Thursday, 31 July 2014

Rivers, Painted Ladies And The Winter Wood Arrives

Making the most of a rare No Fishermen Day on the river, I spent a warm and breezy morning looking for Water Voles along the two stretches of the Test where I do my surveys.

I sat for an hour on a bridge and waited for them to show. 
I watched a Kingfisher swoop down out of a nearby tree and dive for a fish into the water, rise up again, return to his perch and swoop once more. 
I watched the family of swans I first met six weeks ago when the babies were new paddling up the river. The silvery-grey cygnets all now much bigger.....



I watched a heron fly over....



And a Banded Demoiselle settled on a reed beside me....


A male pheasant wandered out from a side path and paused to consider whether or not I was dangerous....


The River was Still, and Peaceful and Beautiful and Serene....



But the Voles remained hidden. All I saw of them were a pile of poos on a tree stump sticking out of the water. They must still be there, they just didn't feel like popping out to say hello today :-)


In the afternoon I went to Magdalen to count butterflies. I saw my second Clouded Yellow and came within a hair's breadth of getting a photo....despite chasing it across the hill it got away. Next time...... I did get a shot of this perfect Painted Lady nectaring on scabious....



Painted Ladies are remarkable flutters. They are very strong flyers and migrate thousands of miles from North or Tropical Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East to arrive in the UK from late May onwards. They are found everywhere around the islands. They fly at altitudes of over 1000m often in very large numbers (26 million were recorded leaving the UK in the autumn of 2009). Some of them fly the entire distance, others are 2nd or 3rd generation broods hatched along the way. In a Painted Lady year it is possible to stand on the South Coast of the UK and watch these butterflies coming in from across the sea in vast numbers. What a sight that must be!

For years it was believed that all the adults who'd arrived in the Spring died in the UK during the autumn and winter, then in 2009 a massive project involving radar technology and hundreds of citizen science records from around the world established that the butterflies return to the continent once the autumn weather comes.

Here's what the study found:  

'Using data from 60 different study sites on the way, the study aimed to plot the migration route taken by painted ladies.
It found that it could take up to six successive generations for the species to complete a 9,000-mile (14,400km) round trip from tropical Africa to the Arctic Circle.
For each new generation, the butterflies must find plants for their caterpillars to eat, and that is thought to be behind their need to keep moving.
The journey is much longer than that undertaken by the famous Monarch butterfly, which migrates between Mexico and Canada. This tiny creature weighing less than a gram, with a brain the size of a pin head, and no opportunity to learn from older, experienced individuals, undertakes an epic intercontinental migration.'

They are special creatures and I always feel a thrill whenever I see them. Just imagine where the one in the pic above has come from and the sights it has seen.

Butterflies are doing well up on Magdalen Hill. There was a great variety to chose from today including Red Admirals...


Peacocks....


Brown Argus (?)...


And female Chalkhill Blues...


The rich meadow-environment on this section of the reserve has a lot to do with it....


I also found this Robin's Pincushion Gall, which is formed by a tiny gall wasp, Dipoloepis rosae. The grub inside the gall feeds on the plant until spring when it emerges. They reproduce a-sexually and only a small number are male. Colourful things aren't they? They form on roses.

Robins Pincushion Gall

Back home, and yesterday I took part in the Big Butterfly Count where you spend 15 minutes counting the flutters in your garden. You can do it as often as you like between 19 July and 10 Aug and if you live in the UK I strongly encourage you to have a go. The data is really valuable to Butterfly Conservation and it's easy peasy to do.

I did two counts and saw a total of:
4 Gatekeepers
2 Small Skippers
2 Meadow Brown
2 Large White
1 Brimstone
3 Red Admiral
1 Large Skipper (who was sitting extremely proudly on his flower)
1 Speckled Wood
1 Small tortoiseshell

Brimstone

Gatekeeper
I was checking sallow (willow) for Purple Emperor Caterpillars in the garden yesterday afternoon (they have criptic markings so they look exactly like a leaf) when I found this twig....


Look at it Very Closely.

Can you see what it really is?



I'm pretty certain it's the caterpillar of the Scalloped Oak moth who has been visiting the Moth Box in recent days and you may remember looks like this.....



Scalloped Oaks (as their name suggest) like Oaks, but some moth larvae are less specific about their food plants than others, and sallow does seem to stand in for a good many species. There were lots of other interesting things in the tree, such as another Master Of Disguise.....



Did you spot it? I believe he is Dicranopalpus ramosus, a type of Harvestman (who isn't supposed to appear until mid August, but things seem to be running 3 weeks early this year).


I also found three different types of Gall, which I am in the (long) process of IDing, all in the Sallow...






Amazing what you can find when you look carefully enough isn't it? Isn't nature amazing. Each season has something new to offer.

And speaking of seasons, our Winter Wood Stock was delivered today. It smells lovely in the sitting room where a goodly amount of it is piled up against the wall ready for the first fire of Autumn. The nights are starting to creep in and there is crispness on the air after dark now, despite all this wonderful warm weather we're having. The year knows it's getting on. It's good to have seasons. I would really miss them if they weren't there....

 
However, I'm not wishing to usher winter in too fast, so I'll leave you with some shots of Things In Bloom And Growing in the garden....




















Wishing you all a peaceful evening,

CT :-)

31 comments:

  1. It amazing what we are still learning, eh? You're photos are fantastic as always! Thank you for the tour of the area - we only get swans in my neck of the woods during spring migration...sigh...

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    1. Hey Casey :-) That process of there always being some new to learn from and about nature is one of the most intriguing things about it. People are very good at assuming they have all the answers, but I rather like the fact that we don't.

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  2. What a lovely post CT!

    The Painted Lady`s story really is amazing. We have a few around in the Forest but it`s not one of their most prolific years.

    I did once stand in the wildflower meadows at Durlston Country Park in the Purbecks and see clouds of them flying in across the sea. It was incredible! That must have been back in the early 90`s as a friend and I had taken our young children there for a picnic.

    I hope the water voles appear for you eventually, but it`s good to see that they have left calling cards and are definitely in residence :-)

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    1. Wow! That must have been a really special experience and quite something to witness. I have just googled 'good painted lady years' after reading your comment to see whether I could identify the years in the 1990s but it wasn't listed. HOWEVER, I did turn up this article http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/jun/03/country-diary-1912-painted-lady-butterflies which said that 1912 was a good year for them! Fascinating stuff :-)

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  3. So great to see the young swans.
    I am always fascinated with your post and research .
    I have to also say I am quite excited for crisper cool nights ~ I wish we had a fireplace though .

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    1. Thanks Willow :-) I'm glad you're back in blogging land. I know it's not a popular view, but as we're having such a nice, long, warm summer here I reckon winter's coolness will be all the more special.

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  4. HI CT What wonderful full and interesting post. You certainly found a goodly number of Butterflies and your photographs of them are great. The cygnets are growing up fast. beautiful meadow and reflections on the river. Sorry you did not see Voles,maybe next time. Love all the beautiful flowers hosts. Have a great weekend.

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    1. Hey Margaret :-)
      Thanks for all your kind words and I'm pleased you enjoyed the pics. Have a lovely weekend too x

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  5. Beautiful photos and I would love to see a Robins Pincushion Gall, I often don't get chance to sit in the same place for a while, always rushing about! Going to make a point of doing that this weekend...
    Amanda xx

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    1. I have a tendency to be busy, busy as well, but if you're always flying you tend to miss the small things that are still, or need quiet to appear. xx

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  6. Stunning post CT......your blog never fails to lift this miserable old gits spirits.

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  7. Oh by the way.... you must have a keen eye to spot those caterpillars, nature never fails to amaze me.

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    1. Thanks John. And I don't consider you a miserable old git :-)

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  8. Such wonderful creatures i love them all.

    Jean x

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    1. Thanks Jean. It is so encouraging to see how many species can and do live in a relatively small area x

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  9. Great shots from the river. What an amazing life cycle the Painted Lady has. I shall look at them in a new light now.

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    1. Yup, they are incredible things, for sure :-)

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  10. The river looks very peaceful and tranquil and a great place to just sit and watch :) I haven't seen any Painted Ladies yet this year so good to see your photo.

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    1. It was rather lovely to stop and be still for an hour on the river. You see so much when you do that that would ordinarily pass you by. Fingers crossed for a Painted Lady for you soon :-)

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  11. The disguise of the caterpiller on the willow is amazing, isn't nature so wonderful?
    I once heard that the Willow tree holds the most insect species, do you know it that is right?

    Briony
    x

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    1. I would have overlooked the caterpillar entirely if I hadn't been searching for Emperors, and had therefore switched on my pillar radar! I hope I can find a PE pillar to show you- they look exactly like a leaf. Brilliant example of cryptic camo and evolution in action, as the Scalloped Oak is too.

      Re the Willows, your question sent me off on a small journey of research (love that about blogging). I knew Oaks supported over 400 species and know from moth'ing that willows support a lot of moths. I did turn up a slightly out of date list which suggested the 5 most common sallow (willow) trees combined host 450 insect species, which is pretty impressive. Goat Willows are particularly important as they are the food plant for the Purple Emperor butterfly, with whom I am currently slightly obsessed :-) x

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  12. Great info on the Painted Lady, sadly I bet my old garden is full of them and I'm no longer there to see it. We have had lots of butterflies and even more native ladybirds..they are everywhere in this rental properties garden.
    Loved to see all your amazing finds hidden about the place.

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    1. Hey Suze :-) Hopefully your new garden will prove to be full of interesting new species to make up for the ones you've left behind. It'll be fun finding out I'm sure. I've seen a couple of Painted Ladies round here so hoping that means it's an OK year for them. How about Clouded Yellow? Do you get those in your neck of the woods? We could have a competition to see who gets a photo first! x

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    2. Had to look it up but yes apparently we do get them here, so I should look out for them, I think you'd beat me to a photo but I'll take on your challenge as I haven't really been out with the camera wildlife spotting as I feel a bit sad about leaving my old home. However this should perk me up a little!

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  13. Another brilliant post and some wonderful photos.
    The river looked so quiet and peaceful, what a lovely place to spend a few hours.

    I must tell you, we went for a little walk to a nature reserve on the cycle trail just behind our house yesterday, and came across 2 bird hides which I will definitely go to again, we had to walk between two fields and it can only be described as 'butterfly alley'!!! there were lots of a small brown butterfly that I have yet to identify, I'm sure its common as like I said there were lots!!! And to my utter delight I saw quite a few Common Blues too!!! Beautiful and I wouldn't of been so excited about them if I hadn't found your blog!!!
    So once again thank you xx

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    1. That's great Linda! I'm so pleased you're keen to learn more about these wonderful creatures- they need all the friends they can get. The small brown flutters you mention are likely to be either gatekeepers, meadow browns or ringlets at this time of the year. If they were really tiny and more orangey brown they could be skippers. If you google them you'll hopefully be able to see which they were. Great about the blues too- they are so beautiful xx

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    2. I have checked a couple of books and I do think they were gatekeepers, thanks again xx

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  14. You look as though you are set for wood for a good while! The photos of the flowers that you too are so beautiful, especially with the sunlight shining on and through them. It is amazing that the butterflies travel such great distances isn't it, you would think they would find food and homes nearer to where they could stay in one place, it must be a massive challenge for them to migrate over such a long way. xx

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    1. Its a good point about why would they fly all that way. Its usually to do with weather and temperature so when it gets too hot in Africa they fly off to cooler climes. Xx

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  15. Looks gorgeous beside that river! Lovely photos and well done for spotting that looper! But I don't need reminders that winter is coming..... ;-)

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    1. It's my favourite stretch of the Test. Such a peaceful spot :-)

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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