Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Chiffchaffs Have Arrived and Butterfly Transects Start At Magdalen Hill

The chiffchaffs are here, and in large numbers too judging from the amount of chiff-chiff-chaffing going on in the trees. I first noticed them a few days ago and they have barely drawn breath since. Chiffschaffs start arriving in the UK from Southern and Western Europe in March, so they are right on cue.
My only small grumble is that I don't think they sound like they are saying 'chiffchaff' at all. Perhaps ours speak with a different inflection to everyone else's, but here they definitely say 'chiff chiff chaff' or sometimes 'chiff chaff chiff'

The Great Tits (queue lots of dodgy search engine results popping up now- the thought of someone putting in a raunchy search term and getting directed here always makes me smile. They must wonder what on earth has gone wrong...) are competing with them, trying to out do all the chiff-chaff-chaffing with their squeaky eey-orr eey-orr eey-orring.

And behind the chiffchaffs and the great tits are the greenfinches, who brrrrrrr constantly. Overlay that with blue tits quarreling, robins singing their liquid songs, pigeons 'my toe bleeds bettying', blackbirds 'pink pink pinking', dunnocks warbling, wrens yelling, thrushes bubbling, mallards laughing, geese exclaiming, sparrows chirruping and black caps singing, throw in a handful of bumblebees buzzing ponderously and the odd hoverfly zipping about, and you'll get a pretty good sense of what it's like to be here during the day. And if you can't do that, here is a video I just shot to let you all hear it for yourselves....



I am not complaining- lord knows I'd far rather listen to birdsong than people noise - but when you're trying to extract one type of song out of the mass and learn it, well, let's just say it's not easy. Even the app on the phone sometimes gives up and pretends its a 'low quality recording' because it can't cope with all the different calls.

I met the lovely Jenny at Magdalen this morning to do my first ever butterfly transect (well, a trial run because it was foggy and cold and flutters don't much care for foggy and cold). We ended up having to walk through a field of bulls, which is not high on my list of 'things to do before you're 50.' I hid behind Jenny, who is a farmer's daughter, a farmer's wife and a farmer's mother, and so is well used to cows. The fact that she's just had a double hip-replacement and walks with a walking stick should in no way colour your view of her ability to keep my safe from a herd of rampaging bulls.

In the event, they didn't rampage at all, just stood staring at us as if trying to work out what we were. Just being stared was enough for me- it took every inch of my self-possession to walk calmly past them and not do what I felt like doing, which was to run for the nearest fence screaming hysterically with my arms waving about in the air and dive over it.

Magdalen covers over a hundred acres, part at least of this is natural chalk downland that has never been farmed, making it a rare and precious environment. There is a large colony of Chalkhill Blue butterflies on the hill (which I was lucky enough to see last year- literally clouds rising up from your feet as you went through them- bliss). Other areas are slowly being returned to chalk downland by scraping off the top soil and sowing seeds brought in from Salisbury Plain. They are also running a kind of experiment by having fresh areas of chalk laid down specifically to sow kidney vetch, which is the sole food plant of the Small Blue Butterfly. Incidentally, these pics were taken with the new iphone. What d'you reckon? I think the quality's pretty damn good.
 
Chalk waiting to age a bit before kidney vetch seeds are sown
 
There were also hundreds of cowslips growing in the meadows on the hill. I've never seen so many in one place before. These too have been sown but have got on so well they are now spreading of their own accord.


I'm really looking forward to doing my transects. I have the easier section as my ID skills need improvement, but even so, Jenny said I should see peacocks, red admirals, tortoiseshells, small blue, holly blue, chalkhill blue, brimstone, clouded yellow, painted lady, commas and possibly others beside (including, maybe, the brown argus, which looks an awful lot like your everyday blue to me...). 



The Field Studies Council produces a range of really useful fold out leaflets that cover all sorts of countryside subjects, so I've just ordered a few to help me when I'm out walking. They are excellent value at three quid a pop so worth checking out.

Right-o, I'm off for a run as I haven't been for a week and I can see my middle expanding as I type. It's my birthday tomorrow, M is taking me to the theatre later in the week to celebrate. I am really looking forward to it as we haven't been in ages, so no doubt I shall be telling you all about it in due course.

Have a lovely evening all,

CT :-)

18 comments:

  1. I envy your butterfly adventures later on and what brilliant ways of recreating the habitat they need. I miss the chalk downlands of Hampshire - we have little discreet areas of limestone habitat here in Wales, but nothing like that lovely rolling downland.

    I still have happy memories of the Year of the Clouded Yellow when we lived in Dorset and were on the Purbeck coast (surrounded by clouds of butterflies which flew up at every step) and then we saw a "cloud2 moving swiftly towards us. "French" Clouded Yellows en mass - just amazing - especially when they surrounded us. Magic.

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    1. I am definitely a chalk person, so understand completely why you miss it. Such beautiful landscape- although your hills are pretty stunning too :-)

      I have yet to see a Clouded Yellow- that is definitely on my list for this year. They were in Hants last summer but I managed to miss them. Walking through a cloud of butterflies is an incredible experience- you must have loved every second.

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  2. thank you so much for the bird song, just wonderful.
    We live in a built up area and although we have 2 parks close by we don't get bird song anything like that.
    so many people have paved, decked and woodchipped their front and back gardens its no wonder the birds are not around in the gardens like they used to be.
    We used to have house martins nesting under the eves of houses and hear the owls over on the railway embankment but no longer, sad isn't it?
    Briony
    x

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    1. It is sooo frustrating when folk get rid of the natural grasses etc that would provide habitat for so many things. I'm so glad you enjoyed the video, I'll put more up as the year goes on. I am trying to persuade myself to get up for the dawn chorus and get that on tape because it is extraordinary here at the mo, and of course it won't be long before our cuckoos come back.
      That is a real shame about your Martins and the owls too- let's hope that can be reversed. We get owls here, some nights they seem to be hooting all through the dark and sitting right outside our window! I will try to record that too x

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  3. I hope that you enjoy being out and about hunting for butterflies! We of course expect photos - seeing as how good the ones are from your new phone and all!! xx

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    1. The key to photographing flutters is persuading them to sit still long enough - I have a cunning plan this year: grow more everlasting sweet peas, because the Brimstones sat on them for ages last year and provided perfect photo ops (not sure how that will work out on the hill tho!). x

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  4. The video is wonderful - I love the explosion of bird song at the moment, especially early in the morning. There are lots of Chiffchaffs here too, they arrived the middle of last month here. I look forward to reading about all your butterfly sightings. A butterfly enthusiast here saw one Chalkhill Blue locally last summer and it caused create excitement, so I am very envious of your clouds of them!

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    1. I'll bet the birdsong sounds amazing on your small holding too? I wonder if we've got broadly the same species and whether there's any regional fluctuations in their calls?
      A visit to Magdalen to see the Chalkhill Blues later on is definitely worth it, provided they've not been knocked about too much by this wet winter. I shall get more photos of them this summer now I know where they are.

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  5. Forgot to add - Happy Birthday for tomorrow!!

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  6. Have a great birthday! Walking through the downland with the Chalkhill butterflies should be on the list of things to do before 50 can I change it to 52? I don't fancy the walk through the bulls! Sarah x

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    1. Thank you Sarah :-)

      Luckily, the Chalkhills are not on the bull patch so you'll be fine! Definitely worth popping up to see them later in the year- in fact, Magdalen is worth a visit full stop when the wild flowers are out. It looks beautiful and it buzzes with insects. On a warm, wind-free day you'll see butterfly after butterfly, as well as beetles and day flying moths. It really is a stunning place. x

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  7. What a lovely cowslip photo :) I've been having yet another declutter today this time of yet more old wildlife mags and flipping through some of them before getting rid of I found an article on the Magdalen Hill Down Reserve - it looks absolutely fantastic for butterflies :)

    The FSC guides are brilliant. I sometimes buy one or two when I go over to Brandon Marsh. Its a good way of building up some id guides without spending a fortune on books :)

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    1. I'm looking forward to being up at Magdalen as the summer gets going. It was great last year :-)

      Also looking forward to receiving the FSC guides- could have done with them today while bee walking! x

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  8. The birds here have really got going due to the warmer weather, it's so lovely to hear them sing. I saw a tiny blue butterfly on a walk earlier this week and will listen out for the chiffchaffs.

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    1. I'm glad you have your birds back Suze, and how exciting re the blue butterfly already! Sorry for the late reply- your comment slipped through the net! :-)

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  9. A lovely video which totally encapsulates all the best sounds to hear on an early spring day! Our chiffchaffs 'chiff chaff chaff chiff chiff'!! How exciting that you are taking on a transect :) I was going to last year, but only started at the end of the season - maybe I'll give this year ago.

    I hope you had a lovely Birthday and enjoyed the theatre - what did you see??? x

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    1. I'm glad your chiffchaffs don't chiff chaff either!

      We saw 'the worst wedding' at Salisbury Playhouse, written by the guy who wrote Broadchurch. It was good- second half better than first. Plenty of laughs in it. But more than anything, it was just loverly to go to the theatre- haven't been for years so a real treat, and all organised by my lovely man. x

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x