Flitting about Friday, 29 May 2020

Finishing work in Diss at lunchtime on Friday allowed me to venture to a certain fen for my annual visit. I was surprised and delighted to find and count 31 Early Marsh Orchids ssp. ochroleuca in the usual spot (which I call 'site A'). A walk to a nearby area ('site B') resulted in a blank for the second year running. 'Site C' which had a single caged plant last year also has none in 2020.
I did find my first Early Marsh Orchid ssp. incarnata for the site and the first few Common Spotted Orchids and Southern Marsh Orchids just starting to come out. One of the latter was a 'Leopard Marsh Orchid' with very heavly blotched leaves which I shall pop back to look at in the coming weeks. Also aroudn the fen I found Water Violet, loads of Gromwell, Lesser Stitchwort, Water Forget-me-not, Butterwort, Marsh Lousewort, Ragged Robin, lots of Four-spotted Chasers, 2 Broad-bodied Chasers (m&f) with the female actively egg-laying and a Burnet Companion moth. A very vocal Cuckoo was all over the place and presumably un-paired.

Early Marsh Orchids ssp. ochroleuca

Early Marsh Orchid ssp. incarnata 

'Leopard Marsh Orchid'

Water Violet

Broad-bodied Chaser

 Burnet Companion

Later in the afternoon, after dropping Belinda at Weybread I had a quick look at Winks Meadow where I found just one Frog Orchid spike which is still a way off flowering. Last years single Southern Marsh Orchid has popped up again but this year it is tiny!

Frog Orchid - almost!

 Southern Marsh Orchid

I met up with Jus in Wymondham in the evening after popping in to my local RNR and seeing Dyer's Greenweed and Sulphur Clover. In Wymondham Cemy we found c3 Spotted Flycatchers and a Treecreeper while over the road in Tolls Meadow we had a robust clump of 6 Southern Marsh Orchids, Blue Weevil, a huge cranefly Tipula maxima and a Sparrowhawk carrying prey. Along the lane we also found a nice area with loads of Wild Clary just as we bumped into Dave Russell for a socially distanced catch up.

Dyer's Greenweed

Sulphur Clover

Blue Weevil

Southern Marsh Orchids

Wild Clary
On Saturday I added Great Spotted Woodpecker to my garden 'apocolist' (no.49) and had my first Meadow Brown of the year in the garden too.

Big brother censorship

Tonight I feel compelled to write about some appalling and unjustified censorship I have been subject to this evening.

Readers of this blog may have seen my post about Chequered Skippers a couple of days ago. Today I posted some photographs on a UK Butterflies Facebook page being careful not to divulge any site information. Indeed my post just said 'Northants' so gave away far less than anyone could find out with a very quick google search. Within a very short space of time I received a message from the Northants butterfly recorder and an email from the Rockingham Forest Project Officer (who I had helped out with full gps details of my sighting and photos for their project) both asking me to remove my photographs from everywhere on social media. I politely declined explaining that I had given no location details and reassured them that I hadn't and wouldn't divulge any site details. Shortly afterwards I discovered that my post had mysteriously vanished. Mmm? Strange that.

I fully understand the need to keep things hush unless or until the species is fully established in its new home. In everything I have posted I have been extremely careful not to give locations away which makes this all the more galling.

Of course, these people can't censor or remove posts from this blog or things from my personal Facebook or Twitter accounts.

If anyone wants to do the homework and investigations I did to find out the site details it's all out there on the 'dark web' - it just takes some work, understanding of habitat requirements and the willingness to tramp those woodland rides looking...


The endangered Purple Milk-vetch, 27 May 2020

Purple Milk-vetch is listed as 'endangered' in the British Vascular Plant Red Data List and is a plant I'd never seen before. It is easily overlooked being small and very low-growing, this combined with its scarcity is probably why!

Its main habitats are species-rich short, dry and infertile calcareous grassland, on both limestone and chalk. Locally the Brecks is its stronghold and it was at Cranwich Camp near Mundford where I caught up with it today. I found it in 3 places including on Cranwich Heath a mile or so away. Also there I saw Small Heath and Common Blue butterflies, Field Mouse-ear, Wild Mignonette, Bladder Campion, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Nipplewort and Colour-changing Forget-me-not. Birds included Willow Warbler, Yellowhammer, Mistle Thrush and Common Whitethroat.  

At a nearby 'Roadside Nature Reserve' I found a very strange pure white Greater Knapweed amongst many of the more normal coloured ones plus aromatic Wild Marjoram

On the way home, a species-rich roadside near Goose Green caught my attention while driving past and closer inspection revealed some lovely Sainfoin and Cut-leaved Cranes-bill amongst the commoner species.

Purple Milk-vetch

Field Mouse-ear

Bladder Campion

Colour-changing Forget-me-not

Greater Knapweed

Greater Knapweed 'var. alba'

Cut-leaved Cranes-bill


Quest for an English Chequered Skipper, 25 May 2020

This story began as a quest to see my last British butterfly, the Chequered Skipper. Belinda and I had booked a holiday cottage in Scotland for this week with that being my main aim. I don't need to tell you that our plans had to be cancelled due to the ongoing virus crisis. This left me high and dry and hoping that 2021 might be the year I completed my butterfly list instead.

Then I had a thought - what if I could find a Chequered Skipper nearer to home now we are allowed to travel a bit more? I knew that the species was subject to a reintroducation scheme in the Rockingham Forest in Northants in 2018 but much searching of the internet just kept coming up with the phase 'at a secret location in the Rockingham Forest'. Those familiar with that area will know it consists of a vast area of scattered woods, the remnants of a much larger tract of ancient woodland now confined to history. The species used to occur here of course but became extinct in England in 1976. So, I kept delving and over a period of days narrowed the possibilities down to 3 woods. It seemed like a tall order to find one but having looked in detail at each of the woods I knew which one I thought I'd start with.

So, yesterday, my 55th birthday was earmarked for a day out in the area and checking all 3 woods if necessary! The weather was perfect but as we neared the location I recall saying to Belinda that I rated our chances as less than 10%. In the woods for about 20 minutes we bumped into a retired husband and wife sporting binoculars and got chatting in a socially distanced way. And confirmation from them that we were in the right wood was music to my ears! Nevertheless, despite them living nearby and being regular visitors they'd never seen one. My brief surge of optimism promptly plummeted! We bid them farewell and resigned ourselves to looking for the rest of the day if need be. Exploring a likely looking ride we met 2 other people doing the same as us but everyone was secretive and furtive and it was winks all round without the species ever being named. So, we kept on looking, walking ride after ride in the hot sun and seing nothing but Small Heaths and the odd Dingy Skipper. We decided to head back to the car for water and some luch and to re-group. On the way back we bumped into the Butterfly Conservation Project Officer for Rockingham Forest who gave me a bit of a grilling as to how we knew where to be - her face! lol! A rather out of place female Scarce Chaser was seen very well on the way back which lifted the spirits somewhat.

After lunch we decided to dive back into the woods for 'round 2'. Walking the same rides again, in particular one good looking ride we still had no luck. Then, as we walked Belinda was a few meters in front of me and called 'what's this flying?'. The specimen in question settled briefly and I swore - badly! It was a Chequered Skipper!! In the next 10 minutes or so we kept tabs on it, it was always flighty but settled at ground level along the same 20 meter stretch of the ride several times allowing me to get some photographs as proof. It always settled with its wings shut. I was absolutely buzzing, it was the best birthday present ever! We even managed to complete the scarce skipper set with a Grizzled Skipper a short while later.

As a postscript - the  Butterfly Conservation Project Officer has since confirmed to me by email that she failed to find any on her transect.

Almost incidently we also had Cuckoo, Garden Warbler, loads of Willow Warblers, 2 Red Kites, Green-veined White, Large White, Speckled Wood, Brimstone, a distinctive Red and Black Froghopper and a female Emperor dragonfly

Chequered Skipper

Dingy Skippers

Grizzled Skipper

Scarce Chaser

Red Kite

Whilst in the area we also visited a couple of other sites a few miles distant, one of which I'd never been to before - Bedford Purlieus. A twitter friend had very kindly given me directions to both Fly Orchids and Birdsnest Orchids and thanks to him we fond both easily. Also there some rather splendid and scarce wild Columbine was growing in a clearing and the dark and sinister Deadly Nightshade was a new plant for me. As was Yellow Pimpernel. Some Common Gromwell, Common Blue and a faded Orange Tip were also photographed in the rather gorgeous woods.

Fly Orchid

Birdsnest Orchid


Deadly Nightshade

Common Blue

Common Gromwell

Orange Tip

 Yellow Pimpernel

We also made a flying visit to Barnack Hills and Holes where loads of Pasqueflowers were a delight  another Red Kite sailed over, we found one small patch of Common Milkwort, Common Rock Rose and some Hounds-tongue.