Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Its not all Purple...

One of dozens of Banded Demoiselles.
After the heat and butterfly excitement of Sunday, we were pleased to get back to the pub for food and drink. The scampi and chips were excellent and a very cold pint of Aspalls dry cider went down very nicely.  Our rooms at the Woolpack Inn were in annexed accommodation behind the pub. The room was basic but clean and comfortable. It would have been perfect had it not been for 'Junior Kickstart' taking place only 20 yards from our window! A quad, a rally car and a mini motor treid their best to out gun each other in the noise stakes around a small paddock. This was not advertised on the website, take note!

Due to the heat it was hard to get to sleep but it was soon Monday morning and after breakfast we went out for a wander. The River Nene was just outside and from the road bridge we could count 21+ Red eyed Damselflies basking on water lillies while a nice shoal of hand sized Roach hung in the current, occasionally rising to take some unseen snack. 

The damsels were added to the nice selection found yesterday around Fermyn Woods Country Park where we recorded, 13+ Emperor Dragons, 7+ Brown Hawker, 2 Broad bodied Chaser, 1 Four spotted Chaser, 2 Ruddy Darter, 1 Emerald Damsel and many Blue tailed Damsels.

Male Ruddy Darter sky pointing due to the heat. Its something when dragonflies are too hot!

Broad bodied Chaser looking a bit worn and leathery now, his season almost over...

We visited Fermyn again for a couple of hours or so but it was much quieter than yesterday but we did find 5+ Purple Hairstreaks basking around a ditch only 2 feet from the ground and my only lifer of the trip -  2 Essex Skippers showed well in masses of Small and Large Skippers along the rides.

Inspired by the excellent selection of odonata, we are very impoverished for odonata in the North east, we were on the look out for more likely spots. A small road on our way back towards the A1 looked promising as it crossed the junction between a canal and a river at Cotterstock Lock.

When we pulled up the temp on the car read 34 degrees! It was baking. A pleasant triangular walk around the waterside gave us a great variety of dragons and some damsels too. We had 2 male Scarce Chasers, 1 male Black tailed Skimmer, 2 male Emperor Dragonfly, 2 male Brown Hawker, 1 Red eyed Damsel, 50+ Banded Demoiselle and 2+ Common Blue Damsels.

A short last ditch try for Black Hairstreak proved a week too late at Glapthorn Cow Pastures but we did have more Purple Hairstreaks, Silver washed Fritillaries, Gatekeepers etc while three Ravens cronked over head.

It was now lunchtime and we had a long journey home. It was an excellent couple of days out with loads of stuff of interest to two northern naturalists, so no doubt we will be down this way again sometime...

This one is a male Scarce Chaser see the black triangles at the wing bases. And its on a plant. This seperates it from the next species...

Black tailed Skimmer. No black triangles and flat on a bit of concrete. It doesnt perch on emergent vegetation prefering harder surfaces.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

By Royal Appointment...

As a young lad, I used to read the books of the naturalist and field sportsman Denys Watkins-Pitchford other wise known as 'BB'. He was a great writer and illustrator who's evocative descriptions of warm summer days watching butterflies or  wildfowling on ice and snow bound salt marshes would hold me captivated. 

In particular I loved to see his black and white lino cuts and ink drawings. He was agreat inspiration. Nowadays his field sports interests might be a little bit frowned upon but he was a man of his era.

I can remember reading about his love of Apatura iris, the Purple Emperor butterfly that was an elusive and declining insect of the forests of the midlands and south of England. BB used to look for the eggs on sallows and take them to rear into adults away from predators to release the next summer. He was concerned that they may disappear altogether as a result of foresters spraying pesticides on oak trees to rid the woods of tortrix moths.

Fortunately, this practice seems to have stopped and iris numbers are on the increase. Or maybe it is due to some warmer summers in recent years in the areas they are found?

Last summer was a good one in the East Midlands with many Purple Emperors on the wing in the Rockingham Forest woodlands of East Northants. It was then that I decided we must have a trip down to have a meeting with the creature affectionately known to his fans as 'His Imperial Majesty'.

Fast forward to the heatwave of summer 2018. As the UK basked in 30 degrees temps for weeks on end, the Emperor was on the wing earlier than  usual and in bigger numbers. At the Knepp Wildlands project in West Sussex, for example, Matthew Oates counted over 300 on the wing in late June, making them more numerous than Meadow Brown! Knepp is a bit far to go over two days for us (and a bit expensive to get access) so last weekend John and myself visited the old stomping grounds of BB himself - Fermyn Woods in Northamptonshire.

We left sunny Northumberland at 4am and were onsite by 8.30am. Only one car was parked and its occupants had already left for their walk. As we entered the woods, I was a bit disappointed to see that the forestry people had annihilated the trackside scrub including all of the sallows favoured for breeding by the Emperors. What would BB have thought?

Onwards and upwards though, and a movement half way up and oak trunk attracted my attention. It was a worn old female Purple Emperor! First butterfly of the day too. This is a doddle, we thought.

Male Purple Emperor showing why he has his name.
How wrong could we be. For the next several hours walking the length of Fermyn and Lady Woods all we manged were brief flight views of H.I.M gliding around his territory but always too high. Other great butterflies for us invaders from the north filled in the void, with good sightings of White Admiral, Purple Hairstreaks, Silver washed Fritillaries, Gatekeepers and Marbled Whites, let alone masses of Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Small and Large Whites, Small and Large Skippers all along the rides. It was fantastic.

White Admiral, now past their best.

Silver Washed Fritillary

Essex Skipper, only two seen amongst dozens of Small Skippers and Large Skippers 

Gatekeeper. We dont get these at home.
The heat almost made us succumb by 2pm so we headed back to the car, without an 'iris on the deck' shot.

Only 50 mtrs from the parking area, a young lady said she had a male up in the taller trees. Another visitor has sprayed a little attractant ( vile fish oil) onto the track to no avail. She soon left, and John and me stood, gazing back up the ride hoping for a large butterfly to appear. No joy, so we turned to head off and there, on the path, 3 feet away, was His Majesty spread eagled in the dappled shade. I pushed John to one side and I the other to prevent him being trodden on and thought that was our chance gone, he was bound to flush back to the high oaks. But no, he sat a while then flew a few feet and landed again and sat there for the next hour enjoying sucking his yellow proboscis on the hardcore path.

More of the male that granted us an audience.
Our concentration attracted the attention of other watchers and some even came from the Cafe at the country park around the corner for a look. Patience scarcely paid off as despite being a beautifully fresh butterfly he didnt want to open his wings again. I couldnt resist trying to see if he would sit on my finger and with the agreement of the observers left, I gently slid my flat hand towards him, just touching his legs before he glided safely up into the woods.

What a great experience!

We were staying in The Woolpack Inn not far away overnight so I'll do another post about the next day soon....its mostly odonata...

The backstage door, butterfly style. You can see the Emperor in the front.