Tuesday, 23 May 2017

21st May - Magdalen Hill Down, Hampshire

Saturday had started with sunshine, but today it felt as if the sun would stay with us throughout the day, and that the chance of a shower dampening things was a long way off.  Sunshine, blue skies and a lot of white clouds become the perfect recipe for a walk on the downs, so Helen and I decided on a walk, or more like a stroll through Magdalen Hill Down just outside Winchester.

As we walked up the hill towards the entrance to the reserve House Martins swarmed above us and from the depths of the Birch trees on our right a pair of Bullfinches piped away.

The sightings board was hard to read, but one sighting stood out, that of a Marsh Fritillary earlier in the month, and the dismissive comment alongside it!  Clearly not considered a credible report.  As we walked along the path in the sunshine and shelter from the breeze we found the first butterfly of the day, a Common Blue.

There were patches of Ragged Robin in flower, and these were attracting the bees.

Another butterfly a little further along was the Small Blue.  I always seem to forget how small this delightful butterfly actually is, and how difficult to trace they become once they set out on the wing.  This one was happy to sit in the morning sunshine.

We crossed into the Chalk Pit, and looking to the south east there was a wonderful show out across the downs, and down towards the Manor House at Chilcomb.  The trees lining the driveway leading to the house provided a lovely composition with the colours in the trees and the shadows thrown on the ground, dividing the different greens in the fields.

The walk through the chalk pit surprisingly produced nothing, so we doubled back and went through the gate to head down towards the bottom of the down.  Brimstone butterflies flew past, these had been the dominant butterfly so far this morning.  I walked on, but Helen called me back and pointed to an orange butterfly sunning on the ground.

Having seen this butterfly last week at Martin Down I knew immediately what it was, a Marsh Fritillary.  Last week had been a first, and I did not expect to find one here, but there it was, so a photograph to confirm.

So the dismissive comments were not appropriate, here it was, still, but the next question has to be why is it here?

later on we met the Warden who speculated that it may have escaped, but from where? And why here?  Regardless, it was time to enjoy this beautifully marked butterfly that was totally unexpected.

Leaving the Fritillary where we had found it we walked down the path and onto the down.  A male Brimstone took the chance to rest and nectar on a Dandelion flower.

Coming out of the scrub we had a wonderful view out across the valley looking across towards Deacon Hill, is there any better view than in the English downland in the spring sunshine?

we made our way down the paths created by the sheep, and at the bottom with the shelter of the hedge there were butterflies about.  More Common Blues taking in the flowers emerging on the bramble.

And at the same time getting buzzed by this green beetle

Then I found the butterfly I was looking for the Brown Argus.

Despite the name, the Brown Argus is in fact classified as a "blue".  However unlike like most other "blues", the Brown Argus has no blue scales on its upperside, both the male and female being primarily brown in colour as the name suggests, although the butterfly does show a blue sheen when at certain angles to the light. Both of the sexes also have the beautiful orange spots on the upperside of both forewings and hindwings.

This butterfly occurs in small, compact colonies, and is not a great wanderer, only traveling a couple of hundred metres, at most, from where it emerged.  Here the best place to find them is at the bottom of the hill, sheltered from any wind.

The male Common Blues are quite distinctive as they appear just above the grass, there were though a few female Common Blues about.  These are a much darker blue, nearly brown like the Brown Argus with orange spots on the hind wing, and much bigger than the Argus.

The blue butterflies have a very intricate pattern on the underwing of spots and dashes.

At the bottom of the hill there is a collection of low brambles growing, and it was from these small bushes that most of the butterflies emerged from.  I was searching for either a Grizzled or Dingy Skipper, but without any luck.  I did though disturb a Silver Y moth in amongst the bramble leaves.

The path then wound up the hill to the top, where it then follows the path alongside the fence.  Looking up across the hill, the sky was full of puffy white clouds.

And rising from the field were Skylarks in full song.

We left the boundary of the reserve and walked along the main path through the field.  Whiile the flowers are not yet in full bloom there were signs that they were not far away from turning this grass land into a wonderful flower meadow.

Looking down the path towards the chalk pit again the sky looked superb.

And I experimented with a full panorama of the sky above us.

It was now time to explore the scrub and wooded area off the top oof the path.  However along the path in the sunshine once again there were several Small Blues about.

The grassland area was full of Cowslips now past their best and going to seed, it must have been quite spectacular a few weeks ago.

As we strolled through the cowslips small moths were disturbed and they would fly a short distance before settling back down.  Most of the time they would settle under the leaves, but some would sit out in the open allowing identification.  This is a Silver Ground Carpet.

Another brown moth had me thinking it was possibly a skipper, but it turned out to be a first, a Light Orange Underwing.

Helen found a Green Hairstreak that refused to stick around, and several Common Blues were present on the ground, moving when the sun would appear from behind the clouds.  Getting down low provided another different aspect.

Then at the bottom of the hill I finally found a Dingy Skipper sitting on an old Cowslip.

A freshly emerged Dingy Skipper is quite a butterfly of beauty with subtle combination of greys and browns.  However over time it lives up to its name as the scales are lost over time and it then lives up to its name, with a lacklustre and drab appearance.  This individual is showing signs of this wear as they start to come to the end of their flying season.

A different view as it probes the head of a grass.

The most numerous butterfly of the walk was the Brimstone, both male and females being seen mostly on the wing.  For once though this male settled on the flower head of a Ragged Robin.

the path then took us back up to the reserve entrance where we were able to report the Marsh Fritillary sighting to the Warden, and prove it by showing the photographs.  It was then back to the car with the House Martins chattering away above our heads.  the season is now heading towards the doldrums time where the early butterflies fade away, and its not yet time for the emergence of summer species.  For the birds it is now all about breeding species and specialties, and for those it requires some travel.

Monday, 22 May 2017

20th May - Titchfield Haven & Bentley Wood, Hampshire

The end of the week saw a much needed change in the weather, with heavy rain all day on Wednesday, and heavy showers on Thursday and thunderstorms on Friday.  Fortunately the storms had cleared away by the time I set off on Saturday morning, although with the clear skies the temperature had dropped to close to freezing and their were several pockets of frost on my journey south to Titchfield Haven.  Arriving on the sea wall, I was greeted by the yin and yang, a car booming out with really bad house music was contrasted by the wonderful tranquil scene looking out across the reserve.

Closer in you could see the trees surrounded by the early morning mist on the river Meon.

The intention by meeting Ian here at this early hour was to hopefully find something out on the water.  Very little was moving apart from large flocks of Black-headed Gulls, and Common and Sandwich Terns.  Birds were constantly moving to and fro from the scrapes on the reserve out to the Solent, passing over our heads and announcing themselves with their screeching calls

Over on the reserve we could see the gulls collecting and could hear the constant calls.  As the light improved so did the photography.  This Common Tern carrying a fish out to the sea, pursued by a mate or another tern looking to steal the fish.

At one point four Avocet flew out over the sea, circled around calling before returning to the scrapes on the reserve.  Reports suggest that there are several young now on the scrapes, and this flight was probably about a squabble over territory.

A much calmer place was the lagoon close to the road, and here a pair of Gadwall were taking a break from the noise and activity that was going on elsewhere.

Apart from a pair of distant adult Gannets sitting in the middle of the Solent, there was little else of interest to report and with the reserve yet to open we decided to walk around the canal path.

Reaching the corner by the west side of the reserve a Reed Bunting sang from one of the hawthorn bushes.  Our attention though was on a singing Sedge Warbler, but despite a few brief airborne forays it refused to show itself, so the Reed Bunting provided the back up interest.

Along the path there was the song of the Song Thrushes, but we could never actually find the owners.  From lower down there were the constant calls of Long-tailed Tits.  These were from a family party, the adults constantly searching for food to feed the begging young birds.

The young birds easily identified from the adults but the darker heads and red ring around the eyes.

They were also the ones doing the begging when either mum or dad had any food.

Blackcaps could be heard singing from with the trees, and away over the reserve towards the meadow we could hear a Cuckoo.  Where there were breaks in the hedgerow we stood and scanned the marsh.  A pair of Whitethroats were busy in the bramble bushes, and Goldcrests could be heard singing from the trees alongside us.

A little further along the Blackcaps were replaced by singing Chiffchaffs, some singing low down from within the scrub.

But in the main they could be found at the top of the trees.

Another warbler that was very vocal was the Cetti's Warbler.  Now normally you get mugged by the explosive song, never to see the owner deep in the reeds or scrub, but this morning we were treated to some excellent views as the warbler crept through the bushes and out into the open, unconcerned by us.

A drab little bird with an explosive song!

The clear skies of the morning were now clouding over, and some of these clouds looked quite threatening.  On the weather radar there were some signs of heavy showers heading our way.  The plan had been once again, hopefully birds in the morning, and then a search for butterflies in the afternoon, with one particular species in mind.  However with the showers now developing, and if they followed the same pattern as the previous day then the afternoon could be a wash out.

We decided to head back to the cars, and maybe set off early for the butterflies, but our minds changed once again when we reached them.  Away across the Island the skies didn't look to bad, and we fancied a walk around the Haven as there could be some dragonflies about as well as the resident birds.

On the water close to the road a Common Tern sat on one of the posts.

And as we walked to the visitor centre a Kestrel appeared hunting over the reed bed alongside the road.

We had a short wait for the centre to open, so we entertained ourselves with the Turnstones in the harbour.  Some of them were almost in full breeding plumage.

Such a difference from the dull winter plumage.

Having paid our dues we walked back to the west side of the reserve passing once again the open water, and a Common Tern fishing.

Our first stop was the Meon Shore Hide, as we walked up to it a Whitethroat appeared at the top of the bush alongside the hide.

Opening the windows in the hide we were greeted with the loud constant calls of the Black-headed Gulls.  All the islands were covered with the gulls with many sitting on nests.  On the west side of the scrape an adult Avocet was extremely watchful of its solitary chick.  If anything came close, and by that I mean anything from a Moorhen to Black-headed Gull, or even another Avocet, the adult would launch itself at the intruder and chase it off.

The chick feeding with the characteristic sweep of the bill as it waded up and down the edge of the water.

The island in front of the hide was full of Black-headed Gulls, but a Lapwing flew in and for awhile was not bothered by the gulls, and we were able to get some close views.

The shallow water on the mud providing some reflections, and the wind blowing the crest around all adding to the scene.

Most of the Black-headed Gulls were sitting on eggs, but every so often one would stand up, and underneath would be a downy chick, resplendent in brown and black spots.

There were at last three chicks seen, and they were enjoying the sunshine, using the parent as a shelter from the fresh breeze blowing across the scrape.

With the incessant noise coming from the gull colony it would be hard to imagine that the area would escape the attention of potential predators, and a Lesser Black-backed Gull was cruising over the scrape, making passes over the islands, and being chased off by both the Avocets and the gulls. 

The gulls are resourceful hunters, and the fly passes were all about understanding what was present, and what opportunity there was.  Having been chased off several times and quite successfully also probably contributed to lowering the guard of the black-headed Gulls. Just as we were about to leave the hide, the Lesser Black-backed Gull, made yet another swoop low over the islands, and this time saw its chance and took a gull chick.  I had turned away, but Ian managed to capture the attack, with the gull flying off, and all that could be seen was the leg of the unfortunate chick, probably now to become food for the Lesser Black-backed Gull's chick.

We left the hide, and walked around the west side, the clouds were definitely heavier now, but even so there was still some warm sunshine.  We stopped at a sheltered spot just in front of the West Hide.  Here were many damselflies, some of which were the first for the year.

An adult male Blue-tailed Damselfly.

An Azure Damselfly.

A Large Red Damselfly.

And a Azure Damselfly from a different perspective.

The sheltered sunny spots were also bringing out the first butterflies of the day, a Speckled Wood.

The West Hide was its usual self with nothing to see at all, and a Sedge Warbler distracted us at the path to the Pumfrett Hide.  Once again it managed to avoid any chance of a photograph.  So we ended up following the trail to the end and a visit to the Spurgin Hide.

Opening the windows I found four Stock Dove feeding at the edge of the marsh, probably searching for seeds from the grasses.

While a Shelduck sifted through the mud in search of anything edible.

While not as noisy as the Meon Shore Hide, there were still plenty of Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns about.  The terns engaged in some serious squabbling.

At the back of the marsh, alongside the river an immature male Marsh Harrier cruised the reed beds without causing much concern amongst the gulls.

Earlier there had been quite a few hirundines over the scrapes, but now they had been replaced by Swifts.  Not a large number, probably five or six, but they did present a challenge to me, especially as there was little else going on.

Most of the images were either out of focus, or just a silhouette, so I am only showing the best of a lot of frames, which you can see was not very many!

In front of the hide were four Lapwings, and two chicks, and tehre was a constant squabble going on, which included both the adults and the chicks being dived bombed.  At one point, as this chick fed on the edge of the water I saw it actually duck to avoid an attack from an adult bird.

As we left the hide we tried once again for some acceptable Swift pictures, promptly failed so moved on.  We stopped at Darter's Dip where there were more Damselflies, and also a couple of dragonflies resting on the reeds.  First to appear was a female Broad-bodied Chaser.

Then just about a metre away a Four-spot Chaser, so called for the four spots on the wings.

The Avocet were up again, and calling above us as we watched the dragonflies, clearly once again they were under threat from something and it required a very vocal defence.

The Damselflies continued to be an attraction though, with the the dragonflies fairly static and inaccessible.  They provided us with the possibility of getting some different and interesting angles with which to view them. 

This is an immature male Common Blue.

 And again.

Leaving the Odonata we went into the Pumfrett Hide, and out in front of us yet again were a family of Avocets.  At first we could see two chicks, and one of the adults standing guard and constantly calling.

The adults took up some lovely positions and the reflections in the mud and surrounding vegetation added to scenes.

They are such elegant and beautifully marked birds.

We considered the female to have a slightly smaller beak, and it was her that continued to call to the chicks that were feeding along the edge of the pool, while the male here stood a little way back, also watching for any sign of a threat, and immediatelty flying in to counter it

Finally one of the chicks came out into the open and allowed a good view.  These were younger than the one we had seen from the Meon Shore Hide, smaller and the bill yet to really have a defined upturn.

Then a third chick appeared and both parents came together to watch as they made their way across the mud towards them.

Finally a family group picture, albeit a little unorganized.

 When they came close the female moved into to be close to the chicks, while the male moved away to continue sentinel duties.

 While all this was going on the Swifts continued teasing us in front of the hide.  When we came out once again they were screaming above us and dashing between the trees.  More attempts ensued, and I was pleased with the out come of this one, it catches the speed of the bird.

In the reeds and grass where we had seen the dragonflies earlier there was once again the strange sight of bees hovering above one that was nectaring on a flower head,

We had seen this before in Alice Holt last July, and were not sure what the purpose was then.  Is it a display, or a means of communication?

The Sedge Warbler was singing again as we walked back to the path, and like the Swifts it was hard to resist.  Once again it managed to hide from us, and all we were left with was this Four Spot Chaser on the reeds.

And the call and frustrating sighting of a Kingfisher that totally surprised us as it came along the ditch, perched on a reed that was obscured by others, then flew off over the scrapes.

We walked back to the pond where there were more Damselfies about.  Another Large Red Damselfly.

And another immature Common Blue.

A spider was showing well in a web between the grasses.  It is I think a Common Orb spider, but would be open to any one with better knowledge.

As we headed to the cars the clouds to the west were very dark and heavy.  The radar was showing plenty of showers about. It was now time to make a decision, plenty of options available, but not what we wanted to do.  Finally we decided to stick to our plans and headed off to Bentley Wood on the Hampshire - Wiltshire border, our quest a Pearl-bordered Fritillary.  We drove through a very heavy shower on the motorway, but as we came through the village of West Dean it was dry, and looked as if it had been dry recently.  The concern though was the temperature, it had fallen significantly.  Things then got worse as we pulled into the car park, it started to rain.

Defiant we headed into the Eastern Clearing.  There was plenty of bird song about, but under the drizzle, not surprisingly no sign of any butterflies.  We walked around the paths in the hope that the skies would clear.  Above us were Willow Warblers in song.

A Garden Warbler teased giving brief glimpses as it flew from the trees, probably had lessons from the Sedge Warbler at Titchfield!  Then I could hear a Tree Pipit singing, but seemed to be coming from where the Willow Warbler had just been seen.  IOt had definitely been a Willow Warbler and the Tree Pipit replaced it.

Another Tree Pipit was singing behind us, and this time was a little bit more accessible.

It continued to sing from the same perch all the whole time we were there.

The sky was looking a little clearer, and there were patches of blue sky about, and these eventually allowed the sun through.  Up until now the closest we had got to a butterfly was a brief glimpse of a Speckled Yellow Moth.

Then in one brief moment of sunshine a Pearl-bordered appeared.  It wasn't the best specimen, but it was what we were here for, and our trip had not been wasted duff specimen or not.

What we now wanted was a view of the underside, but this butterfly was away and into the trees  We walked around and quickly came across another. the brief glimpses of the sun having brought them out.  This one flew into a sapling and sat on a leaf and showed the under wing off to perfection.

It also allowed a much closer approach.

This is one of the earliest fritillaries to emerge and can be found from April in woodland clearings or rough hillsides with bracken, this is probably why the first one was damaged

It flies close to the ground, stopping regularly to feed on spring flowers such as Bugle. 

It can be distinguished from the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary by the two large silver 'pearls' and row of seven outer 'pearls' on the underside hind wing, and also the red (as opposed to black) chevrons around the outer pearls and the small central spot on the hind wing.

When the sun came out it opened the wings to warm up, the wings not being a solar panel, but a means of directing the radiation to the body.

We found a thid one, this time in much better condition, which sat on a grass stalk for us.

The sun then decided to leave us once again, and with it any chance of more butterflies.  We decided to try somewhere else, and headed to Stockbridge, and the down land just outside the town. 

From the car park we crossed the road and headed up the hill, looking out across to the south the view was wonderful.

We walked all around the down, through sheltered spots checking areas of trefoil, but with no success, there was no sign of a single butterfly.  Of the birds the most numerous were the Rooks and Jackdaws, while along the hedgerow Blackcaps and Whitethroats.

As we made our way back to the car park, the grazing cows on the horizon were over shadowed by the distant dark clouds.

An interesting day, we are now entering that time where everything starts to go quiet.  Key migration for birds is now coming to an end.  The time is quickly becoming about other areas such as more butterflies and hopefully some new Odonata.