Tuesday 12 July 2011

Valezina at Alners Gorse

A few photos from Sunday's trip to Alners Gorse in North Dorset. The target species here was the valezina form of Silver-washed Fritillary. In fact the target site was originally Lydlinch Common, but a quick stop to look at Alners Gorse on the way there, sort of ...  lasted all day! It was that good! We saw a beautiful valezina within ten minutes of arriving, she kept visiting the same bramble patch for hours but was surprisingly tricky to photograph. Lots of Purple Hairstreaks here too, feeding low down on the flowers of Alder Buckthorn. There were also White-letter Hairstreaks, but these were very elusive in the increasingly cloudy weather.
Silver-washed Fritillary form valezina
Unlike the typical form valezina is quite well camouflaged on flowering brambles
 The upperwing, depending on the light, looks to have either a greenish or bluish sheen. The underwing is supposed to be green and dusky pink but I couldn't see any pink on this individual

 A male of the usual colour ( all valezina types are female). Males don't find the valezina form as attractive as the normal form which keeps their numbers low even though the gene causing the colour difference is apparently a dominant one. We watched her for well over an hour and several males passed close by her but didn't seem to even notice her....
...like this one, he only stayed a second or two and didn't pay her any attention.
Another view of the beautiful underwing, shame she's got her head behind a bramble hiding her buggy face!
Isn't she lovely?

 Purple Hairstreak ( male) on Alder Buckthorn
He even showed off his supreme purpleiness!
 A photo of Sneezewort... for no reason other than because I like it.
 Not at Alners Gorse but seen yesterday whilst not seeing White-letter Hairstreak somewhere else. I saw these, what I assume to be moth eggs of some sort. There are around sixty of them and twenty-five have hatched. At the top of the leaf you can see the tiny new caterpillars huddled together, although one brave individual on the right is branching out on its own!
Closer but blurrier view. Anyone have any idea what they might be?

Saturday 9 July 2011

Pheasant's Eye

On Tuesday I got up very early and made the journey to a location somewhere on Salisbury Plain to see Pheasnat's Eye,  Adonis annua, now a very rare plant in the UK. Although a native of North Africa and the Mediterranean region it as long been established further north. In Britain it's an archaeophyte (a plant naturalized before 1500AD). I set off at approximately 5.00 am to beat both the traffic and the weather front on the way in from the west. The plan worked well and when I arrived on site it was dry and calm with high cloud and watery sun, making for a very atmospheric scene.
There was a fairly large area which had just been ploughed and left to colonise naturally with 'arable weeds'. What a gorgeous sight. It's hard to imagine that this was once commonplace. This is the only place I've seen all four species of Poppy (Common, Long-headed, Rough and Prickly) growing together. 

The Pheasant's Eye are diminutive in comparison to the Poppies and were difficult to spot at first.There were just five small plants and these were very close to the edge of a trackway used by army vehicles. In fact a couple of the plants looked to have been run over a bit! You may be able to spot them in this photo. Much smaller and deeper red than Poppies.

I also saw a couple of other firsts for me 
The rather impressive, Knapweed Broomrape.
Also this white form of Greater Knapweed.
This plant had been flattened by a tank and I had to prop it up to take a photo.
When I got up at 4.00am Martha hadn't even gone to bed yet! I asked if she wanted to come along and keep me company. I think when I said I was going to Salisbury Plain she misheard me. She thought I said the South Pole!!

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Five Go to Bentley Wood....Twice!

Last Sunday ( June 26th) five of us went to Bentley Wood on the Hampshire/ Wiltshire border hoping to see Purple Emperors. The weather was exceptionally hot and we were very hopeful. Although most of us saw at least one, only Bun and me saw one pitched and that was only for a second or two. We also saw White-letter Hairstreaks, but like the Emperors, these were also staying in the treetops. So although it 'were a grand day out' we all left without a photo of HIM (His Imperial Majesty). Hoping to rectify this we went back this Sunday. Lots, and I mean lots, of people had the same idea and even though we arrived an hour earlier than the previous week we were only just in time to grab the last space in the car park! The weather was sunny again but nowhere near as hot as the previous week and we were optimistic because we knew that nine males had been seen on the Friday. We saw none! (well perhaps one or two distant ones in the treetops could have been males) What we did see though were at least six females, and four of those were on the ground, one for over 45 minutes! If the published literature, both in print and on the web is to be believed then that would be quite unprecedented. Females are supposed to very rarely land on the ground and if they ever do are always very unapproachable. Take this quote from the excellent website 'The Purple Empire'   for example

"Females rarely descend to the rides, and seem to do so only in very hot weather.  Matthew Oates has not seen any definite females down on rides since the long hot summer of 1976.  Neil Hulme has seen five, all on hot afternoons, probing for moisture not mineral salts, and all very wary and hard to approach" 

So either some kind of unusual conditions existed in Bentley Woods on Sunday or none of the dozen or so people who saw each grounded butterfly can identify a female Purple Emperor properly? I can't think we got the identification wrong.The butterflies were very big, bigger than the male we saw last week for sure. The background colour of the wings was a uniform brown and nobody saw even a hint of purple as the butterflies moved around, opening and closing the wings for prolonged periods. They were all near damp patches or on the edge of puddles, so most probably probing for moisture. Anyway, as you can probably imagine we had some superb photo opportunities, starting in the car park when a pristine female Purple Hairstreak dropped in. (As usual all photos will enlarge if clicked on)
 This was the only shimmering purple we saw all day. I'm definitely not complaining though because instead we saw this...
 That yellow proboscis is incredible!
This was the first grounded female we saw, after she'd gone I wandered off alone and soon found myself in the presence of another, she flew around me a bit and landed in a nearby tree.
I texted Bun to let the others know...
...a few people followed him! All the jostling and neck craning wasn't necessary in the end because like the other female this one descended and rested on the ground for several minutes.
She didn't even appear to probe the mud, her proboscis remained coiled up.
The third female we photographed was this one which remained in the sallows and appeared to be egg-laying.
The best was still to come. As we were making our way slowly back towards the car park Dave suggested we have one last look at the puddles on the ride where we'd seen the females on the ground earlier in the day. And there she was, a gorgeous totally unblemished female which appeared to have only very recently emerged. She was probing around on the edge of a puddle for several minutes before moving a very short distance to some mud on the edge of the ride, whatever she was slurping up from here was very good because she stayed put for over 45 minutes and nothing was going to shift her.
I took this photo just as she landed by the side of the track...I looked ahead to see this coming...
It drove right by, within about 3 feet of her and she didn't even notice it!
This didn't bother her either. It doesn't take long for word to get around!
Although not purple, The Empress is never the less very beautiful.
I hope to meet her consort one day.

Monday 4 July 2011

Water Voles

I've still got lots of stuff to get on here including a very successful  trip to see Purple Emperor at Bentley Wood on Sunday, I haven't sorted through my hundreds of photos yet! Here are some photos from today though. They were taken at Black Hole Marsh where a family of Water Voles are showing superblyly well, off and on. They originate from the 2009/2010 re-intoduction scheme in the Lower Axe area. Great to see them doing so well here at least!
 Mostly photos were turning out like this one.There was always something in the way! But during the six hours (!) I was there a few better opportunities did present themselves.
( please click to view full size pictures, it makes all the difference!)
One of the adults; they were much more wary than the two youngsters.
They are also a bit less adorable, only a bit though!
Youngster one: and if you think that's cute check out youngster two..
Late addition of a short video clip: