Saturday, 4 July 2015

Hunting for Hairstreaks at Cranford Park

Before I start waffling on like I normally do, I must just point out my photos are not of the quality I would have liked them to be today. I fractured my thumb earlier in the week, and am currently in a splint, so holding my camera was a little difficult. I wasn't intending on going out at all today but the clear blue skies and the lure of the woods was too much to bear....

Anyway, on 1st July Alison Shipley was at Cranford Woods when she spotted a White-letter Hairstreak butterfly. With no camera on her, she quickly grabbed a shot on her phone...

Phone photo by Alison Shipley
As far as we know this could be the first sighting of this butterfly species at Cranford Park.
I went down there today but despite searching along every woodland path, I could not find any.However another friend, Susy Jones, also saw White-letter Hairstreaks today too, but in a totally different location.
photo by Susy Jones
These butterflies only fly in July, and prefer woodland rather than meadows. They are particularly attracted to Elm trees, and are most often seen flying high amongst the tree tops. Eggs are laid July-August and hatch the following spring. Hopefully by the end of this month I might find one in Cranford Park like Alison did.
There were plenty of other butterflies around....
worn looking Speckled Wood

Meadow Brown

Small Skipper
fresh Comma

Red Admiral

tatty looking male Meadow Brown

female Green-veined White

and my first Cinnabar caterpillars of the year
Male Banded Demoiselle
It was very sunny and hot today. I was suffering a bit in my splint, but not as much as this Blackbird was. Actually he was probably doing a bit of 'anting' rather than sunbathing. Some birds like Blackbirds, Thrushes, Dunnocks etc like to lay out flat in the sun to encourage mites to come to the surface and be pecked off. Some birds will even lay on top of ant nests and let the ants climb all through their feathers to help clean them. I watched this Blackbird for over ten minutes before he realised I was there, shook himself off and flew away.....
At the Headland area the Common Whitethroats weren't as visible as last week, with just a couple of fleeting glimpses..
Whilst I was watching the Kestrels (more about them later) a Heron landed in a nearby tree....

Two Red Kites went over as well but I couldn't get both in the same photo...
I checked on the Swallows nest and it's looking good with another rim of fresh mud added to it since my last visit. I took one quick photo so I wouldn't disturb the birds and quietly left. I'm not going to post the photo, or any that I take of them on the nest in the future, until I know the last chick has fledged. It's quite a big deal having Swallows nesting at Cranford Park and I don't want to see them disturbed. Later in the day I caught one of them out hunting and managed a half way decent snap....
There are still no signs of any Little Owlets out and about yet, which is quite surprising as for the last two years the first sightings have always been at the end of June. Maybe this year the Little Owls are going to fledge later. Only time will tell.
The Kestrels, however, are almost bang on target. I still cant count how many youngsters there are, and they still haven't left the security of the woods yet. I found them on the edge of the woodland and deep in the woods today. They're not yet hunting for themselves and so you hear them before you see them. Usually it's a juvenile calling because it's seen one of the adults with food. But I did get to see both adults see off a Buzzard below...
bad photo of a juvenile by the wood circle

adult hunting over the meadows

Adult flying to mob Buzzard
Both adult Kestrels to left hand side with Common Buzzard bottom right

adult and Buzzard
Deeper in the woods I heard the familiar Kestrel call and saw one land in a tree just above me. Sheltered from view by overhanging branches I managed a couple of photos but the light was in my eyes and I had to really lighten the photos to show the bird. It looks as if it has a vole or mouse in the first photo.....

Hopefully next week they'll start the process of learning to hunt themselves. This is when we usually see them on the grass paths in the meadow area, hunting grasshoppers and practising their 'mantling' technique.
Not a bad day despite having my hand strapped up and the weather being just a little on the humid side. Looking forward to my next visit already for updates on both the Swallows and the Kestrels, and with hopeful news of some Little Owlet sightings.


  1. I just need to remind you about something the butterfly picture which is just after the Speckled Wood is of a Gatekeeper and not Meadow Brown.