Monday, 20 July 2015

18th July - Alice Holt Forest & Thursley Common

After a week of overcast and humid conditions the skies finally cleared Saturday morning just at the right time. Ian and I had decided to try for the Emperor, and were following reports of several being seen in the Straits Inclosure. We arrived in bright sunshine, but with a slight breeze that took some of the warmth away.  

We set off down the main track with Meadow Browns and gatekeeper on either side of the path in the grass. Very quickly we came across a Silver-washed Fritillary which floated over the trees stopping occasionally but never giving the clear opportunity for a photograph. I was not too Concerned I had the feeling that there would be quite a few about today.

The first butterfly to present itself was a very smart Red Admiral that sat on the path in front of us.

The open rides here present some lovely photographic backgrounds, the plants and butterflies being lit by the sunshine and the woodland providing a lovely dark blurred background. None more so than with this Large White on a thistle.

On one of the tracks off the path the open area was very grassy and we found out only Marbled White of the day, a female.

We walked slowly along the track, scouring the tops of the surrounding Oak Trees for any movement. As I looked up I noticed a small butterfly falling down in front of me, and as it did so the sun would catch the wings and a blue flash. When it finally landed with wings closed I could see the distinct under-wing markings of a Purple Hairstreak, and as it settled it opened its wings.

I called Ian over but as he made his way off what it away and back up to the Oak.

The chance to get the Silver Washed Fritillary did not take long, and I was able to get one with a lovely black background, showing the lovely silver washed under-wing.

And then what it off in a blur of orange.

On approaching the observation tower we began to see a few White Admiral, at first there were one or two that were a little tatty on the wings but I managed to find one That was a little more acceptable.

At the tower the bramble bush was covered in Silver-washed Fritillaries and Meadow Browns. As I stood and watched a small butterfly appeared in front of me then flew away only to be found by someone by the bramble bush. It was another Purple Hairstreak and had settled on a hazel leaf in the sunshine, and this time I was able to get views of the under-wing patterns.

It sat quite content as it was photographed by many.

Back at the bramble bush and surrounding grasses the butterflies were increasing, we started to see quite a few skippers. Mainly Small Skipper at first.

But Essex skipper too.

With the large numbers of Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper about it would have been wrong not to have photographed at least one of each.

Meadow Brown.

And the Gatekeeper.

My attention then returned to the Silver-washed Fritillaries that were buzzing around the Bramble and over the oaks.

At times dancing off high into the sky in pairs or even in threes a twirling ballet, but coming back down to briefly nectar on the flowers available.

Then a large butterfly flew past us, coming from the the middle of the Oaks. It flew around out of our sight, but fortunately it what seen by someone else who picked it up sitting on a Sallow leaf. It was what we had come for, the Purple Emperor. At the time we considered it to be at the male, but on closer looks now I believe it was a female.

Every so often it would open its wings.

As it did so you could see quite a bit of wing damage and wear, but non the less when the wings are shut it remained a magnificent specimen.

Then it was hearts in the mouth time as it flew off, but fortunately settling in a better position.

What was difficult to see here was the shimmering blues in the wings when they opened that give the butterfly its name and status. At the time I think we were hoping, but the fact we couldn't now would fit with the identification of a female. It is a very elusive butterfly staying close to the canopy in amongst the oaks. The butterfly imbibes moisture from unsavory items, a favorite being scats fox. More acceptable they will take sap from cracks in the trees or honey dew from aphids.

During July the males search for females around the Sallow trees on which the caterpillars will feed. They will launch themselves at anything did enters the air space, many female avoid the males but if one is particularly needy then courtship will begin. Anything else that enters the territory is in trouble as the butterfly will aggressively chase anything off. If it happens to be another male Emperor then its open warfare, Hence the battle scars as seen here.

Finally this specimen decided It was time to leave and in a blur it was gone over the Sallow and away into the Oaks.

We did see another one briefly fly over the top of the trees but were not treated to another lengthy view.

As we waited in the hope of one though there were plenty of other butterflies to entertain, and a couple of Dragonflies. There were two Brown Hawkers, and a pair of Common Hawkers. The Common Hawker was more confiding than the Brown.

White Admiral had not been numerous, but as it approached mid day they started to increase, being seen a lot on the bramble.

Again with the lovely dark background.

By now we had counted 16 species of butterfly in about a space of half a mile. There were several common species missing, notably Peacock which then duly appeared in front of us.

Lots of cut tree trunks were an attraction to many insects due to the warmth of the sun on the deadwood. This grasshopper looked quite spectacular.

I believe it is a Meadow Grasshopper, but as always open to debate.

We decided to make our way back, and almost immediately found a Green-veined White that took the count to 18. Then there was an approachable Comma on a leaf.

A Little further on in a patch of sunlight on the path a blue butterfly flew around. From the paleness of the blue we suspected Holly Blue, which was confirmed when it settled onto the Path.

Our count what now 19, but with still the opportunity for more. As we reached the cars and was having a drink before heading on we noticed a flowering buddleia in a garden on the other side of the road. A reach for the binoculars, a scan of the flowerheads, and as a suspected Small Tortoiseshell was there, number 20 for this Site!

It was now quite warm and the sky clear so we decided we would drive around to Thursley Common to see if we could add to the number of Dragonflies we had seen so far today. After lunch in the car park we headed down the main path to be greeted by a male Brimstone heading towards us, number 21 for the day. There were also plenty of skippers in amongst the heather, mostly Large Skippers.

A little further on and yet another new butterfly for the day, a Common Blue.

We were seeing lots of pale blue dragonflies with a black end to the abdomen. Out initial identification was a Black-tailed Skimmer but it turns out this was completely wrong. These are in fact Keeled skimmer. They are a lot slimmer and smaller than the black-tailed with only a small amount of black on the tail, although this did vary. The abdomen is straight whereas in the Black-tailed it is more cigar shaped.

We followed the boardwalk through the bog pools where We could see lots of dragonflies above the water. While they were mostly Keeled skimmer there were larger ones too, and we managed to see to an Emperor that was chased off by a Keeled, and Four-spotted chaser.

A medium sized dragonfly, it can be seen flying around Usually the edge of pools, always returning to a favorite perch. It is a migrant species and many be found away from where they have emerged.

So there were several Damselfies about, one or two were Large Reds, but by far the greater number were Azure Blues.

Walking along the boardwalk it paid to keep an eye on the path and the surrounding heather. In one bus we found this Grasshopper or Cricket.

This I think is a Bog Bush Cricket, unsurprisingly found around bogs and wet ground.

The sunshine was warm, and in a sheltered spot on the boardwalk there were several Common Lizards basking in the sunshine.

I counted at least eight of thesis lovely reptiles. I have not had the opportunity to photograph them so closely before, and you can really appreciate the different markings on the skin.

A very bright skipper caught the eye and it warranted a closer look, but in the end we were decided it was in fact a very bright Large Skipper.

Off the wooden boardwalk the path becomes sand, and here we found another Bog Bush Cricket.

And then back on the boardwalk another meadow grasshopper.

Once again there were many Keeled Skimmers, but a larger brightly colored dragonfly with black and gold rings on the abdomen flew past us. It never stopped but it had all the credentials for a Golden-ringed Dragonfly, plus it what in the right place as they like acidic pools.

In consolation at not getting a close view of the Golden-ringed, Ian found a leaf-cutter bee on the boardwalk with a piece of leaf.

The Leaf-cutter Bee is a solitary bee nests in holes did in planning stems, deadwood, cliffs or old walls. They cut discs out of leaves, gluing them together with saliva in order to build the 'cells' in which their larvae live. The larvae hatch and develop, pupating in autumn and winter hibernating over. The Leaf-cutter Bee is on the wing from April to August and feed on pollen and nectar. I had never seen one before, or probably never noticed one before.

A little further on there what another good view of a four-spotted chaser sitting just above the mud of a pool.

We had walked back on ourselves around the boardwalk again in hope that we may get the chance to see a hobby, but strangely with all the dragonflies on the wing there was no sign of a single one.

We headed down the main track towards the car park, but stopped to watch someone photographing in a bank of heather. When he surfaced we asked what was there and he said Black Darter, so we stopped and made our way through the heather. Despite the fact that the dragonfly was pointed out to us it was extremely difficult to see being superbly camouflaged on the heather.

This one is a mature male, the black darter dragonfly is the only small that is almost entirely black. Males are black with dark yellow spots along the sides, while females and juveniles are brownish-yellow.

This is a common dragonfly of moorlands, heaths and bogs. As their name suggests, black darters have a darting and somewhat skittish flight, moving forward suddenly from a hovering position to catch their insect-prey.

There were several immature males about

The black coloring has a thermoregulatory function which allows them to operate in cold conditions. The immatures were quite happy to sit on the top of the heather soaking up what what now a watery sunshine.

As they did so the light would glint orange on the wings.

We left the darters and headed back to the car. Quite an amazing morning with all the butterflies and of course the emperor. A record total of 22 butterflies for the day, and in the afternoon at least four new dragonflies, and an appreciation of Grasshoppers. It was nice to be able to walk around and observe Thursley the other life away from birds, something I have not done before.

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