Sunday, 9 August 2020

Local Wildlife Sightings August 2020

 In contrast to a rather wet and windy July, the first 10 days of August were very warm or hot, with plenty of sunshine. Crops were harvested, grasses dried out and wild flowers withered. On The Heath I saw the first of the second generation Adonis blues on Church Hill on the 3rd. The following day, more Adonis blues were seen at the other (east) end of The Heath. With decent second generations of holly blues, common blues and brown argus on the wing, as well as around 1000 chalkhill blues, my butterfly photography took on a very 'blue' theme. A second generation of small heath butterflies started to emerge at the beginning of the month and brimstones, commas, meadow browns, gatekeepers, the three common 'white' species and one or two Essex skippers were still on the wing. However, peacocks, small tortoiseshells and red admirals rapidly disappeared: had they gone into hibernation already or was the heat too much for them?

Male Adonis Blue, Church Hill, 3 August

Male Adonis Blue, Lankester Hill, 4 August

"A Suitable Boy"

In the human world, the selection of a partner is a complex issue. In higher mammals and birds the female often makes a selection based on male qualities such as display, power, strength of song, etc. However, in the insect world any niceties are thrown out of the window! I saw a good example of this early in the morning of the 7th on Church Hill. By 8.30am around 100 male chalkhill blues were flying very low across the short grass, twisting and turning but ignoring each other as they flew. Suddenly there was a commotion as several converged on a small patch of grass, close to a yellow flower (image).

After a minute or two the ruck of butterflies gradually dispersed and on the grass a female, which had probably only just emerged from her pupal case, was already mating with a lucky male (image). Perhaps this 'suitable boy' had fought off all challengers to claim his prize, but more likely he had just been closest to her when she emerged.

Eventually I was able to photograph the pair perched on a small flower (image). The rest of her life will revolve around incubating and then laying fertile eggs close to the butterfly's food plant (horseshoe vetch). If the male is lucky he may mate with other emerging females. Then the cycle of life will begin all over again next year.....

On the same morning I was lucky to photograph a female chalkhill blue and a male common blue roosting on the same grass stem. As the ground warmed up the common blue moved up the grass stem, past the still roosting chalkhill blue (image), reached the top of the grass stem and took off.

Male Common Blue (right) and Female Chalkhill Blue, Church Hill, 7 August

UK Wildlife Sightings August 2020

 On the 5th I made my annual visit to Wilstone, to search for damselflies and dragonflies along the canal. Numbers were lower than in previous years, probably because I visited later in the year than usual, but I still found a good variety of damselflies including white-legged and small red-eyed. The following day I saw more small red-eyed damselflies on a visit to Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Also present were lots of ruddy darters and an egg-laying brown hawker. Two male common blue butterflies were seen on a patch of lavender: they made a pretty, blue picture!

White-legged Damselflies (Male Above), Wilstone, 5 AugustFemale Brown Hawker Dragonfly Laying Eggs, Cambridge Botanic Gardens, 6 August

Having narrowly missed seeing a gull-billed tern at Dungeness in July I was keen to take a second chance when one turned up at Alton Water, near Ipswich, in early August. This time I was luckier, arriving on the 7th just in time to 'scope it perched on some railings near to the dam. The bird, which was seen in the company of about 30 common terns (adults and juveniles), took off shortly after I arrived at 6.45pm and was not seen again. I stayed for another hour and contented myself by taking photos of some common terns as they passed me at the edge of the reservoir. The gull-billed tern is larger (Sandwich tern-sized) and has a shorter, thicker bill than common terns. Looking at my images later it was surprising to see how easily a common tern's bill can morph into that of a gull-billed tern if I try hard enough! Look at the image below to see what I mean. The bird in the photo passed me at least three times, suggesting that common terns had their own little fishing territories around the reservoir.

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Local Wildlife Sightings July 2020

Despite indifferent weather during the first week of the month I continued my quest for better and better photographs of my local butterflies. A gatekeeper, seen near my home on the 1st, was the 27th and last of the species that completes its lifecycle on my 'local patch' to be recorded in 2020. Numbers of chalkhill blues increased on The Heath to around 30 (all males) on the 2nd, most being found on the south slopes of Church Hill and in the small, 'rough' field at the bottom. Small and Essex skippers were seen at a number of locations and the first of the second generation of brown argus appeared on the 2nd, only a week or so after I had seen the last of the first generation! Fresh peacock, red admiral and comma butterflies were on the wing, but marbled whites were looking rather tired and there was a noticeable decline in numbers of dark green fritillaries. No more silver-washed fritillaries were seen on my regular visits to Church Hill, although weather conditions were far from ideal for this species. At home a rather attractive (albeit destructive) box tree moth took up residence in my house, but sadly passed away overnight on the 4th.

Male Chalkhill Blue, Church Hill, 2 July

Brown Argus (2nd Generation), Royston, 3 July

Box Tree Moth (Recently Expired), My House, 4 July

My Local Wild Flower and Butterfly Meadow

Just to the south of the housing estate where I live lies a large arable field, which generally contains a crop of wheat or (in 2020) oats. An unofficial path goes around the field and I sometimes use a section of it as a short cut to access the Greenwich Meridian Trail, which heads up towards Hatchpen Farm. However, before 'lockdown' I had never walked all the way round this field, which looked rather uninteresting from a wildlife point of view. During lockdown my daily walks occasionally took me round the field and I noticed a grassy patch of apparent waste land at the far side. As spring arrived wild flowers started to appear here and I began to take a bit more notice. By early July this apparent bit of waste land had turned into a wondrous wild flower meadow of about one acre, with copious amounts of knapweed, clovers, lady's bedstraw and many other wild flowers including the important butterfly food plants bird's foot trefoil, horseshoe vetch and rock rose. Nettles, brambles and a buddleia bush are nearby. Not surprisingly, this patch of land attracts many common butterfly species! In July I found small skipper, Essex skipper, large skipper, brimstone, large white, small white, green-veined white, small copper, brown argus, common blue, small tortoiseshell, peacock, marbled white, gatekeeper, ringlet, meadow brown and small heath here - that's 17 species! The proximity of this meadow to my road explains where the occasional blues and skippers that I see there have spread from. Other insects, in particular moths and hoverflies, were also seen there during July. I don't know how long this meadow has been waiting for me to discover it, but it's only taken me 34 years to find it! I guess that it may have been created not so long ago, possibly as part of an agri-environmental scheme?? With orange tip, comma and painted lady still to be seen there I believe that the meadow and its immediate surrounds may support at least 20 butterfly species - watch this space!

Ringlet, My Local Wildflower Meadow, 3 July

Small Skipper, My Local Wildflower Meadow, 6 July
Chalkhill blue numbers steadily increased during the first week of July, although most were still at the western end of The Heath. I saw my first female on the 6th. On Church Hill I noticed quite a bit of variety in the sizes of the spots on the hind wings of the males (for example see the image of two males, roosting on the same blade of grass, below). Sometimes some of these spots are missing completely on male variants, although the greatest variations are seen in the females. I will be looking for variants in both chalkhill and (second generation) Adonis blues in the next few weeks.

Two Male Chalkhill Blues, Church Hill, 6 July

Poor weather from the 7th to the 10th gave me the chance to catch up with photo editing. I also went on my 'Local Patch' walk, taking in the villages of Reed and Therfield, in the rain on the 9th. I rarely do this walk in the summer, but it gave me the chance to look for nesting and juvenile birds. Surprisingly I managed to record 44 species (40 seen) and was pleased to hear 14 singing corn buntings on the way round. The little grebes at Mardleybury Lake were with at least two young (image below). However, reaching the lake involved ploughing through mud as the public footpath has been dug up and planted with a crop - very poor.

Little Grebe Family, Mardleybury Lake, 9 July

On the 11th I visited several local butterfly sites, including Whitethorn Wood LNR near Litlington, and recorded 20 species as well as many hoverflies and moths. The second generation of common blue butterflies was on the wing. Brassy longhorn moths were recorded in several places. This species, with its enormous antennae, is supposedly quite uncommon, but in the Royston area it is definitely increasing in numbers. The micro-moth is always associated with field scabious plants and I've only ever seen it in the month of July.

Brassy Longhorn Moth on Field Scabious, Litlington, 11 July

Chalkhill blue numbers continued to increase on Church Hill, despite far from ideal weather (cool, with generally overcast conditions and plenty of rain). I found nine roosting on the same plant near the bottom of the hill on the evening of the 14th. A common quail was calling at Greys Farm, just east of the Icknield Way, on the morning of the 15th. This is the first of this species that I have heard locally for a couple of years, when a quail was calling only a few hundred yards away from here.

Essex Skippers Mating, Royston, 11 July

Roosting Chalkhill Blues, Church Hill, 14 July

Poor weather limited my local walks in the second half of July. It wasn't so much the rain (although there was a fair bit of that) but the wind which annoyed me. Even a gentle breeze can cause problems when photographing butterflies, in particular the 'blues' (common blue, chalkhill blue and brown argus), which like to roost on the narrowest grass stems that are bound to wave about in the wind, resulting in lots of out of focus images! This year, my favourite location for photography in July turned out to be the small chalk pit at the bottom of Church Hill. It is relatively sheltered from the wind and communal roosts of up to 50 male and female chalkhill and common blues could regularly be found here in the evenings. Two butterflies could often be found sharing the same grass stem (see the image above, taken on 6 July), although I was never able to photograph three or more together. A raven was heard honking in trees to the south of Church Hill on two occasions, at least one recently-fledged kestrel was seen and I saw four species of dragonfly (black-tailed skimmer, brown hawker, migrant hawker and banded demoiselle) in the area during the month. Insects are quite happy to mate in public, as the two images below demonstrate!

Burnet Moths Mating, Royston, 20 July

Hairy Shield Bugs Mating, Royston, 20 July

A walk around woodland between Reed and Barkway on the 29th produced just three purple hairstreak butterflies, seen in the vicinity of the oak trees where they spend their lives, and a single clouded yellow. By the end of the month The Heath was alive with chalkhill blue butterflies, including mating pairs. I also saw several mating pairs of gatekeeper butterflies on the eastern side of The Heath on the 29th. Four small copper butterflies were found on the banks on either side of the golf practice driving range. Four doesn't sound a lot, but it's more than I normally see locally in a year.

UK Wildlife Sightings July 2020

On the 3rd I visited The Wash coast in Norfolk, walking along the bank that leads from Snettisham to Heacham. Spoonbills had been reported in the area in the days prior to my visit and I did see one in flight, but my best sightings were of one or more turtle doves flying backwards and forwards by the side of the bank. The decline in numbers of turtle doves visiting the UK during the spring and summer has, sadly, been dramatic, so any sighting of this attractive bird is a good one. Several black-tailed godwits in breeding plumage and a huge high tide roost of oystercatchers were also seen during my visit, on a dull, cool and blustery day.
Spoonbill in Flight, near Heacham, 3 July

'Record Shot' of Turtle Dove, near Heacham, 3 July

My next adventure, on the 10th, took me to Portland in Dorset. I was lured by the possibility of seeing Yelkouan shearwater, a very rare vagrant to UK waters, which had been seen on the previous two days. Of course it didn't show during my visit, but there was ample consolation in the shape of 30-40 Balearic shearwaters off Portland Bill (a species that I have previously only seen distantly in the UK on a couple of occasions during sea watches at Sheringham) and a handful of Manx shearwaters. The Manx shearwaters are very similar in appearance to Yelkouan shearwaters. When I got home I checked on 'Birdguides' to see if the Yelkouan bird had been seen during my stay. There was a report of a bird passing the Bill at 10.30. I checked through my images and found that I had taken several of a shearwater (assumed to be Manx) at 10.31! However, closer scrutiny confirmed that this bird was indeed only a Manx shearwater (image below) and the report was presumably erroneous. Whilst on Portland I took the opportunity to look for butterflies at a number of sites, finding several Lulworth skippers and a few small blues, but no sign of grayling.

Balearic Shearwater, Portland Bill, 10 July

Manx Shearwater, Portland Bill, 10 July

Female Lulworth Skipper, Portland, 10 July

On the following day I made a brief visit to Amwell Gravel Pits, hoping to see hobby. I failed on this count, but did see a good selection of waders (lapwing, oystercatcher, green and common sandpipers as well as little ringed plover) from the viewpoint. At least four little ringed plovers were seen, including a fledged juvenile (image), indicating successful breeding.

Juvenile Little Ringed Plover, Amwell GP, 11 July

I paid my first visit to RSPB Frampton Marsh since lockdown on the 14th. The Caspian tern had gone (or so I thought), but I was hoping to add some waders (curlew sandpiper, little stint and wood sandpiper) to my year list and see the knot roost. Within 15 minutes of arrival I had seen curlew sandpiper and little stint (both in summer plumage) from close to the visitor centre. The wood sandpiper eluded me, but I did manage to study the amazing knot roost, which must have contained somewhere in the region of 3,000 birds, and four more spoonbills. Ironically, the Caspian tern was reported back at the site shortly after I left!

Some of Several Thousand Knot at RSPB Frampton Marsh, 14 July

Spoonbills, Frampton Marsh, 14 July

I went again to Oare Marshes in Kent on the 17th. The Bonaparte's gull was (frustratingly) again not around during my visit, but I did get good views of the recently-arrived lesser yellowlegs and, as a bonus, added whimbrel to my year list (I normally see whimbrel on migration through the UK in April, but this was one of many species that I had missed during lockdown).

Lesser Yellowlegs, Oare Marshes, 17 July

In pursuit of butterflies I visited Northaw Great Wood (near Broxbourne) for purple hairstreak (but no purple emperor) on the 18th and Aston Rowant (just off junction 5 of the M40) for silver-spotted skipper on the 24th. Although three silver-spotted skippers had been reported at the latter site on the 20th I was only able to find one during my two hour visit (they normally emerge in numbers here during the first week of August - I guess that I was too early). However, I did see a clouded yellow and lots of other butterflies and day-flying moths. Possibly my most interesting butterfly sighting of the year came the day before, when I popped in to Thursley Common for an hour, following a walk around the 'Devil's Punchbowl' with my partner (where an adder crossed our path: image below). I was looking for dragonflies, but the recent disastrous fire there had resulted in damage to the boardwalk over the bog near the Moat Pond car park, limiting my opportunities. I was standing on the edge of the bog when a medium-sized butterfly appeared and landed not far from me. It appeared to have orange upper wings in flight but landed with its wings closed. Now the wings were orange-brown, with a mixture of light and dark markings towards the rear. I didn't recognise the butterfly, so scrambled to get my camera out to photograph it. Very frustratingly, as I was focusing the camera the butterfly took off and headed out into the bog before landing. I hung around for a while, but it didn't re-appear. To cut a long story shorter I believe that I saw a large heath. The habitat was right and the food plant (cotton grass) was present, although the nearest colony was some 150 miles away. Was this yet another unlicensed reintroduction or had I misidentified another, commoner species? I contacted the Surrey branch of Butterfly Conservation - they had not had any reports of large heath here and were (understandably) skeptical of my identification. Without a photo I can't be certain of what I saw......

Adder at The Devil's Punchbowl (Surrey), 23 July

Female Common Blue (Blue Variant), Aston Rowant, 24 July

The Caspian tern at Frampton had become almost a fixture there after my recent visit, so on the 21st I made another attempt to see it, this time early in the morning. I was lucky, as the bird flew in to the pool in front of the visitor centre just before 9.00am. I had quite a good morning here, adding wood sandpiper to my year list and seeing some cute little black-necked grebe chicks (the grebes have bred here for the second year running). Spoonbill numbers had increased considerably since my previous visit: I counted 18 on this occasion. The tern was not seen here again after the 21st.

Caspian Tern with Dunlin, RSPB Frampton Marsh, 21 July

Common Tern Family, RSPB Frampton Marsh, 21 July

RSPB Titchwell Marsh reserve having finally opened after lockdown, I decided to pay it a visit on the 31st. It took quite an effort to get through 'security' (after 20+ years of leaving my RSPB card on the car dashboard I found that the system had changed: bring your card down to reception if you are lucky enough to find a parking space in the 'minimalist' car park), but once down on the gorgeous beach I relaxed and spent a happy hour photographing waders, including some very attractive returning turnstones, still in in summer plumage. On the way back I popped in to Dersingham Bog, looking for dragonflies including the legendary black darter. I say 'legendary' because I've been a few times to the bog and never seen black darters there. There was to be no exception this time, in fact very few dragonflies were seen and the bog appeared to be drying out. However, I did see several grayling butterflies here: the males were zooming about all over the heather, presumably searching for females. I never saw them land, which was a bit unusual, because normally I see this species in tight-knit colonies, on or near rocks. What I did notice was that there seemed to be more graylings flying near the very few trees in this natural amphitheatre. When I got home I did some reesearch and discovered that Graylings sometimes rest on the trunks of trees, particularly in hot weather (when I visited the temperature was 35C). Maybe that's where all the dragonflies hang out as well!

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Local Wildlife Sightings June 2020

At the end of June my Royston Wildlife web site will be closed down after 14 years of publishing natural history news and sightings from my local area. Although this will be a sad time for me I had been using and updating the web site less and less often and it was not being maintained by the provider. I will now be publishing all my local, UK and (occasionally) international natural history sightings on this blog: I hope that you continue to enjoy reading about them!

The hot, sunny weather from a record-breaking (for sunshine and lack of rainfall) May continued into the first couple of days of June. On the morning of the 1st I wandered across The Heath, noting four dark green fritillaries on The Old Rifle Range (yet another earliest sighting for a butterfly species) and a single large skipper on Church Hill, where about a dozen Adonis blues, including a fresh female, were still on the wing (I didn't see any blues other than a few brown argus on the Old Rifle Range). There was much spotted flycatcher activity in Fox Covert, but I didn't record this species elsewhere on The Heath. Kestrels were very busy: I reckon that there are two active nests on The Heath. Young great spotted woodpeckers, which had been very noisy in the woodland at the bottom of my road, fledged at the beginning of the month.

Large Skipper, Church Hill, 1 June

Female Kestrel, Therfield Heath, 1 June

From the 3rd the weather finally deteriorated, turning cool, cloudy and wet in many places (but still hardly any rain in Royston!). After an excellent breeding season in 2019 blue tits seem to have struggled this year, but a couple of (small) families were seen at my feeders on the 4th. Not surprisingly ground feeders such as blackbirds have also struggled as invertebrates have been hard to find in the bone dry ground. Adults came regularly to my hanging suet balls during May and on the 5th I did see two juveniles on the garden lawn. Other fledgling birds seen in the local area included long-tailed tits, goldfinches, blackcaps and mistle thrushes.

Blue Tit Adult and Fledgling, My Garden, 4 June

At least four spotted flycatchers were recorded on The Heath on the 6th, including one bird that had lots of insects in its bill - a sign that it was nesting and feeding young. Due to coronavirus I have had time to closely monitor the flycatchers in my local area this year - I'll say more about this, one of my favourite bird species, later in the summer. The dull, damp, cool weather continued well into June, making butterfly watching and photography difficult. However, I did find five marbled white butterflies on Church Hill on the 8th, yet another 'earliest' record for a local butterfly species. This seems likely to be a poor summer for orchids on The Heath: searching at the usual sites I was unable to find any common spotted orchids and only one tiny bee orchid and one tiny fragrant orchid. I did find two more bee orchids at a new (for me) woodland site. Perhaps the baked ground following the dry spring has not enabled these plants to break through? Wild candytuft, common thyme, common knapweed and field scabious were starting to flower on The Heath by the 8th and I found a couple of knapweed broomrape plants on the track leading up to The Heath from Royston Hospital. Ox-eye daisies were forming an impressive display on various parts of The Heath and were being used by a variety of insects, including a digger wasp that I hadn't seen before.
Swollen-thighed Beetle, Therfield Heath, 8 June

Ornate-tailed Digger Wasp (?), Therfield Heath, 8 June

On the 10th an evening walk up to Hatchpen Farm was rewarded with my first sighting of the year of a little owl. The bird flew out of the same tree where I had had my only local sighting of 2019! However, there was and has been no sign of little owl nesting activity in the area in recent years, whilst this year there was no sign of juvenile tawny owls at nest sites that had been used (in the area where the little owl was seen) in previous years. I did hear a tawny owl hooting from nearby private woodland on the evening of the 23rd, so it is possible that a new nest site was being used this year. On the same evening I also heard the alarm call of a little owl on the Newsells Estate, again on private land and not far from the spot where I had seen the owl on the 10th. It is therefore possible that little owls are nesting here, again on private land. Spotted flycatcher sightings became more sporadic later in the month, but I did see and hear a family of at least four birds in Fox Covert, just west of the Therfield Road, on the morning of the 20th. No other family groups were seen during June, although birds were heard in other parts of the woodland on The Heath. Whilst looking in the trees for spotted flycatchers close to the Therfield Road I discovered other nesting birds, including greenfinches and treecreepers. On one occasion I saw a treecreeper feeding a fledgling. I heard a raven whilst I was on Church Hill on the 24th.

A second fragrant orchid appeared on Church Hill during the middle of the month. It was more robust than the first specimen, but still rather small. Five bee orchids were eventually found in Fox Covert and another specimen was seen at Hatchpen Farm. An attractive pyramidal orchid was on show at the bottom of Church Hill from the 23rd. Finally, after much searching, a couple of rather late common spotted orchids showed themselves on the Old Rifle Range on the 29th. 2020 has been a poor year nationally for orchids, so perhaps I should be grateful for seeing any at all! I twice saw common shrews scurrying across the path in Fox Covert during June.

Common Lizard, Church Hill, 13 June

Silver-washed Fritillary: a new Species for Therfield Heath!

Butterfly watching and photography reached a frenzied peak during the second half of June. Not only was I trying, largely without success, to produce high quality photographs of marbled whites and dark green fritillaries, but other species were appearing with regularity. A single silver-washed fritillary was reported very close to The Heath in the summer of 2019, but it was still a surprise for me when Andy Symes found two males at the bottom of Church Hill on the 14th. I subsequently visited Church Hill and the nearby woodland a few times, but didn't have any joy until the 23rd when no fewer than five, including two territorial males in a clearing in Fox Covert, were seen. Silver-washed fritillaries have been spreading quickly through Hertfordshire in recent years. There is plenty of their main food plant (dog violet) present across The Heath, but this is a woodland butterfly with a liking for woodland rides and clearings and this habitat is in limited supply on The Heath and its surrounds, so the future of the species here is unclear. Ten years ago the sight of two fritillary species flying together on The Heath would have been unimaginable, but I saw this with my own eyes at the bottom of Church Hill on the 23rd. Silver-washed fritillary becomes the 29th species that I have seen on or in the immediate environs of The Heath. Other species flying in the area included white-letter hairstreak (from the 15th), ringlet (from the 15th), small skipper (from the 22nd) and Essex skipper (from the 26th). Amazing numbers of dark green fritillaries (probably 100+ males) and marbled whites (250+ is a conservative estimate) were flying across The Heath towards the end of the month. I saw my first chalkhill blues of the year (three males, one on Lankester Hill and two on Church Hill) on a dull and very windy day on the 29th.

Male Marbled White, Therfield Heath, 15 June

Dark Green Fritillary, Therfield Heath, 18 June

Silver-washed Fritillary, Therfield Heath, 23 June

UK Wildlife Sightings June 2020

On the 2nd I visited Glapthorn Meadow, near Oundle (Northants), to see and photograph a very rare UK butterfly, the black hairstreak. As a result of the exceptionally sunny, warm and dry weather this spring, and in common with many other butterfly species in 2020, this insect was on the wing a couple of weeks earlier than usual. It looks like being another good year for the species at Glapthorn: I reckon that 30-50 of these insects were on the wing. However they were not easy to photograph, particularly as they became more active in the hot late morning sunshine. Also seen at Glapthorn was a beautiful orange and black scarce chaser dragonfly.

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn, 1 June

Three ringed plovers were in front of the viewpoint at Amwell Gravel Pits when I briefly visited on the evening of the 3rd. Presumably these birds were heading for northerly (Arctic) breeding grounds, where the nesting season may only last for perhaps 9-10 weeks between June and August. Having bred, these birds may well pass back through the country in late August or September! At least three little ringed plovers (which are nesting at Amwell) were also seen. The following day I visited Rutland Water to see the ospreys. With the reserves being closed I used public footpaths to get decent views of the nest site near Lyndon reserve and was lucky to see another osprey fly over, perhaps heading for the local fish farm.

Two of Three Ringed Plovers, Amwell GP, 3 June

Ospreys at the Nest, Rutland Water, 4 June

Osprey in Flight, Rutland Water, 4 June

A marsh warbler arrived at King's Meads (between Hertford and Ware) on the weekend of the 6-7th. I visited the site for over an hour on the evening of the 8th but, although I heard some snatches of song, it didn't make an appearance. The following day I made my first 'wildlife watching' trip to Kent, visiting Oare Marshes (where I saw a male garganey) before moving on to RSPB Blean Woods, where I was lucky to find large numbers of heath fritillary butterflies at a site that I have visited around this time of year in each of the last few years. I spent 90 minutes here trying to get some decent photos of the butterflies and also watching a huge (Asian?) hornet catch and devour a butterfly - ugh! I finished my visit with a shortish walk at Stodmarsh NNR, where several hobbies were on the wing.

Heath Fritillary, RSPB Blean Woods, 9 June

Heath Fritillary, RSPB Blean Woods, 9 June

Hobby in Flight, Stodmarsh NNR, 9 June

On the 11th I popped up to RSPB Fen Drayton reserve to see a female red-footed falcon. A spotted redshank at Tyttenhanger on the 13th was a Hertfordshire 'first' for me. However, I continued to suffer at the hands of marsh warblers, failing to see another individual near Sandy on the afternoon of the 13th and late evening of the 14th. On my first visit the bird was singing close to the path, but was never knowingly seen. On my second visit I had the consolation of seeing one of two grasshopper warblers which were 'reeling' nearby. Despite this failure, the possibility of seeing my first UK Blyth's reed warbler (part of a large influx of acrocephalus warblers in the previous few weeks) at Far Ings reserve on the Lincolnshire side of the Humber Bridge proved irresistible and I made the six hour return journey on the 19th. Fortunately for me this bird showed well (as it had been doing intermittently for several days prior to my visit) and I was even able to get some decent photos.

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Far Ings NR, Lincolnshire, 19 June

Blyth's Reed Warbler, Far Ings NR, Lincolnshire, 19 June

Butterfly photography was a major part of my life in June, as I strove to produce a panel of prints for an Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society distinction award. The standard is very high and I will struggle to achieve the award, but the 17th saw me visiting Norfolk to get photos of two butterfly species - the swallowtail and the silver-studded blue. I normally go to RSPB Strumpshaw Fen to see swallowtails, but the reserve was well and truly closed, due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, I usually find that the best spot for swallowtails is at or near 'The Doctor's Garden', on a track close to the reserve. I found at least two swallowtails by the track and, although my photos are not good enough for the panel, I was at least away after only a 40 minute halt. Kelling Heath was a different matter. Silver-studded blues were all over the area, but trying to photograph them was a nightmare! As soon as I moved so did they and most of the time they perched in heather, close to the ground. I must have knelt down over 100 times, only to see them fly away! I get very annoyed with myself when this happens - I should probably go on an anger management course! I did notice one interesting bit of behaviour. Normally, when a female emerges from her pupa she is pounced upon by a male and (not to put too fine a point on it) raped. However, one female stood firm for several minutes against a potential male suitor. At one point she appeared to be fending him off with her legs, a bit like boxing hares. I should have taken a video of the confrontation but I did manage a few photos, one of which is shown below. Eventually, after three hours of concentrated photography, I left for home with over 300 images to wade through. This was rapidly reduced to a handful that were sharp enough for use: whether they make the 'final cut' is doubtful!

Male Silver-studded Blue, Kelling Heath, 17 June

Female Silver-studded Blue (right) Fending off an Amorous Male, Kelling Heath, 17 June

Mating Silver-studded Blues, Kelling Heath, 17 June

With butterflies appearing this year weeks ahead of their normal emergence dates, the second half of June became 'the new July' as I rushed around, photographing them. An evening visit to Balls Wood (Hertford Heath) on the 23rd was rewarded with sightings of at least six white admiral butterflies. On the 25th I visited Cavenham Heath (Suffolk) in the hope of seeing stone curlews and grayling butterflies. I failed on both counts (although stone curlew was heard), but ended up taking lots of photos of dragonflies along the River Lark. Moving on to Lynford Arboretum, hoping to see crossbills following a recent significant invasion of Continental birds, I again failed on this primary objective and ended up photographing more dragonflies (including common and ruddy darters) on a very hot and humid day.

White Admiral, Balls Wood, 23 June

Female Banded Demoiselle, Cavenham Heath, 25 June

Common Darter, Lynford Arboretum, 25 June