Monday, 17 April 2017

Spring butterflies

ONE of the most attractive, common spring insects, and one easily spotted, is the orange-tip butterfly.  Its feeds on cuckoo flower and the males patrol for available females - whilst photographing a fresh female a suitor came by and she raised her abdomen alluringly.

Also seen today were numerous slow worms - if you look carefully you can see a very small grass-snake tail top right.

Other highlights today were a glossy ibis, little ringed and ringed plovers, redshank and black-tailed godwits, bitterns and numerous great white egrets.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Blackthorn spring herald

BLACKTHORN is not perhaps the most glamorous of plants, but is carries a special place in many peoples' hearts as it chooses the earliest time of the year to open its thousands of small white flowers - much appreciated by insects.  In many places its currently in full bloom, although in warmer spots bushes may have already gone over.  Of course later in the year its black grape-like fruits have a special place in many a gin drinker's heart too!

This prickly character can quickly invade abandoned grasslands, throwing up spiky, unforgiving shoots, but with active grazing it is usually held in check.

On Wiltshire Wildlife Trust's West Yatton Down nature reserve (not a site they own but one with an agreement, and also a SSSI) the blackthorns in the valley are many, old and gnarly.  Several are so heavily encrusted with foliose lichen that the flowers play second fiddle.

The frequent nibbling by stock has made for thick twisted branches and a tunnel of white blossom.  Green hair-streak likes this spot, but none were seen today.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Migrants returning and songsters singing

A fabulous weekend and a great chance to see how spring was getting on.

The warmth has, at last, brought out the reptiles and I came across my first slow worm of the year.  Then a little way on found a grass snake basking in the warmth, deep in dry grass and short nettles on a south facing bank.

Grass snake
On the way to this site (Natural England's Shapwick Heath) I searched for an overwintering cattle egret that I hoped might still be around.

There's a slightly untidy traditional farm where numerous egrets gather.  Here the grazing cattle stir up insects and worms in a muddy and tightly grazed field.  There were 12 little egrets drifting this way and that, following the cattle and amongst them a wonderful, small, stocky, pearly white egret - a cattle egret;

Little egrets

Walking through the reserve I wandered on tracks between reed-fringed peat cuttings, wet woodland (birch, willow and alder), dry woodland (oak), around a large damp meadow and onto a refurbished hide, about 1km from the site entrance.  The ground flora is really starting to flush out now and the trees and shrubs were rich with singing warblers - blackcaps, chiff-chaffs and willow warblers.

The usual marshland species, such as booming bitterns were heard and later on, across the road at RSPB Ham Wall, a marsh harrier was seen.  Amongst the other early summer migrants was a large flock of sand martins - scooping up the huge mosquitoes I hope.

One highlight of spring which I always hope to see is the elegant dance of the great-crested grebe and I was lucky enough (or patient enough) to witness one this time - although as always it was quite far off:

Grebe at Ham Wall
A great white egret also lurked behind the reeds (so with herons that makes five such species in one day)

Marsh harrier
A number of native birds also contributed to the delightful spring soundscape - including wrens, blackbirds, thrushes, lapwings, cetti's warblers and reed buntings.

There was a good number of bees and butterflies including peacocks and brimstones.

Capturing an image of a singing willow warbler or chiff-chaff in a pussy willow tree, against a bright blue sky remains an ambition - these are the latest attempts of a willow warbler: