Monday, 17 July 2017

14 - 15th July - Pagham Harbour RSPB, West Sussex

Middle of July, middle of the year means we head off to Sidlesham to enjoy some self indulgence, and at this time of year some sunshine.  We arrived to lovely clear blue skies, and warm sunshine.  After a welcoming drink we decided to walk around to the North Wall of the harbour.  As we walked along Mill Lane towards Halsey Farm butterflies could be seen on either side of the road.  Gatekeepers, Comma and Meadow Brown  were in the bushes, and as we walked through the farm towards the footpath a really smart Red Admiral flew past and settled on the hedge.

Walking towards the fields the path was fringed on both sides by bramble and as we walked loads of Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers would fly up just ahead of us.  Some though remained settled on the leaves soaking in the sunshine, showing the lovely orange and brown colouration.

While others sat with wings closed.

The fields can be quite wet, but that was definitely not the case today.  Walking was easy across the hard baked mud, with only the dried out footprints of the cattle to negotiate.  Up on the sea wall the tide was in, and out towards Owl Point a group of Little Egrets sat amongst the saltmarsh.  They breed close by but this now is over and large numbers can build up in the harbour.  This though was not one of the highest counts I have seen here.

As we approached the Breech Pool it was clear that the water levels were very high.  All we could see were some really tatty Mallard, and a couple of Teal on the water, and a Common Tern on a post, that as we got closer took off and flew around the pool before heading out into the centre of the harbour.

With the tide so high there was little chance of finding the Kingfisher at the sluice gate that enters into White's Creek.  On the other side of the wall the water around the sluice was covered in pond weed creating a bright green pool.  In this a family of Moorhen were feeding.

As we walked towards the paddocks a grey brown falcon swooped low over our heads and then banked around the Poplars and back out over the paddocks.  It was a juvenile Peregrine, probably one of the two that were reared on the island in the middle of the harbour at Church Norton.

We walked down the path that leads from the Slipe Field the whole area now has been allowed to turn to wild flowers, and there was plenty of teasel, knapweed, thistles and ragwort.  This was a big attraction to even more butterflies, and we were able to find several Essex Skippers in amongst  the many Gatekeepers.

Coming back along the footpath past the golf course there were Speckled Wood and this lovely Comma.

Walking along the road towards the Salthouse, a Holly Blue butterfly flew past, not bothering to stop.

There was an unusual sight in the horse field when we came past, a juvenile Heron was just standing close to the fence.  It attracted the attention of one of the horses that slowly moved it on.

back on the North Wall, another Grey Heron was feeding in more usual settings, the deep water of the Breech Pool.

The Mallard were still present on the pool, and at the back around the edge of the water I could see two Black-tailed Godwits.

The tide was still high, so any hope of finding a Kingfisher vanished.  

Out on the saltmarsh the Little Egrets were still roosting, and Curlew could be heard calling.  One or two Curlew would fly over the wall heading towards the fields around Honer Farm.

Coming back into Halsey Farm a Green-veined White joined the many Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns on the Bramble.

We made our way back to the Crab and Lobster where we sat and enjoyed the early evening sunshine before dinner.

Saturday morning arrived with overcast conditions, but the sunshine seemed to be always just around the corner, the sun daring to show itself through the white cloud.  After breakfast we set off in the hope that it may clear and that we could get some time on the beach.  Temperature wise though it wasn't cold, in fact the breeze felt quiet warm and humid.

As we walked along the path past Yeoman's field clouds of Gatekeepers came off the bramble bushes.  There were also Meadow Browns but it was the flash of orange from the gatekeepers that seemed to be everywhere.

The brown butterflies are always the first to appear, and on overcast days these can be quite dominant.  As well as these two "brown" butterflies there was also a few Speckled Woods.

We walked through the visitor centre, and then towards the Ferry Pool.  Teasel were almost everywhere, there lilac purple flowers starting to emerge.  At the Ferry Pool I could see three Avocets, five Black-tailed Godwits, a few teal and a single Shelduck on the mud, and a pair of Red-legged Partridge by the side.  They were all at the back of the pool and impossible to photograph.

On the other side of the path in the channel alongside the Ferry Long Pool was a single Little Egret fishing.  After some running around it flew across to the other side and suddenly shook itself sending all the feathers into a frizz!

We walked along the track towards Church Norton, and I recalled the time we had seen a Magpie Moth here, almost as soon as I thought this Helen pointed out a Magpie Moth, so this must be a guaranteed spot for this speckled beauty.  They are not known as day flyers, and this one was tucked away down amongst the thorns of a dog rose.

This part of the walk can be quite boring at the best of time, but with the tide out,  and it being mid July it was very quiet.  Once we came up from marsh, through the Oaks and onto the path that is lined on both sides by hedges we encountered a large swarm of orange flies.  They were very distinctive with two small black spots on the thorax.  A quick check at home revealed these to be Turnip Saw Flies.

The larvae typically feed on brassica plants, and over winter in the ground before emerging as adults in early summer.  They were everywhere, and it can not be a coincidence that the fields around Church Norton were growing beetroot.

We stopped at the mound to check the islands, the tide was low, and we could see Sandwich, Common and Little Terns but they were very distant.  There was no sign at all of any Peregrine.

It was still overcast, and with no sign of any potential breaks in the cloud, so as a result we walked on, heading past the Severals, and on to the private road that leads to the many converted railway carriages that are now used as beach homes.  This has always fascinated us, why are there so many converted railway carriages here.  Finally I managed to find out.  This was the easiest way to get a house close to the sea.  The carriages were discarded by the railway, and used at first by rich Victorians as a beach house as a way of avoiding planning, but then later were a source of housing for the not so wealthy.

Today the further rooms have been built around the carriages, but it is easy to see where the originals are, and some even still have "no smoking" etched on the glass windows.

Plants and flowers have grown up on the edge of the path, and these were attracting more butterflies.  This female large White on a Valerian flower.

While the Red Admiral enjoys the mass attraction of the purple flowers of the Buddleia.

We walked on, past the East Beach, and eventually to our stopping place the Lifeboat pub in Selsey.  The old Lifeboat house has now been removed, yet another feature of the this walk over the years I have been coming here now no longer about.

We had a drink in the garden, and at one point it started to drizzle, but fortunately not for long.  An adult Herring Gull was on the look out for any scraps coming from those having lunch.  Ever watchful I was able to get in close with a portrait shot.

Earlier that morning I had to watch yet another news clip about the marauding gulls in Whitby, and how they have to be controlled.  What infuriated me most was the fact that the reporter, bought some chips, and deliberately walked through a group of gulls in the hope he would be attacked.  These birds are opportunists, we have fed them and caused the problem, now we want to cull them as a result?

As we walked back, retracing our steps the sun started to come out.  The old fishing boats and crab pots standing out on the sea wall.

Overhead Mediterranean Gulls flew past calling, and on the sea you could hear the harsh screeching calls of the Sandwich Terns before you saw the bird.

Back at Church Norton I was surprised to find that the tide was still very low, I had hoped it would be higher and have pushed some of the waders closer.

The terns and gulls suddenly went up from island, looking around it seemed for no reason.  In amongst them were Sandwich and Little Terns plus a couple of Mediterranean Gulls.

Out on the mud a Whimbrel joined the more numerous Curlew.

We put in a good pace back along the path to the Ferry, the cloud had returned now, but was thin and you could still see and feel the sun through it.

On the Ferry Pool the five Black-tailed Godwits from earlier were now seven, and a little closer to the road.

The teasels around the visitor centre discovery centre were now being visited by large White butterflies which made a change from the Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown.

It was then the walk back to Sidlesham, and again a drink outside on the terrace.  Later we found out  that despite the cloud the sun still managed to get through, and I was grateful for the sun tan lotion I had decided to apply.  

A typical mid summer trip, quiet, but to be fair it is not all about the wildlife on these trips, it was about the weekend away in the summer time, good food and drink, location and people.

Monday, 10 July 2017

8th July - Havant Thicket, Browndown, and Shatterford Bottom NF, Hampshire

After the heat and sunshine of the previous days it was a little cooler, and overcast as I drove to meet Ian at Havant Thicket.  This could be a good thing as we were here to find more butterflies, and over the course of the last few weeks it is clear that the hot and sunny weather is not that conducive.  We had not visited here before so as we set off we consulted the map and headed for some of the areas we had read about as being suitable.  The paths were lined with Oak and Sallow trees which was promising, and along the open rides there were plenty of thistles in flower.

The first butterflies were seen around 8:30, and were of course the Meadow Browns.  These were then followed by a few Small Skippers.

They were still sleepy and you could really get close.

We passed a small triangle of oak and sallow, then came across another.  From here we followed the path past  a dirty pond and then into an opening fringed with bracken.  As the sun came out a White Admiral appeared, a little tatty, still never mind the first of the day.

Contrasting on a dead bracken leaf.

Gradually more appeared and there were three maybe four all warming up on the bracken leaves.  Gatekeepers were also about in good numbers, their orange upperwings flashing in the sunshine as they buzzed about, setting them out from the dull browns of the Meadow Browns, and the other darker brown Ringlets.

A Large Red Damselfly appeared on the Bracken.

We decided to explore a little more and set off along the ride in a westerly direction and almost immediately came across a Silver-washed Fritillary, again on a Bracken leaf.

Things were looking good, the target species being seen early.  But then the butterlies started to dry up, and it wasn't until we came across a dense clump of bracken and bramble in full sunshine that we saw any in good numbers.  The thistles were covered in Meadow Browns, and with the dark background it enabled them to show their individual, if brown, beauty. 

We were now walking towards Horsefoot Hill, the ride a little more enclosed, but still with Sallow and Oak on either side.  In the dappled sunshine it was not unexpected to fid the day's first Speckled Wood.

The Gatekeepers had been a challenge to photograph, but I managed to find one that presented an unusual aspect.

Meadow Browns would rise from the many bramble bushes as we walked past, the flowers are now going past their best, and green Blackberries can be seen.  A Longhorn Beetle on one of the flowers made a change.

Then a big surprise, a Beautiful Demoiselle in the tree above us.  It flitted about like a butterfly above us, as if teasing us, before settling and showing the beautiful colours in the wings and body.

The wings of a mature male are dark blue with a white spot,  the immature male has brown wings and no white spot.  This individual has brown wings, and a white spot so is a female.  The body is green with a bronze coloured tip.  Interestingly they are normally found along streams with sand and gravel bottoms.  What it was doing here is a mystery as the only water we saw was a dirty brown.

We turned back south heading down another open ride into the warm sunshine.  The White Admirals returned, and we watched as one flew low into a small birch sapling.  As we got closer we could see the reason for flying in, there was another admiral and they both came out and performed on a Bracken frond.

The sun would come and go, but the clouds were very watery and already it was getting quite hot.  We came across a Southern Hawker dragonfly that eventually stopped and perched in a tree for us to confirm the identification.

You can see the markings on the abdomen, the wings catching the sunlight.

There was still no sign of the sought after Purple Emperor, we stood in places for a while and walked up and down the rides in hope of catching sight as they flew above us, but other than the excitement of thinking a Silver-washed was one there was no sign at all.

In another open area, more White Admirals, we couldn't complain about not seeing any of these butterflies.

This one was in good condition, and we were able to get close, and also to get some shots of the under-wing.

This is I think is a female, the underside not as white close to the abdomen.

More standing around, waiting, staring at the trees, but with nothing happening.  A Gatekeeper helped pass the time.

At the small triangle a Silver-washed Fritillary appeared, flew around and then settled on a thistle head.

Another beautiful butterfly found around woodland and along woodland glades and rides.  The larval food plant is Common Dog Violet which exists on the woodland floor.  The females can be seen on the ground looking to lay eggs.  The bramble though is still an attraction.

It was decision time, what to do, should we continue walking around looking up at the trees, or move on in search of other summer specials.  We decided to move on, with Browndown as the destination and hopefully Purple Hairstreak and Grayling.  

On arriving we walked around the top edge of the area.  Stopping to look at a Common Blue that looks as if it has just freshly emerged, the second flight.

 Close by was a Six Spot Burnet moth.

Along the side of the path were many Marbled Whites, all very mobile in the warm sunshine.

We made our way along the fence down to the beach, but then disaster, the red flag was flying, and we were not going to see any Purple Hairstreaks or Graylings today!  What to do next, after an abortive attempt to visist Alver Lake we decided on a visit to Fishlake Meadows in the hope that the Osprey was there.  However as we drove along the M27 I just couldn't face the thought of standing at the view point, so when we came off the motorway and stopped at the lights I jumped out of the car and suggested to Ian we go to Shatterford Bottom in the New Forest.

This we did, avoiding Lyndhurst on a sunny summer's day.  Pulled into the car park where there were two spots available, and then set off down the track, heading for Denny Wood.  The first stop was the pools by the side of the path, these were also of interest to a herd of cows.  The water levels were well down, and at one point I thought one of the cows was going to get stuck in the mud.

The pool held several Keeled Skimmer dragonflies, and while they were all quite active they would also pause to rest on the surrounding vegetation.  There were lots of males contesting for a few females.  This is the male, a greyish blue in colour on the abdomen, with a small black tip to the tail, while the eyes are a lovely blue.

The females are a yellowish brown in colour.

But it was the Bell heather we were interested in, the habitat liked by the Silver-studded Blue.  This is a warmth loving butterfly, and the open sandy soil, plus the warm sunshine was perfect here for them.  Very quickly I found one.

Then they seemed to be almost everywhere you looked.  They are named for the light blue reflective scales seen on the underside of the adults, and are quite reflective when the light shines on them.

As with most blue butterflies the male is blue while the female is brown.  However there is a considerable variation in the appearance.  This extends to differences in the upperside colour and the width of the marginal border of the blue.  This is found to be wide in the New Forest butterflies in comparison to the narrow ban in butterflies found in Devon.

There were lots of brown females about attracting the attention of many males.  One brown butterfly was definitely larger, and much more clearly marked.  It was not a blue in the sense of the name, but a Brown Argus.  Good news for Ian the first for him this year, at last some good news for the day.

But it was back to the Silver-studded Blues.  Pairs could be seen spinning around the grass stems in amongst the heather.

Scanning across the heather there were hundreds of them flitting about just above the top of the heather, never really going far away, using the heather for shelter and soaking up the warm sunshine.  This shows the habitat, and the weather conditions today, but what you don't manage to experience is the sheer numbers of butterflies that were present.

The heather then came to a stop, and was replaced by a lush green bracken as we walked into Denny Wood.  Family parties of Robins and Great Tits could be both seen and heard in the trees around us, but there was also the year's first Spotted Flycatcher, again some good news for the day.

We walked through the wood, then out along Bishop's Dyke.  Normally this is a wet and boggy path requiring detours to avoid getting a wet foot.  Today though all was dry, and it just didn't seem quite right.  A male Redstart put in a brief appearance, but was gone almost as quick as it appeared.  The large pool of water held several Snipe, and four Lapwing, plus another wader that required a closer look.  It went form sight, but as we got closer all the Lapwing went up and a Redshank could be heard calling, eventually the Redshank landed in a dead tree stump, which was quite hard to see.

The assumption was that the small wader we had seen was probably a young Redshank, and the parent was protecting it.

We made our way back to the path, and found a Willow Warbler in the bracken, and another male Redstart, this time it stuck around long enough for a distant photograph.

There was also a juvenile bird about, but this also avoided us

The pools at the bridge were very dry and the water didn't look very palatable, as a result there were no dragonflies about.  We walked back through the heather once more, with more Silver-studded Blues about, and calling Stonechats away in the distance.

The pool by the railway bridge was a little more productive with once again a lot of Keeled Skimmers, and several Blue-tail and Common Blue Damselflies.  As we stood watching these an Emperor dragonfly appeared (at least we saw one Emperor today!), and finally decided to stop on the heather to consume the unfortunate insect it had caught.

Here you can see the difference between the Emperor and the Southern Hawker is not really that close, the Emperor having much more blue in the abdomen, no stripes on the thorax, and bluish green eyes.

We made our way back to the cars with still a few Silver-studded Blues about, and along the railway line many House Martins hawking insects.  We couldn't decide whether it had been a disappointing day or not?  Missing out on Browndown was annoying, and no Purple Emperor was frustrating as the chance this year most likely now has gone.  The Silver-studded Blue experience was wonderful, as was the Spotted Flycatcher unexpected.  In total we saw 19 butterfly species which is credible, so a good day?  Not  bad!