|Watching Wildlife||Hillhouse Wood|
Saturday, August 25 saw a return to summer sunshine after a long spell of overcast conditions and heavy showers and it brought Ernie Wells and his partner Pascale a notable butterfly record. During their visit to the allotments at Irvine Road, Colchester, at 3.30pm they were surprised and delighted to see a Camberwell beauty butterfly - the first Ernie has seen in UK although he has seen them during visits to France. This is an immigrant and it will be interesting to hear of any further sightings in Essex and Suffolk in August and September.
The month of July is prime time for butterfly and dragonfly watchers and towards the end there's the start of southward movement of wading birds, which have bred on northern moors and tundras, such as whimbrel and golden plover.
An exciting development in the last four years has been the spread of the graceful white admiral butterfly in North Essex woodlands. Their strongholds remain Stour Wood, Wrabness and Friday Wood, Berechurch, Colchester, but for the past three seasons some are flying in July at High Woods Country Park, Colchester; Welshwood Park, Colchester; woods at Tiptree and also in the woods on the Marks Hall Estate, Coggeshall. This year white admirals were seen at Stour Wood and Friday Wood as early as third week of June and Dr Ted Benton reported as many as 10 on a sunny day in Friday Wood.
I reported in the June Watching Wildlife that a sizeable immigration of painted lady butterflies from southern Europe and North Africa was taking place and now they are being seen in fields and gardens over a wide area of NE Essex and Suffolk. Females lay their eggs on thistle leaves and we can expect a lot of resulting "home-bred" butterflies from July and into autumn. Look out for them on garden buddleias and other blossoms.
There's plenty of meadow brown butterflies, small heaths and ringlets in grassy places and I am getting some reports of a few clouded yellow butterflies, also immigrants from the Continent.
Another July butterfly speciality is the white-letter hairstreak. Colonies of this small brown butterfly which gets its name from the white W mark on its hindwing underside have been badly hit by the spread of Dutch elm disease as the caterpillars feed on the leaves of common elms and wych elms. However you can still see them at Friday Wood; Hillhouse Wood, West Bergholt and in woods at Brightlingsea and Coggeshall. Look for them nectaring on thistle and bramble blooms or flying round the tops of elms. Also look for their "cousins'; purple hairstreaks, which are much commoner and associated with oak trees. Purple hairstreaks love aphid honeydew on oak leaves and also come down off the oaks to feed on bramble blossom or drink at puddles.
Interest in dragonflies and damselflies has been greatly stimulated by the publication of the excellent new book, The Dragonflies of Essex written by Dr Ted Benton, chairman of Colchester Natural History Society, and John Dobson and illustrated in colour by many of Ted's brilliant close-up photographs. The book is published by Essex Field Club na association with Lopinga Books and costs £20. The book documents the spread in the past two or three years of the scarce chaser dragonfly. Once classified, as its name suggests, as scarce this big and beautiful species is now present on three river systems in Essex — Colne, Stour and Blackwater, and is being reported in new localities this year in the Colchester area and along the Blackwater, sometimes some distance inland from traditional aquatic areas.Males have blue bodies and females have orange-brown abdomens.
Following a report by Nigel Mayner in 2006 that the beautiful demoiselle damselfly had been found in the vicinity of Hillhouse Wood, West Bergholt Philip Smith has confirmed this record in 2007 close to the wood where there are streams and near a tributary of the River Colne. Previously this elegant insect was only known as a breeding species from the Roman River valley south of Colchester.
Dragonflies of course are a major food source for that dashing little falcon, the hobby, so look out for them in major dragonfly and damselfly territories. This summer—visitor raptor, which on the wing looks almost like a giant swift, is increasing as a nesting species taking over old crow nests.
Plenty of reports of stag beetles from the Colchester area and some still flying in July. I welcome sightings to pass on to Jerry Bowdrey, Colchester's curator of natural history and Maria Fremlin who is also an enthusiast for stag beetles, rose chafers and minotaur beetles, carrying out studies into the status of all three.
August sees the start of a big movement of wading and other bird species from their breeding quarters. See them along the coast, in the estuaries; and at inland reservoirs and lakes. They are heading south by degrees to their winter quarters in many cases to Africa and the fringes of the Mediterranean. Whimbrel, greenshanks and common sandpipers were already being seen by the last week of July. I saw five sandpipers at Abberton Reservoir on July 21. Also likely in August are spotted redshanks; green and wood sandpipers; ruff; curlew sandpipers and little stints. Birders will be on the alert for rare or uncommon waders such as pectoral sandpipers, white-rumped sandpipers, buff-breasted sandpipers and other strays from North America especially after Atlantic wind storms.
The wet and windy conditions in July must have affected area butterfly and moth populations. The absence of long spells of sunshine seriously reduced opportunities for courtship, pairing and egg laying for many butterfly species. However those species associated with grassy areas and meadows such as meadow brown, small heath, gatekeeper and ringlet were reasonably strong and there was also a reassuring showing of small, and Essex skippers.
But it has been a poor year generally for migrants apart from an early flurry of painted ladies in May/June. So far, though, I haven't seen or received reports of clouded yellows. Another disappointing year for small tortoiseshells made up for by plenty of red admirals and peacocks, the latter very common in July/August after some big "nests" of their black larvae on nettles in spring.
Some reports of immigrant hummingbird hawk moths at Mistley (Ian Rose's garden), West Bergholt and Colchester but nowhere near the number we saw last year in what was certainly a bonanza season for immigrant moths generally. So far only a scattering of silver-Y moths.
A Reasonable season for dragonflies and damselflies identifications helped by the publication by Essex Field Club in association with Lopinga Books of The Dragonflies of Essex. CNHS chairman Ted Benton is co-author with John Dobson and his splendid colour photos embellish the comprehensive text. Ted mentioned in his chapter on the beautiful demoiselle damselfly that this very localised spesies had been reported on the river Colne in 2006 at West Bergholt near Hillhouse Wood. Hitherto the main site is in the Roman Kiver valley near Friday Wood. In June and July Philip Smith found male and female beautiful demoiselles along a stream at Hillhouse Wood, confirming the original report.
There was a huge 'invasion' of painted ladies along the Essex Coast early in August. When I visited Copt Hall, Little Wigborough (National Trust Reserve), thousands were nectaring on ragwort, fleabane and golden samphireblooms, as many as 10 on any one clump, and they literally rose in clouds when approached.
Dougal Urquhart, Senior Ranger at Cudmore Grove Country Park, East Mersea, had over 200 there on August 8/9 and inland scores of painted ladies feeding on wayside blooms of prickly ox-tongue, ragwort and fleabane.
White-letter hairstreak butterfly feeding on bramble blossom. It's becoming scarcer because of elm disease (its larvae feed on elm leaves) but look for it at Hillhouse Wood, West Bergholt and Friday wood, Berechurch in July. Photo: Philip Smith.
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