Sunday, 29 June 2014

Follow the Leader.

Last week I joined two walks organised by the Surrey and South West London Branch of Butterfly Conservation.

The first was to Mitcham Common, a previously unvisited location for me. The original oak woodland was cleared with the arrival of early Neolithic people, and subsequently kept open and infertile through agricultural practices such as grazing. Due to the nature of the underlying gravels, the inherent soil is largely acidic and infertile. In the early 19th Century the gravels were extracted for road building leading to the creation of Seven Islands Pond amongst others. During the 20th century some of the ponds created by gravel extraction were filled in between the wars and ploughed for agriculture to aid the war effort. Also during the mid to late 1900s areas were used as landfill for inert waste. This destroyed parcels of valuable wet habitat, and irrecoverably altered the hydrology and topography of the Common, now a mosaic of grassland, acidic heath and pockets of mixed woodland. 

Mitcham Common - Images courtesy of

The leader was Malcolm Bridge and during a two hour stroll the group saw 14 species. Part of our time was spent searching for a rare species, the White-letter Hairstreak, in a small area containing a few young Elms. I managed a brief glimpse of a perched individual through my bins before it disappeared into the high canopy. 

For the next 20 minutes or so the group scanned the canopy often suggesting that they had a number of brief sightings but when I took a few shots of a wing above a leaf some 40 feet overhead it turned out to be a Holly Blue!

After the walk finished I took a stroll around the grasslands behind the Mill House Ecology Centre and added Small Copper and several Marbled Whites to my list.

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillars on Ragwort, Comma and Small Copper.

The second walk was led by Francis Kelly at Whitmoor Common which comprises a series of sandy heathland pockets surrounded by woodland. The commons were once grazed by the commoners' stock which helped maintain the open aspect but since the cessation of these rights and traditions, the commons have increasingly become prone to afforestation by the natural invasion of Scots pine and silver birch. 

A large pond in the centre of the common is a major focus for dragonfly activity in the area, with 19 species being recorded in or around the vicinity of the pond itself.

Male Broad-bodied Chaser.
I recorded Emperor, Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chaser, Black-tailed Skimmer plus Common and Azure Damselflies. Downy Emerald is another specialist species found here .. typically found in the shaded areas under overhanging vegetation, but not seen on this occasion.
My bird sightings included Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Jay, Wren, Blackbird, Linnet, Stonechat and on the pond, Mallard plus Little Grebe feeding its chick.

In the woodland caterpillars of the Peacock butterfly were busily feeding on Common Nettle, their main larval food-plant .

The main attraction out on the open heath was the tiny Silver-studded Blue. I had previously seen this species on Thursley Common but was hoping for some better images

My first sighting was a dark brown female who wouldn't stop for a photo call and then a handful of males were spotted during our lunch stop and one individual basked long enough for a few shots.

 Male Silver-studded Blue (Plebeius argus) [Shot using PowerShot SX50 HS and cropped]

I logged 16 species throughout this walk but I believe the groups total was probably higher. I might join a few more of these field trips over the coming weeks if only to improve my knowledge of the different butterfly habitats and the chance to add to my image portfolio.   FAB

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Dragon meets Spider.

Whilst on a recent hunt for butterflies I came across this female Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum). The dark brown/black pterostigma distinguishes this species from the Keeled Skimmer.

The image above clearly illustrates the flexibility of the trailing edge of the wing where the veins become much thinner thus enabling the wing to twist and adapt its shape to aerodynamic forces.

When I re-found this dragon I was so engrossed in focusing on her that I didn't realise until I reviewed the image that it had perched right next to a web and the Spider carrying its egg sack was on the other part of the bent stem! The dragon eventually flew away leaving the Spider to wait for more appropriate prey.

As usual all the shots were taken hand-held with the 450D and 70-300 lens.

Linking to Camera Critters and Saturday's Critters.

Have a good wildlife watching weekend, wherever you are.   FAB.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Fluttering Beyond Downland Fences.

For this week's 'Good Fences' hosted by TexWisGirl I am taking you on one of my recent leisurely strolls following the lines of the old iron fences, many subsequently replaced by newer wood and wire, across the chalk downland at Denbies Hillside as I search for some of the inhabitants of this special habitat.

First to show itself is a resting Large Skipper.

The fence leads to a gate at the lower edge of Steers Field where views of the valley below with its patchwork of fields and woodland begin to open up.

From one of the nearby clumps of bramble I hear the scolding calls of a Common Whitethroat who I watch as it forages for insects for its brood hidden deep in the undergrowth.

Just beyond the gate I take a welcome rest in the shade and scan the hillside for any 'flutter' activity. While I am enjoying the extensive southerly views a far more energetic person descends the slope. [The iron fence was erected way back in the 1890's by William Joseph, who owned Denbies House and Estate.]

After a bit of searching I finally find the first of many Marbled Whites, one of the downlands special butterflies. Having recently emerged the hillside is alive with the males crisscrossing the grassy slopes on the lookout for a mate. [I will be sharing more images of this black and white beauty in a forthcoming post.]

Finally it is time for me to leave the views and flutters behind and commence the long ascent under a glorious blue sky back towards the car park.   FAB.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


For this weeks edition of Wild Bird Wednesday I am featuring the [Western] Jackdaw (Corvus monedula) the smallest of the UK's corvids. Often very vocal but definitely a very sociable species.

Within a flock or "clattering" there is a distinct social hierarchy and it is often very noticeable that these birds fly around in pairs. These small crows are extremely faithful and once a pair have been together for over six months they almost rarely divorce even when breeding is unsuccessful otherwise they would forfeit their nest site and slip down the social scale.

Very occasionally amongst a flock you might find one leucistic bird. Leucism is a fairly unusual condition whereby the pigmentation cells in a bird fail to develop properly and this can result in unusual white patches appearing in varying degrees of density or, more rarely, completely white (albino) birds. I saw this individual happily feeding with lots of his colleagues three years ago.   FAB.

Monday, 23 June 2014

ECP Patch Roundup.

There has been very little visible avian activity on my local patch walks around Epsom Common Pond during the past week with most of the breeding birds staying hidden so I thought I would include some other residents as well as a few of the regular bird species.

A Chiffchaff regularly uses the same perch  and often gives me a quick burst of song as I climb the steps up to the Great Pond.

One chance sighting was finding a juvenile Grey Wagtail hiding in the branches close to the water but one press of the camera button and it flew away! My previous patch sighting of this species was back in 2010 so nice to see one around again, albeit briefly.
The Great and Stew Pond regulars include breeding Mallard, Canada Geese, Coot, Moorhen and Mandarin Duck plus the visiting Grey Herons. With such high water levels I haven't seen any evidence of a wader dropping in for a visit so far this year.
Mrs. Mallard taking a rest from her parenting duties.

There have been a number of male Tufted Duck and one female on the Great Pond since mid April but I haven't noticed any evidence of breeding so far this year.

Very few Odonata species logged this week include Large Red, Blue-tailed and Common Blue Damselflies. 

Large Red Damselflies in tandem.

It's a well known fact that Grey Squirrels tend to scramble around a tree to hide from possible predators on the opposite side but this individual obviously didn't know the 'watcher' was behind it!

Whilst Canada Geese are regular breeders Greylag Geese sightings are very infrequent on the patch and I recently only just got a glimpse as one flew away calling for its friends.

During my wanderings I am often aware of the movement of Deer feeding throughout the woodland and sometimes a Roe Doe will appear from behind the lush vegetation, stop and stare at the 'watcher' who copies her action until she feels confident that I'm not a threat and slowly ambles onward.
Alongside the hedgerow close to the car park is the best spot to do a bit of Rabbit watching. They rarely let me get within 20 yards before disappearing into deep cover.

Butterflies recorded included Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Large Skipper.
At two other sites I captured images of Marbled White and White Admiral which you can view on FABirding.    FAB.

Linking to Nature Notes and Our World Tuesday.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Sunny Centres.

Whether adorning the roadside, a piece of wasteland, a hillside meadow or along field edges the typical grassland plant Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) puts on a good show through the summer months with its sunny centre providing a welcome feast for all our pollinating insects. In the evening light its blooms appear to glow hence its common names of 'Moon Daisy' and 'Moonpenny'. FAB.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Alert Does.

A few images from a recent session in the park with a pair of Red Does. These animals can sense the slightest scent or movement and their ears perk up just like radio antenna even when you are over a hundred yards away. It is always best to approach very, very slowly from downwind so that they don't perceive you as a threat.

Whoops! No comment required.

The Does decided when the encounter should conclude and slowly ambled away leaving the 'wildlife watcher' to turn his attention to another Deer species and something for a future post.   

Have a great wildlife watching weekend wherever you are. FAB.

Linking to Saturday's Critters hosted by Eileen and Camera Critters hosted by Misty.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Encounter with Arthur

As I began another stroll on the boardwalk at Thursley Common yesterday I bumped into (not literally!) a very interesting gentleman called Arthur, a Yorkshire man who is 75 years young and an experienced and passionate photographer of Odonata.
While watching the dragonflies zipping over the water in a very strong breeze we chatted for over 30 minutes and my brain had to work a little harder than normal as Arthur only referred to any of the various Odonata by their Latin names! I soaked up his enthusiastic knowledge and if I learned anything about photography from him it was just get out and practice, practice and learn from your mistakes ... excellent advice.

As we both agreed the conditions (he called it a bit 'thin') were not really conducive to getting decent low down images of the dragonflies I headed onwards through Pine Island and out onto the heathland. While watching a singing Skylark soaring up high into the sky I was aware of the calls of a warbler close by. After a little searching I found the individual and took a quick shot before it moved deeper into cover.

The soft contact call sounded like a Chiffchaff or a Willow Warbler but I think the paler cheek pattern, the thicker albeit pale supercilium, paler legs and longer primary projection indicate that this is a juvenile Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus). [I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm totally wrong].

A few of the other species seen and snapped, often at a distance, included Woodlark (6), Cuckoo (3), Stonechat (5) and Green Woodpecker. In addition I also saw Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Pipit, Skylark, Common Redstart, Chaffinch, Common Whitethroat, Magpie, Crow, Jackdaw, Common Buzzard, Tufted Duck, Canada Geese, Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Linnet, Long-tailed Tit, Great and Blue Tit and heard the resident Curlews calling. 

While following a path through an area of flowering Bell Heather I spotted a blue butterfly. Initially I didn't pay much attention to which species this might be but after it flew away I reviewed the images to reveal it was a male Silver-studded Blue (Plebeius argus) and my first sighting for this year.

One image of its under wing pattern revealed the distinctive silvery-blue centre within the black marginal spots.

After passing the 'lazy' gate I spent a little time capturing a few images of a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) enjoying a nectar feed in the sunshine.

On my way back across the common while making a detour through one of the pine plantations I met up with Arthur again. He had decided to take a stroll away from the boardwalk as the stiff breeze was still hindering him getting any more shots of the Odonata. This time our discussions turned to past occupations and he was intrigued to learn that I had worked for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and we both knew a number of people who had also worked there ... it's a small world.

Back along the boardwalk it was still fairly breezy but I managed a few captures of resting Libellula quadrimaculata (Four-spotted Chasers).
Another interesting encounter. Stay well Arthur and maybe our paths will cross again.  FAB.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Great Crested Grebe.

For Wild Bird Wednesday I'm sharing a few images of Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) taken during a recent holiday at Lake Garda, Italy. 

This is our largest Grebe in the UK and whilst most bird guides say it is not shy I usually find that as soon as I get within range with the lens they always drift away! On Lake Garda this was not always the case and as several pairs were regularly spied drifting around the small harbour the opportunity to get some closer shots was very much welcomed.

All images shot 'handheld' with 450D and 70-300 lens.   FAB.


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