Butterflies on the marsh and more besides...

One of the most frustrating things in this country is the weather, especially when an outdoor event is being planned. Sometimes it doesn't really matter but where butterflies are concerned, at least some sunshine is required so the sight of a small patch of blue sky early on Saturday morning held promise and we were not to be disappointed.

As we assembled outside the moor gate, Di spotted a female Redstart carrying food to her nest and as the twelve of us walked up along the track and over the eastern ridge of Kilmar Tor where another friend joined us, the species list slowly grew with Skylark, Fox and signs of Badger and then a Common Shrew which had passed on. The first butterfly proved to be a Small Heath, buffeted by the breeze so difficult to ID until captured (then released of course!)

Heath Milkwort

Mindful of the possible presence of ground nesting birds we kept to animal tracks and short grass as we made our way down to the area known locally as Raven's Drinking where water runs down from Bearah and Kilmar Tors and marked by the flowering heads of Common Cotton Grass. In amongst the sphagnum mosses and Round-leaved Sundews we saw plenty of frogs in various sizes as well as a newt (Palmate?) in one of the pools with tadpoles. 

But no more butterflies and no signs of their food plant, the Devil's Bit Scabious. On the way back, we made a short detour to examine the rock basins on the top of the small tor on the ridge and enjoyed the view across to Dartmoor complete with Kestrel hovering below us. Walking back down the track, we heard the Cuckoo calling over to the west, maybe the last one we will hear this summer.  

On the tor with no name

  Swifts flew over during our lunch break and fortified by some excellent cake (thank you all!), we agreed to walk the short distance down to the marshy area below Hawk's Tor where it is slightly more sheltered.

Never attempt to ID a gingery looking butterfly from a distance... what I had assumed to be a Marsh Fritillary, was one of several Small Pearl-bordered which we were able to see at close quarters thanks to Tessa's netting skills. 

Small Pearl bordered underwing


Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (SM) Marsh Fritillary underwing

Finding one that appeared to be 'slightly' different, she presented us with a Marsh Fritillary and we could immediately see the differences especially with the underside of the wings.


Another Small Heath and Large Skipper added to our list. Day-flying moths included the Speckled Yellow and Common Heath; there were others but identification has not been confirmed. The many spider webs were noted and remarked upon

Labyrinth Spider on web

and Hilary managed to photograph one of the spiders which after consulting the Spider book, seems to me to be the Labyrinth Spider.

This area of marsh is really wet and quite deep in places; we saw the taller Hares-tail Cotton Grass growing amongst the shorter, multi-headed Common and also some clumps of Royal Fern were found in the dryer areas; very distinctive but often overlooked.

As the clouds were increasing we turned back stopping to admire a fine group of Heath Spotted Orchids, a nice finish to what had been a really enjoyable day.

Group of Heath-spotted Orchids (SM)

Royal Fern (SM)  Common Heath moth (SM)  The two forms of Cotton Grass  Rock basins on the tor

Species Seen:
Birds: Redstart, Skylark, Stonechat, Cuckoo, Kestrel, Swift, Chaffinch. Mammals: Common Shrew(D), Badger (latrine), Fox, Field Vole (signs). Common Frog, Palmate Newt. Large Red Damsel-fly. Labyrinth Spider. Swollen Thighed beetle Butterflies and moths: Small Heath, Large Skipper, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Marsh Fritillary. Speckled Yellow, Common Heath. Plants noted: Heath Bedstraw, Marsh Violet, Heath Milkwort, Round-leaved Sundew, Heath Spotted Orchid, Common and Hares-tail Cotton Grasses, Royal Fern, Star Sedge, Green-ribbed Sedge.