Thursday, 26 May 2016

Glanville Fritillary

I made a return visit to Hutchinson Bank today to see how the Glanville Fritillary colony was progressing. When I visited in 2014 the colony was only just becoming established and despite an extensive search I could only find one butterfly, a female. Today I saw somewhere in the region of fifteen to twenty of them. I am told that the transect is showing twenty four and that we have not yet reached the peak emergence.

This is the rarest of the UKs butterflies with only this colony and one on the Isle of Wight. It is on the northernmost edge of its territory and a bad winter, parasites, or other threats could see it become extinct in this country.

Attempts, by persons unknown, have been made to establish other colonies. These have been at Sand Point in Somerset, Avon Gorge, and Wrecclesham in Surrey, probably using stock imported from the continent. All these colonies seem to have died out, although they are not declared as such, until they have completed three clear years without sightings being made.

There have also been short lived colonies at Hurst Point and other locations on the Hampshire coast but these could well have been seeded by migration from the Isle of Wight.

The population of the Isle of Wight colony fluctuates wildly. This may be due to bad weather or perhaps the impact of parasites that exist alongside the colony. Parasites that at the moment do not appear to be present at Hutchinson Bank.

At the moment it looks like another bad year for the IoW with very few sightings being made so far. They should recover, weather, if that is the cause will improve and it is rare that a parasite wipes out its host completely. If anything should happen to it, at least we now have Hutchinson Bank as a back up holding UK stock.

Update: Good news - fifty plus Glanville Fritillaries reported on Compton Cliffs on the 29th May.

Are the Hutchinson Bank Butterflies real or "plastic"? Well the colony seems to be self sustaining with eggs, caterpillar, chrysalis and imago all being found at the site. However, there is a butterfly house and breeding program to provide a back up to the site. 

Evidence of natural breeding at the site is shown below.

With plenty of the caterpillars food plant on the site it looks as though next years generation are safely on their way.

See my blog of May 2014 to find the story behind the naming of the Glanville Fritillary butterfly.

and below my first Small Blue of the year

Small Blue

See a recent blog by the warden for the site, also a Martin, for some more great pictures and in particular for a shot of an aberration ab.wettei. It would be worth going back just for the chance to see one of these.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Stilt Sandpiper

Stilt Sandpiper is a new bird for me. So today, I was happy to spend a couple of hours at Pennington Marsh, watching one foraging on the floods at the back of Fishtail Lagoon. It is certainly an odd looking bird. The books say it looks a bit like a Dunlin or a Curlew Sandpiper and I suppose that it does, although for me, the first bird that came to mind when I saw it, was a Ruff with a long bill.

Photographing the bird was difficult. It was too far away. I took about a hundred pictures and each time I pressed the shutter release I knew it was another wasted effort but I had to get a record shot of some sort. You just hope, that when you get them home on the computer screen, you find something worth keeping.

The next shot shows a size comparison with a couple of Dunlin. You can see that the legs are long but the bird seemed to prefer the deeper water for wading and feeding and I could not get a clear picture of them.

The picture below shows some of the identifying features. Long legs; slightly down curved bill; white rump; wings long, uniform brown above, with no wing bars and a pale trailing edge; white supercilium; and barred breast.

Great bird to see. I just wish that I could have got a clearer picture of it.

A quick walk around the marsh gave me the usual mix of birds but I also found a couple of male Garganey hiding in the long grass.

Waiting for the Gadwall to stop preening and pose for a picture -
but what is that in the reeds behind

Eventually one of the Garganey came out for a quick swim around

On the way back home I took a detour through the New Forest. I usually only go there in the winter, when it is a lot quieter. Stopping at Marks Ash Wood, I went looking for an old tree that used to regularly have a Tawny Owl perched up in it. I new exactly where to look for the tree but it was surprisingly disorientating, trying to locate it with all the leaves on the trees.

As I approached the tree there was a lot of noise from small birds mobbing some form of threat. My arrival must have been the final straw for the Owl, which promptly flew off, pursued by a small flock of harassing birds. Nice to know the tree is back in use but I will leave it until the winter before I have another look.

Next stop was the Milkham Inclosure. I often see reports of Crossbills from here so it was worth a quick look. There were no Crossbills that I could see but I did get two Cuckoos calling as they flew over my head. My first actual sighting of the year. It was just a pity that my camera was safely packed away in the back of the car.

 Eyeworth Pond is always worth a quick look. I usually go there for close views of  the small birds. They come in to feed on the seeds that local people put down for them. However this time I was hoping that the Mandarin Ducks had produced some offspring. They had, but mother duck was keeping them safe on the far side of the pond, close to their usual cover under the trees.

Also present was one of my old favourites. There were three of them but he seems to be on his own now. They may not be on the British List of birds but I still like them.

Muscovy Duck

and a nice Collard Dove waiting patiently for someone to feed it.

A nice day out, finally caught up with my first Cuckoo of the year and a life tick with the Stilt Sandpiper. Can't be bad!

Thursday, 19 May 2016


I had a late start today and ended up visiting a number of local sites. The objective was to see a Common Cuckoo. This was really driven by seeing the Great Spotted Cuckoo at Portland earlier in the week and then realising that I was yet to connect with a common this year.

For a bird that has such a distinctive call and often perches out in the open during the breeding season it is proving surprisingly difficult to find this year.

As far as the objective goes it was unsuccessful. I heard three possibly four Cuckoos but did not manage to see any of them. Nor were there many other birds around. Fortunately I had taken the macro lens with me and I did come across a few Damselflies although strangely not a single Dragonfly. 

Banded Demoiselles were the most common. Nature produces some amazing colours and the metallic blues and greens on these insects are truly stunning.

Banded Demoiselle - male

Banded Demoiselle - female

There were a few "blue" Damselflies around but the only one I managed to photograph was this Azure

Azure Damselfly

 and there were also a few Large Reds

Large Red Damselfly

Butterflies were much in evidence with Orange Tips, Peacocks, Red Admirals, Brimstones, Tortoiseshells, and a variety of whites on the wing.

Green-veined White

The Cuckoo will just have to wait for another day.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Marsh Fritillary

With our trip to Portland this morning delivering a life tick on the Great Spotted Cuckoo we moved on to Cotley Hill in the afternoon for the Marsh Fritillaries. 

They have been lost from the South East and I think that Cotley Hill is now the nearest place to home, where we have a chance of seeing them. Last year we arrived too late in the season and the butterflies were past their best. Although they are a weak flyer, they seem to damage easily and worn specimens take on a greasy appearance. One of the old names for them is the Greasy Fritillary.

This year we were looking for newly emerged specimens and we seem to have timed it just right.


In most of the country the Marsh Fritillary inhabits damp wet areas but in a few places on the downs like Cotley they exist on dry grassy slopes. Given that it can survive on such varied habitat it is difficult to see why it is in such serious decline.


You need sunshine to be able to find them. As soon as the sun goes behind the clouds the Marsh Fritillary drops into the grass and will often bury itself deep out of sight.



 Last year we had them nectaring a lot more but I expect this early in the season they are more intent on finding a partner for breeding.

It was the Marsh Fritillary that had drawn us to Cotley Hill but it is a good site for other butterflies as well. We saw Grizzled and Dingy Skippers, Common Blue, Green Hairstreaks, Meadow Brown, and a couple of Wall Brown.

Female Common Blue - perhaps unusual in tending more towards the blue/grey than the usual brown

Grizzled Skipper

Dingy Skipper

Wall Brown

Wall Brown

Some great pictures of the Marsh Frits and a new first for me. The first time I have produced two blogs from one day out. It's so much easier when you have interesting subjects and you manage to get some good pictures.


Great Spotted Cuckoo

The bird was first flagged on the Friday, but would have been the subject a major twitch over the weekend. We had given it a couple of days for the numbers to die down a bit, but in the end the chance of seeing a Great Spotted Cuckoo was too much of a draw. Early Monday morning and we headed off west along the A27 attempting to beat the usual traffic jams.

We had a plan. Great Spotted Cuckoo in the morning and then if nothing else was showing in Portland we would head north to Cotley Hill to see the Marsh Fritillaries. 

It did not look promising when we arrived. There were no birders at its usual spot in Reap Lane and a quick check at the Bird Observatory gave us the news that it had been seen there earlier in the morning but had then flown off north and its whereabouts were now unknown.

We headed back to Reap Lane to wait for its return and the reason for it favouring this location soon became apparent. The bushes were covered in tents containing the caterpillars of the Brown Tailed Moth, as was the ground, and if you stood still long enough you would have them crawling up your legs. The Cuckoo is equipped to eat them but for humans the hairs can cause skin irritation and breathing difficulties. The best advice I have seen, is not to stick them up your nose.


We waited a couple of hours with confidence levels gradually sinking but then to our relief the Cuckoo flew in. That was the good news, the bad news was that it landed deep in some bushes rather than out on the post where we wanted it.

Still a life tick for both of us and in the end we were able to get some decent record shots so we can't really complain.

It did eventually come out and start tearing open a few of the caterpillar tents but it was deep in the brambles and did not give picture opportunities. It was then spooked by the inevitable dog walker and disappeared back into the bushes.

We waited about another hour but it was clear that we were not going to get better shots. When we arrived we were the only two birders looking for it but once the bird had put in an appearance the numbers of people looking at it gradually increased and the chances of it coming out into the open reduced. In the end we had a sizeable twitch and feeling a little uncomfortable with the experience we decided to move on. 

I had really wanted a flight shot and I did get one but it is not exactly the picture that I had been looking for.

Still a great bird and it was worth the trip down to Portland and with it only being one o'clock we still had time to get to Cotley Hill for the Marsh Fritillaries. More on that in the next blog.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Grizzled Skipper

Spring has suddenly happened. The last two weeks in April and the first two in May feel as though they have been compressed into just a couple of days. The trees seem to have turned green overnight, bird migration has restarted and the butterflies have appeared. The trouble is, that there isn't enough time to fit everything in. I am missing some of the regular birds and the butterflies are happening out of sequence.

Today was an attempt to do some catching up. See the Turtle Doves at Woods Mills, find a Chequered Skipper, finally get to see the Lesser Whitethroat we had heard singing by the long pool at Pagham Harbour, and as a bonus have a look at the Tawny Owl chicks in the explorer area by the Pagham Harbour Visitors Centre.

It didn't go to plan. There was no sign of the Turtle Doves either in Woods Mills or along the footpath to the river. It was also uncomfortably hot and humid. We did hear three Nightingales singing within a few feet of us but they were not visible, in what is now a dense green hedge. 

The best I could manage was my first Green-veined White of the year and a Blackcap. A poor substitute for the Turtle Dove, but good to see anyway. It was also interesting to note that one of the large trees in Woods Mills, where you could often find the Turtle Dove purring away, had blown down.

Green-veined White


Next stop was Mill Hill to look for the Grizzled Skipper. It's a bit of a sun trap which is why it is so good for butterflies but at least here there was a breeze coming in off the sea. Two weeks ago I couldn't find a single butterfly here but today there were plenty flying.  Green Hairstreaks, Common Blue, Brimstone, Peacock, Small Heath, and both Dingy and Grizzled Skippers.

Common Blue

Mating pair Dingy Skippers

Still mating

The Grizzled Skipper always comes as a surprise. For some reason I always expect it to be bigger and it never is, but it is a great little butterfly to see and to photograph.

Grizzled Skipper

Mating pair Grizzled Skipper

and still mating - it looks like the male on the left and the female on the right

 I also found a couple of moths, the first at Mill Hill and the second sitting on the kitchen ceiling when I got back home.

Micro moth - I think this one is a Wavy-barred Sable - Pyrausta nigrata

and I am still trying to identify this one.

We had a look at the Tawny Owlets, one in the nest box and one out on a branch. Distant but must be worth a quick picture.

I came home with decent pictures of the mating Dingy and Grizzled Skippers but overall it was a disappointing day. There wasn't a lot to be seen and we could not really be bothered to go chasing half chances. It was too hot and stuffy to be comfortable and I am already looking forward to those crisp clear winter days.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Duke of Burgundy

My first butterfly blog of the year and I wasn't sure if I should call it Duke of Burgundy or Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Sunday and I dropped in to Rewell Wood to have a quick look for the Pearl-bordered. I walked for miles and hardly saw a butterfly, and to top it all, I had forgotten too carry any water. Returning to the car, hot, bothered and thirsty, I ended up following a Brimstone along a small ride. I lost the Brimstone but in front of me I found a Pearl-bordered and then another and in the end I had close to thirty sightings in under an hour.


You would think I would be happy but it is the most annoying of butterflies. Apart from being hyperactive in the bright sunshine it seems to have the ability to just disappear in front of your eyes. You have it in sight, its only feet away, then it does a half turn, and it's gone. I got a few photographs but none that I was really happy with.

Monday and I picked Dave up and we went back to Rewell Woods for another go. Not so many sightings, perhaps twenty in the two hours we were there, but they were still just as difficult to photograph.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Showing the underwings and the pearls around the edge of the rear wing.

Look out for the patches of Bugle which it seems to favour and keep your fingers crossed for a female which will stay still for a bit longer than the roaming males.

We also had some good views of male Orange-tips in Rewell and were lucky enough to get one settled when it clouded over for a few minutes.


and a Red Admiral resting on its way along the ride.

Flushed with success we decided to head up to Kithurst Meadow to look for the Duke of Burgundy. This is an altogether more accommodating butterfly. It is a late riser, probably best after 11am, it does not fly too fast or roam too far, and it is a bit lazy, being quite happy to sit for long periods giving good photographic opportunities. 

Duke of Burgundy

The blog is named after the Duke of Burgundy as it is an altogether more agreeable butterfly.

Duke of Burgundy

We also found Dingy Skippers in the meadow including this mating pair.

Dingy Skippers

There were also a number of Green Hairstreaks flying through and I was lucky enough to get this one sitting out on the bank by the side of the road.

Green Hairstreak

A great day and it now feels as though the butterfly season is really under way. It reminded me of why I like the butterflies. If you do your research and get your timing right the butterflies are going to be there. That does not always apply when you are looking for birds. However, there is also the frustration of a hot sunny day when you cannot find one that will settle.