Monday, 20 July 2015

19th July Aish Tor & Pendeen

This week our cottage was supposed to be booked up by paying guests. However, whilst all the other high summer weeks had gone, for some reason this week had stayed empty. There was some last minute interest but when that fell through the idea was mooted that perhaps we could go down for an impromptu bonus family holiday. Also, the internet had apparently stopped working down there and we were finding it almost impossible to sort it out remotely so it would be much easier if we were actually down there. In the end collectively we didn't take much persuading and we decided to go for it. Having learnt our lesson from previous trips we decided to avoid travelling on the dreaded first Saturday of the summer holidays and so we set off reasonably early for us at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and with the roads nice and clear we made good progress.

Now, if I were coming down on my own I'd be stopping of en route to see some wildlife of interest and having done my research I'd homed in on Aish Tor on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon which was a good site for the rare High Brown Fritillary. However, being en famille it might not be so straight-forward to do this. I tentatively put it to my family who were surprisingly OK with this idea - the plan being that they could all go for a walk whilst I hunted for my butterfly. So, given the lack of traffic, in the surprisingly short time of a little over two and a half hours we turned off the A38 by Ashburton and made our way along the narrow Devon lanes to the car park half way up Aish Tor. This turned to be a rather steep, bracken-covered hill overlooking the Dart valley. I'd been eyeing up the weather pessimistically en route as it had been looking very cloudy for much of the journey and even with the occasional rain shower. Fortunately though we seemed to have arrived in the middle of a rare sunny interval though it was rather windy and conditions were far from ideal I hurriedly got my gear together and set off up the hill leaving the rest of the family to sort themselves out though the sun soon went it leaving it all too cloudy.

Aish Tor
There were plenty of Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns about which my daughters kept pointing out to me in their effort to help. However, I couldn't see any Fritillaries on the wing at all. The rest of the family headed off to do their own thing and I started to search the area more thoroughly. I found an old quarry which was sheltered from the wind and which looked promising though still no luck. As I headed higher up the hill I saw a larger butterfly flitting about so I hurried up there. Near the top the bracken gave way to gorse and heather with clear patches in between and these larger butterflies turned out to be Grayling, normally a good butterfly to see though it wasn't what I was after today.  I carried on my search, snapping the odd flower that I didn't immediately recognise or the occasional moth that I came across.

The cryptic Grayling
Slender St. John's Wort
Wood Sage
Despondent at my lack of success I headed back down the hill again where I met up with our younger daughter who thought that she'd seen something promising a bit off piste in the bracken. With no other leads to work with I thought that I might as well chase it up and so we headed off to try and find it again. We didn't have any luck and eventually found ourselves back down by the old quarry. There I spotted something large and orangeish zooming about. It looked promising but I soon lost it to view. Time had been marching on so disappointed we headed back to the car to get our picnic lunch. There we found the rest of the family tucking into their food as well. I took my sandwich and negotiated a final look whilst I ate my lunch so I hurried back off to the quarry area. There I soon found my orange butterfly again though it turned out to be a Small Tortoiseshell. I did a quick circuit all around the quarry again and was just working my way back to where I'd started when Bingo! there was a Fritillary right in front of me nectaring on some bramble. Having done some research I knew what to look for to try to distinguish it from the near-identical Dark Green Fritillary but agonisingly it flew off before I could pin it down. Fortunately it had just skipped to the next bramble patch just a few yards away but tucked deep into the bracken. I carefully waded in and got a better view of it: the body was a uniform dark brown with not a hint of green, the third spot on the upper wing did appear indented and the underwing had the diagnostic darker orange patches between the outer and inner circles of white spots. That made it a High Brown - Result! Sadly it flew to another bramble patch deeper within the bracken and completely out of sight before I could get a photo but at least I'd seen one. I hung around for a while hoping that it would re-appear and did a quick circuit of the quarry again where I managed to turn out a Green Hairstreak. Try as I might I couldn't re-find it and eventually I got a phone call from the rest of the family who were growing restless so I headed back to the car.

Green Hairstreak

Rush Veneer - an immigrant moth
It was time to head off so it was back to the A38 where we made good progress, arriving at Penzance in about an hour and three quarters. A reviving cup of tea in the Sainsburys café and then the food shop for the week and it was off to the cottage. We played our usual "guess how many Buzzards we will see" game between Penzance and Pendeen but sadly the result was Nil Point.

We found the cottage bathed in glorious late afternoon sunshine with not a breath of wind. It seemed almost unnaturally to see it in such lovely weather, so used were we to visiting in cold, wind and rain. We spent the rest of the day just pootling around the cottage taking in all the sites. Daughter 2 found a Slow Worm and there was a Painted Lady and two Red Admirals to admire in the garden. We wandered down to the lighthouse and stared at the sea for a while before heading back for dinner. It's good to be back!

Red Admiral
Slow Worm

Pendeen sunset

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