31 Aug 2014

31 Aug 14 - High & Low Adrenalin Day

I had planned to head off to the Jurassic coastal path to look for Roesel's Bush Cricket & Grey Bush Cricket. But a call from Paul Morton about a Black Kite heading SE over Poole Harbour, had me dashing off to the nearby Godlingston viewpoint instead. This provides a great view over the Rempstone & Studland parts of Poole Harbour & gave me just the slimmest chances of seeing the Black Kite: but not surprisingly I failed. But it would have been long gone if I had tried to get closer to where Paul saw it, so it was the best plan in the circumstances. The viewpoint was packed as the Red Arrows had just started their display over the Bournemouth beaches, about 5 miles away, as part of the annual air show. Eventually, I gave looking and switched to enjoying them instead as they always put on a stunning performance.
Red Arrows: 4 of the Red Arrows pass over the RFA Argus (primarily a casualty ship fitted with a 100 bed medical complex)
Red Arrows: 4 pass over the RFA Argus, HMS Mersey (River Class Patrol Vessel) & HMS Westminster (Type 23 Frigate) (left to right)
Red Arrows: Only a couple of miles away as these 4 turned over Studland. I was surprised about this odd looking formation which looks like there is a missing plane. According to the Bagsy Blog, one of the pilots had been allowed to leave the display due to the imminent birth of his child: hope it went well
Then it was off to the Jurassic coastal path. My mate, Kevin Lane, had seen or heard several Roesel's Bush Crickets on the previous day around Seacombe valley. This is a species which is rapidly colonising Dorset. The first Dorset record was only found in 2005. Since then it has spread rapidly through the Avon Valley, around Bournemouth & Poole & headed West along some of the main Dorset river valleys. Up to 2011, they hadn't really pushed down into Purbeck according to the distribution maps show in the recently published, excellent Grasshoppers, Bush-crickets & Allied of Dorset book. Looks like they have now started to push down into Purbeck as Kevin had recorded about 10 around Seacombe & Winspit. I tried a different site where I thought I might have seen them, but had no joy. I did try one of Kevin's sites, but it was overcast & windy, so didn't linger.
However, I was more successful in seeing a Grey Bush Cricket. This is strictly a coastal species in Dorset which is found along the full length of the Dorset coastline, except for the large built up area around Bournemouth & Poole. It hasn't moved inland away from the coast. It prefers short grassland, bare soil & scattered low scrubby habits. That is one of the missing species photographed in the Dorset Bush Crickets post (which has now been updated).
Grey Bush Cricket: Male. Jurassic Coastline near Winspit. An overexposed photo as the camera was still set up for the Red Arrows. Note, the long wings grey-brown mottled colouration & lack of yellow edges to the side plates of the pronotum
Boat Bug Enoplops scapha: A common & widespread Shieldbug of dry, sunny & sheltered areas with sparse vegetation, especially sandhills and cliff faces on the Southern coasts from Kent to Pembrokeshire. Many thanks to Paul Brock for identifying this (after I got it wrong)
Back to the high adrenalin theme, it was the annual powerboat race from the Solent to Devon & back. About a dozen or so powerboats were racing back to the Solent.
Powerboat: It would have helped had I taken the 400mm lens, but surprisingly OK with the 15-85mm macro lens

30 Aug 2014

30 Aug 14 - IQ40 Club Announce English & Scottish Ospreys To Be Split

During a visit to the annual 'In The Rut' Bird Show a spokesman for the IQ40 Club, Mr 'Bear' Lee Creditable, shocked the Birding world with the news that Scottish Ospreys are soon to be tickable for members of the IQ40 Club alongside English Ospreys. He continued by saying the Scientific Panel of the IQ40 Club have investigated this thoroughly and the facts are clear. We are on the eve of a Yes vote by Scottish Birders in the forthcoming crucial Referendum when they will be asked to decide "Do You Wish Your List To Become Independent From The UK List". The likely result is the Scottish List will become an Independent List & clearly this is good evidence for separating these 2 species of Ospreys.
Osprey: Further taxonomic work is needed on this Osprey. Kfar Ruppin, Israel (13 April 14)
Dressed in his signature white suit, 'Bear' Lee is believed to have finished the statement with his popular sound bite "I have the whitest suit in birding, I have the whitest List". Unfortunately, the recording of the interview became unclear at the end, due to a prolonged bout of loud coughing from nearby birders.
Osprey: This one isn't going to go hungry. Eilat, Israel (9 April 14)
The move was backed by the Fair Birders Organisation who have sponsored the Ospreys that have bred nearby for several years at Osprey Waters (formally Rutland Water), where they hold their annual Bird Show gathering. This backing was seen as a cynical ploy to push up attendance at future Bird Shows.
Osprey: Eilat, Israel (9 April 14)
When the idea of a Bird Show was first discussed, there was considerable lobbying from the usual big interest groups, of the Yorkshire, Norfolk & Kent Bird Clubs to host this new show. In a move to avoid a Birding War of the Roses between the White Rose of Yorkshire, the Kentish Rose & the Norfolk Poppy-Rose, the Fair Birders Organisation settled on the neutral ground of Rutland. It was an ideal compromise as this county was done away with, by one of the Whitehall's Sir Humphreys in 1972 and didn't have a Rose to compete either. It is widely believed that the Sir Humphreys involved has historic links to Leicestershire, the only county to benefit from this annexation. As he signed the annexation order he was heard to mutter, "At long last, Leicestershire birders will have somewhere worthwhile to go Birding". 
Osprey: Periyar, Western Ghats, India (10 Jan 14)
Welcoming the news that English Ospreys were to become a near endemic breeding bird in his county, investigative journalist at the Llama Times & local birder, Andy Llama commented "it's that exciting, I might start blogging again". In the past, Mr Llama has investigated the shady world of 'Bear' Lee and the shadowy world of the IQ40 Club and many hope he will come out of semi-retirement and return to the world of blogging.
Scottish Osprey: Heavily cropped with the Canon 7D & 400mm lens. Middlebere (30 Aug 14)
Scottish Osprey: The uncropped version of the same photo. Middlebere (30 Aug 14)
This is believed to be a Scottish Osprey as it's been heard to give its distinctive call. This has been described in words in the latest field guide as "I have had enough of being fed on a diet of Salmond". This is understood to be a reference to every time the Salmon communicates, all anybody hears is Pollocks (is this spelt right?).
Scottish Osprey: Digiscoped photo. Still struggling by the small pixel size from the IPhone after zooming it. Middlebere (30 Aug 14)
This Osprey has headed South to Poole Harbour in search of Pollocks, which apparently taste great. The Osprey is understood to have indicated it would love to return to breed in Poole Harbour, as they are already empty homes for it to occupy. But it was worried it would become as fat & obese, as the overlarge polystyrene Osprey models (sponsored by the Big MacOsprey Co). These have been placed in some of the nests to attact the Ospreys to their local reserve, by the RSPOB, Royal Society for the Promotion of Obese Birds.

29 Aug 2014

29 Aug 14 - Crucial Imminent Vote For Scottish Birders

In under 3 weeks, there will be a crucial vote for all Scottish Birders. Scottish Birders will be asked to decide "Do You Wish Your List To Become Independent From The UK". This post can now reveal for the first time some of the real facts behind the Yes campaign.

The date for this crucial referendum has been chosen with great care by the Yes campaign. They have gone back & scoured history & selected the key date of 18 Sept for it's historical significance. There has been a lot of speculation in the press, about it being on the anniversary of some big battle. That is just coincidence. This blog can now reveal the true significance of the 18 Sept. It is only 5 days after the only UK Hawk Owl in living memory was found on 12 Sept 83 near Lerwick (and 4 days after it disappeared). The Referendum was chosen to celebrate the day the Bressay finders planned to go birding a couple of days later & were lucky to relocated it on Bressay. The historical significance of this date is therefore obvious. Some of the key people behind the Yes campaign managed to twitch this bird on Bressay & grip it back on those who got to see it near Lerwick. The subliminal message is also clear: it was there on the 18 Sept, but it was not actually seen on that date. So if you live South of the border, you will be denied to get this on your UK list, when the next one turns up in Shetlands. Also if you did see it, you will have it removed as it will no longer be in the UK.
Hawk Owl: Will we ever get another chance to tick in the UK: if there is a Yes vote it seems unlikely. Zwolle, Holland (29 Nov 13) 
The timing of the vote has a second significance. The date is also just before the start of the main Shetlands & Fair Isle Birding season. In recent years, Birders have headed to the Shetlands & Fair Isle from mid September onwards from all over the UK. A Yes vote might seem appealing. After all, if Scotland becomes independent, then the UK birders won't be allowed to tick Birds in Scotland. So most will stop going & be forced to return to the traditional old haunts of the Scillies & West Cornwall.  Perhaps Lundy (the site of a number of Firsts for the UK) will again become popular. So it would seem appealing to a Scottish voter to vote Yes. After all, it will be easier to make a booking on Fair Isle or get a seat on a plane there, if there are only Scottish twitchers trying to get there. Also, a Yes vote will appear to provide a greater chance of a self found Scottish mega. But with the loss of all those English Birder's eyes covering the Shetlands & Fair Isle, maybe less rarities will be found. It would bring a premature end to the Shetlands tourist season & maybe the Fair Isle Bird Obs will have trouble filling its accommodation with purely Scottish Birders through the year & would run the risk of eventual closure. So some big potential home goals by voting Yes, but the Yes campaign have stayed silent on these risks.
Cape May Warbler: Would as many birds of this calibre be found with a reduced coverage of Birders in the field following a Yes vote? Baltasound, Unst (29 Oct 13)
But again the Yes campaigners are not telling the Scottish Birders the full picture. They talk about the positives of keeping the Scottish Birds for Scottish Birders. Of how only the Scottish Birders will be able to tick species like Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, genuine Rock Dove & Crested Tit.
Rock Dove: It would be no longer possible for UK Birders to tick Rock Doves looking like this. The Yes campaign want this kept only for Scottish Birders. Instead, UK Birders will be left desperately trying to find a pure looking individual in Trafalgar Square (having had to take the whole family there as a cover story) or perhaps hoping for a lone, clean-looking Racing Pigeon to flyby at a coastal site (& hoping no questions are asked). Sollas, South Uist (4 June 12)
But what the Yes campaigners are not being honest about is the Yes campaign plan to strike off all those birds Scottish Birders have seen in England or Wales. This is their secret plan, which they managed to avoid being mentioned so far. Amazingly, it was not discussed in the recent TV debates. Today, a Scottish based Birder could book a week's holiday & head South for some easy English specialities ticks: such as Yellow-legged Gulls, Melodious Warblers & Ortolans. All of which could be fairly easily seen with a week's stay about this time of year at Portland Bird Observatory and all of which are currently tickable. If we hear a sudden appearance increase in the numbers of Scottish accents around Portland in the coming weeks, we will know that Birders living North of the border are getting these easy ticks in while they can (as they fear a Yes vote). But it will all be in vain, a Yes vote will mean all of your lists will be purged of these species. This blog has it on good authority, that Lee "Good" Heavens has already been provisionally booked to police the purges of the Scottish Birders lists. This blog understands that controversially, part of the payment for this work, is the agreement that he will be allowed to join (& remain) in the top 10 Scottish listers following the completion of these purges.
Short-toed Eagle: In the event of a Yes vote, this will be struck off your list if you saw the Scillies bird or this year's bird in Dorset or Sussex. If you saw it in Hampshire, then prehaps you should be honest & quietly change it to a Buzzard in your notebook. The Yes campaigners are hoping to attract the votes of those people that appear on Birdforum to add useful quotes to the thread of the latest UK mega to say "they would never go beyond the end of their road to see the bird". Morden Bog (31 May 14)
Yellow-legged Gull: This rare English breeding bird only breeds at a handful of sites in Southern England, but is fairly easily seen in Poole Harbour at this time of year. There have only been a handful of Scottish records this year. Scottish Birders will be forced to work hard to add this to their lists in the event of a Yes vote purging them of one seen South of the border. Brands Bay (21 April 14)
Melodious Warbler: Portland is one of the best locations for this species. With an average of only one or two a year in Scotland, this is a species you might end having to twitch an outer island to see after a Yes vote. Winspit (8 Dec 13)
Cirl Bunting: A bird most Scottish Birders will lose off their lists. With only 3 island records this millennium, this is very likely to be purged from Scottish Lists by Lee "Good" Heavens. It is likely to the first lost in a series as the Policeman, as he likes to be know, removes all the birds ticked on those old Scillies trips. Velji Do, Croatia (5 May 14)
Ortolan: Again Portland is one of the best UK locations for this species & the Yes campaign will purge this off your list if you have seen it there. It is likely to be a costly Fair Isle twitch to tick this one if the Yes campaign get their way. Yotvata, Israel (11 April 14)
So now the truth is being revealed about the real risks to your lists in the event of a Yes vote, then it is clear there are only 2 real options: Vote No or in the event of a Yes vote, move to Fair Isle.

28 Aug 2014

28 Aug 14 - Evil Looking Brute

Seen this evil looking Robberfly recently on a few occasions. It is the Hornet Robberfly, Asilus crabroniformis. They are really big & obvious once I got my eye in, due to their pale brown colouration & large size (About an inch long). Quite often I saw them basking on dried horse dung on Downland. The larva live around these dung pats for a couple of years, before hatching out in June. The adults will be on the wing till around the end of Oct. Their prey includes Grasshoppers, Beetles (especially Dung Beetles), Bees, Wasps & other Robberflies. They sit around a lot as they hunt from low perches or the ground. Other delightful facts is they can take 10 - 30 minutes to suck out the contents of their latest prey item. But don't worry they aren't known to attack humans.
Hornet Robberfly
They are fairly widespread over the Southern counties of England, especially South of Bristol to the Home counties. After that records seem to become more scattered heading into Wales, the Midlands & East Anglia, with just the one site in North Yorkshire.
Hornet Robberfly
The great advantage of carrying a camera around nearly all the time I am out, is it allows me to quickly grab a photo of something like this & then try & figure it out later. 

26 Aug 2014

26 Aug 14 - What Came First: The Caterpillar Or The Butterfly?

The usual way this big philosophical question is put is 'What came first: the Chicken or the Egg', rather than the title of this post. The answer is easy & it is the same: single cell organisms, followed by evolution. Not that difficult to answer really, when you think about it at a distance. Having solved the big philosophical question, I can now move on to some photos. I've generally concentrated on photos of adult insects as they are the easiest age to find in most groups. But I've been lucky to see Commas of various ages recently. They are really good in the younger phases & worthy of closer examination.
Comma: Caterpillar. These spines look quite imposing. After about 5 weeks as caterpillars, they will pupate. Swanage (8 Aug 14)
Comma: Caterpillar. Surprisingly, well camouflaged, when you look at the other bits of dead Nettles. Swanage (8 Aug 14) 
Comma: Pupa. After a couple of weeks as a pupa, the adult will emerge. Swanage (16 Aug 14)
Comma: Adult. Commas are double brooded with adults start flying in late June/early July & flying again in late August onwards. The second brood overwinter as adults, before emerging from hibernation in the Spring to breed (9 July 14)
Comma: Adult. The wing shape alone is diagnostic in the UK. Alner's Gorse (27 July 14)
Comma. Adult. They get their name from the white comma on the underside of the hind wing. Swanage (12 Aug 14)

25 Aug 2014

25 Aug 14 - The Dorset Bush Crickets

This is the best time of to the year to go out & look for the members of the Grasshoppers, Crickets & Allies family. The family can loosely be split into Grasshoppers, Crickets, Bush Crickets, Locusts & Cockroaches. When I first started looking at this group, the definite book was the expensive (& well outside of my budget in those student days), Grasshoppers, Crickets & Cockroaches of the British Isles by Ragge. One of my mates had a copy & I can remember a number of visits to the New Forest when the birding was quiet, trying to find some of the better heathland & bog species. After moving back to Dorset, I got interested in the group again, but still struggled along without a field guide for several more years, until I came across A Photographic Guide to the Grasshoppers & Crickets of the British Isles by Martin Evans & Roger Edmondson. This is a companion volume to their excellent Shieldbugs book. More recently, I just bought  The Grasshoppers, Bush-crickets & Allies of Dorset by Bryan Edwards, which has good sections on identification as well as excellent distribution maps. Both of these books are reasonably priced. As with most groups of wildlife, Dorset is an excellent place to seen these species with its good selection of species found in its chalk & limestone grasslands, heaths & woodlands habitats.

In this post, I will keep to the easier groups to get started on which are Bush Crickets, including the Coneheads. Twelve species have been recorded in Dorset. Of these Wart-biter has probably died out since the turn of the century, Large Conehead is known from 3 records found in 2005 & 2006 & Southern Oak Bush Cricket has recently been found around Portland Bill & Bournemouth from 2009 onwards. The remaining 9 species are more widespread in the county.
Oak Bush Cricket: A fairly common & widespead species across Dorset. I have even seen it several times in the garden, but not since I've had the camera (so no photo at the moment)
Great Green Bush Cricket: Half grown male nymph. Corfe (9 July 12)
Great Green Bush Cricket: Half grown female nymph. Females are easy to identify due to the large ovipositor. St Aldhelms (1 July 14)
Great Green Bush Cricket: Female. At 2 inches long, this is the UK's largest Bush Cricket. It is widespread in Dorset. Swanage (9 Aug 14)
Dark Bush Cricket: Nymph. This is a common sight in the garden in the early Summer. Despite only having a quarter inch body, they look just like the adults apart from the disproportionally long antennae. That is pea gravel in the photo. Swanage (21 June 10)
Dark Bush Cricket: Adult male. This is the most widespread Bush Cricket in Dorset and is short-winged with a dark chocolate colouration. Swanage (5 August 10)
Grey Bush Cricket: This species is only found along the coastal strip and likes short, clifftop grassland. It doesn't venture inland. It is superficially similar to Dark Bush Cricket, but has long wings and is a mottled grey and brown colour. Jurassic Coastline near Winspit (31 Aug 14)
Bog Bush Cricket: A local species on the Dorset heaths & another one I've yet to photograph
Roesel's Bush Cricket: A relatively recent species to arrive in Dorset with the first record in 2005. Since then it has moved steadily westwards, but is still scarce in the Purbeck area. The broad yellow edge to the side plates of the pronotum and the yellow spots on the side of the abdomen separates this from other Bush Crickets. Middlebere (7 Sep 14)
Long-winged Conehead: Male Nymph. Hatch Pond (24 Aug 14)
Long-winged Conehead: Female Nymph. Brands Bay (24 Aug 14)
Long-winged Conehead: Adult male. The first Long-winged Conehead was found in Dorset in 1953. It remained fairly localised until the 1980s, when it suddenly started to expand its range to occur over much of the Southern half of Dorset. It is a common rough grassland species and is easily found in the Autumn. Note, the long wings which go beyond its abdomen. Swanage (9 Aug 14)
Long-winged Conehead: Adult Female. Note the obvious ovipositor. Hatch Pond (24 Aug 14)
Short-winged Conehead: This species looks similar to the Long-winged Conehead, but its wings are short and only half the length of the abdomen. It prefers wetter habitats than Long-winged Coneheads and the Poole Harbour basin, the Fleet and some of Dorset's river systems are its strongholds. It is another species I've still to photograph
Speckled Bush Cricket: Nymph. Again a fairly common Dorset species. This species is heavily speckled with black dots. The nymph is wingless. Swanage (2 July 2011)
As with other insect groups I've been getting into in recent years, the Grasshoppers, Crickets & Allies are a group I'm trying to broaden my knowledge of. I'm sure in a couple of years, I will be able to come back to write a more thorough post of this group. I will leave the more tricky to identify Grasshoppers part of the family for a future date, as this is the part of the family I'm still struggling to get into at the moment.

22 Aug 2014

22 Aug 14 - Accidentally, On Purpose!

In my last Post of the Maps I published the photos for 6 more Maps (Individuals K - P), based on my photos taken up to the 9 Aug. This Post included photos from a number of other visitors, who had kindly sent me their photos & which had either confirmed new individuals or extended the dates for known individuals up to that date. When I finally got through all of my photos taken after the 9 Aug & looked at additional photos from other visitors, I can now confirm that there at least 20 different individuals involved. First the final 4 individuals, that haven't previously been published.
Map: Male Individual Q (13 Aug 14)
Map: Female Individual R (11 Aug 14)
Map: Male Individual S (12 Aug 14)
Map: Male Individual T. Many thanks to Dave Kingman for allowing me to republish his image (copyright for the photo remains with Dave) (10 Aug 14)
Map: Male Individual T. My photo of Individual T looking more worn (13 Aug 14)
In the last Map post, I broke the news that I had been given from a trusted source in a leading wildlife organisation, that an unnamed individual (who I've called Fred Bloggs) had approached him about the Maps. Fred had told a story of how this was an accidental release around lunchtime on the 6 Aug from his car. This occurred one day before myself, Brian Arnold & Derek Haynes found the first individual. I have heard his explanation of this accidental release & compared the story as told, to the crass Hollywood film, The Great Escape to the real factual history of the Great Escape. At the time I made that comment, it was from looking at photos I had been working on, but wasn't in a position to comment further given I still had many photos to process. Now I've got to the end of these photos & think it is time to comment further.

As stated, Fred claimed this was an accidental release. But this just doesn't stack up as accidental from the photographic evidence. If they all escaped as claimed by Fred, then we would not be seeing pristine individuals appearing several days after the first sighting. I have no doubt that the trusted source who told me about Fred is reliable & therefore I have to assume the story of an introduction is correct. But Fred's explanation of how they 'escaped' is clearly a lie. Given it strongly appears that they were emerging from a bed of Stinging Nettles, then they must either have been at the site in the Spring or pupae were placed at the site in the autumn.

I have summarised this in the following spreadsheet which indicates which individuals were seen on which days & also the condition of those individuals.
Map: A diary of wear & individuals (males are blue & females are pink). The colours are:-
Black (completely fresh individuals)
Grey (very fresh, but some lost of scales on the upperside)
Brown (noticeably worn on the upperside)
Orange (one or more notches visible in the wing edges)
Yellow (totally abraded wing edges)
Green (not seen that day, but clearly still present as seen on a subsequent day)
The first individual was found on the 7 Aug. However, that day we limited our observations to a small area where this first individual was being seen. The following 2 days were warm & sunny and there the greatest numbers seen. On the 8 Aug, 8 of the 12 seen that day were incredibly fresh individuals. On the 9 Aug, there were 6 out of 11 incredibly fresh individuals. On the 10 Aug, the weather changed to a gale and driving rain in the morning as ex hurricane Bertha passed through the area, but the afternoon changed to sunny, but still quite breezy. There were 6 individuals seen that day. Only one was photographed: again, a pristine individual.

On the 8 Aug, I photographed as many individuals as I could. I ended up with 12 sets of photos & 10 were different individuals. Thus, there was a really high turnover of individuals being seen. I only saw 2 individuals again that day & even then only on one occasion each. On the 9 Aug, it was a similar story I managed to photograph 6 individuals. However, 2 fresh individuals that photographed by friends early that morning, had already disappeared before I arrived. There were an additional 2 individuals which were photographed on the edge of the site, where I didn't get to photograph. Of 8 identified individuals on the 9 Aug in the main site, there were 4 that hadn't been seen on the previous day & only 4 were ones from the 8 Aug. Additionally, the 2 at the edge of the site, had been seen the previous day. There was a final female that was photographed on the 9 Aug, but only from the underside. At the moment, I've not been able to confirm her identify, other than to be confident she wasn't one of the females seen that day (as I have upper side & under side photos of the other females).

What became clear from subsequent observations at the site, was that on these 2 days, there were a good number of Maps being seen. Most were seen on only one occasion that day whilst nectaring and they quickly dispersed. While it's possible that they did return to the site on that day, there were a number of observers looking & I was working hard to get as many photos of the different individuals as I could. When a Map was seen, I was quickly getting there & taking photos. Whilst others were trying to get a well composed photo, I was more interested in getting a record set of photos that would allow me to subsequently identify the individuals & on these two days, I wasn't missing many opportunities for photographing different individuals.

On subsequent days, the numbers at the site quickly dropped off. Initially, I thought this was the effect of the ex Hurricane Bertha & a couple of windier days. But later that week, it was clear that the Maps were still present, but the males had taken up territories around the edges of the site. They would nectar in the morning, but were defending their territories from lunchtime onwards. Two were seen on territory on the 8 and 9 Aug, but it wasn't clear at the time that they had taken up territories.

But it also became clear, that the reason we were seeing a high turnover of individuals, was once they had fed, the males were quickly dispersing to start finding territories to defend. They were clearly the more flighty of the sexes. While some of the females were also dispersing fairly quickly, a couple of the females were more approachable & photogenic.

What was also clear is that they were initially been seen around an extensive area of Stinging Nettles, but then flying out to nectar in the main part of the site. On two or three occasions, Maps were seen flying away from Stinging Nettles area & being lost to sight. At the time, I assumed they would come back, but in hindsight, I think this was the start of the dispersal.

So what I think was happening is they were hatching from the main batch of Stinging Nettles. This would explain the high number of fresh individuals & why a really fresh individual was seen as late of the afternoon of the 10 Aug. It also proves the escape theory is a lie. The only explanation assuming it was an introduction, it is was a deliberate & illegal introduction. After nectaring, both sexes were rapidly dispersing around the site, with the males looking to establish territories. On subsequent mornings, both sexes were seen again nectaring, but after the 10 Aug, all had dispersed from the core part of the site where all the action was occurring up to the 10 Aug. This core area was still being checked, but with very few sightings.
Map: My favourite Map photo (8 Aug 14)
Finally, I want to provide some behavioural observations on the Maps. This is based upon my own observations, but also stuff that was pointed out to me by other visitors, especially Neil Hulme. However, a number of these things I would have worked out myself in the 65 hours or so, I spent on site, but it would have taken me a lot longer to get there.

I was confused on the first afternoon that Brian Arnold & Derek Haynes & myself, found the first Map, as we didn't see it feeding at all during that day. Initially, it was found sunning itself on a low bush. After getting quick photos, it flew out of view. Fortunately, Derek quickly relocated, before it flew again to a higher bush. We relocated it several times that afternoon around that group of bushes, but all the time it was sunning itself on the bushes. When disturbed it flew up higher about several metres off the ground. But by sitting around, it allowed us to get some reasonable shots at times, but often it was too high to photograph with the 15 - 85mm lens. But this was typical for a male as they were spending the afternoons defending territories.

The following morning, Brian & Derek, returned to the site before me & quite a bit of looking they relocated it & gave me a call to say it was still there & in a adjacent field. This was a field we hadn't looked in, on the first day. I got there soon after & immediately realised, they were looking at a well-marked female. As mentioned in my last Map post, while we were photographing this female, another Map flew past. Chasing that put up two more Maps. By the end of the day I had identified 10 individuals in the field, with another 2 subsequently identified from looking at other people's photos. All were seen in the same field and were photographed whilst nectaring. This included seeing our original male nectaring. What is interesting, is I took 12 sets of photos that day & this produced sightings of 10 individuals. Therefore, there was a high turnover of individuals in the field, with only 2 being seen again later in the day. Another thing that was interesting, was walking around the field often failed to produce any individuals. Then another pass 20 minutes later, would find 2 or 3 feeding close to each other. It was a similar pattern on the next day, when another 9 were seen. But of these 9, 5 of these were new individuals and only 4 had been seen on the previous day.

What was happening was these Butterflies were emerging from a Stinging Nettles bed in the field on the second and third day. Obviously, some could have emerged on the first day, but we weren't looking there for them. They were then nectaring in the field, but fairly quickly were dispersing from the field to the surrounding trees & bushes. The conditions were warm & sunny on these 3 days & the Maps were very active. However, every time it became cooler and overcast, the Maps would disappear: only reappearing once the sun has come back out again for some time.

Generally, all Map activity ceased about 16:00 to 17:00. They were the first Butterflies to stop flying, despite there being lots of activity from most of the other species present. After that time, they would sit around & occasionally fly if it became really warm & sunny or if another & often larger Butterfly strayed into a male's territory.

21 Aug 2014

21 Aug 14 - The Highs And Lows Of The Swanage Maps - Settling The Record Straight

It has been a very interesting last two weeks. Whilst out photographing Butterflies near Swanage with mates, Brian Arnold & Derek Haynes, we found a Map butterfly on 7 August. The initial feedback was this wasn't a migratory species & therefore would be a released individual. At the time, I was more open-minded, given the Swanage area has a track record of migrant Moths that have established themselves locally, before moving on to colonise other localities in the UK. The following day, I returned to site & was about to photograph the Map, only to realise we were dealing with a second individual: it was a female, whereas the first was a male. Within about 10 minutes we had doubled the number again to 4 & photographic comparison of individuals by the end of the day had increased this to 11 individuals (see my Map mugshot post which includes one unpublished individual I missed on that date). Clearly, something astounding was happening here.
Map: Male Individual A. It was this individual that started everything off (8 Aug)
This clearly made it a very different scenario from 24 hours earlier when they news was released of a lucky find of a lone migrant or a deliberate release. Now there was either a small fledgling colony or a larger deliberate release. Having released the news the previous evening when it was a lone individual, it was too late to reel the story in. All that was left was to try & contain the news to protect the potential fledgling colony. There had also been overnight feedback to support a wild origin, which made it all the more interesting.

We have been criticised on some social media sites for part releasing of the news, then trying to suppress it. However, these critics have failed to appreciate the news was released when only a single individual (of likely suspect origin) was known about. Had we known of the numbers on the first day, then more discussion would have occurred about the pros & cons of a public release of the news. Not releasing the news would have made it easier to protect the Butterflies, whilst discussing with the landowner regarding protection of the site. After all, if this was a small colony of a wild origin, it would be one of the most significant UK Butterfly stories of the last decade or two. I have one question for those social media critics. If you were in the same circumstance with releasing news of a single rare Butterfly, only to find the next day there was a small colony, how do you think you could have handled it better?
Map: Male Individual A. Had we not circulated the news of a lone Map that first evening, we would widely have been condemned as suppressors (7 Aug)
A number of local Butterfly fans & transect counters visited the site on the next day and had the chance to enjoy the Butterflies. It is true that a small number of local Birders who also watch Butterflies also got to see them. This is hardly, the whole of the Dorset Birding community that has been claimed & condemned on one social media site. The reality is that a rarity that needs to be kept quiet for access problems or a rare breeding species, is likely to attract a number of trustworthy locals who would be discrete about the site. It is also likely that if this had happened near to where this complaining individual lives, then the chances are that he might get a private invite, whereas I (as a non local) wouldn't. It would then be his decision whether to maintain the high principals he has used to condemn us or to quietly pop along for a look. I wonder what he would do under the circumstances.
Map: Female Individual B. The game changer as this confirmed there was more than one on site (8 Aug)
There have also been some disgraceful & irresponsible comments on social media trying to tell people the location of the site, after the request to keep the site quiet for the protection of the Maps. Sad to say this has been by some well known birdwatchers: do you think it would be right to have made the same comments, if this was the first UK breeding pair of say Pallid Harriers? I wonder if these individuals will have the sense not to speculate on social media about the site of the next sensitive breeding species that is requested to be kept quiet?
Map: Male Individual J. The 10th individual (8 Aug)
By the end of the third day, the feeling was the Maps were most likely of a wild origin & had established themselves at the site since the arrival of a pregnant female the previous Autumn. This led to a request to shutdown all news on the site to give the Maps the best chance of establishing themselves, whilst discussions with local landowners started. Informal voluntary wardening on site commenced to try minimising the impacts to the site & to ensure that the landowner wouldn't be upset by the impact of the small number of visitors. This wardening was also to monitor the numbers of Maps involved & to start recording their behaviour. I will publish some of these observations in a future post in the near future.

Over the previous week the numbers of Maps quickly reduced, due to dispersal, natural predation & sadly the presence of 3 individuals on site. In the middle of last week, there was a confirmed commercial collector identified on site. Additionally, there was a suspected private collector who was seen furling up a net. I would be surprised if they were not responsible for the disappearance of some individuals from the site. These were some of the risks we were seeking to minimise to this potential colony.

If anybody feels that they wish to have complain about the site not being made public, then feel free to have a go at the next set of adults you see collecting Butterflies in the future without a good reason: sadly this still occurs as we experienced on site. I appreciate there might be good reason why a genuine entomologist might have a net in the field. But these were unscrupulous individuals who don't seem to care if they wipe out a group of Butterflies or Moths: as long as they get some nice dead specimens for their collection or to sell on. By the way, don't bother trying to post comments to this blog, trying to justify why you believe this is OK: they won't be published. I've seen enough crap on social media in recent months trying to justify collecting. I don't have a problem with collecting by a respectable scientific organisation like the Natural History Museum. But I do have a problem with irresponsible collecting of species like Butterflies or Moths for private collections or for sale. Collecting is especially pointless when the species is readily identifiable in the field or from photos & so use of a net is not needed to confirm the identification. It is just a selfish collecting obsession without any care for the species being collected. No different to the ongoing threat to big game animals being shot in the wild by wealthy hunters for their obsession & ego.
Map: Male Individual K. Many thanks to Nick Urch for allowing me to publish his image with whom the copyright remains (8 Aug 14)
But over the last week or so, it has definitely been a High given the general feeling that we were probably dealing with a small fledgling wild colony. But a Low, that we have been visited by Butterfly collectors, which was followed by a deeper Low. A trustworthy source in one of the leading wildlife organisations has recently been contacted by an unnamed individual, who for the purposes of this blog I will call Fred Bloggs (I don't know & do not want to know Fred's real identity). The source believes this is genuine. Fred has admitted to an accidental release of a number of Maps at the site on the 6 August (the day before the first one was found). Frankly, I have heard his explanation of how this release occurred & believe the story as told is about as factual as the ridiculous Hollywood film The Great Escape to the real Great Escape story from the German PoW camp, Stalag Luft 3. But I do believe it is a cover story, given Fred may well have committed an offense under the Wildlife & Countryside Act by releasing an illegal alien species into the UK countryside. I also do not believe we will get the true story from Fred. But personally I find it hard to use the phrase accidental in the story, as I do not think it stacks up with the photographic evidence of pristine Maps, 3 days on from the accidental release date. But I will not be commenting further in public or private on Fred's story.
Map: Male Individual F. (8 Aug 14). The accidental release story was they all hatched within a few hours & the accidental escape happened immediately afterwards. Yet somehow this individual managed to get this tatty within 2 days of escaping. In comparison, all the above upper wing photos were taken on the same day & look in good condition & all the following photos were taken one day later (on the 9 August)
So now it appears the most likely explanation is the Maps were released. This came as we were starting to get some interesting discussions going about how it might be possible to help protect this colony going forward. Up to that point, the general feeling from visitors in the know, was these were likely to be a genuine arrival of a pregnant female last Autumn. Circumstantial evidence to support this included, the movement of continental Swallowtails at the time (that led to the St Aldhelms & Sussex sightings this year) & Long-tailed Blues appearing in Kent & Sussex. There still seems to be some sympathy for this theory & the presence of the collectors probably strengthened that feeling. Whilst Maps are apparently not a migratory species, they are steadily pushing North in the same way that the Speckled Wood & other species are also extending their range North.
Continental Swallowtail: St Aldhelms (2 July 14). Unlike the release story broke, the most likely opinion was a pregnant female arrived in Autumn 13, about the same time as a Swallowtail reached St Aldhelms  
Not knowing Fred, I having to trust this isn't a hoax story of any kind, given the confirmation of a release has seriously prejudiced any attempts for protection going forward. I know hoax stories like this occurs from time to time in the birdwatching world, where one or two well known extreme individuals have put out stories they have made up, purely to seek attention for themselves or to try to discredit a major rarity that they have missed. Invariably the real truth comes out and usually backfiring & discredits the individual who made up the story. However, I understand that this would be a less likely event in the Butterfly world.
Map: Male Individual L. Many thanks to Peter Moore for allowing me to republish his image with whom the copyright remains (9 Aug 14). The photo can also be viewed on Peter's blog
Map: Male Individual M. One of the individuals seen for the first time on the 9 August. This has clearly been in the wars, but checking the wing markings, it does not match to any of the other specimens
Map: Female Individual N. Note, the wide body & hint of a double orange wing bar. Many thanks to Brett Spencer for allowing me to republish his image from the Brett Spencer's twitter feed (copyright for the photo remains with Brett)
I guess Fred should be commended for coming forward & admitting to having been involved. However, I also think Fred should have though about the problems he had created by this release. Releases like this are illegal under the W&C Act. If it had been accidental, then a quick disclosure should have occurred: which might have resulted in different actions being considered.

It would also have significantly reduced the amount of time a handful of locals have had spent on site trying to look after them. I spent 65 hrs of voluntary wardening over 10 days and others also spent a fair bit of time on site. Releases like this are also irresponsible as they will also mask & taint any real arrivals in the future. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all the locals who have gone out of their way over the last couple of weeks to help keep an eye on these interesting Butterflies.
Map: Male Individual O. One of the individuals seen for the first time on the 9 August. Note, the unique NU white marking near the trailing edge of the top right forewing & the minor nick on the edge of the left hind wing.This does look in good condition considering it has been flying for 3 days
Interestingly, I have been looking at photos taken on the 9 August. So far photo analysis has indicated that only 2 of the individuals seen on the 8 August were still around on the 9th. But another 5 new individuals were seen in the same area. This either suggests we missed quite a few the previous day or there might be other reasons why we were seeing new individuals. I'm still thinking about the significance of this high percentage of new individuals.
Map: Male Individual P. One of the individuals seen for the first time on the 9 August. Note, the wear on the right fore wingtip
Back to the High of the 10 days or so, until the release story appeared, I have met a number of incredibly knowledgeable Butterfly guys on site. I'm not going to name names to avoid any petty finger pointed, of why were they there etc. But it's been a real privilege to spend time with these guys & I've learnt a huge amount about Butterfly ecology, habits & conservation issues from these guys. So however, these Maps arrived at the site, this is undoubtedly a great High to finish on.

Timing the publication of this news about this release was a tricky decision. The main reason for going public now is to make it clear, this was a most likely a release & hopefully any eggs or larva planned to be collected in the near future will be of no commercial value now.

A final update, the last adult was seen flying on the 17 August, despite being looked for daily since. I have currently identified 16 individuals up to the end of the 9 August & believe that total will rise I have time to look at additional photos.