Monday 30 July 2018

More butterflies and a safari south of the river

The Safari had an errand to run at the beginning of last week down past the dunes, once it was over we took Monty for a scamper on the beach and on the way back to the car found this huge Sea Rocket tucked safely behind the fence.
Sadly without the fence there's no way they can grow like this, they either get trampled by people and their mutts or scraped up by the mechanical beach cleaner. Long live the fence and may many more early successional dune plants flourish! 
In other news we've been enjoying the heatwave even if Monty hasn't. It's not often you see our sea this calm and this blue and the sand looking this bright golden but weeks of calm weather have settled all the discolouring silt we normally see out of the water column and lo and behold our few square miles of the Irish Sea now look (and feel) like the Caribbean
All the tiny dots on the beach are a small proportion of the countless stranded jellyfish we saw that day, mostly Compass Jellyfish.
In between boughts of household chores, dog walking and trying to get to the back of the garage for the first time in years we've had the macro lens out in the garden at Base Camp and taken a few snaps.
Holly Blue - a rare visitor to Base Camp
 Honey Bee mimicking hoverfly, possibly Eristalis nemorum
A hoverfly Helophilus pendula
Red Tailed Bumble Bee
Before the sun has become too hot in the mornings we've been taking Monty to the Rock Gardens to have a wander round the two fields to count butterflies for the Big Butterfly Count with some success.
Common Blue
Other insects also caught our attention from time to time.
Meadow Grasshopper
Small Copper and Common Blue
Small Copper and Small Skipper
Small Copper
One morning on the walk back to Base Camp we spotted a visitor we've hardly seen at all this year. Maybe it's a different individual to the two that used to be around regularly because on the odd occasion we've seen it it's been sitting in places on the same building it/they never used to. We had the butterfly lens with us rather than the big dobber for bird photography.
Peregrine (PYLC #148)
And back to the Rock Gardens on another morning
Common Blue
Female Common Blue
Male Common Blue
 There have been a lot of Meadow Browns but when this one first caught our eye we weren't quite sure what is was, after a bit of chasing around and sneaking up we eventually got a good view and a few pics to see that it was indeed 'just' another Meadow Brown but a leucisitic one at that.
Small Copper again - we never tire of seeing these little beauties
 The next brood of Speckled Woods started to emerge and they are looking really good, a very common butterfly in our area now but it's not that long ago they were unheard of, only 25 years or so
As we said earlier other insects were apt to catch our eye and this one certainly did, we think it's some kind of Ichneumon Wasp, it disappeared under a the thatch of dead grass at the base of the vegetation maybe it had sniffed out a pupating moth chrysalis.
Back at Base Camp while having a cold drink on the patio on a sweltering afternoon we watched a Garden Cross Spider going about its business - yes folks it's autumn now!
Mid week saw us take a trip to the southside with CR and meet up with JG for a wander round the fabulous Lunt Meadows reserve. Avocets with well grown chicks refused to be photographed but who'd have thunk it years ago that less than 10 miles from Liverpool city centre and only a mile and a half from our childhood front door these exotic rarities would be breeding one day - certainly not us, Avocets were the birds of dreams and hoped for holidays down in Norfolk where even there they weren't THAT numerous back then. Two Black Tailed Godwits were more photogenic and again who'd have thunk it way back when...will they be nesting here next year?
The rest of the reserve was fairly quiet with snoozing waterfowl and resting Lapwings being the main interest, the most noise was coming from hidden Reed and Sedge Warblers. We did manage to add to our Photo Year List Challenge in the form of a distant heat-hazy Greenshank (#149)
Then it was lunchtime and time to say ta-ta to JG and wish her luck in her quest for some Purple Hairstreaks, a new species for her in yet another thought to be new location. LATE UPDATE - she was successful, great news!
We headed back north a little way to another Lancashire Wildlife Trust Reserve - they do have some real crackers - Mere Sands Wood.
Star of the show here was a juvenile Common Tern occaionally being fed by its parents - we didn't realise they had pontoons out for the terns and that a few pairs were using them
At the back of the pool the heatwave had evaporated much of the water and left a long sandy spit which was full of loafing Mallards mostly. Something spooked everything, we'd been told to look out for a passing Osprey, and one of the spookeess was a Green Sandpiper (PYLC #150) which unfortunately didn't really come close enough for a decent pic.
While we were failing miserably with the heat and distance with the Green Sandpiper CR called out he'd found a female Mandarin Duck a little closer tucked in behind some Lapwings. Again there was a little flush by something unseen and it swam out in to better view though still quite a long way off (PYLC #151).
Not the best pic but a bit of an unexpected bonus so we're certainly not going to complain!
One of the resons for visiting was the woodland as it would be cooled and shadier for a hot dog. It was good to see the plantations of Hazel coming along nicely and still very lush and verdant despite the drought conditions. A vast improvement on the impenetrable thickets of tangled gnarly old Rhododendron we helped start getting rid of in the very early 80s...still plenty more to go at too!!!
Down at the viewing platform overlooking one of the smaller pools we were quite disappointed to see it wasn't creaming with dragonflies and damselflies, only a couple of Brown Hawkers patrolled the far bank. It was nice to watch a young family of Moorhens being gently tended by their doting parents though.
A few feet away two well grown juvenile Shelducks looked as though they'd been abandoned to their fate by their doting parents - big and ugly enough to look after themselves now.
Round at the far side of the reserve the water levels were similarly low with lots of lake bed exposed. There were lots of lumps sticking put of the mud and closer inspection showed them to be the shells of hundreds of deceased Swan Mussels.
Click the pic to see them better
We'd seen the Kingfisher zooming low across the water at a couple of places earlier in the afternoon. The perches set up for photographers were high and dry with no water and hence no fish obviously. So we were a bit fortunate to find the little connecting ditch still had a bit of water in it and then as if by magic the Kingfisher appeared. Bit only for us, from where C was sitting it was obscured by too much vegetation. But we had a little window through the shrubbery giving us a half a shout at a pic.
All this was followed by the start of National Whale and Dolphin Watch. It started well with us getting a msg about two Bottlenose Dolphins coming our way and luckily we got on to them, our first of the year. Unfortunately this was about three hours before the start of our official Watch and the weather, after being hot, sunny and flat calm for nigh on three months was deteriorating rapidly.
Right at the start, chatting to some of the volunteers - pic courtesy of PW
The storm coming in from the left landed soon after and our four hour watch was abandoned after only 90 minutes with nothing other than a handful of Manx Shearwaters seen.

Where to next? Hopefully no more getting wet during National Whale and Dolphin Watch

In the meantime let us know who's doing all the dazzling in your outback.

Monday 23 July 2018

More deep purple, counting big butterflies and other lepidopterans too

The Safari took the opportunity to go back to Singleton church, taking CR with us, a couple of days ago. Once again it was a bit of a wait in the hot sun before we got our first glimpse of one of the Purple Hairstreaks. It was several minutes more before one would show well enough to point the cameras at it and even then it led us a merry dance by flying over our heads and landing on the Turkey Oak a few yards away in the new grave yard.
We had a few more glimpses and an occasional photo opportunity 
This one is a different individual to the first one as it still has its tails. Both of them were drinking honeydew from the surface of the leaves. We also saw but weren't able to photograph one female laying eggs quite low down in the canopy so we're pretty confident they'll be there next year.
Our sightings dried up as the butterflies hid at the top of their tree so we left but as we went through the church yard gate a dragonfly caught our eye in the new Peace Garden. It was chaser and kept returning to the dame dried up stalk albeit against the light from where we came through the gate. when it turned its back it revealed itself as a male Broad Bodied Chaser and a battered one coming to the end of its time a that.
After on of its forays we noticed that it was scoffing a fairly large insect but we were unable to identify what it might have been. Quite substantial whatever it was, certainly not a midge or a greenfly.
A pretty good couple of hours out.
This weekend say the launch of the annual Big Butterfly Count, an easy to join in Citizen Science project which helps monitor the state of the country's mid-summer butterfly populations.
We did two 15 minute counts this morning down on Patch 1 across the two fields behind the Rock Gardens. The rougher of the two fields had the better count, 15 Gatekeepers, 3 Small Whites, 4 Speckled Woods, 26 Meadow Browns, 4 Common Blues, a Small Skipper and a Silver Y moth, they're on the recording sheet. Not at all bad for just walking down one and a bit edges of the field. A bit of sun breaking through the heavy cloud might well have brought out a fair few more. We might have expected more skippers but the recent hot weather might have seen them finish their flight season earlier than normal.
The other field has fewer flowers and fewer species of longer grass and is also smaller, as it took less time to get round we did a few minutes in the 'Butterfly Zone' at the side of the park which was quite productive but alas no White Letter Hairstreaks, the hot weather perhaps finishing them off early like the skippers although they are still on the wing in a few localities across the Fylde. And strangely none of the larger, colourful wider-countryside species like Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell or Comma - where were they - - waiting for the sun to come out probably!
If that's what we didn't see what did we see? Well here goes; 9 Meadow Browns, 3 Gatekeepers, no fewer than 5 Small Coppers, 3 Common Blues, 2 Green Veined Whites, a Small White and 2 Silver Y moths. Totaling up that makes 71 individuals, half of which were Meadow Browns, of 9 species - not bad for a dull morning...and better still despite the muggy, humid conditions not a Clegg in sight - we did have our 200% DEET spray to fend off the little horrors but it wasn't needed thankfully.
Common Blue
Common Blue

Green Veined White
Small Copper  - hiding
Not hiding
Back at Base camp the moth trap has continued to produce small but varied catches. A lovely Garden Pebble was New for the Garden yesterday, a large 'micro' moth bigger than some 'macro' moths - unfortunately it evaded the lens....grrrr, so here's a link
What hasn't managed to evade the lens is below...
Lesser and/or Common Rustic
Rosy Rustic - another New for the Garden
Shuttle Shaped Dart
Silver Y
Willow Beauty
Micro moths have been very infrequent during the second half of the month so far but we're hoping there'll be some of the little stunners to show you before too long. Just because they're small doesn't make them any less beautiful than their larger 'macro' cousins indeed many off them knock spots off the larger moths when it comes to colour and patterns.

Where to next? We have another trip lined up with CR later in the week and hopefully the moth trap will produce some interest - once we've dried it out after last night's unexpected downpours...will the electrics still work???

In the meantime let us know who's buzzing around the churchyards in your outback