Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Warren Revisited

Back to the Folkestone Warren today, to have another go at finding a Grayling. Guided by instinct (hah!) I tried the western part which seemed to be largely unwooded, with a good chance of open land which could be attractive to them.
What I didn't realise was that it was very hillocky and in places steep, with scarce paths, deep grass and plenty of small scrub. It's actually the site of a huge cliff fall that closed the railway line from Dover to London in the late stages of the First World War - news of the fall was covered up, as it would have told the enemy that there was now only one train route out of Dover, and therefore it would have been at risk of attack. The line wasn't cleared until after the war had ended, and it is now one of the most expensive high-maintenance strecthes of line on the country.
Soon I was scratched, sweaty and disorientated, but there were quite a few butterflies around - 10s each of Marbled Whites, Common Blues, Meadow Browns and Ringlets.

Each brown was scrutinised for signs of Grayling, and even this Painted Lady looked interesting at first sight.
There were also three Wall butterflies, looking very like the target species, but when they opened their wings and flew they showed their true colours.
Now, I wouldn't be dismissive of Walls, woul dI? They are quite scarce now, and I've only rarely seen them in the last few years (well, decades). There is a colony on Folkestone's Castle Hill, about a mile away.

This Wall shows signs of a narrow escape, with a torn wing and an outline of a bird's beak.

When I got home, there was a kind email directing me to where the Graylings can be found - it sounds even more inaccessible.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Folkestone Warren

I went to Folkestone Warren looking for Grayling butterflies......

....and all I found was this Dingy Skipper.

Does anybody know where the Graylings are? It's a big place to search.

Post Script....I missed a guided walk last Sunday - darn it!

SUMMER WILDLIFE OF THE HERITAGE COAST A walk through the Folkestone Warren in search of wildflowers and butterflies. Donation appreciated.LEADER: Phil Green, White Cliffs Countryside Project (01304 241806 or 07880 706993). MEET: The Pavilion car park, Wear Bay Road, Folkestone (TR 239 364). DISTANCE: 4 miles (3 hours). GRADE: 3

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Lydden Valleys

Hottest day of the year so far (and on a weekend too!), so where shall I go? Kingsdown beach, just a few hundred yards away, looking so tempting?

No, the recent warm days should have brought the next generation of butterflies to Lydden bank, so that's the place to be.There were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Chalkhill Blues along the side of the valley, with males (above) outnumbering females (below) by a large margin, so whenever a female flew she was promply chased by a number of males.This particular chase lasted a couple of minutes, with up to six males boisterously following the female, buffeting her and scrapping with their rivals.
I'm sure it was all done in the best possible taste. Another female was tracked down into the grass, where she appeared to drag her abdomen along the leaves, perhaps laying eggs?
Birds were few up on the downs, but a pair of crows appeared to be much larger than usual, and might have been the local Ravens. A pair of Buzzards have also been seen in the valley.
Earier in the day, a walk along the rifle range in Kingsdown also produced plenty of butterflies - still many Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns, small Skippers, Large Whites, Green-Veins, large numbers of Gatekeepers and the second emergence of Common Blues. By the way, this Lydden Valley is not the same Lydden Valley that is hopefully to be purchased by the RSPB.
That Lydden Valley is to the north of here, between Ham Fen (Kent Wildlife Trust), Fowlmead park (SEEDA) and Sandwich Bay Bird Observatory, so should make an excellent link between these protected sites. Please give generously!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Growing Kittiwakes

A third visit to Langdon cliffs to check on the progress of the Kittiwake chicks, and I was apprehensive that they may have gone hungry, after the continued reports of poor food stocks in the North Sea.
Some more nests were empty, but there were well-developed youngsters to be seen on the ledges, having lost their fluffiness in the last two weeks, and gained the distinctive markings that they will carry around the coasts for the next year.

This rabbit emerged from a burrow right at the cliff's edge, and studiously ignored me - with a home this close to the brink, he's got more important things to worry about.

A glorious Greater Knapweed

Incidentally, if you have a head for heights, look again at the top picture and you can see the kittiwake ledge in the bottom right-hand corner. Makes you feel all squirmie!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

One of the most polluted places in Britain?

It can't be, surely? One of the most polluted places in Britain? But yes, the ozone level in summer here on Lullington Heath inland from Beachy Head in Sussex rises to levels higher than in most towns.
The ozone from cars, industry etc spreads across the country, and because it's not broken down by other pollutants which do not spread in the same way, it collects in rural areas. And this place is apparently one of the worst.

Certainly one of our party (not the dog) was affected by asthmatic symptoms during the walk.

To quote various sources: The pollution is linked to hot sunny weather when industrial and motor vehicle emissions react under these conditions to form ground-level ozone. Light easterly winds sometimes bring this pollution across to the UK from central Europe. If conditions are very still for several days then high pollution can be generated by pollution emissions from UK sources too.
In 2003 two sites (London Marylebone Road and Lullington Heath) experienced at least 100 days of moderate or higher air pollution. Generally speaking, urban areas experienced less air pollution than rural areas in 2005.
63 sites in England were used for measuring ozone in 2005. The highest levels of ozone were at the following sites: Weybourne (East of England) Sibton (East of England) Lullington Heath (South East) Yarner Wood (South West).

More here.

Lullington is one of the largest areas of heathland on chalk in Britain, and it gives rise to strange mixtures of plants, and also provides a habitat for Graylings. In breezy conditions we didn't find any of these enigmatic butterflies, but did see a Meadow Brown doing a reasonable impersonation.
Parts of the heath have a good selection of typical chalkland flora, such as Squinancywort......
...and others have acid-loving heathers......
....while parts have the two types close together.

Here, Bell Heather mixes with Dropwort and Burnet Rose.White thistle (?) surrounded by Lady's Bedsocks.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Seeking out rarities

As a long-staying White-Winged Black Tern was just off my route this weekend, it had to be twitched - a lovely bird but only seen distantly, but at least it was found. Rye Harbour is a large reserve in which to find a single bird.
Fortunately there was plenty else to see, with the Common and Sandwich Terns and Black-Headed and Med Gulls bringing up their chicks (or bringing up for their chicks might be a better phrase. There was a constant flight of fish over our heads.

Common Terns and Black-Head youngsters?

We chatted with a couple of other tern-watchers, who said they were going to try to find some Least Lettuce plants. Well, I could hardly hold SteveR back - firstly however we found a couple of tiny Stinking Hawksbeards, which had become extinct in the late 1990s, but had been reintroduced from stored seed here at Rye. Personally I think that there are quite enough Hawkbits, hawkbeards and hawkweeds but that is quite a success story.
An amusing appendix to the reintroduction is told here by Brian Banks who tried some of the seeds in his garden and now has covered the village with them.
Near the Stinking Hawksbeards we eventually found two tiny plants which were identified as Least Lettuce. Not yet flowering, unfortunately, this very rare plant has of course been protected from rabbits by fencing.
SteveR missed a treat, but found a nearby Redshank to pass the time, while outside the hide a Painted Lady enjoyed the unexpected sunshine and some Valerian.
Later, also en route, I stopped off at Brede High Woods to see if I could track down any Silver-Washed Fritillaries.
These turned out to be fascinating mixed woods, owned by the Woodland Trust, with a good range of butterflies and it wasn't long before the large fritillaries were seen flying fast around the clearings when the sun appeared.

They apparently lay their eggs on tree trunks......
can't see any here though. The walk alternated with sunny periods (when the butterflies fluttered by), and cloud (when they dived for cover) so it was pleasing when a Silver-Washed Fritillary found cover about 10 feet away as the clouds came over.
The silver wash can't easily be seen at this distance, but it was still an unforgettable sight.



Dark Bush Cricket (don't mention the cricket!)