Eleven members gathered in the Caen Hill
Locks car park in glorious sunshine; the leader had high hopes of finding
Scarce Chaser dragonflies, and lots more besides.
The first dragonfly species seen was a male
Emperor hawking over and the side pound close to the top of the locks. Searching
through the dense foliage around the side pound, we found a froglet, a Scarlet
Tiger moth (there seem plenty around at the moment) a nymph of a Dark Bush
cricket, and many Blue tailed damselflies, with a few Azure and Common Blue
damselflies. A Stock Dove coo-ed unseen
in the tall trees adjacent to the towpath as we walked down to the next side
Swifts swooped low, occasionally taking a
drink, and I noted only one Swallow. Other birds using this habitat included
Tufted Duck, Mallard, Mute Swan, Moorhen, Grey Heron. We had a blue-flash of a
Kingfisher as it darted passed us at speed, disappearing in the vegetation in
the next side pound as we wandered down the grassy path adjacent to the Diamond
Jubilee Woodland. In the hedgerow, Alan
R drew our attention to a Great Mullein plant which was, not unsurprisingly,
hosting a number of Mullein moth caterpillars. I was lucky to be looking up
whilst we gathered for a short break around midday to see a Red Kite drift over
the trees and most members saw the bird if only very briefly. Butterflies seen
in the area included Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell and a very obliging
freshly emerged Ringlet. Rob R
identified a striking looking Soldier Fly (Oxycera
Soldier Fly (Oxycera rara)
I spotted smaller dragonfly being harassed
by the Emperor and recognised it as a male Scarce Chaser, with its pale blue
abdomen.We found several more as we
explored more side pounds, some insects traversing the grassy paths between the
pounds and landing on nettles. We could see that the male had mated with
females, showing the distinctive grey copulation marks down each side of their
abdomen.Rob R and some other members
had a good view of an orange-brown female. I had mistakenly identified a brown
dragonfly among the male Scarce Chasers as a Four spotted Chaser. However,
studying my field guide after the meeting, I read that the females will darken
to a dull brown colour; I did see briefly a male chaser joined to, presumably a
female, darting over the water. A lone Four spotted Chaser in this habitat was
unlikely!The Brown Hawker flying around
us as we continue walking down the grass slope was unmistakable! Keeping around
the side pounds, we located two singing Sedge Warblers and spent some time
listening and watching one of them at close quarters. Within its varied song, I
could pick out mimicry of the songs and calls of Blue Tit, Goldfinch, Swallow
and Yellow Wagtail.
We returned to the car park via paths
through the Diamond Jubilee Wood, noting Ragged Robin, Rough Chervil, Fleabane
and Grass Vetchling.I located a male
Yellowhammer at the top of a tall tree by song and we could approach the bird,
so intent on making its presence known. Other birds heard here included Common
Whitethroat and Blackcap and it was good to see a male Kestrel among the
Expectations were high in the weeks leading up to this trip to the chalk hillside of Pewsey, as the trip last spring was awesome....but as 15 of us assembled in the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust car park at the base of the Downs, we were not too confident of a good day!
The skies were grey, the wind was on the cool side, to put it mildly, and a few spots of rain were in the air. Unperturbed, we set off through the kissing-gate, and up the hill, where we’d had such great views of Orchids and Butterflies last year. Alas, though we searched, and spread out across the hill-top, we didn’t even see a single Butterfly, and only 1 Early Purple Orchid! Spring was running about two weeks later than usual, and boy, did it show!
I did however manage to find a spider that was new to all of us...a female Larinioides cornulus, the Funnel Spider!
Whilst we took an early lunch, a single Marsh Fritillary landed on a bare patch of earth behind Lucy, so everyone rushed to see it...but some members were not fortunate and thought they their chance had gone, due to the weather!
But, good things come to those that wait....and as the sun broke through and the cool wind dropped, we aborted our decision to leave early, and made our way down the hill and around to the warmer, chalky, south-facing side. On the way Alan showed us a small patch of Clustered Bellflower and we saw the caterpillar of the 5-spot Burnett prior to it changing into its chrysalis stage.
The sun was now out, and it became very warm indeed, and as we followed the narrow chalky paths along the hillside, we were rewarded for our patience in spectacular style!
Over 100 (maybe many more) Marsh Fritillaries we’re out, including mating pairs amongst the males and females, and thousands of Garden Chafers were flying around and courting in the grass. The Butterfly sightings began in earnest, with Green-Hairstreak, both Dingy & Grizzled Skippers, Brown Argus, Small and Common Blue, Small Copper, three Whites, including Green-veined, and a Wall-Brown...all in all a total of 13 species seen by all of us!
We were also fortunate to find a few moths, though not the profusion of Forester Moths that we had last year.
This time, sharp-eyed Steve found a Small Elephant Hawk, and a freshly emerged Fox Moth also gave good views. 5 moth species were counted, including a Common Heath and Five-spotted Burnett, also freshly emerged. Also Alan pointed out, among the Birds-foot Trefoil and Rock Roses, patches of beautiful blue Chalk Milkwort.
So, after initially thinking we would have to abort our field-trip early, it was so good, that we all ended up staying another hour!