Sunday, 29 July 2012

Alice Holt Forest - 28th July

This time last year we had only just caught the butterfly bug on the back of a walking holiday in the French Alps.  Last July we walked around Bookham Common in Surrey in the hope of seeing the Purple Emperor, but we were unlucky.  This weekend was the first time we had been able to go looking this year, and with the warm weather and some reliable sightings at locations in Alice Holt we tried again.

We set off from the car park for the Straits Inclosure. The walk took us down a firm path, and we were entertained by Silver-washed fritillaries and the usual Ringlets and Meadow Browns.  The Silver-washed Fritillaries were just warming up, so they were happy to sit on the thistle flowers.

The path took us through a grass field that was high with grasses and thistles.  The sun was now quite warm, and all you could hear was the sound of bees buzzing, and grasshoppers and crickets singing from the long grass.  On the thistle was a few Meadow Browns, and Ringlets.

From the field we followed a wet footpath, finally coming out into an opening with an observation tower.  This was the reported location and we were not alone and were greeted with the news that there had been some sightings just before we had arrived.  We stood and waited scanning the trees and bushes, but all we saw was Silver-washed Fritillaries, a single White Admiral, Meadow Browns and this Large Skipper.

Never ones to enjoy standing still for too long we set off along the track to another observation tower, in another clearing.  The sun was now fighting with the clouds, and every so often would disappear.  When this happened the activity would drop off, but with the sun out the Silver-washed and White Admirals would patrol the bramble and thistles.  This White Admiral sat in the sunshine, it's a shame that the left hand upper wing is damaged.

The Silver-washed Fritillaries looked stunning on the thistle heads, and with the height of the thistles it was also possible to photograph them from different angles.

This one looks stunning from below as the sun lights up the upper wings

All this was very nice, but we hadn't managed to see our quarry, so we started to walk back to the original site.  Truth be known we had probably given up and were ready to go back to the car.  But as we stood there watching the trees, and hoping that a butterfly would turn up and say "I am a Purple Emperor", along came Mark.  His entrance was announced by one of our fellow watchers, and we found out that the emperors had shown well yesterday here and that there were non seen at the other location, Abbots Wood.

Within minutes he had pointed out two Purple Hairstreaks in the oak next to us, The view wasn't brilliant but I now know what to look for around the Oaks.  After the hairstreaks he found almost as quickly an emperor, it was a female flying between the Oaks and the Sallows.  It never settled but I was able to get on it with binoculars, and could see the large size, and the white in the wing.  The flight was strong and direct, and not as flitty as the White Admirals that then appeared to tease us.  The female would put in short appearances, but did not settle.

One of our fellow observers had walked down the path, and called out that there was a male, and sure enough once we had got there we were treated to the sight of two males flying along side the Sallows.  Apparently according to Mark they do this to search out the females.  I was able to watch them again with binoculars, and the white in the wing stood out so clearly.  We followed one male back in thee direction of the females, but then lost it.  But as we searched for it a female flew out of one of the oaks and perched in another, at last the chance, but as I focused the camera she was off, and all I got was this abstract blur of a Purple Emperor.

The female was then joined by another, and they were both prepared to sit in the Sallows close to us.  Still up high, I was able to get this shot as she perched on the edge of the tree.

The other female came back around in front of us, and then sat in the middle of the tree, and stayed there for a while.

So at last we had caught up with the emperor, unfortunately we were not able to photograph the male, but that is just being greedy.  It is a stunning butterfly to watch, the flight is so strong, and it exudes this majesty that you do not see in others.  We were also very grateful to Mark, because without him I don't think we would have seen them.  Now we know exactly what to look for.  They do not perch in front of you like the smaller butterflies, they make it difficult for you, and you have to know the jizz, and to get that it helps to have it pointed out.

We walked back to the car as the clouds now gathered and the shade became more of the norm than the sun.  As we approached the car park Helen stopped suddenly and pointed out a beautiful tall orchid.  It turns out this is a Broad-leaved Helleborine.  They grow in the shade due to the fact that they have a relationship with a fungus that provides them with food not available through photosynthesis.  Another new find to go with the Purple Emperors.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Sidlesham, Pagham & Selsey - 13th -15th July

We have always enjoyed the Selsey Peninsula, and try to spend time there when we can.  We have a guilty pleasure, the Crab and Lobster restaurant and hotel in Sidlesham, and have now stayed there four times.  It is ideal access to walk either side of Pagham Harbour, and across the peninsula, it is also a lovely room, and the restaurant is superb.

We were last here over New Year, and while the fields were not bone dry, they were easily passable.  On the Friday evening we set off through Halsey's farm taking the footpath away from the harbour, this had been the easier route at New Year, but this time it was flooded, with the water going over the ankles of our wellies!  At the North Wall, the tide was still out, and there was a very fresh breeze blowing.  The Little Egrets were making their prehistoric calls from the wood alongside the rife.  This is a very strange sound, and the first time I heard them I was completely confused wondering what could make the sound.  They nest here, and can be seen commuting from the trees to the harbour.

Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings sang from the reeds, and Curlew would fly over, and could be seen feeding on the exposed mud, but apart from that it was very quiet.  On the breech pool a lone Great Crested Grebe took the opportunity for a rest alongside a Coot tucked away in the reeds.  Further back on some mud there was a few Redshank and Lapwing.

Dinner was calling so we made our way back to the pub, this time taking the other footpath to Halsey's farm, which was not so wet and muddy which was something of a surprise.  Along the hedgerow we found a few Meadow Browns on the Bramble flowers, and a strange "kite" in one of the fields.

Saturday started dry, but with a varied forecast, away to the south there was blue sky and sun, but to the north it was dark and foreboding clouds.  We set off towards Church Norton, pausing at the mill to look at the pond where a young Coot was calling quite loudly for it's parent.  The young Coots can never be called cute, and this one was no exception, but I suppose the parents love it!

We took the footpath towards the visitor centre, the tide by now had fallen and reeds exposed.  Curlew could be heard calling over the harbour, but this one was closer in amongst the grass and reeds.

The path is sheltered on both sides, and in the sun there was some butterfly activity, we came off the footpath to walk through to the visitor centre.  From the start of the year the RSPB have taken over the responsibility of managing the reserve which was originally the responsibility of the West Sussex local authority.  It is early days yet but already you can see benefits from this with areas left for the flowers.  The area around the visitor centre was also benefiting from the wet summer, with plenty of nettles, ragwort and bramble, these proving to be irresistible to the butterflies, there were Large White, Small White, Green-Veined White and my first Gatekeeper of the year sunning them selves on the leaves.

Green-Veined White

The area seemed alive with butterflies, something of a rarity this summer, a little further on we came across some Large Skippers, this one sunning itself quite close to another green-veined white.

We walked though the visitor centre, and out to the Ferry Pool, we probably were in the wrong for viewing from the road, but in the past I have found you get better views there.  Unfortunately the reported Glossy Ibis wasn't there, but the water levels were back to where I remember them in the late eighties when this was a magnet for for passage waders.  There were 22 Black-tailed Godwits, 3 Green Sandpiper, 2 Common Sandpipers, and 7 Avocet.  Of the Avocet, 2 were juveniles, with a brown plumage instead of the black that can be seen in the adults.  One minute the adults would rest, then they would set off to feed vigorously in the shallow water

The Godwits were a little further away from the road, but looked gorgeous in their brick red summer plumage.

From the Ferry Pool we walked back into the reserve to walk down to Church Norton.  In the discovery area around the centre there was a large collection of Teasel that was just beginning to flower.  You could imagine once these seed they will be a huge attraction for Goldfinches, but for now they were collecting bees, and water drops.

A little further on another insect attracted to the teasel was a Ladybird, that looked lost amongst the spiny leaves.

Another feature of the walk was the number of day flying moths.  The first was a Yellow Shell, the next a Magpie, and then finally, doing an impersonation of Batman, a Cinnabar Moth.

The clouds were closing in on us now, but the sun still was still shining, and I was hopeful we would stay dry.  With the clouds and sun though, it provided some interesting light, and this Coot that was on a pool close to the path looks positively superb in the light against the green of the water and reed reflections.

Once again there was plenty of butterfly activity on the path, mostly associated with Meadow Browns.  Unfortunately a yellow butterfly went through, and didn't stop, it didn't look at all like a Brimstone, and is probably the wrong time of year, so definitely one missed.  The Small Skippers though were very abundant, sitting on the grass or nectaring from the thistles.

It was now very black to the north, and the dark clouds made the buildings around the Crab and Lobster in Sidlesham stand out.

The footpath drops down on to the saltmarsh as we approach Church Norton, and the first thing we notice is the samphire growing at the edge of the mud.  Who knows it could be on the menu tonight.  Up on to the beach, and the sea was quite a way out now and very still, this being in stark contrast to the last time we had been by the sea in Cornwall.  The clouds were now gathering, and rumbles of thunder indicated that a storm was very close.  Still in sunshine though we headed off in the direction of the Bill.  Looking back these Teasels contrasted well with the dark clouds and the pebble beach.

The gardens of the chalets and houses close to the beach were full of flowers, and they attracted more butterflies, along with caterpillars, these being Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars on Ragwort.

We could now see the forked lightning as well as hearing the thunder, and there were extremely dark clouds over the Bill.  The lifeboat station was our target as we knew there was a pub close, but we had to decide to stop and change into waterproofs or try and get there before the storm hit.  We decided to go for it, and didn't make it.  About 200 metres from the lifeboat station, the skies emptied and we were soaked.  We eventually found shelter, and after 20 minutes the rain eased and we made it to the pub.  We set off later, but more rain drew an end to the day and we returned to the Crab and Lobster, to dry out and a nap before dinner, which featured sea bass and samphire, superb!

Sunday turned out to be sunny once again, so after breakfast we decided to walk to Pagham Lagoon via the North Wall.  We thought we may be able to get a better route via the edge of the harbour, but we really should have taken notice of the Jackdaw that was telling us to go the other way.

This footpath was very muddy and wet, so we headed back to the path through Halsey's Farm.  The sun was very warm, as you would expect in July, and with the excessive water it felt very humid.  The sun though had brought out the Meadow Browns, that were almost everywhere.  In fact on one bramble bush I don't think I have ever seen so many in one spot.

Up on to the North Wall, and the tide was a little higher that Friday.  Reed Warblers sang from the reeds, and this one just managed to show as it sang continuously.

The Little Egrets continued to make their prehistoric calls from the wood, and a pair of Reed Buntings were visible in the reeds near the Breech Pool.  The water levels were higher than on Friday, and where there had been mud present then, it was now gone, and with it the Redshank and Lapwing.  As I scanned the marsh, Helen alerted me to something overhead, getting on to it revealed it was unmistakeably a Peregrine.  It soared over us for a short while before drifting out across the harbour

We walked off towards the beach, without anything else to report.  At the beach there was quite a bit of activity, but of the human kind.  We walked along the beach, interested in one or two of the houses, and to see what the reported erosion had done to the beach, and the threat to the houses.  One feature though was the groups of juvenile Starlings.  They are always an attraction, with their antics, however this group occupied the roof top of one of the bungalows, and as you look along the roof you can see they all seem to be up to something.

We headed back to Sidlesham, only really seeing more Meadow Browns, after picking up the car we dropped into the visitor centre to check out the Ferry Pool.  The Glossy Ibis was nowhere to be seen, but there was another good count of 20 plus Black-tailed Godwits, and 5 Avocet.  After that we headed back to Hampshire, after another thoroughly enjoyable weekend.