Monday, 18 September 2017

A Mind Can Blow These Clouds Away...

 The end of August was nigh. Summer was slowly slipping away and so were the some of our avian friends that spend the season here.
Another Saturday to spend in the good company of my friend Chris and the weather was playing ball too.

So many decisions as to where to begin, we settled on Titchfield Haven once more. There had been reports of a rare Wood Sandpiper on the reserve so we were eager to catch up with this migrating wader amongst other delights we would surely stumble upon.
 For once I had arrived earlier than Chris, it was 6.30am, the sea was like a Mill Pond, the sun had just risen but was cloaked by scattered clouds which left the mist to hang like a soft pall across the back of the meadows on the reserve for a little while longer.

 I walked to the small harbour next to the visitor centre. All was quiet, calm and soothing. I do love this time of day. I would rise at this time a lot more if only I didn't like my bed so much.

 Of the few people awake along with some anglers was this paddle boarder taking advantage of the conditions.

The bay inside the reserve by the bridge had Cormorants sitting and waiting for the sun to emerge before descending into the water to hunt for breakfast.
At the base of the wall by the path where it meets the shingle beach of the harbour, I spied a rat waiting to take whatever the tide had left exposed. I've seen them often here before so always keep an eye out for them.
I could see Chris had arrived so I made my way back to the van to greet him.

Common Terns fed just offshore...

The sun was now breaking through and beginning to disperse the clouds.
The redundant power station at Fawley was picked out by the fresh golden rays.
As did a passing Grey Heron in mid defecation !

A juvenile was making the most of the receding tide and lack of humans to find some food along with a Little Egret.

As it was still quite early and the reserve wasn't to open for a while, we decided to walk the canal path that borders the reserve to the West. There was a good chance of migrating Passerines throughout the trees, shrubs and grassland down there so we left the Terns catching fish and headed north at the start of the path.
The foliage was still heavy with dew and the silence was helpful to catch any birdsong.
Cettis Warblers had their occasional loud bursts of song without much chance of a decent view as always.
One bird that did give up some close views was this Reed Bunting. By it's lethargy and acceptance of our close proximity it was clearly unwell.
Purple Loosestrife was still flowering along the canal edges
As we came to an open area of grassland we spied what looked like two Redstarts along the hedges that bordered it.
Two guys with telescopes were watching them further along and confirmed our initial thoughts. The Redstarts proved too elusive to photograph however. The men told us of Spotted Flycatchers not too further along the path also.
We caught up with these with ease. They have a habit of catching flies from a perch and landing at the same spot.
Time was pressing, the reserve would be opening soon so we turned to head back South.
A Kestrel sat surveying it's territory before us, lit up nicely by the now warm sunshine.
As the temperature rose so did our expectations of sightings of Butterflies. Along with the common Whites' was this Speckled Wood.
We had arrived back at the harbour and made our way to the visitor centre to sign in.
A Dunnock sat on the fence near the reserve. An easily overlooked little bird, it has lovely chestnut markings.
Tickets obtained, and sightings board noted, we took the west side entrance and headed for the Meon Shore hide to start. There were the usual mix of waders and wildfowl and apart from a brief missed glimpse of the elusive Water Rail that inhabits the reeds we decided to go straight to the Spurgin at the end of the path.
Darters Dip pond threw up the usual sightings at this time of year of Common Darters basking in the sun. If the weather stays mild enough they can be seen as late as November. Apparently it wont necessarily be the cold that kills them but lack of available prey.  
Green Veined Whites fed on the now flourishing Hemp Agrimony, a good late summer nectar source.
Then a brief view of a Sparrowhawk heading across the reserve...

More Common Darters greeted our arrival at the Spurgin Hide
Next to one of the ditches I saw what looked like a Balsam flower. This is Orange Balsam, native to North America and introduced to Britain in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
As we opened the door to the east facing hide, the warmth hit us along with the vaguely damp woody welcoming smell these places give off.
The hide overlooks Eleven Acre Mere. The Wood Sandpiper had been seen here and after much searching and patience it was located at the back of the Mere along with some Green Sandpipers.
This was the closest it would come to us however.

Time was nearing lunch so it was back to the vehicles for a sandwich and thoughts on our afternoon destination.
Darters Dip was quiet as we passed by again apart from the Roach nudging the surface.
It was quite warm by now and as the chances of seeing Butterflies would diminish somewhat over the next few weeks, Chris happily agreed to visit Old Winchester Hill bearing in mind the quarry I had in mind he had already seen. Thanks mate.
The hill is classic chalk downland commanding stunning views across to the South coast and Isle of Wight. A wide variety of grassland flowers grow here which in turn bring in the insects and birds.

Having left the car park the grassland immediately comes into view along the myriad of wildflowers that adorn the site.
Our first Lepidoptera encounter was the tiny Small Heath Butterfly

The views looking South are quite special.
Not only is this area abundant in Natural History it has a rich Archaelogical one also. The Hill Fort you see in the photo dates back to the Iron Age but examples of earlier Bronze and even Stone Age have been found giving this area a real sense of place.

The wind was light which is rare for somewhere as high as here. Last year when I visited it was quite cool in the stiff breeze.

More Butterflies flew before us. This lovely male Brimstone...

Small White...

Small Tortoiseshell, my first decent shot of the year...
and a Green Veined White feeding on the Wild Thyme..

Then as we rounded the Fort to the Southern side, the specialist species started to appear...
Although very much faded I think a female Adonis Blue...

and a very faded male Chalkhill Blue, seen here in numbers this is feeding on a Round Headed Campion...
The steep slope yielded yet more chalkland specialists. The one I had hoped for.. a Silver Spotted Skipper. In this case. a female laying her eggs....

Suddenly Skippers were everywhere, I could hear Chris calling me everytime he saw one!
'Okay' I shouted back..'Got one here too!' I replied excitedly.

The Adonis males were now showing well too. Something Chris was hopeful of seeing which I was glad of after dragging him all this way!
Those iridescent sky blue wings are a sight to behold. Sometimes you think you are mistaken with that of a Common Blue, but when you know, it's like the difference between a good covers band or the Rolling Stones! 

To take our attention away from the Butterflies there were many Common Green Grasshoppers around. I think 'common' does it a disservice. Such as striking insect.

The sentiment around the hill was all about reproduction. Certainly when it came to the Lepidoptera. The Skippers carried on their ovipositing in the undergrowth ready for next years offspring.
Chalkhill Blues mated before us. The first I had witnessed. Such as special moment. I felt privileged to be with them at that moment and just a little intrusive on their intimate coupling so close...    

As I cast my eye over the hill above, it dawned upon me the scale of the flora and fauna before us  and how fragile the ecosystem is when all matters are taken into account. Butterflies are really on the edge when all is observed as a whole. This could all be lost in a matter of a few years. 
Shrugging off the negative distant thoughts, my concentration focus back onto the present.

Although the photograph doesn't do it justice against the Adonis. This is a Common Blue I happened across. Still beautiful nonetheless.

..and the Green Grasshoppers still pouted for the lens... the tarts!
The Silver Spotteds' still abounded. We must have seen at least 40 individuals which was a good count for this year for us.

As we stood observing, we happened across an older chap who regaled memories of times passed on the hill and beyond. It turned out he lives near me and gave us some important information on the local area. Including a supposed rare flower..The Autumn Gentian... that was flowering on the slope in front of us. Upon cross checking in my flower book it wasn't that rare after all. Locally common was the description! 
Meadow Browns were still profuse and probably the most common but still I couldn't resist a shot or two...

Looking South towards the sea the Farmers were reaping the harvest below us..
Before us the Elderflowers were in full fruit and waiting to be plundered.It was seeming to be a mast year or in other words a year when the natural bounty is at it's most proficient. This happens every three to seven years. 
Chris and I were rounding the top of the Fort and on our last leg of our journey.
Red Admirals tucked into the Hemp Agrimony below us as we negotiated the top path.

Small Tortoiseshells' could be seen around the flowers too and it was then I heard Chris shout a name I was after all year.. Painted Lady!! It fizzed past too quick for my trigger finger and was gone without a bye or leave. I'm sure I will catch up with one before the year is out...
As I lagged behind Chris we spotted Spotted Flycatchers in the canopy below us. It was turning out to be a very good year to see them.

Although very distant. They were exciting to watch flitting around the tree tops. We could count at least half a dozen
My attention was taken back onto the hill though and the Tortoiseshells again with Chris wondering what I was photographing...

Nearing the end of the Hill Fort we could hear the distinctive chuckle of a Green Woodpecker as it flew down the valley, in this instance it was chased bizarrely by some Swallows and Sand Martins. We could only wonder why they would take umbrage against a predominately ant eating bird?

And so our end of Summer walk drew to a close with Brimstone and Whites serenading us back to the car park. 

Autumn wasn't too far away, the Blackthorn Sloeberries indicated this as we decanted ourselves back into the cars. Seasons and life changes but I welcome every one with relish and anticipation...

The title of this post is from the song 'All things must pass' by George Harrison

This post is dedicated to the memory of  Chris's Father who past over last weekend. My thoughts are with you all xx