Friday, 4 July 2008


Not wishing to sound like a scratched record but I haven't been to Sandwich for around 15 years. I 'd been following the weather all week and Friday still looked the best day to allow me to try and see marsh helleborine for the first time. I didn't set out from Longfield until midday and whilst packing up the car I had a hummingbird hawk moth feeding on the red valerian in the front garden, nice start. It was 62 miles and £6.00 toll to enter the private Sandwich estate but I finally arrived at the field studies centre shortly after 13:00. The staff there could not have been more helpful and I also bumped into an old birding friend Ian Hodgson who is now the site manager. I followed a couple of the bird ringers to one of sites for the helleborines and it wasn't long before I was happily snapping away. The display of orchids was amazing, I think I had hit it just right for the helleborines and there had also been an incredible show of southern marsh orchids probably only a week earlier but most of them were now over although the odd good flower still existed. A few ragged robin were still in flower.

Marsh Helleborine, only part of the amazing floral display.

Southern Marsh Orchid. These appeared in good sized clusters and when at their prime must have looked amazing.

Southern Marsh Orchid

Needless to say with all this excellent meadow habitat and sunshine, insects were out in force. In fact I think this has to be my best butterfly encounter to date this year. Wherever you looked there were butterflies on the wing marbled white, large white, small white, meadow brown, ringlet, small copper, small skipper, Essex skipper, small heath and large skipper. I also found this six-spot burnet moth feeding on some tufted vetch. I'd never noticed before the amazing antennae, they remind me of the horns of the old western long-horn cattle.
Six-spot Burnet Moth

Marbled White

Small Copper. I was particularly pleased to see up to 4 of these as I do have trouble finding them now in north west Kent.

On returning to the field studies centre for a celebration cup of tea, I was told about the scarce chaser dragonfly that you can also see in the area. So from the centre, I wandered down to the river and it wasn't too long before I started to see some dragonflies. This is where a digital camera comes in handy because when you are not sure what you might be seeing having a few photos can help with identification after the event. I ended up seeing two males both with blue abdomens holding territories that were close to each other, in fact as soon as one was on the wing the other would shoot out and grapple with it before both returned to their respective perches. I was lucky in that I managed to get photos of both. The first one is a male black-tailed skimmer which does look a lot like a scarce chaser. However if you look closely at the base of the wings where they join the thorax there are no dark markings i.e. the wings are clear.
Black-tailed Skimmer

Scarce Chaser. On the hind wings you can see a dark patch at the base of the wings where they join the thorax. To me the abdomen also looks shorter and slightly broader with the black tip not extending as far up.

I believe that there are only 3 sites in Kent where you can see scarce chaser and from what I heard at Sandwich the species is doing very well there.
Given it was quite windy, sunny, the afternoon and July, I did manage to see a few birds amongst which hobby 1, marsh harrier 1 and peregrine 1 were noteable.
So what a great afternoon, a new species of orchid and dragonfly for me, along with yet another excellent wildlife experience.


Greenie said...

John ,
Great blog as ever , really enjoyed. Good to see natural Marsh Helleborines , when I went down for them a few years ago , they had muslin bags over them , for seed collection I think . Had to unpack , photograph and re-bag each one .
Lets hope the Scarce Chaser range extends , my sightings have been on the Arun in Hampshire .
Good collection of butterflies as well .

Cheryl said...

What an absolutely fabulous post....enjoyed every bit of it. The butterflies are exquisite and I was so pleased to read that you saw plenty. My garden usually has many butterfly visitors but they have been rare so far this year.
I was lucky to have a small copper visit in the summber of 2006 but havn't had any since.
The hummingbird hawk moth is a visitor here, they capture me everytime, I love them.

Mike - Fenphotography said...

Stunning post John great close up shots, looks like you got the good weather and variety to post.

Warren Baker said...

Well done on the Scarce Chaser John. Great post with some excellent pics.

Steve said...

I agree with everyone else John - great post of what sounds like a great afternoon. The Marsh Helloborine pictures are great - not an Orchid I have ever seen.

John Young said...

Hi folks, many thanks for the kind comments.