There was more sun about today than on Saturday, but there was also a fresher breeze which might be a problem for some of the butterflies. We parked in a car park that Ian and I had missed last week, and walked up the hill to the reserve. As we came out onto the down it was breezy but immediately we came across Marbled Whites, some drifted past us while a few sat in the shelter of the bushes on the leaves.
A walk through the field of wild flowers was lovely in terms of colour and the sight of Bumble and Carder Bees on the Sain Foil, but the wind kept all but the hardy Meadow Browns away. We walked around to the chalk pit where the shelter turned up a pristine Small Tortoiseshell on the chalk.
At the end of the pit in even greater shelter there were several Small Blues flying. It never ceases to amaze me at the tenacity of these little butterflies, as a Tortoiseshell flew over they were prepared to take them on flying up to meet them and give chase.
Last week we had seen a few Garden Chaffers but the photographs were not very good. There was still quite a few about on the parsley flowers. Smaller than the chafers or May Bugs I have caught in the moth trap, these insects in the larval form can completely destroy a garden lawn as they feed on the roots. Hence their turning up here where there are lots of grass roots to sustain them.
The chalk pit also turned up a first for the year a Small Skipper
Coming out into the open gives you a wonderful view looking south across fields. A close look revealed that the poppies flowering in the field has increased from last week.
We headed down the hill to the sheltered spots at the bottom of the south side of the down. we had seen many Marbled Whites by now, but came across this one that once again had only just emerged and was going through the process of drying the wings. It was crawling about on the ground between the grass flapping its wings and looking for a suitable grass stem to climb.
With the wind it was difficult to move up the stem, so we gently gave it some assistance. You could feel the dampness of the butterfly as it crawled over out hands. Finally it managed to find a stem it was happy to climb, and we watched as it made its way up, and then stopped to move about in the breeze
Over the last few days I have seen many Meadow Browns, and already I am beginning to go "only a Meadow Brown", the Woodpigeon of the butterfly world! So feeling guilty I stopped and photographed one that was showing well.
Yesterday there were orchids everywhere on the down grassland. Similar conditions here on Magdalen Hill, but there were very few orchids. We only found this Pyramidal Orchid in amongst the grass and flowers,
We walked the sheltered spots in the hope of finding Brown Argus, but it was just that a hope, we are now right on the extreme range of its flying time, and unfortunately we couldn't find any at all.
The grasses and flowers tough looked lovely as we made our way to the far end of the reserve.
As we reached the far end of the reserve it became more woodland and sheltered. We found a lesser Whitethroat singing in the hawthorn bushes along with the more commoner Whitethroat.
From a distance I could see a brown orange stem, and as I got closer I thought it was an orchid, maybe a Bird's Nest Orchid. However when I got back and researched this I found that it is in fact a Knapweed Broomrape.
Similar to the Bird's Nest Orchid it is a parasitic plant, but not on beech like the orchid but on Greater Knapweed, and occasionally it uses members of the Daisy and Ranunculaceae Buttercup families as its hosts, all flowers that can be found here in great numbers.
There is a similarity with the Bird’s-nest Orchid, the Orchid flower heads having a two lobed lip while the Broomrape has three lobed lips.
It grows on short and dry grassland, in thickets and meadows all with alkaline soils and blooms from the beginning of June to the end of July.
We made our way up to the top of the down once more, and were rewarded with more spectacular views across the fields to the south.
One surprise was looking down on to a football field. At this time of year you can get collections of non-breeding gulls inland on open fields. But what I didn't expect was to find several Mediterranean Gulls in the field. This is definitely a record shot but the characteristic black hood is visible on an few and they also appear all white. There had been a few records of small flocks around Cheriton in the last few weeks so I would think they have hung around.
we walked back towards the middle of the down, pausing again to admire the view this time though looking north.
From here we started to walk back down the hill. here bushes provided shelter from the wind, and it warmed up in the sunshine. With the warmth the insects became more active.
As well as the butterflies there were a few day flying moths. Along with the common Grass Rivulets that would shoot out of the grass as you walked by there were Burnet Companions
And this Four Spotted Moth
There were plenty of Common Blues and large Skippers, and every sop often a Small Skipper that was examined closely to see if there were any black clubs on the end of the antennae that would change the identification.
With there being so many Burnet companions there had to be a few Burnet moths. There were several Cinabars but I only found one Five Spot Burnet.
Right atthe bottom of the hill I was chasing a Blue butterfly that may have been an Adonis when I noticed a duller on settled on a stem. A closer look revealed the dull butterfly to be a Green Hairstreak, a big surprise as I thought they were now past their season.
From the bottom of the hill we made our way back to the car, and pondered on why we had never come here before. Many times we have driven past, not realising what a beautiful spot this is, and while their is the sound of traffic as you walk around the down, as Helen said it makes it special because as those cars zip by they don't know you are there and that you can see this lovely place.