Monday, 19 June 2017

17th June - Gosport, Hampshire and Thursley Common, Surrey

Summer has finally arrived, the forecast for the weekend was hot and sunny weather, the papers no doubt proclaiming it to be hotter than Majorca!  With the hot weather comes a change in focus, its in between time with the birds, with breeding in full swing, migration all over, but with signs that maybe it will not be long until it starts up again.  So on days such as these the attention turns to insects, the butterflies and maybe odonata.  With this in mind I set off for a small patch of wasteland in Gosport.  It is not often that you can link Gosport with interesting wildlife, but this particular location delivered the goods last year, and Ian and I were back again, albeit about a month earlier than last year.

I arrived first at Monks Walk, and wandered down the footpath.  There were meadow Browns everywhere already, a sign that it was going to be a warm day.


The path made its way through some grass, and alongside a hedgerow of Bramble, oak and Wych Elm.  It was the Elms I was interested in, but on the Bramble flowers there was a Comma.  I haven't seen very many of these butterflies this year so i took the opportunity to photograph this one.


I stood in front of a stand of Wych Elm, a rare sight now in the United Kingdom following the outbreak of Dutch Elm disease back in the sixties.  The Wych Elm is the only elm regarded as being truly native to the UK.  And is found in rocky and hilly locations or along streams normally, so finding them here is rather interesting.  The leaves are toothed and larger than other elms, they are also rough to touch on the upper side.  But I wasn't here to look at the elm, it was hopefully to find a butterfly whose caterpillars feed on the leaves of the Wych Elm, the White-letter Hairstreak.

Looking up at the leaves of the elm it didn't take long to see one flitting around the leaves and finally settling to allow me to get a good view.


When Ian arrived I was able to point them out, although they were not really cooperating and would not settle long enough for good views.  As a result we decided to walk around to the old disused car park on the other side of the road where we had seen them last year.  Just before we crossed the road we stopped to see a Marbled White that flew past us, and then a Small White, that did allow us to get close.


Just in this little patch the diversity of butterflies was amazing, next was a skipper, and not the expected Small Skipper, but an Essex Skipper.  The black club tips helping to identify it



Because of its similarities to the Small Skipper it was overlooked until the late nineteenth century when it was the last British butterfly to be identified.  Their distribution has increased significantly over southern England.  They live in discrete colonies, and can be locally very common.




A Marbled White then finally settled for me, freshly emerged the beautiful black and white chequered pattern looked pristine.



We crossed the road and walked down the footpath to the old car park.  A Holly Blue flew passed and settled on the bramble flowers near to the entrance.



There is another group of Wych Elm at northern edge of the old car park.  The area itself is about half the size of a football pitch.


It was a case of standing (in full sun) and watching the elms again to see these delightful little butterflies buzzing around the leaves, and every so often settling in view (even if they refused to come down closer!)


The underwings are brown with a "W" shaped white streak that gives it it's name and an orange edge with a very small tail.  The populations reduced significantly with the impact of dutch elm disease, but are now found to be recovering.


 As with a lot of butterflies this year they have emerged early, last year we saw them in the middle of July.  Despite waiting they stayed high in the trees, and gave us just brief views on the leaves.

This old car park for its size also delivered some more butterflies.  Speckled Wood evaded us, as did a Red Admiral.  The Marbled Whites were also very mobile, but with patience they would finally settle in the grass and on the clover.



 Another skipper, this time the more expected Small Skipper.



It was by now very hot, and we decided that the hairstreaks were not going to come down, and that we should move on.  Walking back to the cars we explored the waste land close by, Marbled Whites were now everywhere, and one or two were prepared to sit nicely for the camera.



 It was not unexpected to find a Cinnabar moth here, they like areas of grass and wasteland, their caterpillars feeding on ragwort.  It is named after the pinkish red markings on the hind wings and the forewings.  The Cinnabar was a reddish gemstone said to have mystic qualities.




Staying within Gosport our next location was Fort Brockhurst one of a number of the Palmerston forts built in the 1850s and 1860s to protect Portsmouth and its harbour against a French invasion.  They were called Palmerston after, the then Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston.  These forts were of questionable military value due to the location and orientation which faced inland and not out to sea, which is what was expected iif there was to be a French naval attack.

Our reason for being here was though not to do with military history, but to see what was about in the waters of the moat that surrounded the fort.  As we walked alongside the edge of the moat you could hear the begging calls of young Coots and the parents could be seen diving for weed to feed them.


Emperor dragonflies patrolled the water, sticking to what appeared to be a clearly defined territory, and if another dragonfly came close it would be chased away.



We were able to get down close to the water on one of the fishing platforms, and fortunately the Emperor dragonfly stopped to rest on the Iris leaves by the side of the water.



A female Broad bodied Chaser appeared but was chased off by the Emperor and was not seen again.  Also present were Azure Damselflies.


Walking around the moat there were other platforms that allowed you to get down close to the water, and find more Damselflies, this a Red-eyed Damselfly.



 And a Blue-tailed Damselfly



Another Red-eyed Damselfly


 Sitting on a branch just above the water under a hanging tree were these three terrapins.  These are Red-eared Terrapins, or Sliders.  They are sometimes called sliders due to the way they "slide" into the water when disturbed.  They are native to the Southern USA, but have become established here in the the UK and other parts of Europe on the back of the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle craze in the late eighties, early nineties, when pet turtles were no longer wanted and they were released into the wild.  They are an evasive species and will eat fish, frogs and even ducklings.



Warm days like today suit them as they are a reptile, and the warmth also has an effect on their ability to breed and expand.  They can live up to forty years in the wild, but require warm conditions to breed.  Terrapin eggs take up to 120 days to hatch, and with a cold weather they may not.  However once the temperature rises the eggs can hatch quicker.  The temperature also determines which sex will develop, again affecting the dynamic of the population.

The attention returned once again to the dragonflies.  Four Spotted Chasers was flying around in conjunction with another two Emperors.



It is a uniformly brown dragonfly with the sexes alike.  The name comes from the dark spot halfway along the leading edge of the wings.

These two came together in mid air.



 But didn't seem to get the acrobatics right and fell away again.



In addition to the Four Spots there were also Black-tailed Skimmers about, but these proved harder to photograph, the best I managed was this head on picture of a female.



There were several Emperor females oviposting into the pond weed at the surface of the water.


The damselflies could also be seen in the trees and the grass on the bank of the moat.  This one a female Azure Damselfly.


By now we had walked all around the fort, and it was time to head off somewhere else.  Dragonflies now were very much the attraction and we decided on a trip up the A3 to Thursley Common in Surrey.  It is an area of heathland with bogs and pools that hold a wide diversity of dragonflies and damselflies.  The hope was that we could add to what has been an interesting day with these fascinating insects already.

Parking in the Moat car park, which was very busy, we walked out onto the heath.  Almost immediately we came across a small pool covered in dragonflies, and found the first Large Red Damselfly of the day.


The area is very boggy, but with the recent dry weather a lot of the areas that before we could not have walked through were now dry, and only small patches of sphagnum moss held water, and on the moss were small carnivorous sundew plants.  they extract nutrients from the insects that they catch with their sticky leaves.  Adopting this approach due to the fact that the soil is extremely poor or non existent.


here the Sundew is attached to a dead branch lying over the water.

 
Further out were several Marsh Orchids, although they were well past their best in terms of flowering.


At a small pond close to the path we stopped to watch a Black-tailed Skimmer that alternated between flying around the water, and resting on the surrounding vegetation.


This is either a female, or possibly an over mature male.


Another nice large Red Damselfly against the dark black background of the pool.




And a male Common Blue Damselfly.
 


On the path in front of us sat a male Black-tailed Skimmer, the broadish grey blue abdomen with the dark patch at the end on the last 3 segments.



 It can be confused with the Keeled Skimmer which is also present.  It has a narrower abdomen, and a faint black tip to the last segment of the abdomen.


We turned onto the boardwalk that follows a line of Scots Pine trees.  A male Keeled Skimmer flew towards me, and settled on my hand.  I watched it as it ate something it had caught, and once it had finished it actually bit me!


As you can see it has lost the right hand fore wing, and this was probably the reason it was happy to settle on my hand.  When it bit me I dropped it in shock, and it did seem to have trouble flying, settling again on the board walk.  Thanks to Ian for the photo.

We followed the board walk around the pools which were covered in both Black-tailed and Keeled Skimmers, but it was in the grass that I found something different.  As yet I am not sure what it is, being completely confused.


A little further along, the hoped for Hobby put in a very brief appearance, dropping over one of the pools, and twisting and turning in what was probably a successful hunting foray for dragonflies, to be honest it couldn't miss there were so many.  But it was gone as quickly as it arrived and much to fast for the camera.  It returned a little later but this time it was the exposure that ruined to opportunity, and again didn't give me a second chance.

We walked back to the Moat, and then along the boardwalk once again this time out to the copse of Scots Pines in the middle of the bog.

We stopped at one pool where we were frustrated by a Banded Demoiselle once again, but did get the chance for some more pictures of a male Keeled Skimmer.

    
And a female Black-tailed Skimmer with the perfect background of the inky black pool.


We walked through the copse with a Chiffchaff singing constantly from one of the pines.  Coming out into the heather I found several Black Darters.  This I think is an immature male.


As we watched the darters Ian then found an Emerald Damselfly.  This is a female.

  
Unlike the other damselflies we have seen today this one rests with the wings held at 45 degrees to the body, which rules out the unidentified one early as its wings rested parallel to the body. 

By now I believe we had pretty much exhausted the area, but as we made our way back there was one more first for the year, a Large Skipper on a Bracken frond.

  
So the end of a very different day out, the emphasis not on birds but on insects.  In total we saw eleven species of butterfly of which five were firsts for the year and eleven dragonflies, one of which, the Emerald Damselfly was a lifer.  The heat is due to continue for the next few days so it will be interesting to see what is about at the end of the week.  Purple Emperors have been reported on the wing in Alice Holt, now i definitely need some good views of them.

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