Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Counting butterflies

I love counting things - any thing - it doesn't have to be birds, plants, moths or butterflies. It could be books, or albums, or photographs. It is a bit of an illness really, a Tourette's of adding things up. I find myself automatically doing so when driving, having a bath, or, like this morning, out walking...

07.15hrs saw me on Park Downs and not only was it already warm, there were at least three figures of butterflies flying above the flower-rich grassland. These I had to count! A zig-zagging route was embarked upon, with care taken to not recount sections of meadow. My final tally was a bit of a shock as I'd recorded just over 1,000 Marbled Whites. They really were a sight, flitting just above the sward, some spiralling up in combat and then veering off into nearby scrub. They were skittish and didn't settle that easily. Also on the wing were Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Skipper, Small Heath and 4 Dark Green Fritillary. It was barely 09.00hrs.

I now had the bit between my teeth, so decided to walk the length of Chipstead Bottom, from Fames Rough in the west to the Holly Lane meadows in the east. It was memorable, as the flower-rich meadows held thousands of butterflies, a constant shimmering presence above the vegetation. This time there were more Meadow Browns (2,270) although the Marbled White count was an impressive 1,760. These are very much conservative counts, the true tallies must be much higher. I didn't ignore the plants, with the Hither Field and Valley Meadows holding a minimum of 3,500 Pyramidal Orchids. The abundance of flower, mainly Cat's-ear, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Yellow-rattle, Rock Rose, Hairy St. John's-wort, Red Clover, White Clover, Wild Thyme and various trefoils was outstanding.

Some people may question the value of putting a number to a species that is clearly impossible to count with pin-point accuracy. However, I feel that this is preferable to purely suggesting that a species is 'abundant' or 'present in hundreds' or 'low thousands'. What does that mean? 300? 500? 2,000? 10,000? At least giving a firm figure allows future naturalists/researchers a baseline. If I repeat the process next year I have something to compare it to - and so do other people. Apart from that, it's fun doing so. What can be better than wandering flower-rich chalk downland surrounded by butterflies?

Monday, 29 June 2015

A great flowering

Over the weekend I paid a brief visit to Banstead Downs. The amount of flower on show was terrific - locally we seem to be experiencing a great flowering at the moment, at least on our precious chalk downland. The most eye-catching was this Kidney Vetch, which will be good news for the Small Blue colony, as this is their food plant. There was plenty of Fairy Flax, Bird's-foot Trefoil and Dropwort also on show. The only slight downer was that the patch of Basil-Thyme (very local in Surrey) is much smaller this year. It seems to be getting crowded out by coarse grasses.

Friday, 26 June 2015

At last a Banstead Cypress Carpet

I've been expecting a Cypress Carpet to come along and pay me a visit here in Banstead for some time now. This species has become established (albeit patchily) across the south of England, and 'my' part of Surrey seems to be a bit of a stronghold. However, whereas other local lepidopterists to the north, south, east and west of me casually reel them in, I have failed - until last night (see above).

So, Cypress Carpet joins an ever increasing list of species that, back in 1987 when I first starting recording here, were but flights of fancy - Toadflax Brocade, Small Ranunculus, White-point, Tree-lichen Beauty and Jersey Tiger to name but five. What next?

Thursday, 25 June 2015

6250 and 354

The two 'orchid fields' at the northern end of Park Downs have really got to me. I have spent much of the last 36 hours wondering just how many orchids there actually are. After Tuesday's visit I put the Pyramidal Orchid figure at c3,000 and the Bee Orchid total at 100+. This morning I went back and counted them...

One person, even if they methodically criss-cross the two moderately-sized fields, is not going to come up with anything other than an approximation of the number of plants on show, but I can confidently claim that there are certainly no fewer than 6,250 Pyramidal and 354 spikes of Bee Orchid. Most of the former species are towards the top and middle of the fields and those of the latter at the base of the slope. In one small area (maybe 20m x 5m) I counted 114 Bee Orchids alone.

I didn't stop to look at much else, although was pleased to come across quite a bit of Smooth Tare, and butterfly numbers had picked up, mainly Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites.

If you live nearby it is certainly worth a visit. I will be going back for sure!

There were very few paler flowered Pyramidals
Many of the Bee Orchids are huge!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A bit more about Park Downs

You can read about Park Downs (and the work of the conservators) by clicking here.

I'm still bathing in the joy of yesterday's visit and will go back again very soon - there is much to see and plenty to find! A few more images from yesterday to give you more of a flavour of the place:

The northern boundary of the reserve. The yellow flower is Rough Hawk's-beard, a local Surrey species.
Looking south from the picture above. Most of the Bee and Pyramidal Orchids are in this general area.
Grassland detail. bejewelled with the crimson of Grass Vetchling flowers.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Park Downs orchid extravaganza

I was going to write a rambling account of the sheer joy of walking through an area of chalk downland where over 100 spikes of Bee Orchid and several thousand Pyramidal Orchids were on show. I thought the images would say far more than I could... Park Downs is just south-east of Banstead and well worth a visit. At the moment there is a spectacular botanical display that should not be missed. Apart from the orchids, I have never seen so much Dropwort in one place. Stunning.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Daughter's know best

Being a miserable git for a lot of the time, it is surprising that my wife and daughters still find the inclination to be kind to me. Today was Father's Day, one which I always tell them to not worry about - "a load of marketing tosh" - but each year they ignore me and shower me with gifts, cards and love. Today was no different, and after a breakfast accompanied by presents, they suggested a trip out to Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve - I needed no persuasion!

The trip down was highlighted by a low-flying Red Kite in the Billingshurst area, and our arrival at Pulborough was accompanied by the sun coming out and a boost in the temperature. We initially wandered the heathland section where dogs (and our cocker spaniel) can walk. After a gourmet picnic lunch we then waved goodbye to wife/mother (and dog) so that Father and daughters could enter the reserve proper and head down to the edge of the brooks. Bird wise it was understandably quiet, but the plants made up for this with highlights being plenty of Corn Spurrey and a patch of Bugloss. A single Painted Lady was found amongst the more numerous Small Tortoiseshells. It was all most agreeable.

Back at the visitor centre we had to sample the famous (and excellent) cakes. Elder daughter Rebecca was also furnished with her first pair of binoculars, as she is going on an African safari later in the year, (where, I suggested, being without optics would be a terrible state of affairs). All I will have to do is come to terms with a mass gripping off in the autumn, when she returns home with tales of the wildlife that she will have seen! We came home via the Dog and Duck (and pint) at Kingsfold. What a lovely day - thanks girls!