Monday, 3 July 2017

2nd July - Martin Down NNR, Hampshire

The forecast for the weekend was indifferent, and despite rain warnings Saturday was dry, but without any opportunity to get out.  Overnight and early morning there was rain, but this cleared through and quickly replaced by blue sky and sunshine.  Bu mid morning it was clear that it was going to be a lovely day, so Helen and I decided to head to Martin Down for a walk and picnic amongst hopefully the butterflies and wild flowers.

The drive through the New Forest was slow with many ponies deciding that the middle of the road was the best place to suckle the new foals.  Pulling in to the car park it wasn't too busy which was a surprise given the conditions.  From the car park we headed south along the track towards the hawthorn scrub, and eventually Bokerley Ditch, which runs through the reserve.  On the way though it became evident that there were going to be plenty of butterflies about.  Marbled Whites could be seen around the purple knapweed, and weaving through the grass stems. 


Also about were several Small Skippers, again attracted to the purple flowers of the knapweed.


Pyramidal Orchids could be seen growing beneath the bushes, as if in the shade.  One or two were out in the open, and this one had a visitor.


This is a Crab Spider.  It will sit on flowers, hiding in between the petals waiting for an insect to land on the flower.  It will then pounce on them, catching them with their crab-like front legs.  Crab spiders have the ability to change their body colour to suit the background of the flower they are using.  This can take a few days, but eventually they can appear white, yellow or even green.

The butterfly I had come to find was the Dark Green Fritillary and as we walked up the hill they were flying past us but never stopping.  They would tease you as they hovered over a flower but then would move on and disappear quickly.  The hope was that there would be many more, and that eventually they would settle.

A blue butterfly passed and settled on a pebble, but only partially opened the wings, and did not let me get a view of the underwing.  This was the best I could get.



 I wanted it to be an Adonis, but on closer inspection I believe it is a Common Blue.

Another small butterfly about was the Small heath, settling in the typical wings closed and laying on one side position.

 
On reaching the Ditch we were greeted looking back across the down with a wonderful view.  It was turning into a beautiful day.
  



On the bank there were a few old Spotted Orchids about, many though were past their best.
 


In amongst the grass were lots of the blue purple flowers of Scabious, a big attraction to the butterflies, especially the Marbled Whites.


One minute the butterfly is there, and then it is gone, taking off the wings become a blur of black and white against a gorgeous background of cream and green.


It was the scabious that finally captured the Dark-green Fritillary for me.


Still not the perfect view, but at least I now had a record.  As well as the blue of the scabious flowers there was also the delicate blue petals of the Harebells.

  
We walked along the ditch, heading to the west, there were now many butterflies around us, with the Dark-green Fritillaries becoming a lot more accommodating, and resting and nectaring on the many flowers, now giving some great views.


The Dark-green Fritillary is the most widespread fritillary in the United Kingdom.  Just like when we first arrived it is a powerful flyer and is more often than not seen flying past you just above the grass.  As we moved into the afternoon though they started to nectar on the flowers in the grass.


Adults generally emerge in the middle of June, and peak around early July.  This was very much the case here today on Martin Down as they were seemingly everywhere.


There were though other butterflies about, I haven't mentioned the Meadow Brown, and there were more Small Heaths.  But a flash of orange from a small butterfly caught my eye, and there was the year's first Gatekeeper sitting wings open on a leaf.  But as I moved to photograph it, the wings closed and this was what I was only able to capture.


I hoped for more, but I couldn't find any along the ditch.  A Small Tortoiseshell appeared though again attracted to the many flowers.


But the start of the show kept drawing me back.


There typical habitat is calcareous grassland, and they favour the knapweed and thistles, here it was tucking into the flower of a Knapweed.


Since being first identified in the 1700, this butterfly has had up to six different names, such as Queen of England, Silver Spotted, and Charlotte Fritillary, but the most frequent reference in the names was the reference to dark green as it is called today.  This name comes from the green hue on the underside of the hind wings.  It was this view I was now wanting to get.  They started to give short glimpses.


This one showing some dexterity, not sure if there are two here.


But mostly for now it was the opened wing position.


Lots more orchids along the side of the ditch, some looking really immaculate.


We stopped for lunch and sat by the side of the ditch.  Looking across the open down, the grasses and flowers spreading out before you.


There were lots of Marbled Whites attending to the knapweed.  They really are beautiful butterflies like chequered boards.


The females a little more browner underneath, which helps to understand that these butterflies are not a "white" but a member of the "browns" that includes the many Meadow Browns that were also winding their way through the grasses.


After our lunch we walked on, and more Dark-green fritillaries were about but now there was not the need to warm up, now they were sitting with wings closed and showing off the lovely green hue on the underside of the hindwing.



A large clump of flowering thyme provided more sustenance to the butterflies, including this Small Copper that is probably from a second brood this year.


Plus a Large Skipper.


Across the open grassland we could hear the song of the Skylark mixed in with the familiar song of the Yellowhammer.  But another song stood out, sometimes compared to the jangling of keys, this was the Corn Bunting.


I counted at least 8 individual Corn Buntings singing, a really good count.

Walking down the path across the down the Yellowhammers were singing, and showing really well.


We walked down a sheltered path, with the song of the Turtle Dove frustratingly on the other side of the hedge.  The shelter though did produce our final butterfly species of the day, the sixteenth, a Comma.


As the path came out into the open I saw a Turtle Dove out at the top of a tree, but as I raised the camera it was off and away out of sight.

Walking down to the car park another Yellowhammer sang from the hedge, here caught in full "little piece of cheese"!


A lovely three hours in a beautiful site with perfect weather.  No sounds other than the song of the birds and the sound of the wind through the grasses.  Butterflies were everywhere amongst the different colours of the wild flowers.  What a perfect way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon.

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