There is a site on the East Devon coast which is home to the only colony of Adonis Blue Butterfly in the county. This is a scarce species of butterfly. I went there today with my friend Dave to photograph them. He has been a constant source of interesting insects this summer and I can't thank him enough for his help and for introducing me to a circle of naturalists who have enriched my wildlife experiences this year. It was absolutely no problem to find the butterflies and the resultant 3 plus hours that we spent looking at them and taking photos was very rewarding. This little butterfly is a vibrant intense blue edged with black and white, however the female is brown. This is the first time that I have seen this species so all in all it was quite a day. I am working on this post and sorting out the pictures taken today so please keep checking back on the blog to see new pictures being added.
I cant get enough of Dartmoor. Its beautiful and relaxing, great scenery and very peacful. Certainly one of the highlights of living in Devon. There is always the chance of seeing something to photograph and as you may know if you read my blog regularly, I have been having a good time photographing the Stonechats and other birds. Today, within just a few minutes I had a Tree Pipit, and a couple of Yellowhammer, both showing beautifully in the hawthorn tree where I had seen them before on a previous visit.
My journey as a wildlife photographer and observer goes on and hardly a day goes by without me seeing something that fascinates me. The blog is all about sharing my sightings with you, my readers and this inspires me to continue to look and get the very best photographs that I can and then post them here for you to enjoy. As the seasons change so does the wildlife that we see. It seems that a few birds are on the move now and there are a few different species of butterflies about such as the Small Copper, a pretty little insect, smaller than you would expect and if you don't see them often, or you haven't seen it before you may be surprised that it isn't as big as some of the more showy butterflies like the Red Admiral for example. This is the time of year that I see them, late August, September and October and I have often said that it is interesting that their colours are so similar to newly fallen Autumn leaves. However today in full sun and nectaring on lavender, they were very pretty indeed. Another remarkably small butterfly, and just as pretty is the Common Blue and I also photographed one today, again on Lavender.
Its said that Butterflies are in decline and not as numerous as they used to be but this year has certainly been a great year for them. I would suspect that this is down to the weather, we have had a great summer this year, unusually bright and sunny. The one below is a Wall Brown, a nice species.
I must just include another photo of the Willow Warbler that I saw the other day. It was a pretty little bird. In common with it's species it was calling it's plaintive single syllable call and showing very well. Like I said the other day, to my eyes it appears to be a juvenile bird, almost yellow in the right light. Males in particular are not particularly yellow like females and as I said, juveniles.
You may know that I have been taking an interest and photographing the Heath Potter Wasps here in Devon. They are being studied in great detail by local naturalist John Walters who is the world's expert in this otherwise, un-researched and under-observed species. Here's a link to a short film that I made last week which describes the buidling of the pot.
Below shows the pot now sealed.
This pot was constructed on the 16th of August and the female wasp took more than a week to fill the pot and then seal it. The pot will contain a single egg and 30 or so tiny anaethatised caterpillars as food for the emerging wasp grub. This little clay capsule will remain sealed until May next year when the adult wasp will break out of the pot and as a newly emerged wasp the life-cycle will begin again. As I explained previously, the pots are constructed from clay collected from small bare patches of earth called "quarries". Previously, I hadn't photographed the clay being collected but on my short visit today, one of John's colour marked wasps was busy constructing a pot nearby and collecting clay.
I am well aware that light is the most important factor in photography and thats why I went back to the moor this late afternoon, I was hoping for good light and the chance of something special and wow, did it happen! First of all, both Stonechats were still around the territory and I actually caught sight of one of the recently fledged youngsters being fed but only momentarily.. But like I hoped the low light was casting a wonderful ambience on the birds. I covered myself in a camouflaged cover and with the camera on the tripod I closed the legs, extended it as high as at could and used it as a monopod. In this way I could get a good background rather than photographing in to the sky. I was actualy looking down on the subject and getting not only great light but a perfect background. The photos I took, almost all of them 200 or more, are amongst the best I have ever taken.
I mentioned earlier today about the experience of seeing a Redstart yesterday but like I said it wasn't just a Redstart, it seems that the particular hawthorn bush was quite an attraction to all kinds of birds. When the Redstart arrived I had already photographed a really lovely Tree Pipit that perched for an age at the top of the bush. This is a very nice species that could esily be confused with a Meadow Pipit. You need to look out for the flank markings which are just thin slashes in a Tree Pipit but broad and bold in the Meadow, the look of the beak is subtley different with the Meadow Pipits beak being a little bit finer. Its my impression that there is a much more distinct pattern on the wing coverts as well.
The Willow Warbler was a young bird. I speak from experience when I tell you that female and juvenile Willow Warblers are much more yellow than adult males. Willow Warbler a smart little bird, they have flesh coloured legs whereas the very closely related Chiffchaff has dark legs. This spot was a really good site to photograph from with a glorious backdrop and even though it was overcast, was quite good.
So, that was four different species so far and just in this little bush with the top at my eye level. My main reason for being there was to photograph the Stonechats, the day previously I had taken some really pleasing photos of the male flying in and here they are.
Stonechat are common breeding birds in Devon but perhaps not in August. I was told of a nest that contained youngsters somewhere on Dartmoor and with the breeding season almost completely over elsewhere I thought I would go and see if I could find it. I had been given good directions but it was still quite hard to find the nest. I found the area and the territory without too much difficulty, apart from quite a hike and a lot of physical effort. When I got there I found the pair of birds just where I was told they would be. I had a cursory look around but I was conscious that I was disturbing them so I decided to sit well away and watch where they were going. I noted there favourite perches where they were sighting flying insects which they would then catch on the wing and usually fly back, flycatcher-like to the perch they had flown from. This was obviously a great photo opportunity, the light was perfect, the background even better and I would have been really disappointed if I hadn't been able to get some good photographs. Half of the difficulty of good bird photography is finding your subject and then having good light and a good background. It isn't too often that all these factors are in place but in this case they were. After a couple of hours it was time to go home and before I departed I just went for a quick look again and this time I found it immediately. It contained 3 fully feathered youngsters and I moved away quickly so as as not to cause any disturbance. It was exciting to find the nest and a great education to find the nest and have a quick look. An extremely rewarding day.
The Buddleja is a species of plant which is often called the butterfly bush and today I discovered exactly why (if I didn't know already)! In a mater of minutes I managed to see 10 different species and photograph several of them. This was on the edge of a car park and amongst the rubbish and tipped garden waste and even an old motor bike, a sad reflection on the lack of respect that a section of our society has for the environment. I even managed to photograph a species that I haven't photographed before as well as a Painted Lady another migrant species that you dont see every year. It seems that this summer has been a good one for butterflies.
I really enjoyed a short session at dusk this evening photographing Terry's foxes that even though I have only seen them twice now, I am getting to know. But what was nice to see was this handsome young dog fox. I am assuming that it is an animal from last year, compared to the adolescent gangly cubs it's plain to see that it is older. It has a really nice rich patterned coat with prominant black facial markings and a distinct demarcation mark between red and white on the face. The legs are distinctly black and at the end of the bushy tail..... the brush ..... is a lovely white tip, as though it has been dipped in white emulsion. As you have probably gathered, I really do appreciate the beauty of this animal. What was more, this fox didn't come in to the scraps, bits of bread and the like, but it came to eat the plum windfalls.
He was eating windfall plums, and I saw him with four before he got wind of me. Thats a very intersting phrase which is exactly the correct context because he literally did "get wind of me" and off he ran. Here he is eating a plum.
This is not one of your urban foxes that seem to be so reviled but a truly wild animal that lives in the woods and fields. I am very attracted to foxes, they are intelligent and wily and I really don't like the idea of them being indiscriminantly shot. I am pleased that people like Terry also enjoy having them around.
My friend Terry has been interacting with the Foxes that live in the woodland near to his farm. Every evening at dusk, the foxes come to look for the scraps that he pits out for them. I went the other evening to have a look and it was a really good experience. At first it was quiet, I sat in a hide overlooking the field in front of me. Terry was stood alongside throwing scraps in to the field and at first it was quiet but then after 10 minutes or so, suddenly one appeared and then started trotting towards the food.
It seems that they were on the edge of the woodland just watching and waiting. Then another one appeared and then another, just 3 in all but Terry tells me that the day after there were 5. The one above is a Vixen and I suspect that the others below are leggy adolescent cubs.
This is one of the cubs and you can see how wary it is. Terry is a familiar sight and smell to them of course but they could definitely smell me in the hide and hear the camera shutter and they didn't like it!
I felt a bit sorry for this one, it looks as though it has mange so I would suspect that it isn't enjoying a particularly comfortable existence. It looks a little bit under nourished and it's everybody's enemy (apart from Terry and me). Everyone seems to want to kill foxes but I think they are part of the ecosystem and its good to see them as far as I am concerned. I am sure they do a good job as well as bad, we would be over run with rabbits for example. Just a point about the photographs which were taken in extremely low light. Light is the photographers friend and you need as much as possible to get a fast enough shutter speed to achieve sharp mages.
We are all very familiar with the Common Wasp vespula vulgaris, these can be quite a nuisance and I am actually allergic to their nasty sting having once suffered a full anaphylactic shock. This was an "interesting" experience and it would have ended in tragedy had I not been treated in casualty with a timely injection of adrenalin. My sight was affected, my ears were ringing, I itched all over and was covered with red blotches. My throat swelled and prevented me from swallowing with a painful lump in my throat. I salivated and I began to feel very lethargic and drowsy. Then for weeks afterwards I was weak and lacking in energy. I quite understandably now have a phobia where I dream of giant wasps and I try to avoid them at all times.
So yesterday, this was in the back of my mind when I went to look at an amazing species of wasp on a heath in South Devon. The Heath Potter Wasp - Eumenes coarctatus is a scarce solitary species of wasp that has a fascinating lifestyle. Each female constructs small pots, as many as 10 sperate constructions on the stems of vegetation. They gather small balls of clay from areas of nearby bare earth, they then carry this ball held between the front legs to the building site. Each pot is instinctively constructed in the shape of a small urn which is in fact a clay capsule. Construction is rapid and takes between two or three hours but is actually constructed from around 16 collections of clay. If the "quarry", as the bare earth area is called, is dry, the wasp will first collect a mouthful of water which it then deposits on the clay in order to achieve the wet consistency required. The small pot is left with a tiny hole and for a good reason. Our wasp will at this point, lay an egg in to the pot which is suspended on a tiny strand of silk. At this point she will collect small caterpillars which are stung to anaesthetise before being placed in the pot until it is full, this can take as many as 38 tiny caterpillars or as few as 9 or 10 larger ones depending on availability. Then finally, after the the pot is full, the wasp collects more clay and then seals the hole leaving the egg to develop and eventually hatch amongst the larder of food.
I was immensely privileged to have shared this experience with John Walters a local artist and naturalist who has been studying this species for the last four years. John has developed a technique for tracking the wasps during the construction of the pots which has enabled him to watch the process. He became the first person to witness and photograph the construction of a Heath Potter Wasp Pot. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be there right at the beginning of one such construction and watch and photograph from beginning to completion. I will return to photograph the wasps filling the pots with caterpillars which I didn't manage to see yesterday. The photographs do not give a good perception of size, this is a very small insect, for comparison, fractional smaller than the familiar common wasp. They do sting but apparently, not too painful nor venomous.
Here is a "kind of time-lapse" series showing the pot taking shape from a small blob of clay to a fully formed pot chamber which the wasp uses to deposit her single egg. Each pot is sealed with a source of food, small caterpillars, for the hatching wasp grub which will eventually break out of the pot as a fully formed adult wasp.
The Lesser Black-backed gull is a species that I see often but haven't photographed as much as I should. I hve seen them regularly over the summer amongst a flock of Herring Gulls that get fed regularly by visitors to Exeter Quay. I am sure its not unusual for them to be in an urban environment but they are an attractive species, at least to my eyes, and I always enjoy seeing them. Their most atractive feature is their bright yellow legs and if you see a gull with a dark black back, check the colour of the feet, they will be yellow in a Lesser Black Backed but pinkish in the Greater Black backed. However, as an extra confusion there is also a Yellow-legged Gull which is very closely related to the Herring Gull that we are all very familiar with. Herring Gulls have pinkish feet unlike the close relative. The gull above is a bird in its second autumn, by next spring..... its third year, it will be in full adult plumage. At the moment it i's gradually acquirring it's new adult plumage. You can see this better in the image below.
This is a Clouded Yellow- Colias croceus, a species of butterfly that I haven't seen before and I was thrilled to see it. It was photographed at Exmouth this morning, close to the sea front. I caught just a quick sight of a yellow butterfly flying some distance away and my friend Dave immediately said what it was. We searched the vicinity and found it feeding on a large clump of Ragwort (again confirming how important this poisonous plant is). Eventually it settled to "nectar" on the Ragwort and I had the chance to photograph it.
Dave told me that they rarely open their wings when settled, they are stunningly attractive with opened wings so this is a shame. He suggested that a shot in to the sun woud show the detail through the wing which is what I tried for and I like the effect.
Clouded Yellows are a migrant species, usually being unable to tollerate damp cold winters in the UK. They do breed here though but new individuas arrive from the continent each year to establish fresh breeding stock. It is now thought however that some do survive the winter if conditions remain favourable. I wonder if this particular individual had arived from France, a strong possibilty as it was seen so close to the beach? Imagine that, this insect may have recently flown accross the English Channel, a distance at this point of 103 miles, that is quite a feat of endurance, wind assisted no doubt! However, butterflies do migrate much, much greater distances. For example the Monarch Butterfly of North America flies from Canada to "over-winter" in Mexico, that's more than 2000 miles! This is a butterfly that I have been hoping to see for quite sometime, a good day when I see a species that I haven't seen before.
I have been away from 'base" this last few days, well almost a week and its been hard to concentrate on the blog and wildlife watching, as my grandchildren get older its harder to leave them and go out on my own. I did manage a short outing out to Old Moor RSPB reserve which is situated in South Yorkshire near to Bansley and on the way to Doncaster. This is a particularly good place to take small children as there is a good set of climbing equipment, a dipping pond and even a lady telling wildlife stories. Its a large reserve but all a bit too busy for me and about as opposite to what I enjoy as is possible. There is a shop and a cafe as well, all very posh and it does make you wonder what the RSPB is all about really. If it was just about birds then there would be a gate to get in and perhaps a few hides around the reclaimed lakes and no more. I was told that it hadnt been a good year for the Tree Sparrows and I would say that this is because of disturbance from the children's play area just a few feet away! Anyway the feeders were interesting and I photographed a nice Stock Dove. I have seen them in Yorkshire before so I am presumin they are a common bird in that part of the world.
I continued late this afternoon with my current fascination, butterflies and bees. Yesterday I had discovered yet another species that I hadn't seen before. This one was Bombus bohemicus, the Gypsy Cuckoo Bumblebee. I made a conscious decision a few years ago to try and name the Bumblebees that I see and because it is a very seasonable thing it's quite a challenge. Each year you learn a few more facts and then twelve months later you have forgotten all you learned the previous year. The same can be said of Hoverflies and Dragonflies of course. Cuckoo Bumblebees are fascinating insects. They breed by taking over the nests of a specific Bumblebee species , in the case of the Gypsy Bumblebee that is Bombous Terrestris, the Buff-tailed Bumblebee. Once the queen Gypsy Cuckoo has killed the "founder`" queen she lays her own eggs in the nest and they are then tended and cared for by the workers as if they were their own. I doubt if too many videos of this species exist so I was pleased to get fil this today. This one was feeding on thistle and the white tail is stained with yellow polen. Cuckoo Bumblebees do not collect pollen and do not posess "pollen baskets" on the legs in the way that regular bumblebees do.