Friday, 22 July 2016

Purple Hairstreak

Last week, I found a colony of white-letter hairstreaks and was excited to find five individuals in the elm-lined bridleway that leads to the equestrian centre, but was disappointed not to get any photos. So on Thursday morning I returned at 8am for another attempt.

This time I counted at least twenty butterflies, on occasion flying in fighting groups of three or four high above the elms. Indeed, I tracked one butterfly as it flew across the top of half a dozen wych elms, sending up two or three other butterflies from each tree in their territorial spiral flights.

It  must be one of the best colonies of white-letter hairstreak for miles in every direction and certainly the greatest population I've ever seen. The abundance of butterflies made sighting them sat still much easier and photographing them possible. However, they remained high in the treetops so views were distant and frustrating.

On my initial visit the butterflies looked quite fresh, but closer inspection revealed them to be worn, suggesting they've been flying for a week or more already.

The following photos represent the normal view you'll get of a white-letter hairstreak; distant, hidden and cryptic!

Satisfied with my white-letters, and knowing they favour the early morning sunshine, I stopped off at St Wilfrids on my way home from work this-evening in the hope of finding purple hairstreaks.

Within just a few minutes, I spotted one flying from the grass into a large oak tree where I lost sight of it. I was gutted that I didn't see it on the ground as they are notoriously difficult to find at eye-level. Still, it marked the 18th species on the patch this year and a welcome tick. A few more very brief sightings followed as insects briefly flew from leaf to leaf but I was unable to get a photo.

This image was taken at the same spot on this day last year.

Heading along to the un-mowed border at the North end of the organic meadow, I also found large and small white, meadow brown, ringlet, small tortoiseshell and a good number of small skipper. A patch first for me and number 19 on the year list. (NB: I had previously ID'd them as large skipper, but the helpful people at corrected me!)

This weekend I will search for small copper and see if I can't discover another population or two of hairstreaks in Langton Woods. As always, please click on the photos to see them in full resolution and with colours rendered properly.

Monday, 18 July 2016

White-Letter Hairstreak

I wrote in my last post that I hoped to add white-letter hairstreak and purple hairstreak to the patch-list this summer. More specifically, I hoped to add purple to the year-list (I found one last summer) and white-letter to the all-time-list.

I have searched for white-letter locally many times before without success, but my optimism is fuelled by them being found relatively nearby in Nosterfield and by a one-off sighting Nick Morgan made in his garden a few years ago. Motivated by this I have spent hours and hours staring up blankly in to the tops of elm trees. Today however, I finally found one just a few hundred yards from my house in the bridleway that connects Thrintoft to the Northallerton Equestrian Centre.

I nipped out for twenty minutes before lunch as the sun was beating down hard and I figured it was my best chance. I almost didn't believe my own eyes when my perseverance paid off... a lone butterfly performing its spiral dance high in a wych elm. I was rushed for time so headed home and returned later at 6pm. This time I counted five individuals all along the lane, where wych elm makes up the majority of the canopy. I returned at 8pm and though it was still hot and sunny, counted none. This underlies why they are so poorly recorded; they are elusive in the extreme and fly only when it suits them for just a week or two each year.

I didn't manage any photos today, but here is one I took in Leeds a few years ago...

I also caught up with comma; so often one of the first butterflies I encounter each year, I was beginning to think they wouldn't show up at all. Number 17 on the year-list....

It seems this year that whatever I wish for, I get! So I'll mention right now that I'd quite like to add small skipper, holly blue, clouded yellow and a camberwell beauty would be nice!

Monday, 11 July 2016

Purple Emperor

It's been a long time since I've undertaken a 'butterfly twitch', but a family party in the Midlands and a  Monday off in mid July came together nicely for my first attempt at purple emperor.

When I arrived at Fermyn Woods in Northants there were a promising number of cars in the carpark (it's always nice to be shown where to look by other knowledgable enthusiasts!), but the weather was iffy at best. The first couple of chaps I spoke to had given up for the day, so after we swapped good sites for wildlife in Yorkshire (road atlas and a biro) they hit the road, leaving me eating my sandwiches in the rain.

As soon as the rain stopped, I headed into the wood and stopped to chat to two others heading back for their car. They had seen purple emperor that morning, so my optimism grew. Further along the track, I was waved over by an elderly gentleman who put me onto a lovely silver-washed fritillary. Not what I was after, but a nice start. We got chatting and he mentioned that he might have spooked an emperor on the corner so we returned to where he'd been. There on cue was my first ever purple emperor, which promptly flew into the air, circled a few times before settling on his boot! Fantastic.

As the weather improved I was afforded even better views of other individuals, and also added white admiral and white-letter hairstreak, though I didn't manage any pictures.

My mission for the next two weeks is to add white-letter hairstreak and purple hairstreak to the patch list, and hopefully pick up small skipper and comma along the way.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Sunday Blues

As I write this I'm sat watching my kids play in the front garden... the two swifts have just dropped from their nest in our roof and skimmed inches away from Joe and Jessicas' heads, who carry on horse-playing oblivious to these fantastic birds.

Today I made a decision to redraw my patch. I'm not sure of the precise rules of the Patchwork Challenge, but given it's my first year I'm sure there won't be a problem. In my haste to define a patch in January I incorporated a lot of land that is inaccessible. Furthermore, it's been made clear that walkers are not very welcome in certain areas so I've eliminated these too. Thankfully, I recorded no unique birds in these areas so my patch total year to date would remain the same if I'd begun the year with this territory.

The resulting saving means that I've been able to stretch the patch, incorporating all of Langton Woods and the fishing lakes to the North, and all of High Field to the railway line to the South. I attach a redefined map of the patch below, together with labels that I often refer to, as reference.

The Meadow

It wasn't long ago that I was bemoaning the lack of any real meadow in the area, and while this is still true when I consider the meadows I grew up with in Shropshire, Richard's organic farm around St Wilfrid's is starting to spawn some optimism. Grass is forced to compete here with other plants, predominantly red clover...

...and this means that a greater diversity of flowers can be found supporting a greater variety of insects. Here a back-lit meadow brown nectars from white clover...

Beetles are too many to classify. I see plenty of these about but none of my books helped to identify them; I think another expensive field guide is on the cards!

Other flowers that have taken hold in the previous week include this Hedge Woundwort...

...and (I think) Nipplewort....

Ringlet number in scores and large skipper are now turning up in every sheltered corner.

Sunday Blues

I set out before the sun breached the horizon to try and photograph the common blues in Langton Wood. Unfortunately, they've been flying for a few weeks now and the wet and windy weather has contributed to them all looking a bit tatty...

The wind picked up to a bluster, making macro photography impossible, so I decided on a change of plan. Swapping common blue for electric blue, I headed to the Riverine Wood to stake out the increasingly conspicuous kingfisher moving about; I presume due to a newly fledged nest or parents feeding hungry chicks.

Joe and I discovered a messy pile of freshwater mussel shells on the bank last weekend and I wondered who the culprit might be. On my way to the kingfishers I identified a lead suspect in the investigation, caught at the scene of the crime...

After two hours of waiting, my patience paid off and a pair of kingfishers started to hunt near to where I was sat. Unfortunately they didn't show in the open, ignoring what I though was the most likely perch, but I was delighted to get a closer view than I've had for many years.