Monday 23 May 2011

A Couple of Things I've Been Meaning to Do

I've been putting off blogging again, (not on purpose, life just gets in the way sometimes) so it's another gargantuan post I'm afraid! I have a mental list of things I'm trying to get around to and this last week I've managed  to do a couple of them. The first was to visit Dunsdon NNR, a reserve somewhere in deepest, darkest Devon, one of only a handful of Culm grassland sites left in England. It isn't  at all easy to find, so when Dave and Hazel Land (two of the hopeless optimists from the Sand Point outing) offered to take me there I jumped at the chance. We were hoping to see Marsh Fritillaries but were again being very optimistic as it was a bit too early for them at this site. Still the weather was ideal and everything seems to be early this year so it was definitely worth taking the chance. We weren't disappointed either (optimism paying off again) and saw a good number of males which were obviously freshly emerged, most of them probably emerged that very morning. We weren't so fortunate with Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, not a sniff of these to be had at Dunsdon. We also checked out another DWT reserve, Volehouse Moor, again a Culm grassland reserve and even harder to find than Dunsdon! A superb place though with vast swathes of Culm grassland and wild flower meadows teeming with insects. We saw many newly emerged male Marsh Fritillaries here too and both Dave and Hazel saw a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth in flight, which unfortunately didn't stop.

The second was to visit Norfolk  to see the Swallowtail. Early June is meant to be the best time for these but they are obviously very dependant on weather, so driving to Norfolk from Devon to look for them can be quite hit and miss, a wasted journey being highly likely. I was on holiday from work last week though and when I saw that Swallowtails had already been seen in good numbers and the weather forecast was for sunny weather on both Friday and Saturday, I thought, it's now or never! Okay that's a bit melodramatic, I actually thought it's now or..... next year. Bun was keen to accompany me even though he'd seen Swallowtails recently, a couple of weeks ago in Spain. He still 'needed ' Swallowtail in Britain though (whatever that means!)

After a six hour journey, we arrived a Strumpshaw Fen to find that Swallowtails had been showing well all morning in the garden by the reserve reception. We didn't look here straight away but went to the Doctor's Garden where we immediately had superb views of  a pristine male. A second soon appeared in the garden and we saw half a dozen others flying over the adjacent lanes and fields. A further one was seen later in the garden by the reserve reception. They were a new butterfly for me and no amount of looking at photos can really prepare you for your first sight of one, they're just so much bigger than you imagine. Awesome butterfly! Definitely worth the long drive. As we'd seen the butterflies so easily on the Friday we had Saturday free for birding. There wasn't too much to tempt us up to the north coast and hence further from home, so we decided to go to Welney and try for the Bluethroat again. I say again because we dipped it last year, some of us twice! ;-) So how did we fare this year? The less said the better really...£7.10 a visit too!

Anyway here's some photos from Dunnsdon and Volehouse Moor, then Strumpshaw.

 Marsh Fritillary on Meadow Thistle
The bottom photo shows a very recently emerged one, so much so that its wings are still a bit crinkled, not being fully 'pumped up'.
Another one for my 'photographed on the finger list'

And now...for a revolting interlude.....
Yuk!..A Snipe Fly Rhagio sp. also sometimes called a Down-looker Fly
How can you tell it's looking down?
That's better.. Not nearly so revolting... A very popular Meadow Thistle,
here seen feeding a Burnet Companion, a Hover-fly, Rhingia campestris and a Bumble-bee Bombus pratorum?

Petty Whin, 
This was a new plant for me. 
These photos also show the Culm grassland habitat.

If you were to go into the reception at Strumpshaw Fen you may well be told that although Swallowtails can be seen at the Doctor's Cottage Garden, one must not linger there or attempt to venture onto the garden.This is what the owner has asked them to to say apparently. This sign at the foot of the garden would suggest the exact opposite and wouldn't be put there by someone who wanted to discourage visitors, would it? I suspect  the RSPB would prefer you to pay to enter their reserve though. We did this too as it's all in a good cause ( conveniently forgetting the Ruddy Duck cull, which still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I give money to them)
When we arrived the owner was working in the garden and was very friendly and welcoming. Not only did he want us to see the Swallowtails he also suggested we look for the colony of Brown Argus which he has on his lawn. His tolerance may not stretch to having his photo splashed all over the blogoshere though, so I've disguised him with the smudge tool. Well if it's good enough for GoogleEarth it's good enough for my lowly blog.
All the ones we saw nectaring were in superb condition as you can see.
I really like this photo even though it doesn't show a whole one!

Here's a video showing just how big they are.

Yesterday on Beer Head I photographed this Mullein Moth Caterpillar. The sun shining through his legs make them look like they have lightbulbs in them!


Wilma said...

I don't know where to start, Karen! The swallowtails are fantastic; I have seen many swallowtails since they are fairly common here. But I have never seen any any so fresh and perfect. Great photos of them. Glad you found the time to get this post out - I know what you mean about life getting in the way.


Gavin Haig said...

Superb stuff Karen :o)

kirstallcreatures said...

Beautiful butterflies and great pics Karen. We were lucky to see a Swallowtail, just the one on a trip to Norfolk last summer, to see one this fresh must have been a treat. Nice work, Linda

Karen Woolley said...

Thanks for the comments folks! :-) We were very lucky and timed our visit just right. I suspect the ones I photographed may have only emerged that very morning. I'll bet being so large they soon get a bit battered by the elements.