Monday, 18 July 2016

16th July - Hill Head, Gosport, Browndown and Alice Holt Forest, Hampshire

It was definitely a lot warmer when I left the house, and after the disappointment of overcast skies on Friday, and the forecast now of more cloud for Saturday the sight of the blue sky and sunshine was welcome as I set off for Titchfield haven early in the morning.  As I reached Winchester though the cloud returned, but looking south I could see a bank of blue sky once again, and on arrival there were lovely views of the isle of Wight in glorious early morning light.

The tide was up. and away over the haven Common Terns were calling and fishing in the shallow water, then heading out to sea.  A little Egret was patrolling the water close to the reeds on the far bank sending some lovely reflections across the water.

We were here early to see if there was anything moving on the sea.  Far out we could see plenty of terns fishing in the main channel, and I an spotted an adult Gannet that dropped to the water never to be seen again, and that was about it for the sea watch.  The entertainment was provided by the Common Terns as they fished the shallow water, disturbing and surprising the rather large Mullet that were about.

Those that had been out to sea would return, catching the early sunshine as they crossed the sea wall, what dark cloud there was about helping to frame the bird.

Hovering and twisting to dive.

But today was to be about the butterflies, mid July and some of the sought after species are now on the wing.  Our first stop was to be to search for White-letter Hairstreak, and lifer for me, Ian had been tipped off about a site in Gosport, and we arrived just off Heritage Way, and walked through to a disused car park surrounded by Wych Elms with plenty of flowering bramble at the base.

The first butterfly we came across though was a superb Comma, here the little white mark on the underwing that gives it the name was clearly visible.

There were plenty of butterflies on the bramble, Lots of Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Gatekeepers, and this single Small White.

The butterflies we were searching for though would normally be seen in the canopy of the Elm trees preferring to stay high, but sometimes coming down to the bramble.  It didn't take long to find one or two flying around the leaves at the top of the trees, and we were lucky to see one settle for a distant shot, my first White-Letter Hairstreak

Here the brown underwing is crossed by the white hair line streaks that give it the name.  Another appeared again very distant and high up but a respectable view non the less.

The hope was that they would come down, and we watched and waited, and as we did so we were treated to quite a few other species.  There was a Common Darter about, not surprising with all the insects on the bramble.

A Small Skipper.

One of the many Gatekeepers.

Then a few surprises, from nowhere this Brown Argus appeared.

Joined by an Essex Skipper in the grass.

This small spot about the size of a football penalty area was just alive with butterflies, and amazingly above us we saw a Peregrine fly over, and then a Buzzard.  The next butterfly to be seen was a Speckled Wood.

A Ringlet that finally settled and showed the underwing rings.

Around the longer grass there were several Marbled Whites.

Despite all those around me, still my favourite who will soon be gone for yet another year.

The long grass was also a live with small Grasshoppers.  This one I think is a Meadow Grasshopper.

There was a single male Common Blue.

After walking around we returned to the bramble in hope once again that one of the Hairstreaks would come down and pay us a visit.  We watched as they buzzed around at the top of the tree, and followed one as it flew into the nearby Oak to find that it was in fact a Purple Hairstreak, to far away and hidden to photograph but no problem, their time would come.

Another Essex Skipper, this time looking a little worn out.

A White-letter sat again in the open on a leaf high up, and this was to be the only views we managed to get, as we were running out of time here, and needed to move on.  It had though been a very successful visit to a site you would never guess could turn up so many different species of butterfly, 14 to be exact.

Our next stop was to be Browndown, here we were looking for better views of Purple Hairstreak, and hopefully Grayling.  It was glorious weather as we walked through the gorse and heather, in fact without a breeze it was very warm.  Above us the sky was full of those lovely wispy clouds contrasting against a deep blue sky, perfect butterfly weather at last.

In the long grass we came across another Common Blue, this species has been hard to find this year so it was nice to see one at both sites this morning.

We searched the heather and low Bracken in the hope of maybe Small Copper, but only found the ubiquitous Meadow Brown and Ringlet.  We then crossed through the shingle to the low Oak trees, and at the first one we reached I shook a branch, and immediately at least four Purple Haistreaks flew up, only to return almost immediately to the leaves.  

The beauty here is that the oaks do not tower above you, they are  at eye level, and that means so are the Purple Hairstreaks and you can get some wonderful close up views.

They seem to prefer the shade, crawling across the leaf to reach it.  They also prefer the sheltered side of the tree, although today there was little wind about.  As we watched this one opened its wings to show the lovely purple sheen of the upper wing that gives it the name.

Ian described them as having like elastic attached too them, because if they flew off they returned almost always to the same spot.

A real treat and bonus to see so close a butterfly that would normally flit around the oak leaves at the top of the trees.  You were able to really study them, picking out the little orange tips to the antenna.

We dragged ourselves away from the Purple Hairstreaks and headed to the shingle heather areas where hopefully there would be some Grayling.  We were not to be disappointed, almost as soon as we reached the heather one appeared on the flowers.

They very rarely show the upper wing, and if they do open it is very fast.  The beauty though is the "eye" on the under forewing.  They will sit with this up, but very quickly will retract it, the trick is to get to them once they have settled

We were able to do this by following them as they flew, and getting to where they settles.

last year we were treated to pairs mating, we didn't manage to see that this year, but we did have some great views nonetheless, for this one I crawled across the grass.

Our next stop was to take us inland, where hopefully the sun would continue to shine.  As we left the views through the Solent were wonderful.

For once we had no map, and relied on memory to find the spot in Alice Holt we had visited last year.  That memory failed as we arrived in the wrong place.  Finally getting it right we walked into the Straits Inclosure in search of Purple Emperor.  Whilst it was still warm and muggy, it was much more overcast here, the blue skies of the Solent replaced ny the monotone grey of quite a few clouds.

In the grass on either side Meadow Browns and Ringlets were once again abundant.  We walked down to the Assembly Point, and looked towards the Sallows and the bramble bushes below them.

A lovely Marbled White was first up.

We had seen Silver-washed Fritillary as we walked the track, but none had stopped.  On the bramble one appeared and allowed me the first photographs of this year of a stunning butterfly.

Showing the lovely "washed" underwing.

The darkness of the surrounding trees providing the perfect background.  I never tire of photographing this butterfly in these conditions.

Every so often the sun would come out, and there would be a large butterfly skit across the top of the Sallows, but nothing stayed long enough to be identified.  Then one did settle and I managed to get on it, and could see it was definitely Purple Emperor high in a Sallow.  Distant but worth a try to photograph, but as I lifted the camera it was gone.  That was to be the sole sighting of the Emperor, brief but a definite one.  That didn't stop us continuing to study the Oak and Sallow trees, and shortly after we both found a White Admiral, one though decided to settle closer to the ground.

As has been the case all day, the attraction was the flowering bramble.

Then it was off, but not too far and settled on the leaves allowing a view from below.

it was then back to the wait and the bramble bush for some entertainment.  A Meadow Brown enjoying the nectar from the flowers.

And finally a Large Skipper.

It was warm and muggy so we decided to go back to the cars for a drink.  Along the path tall spindly nettles lined each side.  These were attracting Goldfinches and marsh Tits, plus also one or two Marbled Whites.

Suitably refreshed after tea and a Small Tortoiseshell on the buddleia opposite, we returned to the assembly point to continue the vigil.

No sign of the hoped for Emperor, but we did find the 23rd butterfly of the day, a Green-veined White.

The marsh Tits had made their way up to the tower, and were as interested in the bramble as the butterflies were.

A worn Silver-washed provided some more interest.

As did these Hover Flies.  It seemed as if the one above, we presume male was either cooling the female that seemed nonplussed about the other's actions.

Or the more likely it was guarding her, as at one stage other hover flies arrived and a skirmish ensued.  He continued to follow her, staying just above her as she fed on the flowers.

It was now completely overcast, and around 16.30, so we decided to call it a day.  The Emperor was not going to appear and we had to accept it.  As we walked back to the car park there were now Cuckoo Bees on the thistles.

Despite the Emperor it had been a very successful day, we managed to beat last year's record day count of 22 species by one, this year getting 23 and for me a first White-letter Hairstreak.  Who can complain?  Not I!

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