Friday, 13 July 2018

July 12th Minsmere, Theberton Woods and Mousehold Heath

In an attempt to blackout the heartbreak following England's semi final defeat to Croatia last night, my friend David took me to Suffolk to try and see purple emperors at Theberton Woods. It was three years ago since he last brought me here and while I did see them then, I failed to get a single photo of one. This time, we arrived to Theberton with thick cloud cover blocking out the sun and though there were several purple hairstreaks on the wing, there was no sign of any purple emperors. So after some time past, we decided to come back later. In the meantime, we travelled a few miles down the road to Minsmere to kill some time.

When we arrived at Minsmere, we were greeted at the car park with a sighting of a green woodpecker on a tree nearby. The sun was also starting to make a breakthrough and the cloud cover was slowly clearing by the minute. The sun's arrival brought more insects out, including many species of butterflies and dragonflies (such as grayling, common blues, a small copper, brown hawkers and common darters). The colony of bee-wolves along a section of the main path leading to the beach was attracting a lot of attention and a volunteer was there to give a talk about the lifestyle of these solitary wasps and the other species that also nest alongside them. I always seem to get so hooked by the goings on of this colony every time as they create burrows and bring in paralysed honey bees to store inside for their larvae to feed on, that it is hard to tare yourself away.
Green Woodpecker
Red Admiral
Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar 
Some kind of Bee or Hoverfly?
Ruby-tailed Wasp
Sand Wasp?
Dyer's Rocket  (Reseda luteola)
Yellow Horned Poppy
Common Blue
Marsh Mallow

For July, Minsmere's birdlife is surprisingly active than usual. Normally when I visit this reserve at this time of year, the birds are on the quiet side. However, today was different. First, a family of bearded tits were pinging and popping up from the reeds surrounding us as we made our way to the beach and East Hide. Then, from the hides, the scrapes were full of kittiwakes, black-headed and Mediterranean gulls, sandwich and common terns, avocets and black-tailed godwits. There was also 50+ little gulls, more than I've ever seen in one place before!
Mediterranean Gull and Kittiwake
Common Tern
Sandwich Tern
Black-tailed Godwit
Sandwich Tern surrounded by Little Gulls
Purple Emperor
After lunch, we made our way back to David's car and returned back to Theberton Woods. The butterflies were much more active now. We joined two other people, who David is acquainted to, at a clearing and we waited for the purple emperors to appear, which wasn't long at all. These majestic butterflies spend most of their time gliding high above the canopy, feeding on the sticky dew on leaves which is the waste product from aphids that feast on the leaves themselves. The emperors also breed and lay their eggs up there too, meaning that photographing them is not easy.

However, they are quite partial to foul smelling things such as dog faeces and rotting fruit that are placed on the ground to lure them to the ground as these sort of things provides the butterfly with valuable nitrates missing in their diet up in the trees. Not that they were interested in these smelly items this time around as they totally ignored them. Thankfully, one did perch on a leaf long enough for me to zoom in and get my first purple emperor photos. Though, I would have loved to have gotten a photo of the male's purple sheened upper side, but it is better than nothing. After that one opportunity, they just continued to play hard to get, obscuring themselves within the leafy canopy and were always on the move with fast moving flights that were similar to one of those polystyrene toy glider planes that I used to get as a kid. They truly are graceful and majestic insects worthy of the title of emperor.

Purple Hairstreak
You would have thought my day with David had ended after success with the purple emperors? Well there was more as after dark, David and I went out again, this time to Mousehold Heath. We were to help out with Will on the first ever official bat survey. It was pretty successful as we recorded plenty of common and soprano pipistrelles with Will's bat detector as we made our way to various points around the site. The survey didn't finish until 11:30pm and I was pretty tired by the end of it, but it was worth it and there was the added bonus of seeing a hedgehog rustling through the leaves.

Will with the map of the route
Off on a bat survey!

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