Monday, 25 July 2011

isle of wight day 7-red squirrels and whale chine

After the excitement of yesterdays excitement because of red squirrels at Alverstone mead, it was no surprise to me that my parents wanted to try and see one, so we set off there for the morning. Secretly I knew that this gave me a second chance of getting a sighting of either white-legged damselfly or small red eyed damselfly! sadly as we passed the pools it became clear that once again odonata was seriously lacking, except for the population of blue-tailed damselflies! In fact on all fronts today had even less to offer than yesterday, no buzzards, herons or anything. We arrived at the hide and waited for what I expected to be an imminent arrival from a red squirrel. I was right, a squirrel soon emerged from the wood, although it was not the same as yesterday, this was a more healthy animal, a full tail and delightful ear tufts! sadly though it was not as bold, it spent most of its time scurrying around nearby trees rather than coming to investigate us. Having said that, a photo of a squirrel in a tree looks better than one on a wooden handrail!

-red squirrel
since this was the first really nice day we had, I had a lot of sites I really wanted to get round while the weather was good, the next stop was the newly purchased RSPB reserve at Brading marshes, where there were supposed to be decent numbers of dragonflies, and the records suggested that the damselfly species I wanted to track down were there too, so I was optimistic! Walking through the Field to the river yielded good numbers of butterflys including ever confusing skippers, meadow brown and marbled white as well as six spot burnet moths.

The river was quite wide, but had reed-beds either side and had a nice carpet of lillypads across most of the surface. As you could expect with this type of habitat there were slightly more unusual birds such as reed warblers which made the walk not as insect based as previous walks had been.

-reed warblers

at first there were not any dragonflies to speak off, but as I strolled down the river it became apparent that there were two emperor dragonflies defending territories along the river side. The emperor appeared to be the most common dragonfly on the island so it would have been a disappointment to not see one. the problem with these two is that neither of them wanted to land, so I had to try and get a decent shot of them in flight-not easy.

-emperor dragonfly
it was a nice sight to see the spectacular insects hunting the river, but they were not the only ones, I spotted a common darter on the riverside, but sadly I flushed it trying to get a photo. there was one other dragonfly, a darter only much redder, it didn't stick around, my only view it whizzing past me-I speculate that it was a ruddy because common darters don't normally get that red!

-Common darter
My mum and dad and brother had left me there and gone into Brading to get a coffee, they would pick me up when they were done. Whilst I completed a circuit to get back to Brading I found a secluded spot just off the footpath (not secluded it being in an open field, but hidden behind an overgrown river) and there I found lots of small coppers and also some cinnibar moth caterpillars.

-Cinnibar moth caterpillars
By the time I caught up with my family it was lunchtime, so we headed to Ventnor, my parents intention to spend the afternoon in the sea. I however had other plans! From Ventnor I could get a bus to Blackgang chine, and from there I would be able to walk to whale chine, a really exciting site on the face of it. I checked the records for keeled skimmer and that led me to it, that being the only substantial colony on the island . But not only was the wildlife potentially very exciting, the chine itself is a massive gorge with a tiny river in it, site photos are on tomorrows post, so look out for them. other species I had listed for it were-glanville fritillary (although we were late in the season for these, I was not optimistic), the islands very rare butterfly, wasp spider-no more words needed!, and also cliff tiger beetle an island speciality, it only being found in a few places in England.

The bus journey from Ventnor went through a really spectacular part of the island, although Blackgang was a serious dump! I spent about 20mins walking to whale chine. The thing about whale chine is that the stairs down to the beach are broken about half way down-the council has said through use of signs that access to the beach is not permitted, thus washing their hands of any potential incidents. However some kind person has attached ropes to the bottom surviveing rung of stairs so access is still possible.

As soon as I let go of the rope onto the valley floor I noticed small greeny-bronze beetles scurrying around. I was expecting the beetles to be scarce and illusive not absolutely everywhere crossing the path and generally having to be careful not to tread on them. It was hardly a surprise that there weren't a great deal of other ground hugging insects. Even so, they were a real treat to watch as they scurried around, their colors looked spectacular and from their face on, they looked like formidable predators. The green tiger beetle was my favourite beetle-but now it may have competition, so lets just end it at "I love tiger beetles".

-Cliff tiger beetle
Naturally i expected the keeled skimmers to live down by the small river, so i was pretty disappointed that there were none at all down there, although I couldn't exactly go all the way up, because of the fearsome brambles and the ever increasing steepness of the gorge side.

My next bus was in 1 hour, so I had an hour to kill with apparently no dragonflies to watch. There was also limited birdlife to offer, only a small family of ravens flying overhead and a few black headed gulls playing on the shore.

Walking back up from the river to the makeshift path I contemplated my choices. I decided it might be an idea to head down to the beach and do a bit of fossil hunting, seeing as though there wasn't much else to do. The path to the beach lead out of the gorge and onto a platform at the base of the about 1/3 of the way up the cliff and then continued down to the beach. I spotted a pair of beetles mating, and therefore not running away from me, so I decided to take some face on photos.

-cliff tiger beetles

there were a lot of grasshoppers in the grasses. I don't really know my grasshoppers but they seem very interesting, the yellow stripe and mottled patterning is what attracted my attention to this one

-Grasshopper sp.

As I walked onto the "platform" I spooked a dragonfly! It was a relief, after all the records system i had been using so far hadn't paid off. Having though this I realised that I didn't actually know for sure that it was a keeled skimmer, as it could easily be a common darter!

I tried to follow it but ended up amid a boggy pools with waist height reeds. I then knew that the dragonflies weren't using the river, they were using these pools. I decided to try and flush one from the reeds, then follow it for a photo. The pools came in clumps, but i didn't know this I thought that there was only this on, the others over a landslip. So I walked around the pool and through it on what appeared to be makeshift paths. Eventually I spooked a dragonfly and followed it. having found it landed it became clear that they were indeed keeled skimmers, though this one was a female-easily identified by the highlights on the plates behind the head!

-Keeled skimmer female

There were however a lot more, once you started looking they were turning up all over the pool. i can't tell you how excited I was. Now it was just a case of nailing the perfect photo. Luckily I didn't have to wait long, a female perched on a reed showing the whole wings without any reeds blocking the view.

-Keeled skimmer female

There were plenty of them to speak of, so i was able to gather a good portfolio of this species, although there was a decided lack of males. Having said that, the specimen below is a male, although its very immature, hence the lack of blue.

-immature male keeled skimmer

-female keeled skimmer

On my third circuit around the poor excuse for a pool I spook another dragonfly that was slight blue, So I immediately thought that I had found an adult male. Unfortunately it didn't stay still but when i finally tracked it down I became clear that once more, it was not an adult male, only a slightly more mature immature male!!

-Slightly more mature immature male keeled skimmer

on my fourth circuit around the "pool" I actually did finally find an adult male, a flash of vivid blue whizzed past me and disappeared. I walked around the pool again and again trying to track it down-after all how hard can it be to find a bright blue insect in a really dull greeny brown habitat. I walked around again and again but still no joy. With 5 mins before I had to leave to get my bus I felt disappointed, even though I had an amazing with two incredible new species. Then A casual glance into a patch of reeds I thought I had looked in before and I was blown away.
I looked into the reeds and there in the middle of the reeds was a really neat and tidy spiders web with a curious zig zag pattern and in the middle was a spider-with golden stripes on its belly. I couldn't even see the other side but I had seen enough-it was a wasp spider.

I managed to get round to the spectacular side of the spider but the view was infringed by the reeds, so I had to do some habitat management to ensure that I could get the photo I wanted. I managed it, although my trainers were filled with muddy water in the process. I need say no more on this, the most spectacular of British spiders-just enjoy the photos!

Wasp spider

Dispite the spider I still felt a tinge of dissapointment for the male skimmer being so illusive, but even so I felt much better, a third tick and possible the best of the whole afternoon and holiday. I decided that I had better leave and not risk the bus, so I left. as I headed back towards the ropes I spotted a small mining bee on the path, so I decided to take a random photo just to show the variety at the site. Speaking of variety-the only other ground living insect I managed find in the site, the tiger beetles aside was a violet ground beetle, which just goes to show that the only way to survive in a valley filled with miniture killers is to become an even bigger, more powerful killer.

-small mining bee

so ends the activities for today, the best day of the holiday so far. despite the slight delay I managed to get my bus and then had a fun journey back to the caravan from newport, where my family had started the BBQ so a great ending to a great day!

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