Friday 15 August 2014

Week 30: Frayed Fritillary, Painted Lady & Beautiful Buteo

I feel a bit like the weather this week…throwing the lot at you! Variety is, of course, the spice of life and you won’t get wet, I promise. In between light showers, pelting rain, darkness, sunshine, gusts and calm, I slotted in a few Box Moor visits. I split my time between Westbrook Hay and the Brickworks. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to photograph and film one of the Hay Wood Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo). Often, they are circling high over head or on an obscured perch but I got lucky on two occasions this week. One particular bird enjoys sitting in an Oak on Preston Hill (photographed below) or in one of the trees on the fringe of Hay Wood (where I filmed it).

I rarely visit Westbrook Hay without seeing and hearing at least 1 bird, frequently 2 and sometimes more. It’s ideal habitat for this handsome raptor, which nests on the edge of woodland but feeds on prey mainly found in open countryside. They hunt by sight and the fields surrounding the wood are a bit like the local take-away. I mentioned in an earlier post that the birds eat worms but the rampant rabbit population is almost certainly what sustains them at Westbrook Hay, although their diet is varied. During the 1950s and 60s the UK Buzzard population decreased dramatically as a result of myxomatosis decimating the rabbit population. Thankfully, both species recovered and both seem to thrive around Hay Wood. Buzzards mate for life, the male performing a spectacular aerial display at the beginning of Spring. He’ll repeatedly rise high into the sky, turn and then plummet downwards in a spiralling, twisting, turning motion, known as “the roller coaster” apparently. Mmm...I probably should have omitted that last fact since my video clip is the opposite of dramatic and enthralling. Ah well...

From birds to butterflies and over at the Brickworks I struck lucky again. An undamaged Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly, a migrant species originating in North Africa. I’m not sure how likely this particular specimen is to have come from Africa. I suspect it’s probably one of the next generation, brooded on the continent. Either way, fantastic to see and the first record for 10 years for the area!

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

I returned to the Brickworks on Wednesday morning, hoping the sunshine might bring out some interesting insects. Still plenty of Common Blue butterflies, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Speckled Woods, Peacocks, a Red Admiral and a Small Tortoiseshell. Every visit, I check the Buddleja at the NE end of Baker’s Wood. Finally, this week, on my return journey, high up, nectaring on one of the few remaining flowers, I spotted a tatty orange butterfly. I was expecting it to be a worn Comma (Polygonia c-album) but through binoculars I could see it was more likely a Fritillary species, possibly a Silver-washed (Argynnis paphia). I grabbed my camera, fired off 7 shots and it was gone, fluttering up into the trees and away.

On 22nd June, Martin Parr had briefly seen a Fritillary species at the Brickworks but it had zoomed off before he could ID it. There’s a good chance that this week’s extremely worn, male Silver-washed Fritillary is the same specimen Martin observed. When I returned on Thursday, I relocated it not far from the Buddleja and simultaneously discovered an area of the Brickworks I didn’t know existed. On the SE side of Baker’s Wood there’s an expanse of open scrub with a number of substantial Buddleja bushes, two in full sun, towards the southern end (map here). I really wish I’d found these 2 months ago and it’s likely that the Fritillary and other butterflies were here in abundance. One to keep a close eye on next Spring/Summer, I think. Oh, and a big yellow butterfly came careering past me but never settled, disappeared up in to the tree canopy and I couldn’t rule out Brimstone. Hopes for my first Clouded Yellow went with it. Another day perhaps…

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis raphia)
 The first record of this species in the Bovingdon area

From fauna onto flora. I have been meaning to include this tiny, weeny flower in a blog post all summer. It's approximately 4mm wide and best viewed with a magnifying glass (deerstalker hat is optional)! This week, I finally came across the perfect specimens at the Brickworks and couldn’t resist photographing them. It is the cheerfully named Eyebright (Euphrasia species), so called because it was traditionally used to treat eye infections, although I could easily believe that the vibrant, pretty little flowers were inspiration enough for its name. It is another semi-parasitic plant (like the Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor)), keeping vigorous grasses at bay. It’s also a calcareous soil indicator and commonly found on rough grasslands - there’s plenty around the Box Moor Trust sites, particularly at Roughdown Common. It is easily missed but, up close, it really is beautiful.

Eyebright (Euphrasia species)

Finally, the moody skies of Dellfield over the Oak and the Scotts Pine. This was taken just after a shower had passed through on Monday (yes, I did get wet).

1 comment:

Martin Parr said...

Great post Lucy, love the buzzard shots, never managed any that close - tho keep seeing them perched up by the road, where-ever I can't pull over of course!

Excellent find re the fritillary and other buddleja bushes too - a definite must for next June/July! Wish I'd found them earlier! Would be great to confirm a regular silver washed colony - would definitly put increasing violet habitat at the top of habitat work here!