Woodwalton Fen NNR

Having spent a morning photographing Marbled White butterflies and Six-spot Burnet, Brassy Longhorn, and Burnet Companion moths on Trumpington Meadows near Cambridge I was inspired to travel slightly further afield to see if I could find any more interesting species of Lepidoptera. RSPB Hope Farm in Knapwell I remember had been productive on their pre-lockdown open days a few years ago and I remembered they had a wild patch of setaside.

Purple Emperor showing yellow proboscis

Purple Hairstreak

Brassy Longhorn

The farm and reserve are not strictly open to the public at any time other than their open days, but it’s criss-crossed by public footpaths, so you can see some of the site if you’re discrete and don’t stray into the non-public areas. While there were plenty of Meadow Brown, Six-spot Burnet, Whites, and skippers on “wild” margins, unfortunately the wild area now has a crop and so any chance of a range of Lepidoptera beyond the obvious was not going to happen.

Marbled White

So, I hopped over to Overhall Grove, a small woodland not far from Hope Farm. It’s a bluebell wood in spring and also has the relatively Oxslip. I was too late for those, of course, but I did bump into a couple – Stella and Neil – with cameras and scopes and binoculars who were staring at the top of an ash tree. Turns out the tree was host to White Letter Hairstreak butterfly. They were very friendly and full of ideas on where else I might see other butterflies, namely Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserve and the Newmarket “July Racecourse” end of our local Devil’s Dyke.

Purple Emperor in flight

I took the trip to Woodwalten passing an antivivisection encampment on the way and ploughed on through to the Rothschild Bungalow. The oak trees on this site surrounding the bungalow are host to Purple Hairstreak (of which I saw at least a couple of dozen) and Purple Emperor (again maybe a dozen. One of the Purple Emperors had a perch high up in an oak on a prominent bough and would launch itself at any rival Emperors that flew too close. Indeed, it launched itself and saw off quite a few Emperor dragonflies too while I watched.

Burnet Companion at RSPB Hope Farm

Devils’ Dyke was for another morning, this time with Mrs Sciencebase. Stepping out, we spotted a pristine (presumably newly emerged) Painted Lady (not many around this year) and then a host of Chalk Hill Blues, dozens and dozens, perhaps hundreds spanning a stretch of a couple of kilometres that we walked that morning. Also many dozens of Marbled White and an occasional Six-spot Burnet. Another couple spotted a Dingy Skipper, a species I’ve never wittingly seen, but we may have seen it that morning.

Painted Lady

The Pyramidal Orchids were prominent but the much less common Lizard Orchids were past their best and we didn’t see those in bloom.

Six-spot Burnet on Field Scabious

Another species that Stella and Neil had mentioned as being at Devil’s Dyke as well as the Chalkhills was hopefully going to be Dark Green Fritillary. We passed lots of other walkers who hadn’t seen any, but then before we know it, it’s noon and the Frits suddenly appear, perhaps half a dozen or so scattered along the Dyke and being chased by the Chalkhills.

Chalkhill Blue – Male (Left) and female “in copulo”

A second visit to Woodwalton earlier in the day when the Purple Emperors were likely to be feeding on or near the ground was productive and I got snaps of that activity as well as a few better shots of the Purple Hairstreak.

Dark Green Fritillary

So, having perhaps seen fewer than 30 species of butterfly in all my 50+ years, I suddenly “ticked” another five species in the space of a week – White Letter Hairstreak, Purple Hairstreak, Purple Emperors, Chalkhill Blue, Dark Green Fritillary. Earlier in the year I’d seen Green Hairstreak at Les King Wood and last year Silver-washed Fritillary and Clouded Yellow at Waresley Wood. I have to confess I’d seen SWF in Dorset and CY in Greece in 2019), but not seen them locally until 2020.

Purple Emperor
Green Hairstreak
European Peacock

Buff Arches is an astonishing moth that has disguised itself as a chunk of flint on a woodland floor

Some moths use pareidolia to scare away predators by flashing scary “eyes”, others disguise themselves as twigs, bark, lichen, moss. Some opt to look like leaves, yet others have more than a passing resemblance to flowers. Others spend a lowly life looking like bird droppings. This one, however, the Buff Arches, has evolved to resemble a chunk of flint lying on a woodland floor.

More moths on my Imaging Storm website  just follow the “Mothematics” menu

Take a relaxing riverboat trip at dawn for the ultimate in musical inspiration

A (hopefully) soothing instrumental inspired by a peaceful trip on a narrowboat along the Old West River on a midsummer’s dawn, “composed” by 雷竞技官网 . Synth strings, French horns, oboe, clarinet, and glockenspiel played on AKAI keyboard, Taylor six-string for the pseudoclassical guitar, mixing and production by 雷竞技官网 .

I don’t hear anyone else’s melodies or snippets of melodies (and usually with my music I can hear all the influences outloud), so I think I’ve avoided copying the tropes of the wonderful new world, big country, deep south stuff from the likes of Copland, Dvorak, Gershwin, and Moross. Nevertheless, it’s a big sloppy slice of Americana from a Geordie daarn saarf in England rather than the deep south US of A. The sea refuses no river, as they say.

You can stream or download the latest version of the track on BandCamp. I’m still working on it and remixing.

“I pondered whether this wandering refrain heralded dawn or dusk till I realized it was all the same. The Mobius strip of life ties light and river movements through music to eternity, [Dave] moves my soul again”
— Kae, via Twitter

Freedom of movement for European Roller

About a week ago, the birding wires were buzzing with news of a rare visitor to the British Isles – a European Roller (Coracias garrulus). It’s the only Roller to breed in Europe and you usually find them around southern Spain, the Mediterranean coasts and into the Middle East, Central Asia, and Morocco, rather than the British Isles. But, here was one perching on overhead powerlines that cross a farm alongside a busy stretch of Suffolk road.

European Roller

Now, Mrs Sciencebase and myself love a bit of nature as you probably guessed by now, but we don’t tend to “twitch”, we rarely go out of our way to see a bit of wildlife, although it has been known.

European Roller

Usually, we’d combine an off-patch twitch with another trip and so when Mrs Sciencebase mentioned she’d like to visit the Suffolk Wildlife Trust site at Lackford Lakes on our joint day off I agreed and then let her know about the Roller. Fortunately, the short, fast route we’d normally take had roadworks, so we took a diversion that just happened to go along the aforementioned Suffolk road.

Coracias garrulus

We stopped off, just as had done perhaps 100 other birders, set up cameras and scopes and took a good long look at this beautiful and exotic bird that has some of the characteristics of the Jay, the Bee Eater and the Kingfisher, all rolled into one, as it were. When it wasn’t perched on wires or hiding in the hedgerow it was generally flying past us at about 200 metres distance. But, just as we were giving up on getting a decent shot it flew on to the wires about 100 metres away, sat for a while, did couple of barrel roll flights (hence the name) and then headed back to the hedgerow, so I did get a couple of half-decent in-flight photos of this quite exotic and unique bird.

Hard shooting a fasst-moving bird against a bright sky, high shutter speed also means high ISO which means digital grain (noise).