Sunday, 9 July 2017

jolly july

I was supposed to be taking part in the Tour of Fife, Wednesday to Sunday. The night before I opted out, after wondering just how I'd fit it all in. There were work commitments I was reluctant to set aside and transport problems - my chauffeur was otherwise engaged and I'd be reduced to a combo of trains, bike rides and lifts from pals. And there was a party on Saturday that didn't easily sit between the last 2 days racing. In the end I think it was the right decision and I enjoyed finishing my work and attending the party without the stress of racing to races. I also had one of the best runs ever along the coast chasing butterflies on Saturday morning with Mary. 

The forecast hadn't been all that promising, however the skies slowly cleared and it was roasting. As a result there was a LOT of wildlife out and about making a living and multiplying.

pagger on the buddleia

Meadow Brown
I didn't notice the caterpillar on the right until much later.

Right away, before we had gone any distance on the JMW through the golf course, and there were plenty of Meadow Browns and Ringlets skittering around in the long grass, dancing frustratingly mostly just out of reach. A couple of Red Admirals defied the camera and the swallows zipped by also avoiding our lenses. But there was a buzz about the place and I knew the Burnets would be more agreeable just around the corner.

The Five-Spot Burnets were indeed out and about, and so prolific that they had to double up sometimes. Last weekend they had not appeared over the road in the bird reserve and I wondered if we would see them there, and if the micro climate of the golf course being further inland meant the ones here hatched a week ahead. (This seemed to be the case.)

As well as the ladybirds there were cute small orange daylight moths (I thought.)
After a bit of googling I think they are Small Skipper butterflies

Then across the bridge towards Aberlady beach.

We saw this bird of prey briefly, checking out the locals, I'm sure looking to see if any chicks were available to take for lunch. I don't know if any of my bird-watching pals can identify it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same sparrowhawk I saw there recently.

Surprisingly little going on at Marl Loch.

Ringlet and pal

On our run to the coast we were excited to see a couple of Common Blues. As noted here before, they are tricky wee so-and-sos to approach and photo. Having seen one or 2 in the vicinity we stopped and patrolled a couple of different venues where they had appeared and then disappeared into the long grasses. They tend to hang upside down or close their vivid blue wings to show a more camouflaged underside. 

During the hunt I came across more of what I thought were small vivid orange moths. I am pretty sure now they are Small Skippers. I had been on the lookout for Small Heaths, as they were mentioned in a 2014 PDF listing all the invertebrates in the reserve. No mention of Small Skippers and I'd ticked off all the other species mentioned. So I was keeping an eye out for Small Heaths - another member of the dull brown-and-orange family of no great excitement. For a couple of moments I thought I was going to make the headlines with the announcement of Small Skippers in Aberlady Bay (the butterfly bible says they only just come North to the Borders but with warmer weather are moving North continuously, hurray for global warming!) until I realised that although they aren't mentioned in the text of that PDF there is a photo of one at the very top of the page. Ha! re-inventing the wheel again. 

Small Skipper doing distinctive wing thing.

This might be a female as the males have a black sex-brand on the forewings. They are, as the name suggests, very small. Only the great light made it possible to get decent photos.

Those fickle Blues. Not common, not reliable.

I got a few pics of the blues while stomping about the savannah. Mary was 100 yards away and as engrossed in the process as myself. I was far noisier shouting out when a 2 flew out of the Buckthorn bushes and did a couple of laps of my head. She felt the shouting may discourage them. They seemed very flightly whether I was shouting and chasing or standing as still as buddha letting them get away unmolested. 30mins later we called it a day and I told Mary I had never spent so long getting such poor results. (Only later did I realise I had a couple of decent shots.) 

Small Heath (or Meadow brown - almost interchangeable.)

As we went to leave Mary said she heard something in the grass. Thinking it might be a rodent she was reluctant to get her hands in about it. However it turned out to be a rather handsome toad who was happy to have the raised vantage point of sitting on my hand, and surveying the landscape. We thought it was a frog, being so beautiful, but later analysis (warts not smooth, dry not glossy, and crawling not hopping) suggested a toad. We watched its heart beat and throat swallow, totally absorbed by its delicacy. I'm so pleased Mary has become as entranced by the small creatures we come across while out running. At times it almost seems the running is becoming secondary to the animal life and photography.

definitely a Small Heath
which completes the 2014 list of all butterflies spotted at Aberlady

Onwards and upwards and as we ran towards the dunes a couple of Dark Green Fritillaries swept past and had the good grace to pose for photos. They are the kings of the butterflies here, in my opinion and I rarely run near one without getting the camera out and waiting to see if it lands. Obviously they are not very Dark Green. There is a slightly greenish hue to their bodies that differentiates them from the High Browns, Silver Washed, Pearl Bordered, Queen of Spain and Glanville Fritillaries. Don't bother learning their names though, as its almost certain that if you see one round these parts it will be a Dark Green. (Although you might spot a Comma which is similar but looks more raggedy at the wing edges. Haven't seen one this year yet.)

A Blue and a Fritillary in the same shot - it must be Christmas.

white fluffy body on the underside

I carefully lifted this Five-spot Burnet up to get a shot without the distractions of grass and undergrowth. The sun was sparkling off its iridescent wings, and the detail the camera captured was far greater than I could see without a telescope. Spot the tiny feet, rolled up proboscis and glittering wings.

losing it

Ah now, before you say "more of the same" this is the Six-spot Burnet. Each forewing has 6 spots arranged in 3 pairs whereas the Five-spot has 2 in close to the body then a group of 3 towards the wingtip. Sometimes the grouping is the easiest way to see the difference as the innermost pair of the Six-spot can look like just one larger spot and you might count only 5. Why nature has given us several Burnets (about 7) all nearly identical (and a green one) is something you'd have to take up elsewhere. They don't need to avoid predators because they taste unpleasant (I hear). Ideal photography subjects.

One last sad addition  - I'm thinking shrew, but last time I guessed a dead mole George kept me right by suggesting Water Shrew. This one seemed undamaged and most likely had a lovely life before staying out too long sunbathing. Brilliant day brimming with lovelies!

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