Sunday, 22 September 2013

Kingsdown born and bred

Just a quick note to advise that the long-tailed blue  colony seen on the Leas in August have successfully produced a new generation which have started to fly.

This is an extremely rare occurrence in the UK and I'm so proud!
There has been debate over whether a pair of blues arrived on the cliffs in the warm winds of July, and procreated there, or alternatively an impregnated female arrived on her own, and laid the eggs that turned into the butterflies in the last generation.
We will never know, but can be reasonably sure that this emergence will be the last well see of them,as they won't be able to survive the winter here.

Unlike our native blues, some of which were found roosting nearby, waiting for the fuss over the continental stars to die down.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Cloudy Banks

Ever wondered where the song Claudy Banks got its name? No, I thought not. It was a song that I first heard sung by Bob Copper, but it's an old traditional favourite.  I like to think that it refers to clouded yellows on the chalk downs, where this year the species has enjoyed a bumper time.
A brief lunchtime stroll over a nearby acre or two found five of these butterflies, including a very pale one that might have been a Pale Clouded Yellow, or a Berger's Clouded Yellow or (more likely) a helice version of the common race. It was hot so they didn't hang around for a portrait; on the weekend it had been cooler (natch) so the clouded yellows on the beach were more sedentary, absorbing warmth from the pebbles.
Late summer is the best time to be on the Lydden / Temple Ewell nature reserve; not only are the chalkhill blues still swarming in their hundreds, but also the devil's-bit scabious is coming into flower. Centaury is not frequent this year and it's good to see its spiral stamens.
And the glorious Adonis blue is emerging in its second flourish of the year, while silver-spotted skippers are appearing for their only show; if it's a bit cool or cloudy you might be able to warm them up on your hands.

In fact, silver-spotted skippers are best observed in the cool as they move too quickly in the sunshine - we counted over 20 resting in the grass on a small part of the down.
A surprise was an extensive patch of common dodder. The records tell us that it has been seen at the Temple Ewell end but not here, in the middle. A nice find, twisting its predatory self around the scabious but living off bedstraw.

Beware dwarf thistles.....

....and nasty-tasting stink-bugs.

Friday, 30 August 2013

A good year for butterflies

It's not been a bad summer, has it? Dawn till dusk sunshine, warm enough to swim in the sea, cool beer, cold ices, no irritating long flights to suffer - all in all a good year to stay at home.

To answer last year's fretting about the lack of bugs on the windscreen, some muggy drives have even had these, although the report of a clouded yellow squished against the screen was rather unnecessary.

And butterflies have appeared in (relative) profusion. Buddleias are covered with whites and aristocrats while the herbs and grasslands are alive with blues and skippers.

The biggest news was, of course, the discovery of a veritable colony of long-tailed blues on Kingsdown Leas, with around seven adults and 47 eggs recorded, plus an egg in each of the villages of Kingsdown and St Margarets. The adults would have been blown north from the Mediterranean area on the warm "Spanish plume" wind in early August, along with many other unusual insects. The arrival even made the national press.

The eggs were laid on broad-leaved everlasting pea which grows profusely on the clifftops. The six-week life cycle of this butterfly is continuous throughout the year, so we may see an emergence of adults in late September if weather permits, but it is not possible for them to repeat the cycle through the winter.

I caught a brief glimpse of a female before being submerged beneath a pile of camera-toting twitchers, but for the record here's a photo taken in Rhodes a couple of years ago, in more familiar surroundings (note the pea leaves behind).

Also just for the record, here's a selection of sundry pics taken this summer, mostly without the tedium of commentary.

I like woolly thistles. I shall devote the rest of my life to spreading their downy seeds.

After all the work done of the catastrophic disappearance of the once-common small tortoiseshells, can any of the experts now explain why they have returned this year in such profusion? Have they also flown across the water, or are they our recovering native population?  Will we again see them in sheds and garages in the winter?
[ Answer from BTO: This year’s boost for Small Tortoiseshells is probably due to three reasons. Firstly, the long period of dry, hot weather has been good for both butterflies and the flowering plants they feed on. Secondly, there may have been an influx of immigrant Small Tortoiseshells from the continent, benefitting from the warm weather and boosting our British population. Finally, it is possible that the parasitic fly Sturmia bella, which is thought to be a partial cause of the overall decline of Small Tortoiseshell, is at a low in its population cycle.]

 The undersides of some butterflies are unjustly ignored.

In other news......

Autumn gentians have appeared at Lydden, but I've not seen any autumn ladies' tresses yet.
[Stop press - news just in..... tresses seen on a lawn in Kingsdown.....]
Dwarf elder is in flower beside the A2 by Brenley Corner.
In common with many plants, sea heath seems to have had a good year, with its patches beneath Shakespeare Cliff seemingly doubled in size. The climb up to see it is, however, getting more difficult [it's your age!]

And on the bird front, there's been lots of interesting migrants (all of which I have missed) and although a visit to Oare ticked my first UK cattle egret.....
...I failed to see the long-staying Bonaparte's gull. Oare is lovely in the late summer sunshine, although when I shared my affection for the place to a passing birder he replied "not much about though". Good grief, man.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Crecy again - what a boar

It's good being able to plan a week's holiday at the drop of a hat, and to chose where to go according to the weather forecast. So when the forecast is for heat, it's best to go to the forests, within easy reach of the coast, and Crecy forest fitted the bill nicely.
Strapping the bikes on the back of the car, we drove slowly down the N roads via La Coupole [impressive restoration, museum, shop and surrounding chalk grassland] and Azincourt [unimpressive, sorry] to our favourite B&B just 100m from the forest.

We rode into the forest at leisure in the mornings and evenings, and there was always something interesting to see, especially as many animals seem to like the quiet roads as much as we do.

It is the habit of white admirals to rest on the road (possibly feeding on squashed slugs) .....

.... and sometimes they come to grief themselves.
While watching the white admiral, sharp-eyes spotted another butterfly nearby, which proved to be a newly-emerged purple hairstreak.

We saw plenty of roe deer beside the road or crashing through the forest, but this little family allowed a stealthy approach from downwind, until they chose to saunter off to feed.

We cycled until it got dark in the evenings, when more insects and animals appeared. What's that crossing the road down there?

It was a herd (or sounder) of wild boar - about eight adults and 20 piglets. We kept our distance, of course, as they are impressive beasts.

And when it was almost dark a slim shadow was sighted, in the area by pine trees where most of the slugs had been seen.  

Fortunately it ran up the road towards the camera and confirmed its identity as a pine martin, a rare animal almost everywhere and apparently unknown in this forest or indeed in the Somme area according to Picardie-nature.

Moving on from our Crecy base, we stopped at a town called Long and enjoyed the typical French riverside habitats.

This edible frog should take care - we later ate at the restaurant in town and I'm sure they would enjoy preparing frogs' legs. Incidentally, the Le Comptoir Bleu restaurant, overlooking the Somme, is one of the best I've visited, and is well worth a trip -great food, service, ambiance and views, not to mention good value.

And so to the real reason for the French trip - Parc Asterix which was a real blast. I have been meaning to take the kids there for 20 years, but eventually they took me!