Sunday, 29 May 2011

Fly Orchids and Herb Paris

Today Bun and me went to a wood in Dorset to look for Fly Orchid and also Herb Paris. I believe (well I've certainly read somewhere) that this location is the furthest west that Fly Orchids can be found in England. I saw the orchids here in 2009 but couldn't find the Herb Paris which would have been a new plant for me. Bun hadn't seen either plant so obviously the excitement was almost too much to bear on his part! When I visited this wood in 2009 I was under the impression it was a private woodland and therefore only looked for plants near the roadside, I've since discovered that it is actually a Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve. Being able to venture into the wood made all the difference and both plants were soon found. There were around twenty Fly Orchids most of which had 'gone over' already, and around thirty Herb Paris plants in one large clump. I didn't get very good photos of the orchids last time and was hoping to do better but I don't think I did. It was just too gloomy to get good macro shots with my point and shoot. Woodland subjects tend to show up its limitations somewhat.
Single specimens of Fly Orchid can look very inconspicuous (it's right in the centre)
My two best efforts.
Fascinating plants, which I was just as thrilled to see as when I had my first views of them two years ago. I don't think I'd ever get tired of seeing them.
I resorted to using the flash. I rather like the results because you can see the almost furry appearance of the flower's lip.
 Herb Paris: A much looked for but never seen (until today) plant
 Its scientific name is Paris quadrifolia 
which literally means four equal leaves, and you can see why... although..
...some plants are rebels!
 The spiky protuberance in the centre is the not ever-so colourful but nonetheless beautifully constructed flower.
 The black ovary in the centre becomes a single black berry.

A good morning then, with a new plant species for me and two for Bun. That wasn't all though. On the way home things got even better when we spotted a sign for what must be the deal of the century!

What normal human being could resist ... Free string!!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Powerstock Common and Sand Lizards at Dawlish Warren

Having not managed even a glimpse of a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth in north Devon last week I decided to do a bit of internet research to find out if there were any possible sites for them nearer to home and found one no more than forty minutes drive away. Even though it was already quite late in the morning I just couldn't wait to check it out so set off straight away. It's a superb place a mixture of ancient woodland with coppiced areas, acid, neutral and calcareous grassland, old hedge banks and ponds. I saw plenty of butterflies (13 species) and day flying moths including three Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moths! I couldn't get a photo though, they are just so difficult to follow in flight, especially on the rough grassland terrain where running was out of the question! Still, I was thrilled to have seen them at last and because it's so near to home ( I call 24 miles near) I'll be able to pop back there for another chance. Also on the wing here were Marsh Fritillaries, a bit more worn than the ones in Devon as they tend to emerge earlier in the year on their Dorset sites. I also saw a Southern Hawker, a dragonfly that isn't usually seen until high summer, definitely the earliest I've seen one, though this year nothing surprises me! It is usually a good site for orchids too, they don't seem to be doing very well this year though, due to the extremely dry conditions I suspect.

Teeming with life!
'Unimproved' grassland at Powerstock Common.
A serious business: 
I saw this group setting up an array of equipment to photograph something. 'Must be something really good' I thought. I stopped to see what the fuss was about and was surprised to see the object of all this attention was just a Burnet Moth.
 Twenty minutes later on my return trip along the path and they're still at it! 
Perhaps it was some sort of wildlife photography class?
 I couldn't resist taking a few snapshots of the Marsh Fritillaries. This one is a bit worn and shows the characteristic greasy appearance to the wings which gave them the name Greasy Fritillary in the past.
A pair (female above) sharing an Orchid
Heath Spotted Orchid ( I think?)

On Tuesday I went to Dawlish Warren to try and see the Sand Lizards there after having failed on a couple of occasions last year. They showed so well this time that I don't know how I managed to not  see them before. Oh, and boy are they green!!
This one isn't threatening me. He's yawning I think, they do it a lot. He hadn't even seen me because I was using a lot of zoom. They do seem very used to people though. I was sitting quietly trying not to move when a guy walked past within about a foot of one of the lizards and I was quite surprised when it didn't move at all.
 Even more zoom (say what you like about digital zoom, but I think it's great on occasions like this when you can't get close enough for a macro shot))
 Even though the males are brightly coloured they are very well camouflaged. Can you see him? He's right in the centre and looking our way!....a bit closer...
 ...and  now with full optical plus digital zoom applied....
And just to show I was being honest about the yawning thing  heres a very short video of another one doing the same.

I saw a new flower for me here too Blue-eyed Grass, which wasn't in most of my books because it's an American species, naturalized at this site. I noticed it while looking for Adder's Tongue ferns which I couldn't find, but I was very pushed for time. One to go back for though.
Blue-eyed Grass
Now brace yourself for a shock...
Yes, it's a bird! I saw this Common Whitethroat with a bill-full of poor unfortunates.

And finally while on the subject of reptiles Bun let me know about a Grass Snake which was under a tin sheet on his neighbours garden. I went over to try and take a photo but hadn't envisaged the difficulty I'd have in holding up the large sheet of corrugated iron with one hand while taking a photo with the other. in the end I held it up with my foot, I must have looked ridiculous! It didn't help that the sheet was covered in ants. I was still finding them in my clothing hours later! The photos I got weren't very good in the end either but here they are anyway.

 I couldn't stand far enough back to get it all in the frame.
So I tried a close-up of the head.
A bit out of focus but I like this as I managed to get it with its tongue out!
It noticed me and started to retreat so I quickly switched to video, you can here it hissing at me!

Monday, 23 May 2011

A Couple of Things I've Been Meaning to Do

I've been putting off blogging again, (not on purpose, life just gets in the way sometimes) so it's another gargantuan post I'm afraid! I have a mental list of things I'm trying to get around to and this last week I've managed  to do a couple of them. The first was to visit Dunsdon NNR, a reserve somewhere in deepest, darkest Devon, one of only a handful of Culm grassland sites left in England. It isn't  at all easy to find, so when Dave and Hazel Land (two of the hopeless optimists from the Sand Point outing) offered to take me there I jumped at the chance. We were hoping to see Marsh Fritillaries but were again being very optimistic as it was a bit too early for them at this site. Still the weather was ideal and everything seems to be early this year so it was definitely worth taking the chance. We weren't disappointed either (optimism paying off again) and saw a good number of males which were obviously freshly emerged, most of them probably emerged that very morning. We weren't so fortunate with Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, not a sniff of these to be had at Dunsdon. We also checked out another DWT reserve, Volehouse Moor, again a Culm grassland reserve and even harder to find than Dunsdon! A superb place though with vast swathes of Culm grassland and wild flower meadows teeming with insects. We saw many newly emerged male Marsh Fritillaries here too and both Dave and Hazel saw a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth in flight, which unfortunately didn't stop.

The second was to visit Norfolk  to see the Swallowtail. Early June is meant to be the best time for these but they are obviously very dependant on weather, so driving to Norfolk from Devon to look for them can be quite hit and miss, a wasted journey being highly likely. I was on holiday from work last week though and when I saw that Swallowtails had already been seen in good numbers and the weather forecast was for sunny weather on both Friday and Saturday, I thought, it's now or never! Okay that's a bit melodramatic, I actually thought it's now or..... next year. Bun was keen to accompany me even though he'd seen Swallowtails recently, a couple of weeks ago in Spain. He still 'needed ' Swallowtail in Britain though (whatever that means!)

After a six hour journey, we arrived a Strumpshaw Fen to find that Swallowtails had been showing well all morning in the garden by the reserve reception. We didn't look here straight away but went to the Doctor's Garden where we immediately had superb views of  a pristine male. A second soon appeared in the garden and we saw half a dozen others flying over the adjacent lanes and fields. A further one was seen later in the garden by the reserve reception. They were a new butterfly for me and no amount of looking at photos can really prepare you for your first sight of one, they're just so much bigger than you imagine. Awesome butterfly! Definitely worth the long drive. As we'd seen the butterflies so easily on the Friday we had Saturday free for birding. There wasn't too much to tempt us up to the north coast and hence further from home, so we decided to go to Welney and try for the Bluethroat again. I say again because we dipped it last year, some of us twice! ;-) So how did we fare this year? The less said the better really...£7.10 a visit too!

Anyway here's some photos from Dunnsdon and Volehouse Moor, then Strumpshaw.

 Marsh Fritillary on Meadow Thistle
The bottom photo shows a very recently emerged one, so much so that its wings are still a bit crinkled, not being fully 'pumped up'.
Another one for my 'photographed on the finger list'

And now...for a revolting interlude.....
Yuk!..A Snipe Fly Rhagio sp. also sometimes called a Down-looker Fly
How can you tell it's looking down?
That's better.. Not nearly so revolting... A very popular Meadow Thistle,
here seen feeding a Burnet Companion, a Hover-fly, Rhingia campestris and a Bumble-bee Bombus pratorum?

Petty Whin, 
This was a new plant for me. 
These photos also show the Culm grassland habitat.

If you were to go into the reception at Strumpshaw Fen you may well be told that although Swallowtails can be seen at the Doctor's Cottage Garden, one must not linger there or attempt to venture onto the garden.This is what the owner has asked them to to say apparently. This sign at the foot of the garden would suggest the exact opposite and wouldn't be put there by someone who wanted to discourage visitors, would it? I suspect  the RSPB would prefer you to pay to enter their reserve though. We did this too as it's all in a good cause ( conveniently forgetting the Ruddy Duck cull, which still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I give money to them)
When we arrived the owner was working in the garden and was very friendly and welcoming. Not only did he want us to see the Swallowtails he also suggested we look for the colony of Brown Argus which he has on his lawn. His tolerance may not stretch to having his photo splashed all over the blogoshere though, so I've disguised him with the smudge tool. Well if it's good enough for GoogleEarth it's good enough for my lowly blog.
All the ones we saw nectaring were in superb condition as you can see.
I really like this photo even though it doesn't show a whole one!

Here's a video showing just how big they are.

Yesterday on Beer Head I photographed this Mullein Moth Caterpillar. The sun shining through his legs make them look like they have lightbulbs in them!