Sunday, 13 July 2008

Rule 1 - Always check your camera batteries.

At last the sun has decided to come out for the day. By mid morning the mercury had hit the giddy heights of 20C.

Eager to follow up the recent sightings of White Letter Hairstreaks today's safari headed out in to the near outback, aka the Rock Gardens, in search of butterflies.
But there are no pictures today because someone forgot to take the spare batteries!

Arriving at the site there were Grasshoppers
chirruping allover the place, taking advantage of the warm sunshine. Almost immediately the first butterfly, a Meadow Brown, was seen.

Above is a male Meadow Brown - dark chocolate, the females are milk chocolate coloured when seen in the field.

It was to become a day of 'firsts'. The first first was the first ripe Blackberry to be tasted this year. Within a few minutes we had seen another first for the season, a Gatekeeper.
A male Whitethroat sang from his usual Bramble bush and the meadow held good numbers of Small Skippers, some bright and fresh others faded with age. Large Skippers were much harder to come by a
nd the safari's final count of this species was only 3.

Photos - - Large Skipper (above - note the chequer pattern on the wings) and Small Skipper (clean wings) by Jenna.

Walking up to the copse a Blackcap could be heard singing from deep within the bushes and the first Brown Hawker dragonfly for this years safaris.

In the glade 3 Large Whites were milling around the Bramble flowers and a solitary Holly Blue nipped briefly about
the tree tops. Also seen here were, somewhat surprisingly, the trips first Speckled Woods, and there were only 5 of them.
The grassland here had two different types of Spider's nest. One was neatly constructed from folded grass leaves bound internally by silk, the other an umbrella of silk covering a few stems of grass.

We stood quietly under the elm trees patiently looking up. The hum and murmur of summer insects was all around, Bees and Hoverflies jostling for position on favoured Bramble flowers.

Patience is a virtue and we were virtuous. After scanning the tree tops with binoculars for only a few minutes we were rewarded with the sight of two male White Letter Hairstreaks doing their territorial display, spinning around each other as each tried to fly higher than the other. Eventually one broke off the 'dance' and returned to a sunny perch on a Sycamore leaf. There we had a good view of the fine white letter W and tiny tail on his hindwing. The W looks as though it has been drawn with the finest of an artist's brushes.
All the while we were accompanied by the rus
tle of unseen Blackbirds searching through the dry leaf litter under the trees. A Dunnock was spotted carrying food to what must be a third brood by this time of the summer.

Back in the meadow we continued the search for grassland butterflies and were very pleased to see large numbers of both Meadow Brown and Small Skipper.
The sun was drying the seed pods of Gorse bushes
in the middle of the field and they were splitting with a loud 'crack'; the seeds inside being flung some considerable distance, over 2 metres in some cases.
Large long legged Spider Hunting Wasps were seen prowling around the perimeter of the Gorse looking for victims on which to lay their eggs. The picture below is of a very similar wasp I found at a different site but which was also searching around Gorse bushes.

With the safari drawing to a close we managed to disturb a couple of Silver Y moths from the grassland and watched a Burnet moth arguing with a Meadow Brown. We think the butterfly won as the Burnet shot off like a fluorescent red and black bullet into the distance. We were unable to see which of the two possible species of Burnet it was.

A very bright Emperor dragonfly hunting in the lee of one of the mounds was a welcome surprise, and we also came across the last 'first' of the day; ripe and juicy Wild Raspberries.
We ended the safari with a Small White butterfly. This species seems to be in short supply this summer. But the Nasturtiums are flowering at Base Camp and if the weather improves they may well attract Small and Large Whites to lay their eggs.

Talking of Base camp there were 3 Swifts screaming around the roof tops as the kettle was put on for a well earned cup of tea.

The safari's total butterfly count was;
Meadow Brown 85
Small Skipper 55
Gatekeeper 2
Large White 3
Large Skipper 3
Holly Blue 1
Speckled Wood 5
White Letter Hairstreak 2
Small White 1

A minimum of 157 butterflies of 9 species.

Where to next? Saturday (19th) is Bat night in Stanley Park. Meet at the visitor centre 9.30pm. After that I am looking forward to a safari a bit further afield.

In the meantime keep looking and let us know what you find in your 'outback'.

No comments: