Monday, 10 July 2017

8th July - Havant Thicket, Browndown, and Shatterford Bottom NF, Hampshire

After the heat and sunshine of the previous days it was a little cooler, and overcast as I drove to meet Ian at Havant Thicket.  This could be a good thing as we were here to find more butterflies, and over the course of the last few weeks it is clear that the hot and sunny weather is not that conducive.  We had not visited here before so as we set off we consulted the map and headed for some of the areas we had read about as being suitable.  The paths were lined with Oak and Sallow trees which was promising, and along the open rides there were plenty of thistles in flower.

The first butterflies were seen around 8:30, and were of course the Meadow Browns.  These were then followed by a few Small Skippers.


They were still sleepy and you could really get close.


We passed a small triangle of oak and sallow, then came across another.  From here we followed the path past  a dirty pond and then into an opening fringed with bracken.  As the sun came out a White Admiral appeared, a little tatty, still never mind the first of the day.


Contrasting on a dead bracken leaf.


Gradually more appeared and there were three maybe four all warming up on the bracken leaves.  Gatekeepers were also about in good numbers, their orange upperwings flashing in the sunshine as they buzzed about, setting them out from the dull browns of the Meadow Browns, and the other darker brown Ringlets.


A Large Red Damselfly appeared on the Bracken.


We decided to explore a little more and set off along the ride in a westerly direction and almost immediately came across a Silver-washed Fritillary, again on a Bracken leaf.


Things were looking good, the target species being seen early.  But then the butterlies started to dry up, and it wasn't until we came across a dense clump of bracken and bramble in full sunshine that we saw any in good numbers.  The thistles were covered in Meadow Browns, and with the dark background it enabled them to show their individual, if brown, beauty. 


We were now walking towards Horsefoot Hill, the ride a little more enclosed, but still with Sallow and Oak on either side.  In the dappled sunshine it was not unexpected to fid the day's first Speckled Wood.


The Gatekeepers had been a challenge to photograph, but I managed to find one that presented an unusual aspect.


Meadow Browns would rise from the many bramble bushes as we walked past, the flowers are now going past their best, and green Blackberries can be seen.  A Longhorn Beetle on one of the flowers made a change.


Then a big surprise, a Beautiful Demoiselle in the tree above us.  It flitted about like a butterfly above us, as if teasing us, before settling and showing the beautiful colours in the wings and body.


The wings of a mature male are dark blue with a white spot,  the immature male has brown wings and no white spot.  This individual has brown wings, and a white spot so is a female.  The body is green with a bronze coloured tip.  Interestingly they are normally found along streams with sand and gravel bottoms.  What it was doing here is a mystery as the only water we saw was a dirty brown.

We turned back south heading down another open ride into the warm sunshine.  The White Admirals returned, and we watched as one flew low into a small birch sapling.  As we got closer we could see the reason for flying in, there was another admiral and they both came out and performed on a Bracken frond.


The sun would come and go, but the clouds were very watery and already it was getting quite hot.  We came across a Southern Hawker dragonfly that eventually stopped and perched in a tree for us to confirm the identification.


You can see the markings on the abdomen, the wings catching the sunlight.


There was still no sign of the sought after Purple Emperor, we stood in places for a while and walked up and down the rides in hope of catching sight as they flew above us, but other than the excitement of thinking a Silver-washed was one there was no sign at all.


In another open area, more White Admirals, we couldn't complain about not seeing any of these butterflies.


This one was in good condition, and we were able to get close, and also to get some shots of the under-wing.


This is I think is a female, the underside not as white close to the abdomen.


More standing around, waiting, staring at the trees, but with nothing happening.  A Gatekeeper helped pass the time.


At the small triangle a Silver-washed Fritillary appeared, flew around and then settled on a thistle head.


Another beautiful butterfly found around woodland and along woodland glades and rides.  The larval food plant is Common Dog Violet which exists on the woodland floor.  The females can be seen on the ground looking to lay eggs.  The bramble though is still an attraction.


It was decision time, what to do, should we continue walking around looking up at the trees, or move on in search of other summer specials.  We decided to move on, with Browndown as the destination and hopefully Purple Hairstreak and Grayling.  

On arriving we walked around the top edge of the area.  Stopping to look at a Common Blue that looks as if it has just freshly emerged, the second flight.

 
 Close by was a Six Spot Burnet moth.


Along the side of the path were many Marbled Whites, all very mobile in the warm sunshine.


We made our way along the fence down to the beach, but then disaster, the red flag was flying, and we were not going to see any Purple Hairstreaks or Graylings today!  What to do next, after an abortive attempt to visist Alver Lake we decided on a visit to Fishlake Meadows in the hope that the Osprey was there.  However as we drove along the M27 I just couldn't face the thought of standing at the view point, so when we came off the motorway and stopped at the lights I jumped out of the car and suggested to Ian we go to Shatterford Bottom in the New Forest.

This we did, avoiding Lyndhurst on a sunny summer's day.  Pulled into the car park where there were two spots available, and then set off down the track, heading for Denny Wood.  The first stop was the pools by the side of the path, these were also of interest to a herd of cows.  The water levels were well down, and at one point I thought one of the cows was going to get stuck in the mud.

The pool held several Keeled Skimmer dragonflies, and while they were all quite active they would also pause to rest on the surrounding vegetation.  There were lots of males contesting for a few females.  This is the male, a greyish blue in colour on the abdomen, with a small black tip to the tail, while the eyes are a lovely blue.


The females are a yellowish brown in colour.


But it was the Bell heather we were interested in, the habitat liked by the Silver-studded Blue.  This is a warmth loving butterfly, and the open sandy soil, plus the warm sunshine was perfect here for them.  Very quickly I found one.


Then they seemed to be almost everywhere you looked.  They are named for the light blue reflective scales seen on the underside of the adults, and are quite reflective when the light shines on them.


As with most blue butterflies the male is blue while the female is brown.  However there is a considerable variation in the appearance.  This extends to differences in the upperside colour and the width of the marginal border of the blue.  This is found to be wide in the New Forest butterflies in comparison to the narrow ban in butterflies found in Devon.


There were lots of brown females about attracting the attention of many males.  One brown butterfly was definitely larger, and much more clearly marked.  It was not a blue in the sense of the name, but a Brown Argus.  Good news for Ian the first for him this year, at last some good news for the day.


But it was back to the Silver-studded Blues.  Pairs could be seen spinning around the grass stems in amongst the heather.


Scanning across the heather there were hundreds of them flitting about just above the top of the heather, never really going far away, using the heather for shelter and soaking up the warm sunshine.  This shows the habitat, and the weather conditions today, but what you don't manage to experience is the sheer numbers of butterflies that were present.


The heather then came to a stop, and was replaced by a lush green bracken as we walked into Denny Wood.  Family parties of Robins and Great Tits could be both seen and heard in the trees around us, but there was also the year's first Spotted Flycatcher, again some good news for the day.


We walked through the wood, then out along Bishop's Dyke.  Normally this is a wet and boggy path requiring detours to avoid getting a wet foot.  Today though all was dry, and it just didn't seem quite right.  A male Redstart put in a brief appearance, but was gone almost as quick as it appeared.  The large pool of water held several Snipe, and four Lapwing, plus another wader that required a closer look.  It went form sight, but as we got closer all the Lapwing went up and a Redshank could be heard calling, eventually the Redshank landed in a dead tree stump, which was quite hard to see.


The assumption was that the small wader we had seen was probably a young Redshank, and the parent was protecting it.

We made our way back to the path, and found a Willow Warbler in the bracken, and another male Redstart, this time it stuck around long enough for a distant photograph.


There was also a juvenile bird about, but this also avoided us

The pools at the bridge were very dry and the water didn't look very palatable, as a result there were no dragonflies about.  We walked back through the heather once more, with more Silver-studded Blues about, and calling Stonechats away in the distance.

The pool by the railway bridge was a little more productive with once again a lot of Keeled Skimmers, and several Blue-tail and Common Blue Damselflies.  As we stood watching these an Emperor dragonfly appeared (at least we saw one Emperor today!), and finally decided to stop on the heather to consume the unfortunate insect it had caught.


Here you can see the difference between the Emperor and the Southern Hawker is not really that close, the Emperor having much more blue in the abdomen, no stripes on the thorax, and bluish green eyes.


We made our way back to the cars with still a few Silver-studded Blues about, and along the railway line many House Martins hawking insects.  We couldn't decide whether it had been a disappointing day or not?  Missing out on Browndown was annoying, and no Purple Emperor was frustrating as the chance this year most likely now has gone.  The Silver-studded Blue experience was wonderful, as was the Spotted Flycatcher unexpected.  In total we saw 19 butterfly species which is credible, so a good day?  Not  bad!

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