Thursday, 26 May 2016

Bewitched on the Downs

Blue butterflies weren't the only things on the wing at Ballard Down on Sunday - a few day-flying moths were also in evidence, the most numerous of which was the Mother Shipton, named after a 16th century Yorkshire prophetess whose visage is replicated in the wing pattern of the moth. She is said to have foretold, among other things, the Great Fire of London, the invention of iron ships and the defeat of the Armada, insights which saw her reputation deteriorate rapidly from 'soothsayer' to 'witch'. Seems a bit harsh. Good job she didn't claim to know about climate change, or the latter day equivalent of Donald Trump would have had her fried. Fortunately, Tudor overlords were more tolerant than modern day Presidential candidates, and, despite predicting the end of the world, she was left to die of natural causes in her 70s. Such is her legend that Mother Shipton is the only British moth to share its name with a cave-based visitor attraction in Yorkshire. Fact.
Mother Shipton - the hooked nose and protruding chin of the witch's face can be seen in the wing pattern  
Also on the wing was a smart Wood Tiger
I was surprised to find this Angle Shades roosting out in the open
And representing the micros, Pyrausta ostrinalis - related to, but a different species from, the Pyrausta purpuralis I saw on Melbury Down a few weeks ago
Had to phone a friend to identify this one: Cydia ulicetana, a common and widespread species in Britain, but not one I had photographed before
As well as blues doing the wild thing, these Dingy Skippers were also at it
Always a pleasure to see a male Orange Tip nectaring
Ditto a roosting Small Heath
It started to rain at Ballard so I retired to Wareham, picked up the family and we headed to Morden Bog for a late afternoon walk - a Green Hairstreak near Morden Park Lake was a pleasant surprise
It was perched up on Rhododendron...
...along with another of my favourite species - the Beautiful Demoiselle
This is the female of the species - perhaps not lovelier than the male, but still a stunner


Monday, 23 May 2016

Sunday Blues

A late 'winter' cold put paid to any thoughts I may have harboured about wandering further afield this weekend, so I indulged myself on Saturday with Lemsip and a lie-in. Suitably refreshed and a little stir crazy by Sunday, I managed a gentle stroll around Ballard Down to get my quota of fresh air, flora and fauna. Encouraged by the results I have been getting recently with my '1st summer' 100-400mm lens, I also aimed to get some more butterfly photographs. And very rewarding it was too, despite the imperfect weather, with some interesting colour variants of female Adonis Blue among the highlights.
Female Adonis Blue - one of the bluest I have seen, a mesmerising aberration - apparently this is more common in spring broods
Another striking individual - even bluer than the one above, but with orange hindwing spots reduced in brightness - nectaring on Horseshoe Vetch, which is also the larval foodplant
A more conventional female Adonis
The stunning male Adonis Blue
A number of males were quite approachable in the cool conditions of Sunday afternoon
And finally, a pair of Adonis Blues doing their bit for the next generation
A male Common Blue - more lilac in colouration than the Adonis, and note how the white outer fringes to the wings are unbroken by black marks
A Common Blue roosting up in overcast conditions
This is a female Common Blue - like the female Adonis above, this one is at the bluer end of the spectrum

Don't be fooled by the name 'Brown Argus' - this was the third species of blue I saw on the wing at Ballard Down
Brown Argus underside - they were relatively inactive in the overcast conditions

Fortunately, this provided the opportunity for close study of roosting individuals - I love the rich orange spotting on the underside

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Something green, and a giant

Sunshine, warmth and opportunity combined on Saturday, encouraging me to make the trip to Cerne Abbas, one of the finest sites in Dorset for butterflies where a range of species flourish in the shadow of the celebrated giant. After a surprisingly chilly morning with patchy cloud, the afternoon warmed up enough to bring out a range of species, including a stunning Green Hairstreak.
Green Hairstreak - more often 'stumbled upon' than 'found', in my experience
This individual was rubbing its wings together in a rotating motion, revealing a glimpse of the brown upperwing
Perhaps the most sought after butterfly at Cerne Abbas is the Duke of Burgundy - a rare species for which conservation efforts are helping to halt a precipitous decline
This male perched up during an overcast period - the forelegs of the male are stunted giving it a four-legged look (compared to six visible legs on the female)
The Marsh Fritillary has been in long-term decline in its wetland habitats, but is bucking the trend on Dorset downland sites. A single individual was spotted during my visit - hopefully more will be emerging soon
Small Heath - another species which has seen a steep decline, although it remains widespread
Grizzled Skipper - a very dapper individual
Dingy Skipper outnumbered Grizzled by about 5 to 1 - the opposite ratio compared to a visit to Fontmell Down a few weeks ago
This Green-veined White served as the warm-up act on the way to the flower-rich downland at Cerne Abbas
And representing the day-flying moths, this attractive Green Carpet was disturbed from vegetation
A fine show of Orchids and Cowslips on Cerne Giant Hill
Green Hairstreak - our only green butterfly


Saturday, 14 May 2016

In-tents discomfort

The rest of the family are down in Swanage in a tent for a family gathering, and, thanks to many years of moaning about the bad backs and sleepless nights which I get when camping, I have been spared the privations of life under canvas for this weekend at least. Speaking of tents, it was tents of a different kind which enabled me to catch up with the Dorset bird of the year so far today: specifically, the communal tents of Brown-tail Moth caterpillars which adorn the hedgerows of Portland, and which represent the Great Spotted Cuckoo's equivalent of an-all-you-can-eat buffet. This rare southern European visitor arrived at the Bill on Friday morning, but on moving up the island and discovering the high concentration of caterpillars on Reap Lane, it stuck around until today enabling many admirers to see it. It is the first of this species to be seen in Dorset for over a quarter of a century.
A rare view of the Great Spotted Cuckoo out in the open
Feeding on caterpillars in a favoured hedgerow
Downing another one
The Cuckoo was commuting between two hedgerows allowing some opportunities for flight photography
Revealing buffy underwing coverts here...
...and the impressive tail shown to its full extent
Attractively spotted upperparts
A handsome, 1st summer bird
And here's lunch: Brown-tail Moth caterpillars - the hairs are an irritant to human skin...
...but obviously not to the stomach-lining of the Great Spotted Cuckoo
This is the communal tent, photographed in late April when the caterpillars were much smaller
Dorset is enjoying a good spell for continental over-shoots: I caught up with this Black-winged Stilt at Lytchett Bay on the way home from work one evening this week...
...and a Red-rumped Swallow at Lodmoor en route to see the Great Spotted Cuckoo

A booming Bittern could also be heard at Lodmoor - a wonderful sound to hear in Dorset