News of wildlife and other issues

Butterflies in July

 

Following the first sightings of Marbled White butterflies in this area ever - as far as is known - by first Jennifer Charter and then Nick Croft, (see here) my search on the 9th July provided me not only the opportunity to photograph a Marbled White settled on Heather on the SSSI on Wanstead Flats, but a wonderful butterfly-day generally - with a few moths thrown in.

Brown ArgusBrown Argus in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, 10th July 2011

Walking from my home at the Manor Park end of the Flats, I was quickly rewarded with both Essex Skippers and Small Skippers, feeding on the thistles that grow alongside the football pitches. Near the excess growth of Robinia pseudoacacia that grows by the North Copse, a Speckled Wood was flying around, to settle on the leaves of the shrubby growths. These are very common throughout the area in a variety of locations, but more typically in woodland glades and pathways. West of the Copse over the rough grassland was a Painted Lady - the first I have seen this year. There were occasional Meadow Browns in the grassland, and indeterminate white butterflies viewable at a distance. The one or two that I eventually positively identified turned out to be Green-veined Whites. The real mass of butterflies were particularly the mixed-Skippers, again particularly on thistles near the Centre Road car park, but with a few Small Coppers nearby. There were also Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on the Ragwort

The Marbled White - as I have said - was at the east edge of the SSSI by Centre Road, and favoured the heather which was just coming into flower. I continued from the Flats into Reservoir Wood in Wanstead Park, and through past the Shoulder of Mutton Pond. There were more Green-veined Whites on brambles between the Shoulder of Mutton and Heronry Pond, plenty of Meadow Browns in the grassland, the occasional Small Copper there too. Perched on waterside vegetation by the Heronry Pond were a number of very small but distinctive-looking white micro-moths, which I later identified as Cataclysta lemnata. I had headed in that direction because this was near where the first Marbled White had been seen, but in that respect, to no avail.

Fired with enthusiasm for butterflies, I repeated the search the following day - 10th July - but this time headed straight for Wanstead Park. There was a different feel about the day, and it was Small Coppers that were very plentiful - all over the Plain - and some Small Heath and Meadow Brown. Looking at some of the buddleia in Aldersbrook Exchange Lands, the flowers were distinctly butterfly-sparse, most notable being a single Comma. However, the old sewage works site (the Exchange Lands!) was rich with Gatekeepers, plentiful Green-veined Whites, numerous grass-moths which I haven't identified (yet?), quite a number of Small Coppers and Speckled Wood. The big reward of the day was a brown butterfly, which I managed to effectively photograph. A day or two earlier, local naturalist Tim Harris had sent me some photographs of a butterfly he'd photoraphed in the Exchange Lands in June. He thought it may have been a Brown Argus - which is another species not previously known in the area. Although the photographs did look as though it might be that species, it is not one I'm familiar with and I did have some doubts. These have been laid to rest - I would say - because the brown that I'd photographed was definitely a Brown Argus. There were no other blue butterflies in evidence, by the way.

Two new butterfly species for the area in a week or so - that's not bad!

Just to finish, I decided to have a look at "my" end of the Flats today (11th July). That is the area nearer to Alexandra Lake and opposite the Golden Fleece. I didn't determine whether there wereSmall Skippers present but can reasonably assume there were, but got a nice photograph of an Essex Skipper. No Large Skippers, though. There were a number of Meadow Browns, a few Small Coppers, the occasional white - but this time including a Large White. The next "new one" for the last couple of days butterfly-spotting was a Peacock, perching on brambles. Lastly - while trying to photograph an Emperor Dragonfly flying over Alexandra Lake, a large powerful yellow butterfly flew in over the lake, perched for just long enough on some distant Ragwort for me not to zoom-in-and-focus properly, and then flew off in a VTO fashion over the tops of the London Planes. The blurred photograph showed it to be - as I'd thought - a Brimstone. Later on in Wanstead Park, a Small White butterfly, a 6-spot Burnet moth and a Silver-Y moth were added to the list.

My garden by Wanstead Flats affords the opportunity to see butterflies without tripping over ant-hills, but with limited space and habitat. Within the three days - apart from passing-through whites - it is Gatekeepers and Speckled Wood that have provided the mainstay. However - a neighbouring pear tree is usually my first opportunity to notice Purple Hairstreaks, and I've just caught glimpses of what might be the first forays of these.

 

So - three days 15 species of butterfly and four moths - plus some unidentified ones. The breakdown is as follows:

 

 Species Wanstead Flats Wanstead Park Exchange Lands Garden
  TQ 408863 TQ 413873 TQ 422870 TQ 413859
Small Skipper
Essex Skipper
Brimstone
Large White
Small White
Green-veined White
Small Copper
Brown Argus
Painted Lady
Peacock
Speckled Wood
Marbled White
Gatekeeper
Meadow Brown
Small Heath
6-Spot Burnet Moth
Cinnabar Moth (larva)
Cataclysta lemnata
Silver-Y

 

Notable exceptions to those seen were Small Tortoiseshell and Comma.

Paul Ferris, 11th July 2011

 

Update to 'Butterflies in July'

Brown Argus on Wanstead FlatsBrown Argus on Wanstead Flats - 8th August 2005

I mentioned in the article above that Tim Harris' Brown Argus of June 2011 was the first record of this species that I knew of in the Wanstead area. He had looked through his collection of photographs carefully and discovered it. I did the same, and found a photograph that I had taken on 8th August 2005 of a butterfly feeding on Marjoram on Wanstead Flats. For some reason I had labelled it "Small Copper", but it It clearly wasn't that. I should have labelled it as the brown form of the Common Blue, but looking more carefully it seems to lack a distinctive spot on its front underwing and appears to be a Brown Argus. Digital cameras are wonderful things for wildlife records!

Paul Ferris, August 2011

 

Mink in Wanstead Park

The loss on 6th May of six Egyptian goslings (or - strictly - ducklings) just days after hatching may be an indication of the numbers of other birds that we may be losing to predators. The Egyptian Geese were very obvious to everybody, but what of the ones that we don't take so much account of?

As I reported in the article about the geese (here), there are a number of keen predators about, from pike and terrapins through to crows and gulls. For a good few years there have been reports of mink being seen in Wanstead Park - often near the Ornamental Water or the Roding adjacent - but this year particularly mink have been seen in Perch Pond, Heronry Pond and possibly the Shoulder of Mutton too. A single mink will range widely in its search for prey, and has a large territory. The interconnecting conduits between the lakes - and the Dell - would seem to make an ideal out-of-site route for a mink to access all of the Park's waters without much fear of being sighted.

However, recent reports seem to indicate that the mink might not have too much fear of humans: Nick Croft reports one looking at him out of the inflow to the conduit connecting Heronry Pond to Perch Pond, and on 5th July Paul Donovan reported seeing FOUR mink by the Ornamental Water. He says that  "The mink did not seem partcularly wary when i spotted them as they scuttled down onto a ledge by the lake and then looked up at me as i was looking down." He reported them to a Forest Keeper, thankfully, because seeing four may indicate that they have bred. Just one mink is a tragedy for the Park, and much as I don't like the idea of trapping creatures, this problem should have been dealt with some years ago when mink were first sighted.

Hopefully, something will be done about them now.

Paul Ferris, 8th July 2011

Marbled Whites in Wanstead

Walking at the edge of Wanstead Park opposite Aldersbrook School on 4th July, Jennifer Charter says that  she "could not believe her eyes" when she saw a Marbled White butterfly flying over brambles at the base of the Bullet Hill.

Marbled White, Wanstead FlatsMarbled White, Wanstead Flats

A couple of days later - on the 6th - Nick Croft reported seeing a Marbled White at the east end of the SSSI on Wanstead Flats; he didn't get a photograph - he says - because he fell into a ditch while trying to get into position. These are the first known reports of this species from the Wanstead area.

Marbled Whites are typically butterflies of downland and unimproved grassland: there are good colonies at Hadleigh Downs and on Two Tree Island in the Thames Estuary, but I don't know their status in the rest of Epping Forest.

On 9th July I was lucky enough to see one myself, settled on Heather on the SSSI on Wanstead Flats.

These sightings were reported to Rob Smith of Butterfly Conservation, Cambridgeshire and Essex Branch, who checked computer records for Marbled White sightings in the Wanstead & lower Epping Forest areas (TQ48 & 49).  These records go back 20-plus years and the only sighting on record for nearby is on 20th July 2010 where one was seen at Jacks Hill, Epping Forest (TQ434997).

He also checked Corke's book, published in 1997 where there are pre-1900 records at  TQ4096 (which is probablyat High Beech) and TQ4690 which is Fairlop/Hainault.

Many thanks to Rob for supplying that information.

Paul Ferris, 17th July 2011

Knots of Toads

Visiting Heronry Pond on 31st May, at the west end next to the culvert which carries overflow from the Shoulder of Mutton, I saw that there were hundreds - possibly thousands - of small toads clusterd together into two heaps amongst vegetation on the pond's concrete surrounds.

Some were making their way into the pond, and some - it seemed - were coming out of the culvert. This, though may have just been that some had inadvertantly gone in there. In the water there were hundreds more visible on the surface of the water and amongst the vegetation that makes this part of the Heronry Pond so good for wildlife.

This was evidently a natural occurence - that is to say they hadn't been dumped there - but I'm uncertain whether this was for mutual protection, warmth, to stay moist or for some other reason. I have never seen anything like it, although it reminded me of Seamus Heaney's poem "Death of a Naturalist". My experience wasn't quite as awful as the poem recounts, and I've decided to stay a naturalist, but it was certainly mildly disconcerting. Jennifer Charter - whom I called to tell her of this spectacle - had never seen anything like it either, but called me a day or two later to say that the same phenomena had been mentioned at the "Springwatch" base in Wales.

I still haven't heard an explanation of this wildlife-happening, but have managed to discover that a group of toads is called a knot or a lump; images from the video below may show that these collective terms are well-deserved!

 

Paul Ferris, 8th June 2011

 

A  Large Red Damselfly emerges...

On May 9th I was watching Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosma nymphula) egg laying in my garden pond, when I became aware that a larva had climbed out of the pond onto the surround. The pond isn't very large, and is simply a fibre-glass construction with a mix of vegetation surrounding it. There isn't any emergent vegetation, in the form of reeds or the like, so the creature had resorted to climbing the sides.

It looked to be a damselfly larva, and with the expectation that it might hatch I started filming it with my usual still-camera - a Panasonic DMC-FZ38.

Perhaps after the effort of climbing out of the pond, it had difficulty in finding a suitable high-stem and used an inappropriate-seeming stalk with a few leaves that had broken off a geranium. The process began at about 10.30 and lasted through to about 1.15, during which time I managed to get a tripod set up as hand-held in this sort of situation and time-span is a bit difficult!

Once the larva had settled, the actual emergence was very slow and almost imperceptible. Only when it finally broke free of the exuvia was there any real movement, and this was to find a slightly higher position on its tiny geranium stalk to pump up its abdomen and wings. Even this was almost imperceptible; apart from the pumping motion of the abdomen, the lengthening of the wings was a bit like looking at the movement of the hands of a clock.

There was a distinct change in colouring during this process, too - until eventually there was a recognisable Large Red Damselfly sitting on a leaf onto which it had fluttered, and suddenly it had taken off in its first real flight and was gone.


 

Paul Ferris, 8th June 2011