2019 / 62
Butterfly Transect Week 13
13:15 – 16:30 Hot, bright and sunny afternoon, 24°C throughout. Light 1 S
One of those days.
Everything came right this afternoon, and I am writing now on a high after one of the most rewarding, uplifting and altogether ‘rich’ sessions that have just made me fall even deeper in love with this Wood. 14 Butterfly species, and 26 birds.
The inscape is powerful, the instress tangible:
Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:
There is one notable dead tree . . . the inscape markedly holding its most simple and beautiful oneness up from the ground through a graceful swerve below (I think) the spring of the branches up to the tops of the timber. I saw the inscape freshly, as if my mind were still growing, though with a companion the eye and the ear are for the most part shut and instress cannot come.
Encapsulating the sense of bringing together that I felt this afternoon
JRR Tolkien (On Fairy Stories, 1978) wrote more spiritually, pertinent to my current estranged circumstance:
‘Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed
Dis-grace he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
This Wood is my sanctuary, my place. She has become a part of me, and I of her.
I intend to explore a n organised Wellbeing Woodland Walk soon. A new interpretation of the WWW acronym perhaps.
Walk With Me
We’ll start here at the top, inside the barrier, where it really is quite hot. The cut beech at the entrance should host some wonderful bracket fungus in time. There is still Herb Robert flowering all around, various small pink and yellow other flowers I don’t recognise, and Rosebay Willowherb towering up now alongside the splendid Foxgloves. To the right, there’s an angry Blackbird striking his metal-on-metal repeating mechanical alarm, and another response with the explosive clucking that tells everyone of our presence. Lots of Blackbirds today – 15-20 birds around the site. Adults, juveniles, females with food. It’s a busy time.
Given the heat, we’ll start in the shade of Larpers Lane, and within just a few minutes of here the Wood’s presence closes in, embracing and assured. Cortisol subsident, Tranquility descends
Another Blackbird skitters in the leaf litter. Squirrel somewhere higher.
Within the woodland, my eyes see only green and light, merging and filtered one through the other. Movement of any kind other than my own is barely perceptible, and I pass from one scene to the other scarce aware of any change between them, as if I am moving through stained glass windows. A thousand buzzing insects and hoverflies rise and fall, glittering in and out of the shafted sunbeams where the grass ‘lawn’ lies marking the entrance to the Court.
Listening to the stillness, we can hear a Bullfinch somewhere, a Blue Tit closer and to the right one of only two Blackcaps singing this afternoon. It is only possible to move slowly, and when a particularly bright glimmer catches my eye, I step off the path a few metres to surround myself in the space between interlaced brackens, bramble and holly. It’s a female Beautiful Demoiselle, shimmering copper wings and iridescent blue/green, skipping around an ivy clad larch trunk. As she sits out in the warmth, I settle into watching and seeing. There are at least two more with her and there delicate ‘otherness’ is captivating. There are couple of young Dunnocks creeping about a few feet further down, and a Large Skipper comes by on its drunken way. Stillness and wonder. White-tailed Bumble Bees, and a hidden Firecrest calls. One of two.
Left to right suddenly, unannounced and unexpected – a Silver-washed Fritillary! Huge and orange, intent on passing straight through and scarcely giving me a chance to register its unmistakeable ID. Wow! I am of a mind to follow it, but the internal complexity of the Wood here makes passage any further impossible, and I respect the privacy. The Fritillary has gone in a couple of seconds, and I am left practically jumping for joy! This is the main target species for our work here, so of course I would like a better view. My personal 20th butterfly species; we will look for it later in the wayleave, Q1 or Q2somewhere.
At the puddle, two Speckled Woods grounding to feed, one Meadow Brown (MB) in the grass at the side; and a screaming Jay to wake me up…
Just as well really, as most of an hour has already passed. I lose all sense of time here, and start up the Crossing rather more purposefully. Here the sun is high overhead, the sandy track is dry and hard – and butterflies abound at the edges. This is Transect Section 3, and counting up and down here back towards Velmore and the main track, tallying on the count form is almost non-stop:
4 Large Skippers
1 Large White
15-20 Meadow Browns
10 Small Skippers
3 Ringlets – the first record is year. Restless things, not one actually settles.
It is good to anticipate things, and spectacularly failing to disappoint – two White Admirals are patrolling the bramble patch at the bottom end. These don’t want to settle either, but see how they fly differently, on much flatter wings, resting open on the warm ground? Stunning creatures, even if they are playing hard to get today… That’s eight butterflies already, 40-50 individuals.
Its a degree or two cooler at the bottom here, and the breeze has picked up for a flurry. But other than the trembling grass, it is still and profoundly quiet. No birdsong, no traffic; through trees in summer-darkness, background dissolves…
Section 4, from here to the Gorse Gap and its hot again immediately. I am watching and recording half a dozen more MBs when a Blue passes between two hollies within Upper Velmore. No chance to barely even see it or take action to pursue when my reverie is disturbed by the piercing yap of a Hobby close by! Of course, I had forgotten I was within seeing distance of the nest, but it remains steadfastly invisible. I can trace the call though, and its a male sitting high in a larch down near the stream. I barely have to move and he’s gone, an effortless graceful swoop to the track and away. A few Coal Tits respond to his alarm, and my eye catches another sparkle. The dazzling white wing spots of a splendid Red Admiral feeding on the bramble flowers in a small glade. Flitter, flutter and across the track ahead of me, coming down to rest where the mud is and the track crosses the stream. Ten now.
Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush calling, a couple of Meadow Browns, a moment with another White Admiral, two Speckled Woods and a scuttle in the grass. Just in a flash, and I see the tail end of a Common Lizard dashing off. Looking out across the clearfell, I get the First Awareness that this is ‘something special’ today, and take a few moments reflection here at the stream to watch the tadpoles. Still here, still wriggling, and still without legs…
Once out of the tree cover, the sun is unhindered and hot. Uncomfortably so, were it not for the space that expands above the clearfell. The sky is huge, blue and endless. Coal and Long-tailed Tits twittering, and few Tawny Mining Bees low to the dust above their volcanic entrance holes. I am watching a Goldfinch in full song, as two more fly out from the larches, their wings translucent and lovely. Above a-chattering. Swallows! Local birds no doubt, but at least six of them. No wait – more, perhaps a dozen, feeding on the emergent flying ants.
Speaking of which – what’s that? Really high directly over head. Far too small to be a plane, but it really is a LONG way up. Gleaming white, reflecting and glinting in the sun. A gull,yes. But, so, so white. Or is that just the sun playing tricks? To the right slightly, a few degrees over, there’s another, moving slowly in the same direction. Mediterranean Gulls! I had 80 over the garden in Swanmore on Tuesday, and in the last week or so various flocks and roving birds have been picked up all over the place. Impossibly high, but on the list. 79th bird species recorded now, and 64 this year. Herring Gull too, equally high moving north, and a Buzzard.
Section 5 runs along North Drive between the Gorse gap and Where the Tracks Join. The corvid roost site is quiet during the afternoon, but there are a couple of crows and some pigeons here that are notable due to their absence everywhere else. And a strident Nuthatch too. A singing Chiffchaff and a large male dragonfly. Probably an Emperor, but I am useless with these…
Butterfly count records: 8 Meadow Browns (probably at least 30 here today); 6 Small Skippers; 1 male Brimstone (11); 4 more restless Ringlets and one White Admiral. It is really quite hot here now. I am sweating in shirtsleeves and can feel the sun on my head. There is a haze over the clearfell, and the scene is shimmering. There are Browns, Skippers and another Large White among lots of crickets and grasshoppers, buzzing like tiny Nightjars. Among the butterflies, something larger and strikingly pale – two sun-bleached Painted Ladies. Fabulous, and 12. They are migrants, many in the country just now, and these keep low to the ground.Another first record this year and I am bursting with wellness and contentment now. Can I possibly find anything else?
I love this place. I’m watching a family of Robins in the bracken. Whistling and squeaking, an anxious parent tap-tapping and fussing around. There are Great Tits in a hazel; a single Chaffinch flies in calling; and a second family of Dunnocks. I assume its one of these that swoops up into silver birch at the side of the track, but when it sits upright on a familiar bare branch behind the trunk, I know it isn’t. It is, to my absolute delight, probably the same Spotted Flycatcher I met here two weeks ago! Yes, it can still get better! And this bird is carrying food. The classic portrait, speckled crest, white throat and a big moth in its beak. Its off to that oak. There’s a nest someone, though I have no inclination to find it.
Spirit soaring now, with the vapour trails and streaming aircraft. And I have still have to walk Sections 2 and 1 – all in reverse order today.
On the way up to Section 2 (wayleave Q2) I cut through Q3 and pause for refreshment at the stream. Despite the blazing heat it is cool here,a nd the water if painfully cold on my face, hands and the back of my neck. I am touching the water, feeling its movement and urgency. For the first time, tracing my fingers through its gentle resistance. There are tadpoles here too – equally late in development. A female dragonfly, and a few rown Silverlines in the bracken. Time to release a huge sneeze, skittering Blackbirds and alarming a Nuthatch. Chiffchaff, Bullfinch, Song Thrush and Jay calling.
At Velmore, the grass is a tapestry of subtle colour, texture and tones
Perfect for the next butterfly. Two Marbled Whites – among my favourite of their kind. They have an enigmatic quality and bring a different delight. Why is that? There are two more in Q1 later, and another on the eastclearfell. Typically I see these for only one or two weeks of the year, and in ones or twos.
Stand and watch. See and Be
A dozen more MBs and a half dozen Skippers.
Is that the first Wren I’ve met this afternoon?
Another Bullfinch, and a small charm of Goldfinches jangling.
There’s a crash in the bracken, a deer. A Muntjac – nervous and hurried. Clumsy, and gone. he barks, startled.
I am looking for the Bugle, to photograph it – but there is nothing in flower? Perhaps it only comes out in the cooler evenings. I know very little about plants.
Six more Meadow Browns 3 Large Skippers and two more White Admiral encounters along Section 1, and I arrive in the relative cool and wildness of Q1, that section of the wayleave that we haven’t cut or managed. It is here I am hopeful of encountering the Fritillary, so my eyes are keen and sharp, darting form one plant and insect to another intensely. I see a couple of Ringlets, and a flash of orange. Maybe that’s it? Wait no, smaller, and flying more like an Admiral with flat wings. A Comma! Two Commas, and at last an opportunity to photograph something that is prepared to sit still long enough for an amateur like me armed only with a smartphone. Great views though, as if torn from parchment. See its ballerina legs and reedmace antennae.
Incredible experience. Gentle humility and powerful, transcendent grace.
Mediterranean Gull, Firecrest, Hobby and Spotted Flcyatcher
14 Butterflies, including White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary.
The back end of a lizard.
Wood-washed wellbeing. Shinrin-yoku, bathing in light and green.
Stillness and Wonder
Finding myself in the instress of place
Gliding through the long green light
Of a July afternoon
Sliding through a vague conversation…