Monday, 9 May 2016

7th May - Browndown, Titchfield Canal Path & Noar Hill, Hampshire

The weather had finally turned seasonal, and almost unseasonable once again in a good way.  The Daily Mail as always was proclaiming it was going to be "hotter than Ibiza!", and through the week it had been gradually warming up to the weekend.  South easterly winds along the south coast had seen some wonderful sea watches with Pomarine and Arctic Skuas moving east.  In light of all this I was meeting Ian for the day out, and we decided to start at Browndown to watch the sea.  I was up early, and down by the beach at just before 6.00pm, it was still with a fairly wide cloud cover, and out on the sea murky conditions with a mist reducing visibility.  On the foreshore Gulls and Common Terns were feeding in the shallow water.



The odd Common Tern and Sandwich Tern would pass all heading east, but just  before 6.30 am there was a steady stream of terns, all moving purposefully east. Scanning over the water I noticed a dark bird chasing a tern, then it broke away ad flew forcefully low over the water past.  All dark it was an Arctic Skua, unmistakeable again when you see one flying, the pointed wings and strong flight very clear.



A distant shot in the murk, but at least a record.

At that point my hopes were raised could this be the start of a similar movement that had been seen all week.  A little later Ian picked up five duck coming towards us.  Common Scoter, and they too went past heading east towards Stokes Bay.



There were to be two more Common Scoter a little before 8.00 am, and a single Little Tern following a group of Common Terns but that was about it for the morning sea watch, a little disappointing considering the activity elsewhere in the week, but you have to come to terms with the fact that nothing is guaranteed.

The consolation was the close views of Sandwich Terns as they past just over the beach.



Just before 9.00am we decided to call it  a day and headed to Titchfield haven where we decided to walk the canal path.  As we set off on the footpath, just past the reserve entrance a Cuckoo called from within the reserve.  We managed to see a very distant bird sitting in a Willow tree.  The Cuckoo was to call most of the time we were walking, and it seemed as if there might be more than one bird present as the calls did seem to be apart.

While watching the Cuckoo, and hoping it would come closer we did get good views of a Whitethroat.



And right beside us a loud plop in the water signalled the arrival of a Water Vole.



Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps sang from the trees as we walked along the path.  A little further on another Water Vole was sitting on the bank tucking into the stem of some nettles, it seemed to not be concerned about us watching eat, it would turn to the sound of the camera, so I am not sure how well their eyesight is.



A little further on a Grey Heron landed on the path in front of us and stood for a while.



we turned down the footpath to view the Posbrook Floods, but apart from a Red Admiral, and two Common Terns all was quiet, very quiet.  Coming back we passed several Orange Tips that were on a mission, and above us Mediterranean Gulls hawked insects and were calling, joined by a couple of Swifts.



The conditions were ideal for hirundines, but there was no sign of any, it was extremely quiet considering the conditions.  From the reeds we could hear but not see Reed Warblers, and every so often a Sedge Warbler would burst into the air after a round of sing, but would always go back out of sight.  Cetti's Warblers blasted out there song as we passed, and I managed to get a quick glimpse of one as it skulked back out of sight after delivering a blast to the ear drums.



At last we managed to find a butterfly that would settle, a male Brimstone



Which was then followed by a rather worn out Peacock which at first had me thinking it was a Tortoiseshell.


We arrived back at the reserve with the Cuckoo calling once again.  The tide was high with the sea right up to the sea wall in places.  In the harbour the islands were all dominated with Black-headed Gulls, but two Common Terns didn't seem to mind the noise, and were sleeping it off in the now quite warm sunshine.


We popped into the visitor centre to see what was about, but it seemed quiet there too.  As we left a Black-headed Gull sat on the reserve sign, an apt scene, as the reserve is pretty much dominated by Black-headed Gulls at this time.

On the beach there were a few Turnstone, and a group of ten Sanderling.  With the paucity of birds to photograph this morning we walked along the beach to get close to the Sanderlings


Some bits of their summer plumage coming through in the feathers, contrasting with the dark and light grey.


With the warm sunshine, calm conditions the afternoon was going to be all about butterflies, and at this time of year it was time to go an pay our homages to the Duke, so we set off for Noar Hill.

On arrival there were plenty of cars parked at the bottom of the hill, and as we walked up the path towards the reserve entrance a male Orange Tip was nectaring on the flowers by the side of the hedge.


it moved from flower to flower showing both the orange tips and the lovely pattern of green blotches on the underwing.


A beautiful little butterfly that seems to herald the start of the season.


On the reserve we walked through the dips and hollows, and soon saw our first Duke, but it was gone before the camera could focus.  It was though quickly replaced by another small butterfly, nowhere near as spectacular in colour as the Duke, but in its own way a special little insect, the Dingy Skipper.


Despite its name, a freshly-emerged Dingy Skipper, which this probably was, reveals a subtle pattern of browns and greys that is quite beautiful. However, this butterfly does live up to its name as scales are lost over time, resulting in a lacklustre and drab appearance. This is our most widely-distributed skipper in the UK, despite its decline due to changes in farming practice.

It sat with its wings fully open, and then as it warmed the wings were brought up into the more familiar shape of a Skipper.


As well as the butterflies there are also quite a few farmland and woodland birds about on the reserve, a Marsh Tit called and then flew over our heads settling in a bush above us.


We followed a white butterfly, that when it settled turned into a female Brimstone.


The open grassland is dominated by yellow Cowslips, but every so often there would be patches of Early Purple Orchids, the flower stems standing out amongst the yellow of the cowslips.


The Dingy Skippers were proving difficult to track.  You could pick one up, then it would seem to just disappear as it flew over the grass.  Fortunately this one settled on a Cowslip flower and could be seen.


Another white butterfly turned into, this time, a female Orange Tip, the black tips to the wings, and the green blotches on the underwing clearly seen.


We made our way to the far end of the reserve to a sheltered dip which is a regular location for the Duke.  We passed a singing Firecrest in the same place I had photographed it last year.  We could see it in the trees, moving through the Beech branches but it never showed clearly.  A Holly Blue also flew past unfortunately not stopping.

Walking carefully through the cowslips and short grass I finally managed to find a Duke of Burgundy that would sit still in the sunshine.


The Duke of Burgundy is the sole representative of a subfamily known as the "metalmarks", since some of its cousins, particularly those found in south America, have a metallic appearance.

There were two now about, this one settling on a leaf.


A curious characteristic of this subfamily is that the female has 6 fully-functional legs, whereas the male has only 4 - the forelegs being greatly reduced.  Here you can see the back two pair of legs, and no foreleg.


This butterfly is found mainly in central southern England, where most colonies only contain around a dozen individuals at the peak of the flight season.

This butterfly was, in the past, primarily known as a woodland butterfly, where it fed on Primroses growing in dappled sunlight, with a number of colonies in chalk and limestone grassland. However, the cessation of coppicing in woodlands has had a marked effect on this species, with many woodland colonies dying out as a result. Primrose is used as the larval food plant in woodland, whereas Cowslip is used on grassland, plenty of which are found at Noar Hill.


The wind picked up, and blew the Cowslip, but amazingly this tiny butterfly could hang on.


We left the Duke and went looking for another speciality here at this time of year, the Green Hairstreak.  There are plenty of Juniper bushes, its favoured location, and we walked around them.  A brief glimpse of one was not going to be enough, and finally I found one sitting on a branch.


Despite the fact that it favours Juniper here at Noar Hill, this butterfly has the widest range of foodplants of any British species, which includes Bilberry, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Broom, Common Rock-rose, Dogwood, Bramble and Gorse.

The upper wing is a dark brown, but is hardly seen, The under wing in contrast provide the illusion of being green, an effect produced by the diffraction of light on a lattice-like structure found within the wing scales, which provides excellent camouflage as the butterfly rests on a favourite perch.

It will also regulate body temperature by turning the wings to either face or be away from the sun.


All three now safely in the bag we walked around the reserve to see what else we could find.  A Chiffchaff sang well out in the open.


While a Yellowhammer gave I an the run around as he searched for a year tick.


Close the reserve entrance another Duke appeared and performed close to us.  Again you can see the two prominent back legs.


Blackcaps and Whitethroats had been singing and at time luring us closer in the hope that they might be a Garden Warbler.  By the gate to the reserve though a warbler was singing that had all the right credentials for a Garden Warbler, and after quite a search we managed to get an acceptable view through the branches.


in a few weeks it will be very difficult to see them as the leaves finally all emerge and they sing from the middle of the trees.

before we left we had a walk around one of the little quarries, and a Common Carder Bee was nectaring on the Dandelion.


As we walked down the path back to the cars away to the north it looked like thunder clouds were forming.


Fortunately we didn't get any rain.  Noar Hill once again had delivered this lovely little reserve being a wonderful place to spend a sunny afternoon.  The morning had been relatively quiet, but at last the butterfly season was up and running, the Duke herlading hopefully a good year.

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