09/09/2017 Edge Hill University, Ormskirk

Dune Helleborine: (Epipactis dunensis) Amazing to see such a rare and unassuming wild orchid in such a strange place, a grassy verge on the edge of a park in a University!

I've never visited Edge Hill before and strck gold by choosing a Sunday to go, good parking and no one acost me. The uni is a lovley place, with a ornimental pond full of Mallard and lost of manicured garden style areas.


Really good to catch a rare glimpse of a threatened species of orchid, the Dune Helleborine which was discovered back in 2014 were there was fewer than 10 plants, in 2016 this had increased to 86 and this year 2017 the count is at shot up to amazing 198.

This species is nationally scarce with fewer than 100 hectad records for the species.
These unassuming spires rare orchids often occur only in dune slacks at places such as Formby and Sandscale Haws, where it can be present in the hundreds on the dune sides rather than the floor of the slack.


It's flowers are small, yellowish-green and washed pink, with the epichile triangular, broader than long and folded back at the tip.
The leaves are small, yellow-green and arranged in two rows up the stem, typically 30 - 35 cm tall and difficult to spot.
I've read that the best time to see Dune Helleborine and when its generally at its best is around the second and third weeks of July.

 
Thanks to Joshua Styles for sharing his images and reporting his sightings on his Twitter pages, top lad.

30/08/2017 Fermyn Woods Country Park, Kettering

Silver-washed Fritillary: Fermyn woods is one of the places I have recently heard about and have been dead keen to go visit. It's a famous place for butterflies, including the rarer ones such as black hairstreak, purple emperor, white admiral and white letter hairstreak.
Fermyn Woods are an ancient woodlands containing semi-natural oak and ash woods, along with conifer plantations. Situated in the heart of the Rockingham Forest, the park offers access to fantastic woodlands, meadows, thickets, marshes and ponds to explore.
I took the opportunity to make the small diversion on my way to Essex to see my mum and very glad I did as I managed to see almost all my target butterflies.
Purple Emperor: Number one was this beauty, the very large and very tricky to see Purple Emperor or Britain's "rock star butterfly."
They are Britain’s second largest butterfly, with a wingspan of more than 8cm and they are very elusive, flying high in the tree tops of woodlands to feed on aphid honey dew and tree sap.


I saw plenty of large butterflies flying above the tree canopy but never had a decent enough view to spot the emperor, I was about to give up when this stunning female landed right in front of me, affording me some excellent views.










Silver-washed Fritillary: The woods were awash with all sorts of bugs, birds and butterflies and it was deep in the woods where I saw the largest populations of Fritillaries.




This butterfly is our largest fritillary and gets it's name from the beautiful streaks of silver found on the underside of the wings, look close here and you will see no 'pearls' but silvery steaks.









White Admiral: Another new butterfly to add to my list was this, the White Admiral, another woodland species and a delight to behold as it literally glides along forest rides, flying from tree to forest floor and back up with only a few effortless wing beats.
For this reason, some of its closest relatives on the continent are known as "gliders".


I could have spent all day here, not just because it was miles away and took me ages to get to but it is a brilliant little place. It was a shame I had to leave to complete my journey to Southend.
Marbled White: In the middle of the park, between the visitor centre and woodlands there is a small raised area which contains a wild flower meadow.
Spend some time here and you will see the marvellous marbles White butterfly.
The word awesome is sometimes an overused and overrated word.....but in the case of Fermyn Woods Country Park, the word awesome is very apt!

The place was full of fluttering butterflies.

26/06/2017 Bold Moss, St Helens

Marsh Helleborine: This stunning and somewhat inconspicuous little wild orchid can be found in northern parts of the British Isles, ranging from northern England to central Scotland. Although the Marsh helleborine is uncommon in the Lancashire, it can be found in a small number of locations.

One of which is Colliers and Bold Moss NR which was created on the spoil and waste from the Bold Colliery and Power Station. The result is a brilliant local NR which has a lot of different habitats from extensive reed bed, raised peat bogs, and wetland areas.






This plants Latin species name 'palustris' means 'marsh' and refers to the habitat where it can be found, Marsh Heleborines occur on fens, in alkaline-rich marshy fields and on sand dune slacks (the valley between sand dunes).

The best time to spot it is when it is in flower; between July and September.










This plant has very attractive and brightly coloured flowers which are either brownish-purple or creamy-green. The base of the lips of the flowers are marked with dark purple-to-red veins, and the outer edges are somewhat 'frilly' in appearance.
This was a first for me, so thanks to David Greenall‏ and Ray Banks for sharing the sightings on Twitter.

24/06/2017 Orrell Water Park, Wigan

Ruddy Shelduck: After a quick trip to see the local Cattle Egret at Lightshaw Flash and bumping in to Steve Burke I headed across to the other side of Wigan to snap some pictures of some fence hoppers!
The unringed individual was picked up on the 22nd of June as posted on MBF, and at the time it was unclear if the bird had a ring or not. However this still isn't solid evidence of a true wild bird.
Some Ruddy Shelducks are obvious escapes as their behavioural evidence would suggest, for example being tame and occurring in unlikely environments such as town parks, ornamental lakes and even village ponds and associating with Mallards and Canada Geese. All of which this bird was exhibiting.
Ruddy shelduck have a long history of occurring in Great Britain but are mainly described as escaped from captivity, although some old records, up to 1946, are officially treated as wild vagrants from their native range.
There are sometimes small influxes from non-native populations on the near continent of which a few pairs have recently bred in Norfolk.
However despite this bird having no rings on its legs I feel its still too tame to be a true wild vagrant.
Still a lovely bird to see!











Mandarin Duck: Amongst the local mallards funky looking hybrid ducks Orrell Water Park had more fence hoppers on offer, a female Mandarin was happily loafing about with the resident ducks.
It's a funny old place Orrell, full of scally lads fishing and smoking cannabis, while children on bikes and dog walkers use the facility, all giving me some odd looks while I crouched down and took pictures of some ducks!


22/06/2017 Heysham Moss Nature Reserve, Morecambe

Large Heath: Keen to tick another new butterfly species I headed over to Heysham Moss where you can find a small population of Large Heaths from a Lancashire Wildlife Trust reintroduction program, with funding from the Lancashire Environmental Fund and project partners Chester Zoo.
Sadly back in April this little gem of a Nature Reserve was struck by a devastating fire which destroyed a large part of the rare and vital habitat which was supporting this special butterfly.

The really sad thing is that arson or carelessnes was believed to have started the fire!
So it was really good to see a dozen or so fluttering about the reserve, many over the burnt out raised bog!


21/06/2017 Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve, Southport


Dark Green Fritillary: After another early breeding bird survey, I decided to continue my butterfly adventures and to visit the nearby Ainsdale Dunes.










This extensive dune system on Sefton Coastline is one of the largest areas of wild dune left in Britain and is the best place to see green frits in Lancashire.





The Dark Green Fritillary gets it's name from a dark greenish tinge to the undersides of its wings, which are decorated with large silver spots known as 'pearls.'


It takes a bit of patience to get a good view of one, as they tend to be very active, hurtling around in search of nectar. This large fritillary is a strong flier and when on the wing is forever fluttering about and stops to feed only for a few seconds before continuing it's fluttering.


But when they do stop they are just simply beautiful little creatures!
There are few better ways of spending an hour on a warm summer's day than sitting quietly and watching these butterflies feed.

19/06/2017 Arnside Knott & Warton Crag

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary: It's that time of year again where the sun is out and the birds are off busy breeding and not migrating so we birders turn our attention to Lepidoptera.

First stop, the very beautiful Arnside Knott, Cumbria.
This is an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is generally considered to be the best place for butterflies in northern England.

Arnside Knott is famous for it's Fritillary butterflies which include High Brown, Large Green and Small Pearl-bordered.
Small Pearl-bordered was one of my main target species and I wasn't let down, they were everywhere! One needs a close view of its underside to be sure of identification but the number 730 marking on the upper side can help.
Northern Brown Argus: My second stop was Warton Crag. This is a nationally important area of limestone habitat including grassland, woodland and limestone pavement.
Warton Crag boasts supporting some of Britain’s rarest butterflies, including Peal Bordered Fritillary and High Brown Fritillary, as well as an array of other rare invertebrates and plants.
One of it's top butterflies is the Northern Brown Argus and I was keen to get my first look, so waited around the limestone pavement areas in the heat of the day.
I was about to give in as I was melting before a single butterfly flew right past me, landed only for a moment, then took off again not to be seen.


Brilliant!






Hummingbird Hawkmoth:  On my descent down the limestone pavement a Hummingbird Hawkmoth caught my eye.

These incredible moths beat their wings at such speed they emit an audible hum. Their name is further derived from their similar feeding patterns to hummingbirds.
Large Skipper: Both Warton and Arnside had good numbers of Large Skippers, which were much more amiable then the other smaller butterflies which never stood still for long!
Chimney Sweeper Moth: I was surprised to come across the Small Blue Butterfly as I thought they were localised to the Northern Highlands and the South of England.






However my excitement didn't last long as the flutterby showed me its under wing and unlike the spotted pale blue of the Small Blue I saw the dark under wings of a day time flying moth called the Chimney Sweeper Moth.
These are typical day time flying moths which like limestone habitats.
Small Heath: This is the smallest of our 'browns' and is closer in size to a skipper, or Common Blue than it's relatives, such as the Meadow Brown. However, it's fluttering flight is quite different from that of the skippers and blues and is relatively easy to identify in the field. These too were abundant on both Arnside and Warton.