Sunday, 2 July 2017

Somerset Weekend 1st and 2nd July 2017

A quick jaunt down to Somerset to connect with some of the local specialities was a resounding success thanks to Rob's timely research and a weather forecast that saw sunshine all around, and light winds only.

Saturday's itinerary was a three site tour, starting at Green Down to look for large blue (Maculinea arion), a species coming to the end of it's flight period. We remained hopeful for a connection - and were not to be disappointed.

This south facing limestone grassland is divided into two steep slopes - with a gallop running east / west cutting the site in two. We started on the lower slope and traversed the grassland admiring the flora, and the wealth of butterflies on the wing, but failing to see a strong flash of blue that would clinch our target species. Part way across we bumped into a couple of gentlemen, one of whom, was generous to give us a thumbnail sketch of the history and success of the large blue re-introduction programme, and point us in the direction of the upper slope access - where we would be more likely to connect with the species. As we walked away Rob was grinning and explained "You know that was Jeremy Thomas? I'm surprised you didn't ask him for an autograph?".

On the upper slope, we were just starting to lose heart when a large blue legged it past Rob at knee height - the game was on! Catching up with and getting half way decent(?) photo's of the individuals was a challenge in itself, made difficult by the steep terrain, and the distance each individual would travel if accidently flushed. Add to that their habit of only alighting on the ground cover wild thyme (Thymus polythricus) meant many photo opportunities were shooting downhill at insects fore-shortened by the gradient. Anyhow that sounds like I am complaining? When clearly I am just very chuffed to have had the opportunity to see such a splendid conservation success story up close and personal. By the end of the visit we had seen 5 individual large blue, including a female which appeared to be ovi-positing.


Green Down - lower slope


Green Down - upper slope



large blue

Our second site visit of the day was to Haddon Hill, which is the more widely known site for large blue. Although the local NT Ranger reported at least one individual being seen that day, she assured us that the flight period for this species was almost completely over at this site. In keeping with this news we failed to connect. A flash of brilliant red against some gorse scrub - did throw up a random sighting of scarlet tiger moth (Callimorpha dominula) a species I hadn't seen in some years.

Moving on, we headed to our final destination: Ham Wall Nature Reserve - target species - little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus), which would be a welcome addition to my UK heron list. After a walk East to almost the very end of the reserve, we finally stopped and staked out the blocks of reed and open water to the south of the main path. It wasn't long before we heard the "dry cough" of the little bittern coming from the reed bed in front of us.

Alison and I have seen this species several times in Egypt, but do not recall hearing (or more likely recognising it's call?); this time the vocalisation was all we had to refer to, as the bird itself did not show. We saw bittern (Botaurus stellaris), little egret (Egretta garzetta), great white egret (Ardea alba), and grey heron (Ardea cinerea) completing our heron list for the day. Although dipping on the local cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) meant that we did not complete the Reserve's heron list.

On Sunday we headed to Haddon Hill, Exmoor. In the car park we saw / heard spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa striata), lesser redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) and common crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), before heading out onto the north facing heathland to look for heath fritillary (Melitaea athalia). After some time spent following tracks within the ubiquitous bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), we started to find open areas of heath with a ground layer of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and common cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense), the species favourite habitat.

bracken dominated slopes

common cow wheat

bilberry or Whortleberry as it's locally known


One of these open areas, very low on the hill slope abutting the woodland provided us with our day's quarry. First a very showy individual, and then a second very battered & tattered.

open area and first sightings


heath fritillary

green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)

Having got our eye in on the fritillary, we then found three more on a open area, as we walked back to the car park - another lucky 5 day!

Our last quest of the weekend - a hopeful quest given the lateness of the season - was to try and find pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) and wood warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix)in the woodlands, downslope and immediately north of the Haddon Hill summit. We lucked out on the pied fly, but were rewarded with the song of the wood warbler, with the bird itself eventually showing in the under-canopy.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Orchids - so far this year

Neottia ovata
Kithurst Hill



Orchis mascul
Butser Hill


Neottia nidus-avis
Undisclosed site

Dactylorhiza fuchsia
Catherington Down

common-spotted orchid and Zygaena trifolii
Butser Hill

Dactylorhiza praetermissa
Undisclosed site

Anacamptis pyramidalis
Halnaker Windmill

Gymnadenia conopsea
Catherington Down

Ophrys apifera
Fairmile Bottom

Ophrys insectifera
Undisclosed site

Coeloglossum viride
Undisclosed Site

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Isle of Wight extended weekend perambulations

Hazel dormouse
Muscardinus avellanarius

Dormouse monitoring
Briddlesford Woods

Dormouse bridge
Briddlesford Woods

Common cow wheat Melampyrum pratense
Briddlesford Woods


The weekend started with two days of hazel dormouse monitoring in Briddlesford Woods, a site owned and managed by Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. It also provided an opportunity to take a closer look at the fabulous dormouse bridge, which spans the railway running through the woodland.

An encounter with common cow wheat along the woodland rides, would prompt a later diversion to St Lawrence Shute to see the beautiful - yet still not quite in full flower - field cow wheat (Melampyrum arvense) which grows in some number on the south facing bank of an arable field. A once common but now rare plant that is found on only a few sites in the country (Hampshire and IOW Wildlife Trust 2017).

Field cow wheat
St Lawrence Shute


On our third day, we took a left at Ventnor and walked the undercliffs of Wheelers Bay connecting with 10's of Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia).

By chance we met the gentleman responsible for managing the site for Glanvilles, who generously gave us a full tour of the undercliffs, and provided an insight into the management history / process and progress to date.

Recent management prescriptions had focussed on recreating patches of bare ground behind the sea defences to promote opportunities for the early successional Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata), the butterfly's primary larval food plant. In one large area chalk had been deposited to create a defence against an over-topping sea. Behind this new defence the ground had been scraped back to bare earth / gravel. At one end of this scrape an artificially sloping bank was installed, to create micro-climates within the bare ground habitat.



After our impromptu private tour we got the sunshine and the Glanvilles in spades! We noted six other butterfly spp. on the wing, along with a splendid hummingbird hawk moth (Macroglossum stellatarum).

Glanville fritillary
Wheelers Bay


After a late lunch at the Spyglass Inn we walked west out of Ventnor, starting at the car park adjacent the coastal path. A scan of the walls of the car park, provided the briefest hint of a wall lizard (Podarcis muralis) dropping out of site into marginal vegetation. At Castle Cove a single lizard showed as it crossed the footpath running between the sea defences. A hasty record shot was obtained, and then we arrived at Steephill Cove, where we grabbed some refreshments and decided to retrace our steps, as the heat of a long day out in the sunshine was finally catching up with us.

Our return along the sea defences of castle cove provided an opportunity to watch wall lizard in small numbers (Ca. 10 individuals seen), as they basked and moved along the rocks behind the sea wall. Despite their proximity, and the splendid views we enjoyed I failed to get anything other than record shots. Several Glanvilles were also flying in this area.

Castle Cove - looking East
wall lizard
Lasiommata megera
St Boniface Down


On our final day we undertook a 8 mile round walk on the downs above and to the north of Ventnor. Successfully connecting with wall butterfly (Lasiommata megera), whilst dipping on Adonis blue(Polyommatus bellargus). A couple of adder (Viperus berus) basking in mid-afternoon sun doubled our reptile list for the weekend.

Bibliography

Hampshire and IOW Wildlife Trust, 2017 [Online]
St Lawrence Bank

Sunday, 14 May 2017

a few of the butterflies on the wing on the Hampshire Chalk

An hour's sunshine, in the middle of an unsuitably cloudy day, allowed me to catch up with a few of the butterflies in flight at Stockbridge Down, including my first encounter with a Hampshire pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne).







From top to bottom: dingy skipper (Erynnis tages); small copper (Lycaena phlaeas); Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina); pearl-bordered fritillary.

Later that day in Parsonage Field, Catherington common blue were in flight (Polyommatus icarus)




The next day I headed to Portsdown Hill, and walked my old transect in Comps 1 & 2, counting 10spp incl. green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) and small blue (Cupido minimus). The latter out in force in the Chalk Pit where at least 30 were seen on the western slope alone.