Monday, 24 August 2015

Migrant Lady.

While ascending some steps on the slopes of Denbies Hillside last week I was delighted to have another encounter with a migrant Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) taking advantage of a break in the clouds to bask in the brief sunshine.

With some six generations each year this species completes an astonishing 15,000km round trip between North Africa and Northern Europe. The numbers appearing in Britain depends on suitable winds and fluctuates dramatically from year to year with the most recent major migration seen in 2009 when around 4 million were detected by radar crossing the English Channel between the 25 and 29 May. 
So far this year the data from UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme indicates that the Painted Lady has been recorded at 424 different sites.

Life Cycle: From egg to adult takes 7-9 weeks, depending on temperatures, and the adults live between 10 to 24 days.
Larval Foodplants: Mainly thistle species but also Mallow, Nettle and Viper's-bugloss.

Linking to:
Nature Notes hosted by Michelle

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Hunting Terns.

A trip to Hayling Island a few days ago to visit my father-in-law provided an opportunity for me to take a wander around the disused oyster beds. With high tide some hours away and a strong south-westerly blowing darkening clouds overhead I wasn't too hopeful of capturing any images until I spotted a pair of Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) dashing across the water and hunting for food for a youngster hidden  in the vegetation on one of the remaining bund walls.

I stood for a while monitoring their regular sorties across the water. As they seemed to be favouring two particular areas not too far away from one of the existing sea defence walls I decided  to pick a spot, park my bottom, and make myself as comfortable as possible and see if I could obtain some closer images.

I had to ramp up the ISO setting from 800 to 1600 in order to catch these very quick flying acrobatic terns so some of the shots are a bit grainy.

Amazing to see how they manage to spot their prey from so high above the surface, twisting their head from side to side, and maintain their position while being buffeted by the strong wind.

My efforts to catch them as they hovered very briefly before plunging into the water was far more sucessful than trying to get a shot of one lifting off with its prey in its bill where I failed dismally!

With very little other activity on or above the water, apart from one or two loafing Black-headed Gulls and overflying Oystercatcher and Little Egret, this pair were constantly chatting to one another until a Crow showed some interest in the nest site and then the noise levels increased dramatically as they wheeled, dived while screaming to defended their air space and promptly drove it away.  

With this final image I thought I had finally managed to capture one adult with prey in its bill but on closer inspection it turned out to be just a feather! 

For previous posts about this site and its history please click HERE.

Linking to:
Camera Critters
I'D-Rather-B-Birdin' hosted by Anni
Through My Lens hosted by Mersad
Wild Bird Wednesday hosted by Stewart

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Hillside Blues.

Following a pre-booked appointment on Monday morning to obtain some advice and an estimate for some much needed and doubtless expensive improvements to our heating system I decided to head over to Denbies Hillside on the North Downs.

Chalkhill Blue (male)
My ultimate quarry was the rarest of our downland blue butterflies on the edge of its European range in this area.

As I slowly descended the slope, with the sun hidden behind clouds, my initial views were only of the undersides of another species also characteristic of the warm chalk hillsides of southern England, a few Chalkhill Blue waiting for the sun to shine.

When the sun reappeared the flutters slowly emerged including Small Heath, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Brimstone, Painted Lady plus  a Spotted Skipper and then the hillside around me was alive with many Chalkhill Blues. 

Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon)

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)

As my search continued across the hillside another blue species alighted close by but this turned out to be just a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus).
I was beginning to get a little frustrated that I couldn't spot my ultimate quarry until I heard a comment between two ladies walking nearby indicating that they had just seen a different blue butterfly that they couldn't identify. Renewing my efforts I eventually found a few males of this stunning species with the distinctive black lines through the white fringes of the wings.

Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus)

With wings closed the Adonis is very similar to the Chalkhill but with wings open the males are easy to distinguish from one another. The image (bottom right) in the above collage shows several of both species taking minerals from a patch of animal faeces.

Both species share other common factors. Their larval food plant is exclusively Horseshoe Vetch and their larvae are adopted by red (Myrmica) or black (Lasius) ants. The Adonis thrives in sward of 1-6cm and the local rabbit population certainly helps to maintain these conditions.

On a track beneath the hillside is a superb wood carving that depicts the life cycle of this fabulous blue flutter.

Having finally achieved my goal I climbed back up the steep slope and made my way home with a few decent images to share. FAB.

Linking to:
Saturday's Critters

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Unexpected Find.

While recording a few species flitting around a small sunlit glade during my weekly butterfly transect walk on Sunday I spotted something unusual perched on a fern that revealed itself as a female Brown Argus (Aricia agestis).  
This is a species that I tend to associate with downland and heathland habitats so finding one on my ancient woodland patch was totally unexpected and takes the total number of species recorded over the past 18 weeks to 22.

Yesterday I saw a few more of this species in its more traditional stronghold habitat on the chalk hillside of the North Downs and captured another female (below) nectaring.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Friday Flutters - Weekly Update.

Despite the lack of sunshine over recent days the collage above proves there are still a few colourful butterflies to be found around my local birding patch, providing some photo opportunities, in lieu of the avian species that are all still hiding from my lens.

First up was a single Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) that alighted briefly beneath my feet before moving onto another leaf and then promptly closing its wings!

A few male Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) were obvious as they flitted hither and thither before disappearing deep into the grasses to rest briefly before their next territorial foray.

I saw a few Meadow Browns but as expected the Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus) were far more numerous but not very active under a cloudy sky. The undersides of both sexes are very similar but this one opened its wings (below) to reveal a female.

A very fresh Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) landed on a old tree stump and provided a different splash of colour.

As I walked over the upper grassy meadow a couple of male Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) were chasing one another and this was one of the few occasions I have managed to get a shot as this tiny flutter that is so well camouflaged when it settles deep amoungst the grasses.

The star find of the week was a resting Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), a migrant species that visits our shores from North Africa. Interestingly I photographed this individual within 50 yards of a single sighting I recorded here during August last year.

With the present unsettled weather pattern it might be a while before I get some more photo opportunities.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Keeled Skimmer.

One dragonfly that is also closely associated with acidic wet heathland sites is the Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) and I have seen them in good numbers throughout July.

The male has blue-grey eyes and a tapering powder-blue abdomen but the orange pterostigma (wing-spot) plus the buff shoulder stripes present on both sexes differentiates it from the very similar Black-tailed Skimmer

The females sporting their rich ochre colours often enable them to blend in well with their surroundings making them a little harder to spot unless you happen to nearly trip over one, like this individual, perched on a sandy track well away from any water.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

No Tail.

Not a very common sight ... a Blackbird with no tail. I took this photo through my mother's kitchen window about a month ago and today she confirmed that this individual is still visiting her garden. So the lack of tail feathers does not appear to be impeding its survival.

All indications are that he is going through his normal post breeding moult but it doesn't explain the total lack of a tail but there is the possibility that one of the local felines might be feeling guilty! 
I'll try to see what shape he is in now when I visit my parents tomorrow.

Linking to:

Monday, 3 August 2015

Small and Essex Skippers.

Small Skipper (Male)

All transect walkers have been requested to make more effort in distinguishing between two very similar species, the Small and Essex Skippers, based on the following slightly different field marks.

Small Skipper: Undersides of the tips of the antennae are orange-brown. The male has a slightly curved, conspicuous sex brand on each of its upper fore-wings. both sexes are very similar.
Essex Skipper: Undersides of the tip of the antennae are black. The male has short, straight, inconspicuous sex brands.
Plus the females of both species are plain orange and the under-wings of both sexes are very similar.

So for me this is certainly not an easy task unless any individual is perched with its wings open and even then you may need a magnifying glass or a good view of the underside of the antennae through close focusing binoculars, which I don't yet posses. So wherever possible I often resort to grabbing a shot or two to review on the laptop later but even this approach doesn't always provide conclusive evidence.

The first three images are all of a male Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris).

My identification of the next image, based on the underside colour of the antennae, is a female Small Skipper.

And finally just by way of comparison the last, somewhat grainy image is a male Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) with a small, straight sex brand on the wing.

Both species should still be on the wing during August and I'm sure I'll have a few more tricky encounters to unravel their true identities! [All images shot handheld using 70-300mm lens with 1.4x converter]

Linking to:
Nature Notes hosted by Michelle; 
Through My Lens, a new meme hosted by Mersad.


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