Monday 15 June 2009

The Twitch of the Year

Yes, It's been put on hold a couple of times but yesterday was THE day! After a sleepless night, I was up bright and early and drove round to pick up Bun (he'd probably not slept either) and off we went to Cornwall to see the (American) BLACK DUCK!!

On the way there I braked rather harshly at one point, (probably due to the excitement coz I'm usually such a good driver) and we heard a loud clunk as Bun's scope was jettisoned off the back seat and became wedged in between the front seats and the handbrake. Bun eventually released it but I was worried that it might be damaged (even more than it already was) and jokingly said "don't worry that's probably fixed the dicky focusing wheel". When we arrived at Colliford Reservoir Bun set up his scope to look for the duck and guess what? Focusing wheel in perfect working order! Nice one! A good start to the day. :-)

We asked some of the assembled birders where the Black Duck was and they informed us that it was behind a Mallard on a large clump of mud, about half a mile away. So we obviously began to look forward to getting a stunning view soon. After about half an hour or so the Mallard moved and there he was, the Black Duck in all his glory, a typical flamboyant American. He didn't appear to like the limelight however and it was just as though he was thinking " Eek! Them twitchers can actually SEE ME!" Because a split second later he was up on his feet and waddling over the mud heap. He disappeared over the top and stayed there. Then after about an hour......

.... This.
Sorry he's not there, I was just teasing, he didn't move.
You can see how crippling the view 'would have been' though.

During the brief time he was in view we did see all the stunning features, the brown body, the beige head and neck the pale bill...Zzzzz.zzz.z. Bun was lucky enough to see the white underwing too. I'm so jealous! So what did I really think of the American Black Duck? This will some it up nicely. "Boy! What a guy!"

The plan for the rest of the day was to see a couple of butterfly species new to both of us; the Heath Fritillary and the Marsh Fritillary, and for these we headed back to Devon and the area around Dartmoor. The Heath Fritillaries were showing beautifully in the warm sunshine, they really are quite exquisite, and were a joy to behold. :-)

Here are a few photos of them:

Next was the Marsh Fritillary, I know of a very good reserve on which to see these in mid-Devon but it would have been a bit of a long detour, so instead we tried a place near Challacombe Farm on Dartmoor where they can usually be seen in small numbers. However, we had been informed that none had been seen here in recent weeks and that they could have 'gone over'
( a lepidopterist's phrase?) at this site for the year.

At first it looked like this was indeed the case, with not a single butterfly of any description on the wing. It was cloudy though so we decided to wait and see what would happen when the sun came out again. During our wait we were kept pleasantly distracted by a pair of Redstarts, the male of which was particularly fine, it's a shame that the day had been so warm. The resulting heat haze was a bit intense for digiscoping. We also heard a Garden Warbler singing, and a couple of the regulation Cuckoos (they seem to be everywhere except on our patch). The sun duly appeared from behind a cloud and almost immediately I spotted a single orange butterfly fluttering up from the vegetation, it was soon followed by several others. A look with the bins revealed they were indeed Marsh Fritillaries. There were six in total and they kept to the far side of a small wet meadow, very wet. I wanted a photo so gingerly crept out over the marshy ground, it would be okay if I kept to the tussocks I thought. I soon sank! I got a couple of snaps though, here's one of them.

Marsh Fritillary

Ironically, a short while later while I was standing on the lane next to the meadow looking down at my brown ankles and squelchy shoes, a lovely Marsh Fritillary landed right by me on some nice dry grass, and here it is.

Another Marsh Fritillary.
Photographed without having nearly as much fun though!

On this photo you can see the shiny almost greasy appearance of the fore wings, this is a characteristic of the species, which was once actually called the Greasy Fritillary. According to a book I have it was also sometimes called 'the dishclout', meaning it looked like a dirty greasy dishcloth. I think that's a bit harsh. I think it's lovely.

This however isn't, but it is fascinating.

A Sexton (or burying) Beetle.
Here seen on what looked like the rear half of a vole.
Don't look too closely because the beetle has a couple of parasites which look horrible!
(yes, more horrible than a beetle on a dead vole)

Neither I nor Bun had ever seen one of these before and we watched it for quite a while as it tried and tried to move the dead body. It lifted it a few times but couldn't manoeuvre it on the stony terrain. Apparently they usually dig underneath the body and bury it in situ, but here the ground was very hard and so the beetle was trying to move it elsewhere. We looked at the same place on our way back over an hour later and the beetle had given up. Shame after so much effort.

On another note. I know I'm very lucky to live so close to the beach but it does sometimes have its bad points, like this morning for instance. I got up, put the kettle on and let the dog out onto the garden as usual. It was already lovely and sunny so I stepped outside to enjoy the early morning fresh air. Phew!! I nearly passed out, there was a foul stench of rotting fish. Sometimes a vague whiff of fish emanates from the skip at The Yacht Club after a sunny weekend, when all the casual fishermen dump there left over bait there. This was ten times worse though. I stuck my head round the gate to investigate and was disgusted to see a couple of carrier bags dumped right outside. I later donned my rubber gloves in order to clear them up and discovered they contained loads of decapitated mackerel. Just charming, some people are so thoughtful!


Anonymous said...

Lovely photos of the butterflies, Karen. But where`s the artistic impression of the Black Duck ;-)

Karen Woolley said...

I thought about it Dean but I felt that I just couldn't do its matchless beauty justice...:-(