoot off to Fairmile Heath near Cobham and search the sorrel for signs of life.
Down on Fairmile I pretty soon discovered that the sorrel present is all Sheep's Sorrel, hence pretty small. In fact I'd go so far as to say it was minute, even by its own standards. Barely a single leaf was much more than a centimetre long. Needless to say, despite quite a bit of searching, I failed to find any feeding signs or larvae. A quick look at oak tips revealed a lack of Purple Hairstreak eggs. Not doing well here! I noticed a bloke loitering near my car so quickly gave up searching and headed back to the car park. He eyed me dubiously...
Heading southwards on the A3 I witnessed a crash just 200metres ahead of me. Seemed to involve a van and a couple of cars. Things ground to a halt and 4 ambulances and 9 police cars turned up. Then a helicopter landed on the carriageway ahead of us. An hour and a half ticked by before we were allowed to continue. The grisly scene up ahead was not nice. A motorbike was wedged under the back of the van and the motorcyclists protective leathers were cut open next to the bike, still in the shape of their occupant and bloodied. I noticed that everybody kept to a sensible speed after that...
I arrived at Site X near Nutbourne in the Chiddingfold area, same place as I visited on 4th. By now the sun was shining for very brief periods as gaps in the clouds appeared. My car read 12C but the wind was keeping the temperatures lower than that. I was surprised to find a distinct lack of sorrel, I was sure I'd seen Small Coppers here before? Changing tack I began examining the Broom tips and within the minute I located COLEOPHORA CALYCOTOMELLA, a species I discovered at Oaken Wood Complex several years ago when it was NEW TO BRITAIN followed a year later by the colony at the site I was now at. Sweet! I checked for it last year too but couldn't locate any. The case appeared to be half-grown and was overwintering on a stem. Finally, something worth seeing! The day had been salvaged. In the pub that night, Sam pointed out a moth on the wall behind me, it was Endrosis sarcitrella, the White-shouldered House Moth. A very common species here. Off birding with Glen tomorrow...
11th - today we twitched a White-tailed Eagle near Old Basing in Hampshire. We missed it by some 20 minutes. We gave it a few hours, notable birds were 5 Little Egrets in a field, 3 Red Kites, probably best part of 20 Buzzards including two with bizarrely white heads and a few Yellowhammers. The local farmer had a gibbet with 18 dead Magpies strung up. Niiiiice. We quit and headed to Barnes WWT hoping for migrants. Nope, but we saw 3 Pintail, some Snipe, had a calling Cetti's , I counted 51 Carrion Crows on the wader breeding islands with another 23 on the main marsh. Time to bust out the old Larsen Traps again!!! By the entrance to the reserve I saw last years Ectoedemia septembrella mines on Garden Hypericum. Wup.
That evening I joined Surrey Moth Group, figured it was high time!
12th - a glorious morning yielded the goods - a long awaited BRIMSTONE flying along the road at Brooklands near Weybridge in Surrey.
HURRAY!!!!! FIRST BUTTERFLY OF THE YEAR
I phoned Sami the great news, I don't think she was as happy for me as I would have been if she'd seen the first one, lol! By the time I got home that afternoon my mate Jason had also seen a male Brimstone and my landlady saw several over Epsom Common too. Mass emergence, I guess. Maybe if Sam had gotten home earlier than 4:15am she could have joined in the fun before work...
That evening I cracked out my old 125MV light trap. I put it on the front driveway beneath the white garage door. The glow was pleasingly powerful, aided by the white walls too, I guess. I didn't leave it burning way for long, about 90mins or so. So I was thoroughly pleased to estimate 10 Small Quakers, 40 Common Quakers, 3 Hebrew Characters, a Yellow Horned and an Acleris notana/ferrugana. Cool stuff! I reckon it must be at least seven years since I ran a garden trap. Surrey Moth Group won't know what's hit 'em!!!
14th - had a calling Firecrest in a customer's front garden today. By standing on the open truck door I managed to gain enough height to glimpse it moving about in thick shrubbery at 9ft range. Sweet!
15th - another beautiful day. The truck's thermometer read 17C, but I suspect it's faulty (same as the rest of the poxy thing. I well remember when Iveco used to build reliable trucks. Workhorses. These new ones are crap. Iveco Bics the mechanics call 'em. Bic, use once and throw it away.)
Anyway, whatever the real temperature actually was, I saw two male BRIMSTONES wheeling around each other in a sunlit glade just by the A3/M25 interchange. Not exactly scenic, but it did the trick and brightened up another otherwise dull moment of sitting in traffic.
17th - Spent three cold hours searching through the elm hedges below Howell Hill SWT this morning. What a waste of time, lol. Cold fingers despite the sunshine and not a hint of WLH presence, although I know they occur at the site. I then tried Warren Farm, again plenty of elm and a distinct lack of success. Buggerit. Again, they occur in the area, guess I'm just crap at this? Did manage Purple Hairstreak eggs easily enough though. That afternoon I picked Sam up from her workplace then decided to wander through Horton Country Park in search of...um, well anything really! It was a lovely evening as we wandered down the track. I aimed us towards a stream I worked on about a decade ago. Water Voles are present along a stretch of stream bordered by meadows. I was part of the conservation team which cleared overhanging trees and rejuvenated the stream habitat, thus maintaining a vole-friendly habitat. Unfortunately it's high time someone thought long and hard about some follow-up action. I was positively horrified to note that several hundred metres of hedge has been flailed. Within spitting distance of the Lower Moles and the Ranger Service. Disgusting.
Anyway, we reached the meadows and spent a while searching the numerous vole runs for feeding signs and piles of droppings. No sign of the beasties themselves but tracks and a splash were close calls. Suddenly I noticed that a Common Sorrel by my boot had grazing 'windows' across a leaf. Turning the leaf I immediately found...nothing! Hmmm, and it looked so good. A second look at the leaves revealed a few nibbles on an adjacent leaf. And on the underside? A SMALL COPPER LARVA all spun up and hunched on its silken pad! Amazing, the first one we've ever seen - and bigger than I expected too, probably a centimetre long. We noted the purplish markings along the green body, took a few pics and left it in peace. Surely it will become active within the next few days, temperatures are getting pretty good.
A calling Little Owl caught our attention, Sam's never heard one before so was a bit annoyed when some delinquent kid started making stupid noises behind us...until I mentioned that the 'kid' was, in fact, a second Little Owl and pretty close too. We listened to their duetting before tracking one down and enjoying really good views as it preened halfway up an old oak. What a great end to a lovely walk.
18th - started the day at Lonsdale Road Reservoir at Barnes. Except it's the Leg o Mutton LNR nowadays. Nothing to note of a lepidopterous nature, good patch of Winter Heliotrope and a stand of some large dock that I couldn't name. Birdwise it was a bit better with 19 Teal, 2 singing Chiffchaffs, 2 heron's are currently nesting on the tern rafts which will allow excellent views of the youngsters as they develop to fledging stage. Then the rain set in a bit more determinedly.
I dropped into Barnes WWT, discovered that the membership had expired (Sam closed the bank account down, thus ending the standing order. £45 lighter I entered the reserve... Actually it was quite good. The cafe is currently out of commission which, combined with the poor weather helped conspire to keep the dreaded Barnes Mum's Buggy Brigade safely indoors. Heading to the Wildside area I heard two Cetti's Warblers and a calling Chiff. I tracked an 'oddish' sounding noise to a hoarse Goldcrest, in the same spot a Firecrest was reported from last week. Not that I'm casting doubt on Barnes' finest! From the Dulverton Hide I found my first Little Ringed Plover of the year alongside three Dunlin and a grand total of 5 Redshanks. Bumped into Heavy Jenny in the Peacock Tower and I pointed out a fine-looking Water Pipit on one of the islands. The rain finally started to die down a bit so I took advantage of the break in the weather and quit. Birdlist for the year is now 148 species.
19th - finished work early afternoon and had a few hours to kill before whisking Sam off to a mystery birthday destination...the sun was out, the day was warm...Epsom Common it was! We headed straight to a sunny clearing and had instant success with two COMMAS which engaged in rapidly upward-spiralling dogfight, much to our delight they soon returned and allowed a few pics. Next up was a SMALL TORTOISESHELL, only infrequently seen on Epsom Common so a very welcome addition to our list. More pics! We headed off towards another open area but failed to skore anything. We found another COMMA in a third clearing, but the sun was starting to drop and the temperature to fall.
We set off southwards by 6:30pm, hit Southampton by 8pm - couldn't find the Premier Inn for ages, dumped our gear in the room and headed out for the night. I'd organised for a few of Sam's friends to join us at The Hobbit. Eventually we ended up at The Edge, Southampton's only gay bar which is pretty good value (for laughs and beer alike!) I'm still not sure if the lady with the staggeringly enormous tits actually was a lady...
The next day we visited Sam's family and ended up letting off Chinese Lanterns into the night sky. Then back to London for work the following morning. Yukk.
22nd - I had to attend a two day training course at the Training Academy in Erith. Now I'm back up to date with the latest advancements in the world of electric cooker installations. Lots of paperwork and Fluke meter fun mostly. In the old days we used to stick our fingers in a socket to see if it was live. Then we advanced to spitting on a cable to see if it had juice running through it. Nowadays we use a Fluke meter which tests the polarity of the household circuitry, tests the resistance levels in and out, paths of earth, voltage levels, continuity of our connection, state of existing cables, tells us whether there is an RCD, the reaction times of the RCD, insulation levels of the cooker, more paths of earth...but enough of that boring ol' rubbish. The important thing was having a PEACOCK briefly visit the ivy hedge I was sitting by whilst on break. Pretty brief, but definitely a Peacock. Ha! Another one up on Sami Baby!!
24th - a lovely, warm day again. Butterfly sightings were a Comma being chased by a Small Tortoiseshell in Sunbury and a male Brimstone in Shepperton.
25th - driving the truck through Ashford in Middlesex today when I caught sight of my first female Brimstone of the year flitting across gardens. Sam has started a new job last week and has just received her rota for the rest of the year (!) Seeing as how I don't know my work rota from one week to the next, I'm a bit gobsmacked by seeing a twelve-month rota! Now, all we need to do is see how well our butterfly plans fit into it....hmmm, actually not very well. Guess we'll just have to rejig things somewhat.
27th - Sam had been wandering Epsom Common for most of the early afternoon, finding her first Peacock of the year alongside more Brimstones and Commas. By the time I finished work the heat of the day was already dying, but we still struck out for Bookham Common. Not much to report, two Commas in sunlit clearings and a few Bee Flies was about it. I biefly tried Papercourt Sailing Pit for hirundines. There were none, but a fine sight (kinda!) was an Egyptian Goose with five small Egyptian Goslings, sweet! We watched three Little Grebes on the Stock Pond, one comically leaping for small flies, of which there were clouds!
28th - This morning Sam texted me to say she'd just had a Speckled Wood whilst walking to work. Dammit. I was just about to climb back into my truck today when a suuuuu-perb male HOLLY BLUE flew past me at five-foot range. Brilliantly unexpected, and so confiding too. I watched him flutter across a garden and over a fence. Followed 20 minutes later by a Comma. Ha! Even Stevens again. Naturally Sam thinks I'm making the whole thing up...
30th - finally received an email regarding WLH sightings on Mitcham Common. It lists several areas where the adults have been recorded last year, so I guess another bout of egg-hunting is imminent. Sigh....
By the close of March I've managed several Brown Hairstreak eggs, Purple Hairstreak eggs, a Small Copper larva, Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells, Commas, a Peacock and a Holly Blue. But no WLH eggs...curses!
April work rota:- Week 1: off 1st. Week 2: Spain 5th - 12th inclusive. Week 3: off 20th & 21st. Week 4: off 25th & 28th.
1st - well, armed with info of where to find WLH on Mitcham Common, I took one look at the grey, horrible weather and chose Barnes WWT instead! Typically the weather improved immensely and I fully expected to see a butterfly, not that I did though. So it was the birds that stole the show.
Cetti's Warblers were pretty darn obvious with 5 birds singing around the reserve but first main highlight was a quiet but diagnostic buzzing noise somewhere overhead. A bit of neck-craning and I soon found a couple of Sand Martins swooping high up, first hirundines of the year and long overdue too. Good start though. I set up in Wildside Hide and was somewhat dismayed to count 124 Carrion Crows on the Grazing Marsh and surrounding environs - very bad news for ground nesting birds which, at this site, include Little Ringed Plovers. More Larsen Traps, chaps. C'mon WWT...sort it out!!!! Wader interest consisted of one LRP, 5 Redshanks, 8 Snipe and a few pairs of Lapwings. No sandpipers yet. A lone Little Egret was a nice bonus bird, it soon departed high to the south.
A guy in the hide with me suddenly called, "Swallow!!!" A bit presumptious I thought. I didn't even know the fella!!!! Quickly realising that he meant the bird, I dashed across to his window just in time to catch the back end of a male Swallow disappearing over treetops. Second hirundine of the day, second yeartick, good stuff.
Up in the Peacock Tower a fine selection of gulls were loafing on a grassy bank offering fine views for once. I soon picked up a full adult Yellow-legged Gull, third yeartick of the day! Rather annoyingly, I found what was probably a sub-adult Caspian Gull which gave me about five seconds grace before flying off high to the north. Buggerit. Odds and sods included the regular (but definitely plastic) Bar-headed Goose, a few remaining Pochard, Wigeon and Shoveler, singing Chiffchaffs, my first Alderfly of the year and Ectoedemia septembrella mines. Bird yearlist is now 151 species.
2nd - Sam saw a Holly Blue whilst walking to work today. Combined with her Speckled Wood, that means that she's one species ahead of me so far this year. Hmmm, as long as it doesn't get any worse than that I'll be ok.
On a different note, returning home after a few pints in the pub (I've been on a strict Coke-only 'diet' after falling foul of a mega Stella binge a few days back!!) I was mildly alarmed to note a huge Tegenaria gigantea sitting on the wall above the front door. I say 'mildly alarmed' because I'm rational enough to know it is unlikely to leap onto my face and savage me to death with sharp fangs... but, at the same time, I'm imaginative enough to know that really all it wanted to do was leap onto my face and savage me to death with its sharp fangs.
I double-locked the door behind me. Burglars n' stuff...
OK, so this is not my hand (or even my pic) but it does show the relative size of Tegenaria gi-bloody-gantea. You don't want to find one of those buggers staring down at you from the top of your front doorway (too many eyes for a start!)
And for all you tarantula owners...I've handled Red Knees, no bother. These freakers are the real deal.
We've got Pholcus phalangioides in the bathroom. And I think they're cute.
Hence I'm brave...
3rd - Dammit!!!! Today Sam had a Peacock, a Brimstone and TWO MALE ORANGE-TIPS on her way in to work. Now she's TWO species ahead of me!!! Grrrrrrrrr - I will have my revenge...
4th - snuck across to Jubilee Woods once more, there's loads of Common Sorrel in the horse field - I fully expect to see hordes of Small Coppers here next month! Despite the sunshine it was pretty cool. I managed just one Comma but quite a lot bee flies Bombylius major. Saw a few in cop which caused a few moments of confusion as they hovered over the grass. I noticed that some were smaller (males?) and occasionally seemed to flash pale golden as they tilted in midair. Is this some sort of visual display? There are only five UK species with differing wing patterns and hair colour. I may give 'em a go as the summer advances. Also found a few small bees. Carder bees of some sort? A swampy area has been transformed into a beautifully scenic pond fringed with more Marsh Marigolds than I think I've ever seen before. Sweet.
I shot across to Epsom Common where a gorgeous male ORANGE-TIP made me gasp as he flashed past my face! Yeah Baby, shove that in your pipe an' smoke it...just leaves Speckled Wood and we're evens again! Seriously, I think male Orange-tips somehow manage to encapsulate a whole summertime of promises in one tiny body. Happy dayz.
Elsewhere on the common I managed to sneak up on a large Grass Snake crunching its way through leaf litter beneath a hawthorn bush. I trod very quietly and stealthily in an attempt to put myself ahead of the snake, camera in hand and eyes glued on the long body. A sudden loud hiss caused me to start and look downwards - a strikingly heavily marked Adder was hastily slithering under the hawthorn bush just inches from my still-raised foot!!!! Bloody hell, that was seriously close!!! Amazingly, the Adder and Grass Snake allowed each other to pass over the other one (!) whereupon the Grass Snake disappeared into a hole. I managed a few poor pics of the Adder though.
Back in safe territory I staked out a few sunlit clearings finding plenty more bee-flies and another lone Comma. Two singing Willow Warblers were also new for the yearlist. Blackcaps seemed very well distributed across the site, but I guess some are just passage birds.
Off to Spain first thing tomorrow!!!!!! We're back late afternoon of the 12th. Stay tuned for LOTS of good reports...
The Four Amigos at Montfrague National Park, Spain
21st - OK, I realise I've been utterly CRAP at updating the site. So what's happened? Well, I've added Small White (17th) and Red Admiral (20th), found a single Grizzled Skipper at Newlands Corner (also 20th), seen shedloads more Speckled Woods and then did a daytrip to Bentley Woods/Noar Hill with Sam (21st). We managed 6 Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and a Green-veined White at Bentley. Noar Hill was even better - 13 Duke of Burgundy including an ovipositing female (we saw the egg!!!) and 11 Dingy Skippers. No sign of Green Hairstreaks, although we know they're on site somewhere!
So, as you can see, it's not ALL butterflies!
I'll finish the Spain Report and drag this blog into shape soon as I get a mo. Managed to smash my face into the road a couple of nights back (drunkenly dancing with Sam, we both went over in a heap. Luckily my FACE cushioned the fall. What's left of my nose is a bit yucky, my lip is a bit bashed and 2 days later I'm developing a black eye. But it's all OK, apart from the fact that it kinda hurts to smile or drink beer from a can. Poxy drunken fool. But that's no way to speak of my sweet Sam!!!
Rest of April to be updated ASAP! Now I'll jump to mid May...yeah yeah, I'm being crap again...I'll fill in the gaps very soon. The good news is that we can upload pics again, so expect good things over the next few days. And I haven't forgotten about the Spanish Trip Report either! Just been difficult to find the time to crack on and bring this page up to date...
(1st to 10th to be added ASAP)
11th - Following today's hot news of a displaying Great Snipe at Cley in Norfolk, Glen decided to throw an instant sickie and join me and Sam on a madcap jaunt into Norfolk tomorrow. Ordinarily I'd set off at 3am for a prompt arrival, but I've been so stupidly whacked these past couple of days I feared I'd fall asleep at the wheel and kill us all. So, somewhat bizarrely, I suggested a 9am start allowing for a good night's kip. I picked Sam up from her work at 10pm, broke the good news, and was asleep by 11pm...
12th - It took FOREVER to reach Norfolk. Early news was promising - still displaying right in front of the hide at 5am. Still there at 7am. Then bad news - it flew off and landed in an inaccessible area of the marsh and not seen since. Knowing the species to be (usually) crepuscular/nocturnal, we decided to head off to Strumpshaw Fen for Swallowtails, then head to Cley for the evening performance. We didn't even arrive at Strumpshaw until almost 1pm!!!! Unthinkable. I felt like a true duffer dude.
We headed straight down Tinker's Lane and soon met up with an RSPB warden and his volunteer helper. They beckoned us into a field just before the cottages and we were soon grinning and pointing at two magnificent SWALLOWTAILS swooping around the Red Campions. Lovely, and so much better than last year's windswept yellow blurs! We settled in, hoping for a photography opportunity, but they were far too active and rarely settled before swooping over our heads and away again. I was keen to keep out of the habitat as far as was possible, it would be easy to carve great big beaten tracks through the meadow, and others would only follow. So we didn't chase them, preferring to let them come to us - which they never did...Numerous Orange-tips, Green-veined Whites, Sam's first positive Large White of the year, and the odd Speckled Wood were also noted. Dragonflies were seen, all identified as Hairy Dragonflies. One hovered in front of a dangling caterpillar, plucked it from its thread and zoomed off into the treetops to devour the poor thing. So much for being an escape mechanism!
We briefly entered the reserve proper, finding Swallowtail eggs on Milk Parsley alongside the boardwalk, but a sudden hailstorm had us cowering beneath a sallow. We headed back towards Tinker's Lane where the sun played hide and seek behind clouds for the next hour or so.
We were soon joined by Rob Wilson of Norwich. Reputedly on 524 for his British bird list, which is pretty damn massive! He pretty soon pissed us all off with his patronising talk and endless one-upmanship. But he refused to go away. After telling us all how we were going wrong with the photography (just go in and get it, for God's sake!) and telling us how we really hadn't gotten all but one of the mainland British butterflies last year ("Got Monarch then, did you? Thought not. I've seen them, you know...") he realised his camera battery was almost dead and returned to the car park. Glen needed a piss, so we too headed back to the car park whereupon we bumped into Jack Harrison from UKButterflies. I hesitated for a couple of seconds - Jack is a bit of a belligerent, argumentative wind-up merchant who knows how to rub folks up the wrong way. Sod it, lets meet! So I introduced myself and Sam, he shook our hands, smiled and began to chat as if we were old friends. In a complete turn around, I have to state that Jack really is a lovely old codge, with no malice or impatience to him at all. He seemed to get along particularly well with Sam, and they soon quit watching butterflies and just stood there nattering for some 40 minutes. By the time I butted in they were comparing notes on species seen or heard whilst having a piss!!! Bizarre. Anyway, Rob was by now back with us and regaling us with tales of between 200,000 and half a million wrecked migrant songbirds he once found in Canada. He really has lost the plot. Jack threw in numerous anecdotes and added his own tales, nothing too bragging or big-headed (lesson to be learnt, Mr Wilson...) before we got back to the Swallowtails. It had clouded over considerably, and activity was restricted to whenever the sun came out again. Swallowtails appeared to drop from the sky, I think they must have retreated to the treetops when the clouds rolled in? A couple of Red Admirals joined us for a short while before Glen texted us that a Poplar Hawkmoth was on view at the screen (he had opted to stay at the reserve rather than listen to Raving Rob's Rants) We bade farewell to Jack, a thoroughly nice chap and nothing like the Miserable Old Man persona he's so carefully cultivated for UKButterflies.
Back at the reserve entrance we discovered 5 Poplar Hawks, a Pebble Prominent and a mystery Noctuid on the screen. The warden had placed the pick of the moth trap's catch on the screen for public viewing. I returned to the car and grabbed the moth book. The Noctuid was an Alder Moth, and a new one for me! One guy told us he'd had a ringtail Hen Harrier go over. I doubted this, surely Montagu's would be more likely? Luckily he had taken a few pics with a huge lens - yep, and there was the proof to see, a subadult male Monties! The chap looked dumbstruck. He ran off to show the warden and came back beaming a huge smile. Lucky git!
A short while later Jack reappeared and showed interest in the roosting moths. Sam had to retire to the car to sort out her contact lens whilst Glen then set to chatting to Jack. Irritatingly, Rob turned up too but soon left. As did we. It was gone three o'clock and we had an appointment at Cley. We bid a fond farewell to Jack (again!) and hit the road. Our Swallowtail tally stood at around seven individuals and we'd managed a few fairly crap pics too.
Sam's eye was seriously reddening so we detoured to a pharmacy where she spent a fortune on lens fluid, a holder and eye drops. Maybe she has hay fever? [EDIT - a week later it was announced that Britain had suffered the highest levels of pollen for some 20 years!] Hopefully she won't suffer another eye infection. Back on the road, we eventually hit Cley at 4:45pm, paid up and hit the boardwalk. There had been no further news since it flew off this morning but we were quietly expectant. The hide was full to bursting, so we tried the hide next door which was empty (!) finding stuff like Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plovers, Avocets with downy chicks, Marsh Harriers, a couple of Little Terns and plenty of wildfowl too. Eventually Sam grew bored and a young girl next to us whined interminably. We moved to the main hide, struggled for position, jostled a few elbows and eventually had a decent view of the display area. But no Great Snipe. The warden explained that the bird had responded well to playback and made us all promise that if it worked again, we'd all leave the hide to allow the next batch of twitchers in for a look. We were prepared to offer him our souls, just do it!!! The hide was hushed into silence as the warden played the song of displaying Great Snipe into the dimming evening light. And then again. Nothing. Dammit! Then everyone's pagers kicked in - Lesser Yellowlegs at Cley viewable from the West Bank. Eh? Everyone was in here or on the boardwalk? Then we noticed two guys on top of the West Bank scanning our way with scopes. There was a general mass exodus as frustrated twitchers tried to pull something out of the day. Sam went outside to meet up with Glen. I stayed put, sod the Lesserlegs, Great Snipe was out there in the marsh. A Common Snipe burst into flight and caused pandemonium. Then a Wood Sandpiper. Eventually I quit, this was getting daft. From the boardwalk we managed very (very) poor views of the Lesser Yellowlegs in fading light at great distance. Sam decided the views were untickable. I saw it alongside the Wood Sandpiper with Greenshanks running about with them. Poor views indeed, but better than none!
We hit the road, decided we all needed hot food before realising it was gone 10pm. Luckily we found a Chinese takeaway in Wells and tucked in with gusto. Yum! I turned The Gibstermobile southwards at 11pm and had to stop at the M11 services for coffee. I was whacked. We all were. Sam had been snoozing in the car. Glen looked so spaced out it was funny. 30mins later we were back in the car. Glen was dropped off sometime after 2am and we fell indoors at half two. I quickly posted a message to our new friend Jack on UKButterflies, drained a glass of red and collapsed into oblivion. Nanight....
13th - Despite being Friday the 13th I dropped Sam into work and headed off butterflying. I had planned to hit Denbies Hillside for another crack at the aberrant Adonis Blues, but decided I couldn't really be arsed so dropped into Fairmile Heath instead - just in case any massively early Silver-studded Blues were flying. No real surprise to find that they weren't. I did manage three Green Hairstreaks including a pair which whirled tightly around each other and shot off skywards, last seen disappearing over a stand of birches! A Small Copper was to be expected here, but I was pleased to note a bashed male Brown Argus soon followed by a large, pristine female. My first Cinnabar of the year posed nicely for a piccie. Not much in the way of grasses here at the moment, mostly its crunchy, dessicated mosses and pretty dry looking heathers. The only patches of greenery were in the shaded side of trees or bramble clumps. This is looking pretty dire, I can see the whole site going up in smoke if the drought continues.
Female Brown Argus - a site tick for me
One area positively throbbing with life was a large patch of Green Alkanet which must have held over a hundred assorted bees, all feverishly feeding away at the flower heads. Plenty of Honeybees, I'll have to sort through the pics to make sense of the rest though. Also Bryony Ladybird on the White Bryony (what did you expect it to be on?!?)
I headed off to nearby Bookham Common, coming in from the 100lb Bridge end. The young Grey Herons are making an awful racket in the treetops! A Large White and a handful of male Orange-tips summed up the butterfly sightings, a bit worrying seeing as I was on site for two hours...guess we're well into the 'June Gap' already. Other insects noted included Pine and Harlequin Ladybirds, a single Broad-bodied Chaser and large numbers of Gastrophysa viridula on docks and Malachius bipustulatus in grasses. A single Pyrochroa serraticornis, the Cardinal Beetle was in pondside herbage and both Cuckoo and Nightingale were in good voice. Moth-wise there were masses of Micropterix calthella munching away on the buttercups, whilst under the trees Nemophora degeerella were emerging with several noted resting on flat bramble leaves. The males have the most extraordinarily long antennae of any British moth. A large patch of Ground-ivy was very productive with many bees (several species, still to be identified) and a few bee-flies in attendance. Nearby I found a Honeybee nest ten foot up an old oak tree. So, plenty of bees but not so many butterflies.
Nemophora degeerella (male) - check out the crazy long antennae!!!
Honeybee nest in oak tree...good Honey Buzzard fodder!!!
Pyrochroa serraticornis - the red-headed Cardinal Beetle
20th - Sam's rota gives her the next three days off of work. I'd just worked 7 days straight to enable me to take the same three days off. Initially we'd planned to add a day either side of that and trip across to Ireland. But it was not to be (plus money-wise we're in a pretty rough state) so we arranged to meet up with UKButterfly member Lee Hurrell on Saturday, maybe Norfolk with our bird club on Sunday and who knows what for Monday!
21st - Lee was off to Wrecclesham for the recently publicised Glanville Fritillary colony (now in its 9th year!) I was keen to wait for our forthcoming trip to the Isle of Wight to see 'real' Glanvilles - despite Sam's moaning... So we agreed to meet him at Fairmile Heath in search of early Silver-studded Blues (crazy season, they're already out in Cornwall.) At half ten we were at the appointed car park, Lee was late but we immediately hit it off when he did arrive. He's a really nice chap, polite (shook Sam's hand first) and competent at his butterfly ID. Not too clued up on plants or birds (yet) but we got on well. Shame Fairmile Heath let us down though. Two Green Hairstreaks, 2 Downy Emerald Dragonflies, a Large White and numerous unidentified bees and grasshoppers summed up interest. Luckily for us Lee had a plan.
We hit East Sussex (a county we very rarely visit for some odd reason) and headed straight for Park Corner Wood. I'd never even heard of this BC Reserve before. We parked up and set off along the path, soon reaching a large clearing. The set-up here is brilliant; a network of footpaths and tracks criss-crossed the central clearing with ropes denying access to certain tracks. Doubtless the permissible paths alternate each year, but this simple method massively reduces habitat disturbance. And it works. We were pleased to note at least 10 SMALL PEARL-BORDERED FRITILLARIES and a Grizzled Skipper ab taras. These were Lee's first SPBFs and the taras was new for all of us. We watched Emperor Dragonflies and Broad-bodied Chasers whizzing over the bracken, one male Emperor caught and ate a SPBF!!! We found a Green Hairstreak and noted it in the log book since none seemed to have been recorded so far.
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary nectaring at Bramble
Heavily cropped image of the taras Grizzled Skipper. Hopefully Lee managed better pics!!!
Next up was Windover Hill, another site we'd never been to before. Lee was keen to show us 'his' special 10x10m2 area of slope adjacent to the car park, supposedly "the most diverse car park in the world"! Well we didn't see the Dark Green Frits or Walls but we did add Green Hairstreak and Dingy Skipper to the list! A nearby track leading into a crop field had a colony of Small Blues nectaring at BFT. I found an egg in a Kidney Vetch flowerhead, not too tricky really as it was the only flower head present! We added Common Blue before heading across the road for our assault of Windover Hill. More Small Blues met us as we began up the track and I found a Kidney Vetch with six eggs in it! The species we encountered were Small Blue (c30), Dingy Skippers (5), Common Blue (c10), Adonis Blue (8 males, none showing aberrant markings), Small Heath (c10), Burnet Companion (4) and, near the summit, a low, large raptor which Sam pointed out. Rather lazily I called Buzzard but neither Sam or Lee were having it. Hang on, I'm the birder here, lol! Raising my bins to the rapidly retreating bird I soon realised the mistake was mine - the bird was in fact a very fine Honey Buzzard! We watched it drift northwards, being harassed by a few crows. We lost it as it neared Arlington Reservoir. Sweet! The view at the summit was breath taking (literally) and we rested on the ancient hill fort before heading back for the car.
It was great to meet Lee, and point out a few new birds for him. Hopefully we can meet up again as the season progresses.
22nd - Decided against a stupid o'clock start for Norfolk and made do with a very welcome (and rare) lie in. I checked the Surrey Butterfly Conservation website and realised with a jolt that there was a walk to Denbies starting in 3 hours time. Sweet - Sam has yet to see the numerous aberrant Adonis Blues which are flying here at the moment. I woke her up, always a risky business, and before long we were en route to Denbies.
The weather was crap. I took my raincoat. Dull conditions and a cool wind conspired to make life tricky as we entered the meadows. A flash of orange had Sam calling our first LARGE SKIPPER of the year, followed by a few Small Heaths and Common Blues. We saw a few 5-spot Burnets, but none were in good condition. Indeed, most were on their last legs. A couple of Small Coppers and a male Clouded Buff were admired before we entered the lower slopes. More Common Blues were noted before, finally, a male Adonis Blue opened its wings and was swept across the hilllside in the increasing wind. Eventually we tracked down a few aberrant individuals and a few very small examples too. After a short lunch stop we descended some more, through the trees and then waited out a short shower (rain, no less!!) I spotted an Orange-tip egg on Garlic Mustard. Apart from one member roly-polying down the hillside (I really did try not to laugh...but failed) there was little else of note. We quit the site keen for more action. But where?
Two sides of the same individual - note the asymmetry of the patterning and the crumpled hindwing on the lower image
And here's one looking as it ought to!
I had a Plan B - East Blean Woods in Kent, home of Heath Fritillaries. I know it's bloody early in the season, but somebody had reported them flying near the car park two days beforehand. We headed off eastwards and found ourselves in Blean Woods RSPB. Buggerit, I'd done it again. This was the wrong Blean Woods, but where was the right one? I couldn't see it on the map. Thankfully Sam had a brainstorm - Adrian Riley's book was in the back, he'd tell directions. Yep, sure enough good ol' Riley saved the day yet again. Eight miles later we were on site.
The trees bordering the entrance track had huge carpets of Cow-wheat growing below them, much more than I recall seeing last time we were here. Surely that was a good sign? A cursory check revealed three HEATH FRITILLARIES flying low through their foodplant. Sam was keen to go crashing in for the killer shot, but I held her back and insisted we checked the rest of the site. Unfortunately that was a crappy idea. Apart from a couple of Speckled Woods and a lunatic Oak Eggar there was little of note. One area of flowers had a mass emergence of Sloe Shieldbugs covering the stems and flower heads, I've never seen numbers like it. Maybe a hundred per clump of vegetation? Oh yeah, and the ants...ooh the ants! They looked like Wood Ants to me, but I suspect they may have been Formica sanguinea The Slavemaker Ant. I only ever see Wood Ants near pines and the nests are usually very large and well-spaced from each other. These nests were in more open situations and often several quite close to each other. They were all smaller than typical Wood Ant nests too. All I know is that they still bite, one found itself on Sam's neck and took exception to being jostled! A young Great Spotted Woodpecker, almost at the fledging stage leaned precariously from the nest hole and noisily demanded feeding, nice to see. Sam took about a million pics...
The wind had really picked up and many of the rides appeared rather too overgrown to be suitable for Heath Fritillaries. Eventually we looped back to the car park where another chap with a compact camera was actively taking pics of a roosting Heath Fritillary. We joined him, started chatting, found (or was shown!) another three roosting Heath Fritillaries before we found a few more of our own. In a brief spell of sunshine one briefly spread its wings, otherwise it was just inactive roosting individuals. Very pretty things though. Sam debated getting one as her next tattoo! We soon discovered that the chap was none other than "Millerd" from UKButterflies, Heathrow based and quite knowledgeable. We agreed to form an unofficial UKButterfly get-together in a pub and swap stories over beers...er, lemonade! We later noticed on the forum that he thought that we were "splendid people"!
All too soon we were leaving. Another great day. What will tomorrow bring?
23rd - well, it wasn't butterflies. Sam insisted that we'd have a "Sam Day" rather than a "Sam following Seth, but still enjoying it Day". So we popped down to the library, picked up a selection of walk leaflets and set off on a 5 mile stroll. Well, that was the plan!
We started at Nork Park and wandered along the Town and Down Circular Walk. Passing along Nork Way we headed up to Banstead Station, across Banstead Down and...er...took a wrongun! We ended up heading directly across Banstead Heath (chasing flippin' butterflies, no less rather than map reading), past Highdown Prison and all the way out towards Oaks Park! Luckily I realised we'd strayed and route-marched us along Croydon Lane and back into Banstead Village where we rejoined the Millennium Trail. So just a coupla extra miles detour then..! Back on track we headed cross country westwards and eventually looped back into Nork from the south. With detours and a grub stop on Banstead Heath we completed the "5-mile" circuit in 3hrs 20. No danger of beating any world records then, lol. Nature-wise we saw several male Brimstones, a few Speckled Woods, a couple of Small Whites, a Common Blue, a Large Skipper, plenty of ruralis rolls in nettles, ohridella mines on horse chestnut and a couple of Broad-bodied Chasers. I'm 99% sure I had a Small Blue on Banstead Heath and Sam reckons she had a Grizzled Skipper there too. It's a nice spot, we may well go back and explore properly.
25th - Sam had a Small Tortoiseshell on Epsom Common today. That'll be of the new generation. Dammit. I saw a Brimstone somewhere in Croydon. Whup.
26th - well, tomorrow's the big day. Off to the Isle of Wight for Glanville Fritillaries, fossilised sharks teeth and maybe a beer or two thrown in for good measure! I've had a peek at the weather forecast. It's meant to be quite cool and clear tonight but sunny all day tomorrow - if a little cool and blowy. So, camera battery fully charged, a full tank of petrol in The Gibstermobile, alarm set and ferry tickets in pocket...it's all systems go!
27th - despite Sams very best efforts, I eventually hauled her ass outta bed and we were finally underway! Arrived in plenty of time and were soon aboard the ferry. Car downstairs, us upstairs, Common Terns and gulls on the sea. We arrived to find numerous roadworks and a rather ominously cloudy sky. Combined with the chill breeze things did not look ideal. We aimed ourselves at Ventnor and eventually parked up in a side-turning just past the Botanical Gardens. Following a footpath towards the cliffs we soon found a Red Admiral in a nettle patch and a rather worn Cream-spot Tiger sheltering in long grasses.
The habitat did not look great. Cow pastures with some thistles and lots of buttercups. Hmmm. No access either, so not a hope of searching for roosting Glanvilles. Finally the sun broke through the clouds as we arrived at a landslip on the cliff edge. Looking over the top I could see masses of wildflowers growing on the precipitous cliffsides. Sam dragged me away from the edge and we had a bit of a heated conflab. San said move on while the sun was shining, I reckoned stay where the habitat was suitable while the sun was shining. In the end we stayed and saw nothing. Sam constantly thinks I'm going to slip and fall off of a clifftop, which becomes just a tad wearing after a while...
Continuing along the track we found a fresh-looking Small Tortoiseshell and Sam had something orange at the clifftop before the wind whipped it away and out of sight. A single Large White and two or three male Common Blues summed up the butterfly tally. Deciding that we were onto a no-brainer we backtracked our way to the car, a young fox cub being the only sighting of note.
Next stop was Wheelers Bay accessed from Ventnor town itself. We wandered the gusty undercliff and found much better habitat. Plus absolutely masses of dog crap. And I mean everywhere. Isle of Wight? More like Isle of Shite!!! Before long we had a whole bunch of Large White larva munching on a yellow crucifer.
We found a steep, grassy slope with concrete steps running to the top. Access at last! Climbing the steps I first checked the flowerbeds for signs of life (none) before slowly wandering through the field. Within a couple of minutes I located a GLANVILLE FRITILLARY roosting deep in the grasses. Yeah Baby! Sam had wandered off and was nowhere to be seen. I did a lot of yelling and whistling and eventually she appeared and joined me in the grassy slope. A few pics later and I spotted a secong roosting GLANVILLE FRITILLARY. Realising that we could quite easily tread on others, we carefully backed out of the field and continued along the promenade. I spotted a Bee Orchid spike, but Sam hurried me onwards to show me a roosting Common Blue. More careful searching revealed another two Glanvilles before we bumped into "Astralis" and her dad, they too were Glanville searching. Having been here all week, theyd already seen quite a few and gave us some site gen for a colony near Freshwater. We chatted for a while before Sam noticed a Glanville perched in full view just ten feet away! More pics... Eventually we parted company, we did a bit more searching and found another couple of Glanvilles and a few more Common Blues. Grey Bush-cricket, Long-winged Conehead, Six-spot Burnet and masses of Psyche casta cases summed up other invert interest. We decided to find a pub and enjoy lunch.
A very handsome female Glanville Fritillary on Ribwort Plantain, the main larval foodplant. Despite quite a lot of searching, we failed to find any egg batches. Most individuals at Wheelers Bay were a bit worn or tatty.
This is a section of the undercliff at Wheelers Bay. Access is from Ventnor itself. Park by the sea and walk eastwards along the promenade until you find this kind of view. The flat area between the wooden fencing and the cliff was good for Common Blue. The Glanvilles we found were roosting at the very base of the cliffs in grasses or on Red Valerian.
Beware of copious amounts of dog crap everywhere along this walk!!!
Next stop was Freshwater Bay. We parked in the NT car park just east of Freshwater and, following directions from Astralis, crossed the road and entered the sunken path. Despite being partially sheltered from the relentless wind we failed to find any Glanvilles. Astralis had 17 roosting here last night! We managed a Small Blue and Small Heath. Sticking my head out I discovered a lovely clifftop meadow, dominated by grasses and Kidney Vetch. The sun broke through once more and I quickly found a Glanville Fritillary with wings spread, soaking up the rays. Lovely! Sam hustled over for pics as I found another Glanville. Cue yet more pics! Then we noticed two chaps intently searching the ground for something. Turns out they too were after Glanvilles. One chap had been waiting for forty years to see one and within minutes Sam had secured him views of one sunning itself just off the path. He was so happy he tried to kiss Sam, then kicked me up the bum when I warned him off, what a looney!!! Mad as a hatter, but a happy hatter. Eventually Astralis and her dad arrived and we chatted some more. The Mad Hatter departed and then we did too.
On the rare occasion that the sun did come out from behind the rainclouds these lovely little butterflies would suddenly appear...as if by magic!
My favourite photo of the Glanville Fritillary...in its natural British environment! A stunning butterfly.
Back at Fishbourne we had time to kill so we wandered the nearby Quarr Abbey finding a Hobby, 2 Orange-tip larvae, Nemophora degeerella and Harlequin Ladybirds. I noticed that Camararia ohridella has made it onto the island. One final quick pint and we were back on the ferry. Somehow we managed to make it to a pub in Ashtead by 10pm and joined some friends for a swift half, gripping them off with tales of derring do on the Isle of Shite! Up at 6am for work tomorrow...still, at least Sam gets a lie in.
28th - spurred on by Millerd's sighting of Silver-studded Blues at Thursley today, I glanced out of the window to see the evening sun still shining strongly. Good enough for me, Fairmile Heath beckoned! As I arrived the sun disappeared behind some pretty ominous clouds. I could see a few large patches of blue up above, so stuck with it and was handsomely rewarded by a lovely little male SILVER-STUDDED BLUE perched high in the heather, broadside-on to the setting sun so as to maximise wing area bathed in sunlight when it did appear. I wandered the site for best part of an hour finding a grand total of 4 male and 3 female SILVER-STUDDED BLUES, all perched up in the taller clumps of heather and all settled head downwards with wings angled at the sun.
Also seen were a few Tortrix viridana around/beneath the oaks but no sign of any other butterflies. I quit to pick Sam up from work and saw what was probably a Stag Beetle bumbling slowly over our driveway.
29th - I finished work in good time today and ended up back at Fairmile Heath. The sun was out, the breeze had dropped and conditions were pretty good for butterflies. The car's thermometer read 19 degrees and I reckon it topped 24 in the full sunshine. I took much the same circuit as yesterday, but this time managed a total of 15 male SILVER-STUDDED BLUES and 3 females. Nearer the road I found two more males nectaring on the various flowers that grow on the earthen mound.
Popping across to Bookham Common, I felt quietly confident of finding a White Admiral or Meadow Brown. No such luck though, just two Speckled Woods and a heapload of Orange-tip larvae summed up butterfly sightings. Mothwise I noted Agapeta hamana, Tortrix viridana (in very good numbers, bumping their way through the oak canopy), Nemophora degeerella, a case of Proutia betulina on a horse barrier - much nicer to find than the ubiquitous Luffia ferchaultella! My first few Phyllonorycter coryli mines of the year were present on Hazel. In one clearing I was buzzed by three Tawny Cockroaches clambering up a branch. Broad-bodied Chaser was the only dragonfly noted. Nightingales sang behind me as the sun slowly sank and the temperature fell. I quit Bookham a happy chappie.
2nd - spent the late afternoon back on Bookham Common again, this time with Sam and Danny The Pirate. For a change I parked up at The Tunnel car park and we headed through the trees towards the ponds and back. Just a couple of hours worth.
By the car park we found several Large Skippers and Common Blues plus Burnet Companions. A queen Hornet slowly weaved her way through the grasses ahead of us, bloomin' huge great thing! Wandering onwards we noted more Tawny Cockroaches, Broad-bodied Chasers, Stigmella floslactella mines on Hazel, masses of Harlequin Ladybirds all over the place, a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers and a single Red Admiral. Back by the car park I found what looked like a Red Admiral larval tent in nettles complete with large frass beneath. I carefully unfurled the leaf to reveal a butt ugly spine-covered greeny/yellow butterfly caterpillar. Wasn't expecting THAT! Back home I discovered that Red Admiral larva come in two colour phases, black or yellowy/green. Mystery solved!
3rd - I had arranged to meet JohnR from UKButterflies at Thursley Common today. I had some moth books he wanted, he had some cash that I wanted. Done deal! We wandered around the Thursley Bog area finding excellent numbers of Four-spotted Chasers and lesser numbers of both Common Blue Damselflies and Large Red Damselflies. I found a few recently emerged Small Red Damselflies, so fresh their eyes had yet to darken! Lovely little things, they are probably my favourite damselfly. Suddenly a male skimmer whizzed past, too small and slender for Black-tailed. Eventually it returned and settled on the boardwalk just ahead of us. I took a description and later checked with the identification board by Pine Island, which confirmed my suspicions - KEELED SKIMMER, a long-overdue lifer for me!!! I was very happy to finally encounter the species. It's not really that tricky, I can only assume I've overlooked it all these years? Happily we managed two or three more males before we quit. A handful of Broad-bodied Chasers and a rather large Raft Spider summed up invert interest on The Bog so we headed across to The Moat Pond where we found many Red-eyed Damselflies sitting on lilypadsand at least 5 or 6 Downy Emeralds cruising the shady margins. John had about 4 or 5 'new' species so was rather chuffed. One final sighting was of an almost definite Wood White weaving through the trees and off of the common! I didn't dare claim it (although I'm certain it wasnt any other White. Maybe a White Wave though?) but John said he'd submit the record just to "put the cat amongst the pigeons". But no more butterfly sightings at all! Numerous sightings of Hobby and the calls of Curlew and Redstart added to the feel-good factor. Then John treated me to a pint and pub grub before we went our seperate ways. What a jolly decent fellow he is!
4th to 20th - thanks to an unforgiving financial situation I have been forced to work through my days off in order to generate some much needed overtime income. So began the marathon effort of working seventeen days straight without a break. Hence the sightings have been somewhat few and far between!!! Apologies to all for lack of updates througout this period. It's just been work, eat, sleep for a while. Plus we've had to move house (our rooms are being demolished and extended by the landlords, we really HAD to quit, lol!) I did notice a sudden emergence of Small Whites flying around south London towards the end of my work stint, coinciding nicely with the arrival of some decent warm weather. Also managed to bring my Pan-species List fully up to date. Well, as up to date as my notebooks allow. I know I've seen masses of inverts whilst beetling around with Ian Menzies which simply never made it onto my notebook pages. Sigh. I miss Ian, he was one of the kindest and most knowledgeable chaps I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.
My Pan-species List, when broken down, looks like this:
Aculeates 26, Alderflies 1, Annelids 2, Beetles 94, Birds 432, Bugs 32, Butterflies 60, Crustaceans 8, Dragonflies 35, Fish 27, Fleas and Lice 4, Flies 22, Fungi 47, Jellyfish, Anemones and Salps 8, Lacewings 4, Leeches 1, Lichens 2, Mammals 44, Molluscs 20, Mosses 1, Moths 822, Orthopterans 26, Plants 630, Reptiles 7, Seaweeds 4, Spiders & Pseudoscorpions 18, Starfish 1 and Stick Insects 1.
Which all totals up to 2389 species.
21st - a day off!!!!!
Took Sam down to Bookham and Fairmile today. But not before a quick look around the elms and meadow at Jubilee Woods (Sam's most hated spot!) Typically, probably because Sam was here, we failed to see any White-letter Hairstreaks. Seeing as how I've missed the last few weeks of the season I was very pleased to see a couple of lovely WHITE ADMIRALS chasing each other through the brambles patches and into the canopy. Sam suddenly yelled, "Meadow Brown!" and I caught the arse end of a butterfly disappearing over the bushes. Hmmm, I'm not having THAT as a yeartick. Luckily there were several others so I happily added MEADOW BROWN to the tally. In the nettle bed we noted five large Peacock larvae munching away, frass everywhere beneath them. A couple of flighty Large Skippers and a Small White summed up the butterfly sightings. Strangalia maculata was common on the bramble flowers, a very attractive longhorn beetle indeed.
26th - after being PM'ed by a UKButterflies member regards Purple Emperors on Bookham Common, I managed to wrangle a rare weekend day off of work. So, at the appointed hour I met Paul and Brian from Ashford in Kent. They are midway through their first ever Big Butterfly Year and neither had ever seen Purple Emperor before. Their secondary target for the day was Purple Hairstreak. Could I wave them off at the end of the day with smiles, or would I have to sneak off quietly into the undergrowth in shame? Who could say? We started off at the master oaks where a couple of Purple Hairstreaks flittered about in the canopy. Luckily I spotted one descending at speed and it landed on a bracken frond just five feet from my pointing finger. Brian took pics, both chaps looked happy. Pressure slightly off, but where was the Big Boy? We gave it quite some time before I suggested we check the tracks before it got too late. The male Emperors would be back this afternoon, I felt certain.
Wandering the woods we found many White Admirals and Silver-washed Fritillaries, Paul and Brian's first Ringlets of the year, plenty of Meadow Browns, a few Speckled Woods and Commas, a single Large Skipper, a few Small Whites, a Large White, a few Holly Blues and a couple of Red Admirals. Notable numbers of Strangalia maculata covered the bramble blossoms. A dog-walker told us that some folks were taking pics of two large butterflies on the ground ahead of us. We burst into a rapid walk, sweat bursting forth in the sticky humidity. Unfortunately we were too late, just by a couple of minutes it transpired. There were six or seven of us strung out along a couple of hundred metres of the favoured track. A sudden yell and we were off! Unfortunately we missed again, this one had been posing on a treetrunk but flew off as the guy yelled. Buggerit. Paul and Brian were enjoying the chase, but we were all keen to see one on the deck...