Local community site for Broadstone, Dorset, since 1999

Nature Diary – May 2015

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female-purple-hairsreak

Purple Hairstreak butterfly

In March I was given two Purple Hairstreak butterfly eggs that had been retrieved from a branch that had fallen from a large Oak tree during the strong winds earlier this year. These tiny grey discs the size of a pin-head were attached to the base of some Oak buds.  I put the twigs into a jar of water to keep them fresh, by April the eggs had hatched, the minute caterpillars having bored their way into the buds to feed. These caterpillars really are minute you need a magnifying glass to see them clearly. I didn’t see them for some time as they emerge at night to feed on fresh young leaves. As the caterpillars start to grow they are much easier to find, the larvae looking like a brown woodlouse. Each day I would look but I only saw them once, and never saw them again. I had put some moss and tree litter around the base of the jar for the larvae to pupate in, but each time I checked I never found a pupa, had they died or escaped into the room? It wasn’t until I put fresh leaves and water in the jar that they fell out onto the moss having pupated among the oak twigs. I now wait in anticipation for this beautiful little butterfly to hatch. The Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) can be found in most oak woods in late June or July tumbling in the sky high up in the tree tops. I have found searching the tops of oaks in the evening with binoculars the best way to see them, but they can occasionally be found by tapping the lower branches.

Young tawny owl

Young tawny owl

7th May – While my wife and I were walking our dog Lucy in the recreation ground I spotted in a bush something which looked like a fluffy child’s toy.   On closer examination I could see it was a young Tawny Owl about three/four weeks old its eyes opening and closing and taking no notice of me.  I called to my wife who was not far away chasing a Holly Blue butterfly. “Come and see what I have found”, arriving she said it’s gorgeous, have you taken a picture? I said “I haven’t brought my camera with me”, she replied “that’s typical, you should always carry your camera you never know what you may find”, and offered to walk all the way back home to fetch it.  While she had gone some people walked past me and said “you look like you have seen something interesting”.  Averting my eyes from the baby owl and telling a little lie I replied “NO not really only some speckled wood butterflies”, not wanting anyone disturbing this bird.  I was surprised they hadn’t seen it. It wasn’t long before my wife arrived with the camera and I took some pics. Where had the Owl come from? There aren’t many hollow trees in the park big enough for a Tawny Owl to nest in, although it was not far from a box that I had put up a couple of years ago, but I had never seen any activity near the tree or found any owl pellets to make me think it was being used.  It may have been blown from an old Crow or Magpie nest which they do occasionally use and there had been some very strong winds the previous day, there were broken branches scattered everywhere. Later I asked my wife why she had been chasing a Holly Blue butterfly when she has seen plenty of Holly Blues before.  She answered “as it wasn’t very sunny I was hoping it would settle and maybe open its wings so I could see whether it was a male or female” and she was quite right, the Holly Blue only seems to open its wings in weak sunlight.

22nd May – One of the Purple Hairstreak pupae had hatched, I know it’s early and they shouldn’t do so until July, but this does happen when rearing Lepidoptera at home. I could have put the pupa in a small container in the fridge to slow up metamorphism and taken it out sometime early July, but I thought I would take a chance and see what happens.  The room they were kept in was quite cold and the oaks seemed to be in leaf much earlier this year.  Being sunny I released it the following day.

23rd May – While watching a cricket match here in the recreation ground my eyes were averted to the screaming of a small flock of Swifts putting on their usual aerial performance of chasing each other with rapid wing beats and then a short glide.  I may have mentioned some time ago in my nature notes that these wonderful birds used to nest under the roof of the old flour mill in Market Way opposite Wimborne Market. I wonder if Thomas Hardy ever watched these birds while living in Avenue Road, Swifts do like to make their presence known. But I am afraid not any more at this mill which has been converted into flats. I look forward to seeing these brown summer migrants with their long scythe shape wings and short tail, what they may lack in colour they make up for in their flying ability.  We have had two Swift nest boxes fitted beneath a soffit at the Bournemouth Natural Science Society where my wife and I do voluntary work.  The nest boxes have Swift calls fitted and are played daily to attract this summer visitor to use them.  At the moment a pair of Great tits has taken up residency in one of the boxes (just what we needed!) but we are keeping our fingers crossed, this is early days. These wonderful birds are gradually disappearing from their summer haunts due to lack of nest sites, wooden soffits being replaced by plastic, old buildings being knocked down and replaced with supermarkets, these are just some of the many hazards facing them after there long flight from Africa.

A lady brought into the museum one Tuesday morning a chicken egg she had found in her garden buried in a large terracotta flower pot and asked me if I knew how it got there; I told her it was probably a fox.  I once found a chickens egg buried in a flower bed whilst working in a friends garden and wondered how it got there. And then I happened to mention this phenomenon one day at the museum to our entomologist who is also a gardener and he told me that it was a fox; he had found many over the years while gardening that had been buried. Where does the fox steal the eggs from? not a coup, surely the fox would prefer a chicken to an egg.  Also it has been known that eggs have occasionally been found stamped with a little lion and sell by date. If anyone reading this have found eggs buried in their garden, or seen a fox carrying a chicken egg in its mouth or better still actually burying it, please get in touch I would love to know. It’s not only chicken eggs but duck and the occasional goose egg that has been found. Oh I forgot, and golf balls.

25th May – While in conversation with a friend I asked if she had ever found any chicken eggs whilst gardening, she replied “no, but I do occasionally give the foxes that come into the garden any eggs that are out of date and they just pick them up in their mouth without breaking them and take them away”. That explains finding eggs that are stamped, but why do foxes bury them and forget where they are buried?

28th May – the other Purple Hairstreak pupa had finally hatched and two days later when it had become active I managed to get a photograph for those readers who have never seen one of these beautiful butterflies. It’s not the best photo; I had to keep it contained in a small jar to stop it flying away.  After taking the required picture with wings open, I released it where it immediately flew to the top of some oaks.

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About Author

I am a retired groundsman and have lived in Broadstone for forty years. I am a volunteer warden for ARC monitoring the amphibians and reptiles that live on the Heath at Dunyeats Hill which I have been doing since 2008. I am also oology curator at the Bournemouth Natural Science Museum cataloguing their egg collections.

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