Southern Counties Revisited August 2009
Hampshire Wiltshire & Dorset
In Search of |
We planned a weeks camping trip, staying at Church Farm Campsite again, during the second week of August in an attempt to photograph and film some of the butterflies we failed to capture on film in June, mainly Adonis Blue, late Silver Studded Blue and possible second brood Pearl Bordered Fritillary. We also planned to find others such as Lulworth Skipper, Clouded Yellow, Wall Butterfly and female Brown Hairstreak.|
We had no real hit list other then the species mentioned above. Our plan was to check out some new sites and revisit some we checked out in June.
The sites we visited were as follows:
Fontmell Down 08/08/09
Durlston Country Park 09/08/09 and 12/08/09
Bentley Wood 10/08/09
Stockbridge Down 10/08/09
Portland Broadcroft Quarry 11/08/09
Portland Tout Quarry 11/08/09
Tadnoll Heath 11/08/09
Ballard Down 12/08/09
Martin Down 13/08/09
Alners Gorse 13/08/09 and 16/08/09
Noar Hill 14/08/09
Old Winchester Hill 14/08/09
Shipton Bellinger 15/08/09
We revisited Church Farm Campsite in Sixpenny Handley as we found it to be an excellent site in June and the local pub, the Roebuck, served up great food and the locals were a good bunch.
On the campsite the barn conversion known as the shed was now used to serve afternoon teas, evening meals on Fridays and Sunday lunches as well as cooked breakfasts at the weekends served up by Steve and his partner.
As in my previous report I haven't gone into any real detail about each of the sites as there are some good internet sites giving such details. The following list gives a brief summary of each site visited including what was seen at each:
Saturday 8th August - Fontmell Down.
We decided to risk Fontmell Down even though we had been ravaged by ticks during our previous visits. We were armed with a bottle of 50% DEET this time to put a stop to the little buggers.
We walked onto the down expecting the worst but were pleasantly surprised to find that the tick problem had subsided considerably. There were ticks present but in much smaller numbers than in June. The few that attached themselves to our clothes were soon doused with a liberal dose of DEET which quickly put pay to their idea of a free blood lunch.
We found a good selection of common butterflies on the down including Small White, Large White, Brimstone (second brood), Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Small Skipper, Essex Skipper, Painted Lady, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Small Copper, Brown Argus and Common Blue. We also found several Chalkhill Blue butterflies which had not been present in June. A pleasant surprise were three or four Clouded Yellow butterflies nectaring on thistles for just long enough to race along the hillside once settled and grab the odd photo. Speed was of the essence as they visited each flower for a short period of time before flying off to the next usually several meteres away.
As I had not managed to get any decent photos of Adonis Blue in June I was hoping to catch up with the second brood of this species on Fontmell Down. I think we were a little too early in the year as we only found one specimin which totally refused to open its wings and provide the photo opportunity I was after.
Before leaving the down we found a rough patch of plants in the middle of the steepest part of the hillside where many blues were coming to roost. The longer grasses were full of Common Blues, Brown Argus, the odd Chalkhill Blue and the single uncooperative Adonis Blue.
Sunday 9th August - Durlston Country Park
The day was bright and sunny with a breeze blowing. Almost perfect conditions for butterfly watching. We headed towards Swanage and Durlston Country Park. We had also planned on visiting Ballard Down the other side of Swanage but Durlston turned out to be so good we stayed there all day.
The main aim of the day was to find Lulworth Skipper which is apparently reasonably common at Durlston. We headed off along the butterfly walk into the meadows seeing hundreds of butterflies, mainly common species.
A few new species were immediately added to the holiday list including Marbled White and Small Heath. Alongside the first meadow we entered a couple of Holly Blues flitted along the hedgerow tantalisingly out of photographic range.
The next species we came across was the main target species of the day, Lulworth Skipper. In a sheltered corner of the field away from the breeze several of these tiny skippers were found. We spent some time taking photographs and filming them before moving on.
The next species to be located was a single Small Blue which promptly flew away after I had taken several photos with the camera on the wrong settings. However, we quickly located another which again flew of into the middle of the meadow never to be seen again. Another jumped the hedge over into the next field and no more were found.
The heat had brought out a huge hatch of flying ants of at least two species. They were all over the place including in my mouth and Helens hair.
We found a gate in the hedge and walked up the leeward sid eof the next field trying to locate the Small Blue. They were obviously sheltering from the wind as there were at least twelve along the side of the hedge in the longer grasses. We also found three or four more male and female Lulworth Skippers in the same area.
After our mornings success we broke off for lunch close to a style and wall. After being pestered by an annoying wasp for several minutes I noticed an acrobatic brown/orange butterfly chasing all comers trying to steal his wall space. Definitely Wall Brown male. We managed a few closed wings shots but had to wait until the temperature cooled later in the day before he opened his wings.
Around this area we found a pink coloured moth which was later identified as a Rosy Footman. Other moths included the extremely common Silver Y and the fairly common Magpie Moth.
Whilst walking back to the car park, pay and display by the way, we spotted a lone slightly tatty Silver Washed Fritillary nectaring on Marjoram alongside the path.
So ended a great butterfly filled day at Durlston Country Park. Ballard Down would wait for another day.
Monday 10th August - Bentley Wood and Stockbridge Down
The day started off bright and sunny as we walked into the eastern clearing at Bentley Wood. However, after half an hour of watching common butterflies including our first Red Admiral of the trip the clouds closed in and a few spots of drizzle were felt.
We didn't find any Pearl Bordered Fritillaries and the log book in the car park indicated that no second brood had hatched this year with zero sightings recorded. The chance of photographing this species would have to wait until another year.
We decided to risk the weather and headed off into the woods to a spot known for White Letter Hairstreak. This was another butterfly I had seen lots of this year but not managed to get any decent photos of. Although it was late in the year I wondered if any remained in the wood. After a fairly short walk in dreadful conditions for butterflies with no sun at all we dipped completely on the hairstreaks. This was no real surprise so we dedicated a little time to some of the hoverflies in the wood that didn't seem to mind the lack of sunshine and a spot of drizzle. I am no expert on hoverflies (unlike my dad) but managed to photograph and hopefully correctly identify the few we found. We also found a nice looking loghorn beetle Strangalia quadrifasciata.
We left Bentley Wood in light drizzle and headed for Stockbridge Down hoping the weather would brighten up a little. Stockbridge Down is supposedly a good spot for Chalkhill Blue and Silver Spotted Skipper.
We spent an our dozing off in the car waiting for the rain to stop and then decided to go into Stockbridge for some lunch.
Finally after some much needed sustainence the rain abated and we headed off onto the down. Of course as we reached the far side close to another White Letter Hairstreak area the clouds tipped the majority of their contents on us. We therefore headed back to the car avoiding the plentiful amounts of dog mess and the occasional dead rabbit with its throat ripped out presumably left by the same hounds that had left the piles of other stuff behind.
We managed again some common species even in the rain including three Painted Ladies that sat it out with wings folded on the ground in the car park and a few wind swept Chalkhill Blues on the down.
This was not the most successful days butterfly watching, especially as someone later in the week found an aberrant Silver Spotted Skipper on the down with most of its spots merged together.
Tuesday 11th August - Portland and Tadnoll Heath
We headed south down the A354 through Weymouth onto Portland on a very hot sunny day. The conditions were ideal for butterflies. We visited two of the disused limestone quarries on Portland as these are known for a sub species of Silver Studded Blue cretaceous that lives on limestone areas as opposed to more acid heathland.
Both Broadcroft Quarry and Portland Tout Quarry were very hot and dry and at both we saw plenty of Common Blues and some lovely Chalkhill Blues. However, not a single Silver Studded Blue was found. Again we were too late in the season especially considering this sub species emrges before the argus race and we had seen those in June.
We did see a couple of Marbled Whites, a single Clouded Yellow and a couple more Wall Butterflies, females this time.
We headed back to the campsite via Tadnoll Heath. We hoped to find Silver studded Blue and Grayling here.
One of the first butterflies seen perched on the main track over the heath was Grayling. During our visit we saw several of these butterflies. A few common species were viewed and we had a couple of fleeting glimpses of late Silver Studded Blues but unfortunately, no photos.
There were several common Darters about on the heath, a very confiding Golden Ringed Dragonfly that attempted a landing on my macro lens as I was trying to photograph it and a single male Keeled Skimmer heading back towards the car parking area.
The highlights of the day were neither butterflies or dragonflies but a Dartford Warbler and a juvenile Adder that crossed the path directly in front of us.
Wednesday 12th August - Ballard Down and Durlston Country Park
Expectations were high as we headed back to Swanage and Ballard Down in glorious sunshine. We found the correct layby and walked up onto the lower reaches of the down. We were immediately confronted with plenty of butterfly activity but all common species.
However, on heading uphill and hitting a hillside covered with Marjoram we spotted an obvious Adonis Blue with its wings wide open.
On looking around the whole hillside was awash with the turquoise blue of these butterflies glinting in the sunshine. Not only were there possibly males into the hundreds but a good number of females were also evident. I finally managed to get my photos of Adonis Blue with wings open.
The hillside was alive with butterflies including Dark Green Fritillary that had seen better days, Grayling, Wall, Holly Blue and a few Dingy Skippers from the second brood on the shorter grass.
As we headed back through Swanage to Durlston the sun began to fade behind some clouds and the remainder of the day was pretty dull and breezy. The only species we found at Durlston not seen at on Ballard Down were Lulworth Skipper which is supposedly present on the down and Small Blue. The total count for the day was a reasonable 26 species at the final count.
An additional moth species was encountered at Durlston in the form of the manic fast flying Oak Eggar.
Thursday 13th August - Martin Down and Alners Gorse
We ventured over to Martin Down as someone we met at Ballard Down had mentioned that the side of the down opposite the car park was a good spot for Silver Washed Fritillary and there was a valezina form present.
We followed the instructions we received the previous day heading across the road from the car park towards the wooded area, then first left and first right into a ride surrounded by bushes and scrub.
Before reaching this ride we spotted a late Large Skipper beside the path and further into the woods we saw our only Ringlet of the holiday. Many common butterfly species were evident along with an interesting hoverfly Volucella inanis and a Dark Bush Cricket.
One or two rather worn and ragged Silver Washed Frits were seen including a pair performing a fatantistic flight I can only assume was some kind of mating ritual. The female powered up into the air and proceeded to flutter back down with wings quivering whilst the male performed some amazing backwards loops around her. I would be interested if anyone has seen this behavious before as it was totally new to me.
After searching through the 20 or so very bedraggled Frits I eventually found a valezina female which, was if anything the most worn specimen of them all. I took some photos and thought that an earlier visit another year would be good at this spot.
Our next port of call was Alners Gorse just west of Blandford in an attempt to find female Brown Hairstreak. We had previously seen two beautiful fresh males of this species at Bernwood Forest the two weekends before but had not connected with a female.
We parked in the layby beside the sign for the village of Hazelbury Brian and found the gate and track leading into Alners Gorse. The weather was pretty decent and I was optimistic.
We met some people photographing common butterflies and they mentioned that the best spot for Brown Hairstreak was the bramble hedge walking left on entering the site after walking down the track. We headed back to this area and I immediately spotted a male Brown Hairstreak nectaring on the bramble in the shade. Helen filmed it as it was too distant for any good photos but whilst I was looking for more it was bombed by a bee and flew up into the trees never to be seen again. However, we did see good numbers of common butterflies all around the site.
This was probably the point at which we first noticed we had been bitten several times and the bites were extremely itchy. Definitely not ticks as we hadn't seen the culprits. I can only assume they were fleas we had picked up in the field that was occupied by a couple of ponies and several goats. Whatever, they were they plagued us for the rest of the holiday and for several days when we arrived back in Nottingham. I think we lost them to my poor old cat Gizmo when we got home but he was dosed up with frontline after arriving back from the cattery so hopefully they're all dead as I'm wriring this report.
After losing the first Brown Hairstreak we headed through the gate on the left hand side of the field and walked the path through the blackthorn thicket. Helen suddenly exclaimed "got one" I looked and replied no you haven't it's a Purple Hairstreak. A female Purple Hairstreak had landed at head height on a leaf of an Alder Buckthorn. Two Purple Hairstreaks occupied the bush feeding on the small white flowers.
Before heading off I caught a glimpse of a female Brown Hairstreak heading into deep blackthorn and as I spotted her in the middle of the bushes she spotted me and moved further into the bushes and out of site, presumably looking for an egg laying site.
Around 19 species of common butterflies were seen plus a male single Silver Washed Fritillary.
Friday 14th August - Old Winchester Hill and Noar Hill
On a cloudy morning sprinkled with small patches of sun we drove to Old Winchester Hill. After parking up we headed off down the hill past the visitor display area. The whole hillside was covered in male Chalkhill Blues trying to catch some sun and warm themselves, ideal for taking photos. Further down the hill we found a female Chalkhill Blue which, eventually opened up her wings after waiting for the sun to come out. As soon as it did several more females appeared in the areas of longer grass and Marjoram.
Along with the commoner species we spotted a Clouded Yellow stopping for long periods to shelter from the wind in the mainly dull conditions, again ideal for taking photos.
We walked around the bottom of the hill over an old rusty broken down fence. This area is where Adonis Blues were re-introduced but have not done well and we saw none. However, we did find our first Silver Spotted Skippers of the holiday. Two great looking males. We eventually found another six or so all males before heading back up the hill seeing a further three.
We left for the nearby Noar Hill to look for Brown Hairstreak. There were reasonable numbers of common species present along with a couple of Silver Washed Frits and I had a brief glimpse of a male Brown Hairstreak as it jumped over the nearest hedge and vanished out of sight. A guy we met had seen a female down on the ground in the triangle area just up from the main entrance gate but several searches of the area over a two or three hour period revealed no Brown Hairstreak.
People we spoke to who lived close by intimated that the reserve management had cut down several blackthorn bushes, namely the bushes that they had seen the butterflies laying in on previous years. It seemed this year was particularly bad for the species at Noar Hill.
I heard last year that an unusual second brood of Duke of Burgundy had occurred, so we had a look round the area we had seen them in June. At one point two small dart like brown/orange butterflies launched themselves at each other high into the air but moved away rapidly. From my limited experience with Dukes they behaved in a similar manner to those territorial males I had seen in June but I could not positively identify them without better views which, I did not get.
We left Noar Hill feeling a little disappointed and vowed to visit Shipton Bellinger the next day as everyone we had met swore that it was the best place in the area for good numbers of Brown Hairstreak.
Saturday 15th August - Shipton Bellinger
We followed the instructions kindly offered to us at Noar Hill the previous day by a fellow butterfly enthusiast and found the village hall. We parked by the recycling bins and followed the track straight ahead between two hedges with a good smattering of blackthorn and the occasional Ash tree. It was cloudy and the drizzle had set in and nothing but the odd Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown were seen before we headed back to the car.
I quickly phoned home for a weather update and was told by the weather man (dad) that it would improve as the day went on. Eventually some blue sky appeared and we headed back out. We found some large Ash trees on a track to the left and found at least three male Brown Hairstreaks, exactly where we were told they were. A couple of females left the trees and headed off into the blackthorn, presumably on an egg laying foray. We spent the rest of the day searching for lower down hairstreaks even following an overgrown track where some extremely friendly locals had been shown Brown Hairstreak a couple of days before by a butterfly watcher. The area looked great and the odd further hairstreak was seen either in flight or around the tops of Ash trees but none appeared at photographic level.
I shouldn't complain as we saw over 10 Brown Hairstreaks, but I will, as none appeared at eye level.
Thus we decided on a mad day for our trip home on Sunday. Site one would be Alners Gorse, site two would be Shipton Bellinger again and site three would be either Bernwood Forest or Whitecross Green Wood on the trip back as all are well known sites for Brown Hairstreak.
Sunday 16th August - Alners Gorse
Following a hearty cooked breakfast on the campsite and the drudge of packing the tent away we hit the road on our marathon hunt for female Brown Hairstreak. First stop was Alners Gorse. We walked to the hairstreaks favoured spot and met a chap from Somerset who remembered me from Collard Hill in June. He and his mum had just watched a female Brown Hairstreak nectaring on a bramble next to the path only inches from the ground. Of course it had done a bunk before we arrived.
After chatting we headed off to look for ourselves. We found a male high up in brambles that eventually came down lower and opened its wings up, sadly not close enough for good photos. We found a second male that allowed my lens to be shoved in its face without flying off. But no females.
I again chatted with the chap from Somerset who said "you're gonna hate me", he'd had a Brown Hairstreak female land next to his mum with wings wide open, then it followed up by laying an egg on a small blackthorn shoot directly behind where she was sitting. He even showed me the egg. When your lucks not in its not in.
After directing a scotsman to the Alder Buckthorn for Purple Hairstreak we had seen the previous day we set off in search over the whole site for a female Brown Hairstreak. After a long search we were about to give up but decided to have a quick look to see if the Purple Hairstreaks were still around. On nearing the bush the guy from Somerset beckoned us over with the immortal words of "We've got a female". On arriving at the bush there she was sat on a leaf wings akimbo (open). Wow what a stunner, freshly hatched immaculate female Brown Hairstreak. Just what the Doc ordered. She began nectaring with intermittant rest periods with wings open, mainly too high up for brilliant photos but I was extremely pleased with the ones I got. At one point a a male arrived and there were male and female Brown Hairstreak and two female Purple Hairstreaks in the same bush.
Alners Gorse finally lived up to its name as being possibly the finest site in England for seeing good views of hairstreaks.
I could now return home a happy man and gave Shipton Bellinger, Bernwood Forest and Whitecross Green Wood a miss.
We saw a total of 37 species of butterflies during our one week stay as shown below:
Large White - Common seen daily
Small White - Common seen daily
Green-veined White - Fairly common seen almost daily
Cloude Yellow - Three at Fontmell Down, one at Portland Broadcroft Quarry and three on Ballard Down
Brimstone - Seen regularly in the correct habitat such as Ballard Down and Martin Down where common
Purple Hairstreak - Two viewed extremely well at Alners Gorse nectaring on Alder Buckthorn plus two others seen higher in Oaks at Alners Gorse
Brown Hairstreak - Up to 10 individuals at Shipton Bellinger in flight or in Ash Trees, a single male at Noar Hill and three males and one female at close range at Alners Gorse
Small Copper - Fairly common seen in small numbers most days
Holly Blue - Singles encountered at Durlston and Ballard Down with three plus noted at Shipton Bellinger
Small Blue - Seen only at Durlston Country Park with up to around 15 seen in good weather
Silver Studded Blue - Two individuals argus race briefly at Tadnoll Heath
Brown Argus - Reasonable numbers present at sites with meadows or grassy areas
Chalkhill Blue - Found on downland at Fontmell and Stockbridge Downs, at Old Winchester Hill and in quarries on Portland
Adonis Blue - A single male at Fontmell Down and a large emergence at Ballard Down
Common Blue - Very common, seen daily in good numbers
Duke of Burgundy - Two possible individuals from a second brood at Noar Hill
Red Admiral - Low numbers seen on several occasions
Small Tortoiseshell - Small numbers seen at several sites
Peacock Butterfly - Seen daily in low numbers
Painted Lady - Very common with large numbers seen daily
Comma Butterfly - Seen only occasional such as at Shipton Bellinger and Alners Gorse
Silver Washed Fritillary - Singles found at Alners Gorse and Durlston Country Park. Up to 15 individuals on Martin Down including a valezina female. All very worn
Dark Green Fritillary - One individual in extremely poor shape on Ballard Down
Marbled White - A fresh looking specimen on Ballard Down and several worn individuals on Portland
Grayling - Good numbers at Tadnoll Heath with a single butterfly on Ballard Down
Meadow Brown - Found in large numbers in suitable habitat
Ringlet - One specimen on Martin Down in fair condition
Gatekeeper - Common and recorded daily
Small Heath - Occasionals found in areas of short grass
Speckled Wood - Encountered daily
Wall Brown - Several at Durlston Country Park, two females on Portland and one individual on Ballard Down
Dingy Skipper - A few individuals on shorter grass on Ballard Down
Lulworth Skipper - Only encountered at Durlston Country Park where up to 15 seen
Essex Skipper - Occasionally seen in small numbers
Small Skipper - Very worn specimens mainly, encountered in low numbers throughout the week
Silver Spotted Skipper - Seen only at Old Winchester Hill where around 10 males were found
Large Skipper - Asingle specimen found on Martin Down