Southern Counties June 2009 - Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Sussex, Surrey & Somerset
Helen and myself headed off down south for a two week camping holiday during the last couple of days in May and for the first two weeks of June.|
I had timed the trip to coincide with as many butterfly and dragonfly species as possible including Duke of Burgundy and Pearl Bordered Fritillary which would be coming to the end of their flight periods and Large Blue which would be at the beginning of its flight period. I was hoping to see a good number of the rarer british species that could be encountered in the south of England with the following hit list comprising of the following species I had not seen in the UK previously or only scarcely:
The idea was to photograph and/or video all of the above species.
We decided to take our tent to save money and camped at Church Farm Campsite which was situated in Sixpenny Handley in south Wiltshire close to the Dorset and Hampshire borders, an ideal location for access to the sites I had planned to visit.
The barn conversion known as the shed was used to serve cooked breakfasts at the weekends served up by Steve and his wife, the campsite owners, a very friendly and pleasant couple. The breakfasts were great at a reasonble price.
Saturday 30th May - Martin Down.
After pitching the tent in sweltering conditions we drove to Martin Down, which was the closest site to where we were staying. We arrived fairly late in the afternoon hoping to see Duke of Burgundy, which was said to be found on the down.
We parked in the car park and headed along the old dyke that runs from the car park to an area of poor soil with little vegetation. Along the dyke were many Small Heath butterflies and the occasional Common Blue. On reaching a large bank to the left of the path we spotted several Adonis Blues and shortly afterwards found one Grizzled Skipper on the path into the area of little vegetation.
We hung around this area for quite some time finding a territorial Dingy Skipper, Painted Lady, Green Veined White, Large White, Brimstone and after a little searching two or three Small Blue butterflies.
Bird seen in the area were Turtle Dove around the car park, a hunting Hobby and a male Corn Bunting singing from a bush top just past the the sparsely vegetated area.
On our first half day out we managed to find four species off the list which we were very pleased with, although we didn't see Duke of Burgundy, which we were informed was no longer found at Martin Down.
Sunday 31st May - Fontmell Down
This was the second closest site to the campsite and was also a site supposedly with Duke of Burgundy. As we set off the sun was shining as it did for the whole of the first week. We parked in the Fontmell Down car park close to the local aerodrome and set off onto the down.
Fontmell Down is horseshoe shaped and in the centre of the horseshoe towards the bottom of the hill is the best area for butterflies.
However, beware, when we were there I picked up seven ticks on the first visit had up to fifty on my cloths on our second visit and on the third visit we gave up after about 20 yards over the style having collected several hundred ticks on each trouser leg.
There were large numbers of butterflies on the down including Common Blue, Adonis Blues in their hundreds, several more Small Blues were seen, Grizzled and Dingy Skippers were plentiful along with a single Large Skipper. Brown Argus were also seen. A couple of migrant Clouded Yellows flew across the down stopping only briefly and a single possible Duke of Burgundy was sighted but at long range.
It was a pleasure to see two or three newly emerged Marsh Fritillaries, which were in fantastic condition.
We visited the close by Stubhampton Bottom, make what you will of the name, as this was said to hold Duke of Burgundy. Again no luck with the Dukes. I was beginning to think this would be my bogey butterfly, because we may have been too late in the season for them. I suspected they may have emerged early due to the good weather conditions this year.
Birds of interest were Hobby and Buzzrd over the down and a Goshawk at Stubhampton Bottom.
Monday 1st June - Noar Hill and Bentley Wood
Noar Hill was our best chance for seeing Dukes so we hit the road early in the morning arriving at Noar Hill at around nine in the morning. The nature reserve here is a beautiful spot with orchids and good numbers of butterflies. We saw Common Blue, Adonis Blue, Green Hairstreak, Small Heath, Orange Tip, Large White, Large Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Painted Lady, Speckled Wood and Brimstone but after three hours or more of searching no Duke of Burgundy.
We did find Common Blue Damselfly and a male Emperor Dragonfly.
I had now given up on finding Dukes and stopped for a drink at the furthest point of the site from the entrance. All of a sudden two small orange/brown butterflies shot into the air spiralling upwards in combat. Two territorial male Duke of Burgundy butterflies. It was time for a celebratory digestive biscuit. We spent the majority of the next hour watching, videoing and photographing the two little gems before heading off and moving on to Bentley Wood.
The main aim at Bentley Wood was to find the eastern clearing which is famous for Pearl Bordered and Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries. After parking we followed instructions, which said walk back down the entrance track for a hundred yards and turn left down a small track into the clearing. The clearing can be seen from the entrance road to the woods.
As soon as we entererd the clearing we saw several Fritillaries, probably up to thirty Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries and only two very worn looking Pearl Bordered Fritillaries which, declined to be photographed both heading for the trees.
We spent the remainder of the day here attempting to photograph the butterflies, which were extremely mobile only settling very rarely, somtimes nectaring from some small trees in the clearing.
Surprisingly we also found another Duke in the clearing along with several moth species including Argent and Sable and a nice female Broad Bodied Chaser dragonfly.
The day gave plenty of common woodland bird species but with nothing of major interest.
Another satisfying day having found one of the more difficult butterflies on our list plus two others.
Tuesday 2nd June - Bentley Wood and Fontmell Down
We spent the day videoing and photographing the species we had seen on the previous days but with two Dukes seen at Bentley Wood, one in great condition considering it was close to the end of their flight period.
The only different insects we found were Burnet Companion Moth at Fontmell Down and a Broad Bordered Bee Hawkmoth in the eastern clearing at Bentley wood.
Again a great day with superb weather and plenty of butterflies.
Wednesday 3rd June - Stopham Bridge and New Bridge
This was our first real dragonfly hunting day, visiting Stopham Bridge near Pulborough and New Bridge near Billingshurst.
We visited Stopham old bridge first and the weather again was fine. Park off the main road along a dead end lane near the pub at the bridge. Face the pub and walk down to the river along a small track to the left of the pub. A fishermans path goes for several hundred yards by the river before heading back towards the woods. There is no point in entering the woods as all the odonata can be viewed from the fishermans path.
We encountered common damselflies including Large Red, Blue Tailed, Azure and Common Blue plus large numbers of Banded Demoiselles.
The first dragonfly to be seen was Scarce Chaser, a male followed by several more as the day warmed up. A single female was also seen.
The second dragonfly species was a Hairy Dragonfly hunting along the edge of the river. At one point it made a catch of some prey item and proceeded to land in the nettles along the side of the path allowing photographs and video to be taken, a lucky strike.
Speaking of luck, whilst watching the Hairy Dragonfly I noticed a Club Tailed Dragonfly perched on some large leaves beside the river. However, on moving towards it I must have scared it off as it flew to the opposite side of the river. I thought that was probably it for my chances of getting a photograph. However, on wading through some nettles along a very narrow path I spied the same individual or another Club Tailed Dragonfly which allowed me close enough to photograph. Helen didn't manage any video mainly because the path was four to five feet high in nettles and there were hundreds of spiders along it and believe me Helen is not a keen spider lover.
One final surprise for the site was a very early White Legged Damselfly found along the path.
We headed back to the pub for lunch and a well derserved shandy in the heat. The pub food was excellent and the shandy went down a treat.
We then headed off to New Bridge near Billingshurst and for the first time in the holiday the sun disappeared behind clouds which had gathered. For this reason we saw very little at this site except for two probable Club Tailed Dragonflies which were a little distant to get a positive ID on.
The walk was pleasant and I imagine with more sunshine better sightings would be had.
Thursday 4th June - Oaken Wood and Thursley Common
This was a mixed day, visiting Oaken Wood for butterflies and Thursley Common for Odonata.
At Oaken wood we entered via the main gate and proceeded into the wood by the welcome to Oaken Wood sign which was a bit dishevelled. It did have an obliging Speckled Wood settled on it though.
In the woods we saw Large Red Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Blue Tailed Damselfly and Azure Damselfly by the small pools in the woods. Broad Bodied Chaser and two female type Black Tailed Skimmers were seen along the main woodland rides.
Butterflies included Brimstone, Large Skipper, Painted Lady, Common Blue, our first Meadow Brown of the holiday, Small White, Large White and two Wood Whites, the main objective of visiting Oaken Wood.
We managed to get a bit lost on the way back through the woods but did see Nightingale and hear them singing. We also picked up several little passengers in the form of ticks, presumably from the deer present in the woods, one of which, a Roe Deer, we saw near the entrance to the wood.
After our fill of Wood Whites and ticks we headed off to Thursley Common to find Dragonflies and Damselflies.
Thursley consists of two main areas, the large pond at the car park and the heathland with its boggy areas.
We initially checked out the pond finding common species of Odonata including Four Spot Chasers plus three or four Downy Emeralds which can normally be found patrolling along the edges of the pond when the sun is out at the right time of the year. I have seen Brilliant Emerald at Thursley but our visit was too early in the year for this species.
After checking out the pond we headed onto the boardwalk over the heathland. In addition to the species found around the pond we saw Emperor Dragonfly, Golden Ringed Dragonfly, Keeled Skimmer and Small Red Damselfly.
We ventured onto the drier heathland in search of Silver Studded Blue butterflies, but much of the heath had recently been burned and we were probably too early in the year for this species as we saw none. However, there were plenty of Wood Tiger Beetles on the path over the heath and we had some excllent views of Woodlark along the walk.
Back at the wetter areas we watched around seven Hobbies hawking for dragonflies, occasionally landing in the nearby pines along the back of the boardwalk which was closed for repairs. We also stepped over the obliging Viviparous lizards sunning themselves along the sides of the boardwalk.
So ended another successful day.
Friday 5th June - Hordle Cliff, Hurst Castle and Latchmore Brook
The main aim of the day was to find two species, Glanville Fritillary at its only native UK mainland sites and Scarce Blue Tailed Damselfly in the New Forest.
Firstly we headed to the south coast and Hordle Cliff, which has held Glanville Fritillary, although possibly no longer. The walk was pleasant along the coast but the conditions were a little cloudy and no Glanville Fritillaries were seen. I have no idea if they are present here and may be possible in brighter conditions.
We headed for Keyhaven and parked in the pay and display car park near to where the ferries leave for Hurst Castle. We didn't catch the ferry but walked along the shingle bank to the castle, finding the free parking area along the way.
The weather remained dull whilst at the castle with no fritillaries in sight. However, we did find large numbers of Cream Spot Tiger Moths around the castle. Butterflies seen were Small Heath, Painted Lady and Common Blue. Two species of Damselfly were seen, Common Blue and Blue Tailed.
The sun eventually came out shortly before our parking fee ran out and as if by magic two small fritillaries appeared alighting along the mown walkway round the outside of the castle. I quickly took several pictues of the Glanville Fritillaries before we marched quickly back to avoid a parking fine.
A few waders including Curlew and Redshank were seen over the marsh and Sandwhich, Little and Common Terns were seen fishing over the sea.
On the return to the campsite we stopped off at Latchmore Brook in the New Forest, parking at Ogdens car park. Not so easily found.
We headed off along the northern side of the brook which is said to be the best area for Scarce Blue Tailed Damselfly in the more boggy areas. There were no boggy areas due to the sunny weather, it was very dry. We did see plenty of Beautiful Demoiselles which were extremely skittish allowing very few photo opportunities.
On finding no Scarce Blue Tails we crossed to the other side of the brook and checked out the mostly dry little tributaries entering the brook. Eventually we managed to find five male Scarce Blue Tails in one and a mating pair along another. The area is supposed to be good for Southern Damselfly but we found none. May be it was a little early in the year for this species.
Yet another successful day with two more of the hit list seen.
Saturday 6th June - Hatchet Pond, Crockford Bridge and Mill Lawn Brook
Another day in the New Forest searching out mainly Odonata. The weather was not fantastic as it was fairly cloudy to begin with but it did brighten up later.
We walked the whole way round Hatchet pond seeing only common species including Azure Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Blue Tailed Damselfly and Large Red Damselfly. No sign of any Southern Damselflies. A few birds were seen including Lapwing, Oystercatcher and a couple of annoyed Redshanks presumably with young.
Pretty uneventful except for dropping my Camera and both telephoto and macro lenses on the floor, luckily onto the grass with minor damage occurring.
Next we headed for Crockford Bridge to find the car park closed to minimise the disturbance to breeding wildlife. We parked at the nearest open car park and walked back along the road to the stream which runs under the bridge bisecting the road.
On the way we had good views of a male Broad Bodied Chaser, whilst along the stream we saw Beautiful Demoiselles and Keeled Skimmers at extremely close quarters, plus Common Blue butterfly and Small Heath along with a startled Snipe.
We finally visited Mill Lawn Brook where the flowers were the most interesting things to look at. There were no Odonata apart from Large Red Damselflies and no butterflies were seen, even though I have seen good numbers of Southern Damselflies here in previous years.
Although we saw nothing new for the list we had some good views and photo opportunities of some of the commoner species.
Sunday 7th June - Latchmore Brook, Mill Lawn Brook and Holmsley Ridge
Another day in the New Forest dodging the rain. The weather in the morning wasn't too bad whilst visting Latchmore Brook and Mill Lawn Brook where we saw pretty much the same as before with the additions of Four Spot Chaser and Keeled Skimmer at Latchmore Brook.
However, in the afternoon We had one massive rain storm for three hours which we sat out in the car whilst waiting to go for a walk at Holmsley ridge along the old disused railway line to look for Dartford Warbler that we managed to miss at Thursley Common.
After the rain abated we went for a walk from the car park in the wood, along the old railway line and up onto the heath.
A few interesting birds were seen including Buzzard, Snipe, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and a flyover Shelduck but no Dartford Warbler. The main species of interest were two Silver Studded Blue butterflies we found up on the heathland, which were out right at the beginning of their flight period.
Another good day with probably one of the more unexpected finds of the holiday in Silver Studded Blue as I honestly believed we would be too early for this butterfly.
Monday 8th June - Collard Hill
This was the day we headed off into Somerset in an attempt to find two of the rarest butterflies to be found in England, the Large Blue and Heath Fritillary. Our first port of call was Collard Hill where a colony of Large Blue butterflies has been re-introduced and the site is managed to encourage the ant, Myrmica sabuleti on which the Large Blue caterpillars feed. This is the only public site in the country where these butterflies can be seen.
We spent a good few hours at the sight in windy dull conditions seeing only Meadow Brown, Small Heath, Dingy Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Speckled Wood and Common Blue. On leaving the site we met the warden who commented that two or three had been seen on both Saturday and Sunday. Typical.
As the clouds rolled over the landscape we headed further afield to Haddon Hill to look for the second species of the day, Heath Fritillary. As we arrived in the car park rain stopped play and the mission was aborted and we headed back to Collard Hill for a second attempt at Large Blue.
We went directly to the steep sided meadow which was apparently the best part of the site for Large Blue. I told Helen to look out for the butterflies roosting low down in the grass.
No sooner had we set foot on the bottom of the hill Helen exclaimed "Blue" shortly followed by my "Large Blue" as we both spotted a Large Blue hunkered down in the grass. The butterfly didn't move much in the cold conditions allowing photos and video to be taken until it eventually flew off and landed high up in the nearby hedgerow.
A good ending to an otherwise fairly dull day.
Tuesday 9th June - Hurst Castle and Itchen Valley Country Park
The day had two objectives, the first which was not achieved was to get underwing shots of Glanville Fritillary. The weather was dull and cold at Hurst Castle and not a Glanville Fritillary was seen. This was a little dissapointing so we headed for Itchen Valley Country Park situated just north of Southampton along the River Itchen. The aim here was to see Southern Blue Damselfly as this site I have previously visited and seen good numbers of this damselfly.
We were not disspointed as we found several Southern Damselflies in an area fenced off along a small stream in the midst of a field full of bullocks which at one point completely surrounded us whilst we were watching the damselflies. Maybe bullocks have an interest in human watching. They were certainly very curious and I had to eventually scare them off with some loud hand claps.
The weather forcast for Wednesday was fairly poor so we decided to try our luck with a spot of birdwatching at Radipole Lake. My main interest here was to see the Hooded Merganser that had been present for a year. It had actually been there for exactly one year the previous day. My other aim was to try and get some photos of Cetti's Warbler.
Firstly we had success with the Hooded Merganser as it was present just outside of the visitor centre. Unfortunately it was in eclipse plumage and very drab compared to the photos on show in the centre.
The weather was considerably better than the forcast and the sun even came out. We had a slow stroll around the reserve seeing the usual water birds, some colourful plants including Southern Marsh Orchid and plenty of Cetti's Warblers including a family party with four or five youngsters.
We walked to the only hide on the reserve to look for a pair of Marsh Harriers that were possibly breeding on the reserve. We were not disappointed seeing both male and female birds, even performing a couple of food passes over the reedbeds.
Obtaining photos of the Cetti's was not that easy as they hid in the undergrowth occasionally flying along the paths in front of us.
One bird sang very loudly from a willow at the side of the path anoyingly just after we had walked past. I retraced my steps and it burst into song again deafeningly close. I looked up to see the bird perched a few feet from my position. I managed some photos before it disspeared back into the undergrowth.
We left Radipole and headed for Swanage passing Corfe Castle on the way.
On arriving at Durlston country park the inevitable rain started to fall as we quickly ran into the visitor centre to shelter. After about an hour the rain abated and we decided to risk a walk down to the cliffs where we saw Fulmar, Razorbill and Guillemot.
As the weather brightened we followed the butterfly trail but the conditions were cool and cloudy still with no butterflies in site besides a tatty Painted Lady and a single Common Blue.
The flower meadows had some interesting flowers including some beautiful Bee Orchids and hundreds of caterpillars and cocoons which we identified later as belonging to either five or six spot Burnet moths.
Thursday 11th June - Collard Hill, Haddon Hill and Dunkery Hill
As suggested by the title of this section we were in for a hilly day. We decided to revisit Collard Hill in the hope that better weather would bring out a few more Large Blue butterflies.
At Collard Hill we headed straight for the steep meadow known to be the best area for the butterflies. On arriving there we found another photographer who was watching a Large Blue. He kindly pointed it out and eventually the sun came out and it obligingly opened it wings for us. I think this one was a female.
These butterflies are quite distinctive having no orange spots on the underwing and a darkish blue on the upperwing with some large dark spots on the upper forwing. The underwing did appear to have more turquoise blue at the base of the wings compared to the illustrations in my identification guides.
Having found a couple more of the butterflies plus Common Blue, Painted Lady, Small Heath and Meadow Brown we decided to leave, trying for Marbled White near the pines on the hillside on the way back to the car. The clouds were becoming more obvious blocking out any chance of sunshine and also our chances of seeing Marbled White so we headed for Exmoor and our next port of call, Haddon Hill.
The weather was mixed but no rain this time. We parked up and headed down hill, following verbal instructions from several people and internet trip reports, to the edge of the woods at the bottom of the hill. This was apparently the best spot for Heath Frillary.
The guy at Collard Hill said he had seen Heath Fritillary up to two weeks previous but even now I thought we were possibly too early in the year for them. The search began and we covered the whole of Haddon Hill finding the caterpillars food plant Common Cow Wheat and a couple of Dor Beetles plus common butterflies, but not a Heath Fritillary in sight.
We headed back to the car and checked out the butterfly site guide and as we were fairly close to Dunkery Hill we decided to give it a try in a last ditch attempt to find the Heath Fritillary.
The directions to find the right area were not great but I think we were roughly in the correct place and the guide stated that there were many areas of the right habitat so just try them out. We did, we walked over a good area of hillside and again were disspointed with no Heath Frits. We did see Stonechat, Wood Warbler and Grey Wagtail in the area to compensate for the lack of our quarry.
On walking along the road to find a footpath I did spot a small bright orange butterfly that I could only assume was the fabled Heath Fritillary so I was not about to give up. We continued walking and crossed the main road leading down from Dunkery Hill along a designated bridleway. We were both pretty tired and thirsty at this point and it was getting late so Helen grabbed the bottle of lemonade from my rucksack.
Whilst being passed the drink I noticed a small brownish object on the top of a grass stem along the path. I urgently told Helen to grab the bottle and I took a closer look. Sure enough it was a small butterfly extremely well camouflaged with its wings closed. More importantly it was a Heath Fritillary. The late afternoon sun peeped out from behind the clouds and the butterfly moved round and opened up its wings. What a spanker, it appeared to be very fresh and possibly had only emerged within the last couple of days.
Whilst Helen took some video I found a couple more perched up alongside the path. As the path was sheltered from the wind I figured this was probably a well used roosting site for these butterflies.
We eventually decided to leave and head back to the campsite as it was getting quite late and the drive was at least a couple of hours.
Of course as I had been lying in the grass I had my full compliment of ticks to remove, some of which were quite big compared to the ones at Fontmell Down.
We headed back to the tent feeling tired but extremely happy with the days sightings.
Friday 12th June - Collard Hill and Martin Down
The initial aim of the day was to get more shots of Large Blue as I was still not entirely happy with those I had and to find some Marbled Whites at Collard Hill.
I decided not to go at the weekend as it would probably be quite busy being the first weekend with virtually guaranteed sightings of the butterflies.
We arrived at around half past eight in the morning and found our first Large Blue in the usual area. As the sun wasn't out I sat beside the butterfly after taking some closed wing shots. After keeping it company for about an hour the sun ventured out and it rudely flew off just at a point when neither of us were watching it. We had a search round and eventually found it or another one fairly close by.
The sun was out for lengthy spells and the butterflies were more active and didn't settle for too long. However, over the course of the morning we saw at least twelve individuals including a male which opened its wings up for us even when the sun was in , in a sheletered spot away from the wind that had picked up a little. We also found a mating pair in the area known as the quarry, supposedly the second best area on the site.
We also managed decent views and a couple of photos of Marbled White which were more abundant now.
Having had our fill of the butterflies and due to the amount of people who had now arrived we left Collard Hill for the last time and headed for Martin Down close to the campsite.
I was hoping to get some more photos of Adonis Blue here with wings open. However, we didn't see any at all. We did however, get some fleeting glimpses of Dark Green Fritillary flying at tremendous speeds over the down. No photos though. I would have to wait until 2nd July and a trip to Millersdale Quarry in the Peak District to get some great shots of this species.
Interesting birds of the day were Treecreeper at Collard Hill and a hunting Peregrine plus Corn Bunting and Turtle Dove at Martin Down. We also found two slow worms under some corrugated iron at Martin Down
Saturday 13th June - Stopham Bridge and Fontmell Down
Our final full day of the holiday, so what had we missed in the way of video or photos. We didn't have any video of Club Tailed Dragonfly, only photos and I hadn't got any really good shots of male Adonis Blue with wings open.
Therefore, this was going to be another Odonata stop off at the bridge to get some video of Club Tailed Dragonfly followed by a final attempt for more Adonis Blues at Fontmell Down.
At Stopham Bridge we found the usual array of common damselflies and a few Scarce Chasers. I startled a large unidentified dragonfly up from the path and eventually tracked it down. It was a superb Golden Ringed Dragonfly munching away on a bumblebee. This was dutifully filmed and photographed. The other species I was hoping for was Club Tailed Dragonfly as we didn't manage any video of them on our previous visit. The same was proven to be true. The only Club Tailed Dragonfly I saw was perched on the ground down by the river. Unfortunately I was too late in spotting it and only managed to scare it off over the river.
We quenched our thirst with a quick shandy at the pub and headed back to Fontmell Down for Adonis Blue. This turned out to be a bit of waste of time as the only Adonis Blues at the top of the down were so tatty by now they weren't worth photographing. We decided to try lower on the slopes but when we began the descent over the down we quickly retraced our steps after discovering that the tick population had expanded dramatically since our previous visit. After no more than twenty yards we had picked up at least one hundred of the little passengers on each trouser leg. After having to dig the jaws of a tick out of my leg with a sterile needle following a previous visit we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and made a quick escape.
Sunday 14th June - Thursley Common
And so ended our holiday on the hunt for the butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies of the south of England.
I would say the trip was pretty successful as we cleaned up with sightings and either photos and/or video of every species on our hit list plus a few extras.
The weather was great, our base on the campsite was pretty much ideal along with the Roebuck pub in Sixpenny Handley for much needed sustenance and the odd beer.
To view the full Trip List click here