5 Jun 2018

5 Jun 18 - Northern Triathlon: Part One

In 2012, I visited Irton Fell in the Southern Lakes of Cumbria looking for Mountain Ringlets which were the only British breeding Butterfly I hadn't seen. Additionally, there is Cryptic Wood White in Northern Ireland, but that till have to wait till I have another reason to head across the water. They had been flying a week or two before & the forecast looked OK. The weather had been glorious in Yorkshire that morning as I looked for my first Large Heaths & I quickly saw at least four.
Large Heath: Crowle Moors, Yorkshire (1 July 12)
Large Heath: Crowle Moors, Yorkshire (1 July 12)
I carried on across the Pennines to Irton Fell in the Southern Lake District only to find the sunshine that was promised for that afternoon hadn't materialised & as I arrived steady rain set in. After a couple of hours kipping in the car, the rain had stopped. However, it was now late afternoon, completely overcast & windier than I would have liked. I had a quick walk up the hill onto the start of the moors anyway to stretch my legs before the long journey home. At least I would at least get a feeling for the site. Needless to say, I didn't see any Mountain Ringlets. Mountain Ringlets have a reputation of only wanting to fly when the sun is out & disappearing deep into the long grass when the weather isn't favourable.
Irton Fell: The views looking West over Sellafield weren't so inspiring on my first visit & I remember it being a lot more overcast than this photo suggests (1 July 12)
Since that first visit, I've been looking for suitable weather to try again. However, in previous years, I've struggled to find confirmation when Mountain Ringlets have been flying at Irton Fell & secondly to find good sunny conditions that fall on a weekend. This year I saw that the Mountain Ringlets had been flying from late May & secondly there was a sunny day on the forecast for the 5 June. Admittedly, this isn't a weekend day, but I've still got a little bit of time before I start looking for a new contract. After a very early alarm call, I made good time & arrived at Irton Fell just after 11. The weather had been improving as I was heading North. However, it was still mainly cloudy, but with the sun breaking through for a few minutes at a time.
Irton Fell: The moors looking East. A lot more blue sky on the second visit & the amount of blue sky got better as the day progressed (5 June 18)
I reached the start of the moor after about 15 minutes. There was another guy scanning for Mountain Ringlets. I checked with him, but he hadn't seen any: although he hadn't been looking for too long. I started to walk around & after about five minutes I saw a small dark Butterfly flying over the moorland grass. It was only slightly larger than the Small Heaths that were also flying. It was smaller than I had expected, but then I hadn't checked how large they were & had naively assumed it would be closer to the size of a Meadow Brown. The dark Butterfly finally landed & I quickly confirmed it was my first Mountain Ringlet. There was time to grab a few quick photos, before it was on the wing again. It flew for about 40 metres before landing again & fast enough that I could only just keep up over the rough ground. It only spent about a minute or so each time it landed, before it was back on the wing. After a few flights, I was briefly distracted & lost it.
Mountain Ringlet: Male. While it's not going to win any photographic prizes, it was good to see my first Mountain Ringlet given it's a 750 mile round journey from Dorset
It wasn't long before I had picked up a second individual in flight & this one, briefly crossed paths with another.
Mountain Ringlet: The second individual I saw was much better marked
After that I kept finding individuals within a few minutes of stopping following the previous individual. On a couple of occasions, I saw three in the air at the same time. It was difficult to be sure of numbers, however, I saw a minimum six in about 100 metres of moorland. All were males & very equally active, although they did generally stop flying every time it clouded over. But within a few minutes the sun & the Mountain Ringlets reappeared.
 Mountain Ringlet: Male. As soon as they landed they spread their wings, so trying to get an underwing shot was always difficult
Mountain Ringlet: Male
Generally, the Mountain Ringlets were either landed on small yellow flowers to feed or on one of the many dried cowpats, perhaps they were marginally warmer than the grass. I found the best approach was to try walking to keep up with them when they flew, as they didn't stay put on the ground for long when they landed. Also they were easy to lose on some of the longer flights, as they kept low to the ground. If they flew behind a patch of long grass they were tricky to relocate if you were not close to them.
Mountain Ringlet: Male. Females have the orangy colour covering most of the under forewing
Mountain Ringlet: Male
Mountain Ringlet: Male. A final upperwing shot for this well marked individual
I didn't see any females. However, it sounds like they are not as active or showy as the males & tend to wait in the longer grass for the males to find them. After an hour or so, I decided that I was happy with the views & photos and that I needed to move on (after all Triathlons have three legs, are run against the clock & this was only the first leg).
Small Heath: This Small Heath had clearly seen better days