Wednesday 29 June 2011

Small Red Damselfly

I've got lots of stuff backing up, waiting to make it onto my blog but I'm just not finding the time to get it on here. Something for a rainy day I guess. Today I went to Bystock Pools, on the East Devon Commons to look for Small Red Damselfly, which would be a new species for me. I was successful with good views of both male and female, fortunately intermittent sun made them nice and lethargic, allowing for a close approach which certainly helps as they are really minute! Click on the photos to's worth it! Unless your name's Martha of course!

 Male has red legs, red eyes, unmarked red abdomen and red pterostigma.
 So, very red then!
( Best viewed full size)

Some other inhabitants of Bystock Pools
 Bog Asphodel
 Common Lizard
Wood Ant
I never knew they have a spiny bottom, they have! Enlarge the photo to see it.
Red-eared Slider!!?

Thursday 23 June 2011

Rose-coloured Starling

Having missed out on an adult Rose-coloured Starling that spent five days ( unbeknown to any local birders) in Colyford just a couple of miles away from my house a few weeks ago, I was ever likely to reply in the affirmative when Bun asked if I wanted to go to see the one which is in a garden in North Devon at the moment. We'd both seen a Rose-coloured Starling before but only a distant juvenile, which compared to the pinky splendour of an adult male just doesn't seem to count! We decided to leave very early and even after our slight detour, due to me missing the correct motorway junction ( it was too early for me!) we arrived at about 6.30. We were just in time to see the owner of the garden replenish the fat balls, which were soon swarming with all manner of garden birds. We had to wait around  one and a quarter hours until the bird eventually showed up, it arrived high, from over some trees with fields behind, so probably from a neighbouring village. It initially hid in a dense hazel tree but then began to make sorties to the fat ball feeder where it feed voraciously, as only a Starling can! It was very active and difficult to get a photo of through the scope, every time I put the scope on it it had moved. The only place it stayed put was actually on the feeders but they were swinging in the breeze a bit. Talking of which, as well as being breezy it was very cool, more like a March morning than a June one! We enjoyed watching the bird in the company of one other Devon birder for about an hour. Then back to the car to warm up with a cup of coffee and back in Seaton by 10.30. That's my kind of twitch! :-)

And better late than never some video footage I took through the scope showing just what a glutton it is! The wind noise is pretty bad and it's horribly overexposed but apart from that it's yet another cinematographic masterpiece!

Monday 20 June 2011

Fourth Time Lucky at Badbury Rings

It doesn't really matter how grotty the weather is if your going orchid hunting, and this morning was very grotty indeed. I set off for Badbury Rings near Wimborne Minster in Dorset not long after 6.00am. Why so early? To beat the crowds, which on a wet Monday were probably going to be none existent! It was nice to have the place almost to myself when I arrived though. I'm happy to report that two years after the 'sheep controversy' (any long term readers (hope there are some left) will remember my tirade at the National Trust in 2009, which I'm too embarrassed to put a link to) the orchids seem to have recovered. I saw seven species today including the one I've looked for in vain on three previous occasions here, Frog Orchid. If you don't know exactly where it's growing, it's a difficult one to spot, it's quite diminutive and the red and green colours blend in with the surrounding vegetation. It took me almost two hours to find one today. I only found three in total and two of them were only just coming out of bud (so at least some things aren't early this year). When I returned to the car park it was just beginning to fill up nicely, with a couple of large groups arriving, so I had made the right choice arriving early. As well as seeing a new orchid I saw some good birds too. While walking along the top of one of the ramparts I flushed a couple of Grey Partridges which must have been down in the ditch below, they flew up right in front of me, first I've seen for ages. There are several pairs of nesting Tree Pipits on the site and some of them are very confiding indeed, foraging on the ground and singing from low shrubs just feet away. So near that I was able to get decent photos of one with my super-zoom. Yes,  it really was that near!
 Badbury Rings: 
Looking very atmospheric now the National Trust have decided to remove all the fences from the surrounding land to create a more natural looking landscape.

There were some smashing Bee Orchids along side the entrance road.

 The ones on the earthworks themselves were quite puny and very soggy!
'Spectacular' Frog Orchid

 Very pretty close up though, I think. Talking of up close....
Fearless Tree Pipit!
It was so preoccupied with trying to out-sing a bird a few hundred yards away it wasn't in the least bit bothered by my presence.

I saw another new orchid this week on the East Devon Commons, Early Marsh Orchid. They are a complicated group with many subspecies and named variants. I think the ones I saw were subspecies pulchella, going by the colour, flower shape and habitat.

Early Marsh Orchid,  Dactyloriza incarnata pulchella.
 There were also several of these beautiful white forms.I thought these were probably the variety ochrantha, which often grows amongst pulchella but it is described as unmarked creamy-yellow.
Up close you can see the flowers are very subtly washed pink and have a few very faint pink spots at the base of the lip which leads me to think that they may be very pale forms of the subspecies incarnata. If they are Dactyloriza incarnata incarnata, then the purple ones could possibly be a purple variant of that subspecies and not pulchella after all. See, I told you they were complicated! Let's just say they are Early Marsh Orchids and leave it at that!!
Another new plant species for me was this Grass Vetchling, which until it flowers just looks like any other grass so I've probably overlooked it before.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Black Hairstreak

On Monday morning five hopeful, optimistic even, folk set forth from a rain soaked and miserable Devon towards the Oxfordshire/Buckinghamshire border where they would no doubt find blue skies, fluffy white clouds and Black Hairstreaks. Happily all three were available in abundance despite the not so optimistic weather forecasts over the weekend. The Black Hairstreaks tend to be concentrated in a few discrete locations throughout Whitecross Green Woods but these are not very well publicized at the reserve. Fortunately these areas are easy to find out about on t'internet so we located them easily enough. The middle of June is usually the time that Black Hairstreak would be starting to emerge but we had been a little concerned that we could already have been too late as they were first seen in these woods on the 26th of May or thereabouts. We saw about ten in total seven of them in the one small area, most were getting very tattered and torn but a couple were still in good condition with a total compliment of tails. Some even ventured low enough in the bushes for photos and as the day wore on several congregated together on a single clump of bramble flowers. All in all a great day out, nice reserve, good company and a brilliant butterfly lifer! There was just one little spoiler to all this positivity and that was meeting 'The Wicked Witch of Whitecross Woods'. Okay, that's perhaps a little unfair, perhaps she was just having a bad day (we all have them) but as the volunteer warden she shouldn't really bring it to work with her. I'm sorry to say (and it wasn't just my impression) that she came across as a humourless crone, not at all helpful and transparently resentful of any visitors to 'her' reserve. I'm not saying she doesn't do a good job in other ways but her public relations skills are non-existent. Anyway here's a few photos of the star attraction, the Black Hairstreaks.

 A couple were in good condition like this female.
And this, also a female I think.
More had been through the wars a bit, like this one.
 Remarkably hairy!
 This one is showing one of their feeding methods, walking along a leaf dragging its tongue along between its legs picking up the honeydew residue from the leaf's surface.
Some were also nectaring on bramble flowers.
 This female looks to be in good condition but on the other side has a big piece of wing missing.. so, giving a rare glimpse of the upper-wing colour though. Her she can be seen egg-layeing on the stem of a blackthorn
And here...
and again here.
The one on the left looks to have survived a bird attack with a nice beak-shaped hole through both of the wings!
Totally unrelated, a pair of Green-veined Whites photographed yesterday in  The Ashclyst Forest. Where I saw my first Silver-washed Fritillaries of the year but no White Admirals or Purple Hairstreaks yet.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Silver-studded Blue and Large Blue

On Thursday morning I decided to visit the East Devon Commons to see if the Silver-studded Blues were on the wing yet, and indeed they were. Quite a few newly emerged ones in beautiful condition,  mating pairs and best of all I spotted one which was very recently emerged and still being attended by ants!
Pristine males

 The male of this mating pair still had slightly wavy wing edges suggesting he was very recently emerged. The 'silver studs' (blue spots) show particularly well on this female.

 I found this female stuck fast in a spider's web, not a fitting end to her short life, so I extricated her so she might have chance to lay the eggs she was so obviously laden with.

No harm done. 
This female was a typical chocolate brown colour on the upper wings...
...but this one was very unusual being quite iridescent in the sunshine. The colours on her wings look like the effect you see in an oily puddle, not a very attractive analogy but you know what I mean.

Newly emerged male attended by ants... How lucky is that?
It was so facinating to watch and photogrpah, I felt very privalidged.
So much so that when a heavy rain shower occurred I found a large burdock leaf and held it over the butterfly so he wouldn't be irreparably damaged before his first flight. I got very wet...but he didn't.
You can see on this where his wing is pressing on a plant which is preventing it unfurling properly.
He opens up his wings for the first time, you can see the dint where the plant was.
After his maiden flight, almost perfectly formed now.

On Friday I drove over to Collard Hill in Somerset for my annual Large Blue pilgrimage, much earlier than I've been before but a fair few had already emerged. I had arranged to meet Dave and Doug there but I was late arriving due to an incident with my resident Herring Gulls. I was just leaving the house with all my gear when the male gull scored a direct hit! I had to go back in and clean my coat and bag as well as may face!! I didn't have time to wash my hair though, and hoped a hat would suffice. Don't think I smelt too awful! When I arrived a bit late Dave phoned me to say he had a recently emerged Large Blue showing well with its wings open. I hurried over to the site as fast I could ( without running obviously) and it was still there like so...

Best views I've ever had of the open wings, this female just sat there in the grass waiting for a male to pass by and notice her.

There are a small group of  Bee Orchids Var. trollii or 'Wasp Orchid' on the site. I hadn't known about these before so was keen to see them. They were at the bottom of the hill somewhere, but where?  Not to worry, there was a teensy weensy little clue to their exact whereabouts....
Spot the orchid

After the crowds had departed we strolled down to see them and take a few photos.
Rare and unusual but I don't think any of the rare varieties of Bee-Orchid match the 'standard' form in beauty.

While we were looking at the Orchid we heard a call from the hillside that there was a mating pair, judging from the position of the people watching them one of the pair was 'our' obliging female. She'd certainly attracted a lot more than she's bargained for!!
She's in there somewhere!
As it clouded up the Large Blues took to the trees. the upper wings of this individual were the most amazing dark cobalt blue, shame I couldn't get of a photo of them.

There were a few Marbled Whites on the wing, my first this year, an Adonis Blue and this nice example of a Brown Argus.