Monday 5 August 2013

Silver Spotted Skippers, Chalkhill Blues and a Brown Hairstreak (with a Great White Egret and a Night Heron thrown in) - 4th August 2013

The Sunday of the 4th of August was a very good day for me as nearly everything went right. It very often doesn't happen like that in wildlife watching as there are far too many variables (which is of course what makes it exciting) but today it all slotted into place. The week previous to this is worth mentioning as I once again saw the Great White Egret at Clifford Hill and also twitched a lifer in the shape of a Night Heron up at Thornton Reservoir in Leicestershire but could only manage a record shot of them both.

Great White Egret, Clifford Hill GP, Northants

Night Heron, Thornton Reservoir, Leics
The combination of bad weather and working meant that the next opportunity to get out was the Sunday which was, as luck would have it, a day when the rest of "the gang" could make it too. So after various text conversations we decided to head back down to Oxfordshire to see if we could see some of the local butterfly specialities. Sam Candy came and picked me up first thing and then we picked everyone else up enroute and at about 09.30am Sam Candy, Jon and Kirsty Philpot, John Friendship-Taylor and me were starting to explore Aston Rowant NNR just off the M40. The targets here were Silver Spotted Skippers, Chalkhill Blues and Dark Green Fritillary. The weather looked almost perfect for butterfly photography too as it was warm with sunny spells but the wind did prove to be a bit of a pain. As we walked out of the woodland and onto the chalk grasslands we started looking straight away. Even though this is one of the best sites for Silver Spotted Skipper and Chalkhill Blue none of us had been here before to see the butterflies so we had no idea how hard it would be. Jon very quickly spotted a Chalkhill Blue which we all took pics of before Kirsty then spotted the first Silver Spotted Skipper of the day. Great! We had all connected very quickly so then it became the quest for photographs. We explored the grasslands seeing more and more Chalkhill Blues with the odd Silver Spotted Skipper thrown in. Then we spotted a Fritillary feeding along the hedge but as it turned on the flower it was nectaring on it showed itself to be a Silver Washed and not the Dark Green we were looking for. As we walked around the corner my mouth fell ever so slightly open as I was greeted to the sight of a cloud of Chalkhill Blues flying over the grasses, and to add to it this more sheltered area provided lots of Silver Spotted Skipper with a few Brown Argus thrown in too.
Chalkhill Blue, Aston Rowant NNR, Oxon
Chalkhill Blue, Aston Rowant NNR, Oxon
Silver Spotted Skipper, Aston Rowant NNR, Oxon
Silver Spotted Skipper, Aston Rowant NNR, Oxon
We made our way along the hillside seeing more and more with a few day flying Silver Y moths also added into the mix. Jon then picked out the best photo opportunity of the morning with a pair of Silver Spotted Skippers mating on an old Dandelion stem. We all had a go taking pictures of these with people huddling up to try (and failing) to block the wind for others as they took shots.

Silver Spotted Skippers, Aston Rowant NNR, Oxon
Still in search of a Dark Green Fritillary we ventured into the next field and straight away saw some Marbled Whites and we then turned and walked up to the top of the hill to admire the view. A very nice view of the Oxfordshire countryside it was too with the exception of the M40 cutting through the middle of it. We explored the top of the hill and then made our way back to the car, we were never really holding our breathe for Dark Green Fritillary anyway so we wasn't too disappointed that we didn't see them and the spectacle of this place at this time of year more than made up for that. We had a spot of lunch by the car and then we drove to Otmoor RSPB as Sam wanted better views of Turtle Dove. We did have an ulterior motive for visiting this site again as the week previous the reserve warden has mentioned it is a good site for Brown Hairstreak and according to the reports on the Upper Thames Branch of Butterfly Conservation website one had been seen at a different site a few days before. We decided to chance it despite the weather that had now really taken a turn for the worse with dark clouds, outbreaks of rain and an ever growing wind reducing our chances of seeing any butterflies (let alone one so elusive as the Brown Hairstreak) into a very slim one indeed. We followed the "Roman Road" section of path from the car park trying to tread carefully to miss the baby Frogs that were hopping around all over the place. Quite a few Meadow Browns were present along with a few Ringlets and Green Veined Whites. As we walked along Sam suddenly exclaimed "whats that little brown butterfly?" and as I looked up a small butterfly flew above my head and landed on the bush just above me. I genuinely couldn't believe my eyes! Right in front of me was a pristine Brown Hairstreak sitting on a leaf. According to my friends my reaction was a little bit excitable to say the least as I shouted to try and get the rest of the group on it while trying to get pics myself.

Brown Hairstreak, RSPB Otmoor, Oxon
Shortly after it took off and we held our breathe to see where it would go, luckily for us it flew onto the flowers even closer and posed long enough to get some good close ups. I was absolutely buzzing after this! This was my last Hairstreak for Britain and I cannot help thinking I had involuntarily left the best until last, what a stunning looking insect? In fact I had a sudden realisation that I had seen them all this year as along with this Brown Hairstreak I have seen Green Hairstreak at Twywell Hills and Dales, Black Hairstreak at Glapthorn Cow Pastures, and White Letter and Purple Hairstreak at Fermyn Woods.

Brown Hairstreak, RSPB Otmoor, Oxon.
Remember when I said at the beginning of this post that "nearly everything went right"? Well this is the bit that didn't, unfortunately we couldn't find the Turtle Doves for Sam. Never mind it had been an amazing day and one I will not be forgetting in a hurry. As we had all of us together we had brought a few beers along to enjoy at the end of the day and Sam popped his camera on John Friendship-Taylor's tripod for a group photo. The beers turned into a toast to the Brown Hairstreak for capping the day of very nicely indeed! What a day!!

From the left, Kirsty and Jon Philpot, John Friendship-Taylor, Sam Candy and me David James.

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