Thursday 27 June 2019

Wembury Moths and Ford Park Cemetery Butterflies

Tuesday 25th June and my week off work was well and truly over with a dreaded night shift looming large and so we took a walk along the coast path at Wembury on a warm and humid morning, very warm especially when the sun peaked out behind the clouds.

I expected to find a few butterflies but was surprised to find very few on the wing. Painted ladies were again noticeable but they were in much lower numbers than the previous days sightings and I also saw a few meadow browns, a red admiral, a speckled wood and a small white.

It was quiet bird wise too with a grey heron, 3 male mallard and oystercatchers seen along the beach, blackcap and cirl bunting heard singing and whitethroats flitting about in the bushes including a few fledglings.

The toilet block actually held some moths for a change with a very smart common emerald, a single dotted wave and 2 dwarf cream wave being caught and released outside.

 Common Emerald

 Single-dotted Wave

 Dwarf Cream Wave

Dwarf Cream Wave

A nice walk despite the very sticky weather and my impending return to work on a night shift.

Friday 28th June and a hot and sunny day but with a strong easterly breeze saw me heading over to Ford Park Cemetery for a butterfly walk after meeting ex-work colleague Monica for a morning coffee on Mutley Plain.

It was with a bit of trepidation as I entered through the gate of the cemetery as back in February when I last visited here there was a bit of "tidying up" going on but it was all looking very good with lots of flowers and grasses as per usual.

Within a few minutes I was watching meadow browns, marbled whites and ringlets flitting about despite the breeze and I also found a red admiral, 2 painted lady and a large skipper.

 Marbled White

Ford Park Cemetery War Graves

I continued on to Central Park to see if there was any white letter hairstreak action yet but was horrified to find the elm tree where I had seen them flitting about in the canopy this time last year had been chopped down! There are other elm trees in the area so hopefully the colony has survived but it is so annoying to see as the tree didn't appear to be diseased and the new suckers now growing from the stump aren't looking too healthy either.

Elm Tree Massacre

I did however find my first comma of the year basking in the sun in a sheltered spot along with a speckled wood and a ringlet.




Butterflying in Devon

Monday 24th June and with David's Mum having a major op at Derriford Hospital we took a walk at nearby Roborough Down on the edge of Dartmoor to while away some waiting time.

It was overcast but very warm and humid and after parking up we started walking along  the Plymouth Leat wending it's way across the Down. With David being fascinated by the Leat it gave me time to wildlife watch and the first thing I noted was a smart green hairstreak perched on top of a gorse bush before flying off. A very smart looking red admiral was also feeding on some flowers nearby and a butterfly that dashed past in a bit of a blur turned out to be a painted lady, my first of the year.

As we continued our walk alongside the Leat more painted lady butterflies were seen flying past, feeding on bramble flowers or resting with wings held open on the stone floor of the Leat, most were a little worn and faded but a few looked quite smart. More and more were seen and I soon lost track of numbers but it was great to watch them continuously flying past, not quite the influx of 2009 but obviously a major movement going on with most of the butterflies moving in a north west direction.

 Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Meadow brown, small heath and large skipper were also seen but the highlight were small pearl-bordered fritillary flitting about over the grass amongst the gorse bushes including a very pristine individual which posed beautifully for me.

 Meadow Brown

Large Skipper

 Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

 Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary 

 Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary 

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary 

Another good find were 2 male clouded buff flying over the grass and only settling for short periods, a new moth species for me and larger than I expected them to be.

 Clouded Buff

It was also nice to find a good showing of heath spotted orchids in the grass and easily overlooked amongst the bushes.

 Heath-spotted Orchid

 Heath-spotted Orchid 

 Heath-spotted  Orchid

Heath-spotted Orchid

Birds very much took a back seat along the walk but I did see songflighting redpolls, skylarks and meadow pipits, a few linnets and stonechats and I heard a willow warbler singing briefly.

It was soon time to head off back to the hospital (the op went fine) but it had been a very interesting walk, neither of us have visited the area before but we certainly will be returning.

Monday 24 June 2019

Butterfly trip to Oxford, Part II

The weather forecast for Thursday 20th June had always been for the best weather of the week and on opening the curtains of our hotel room that morning we were greeted with a clear blue sky - yes!

It was cool and a little breezy though and a few clouds started to appear in the sky as  we headed off out for the day. I had originally planned to visit Whitecross Green Wood, a nature reserve known for it's good sightings of black hairstreaks, but there had been very little news from there on the internet. There were however good reports (and photos)  from a place called Hewins Wood in Buckinghamshire, not far from Whitecross Green Wood, and so I switched plans and we headed off there instead.

We parked up in a layby by a gap in a hedgerow leading into the wood and within 60 seconds I had found a black hairstreak flitting over the brambles before flying up into the top of a tree and out of sight - result! More black hairstreaks were soon found flitting about and I managed to get some great views of them although in the sunshine they were very active and mobile, constantly flitting and fidgeting in the top of the trees but moving down lower and becoming inactive when the sun disappeared behind the clouds.

Black Hairstreak, Hewins Wood

Black Hairstreak

Black Hairstreak 

Black Hairstreak 

Black  Hairstreak 

Black  Hairstreak 

Black  Hairstreak

Black Hairstreak

Black Hairstreak 

Other butterly enthusiasts came and went and while I managed to get good views of the hairstreaks they were difficult to photograph as they were constantly moving about when resting on the leaves and at times dragging their tongues between their legs as they fed on honeydew secretions made by aphids.

Other butterflies were on the wing too (at last!) and I saw 2 large skippers, 2 small heath, a speckled wood, a few meadow browns, a brief and distant white species flying by and best of all 2 white admiral that were constantly chasing each other about and wouldn't settle for more than a few seconds.

I heard a lesser whitethroat singing for brief periods  my first of the year, and eventually I had a brief view of it as it dashed between trees. I also heard chiffchaff, willow warbler and great spotted woodpecker while red kites drifted past overhead and there were plenty of common spotted orchids dotted around on the ground.

Common Spotted Orchid, Hewins Wood

With David retiring to the car to read the newspaper and listen to the radio I eventually had to leave too but the butterflies had been beautiful insects to see and interesting to observe. I had hoped to get a good close up shot of one of them but only one individual posed nicely and unfortunately it was a little worn and tatty - never mind, there is always another time and I was just really glad and pleased to have seen them.

Black  Hairstreak, Hewins Wood

We drove back towards Bicester and visited an antiques centre where we had some lunch before driving on to RSPB Otmoor, a reserve I have not visited before. Turtle doves breed here on the reserve but typically there was no sign of them on my visit although there were plenty of stock doves and wood pigeons flying around - it is now the 4th RSPB reserve I have visited and dipped turtle dove, the other 3 being Minsmere, Lakenheath Fen and Fowlmere - maybe 5th time will be a charm?

Despite the lack of turtle doves I had an excellent time walking around the reserve and saw some great wildlife, the highlight being 2 common cranes feeding distantly out on the meadows and disappearing amongst the long grass when bending down to feed. Whether they are wild birds from the east or reintroduced birds from the west is unknown but they were still great to see.

Common Cranes, Otmoor

Other bird highlights included 2 hobby hawking insects over the fields, a female marsh harrier quartering over the fields before disappearing off over the reed beds, red kites regularly soaring by overhead, a flyby cuckoo with a second bird seen briefly disappearing into a tree, singing reed warblers and sedge warblers everywhere, Cettis warbler, chiffchaff, willow warbler and a garden warbler all heard but not seen, lapwing, redshank, a snipe and curlew in the boggy and wet areas in the fields and gadwall, teal, pochard, shoveler and tufted duck on the lake.

Black hairstreaks are found on the reserve but I failed to find any although I did see a red admiral, small tortoiseshells and large skippers. A harlequin ladybird larva was a spikey surprise and I found a very attractive looking caterpillar, ID'd as a Yellow-tail by the excellent @MothIDUK Twitter site.

Harlequin Ladybird Larva, Otmoor

Yellow-tail Caterpillar, Otmoor

A hare gave some nice views as it ran along a farm track, stopping briefly to wash its face before disappearing into the long grass.

Hare, Otmoor

It was soon time to drive back to the hotel in Oxford for our final nights stay but it had been an excellent day of wildlife sightings and at least the sun shone for most of the time and it didn't rain.

Friday 21st June and it was time to drive back home. It was sunny and warm and as we drove to Tyntesfield House near Bristol for a visit on our way back to Plymouth I saw some marbled whites flying around on a roadside verge to add to the trips butterfly list.

Tyntesfield House was very enjoyable, we visited here back in 2011 and it was interesting to return to see how the house and gardens are developing since the National Trust took over in 2002. An emperor dragonfly ovipositing in a pond was a nice find along with a few black-tailed skimmers and there were plenty of swifts dashing about overhead but it was soon time to continue on our way home.

Black-tailed Skimmer, Tyntesfield 

And so a great trip, another new butterfly species for me (now 2 in a week) and the feeling I need another holiday to get over it - so all in all a success!

Sunday 23 June 2019

Butterfly Trip to Oxford, Part I

Monday 17th June and we headed off to Oxford for a few days away to do some sight seeing and some wildlife watching and to hopefully see black hairstreak butterflies which are found in the area.

It was cool and grey as we hit the road and remained so all the way to Oxford. We made a brief stop at Stonehenge for a coffee and a sausage roll before continuing on to Silsbury Hill which disappointingly is no longer accessible to the public. We carried onwards to Avebury and had a walk around the stones and a look around Avebury Manor which was very interesting and with a stunning garden which provided the one and only butterfly sighting of the day, a holly blue which flitted briefly over a yew hedge and out of sight. Better views were had of a young rabbit busily munching the plants and escaping the clutches of the gardeners who were trying to catch it.

Rabbit, Avebury Manor Gardens

Nearing Oxford and red kites began to appear soaring in the skies overhead, a nice sight and a change from buzzards here in the south west, and we arrived safely at our hotel near the centre of Oxford to begin our stay just before the rush hour traffic began.

The weather forecast for the week ahead wasn't looking great with cloud, showers and cool temperatures, not great for butterflying, and despite a favourable forecast for the morning of Tuesday 18th June we decided to head off to Blenheim Palace for the day due to rain being forecast for the afternoon.

Arriving at the Palace and the sun was shining so we had a walk around the Lake first and watched 3 red kites soaring overhead and calling. Sand martins, swifts, swallows and house martins were hawking for insects overhead and tufted ducks and great crested grebes were out on the lake amongst the mallard, coot, Canada geese and greylag geese.

Red Kite, Blenheim Palace

We then had a look around the Palace itself which was very interesting and by the time we had completed the tour of the rooms the clouds had arrived along with the showers and so after some refreshments we had a wander around the formal gardens. I was hoping to find some spotted flycatchers but was out of luck although I am sure I did hear some hidden in the trees. I did however get some good views of 3 treecreepers, some very tame and beautifully patterned male pheasents, blue tailed damselflies, bee orchids, pyramidal orchids and the one and only butterfly sighting of the day, this time a small tortoiseshell feeding on flowers before flying off.

 Pheasent, Blenheim Palace

 Bee Orchid, Blenheim Palace

Small Tortoiseshell, Blenheim Palace

After a wander around the maze we had a look around the butterfly house nearby and had some great views of some beautiful and exotic butterflies although not the native and wild ones I was hoping for.

 Butterfly Sp.

 Butterfly Sp.

 Butterfly Sp.

Butterfly Sp.

The rain duly arrived as we walked back to the car for the drive back to Oxford but it had been a very enjoyable day out.

Wednesday 19th June was cloudy and cool but humid and we decided to have a day in Oxford to see the sights. From our hotel we walked along the footpath by the River Thames into the city centre and started off with a visit to the botanic gardens which were beautifully laid out and with some lovely glasshouses and I managed a brief sighting of again the only butterfly of the day, a small tortoiseshell, along with a newt species in a pond and a beautiful demoiselle flying over the bushes.

We carried on to the Natural History Museum (free) which was very good with some interesting dinosaur finds from the local area on display and a swift nest cam with 3 chicks in a nest in the museums tower. The adjoining Pitt Rivers Collection (again free) was very good too with a massive collection of anthropomorphic items from all over the world with a focus on the art, design and development of these everyday items.

The final visit of the day was to The Ashmolean Musueum (also free) which was also very interesting and with an amazing Egyptian shrine on display, the only pharaonic building in the UK.

 Shrine of Taharqa, Ashmolean Museum 

 Shrine of Taharqa 

 Shrine of Taharqa 

After dinner and a few drinks in a pub we walked back to the hotel along the River Thames footpath again and the highlights were 2 common terns flying upriver towards the city centre, my first of the year, along with a flyover kestrel, mistle thrushes feeding on a cricket pitch, a large mayfly resting in the hedge and a yaffling green woodpecker heard only.

Mayfly, River Thames, Oxford

And so an enjoyable and interesting start to our trip away but not quite the butterfly-fest I was hoping for (so far).