It's been such a strange birding year so far. The weather has been playing silly buggers, first being unseasonably hot, then unseasonably cold and wet and now we're back to Scorchio! again. This has really affected my local patch Port Meadow which is having its poorest year since I've started birding it in the autumn of 2007. Whilst the rain has meant that there's been plenty of water on the floods there's been hardly any wader passage to speak of apart from a few brief days when it was extra flooded. Also, I've not been able to find any grasshopper warblers when in a normal year I might expect at least 3 or 4 reeling males. Whilst it's still May it has a definite June feel to it and this has lead me to reach for my Summer Doldrums antidote of butterflies earlier than usual. I freely admit that butterflies are a poor second to birds as far as I'm concerned. I remember reading a while ago that birds are uniquely suited to the whole ticking off process because:
a) there are lots of them to count but not so many that one gets completely overwhelmed. Ticking UK mammals, for example, wouldn't really cut it because there just aren't enough of them
b) because of their mobility (they can fly you know) there's always the possibility of something really good turning up anywhere. Again with the mammals, once you've seen them all then that's it.
Butterflies on the other hand don't have that many species to chase after (I know one one person who saw all the UK species in a single year) and migrants are very thin on the ground. They do have one thing going for them though, which is that they are most active when the birding gets really quiet in June and July. Also, as I've only recently taken an interest in them there are quite a few species that I don't really know or haven't seen before so for at least a while I do get the satisfaction of seeing something new though this will realistically only last a year or two before I've seen all the local stuff. Actually, I've been meaning to go butterflying in May regardless of how good the birding was as there are some spring butterflies which fly during this month which I'd like to see. So today I decided to see if I could catch up with some of them and I chose to visit Aston Upthorpe Downs (or Juniper Valley as birders tend to know it) to look for Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, both classic spring butterflies that frequent chalk downlands.
It was certainly hot enough (25+ degrees) though with a reasonable cooling breeze. My walk up the valley wasn't that productive and I only found a couple of Dingy Skippers, a Small Copper, a Common Blue and a few Cinnabar Moths. However on the return journey the wind dropped and suddenly there were Skippers everywhere. I spent some time trying to photograph them using macro mode on my point & shoot camera though the results are rather disappointing and little more than record shots. On the other hand the couple of shots that I took with the super-zoom have come out much better, so a lesson there for the future. I clearly need to work on my butterfly photographic skills though.
Here are the P&S record shots...
A rather ragged Cinnabar Moth
...and here are the Super-zoom ones which were good enough to warrant the larger size...
Male Common Blue
I know that I can't really complain too much about the birding of late. After all in the last couple of weeks I've seen Squacco Heron and Cream-coloured Courser but especially with the Patch so off form it's nice to have an alternative local focus of interest during the lean months ahead. There will therefore no doubt be a few other butterfly posts forthcoming in the months ahead.