Joys of Spring

I wasn’t going to do a post ’till after the weekend (spoiler alert it involves very fast noisy cars and bikes)  as I’m fast running out of free WordPress gb’s and will soon have to pay our blog masters for the privilege to post more images if I want to carry on.

However we had a great day out yesterday, the weather has kicked into full spring mood, and I just wanted to share some piccies, hang the expense!  First off, Mrs H and I took a walk around Foxley Wood to admire the sea of bluebells, very nice they were too.  Then over to the coast and Wiveton Downs.  Here we saw four newly emerged species of butterfly for the year including the first Green Haistreaks and very early Small Coppers.  Nearly all the action took place around a hawthorn that was bursting into bloom, enjoy.

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Remember this cute fellow from last year? The very aggressive Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi). Tina was delighted as this was the first she had seen
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Another species that likes to give everyone a hard time. The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) has a quick refuel on hawthorn
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Taking a look at the world upside down. The years first Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)
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Bugs as well! This impressive creature is a Hairy Shield Bug (Dolycoris baccarum) it is only 1/2 an inch (12mm) long
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Also bees! This is the beautifully coloured Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)
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A delicate Green-veined White (Pieris napi) enjoyed the blossom
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And to finish, my absolute spring favourite a male Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) nectars on a bluebell just minutes after Tina said she had never seen one land!

That’s another gigabyte used up!  Join me next time for something completely different.

Thanks Feb

The last two weeks of February were an absolute joy.  The totally unexpected spring like weather lifted my spirits and got me out with the camera again.  Not only photographing the birdlife I encountered on my days out, but also out in the garden where I could use the macro for the first time this year.

It was lovely being in the garden.  With everything pruned, weeded and mown I could just relax into the therapy that is trying to image bees in flight!  This is fun, however the af of the macro does not see the funny side!  Photographing the butterflies was also a bit of a challenge.  The male Brimstones would enter the garden, search the ivy for any emerging mates, then zip off over the roof.  On a day I didn’t have a shift at work I could spend longer observing things.  This was excellent as I discovered there was a small period when the Brimstones stopped to nectar on the natural primroses in my flowerbeds.  Just had to be in the right spot as they only paused for a second or two to refuel.

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Ha ha got you at last! A male Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) on a primrose

There were many types of bees all being, er, busy.  Their flower of choice was the winter heathers (Ericas), the pulmonaria (lungworts) were only just starting to bloom, but they would investigate any likely source of nectar and pollen.

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Honey Bee approaching a wallflower, I can hear the auto focus complaining even now 😀

In all during the fabulous fortnight we had three species of butterfly in the garden.  The last to appear was a Comma.  The first day he (definitely a he, very territorial) showed up he was very flighty, I just could not get close.  After a couple of days he either became very friendly or thought if he let me take a few snaps I would be out of his face!  Whatever I got the images I wanted.  The Comma was not interested in nectar but sought out the warmest places where it could eye it’s domain, when another entered the garden one day a frantic chase ensued.

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Close enough? A Male Comma (Polygonia c-album) in the sun

Well it’s now March and the weather is back to how it should be, wet and windy!  but thankfully not cold.  Looks as if I shall have to creep back inside for another couple of months.

 

 

Silver Lining

My last post concerning the fate of the Grey Partridge was slightly depressing, so I thought I would redress the balance with something positive.  It is still a few months before the butterflies start to appear and today is grey and wet.  For a ray of sunshine I bring you ….. The rise and rise of Argynnis paphia, the Silver Washed Fritillary.

Male Silver Washed Fritillary at Holt Country Park

It was in 2010 when I saw a report of a Silver Washed Fritillary in a North Norfolk wood not too far from home.  At the time it was dismissed as someone releasing a captive bred specimen, possibly for a moment of fame, or to fool those who would rush to see such a rarity.  Might sound a strange thing to do but people have been doing such things for a couple of hundred years!  Indeed the Chalkhill Blues at Warham  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/iron-age-blues-2017/ , and the Brown Hairstreaks in Ipswich https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/pipers-vale-brown-hairstreaks/ , are two recent examples.

However this was not the case.  The numbers increased and colonies were discovered in other woodlands.

A slightly faded female in August

These magnificent butterflies start to appear in July.  They are the largest of the British Fritillaries with a 3 inch (75mm) wingspan.  The males are a striking bright orange when fresh.  They are powerful fliers and will glide for quite some way along a woodland ride, stopping briefly to nectar on bramble flowers.  The males can be told apart by the four very prominent raised black veins on the upper forewings.  These are called sex brands and release a scent during mating.  The females are slightly larger and duller in colour.  An unusual feature of the SWF is that a very small percentage of females turn out a fantastic blue/green in colour.   These are the Valezinas and sightings are something to cherish.

A stunningly beautiful female of the form Valezina

So why are Silver Washed Frits doing so well when other members of their family i.e the Pearl Bordered and High Brown are disappearing fast?  A lot depends on habitat.  The latter two require special conditions.  Since woodland was left neglected, or worse planted with conifers, they started to die out.  They needed areas cleared on a regular basis so they could lay their eggs on violets, the food plant of their caterpillars.  The Silver Washed lays its eggs on tree trunks (and my jeans on one occasion!).  The caterpillars after hatching descend to the ground to seek out violets.  As I said these are powerful fliers and this has enabled the species to spread and colonise and now provide a delightful sight in a high summer woodland.

Silver washed fritillary at Holt, beautifully backlit. The name derives from the markings on the underwing

For a few more images of these butterflies  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/silver-washed-frits-2017/

Now that’s cheered me up!

2018 Butterfly Highlights

How was 2018 for you?  This year just past had so many great memories for me.  It turned out to be a cracker for butterflies.  Spring got off to a brilliant start.  Armed with the new macro lens I got a huge amount of satisfaction photographing my favourite insects.  The long hot summer added to the fun despite the disaster with the camera.  I photographed five new species and got stunning images of so many more.  Here are just a few of my favourites, enjoy!

Back in April I got this shot of an Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) which turned out to be a favourite for you bloggers
After a long search I caught up with this Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae)
May and the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) my shot of the year!
A trip to Bentley Wood in May and my first ever sighting of the Pearl Bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne)
On the way home new species No2 the Wood White (Leptidea sinapis)
Can’t forget the Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) and the stinging nettles!
Black Hairstreak (Satyrium pruni) had a fantastic year at Glapthorne
White Letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) photographed for the first time
A trip to the Lake District and we found one of Britains rarest and most endangered butterflies the High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) at Latterbarrow
Also in Cumbria a tiny Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes)
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) in September as the season draws to a close

Next time I will be highlighting some of my favourite bird shots.

The Chalkhill Blues

Some years ago an unknown person decided that they would introduce Chalkhill Blues (Lysandra coridon) to the Iron Age hill fort at Warham in north Norfolk.  The ‘authorities’ frown upon such activities, and yes putting an alien species into the wrong habitat can be disastrous, both for the habitat and the introduced species.  You only have to witness the effects that grey squirrels and mink have had!  However these butterflies have thrived, though their numbers fluctuate.  There is plenty of horseshoe vetch their only food plant and they do not compete with any other species, so for me all’s good.  The colony is however a long way from any other, the nearest being Newmarket 60 miles away.

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Backlit Chalkhill Blue

As the long hot summer continues I thought it about time I had a look for the Chalkhills.  I was amazed at how many there were, especially females.  Hundreds of milky blue males danced low over the banks of the ring ditches looking for newly emerged females.  Females that had already mated and were looking to lay eggs were having to fight off the unwanted amorous attention of sometimes up to four males.

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“What do you mean you don’t like me? What’s wrong with me?” A worn female rejects a very battered males advances

Perhaps it was too hot and sunny, it was very difficult to photograph a male with open wings in a nice setting, I’ve done better in previous years, check out the HOME page and tab ‘Iron Age Blues, Warham Camp’  When a little bit of cloud covered the sun the males did start to settle, but low down.

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A fairly fresh male Chalkhill Blue

It was nice to see so many butterflies of other species today including the years first Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera)  The numbers of these in this part of the Country is very low compared to when I was young.

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“Can’t see me” The superb camouflage of the Wall Brown

New Life

A beautiful warm sunny morning so I decided to return to our local heath to seek out the Silver Studded Blues (Plebejus argus).  Butterflies were everywhere, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Heaths.  As I wandered among the gorse and heather I came to an area where dozens of the Blues where flying.  I was delighted to find a butterfly emerging from deep in the grass, slowly it climbed the stems to inflate it’s new wings in the sun.

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The newly hatched Silver Studded Blue inflates it’s crumpled wings

It took many attempts as the gentle breeze kept knocking it back down.  It persevered, the will to survive is strong.  This is the first time I have witnessed the first moment of a butterflies life.

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Starting the long climb again

Also delighted to find a mating pair.  Hanging on the top of a grass stem, swaying in the breeze, starting a new generation.  They also had to put up with the unwanted attention of other males trying to muscle in, but carried on regardless.

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Starting a new generation. The female (the browner one on the left) has beautifully marked silver studs on the outer edge of the wing

Something Local

“Ha yew orl gittin on tha tgether?” Translated from the Norfolk dialect “Everyone ok?”  It seems just lately I’ve been spending an awful lot of time travelling on the potholed, crumbling, congested joke of a road network we have in this country.  But to see new, exciting and rare species that is the price you have to pay.  It’s stressful but you can unwind when you reach your destination.

There is always something to see if you stay local however.  Get out in the garden or just a couple of miles down the road.  Within a few minutes I can visit the Broads, heathland, woods or coast.  Plenty of subjects to point my camera at!  Here is a selection from the last few weeks.

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Could have picked a more comfortable resting spot! Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) at Hickling Broad, not a species that stays still for long
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Aliens have landed! Really pleased to find this at Hickling. It is an exuvia, a discarded shell of a Four Spotted Chaser dragonfly. This species spends at least two years underwater as a larva before emerging to hatch. The adults only live for a few months.
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Aliens really have landed! This remarkable looking creature is a Soldier Beetle, just look at those fantastic feet!

Of course my blog wouldn’t be complete without a butterfly (or two).  On a heath just 2 miles from home is a small colony of Silver Studded Blues (Plebejus argus) one of only four colonies in the whole county ( also click on HOME & tab ‘Buxton Heath Blues’)  I had been unable to find these before but struck lucky last Thursday when I discovered a freshly emerged male flying weakly among the heather and gorse.

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This stunning male Silver Studded blue is so fresh the wings still have a wet, oily sheen
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Sparkling! The underwing of the Silver Studded Blue. The name derives from the small metallic marks in the outer row of black spots
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A species I’ve not managed to get a good image of before the Small Heath poses beautifully, not hidden in the grass as usual!

As I write this post I am looking forward to the emergence of the magnificent Purple Emperor, another trip to Northamptonshire!  Then the Summer Nationals at Santa Pod (ditto)  Finally a few days in Cumbria mid-July, but there is always something local.