Thursday, 28 July 2016

Landscape Enhancement.

For as far back as I can remember; that is from the late 1960's; the heathland landscape at Thursley NNR was dominated by 11 metal pylons carrying thirty three thousand volt overhead power lines plus twice as many wooden electricity poles carrying eleven thousand volts.

From my perspective they never detracted from the wealth of wildlife seen here over many years. The metal structures, all individually numbered, provided perching places for many bird species and sighting records often mentioned the pylon number as an aid to finding a particular bird for local and visiting birders.

The views have now dramatically changed.

After a two year-long £400,000 project funded by a special allowance granted by industry regulator Ofgem, completed last November, involving Natural England, Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Southern Electric Power Distribution (SEPD) over three kilometres of overhead power lines have now been placed underground, with the intention of restoring and enhancing Surrey’s rare, historic heathland landscape and re-creating a sense of partial wilderness rarely found in South East England.

During my most recent visit I noticed that a sculpture has been erected, paying homage to Pylon 36, and when completed will feature a dragonfly perched on top of the structure. I'll have to wait and see which species they decide on.

Throughout the project I understand that every effort was made to avoid areas used by rare nesting birds such as Woodlark and Dartford Warbler and to protect the Reserve’s varied habitats. Here are just some of the wildlife species I encountered during the past week.


A male Keeled Skimmer.

A juvenile Green Woodpecker.

Common Lizard.

Common Darter.
A male Black Darter.

Other bird species seen included Woodlark, Dartford Warbler, Common Redstart, Goldfinch, Swift, Swallow and Kestrel. Butterfly species recorded were Large White, Brimstone, Red Admiral, Comma, Gatekeeper and Small Copper. The Reserve is well known for the abundance of Odonata and apart from the three images above I also saw Emerald, Blue-tailed together with Small and Large Red Damselflies plus a few other dragonfly species, namely Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser and Ruddy Darter. (Some of these varied species will feature in future posts both here and on my photo blog.)  

A location I will never tire of visiting at any time of the year for its varied wildlife. FAB.

Linking to:
Saturday's Critters 

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Black Darters.

Once the temperature increased following a very early morning wander around Thursley Common yesterday I spent a little time hunting down the Black Darters (Sympetrum danae) alongside the boardwalk. 

While plenty were seen unfortunately very few individuals were perched within range of the lens but here are a few reasonable images.

A mature male Black Darter.

A pair in the classic 'mating wheel'
 A female Black Darter.

Another mature male with a damaged wing.

An immature male Black Darter.

Just before I decided to leave these delightful small dragons in peace a mature male was located against an uncluttered background.
Linking to:

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Blustery Blues.

On Wednesday morning I paid a visit to the grassland slopes at Denbies Hillside. On arrival at 8 am the sun was shining with a cooling southerly breeze and only a handful of butterflies were spotted as I slowly descended Steers Field. Within half an hour the wind strength increased dramatically and the sun was blotted out with total cloud cover so my hopes of finding some perfectly perched Chalkhill Blues was looking grim. 

I traversed the slope for over an hour and eventually found a couple of individuals sitting out the blustery conditions.

My initial efforts using the 70-300 lens were not very successful so as the subjects were less concerned about my presence than staying upright as they swayed in the wind I reverted to using my handy Powershot S95 to get some reasonable close ups.

As the wind strength occasionally eased I started to see a few specimens briefly in flight and then drop onto the ground to wait out the next series of gusts.

 Chalkhill Blue (male).

Chalkhill Blue (female).

Towards the end of my visit I was eventually able to revert back to using the 70-300 lens to produce this final collage of one female and several males.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Leaf Sitters.

During my most recent butterfly transect walks, either late mornings or early afternoons, the much higher temperatures have meant that while a greater number of species have been recorded very few provided an opportunity to catch them perched with wings open with one or two exceptions.

A male Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus). Throughout the last two visits the numbers recorded have been slightly higher than the Meadow Brown.

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina).
One species that has certainly been more active during the sunshine and higher temperatures is the Purple Hairstreak flitting around the canopies of the numerous mature oaks. 

During my most recent walk I managed to locate one individual when it finally perched high above my head. The original image (right) is what I saw through the lens.

Below is a heavily cropped version of the original.

Purple Hairstreak (Favonius quercus).

One graceful species that had strangely eluded this years transect list up until this Monday was the White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) that tends to frequent sunlit glades within the mature broad-leaved woods. 

In between its territorial flights this individual consistently decided to perch one one of few sunlit leaves in this otherwise heavily shaded spot.

I decided that this was a good spot to watch and wait. Eventually one of the two individuals seen here perched very briefly on the bracken much closer to the lens.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Recent Forays on Ashtead Common.

During the past week I have made three separate forays onto different parts of Ashtead Common and on each occasion whilst the temperature was more or less favourable the strong breezes and cloudy skies have conspired against me seeing and getting photos of some of the expected species. Nevertheless here are images of some of the species seen.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes venata). Of the three Skipper species this one is the easiest to find and identify and has been the most common on my transect walks from late June to date.

However the Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) has so far been less obvious than the same period last year and I have yet to find and clearly identify its close relative the Essex Skipper on my transect visits.

This mating pair of Small Skipper were spotted during a walk that I led for the local branch of Butterfly Conservation on Thursday when a total of 17 species was recorded including many Purple Hairstreak and Purple Emperor (c20) flying high above the Oak canopies. One Purple Emperor tantalisingly fluttered around a few of us at head height for a few minutes but failed to land!

Small White (Pieris rapae).

Comma (Polygonia c-album).

Red Admiral(Vanessa atalanta).

The most numerous species both on my woodland transect and other walks on the common at the moment is the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) which is happy to fly providing there is a little warmth even on the dullest of days.

The BC walk on Thursday also provided my first local sighting of a fresh male Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus).

Finally this Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) below was seen as I wandered alongside the stream on my return to the car and was certainly aware of my presence.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Pagham North Wall.

A week ago we decided to drive to the south coast and took a very leisurely stroll along the North Wall overlooking the expansive waters of Pagham Harbour.

One of a number of Swallows taking a rest from chasing insects above the horse paddock behind the harbour wall. Other insect feeders on the wing were Sand and House Martins plus a few Swifts high in the sky.

Unfortunately our arrival coincided with the high tide so most of the bird life was somewhat distant but we managed to spot various waders including Oystercatcher, Curlew, Dunlin, Turnstone and Grey Plover.

A few areas of vegetation remain visible at high tide and one held 26 Little Egrets waiting for the waters to recede.
It is interesting to remember that back in the 1980's I would have been fortunate to catch sight of just one of these delightful birds anywhere around the harbour; such has been their breeding success during the last 25 years.

One Little Egret was still working the reed edge for food on one of the inland pools. We heard the distinctive call of Cetti's Warbler and followed its flight from one hidden perch to another deep within the field edge vegetation where a Common Whitethroat (below) was also located.

 Common Whitethroat.

While listening to the calls of Reed Bunting and Sedge Warblers, that typically failed to show themselves, we watched a number of Grey Herons (above) erupt from their heronry site before resettling a few minutes later followed shortly thereafter with the fly past of a Little Egret (below).

The final photo capture on our return walk was of a Roe Buck in the field beyond the harbour wall. Despite the distance between us he was very aware of our presence.

Linking to:

Wild Bird Wednesday.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Butterfly Forays.

A visit at the end of June, albeit on a slightly overcast and windy morning, to Juniper Bottom enabled me to catch up with a few more butterfly species on the chalk downland slopes.

The most obvious flutter on the wing when the sun chose to briefly show itself was the Marbled White (Melanargia galathea ) often stopping to nectar for a few moments on the wild privet.

It is quite common to find Marbled Whites with red parasitic mites clinging to the thorax, head or abdomen. Studies indicate that these mites Trombidium breei are harmless to the butterfly, and have no detectable effect on the flight performance, orientation ability or lifespan. The same species of mite parasitises several other grassland butterflies including Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Common Blue, Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue and Small Skipper.

The images above and below are the female Marbled White.

After a little searching I finally located a pair mating (see below) deep down in the grasses.

This view shows the distinctive difference between the sexes by comparing the dark peppered patterns on the under wings; a neutral grey colour on the male, while in the female they are a warm grey brown.

Small Skipper(Thymelicus sylvestris).

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae).

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja).

Today I co-led a walk on Epsom Common where Large Skipper, Large White, Brimstone, Marbled White, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral, White Admiral, Silver-washed Fritillary, Purple Hairstreak, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, and Ringlet were seen. 

 Comma (Polygonia c-album).

However I suspect the star species for most of the 27 participants was the Purple Emperor. Whilst we had two sightings of males flying fairly high during our walk the bonus was a male fluttering around us at head height at the end of the walk. It then decided to rest at our feet for over 45 minutes. Just a pity it didn't open its wings!

Purple Emperor (Apatura iris).

Next Thursday I have agreed to lead a walk on Ashtead Common so providing the weather obliges we should have more sightings of Purple Emperor and I might get the opportunity to grab some images of Purple Hairstreak, White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary. FAB.

Linking to:
Saturday's Critters


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