Friday, 1 July 2011

Surviving June

With the June doldrums once more upon us I have been casting around for something to do. I did almost go on a couple of twitches: after some prompting by Badger, the Suffolk roller at the start of the month had me ready to head off the next day on news but it turned out to be a one day wonder so instead I earned some brownie points by going off on a furniture hunting expedition with my VLW. The other almost-twitch was the Hertfordshire night heron that turned up at Stocker's lake. Once again I was ready to head off the next day on news but the bird did a runner.

Aborted twitches aside, I was recently inspired by one of my favourite blogs "Wild Wings and Wanderings" by Karen Woolley. This year she has been posting much more on butterflies and plants (particularly orchids) and one particular post on black hairstreaks caught my eye. This is a rather rare butterfly but it turns out that one of the top spots to see it is at Whitecross Green wood in Oxon where she and her chums managed to catch up with it. It was getting rather late for them as due to the warm spring they were several weeks earlier than usual. Nevertheless I thought that I would go and take a look and this has rather lead me down the slippery butterfly spotting slope. I don't know what the butterfly equivalent of birder is, 'flyer perhaps? I'd had a brief interest in butterflies as a boy and I knew the common species already so I thought that I'd give it a go. The trouble is of course that there aren't that many species of butterfly about and I don't think that there is the same degree of vagrant butterfly appearance as there is for birds so the scope for twitching them is limited but I wanted at least to catch up with some of the more interesting species that occur in and around Oxfordshire. Importantly, butterflies are abundant at a time when birds are scarce so it could work quite well. I know that this is a slippery slope and before you know it I'll be mothing with the best of them but it will do me for now. So this posting is mostly about the various local butterfly trips that I've made in June.

Whitecross Green Wood
My first trip was to Whitecross Green wood to chase after black hairstreaks. I'd not been to this spot before which consisted of lovely mixed woodland with a criss-crossing grid of grass rides. The grass was kept long in the rides apart from a couple of tracks and it was ideal for butterflies and orchids. On the bird front there were plenty of the usual warblers about as well as lots of mixed tit flocks working their way through the trees. As mentioned above the black hairstreaks were very early this year and although I found the hot-spot for them from an internet description despite extensive searching there were none to be seen and I'm guessing that they are now all finished for the year. I did see a brief fly-by white admiral as well the usual grassland common stuff. I also met a lady 'flyer from Yorkshire who had come down to Collard Hill in Somerset for the large blues and who was heading back via this site to look for the hairstreaks. We got talking and it turns out that she does butterflies in the summer and birds in the winter with the butterflies taking priority.

early purple spotted orchid or so I was told
some random bug

My next trip was to Otmoor which I'd not actually been to at all this year so I decided to combine a butterfly hunting trip with a run. I scoured the bridle way behind the car park field extensively (the "Roman Road") though there was nothing of interest. I think that it's too late for the black hairstreaks there and too early for the browns. Near the new hide a hobby was perched on a fence post giving nice views and there was a lesser whitethroat in the hedge between the first and second screens but the best that I could come up with on the butterfly front was a small blue which showed by the car park field but too briefly for a photo. Still I was pleased to get a sighting of this species which isn't one of the ones that I get on my patch on Burgess Field.

A very tatty painted lady
This comma posed nicely

Wantage Ridgeway
This wasn't actually a butterfly trip but I needed to pick up my younger daughter from her bronze Duke of Edinburgh trip so I decided to go a bit early and have a wander along the ridgeway here which wasn't an area that I'd been to before. I didn't see anything particularly interesting on the butterfly front but I did manage to hear a singing male quail in one of the fields.

An orchid of some sort

Meadow cranesbill I believe

Bernwood Forest
At the weekend a couple of purple emperor butterflies were seen just over the border in Bucks at Bernwood Forest so I thought that I would try there as it was another place that I'd not been to yet. I arrived to find a couple who were just leaving who told me that they'd just seen a couple of purple emperors just around the corner on the main track by a dog poo litter bin. Apparently purple emperors like feeding on dog poo and there was a sample close to the bin which it had been enjoying. When I turned up there were a couple of people there and I was told not to worry as it they were creatures of habit which were bound to turn up again any moment. Of course I knew from twitching experience that often this is the kiss of death and the bird is never seen again and so it proved. I did see one very large butterfly fly high across the path which was probably it but it wasn't really a proper sighting. White admirals and silver-washed fritillaries would occasionally zip by and it was great to see these wonderful species around in such numbers. I went for a wander down to the grass Meadow which was teeming with the grassland species and had a look around before coming back to spend some more time waiting by the poo bin.

The fabulous meadow which was teeming with grassland species

The original finder who'd been waiting patiently all this time had in the mean time found a purple hairstreak which had fallen from an oak tree whilst still hatching and which was now looking a bit damaged as it struggle to inflate its wings. Still it was nice to get such close views of what is normally a tree top species. Eventually I gave up waiting and headed home but I was keen to get back to see if I can catch up with the purple emperors.

the damaged purple hairstreak

I did at least manage to photograph a white admiral this time

Bernwood Revisited
True to my word I was back again at the end of the week, this time a little earlier having learnt from experience that later on in the morning the butterflies tend to skulk in the canopy and are more elusive. I staked out the area by the poo bin and within a few minutes I had my first purple emperor sighting. Unfortunately I fluffed the photo opportunity as my camera was on the wrong setting so I waited around some more and in an hour and a half had a total of three rather brief views. It's amazing how such a large butterfly can disappear once it flies into the foliage of a tree. Whilst waiting there were a number of fly-by silver washed frits and quite a few purple hairstreaks were now on the wing up in the canopy, flashing their purple upper wings occasionally. I was most pleased finally to catch up with the emperors though will most likely be back in order to see if I can actually nail a photo of one.

This silver washed fritillary actually sunbathed
for long enough for me to get some shots off

So my fledgling butterfly spotting habit has got off to a reasonable start. I'd managed to see a few interesting species, had been to a few new locations and had managed to keep myself occupied throughout June so I can't really complain. With the water frustratingly fast drying up on my local patch just as the autumn passage gets underway I may well chase some more butterflies next month unless some decent scarce or rare turns up within striking distance. Next off, I'm off to Cornwall again though it's just as quiet in the south west as in Oxford at present so I'll probably end up chasing some butterflies there as well.

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