Monday, 26 July 2010

Queendown Warren

This weekend, Team Wildside managed two butterfly-watching trips in between our other important duties (sleeping, aikido practice and, in Rob's case, watching the first and second Toy Story films so we can watch the third one tonight). This post is about the Saturday trip to Queendown Warren. I'll tell you about the Sunday trip later, when I've figured out where Rob has hidden the card reader.

So, Queendown Warren. A Kent Wildlife Trust reserve in the North Downs, off the A249 where it links the M20 and M2. We found the general area easily enough but locating the reserve car park took an increasingly frustrating half-hour of weaving around very narrow lanes. Eventually a little car park materialised and we gratefully stashed the Passat in the shade. It was a very warm, mostly sunny and quite still afternoon.

The reserve is cut up into several chunks by the aforementioned weaving lanes. The first bit we explored was steeply sloping Rabbit-cropped grassland with patches of scrub.

The general impression was of a place that looked the absolute business for downland butterflies. The rougher bits were full of flowering Teasels and Spear Thistles, the hedgerows had plenty of brambles.

Gatekeepers have only been out for a short while and the ones we saw were in great nick, much better than the Meadow Browns which have been on the wing since late June.

Exploring this small bit of the reserve, we saw numerous Common Blues, Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers, several Green-veined Whites and a lone Marbled White. The most baffling find was the remains of a male Stag Beetle, neatly divided into three bits (head, thorax and wing-cases - whatever killed it evidently ate the abdomen).

  The path led into a shady wooded area, where I found and photographed this slightly tatty Ringlet, enjoying a bask on a sunlit leaf.

Carrying on, we crossed a lane and found another stretch of downland. This had an extensive area of Wild Thyme, knapweeds and other butterfly-friendly flowers, and was attracting brisk trade from the local Lepidoptera.

 A Brown Argus. This is one of my favourite species. While not exactly colourful, the colours that it does have are seriously rich and warm. Also this one was a very obliging little poser.

There were reasonable numbers of Marbled Whites here, though all were past their best. They ignored the thyme and sought out the knapweeds, perhaps realising how much better they look sitting on a knapweed flower.

When I looked at Rob's photos (taken with the macro lens) of this pair of Common Blues in cop, I was a bit alarmed. It looks likes something rather violent is going on around their nether regions. I haven't seen anything like this in other mating pairs of butterflies. But I googled some images of lycaenid butterflies getting it on and saw a similar yellow/red 'thing' going on, so hopefully it's all completely fine and normal. If anyone can shed any light on it I'd be most grateful!

Soon we had reached the end of the thyme-dominated strip and reached another very short-grazed slope. We were standing around here debating whether to continue or go back, when a woman who'd been higher up the slope came down to join us on the path and told us there was an Adder asleep on a log just ahead. That made up our minds for us.

We hurried up to the large logs which lay on the slope and then crept along them til we spotted our quarry. The Adder, a young female (you can tell by the darker ground colour - the black zigzag stands out much more on the otherwise paler males), was coiled up in a heap soaking up some rays. We took lots of photos and didn't get bitten. Result.

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