Sunday, 31 July 2016

Jurassic life

Recent weekends have provided just enough time and sunshine to check out the butterflies of Dorset's Jurassic Coast - or, to be geologically correct for a moment, the cretaceous bit of it at least: the younger, chalkier bit at the eastern end of our 95 mile World Heritage Site. This is a stunning area for butterflies, with over 30 breeding species and a few rarities recorded besides.

A couple of weekends ago saw the family and I on a breezy but warm Ballard Down, looking for Dark Green Fritillaries and Lulworth Skippers. The Fritillaries were hard to pin down, the Skippers less so, but the sheer diversity of butterflies and moths on display was the main talking point. If you like dramatic landscapes, rich wildlife and heavy summer traffic, you really should pay us a visit.
Dark Green Fritillary - a powerful and fast flier
We saw many, but only this one stopped to nectar and pose for photos
More obliging was this fresh Brown Argus
The Brown Argus will be from the second generation of 2016
A male Gatekeeper sat out nicely with wings held almost flat
Large Whites are now becoming more ubiquitous as summer progresses
A male Lulworth Skipper - a speciality of the Jurassic Coast
Lulworth Skipper - this is a female - are found in the UK only between Swanage and Portland
A busy insect which often goes unseen unless disturbed
A fresh, male Small Skipper - much brighter than the Lulworth
And for comparison, Large Skipper
Small Copper was also out: a popular species with butterfly enthusiasts for obvious reasons
And finally from Ballard, Marbled White
A quick walk around Studland after Ballard produce a Silver-washed Fritillary...
...and a Red Admiral
Studland from Ballard with my family in the foreground

Monday, 25 July 2016

A bit of birding

It's a quiet time of year for birding, and, as recent posts attest, butterflies have offered more interest in the warmer weeks of July than the slim pickings available on the avian front. Some birds are on the move though, including a Collared Pratincole, a rare visitor from Southern Europe which arrived on the wonderful Somerset Levels the week before last. With the light evenings there was time to pay a visit after work to look for it and the other good birds which can be found there - a calling Little Bittern and several Great White Egrets among the highlights.
Collared Pratincole shows rufous undwerwing coverts
The Pratincole was hawking insects over the pools
A poor photo but shows the diagnostic white trailing edge to the secondaries
Always distant, this was about as close as the Pratincole came
Glastonbury Tor
Great White Egret - easy to see at Ham Wall

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Filthy imperialists

My friend Steve thinks that deferential hagiography written by butterfly enthusiasts about Purple Emperors on the internet just shows how Britain is a country still riven by a class divide. A visit to Hampshire for my nephew's 21st birthday recently put me within striking distance of the Alice Holt forest complex, a stronghold for the Purple Emperor. A few pictures below with some quotes attributed (wrongly, in some cases) to Karl Marx, just for Steve.
His Imperial Majesty, the Purple Emperor, may be master of all he surveys, but he's not above grovelling in the dirt with the lumpenproletariat to feast on dog mess. Except on this visit, when he stayed stubbornly in the treetops.
White Russians resisted the communists after the revolution in 1917. Fitting then that the White Admiral - running dog of the Emperor himself - is often found in the same habitat
This White Admiral was doing what I had hoped the Purple Emperor would do - taking salts from the path... was his arch enemy, the altogether more revolutionary Red Admiral
Marx on debt-driven banking crises: 'Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more of expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to bankruptcy of banks which will have to be nationalized'. Oh Karl, you're so dramatic, like that's going to happen!
A more proletarian species, the Comma, feeding on the dog dirt arraigned for the Emperor - at least this commoner got the crumbs from the imperialists table
Another prole: the Meadow Brown
Ringlets of the world unite: you have nothing to lose but your chains

Small Skipper. Yet another oppressed victim of false consciousness.
Marx on X-boxes: 'The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.' Mark those words, kids.
Female Silver-washed Fritillary: the gilded bourgeoisie of the butterfly world
Silver-washed Fritillary: female underside
Male Silver-washed Fritillary
Male Silver-washed Fritillary
'Let us not flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons...At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly'. This was written by Karl's mate Engels, in fact, not Marx. Apart from the final word, I'd say he wasn't far off being right.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Not so far and wide

After a bit of dashing around the country chronicled in my last post, staying closer to home has also been quite rewarding recently on the wildlife photography front. A Privet Hawkmoth in the moth trap in our small urban garden was a first - even my hard-to-impress sons had to admit it was pretty showbiz. Slightly further afield, Silver-studded Blue Butterflies have been out on the Dorset heaths for several weeks - in large numbers at Stoborough judging by a short visit after work one sunny evening last week. And a few miles further still, but still in Purbeck, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries have been on the wing at one of the few sites in Dorset where they can still be found. First up though, a local celebrity in the form of a Nightjar which has been spending the day roosting at Arne RSPB, boosting the chances of many visitors of catching up with this species in daylight as well as the coffers of the cafĂ© in whose grounds it has taken up residence.
Nightjar, Arne
Backyard beast: Privet Hawkmoth in our Wareham garden

Adder near Wareham

Underwings don't come much pearlier than this: Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary: sadly now a rarity in Dorset
Common Lizard on the Purbeck Heaths
Silver-studded Blue, Stoborough Heath
The silver studs are just visible on this roosting male
This is a female Silver-studded Blue
The silver studs are more prominent on this female
Beautiful colours catching the late evening sun
Another fresh male
Silver-studded Blue

Friday, 8 July 2016

Far and wide

Work and leisure have involved a fair bit of travelling lately - not exactly to the ends of the earth, but opposite corners of England at least, from Kent to Cumbria within the course of last week. Kent was a work engagement, speaking to the Kent Nature Partnership about some research we commissioned in Dorset to illustrate the importance of a healthy environment to a successful economy. A lovely audience, who laughed at my bad jokes and murmured appreciatively at all the right moments. It was good to be back and catch up with some old friends, including the Kent Wildlife Trust boss John Bennett.
Heath Fritillary - a fresh male
A full-bodied female
The striking underwing pattern of a roosting Heath Fritillary
Another roosting individual, bathed in sunshine
Whilst there, I found time to squeeze in a visit to one of John's reserves, East Blean Woods, which plays host to one of our rarest and most attractive butterflies, the Heath Fritillary. Reassuringly, good numbers were on the wing. The speaking engagement (at the stately University of Greenwich campus in Medway) was also just around the corner from the hedgerow chosen by a long-staying male Red-backed Shrike - not something you see every day - so I managed a peek at that too on the way home.
Heath Fritillary: an eye-catching aberration
C'mon folks, get a room...
Male Red-backed Shrike: a mobile bird which came reasonably close at one point
A male Red-backed Shrike is a very dapper bird
Last weekend saw us heading up the M6 to the other corner of our green and pleasant land for a family gathering to mark my big brother's 50th. He was down from Clackmannanshire, parents up from Devon, and sis up from Brighton so it was quite a logistical feat to get us all in the same county let alone the same room. An idyllic setting in the Lake District was a bit damp for much in the way of wildlife watching - though 48 hours with my extended family provided plenty of opportunity to study animal behaviour...
House Martin picking food items off the tarmac in the Lake District
Peregrines at Warton Crag
Ringlet at Warton Crag
Ringlet underside
A brief stopover just off the M6 on the way home in Lancashire did enable me to see my first Northern Brown Argus for over a decade on the limestone crags above Warton, as well as some newly fledged Peregrines on the wing. With just a month to go before Hen Harrier Day 2016, at least one pair of northern raptors have survived the attentions of their persecutors.
Northern Brown Argus, Warton Crag
Northern Brown Argus nectaring on bramble
Northern Brown Argus underside
A backlit Northern Brown Argus at Warton Crag to end a flying visit to the north west