Monday, 3 June 2013

Rank opportunism

It's a phrase often uttered by politicians, except perhaps Roy Jenkins, but rank opportunism also describes my approach to wildlife photography over the half-term break, as it had to take second place to other responsibilities.
Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Castle Drogo NT, Devon

Pearl-bordered Fritillary underside: red (as opposed to black) chevrons around the border of pearls help separate this species from the similar Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
Chief among these was to attend the first birthday party of my strategically placed, Cornwall-based God-daughter Tilly, whose parents were unwise enough to entrust a third of her spiritual wellbeing to me late last year. Fortunately, she is turning out to be pretty angelic under her own steam, which is just as well as this was the first time I'd seen her since the Christening, and the moral guidance I have offered her over the phone since then has been met with nothing more than nonsensical gurgling.
Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Bluebell was the preferred foodplant though the Fritillary also fed on Buttercup and Dandelion
I have referred to my feelings about children's parties before in this blog, and I'm afraid they don't improve with age. This one was in an indoor swimming pool, on a pretty warm day, and went on for four hours. I would rather have been waterboarded for the same time than stay for all of it. So it was fortunate that I was let off the first couple of hours to go look for Marsh Fritillaries on nearby Berney Common (which hadn't emerged yet, as it happened, but dipping on these was still better than the alternative). Getting back in good time to officiate (i.e. light the single candle), and clean up after the kids (i.e. eat the remaining party food), saved me from being smote down by the man upstairs.
The display of Bluebells at Castle Drogo was impressive for the end of May - another sign of the late spring

Rabbit at Castle Drogo
More successful on the butterfly front was a brief stop at the National Trust's Castle Drogo in Devon on the way down. It's just off the A30 so a good place for a breather, and also an NT tick for the whole family. I hadn't really considered looking for butterflies, despite the good weather, having written the trip off in terms of wildlife watching, but a shimmer of orange flitting around the base of the castle had me immediately thinking 'fritillary'.
Juvenile Dipper, North Devon

Juvenile Dipper
It took a few minutes to get a better view and realise I was looking at one of the rarest - Pearl-bordered, now extinct in neighbouring Dorset, but still hanging on in Devon. Having done a bit more research on my return, Castle Drogo would appear to be one of the best sites for them.

Swallow near Barnstaple
The second major responsibility of the trip came on the way back from Cornwall, and involved a detour to visit the parents in North Devon - just in time to deliver gifts for Mother's birthday (73), and get well cards for Father (69). He's just been discharged from hospital after an Achilles operation which will surely end his Premier League career hopes once and for all. After a fish supper I went for a short stroll, peeked over the edge of an unpromising looking culvert under the road and found myself face to face with a juvenile Dipper. This has been high on my photographic hitlist since one left the frame just before I pressed the shutter on another Devon stream a few years ago.
Wood Pigeon, Portland

House Sparrow, Portland
The third major responsibility was completing the dissertation which has become an (untickable) Albatross hanging around my neck, and which has also prevented me from keeping binoculars there. Having spent all day Sunday staring at the laptop not making much progress with it, by late afternoon I cracked and went to Portland to see an Eastern Subalpine Warbler, my first of this race. On arrival a dip felt on the cards, so there was at least time for a pleasant chat in the afternoon sun with a few other latecomers who had yet to see the bird. Then a shout from the other side of the Obs got us all some brief but conclusive views before the Warbler dropped into deep cover never to be see again.

Best I could manage of the Eastern Subalpine Warbler at Portland Bill

This shot gives a slightly better view of the red eye-ring - and the leg ring fitted earlier at the Obs
All in all then, not a bad few days for an opportunist. It would have been even better if I'd completed that dissertation. Not to worry, as I've said before, there's no time like maƱana.

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