29th March 2012 - Pennington Flash/Hope Carr NR

A long day at some old favourites

A day off work and a chance to meet up with my brother and do a spot of birding up his neck of the woods.  Pennington Flash was the area to be visited due to the fact that an Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) was seen earlier in the week and so hopefully we could connect with this super butterfly and perhaps grab a few photo's along the way (although that is never a priority).  The gripe today, for me anyway, was actually getting to Pennington and although only 40 miles away it was looking to be a real bind due to a society built around the car and not the defiant 'erbert on foot who uses public transport.   Arriving at Stockport train station at 8.30am I picked up my day ranger and was duly informed ‘you can't use these tickets before 9.30am’.  The price of a ticket to use before 9.30am would be double in cost so my short and curlies were had and time out ‘in the field’ would be decreased - very helpful I must say.  Up on the platform and noting that I had an hour to kill I duly found a nice sunny spot, plonked down my arse and read a few pages from a book that I had picked up cheap from the bird observatory lighthouse at Portland Bill. The commuters flitted here and there, metal tubes filled with glum faces passed by whilst I disappeared into the problems of a man trying to maintain a respectable garden, that is pleasing to the human eye, as well as create a haven for wildlife that would meet natures needs.  I reckon I know the one who has his priorities sorted.
At 9.20am a sincere 'sod it' was uttered and I boarded a train to be deposited at the backside of Manchester Piccadilly where I duly made my way to Platform 14 and stood amongst the hordes.  Another 30 minutes on the windblown platform and on to a second train, this one rammed to the rafters with all and sundry - all seemingly unimpressed by this mode of transport and their working day ahead.  Off at Bolton and another 15 minutes up the spout before hopping on the last train of the outward journey to Wigan.  An old style train this time that felt a little more spacious and up my street or should that be track.  Not a bad last jaunt and whilst pulling into the station one eye, as usual, drifted up to the offices where I met my lovely wife many moons ago - always a wonderful memory.  Off and to the nearby pie shop where, due to a cruel twist of fate, I purchased two of the most depressing and disgusting sausage rolls I have ever had the displeasure of trying to consume.  About 7 inch apiece in length, oozing an abundance of foul, heart clogging oils and containing the most rubberised meat imaginable – yuck.  I confess that I did give them both a real good shot but alas even my northern constitution failed to register anything pleasurable in the overall concoction.  My brother arrived and I duly raved about the purchased filth and wondered if he cared to partake.  A refusal was expected and after receiving it the two damned rolls of cholesterol were re-wrapped and saved for a nearby bin. 
First port of call today was a local pond close to my brother’s house where, during last season, he had noted an abundance of Cuckoo-flower (Cardamine pratensis) which was duly frequented by numerous Orange Tip butterflies.  Today - nothing - not even a stalk, just a load of dried grass, a few unidentifiables and some Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) on the water.  A circular walk produced one Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) and some Lesser Reedmace (Typha angustifolia) which, surprisingly, was a new sighting for my good self.  Back in the car and with the clouds fleeing the sun shone and hopes were high of a good day around reliable Pennington Flash.  Parking in the first car park, immediately off the main road, the usual patch of Sweet Violets (Viola odorata) were looked at and sniffed with note taken of how they had spread over the recent years.  A large Violet this from a family that can be quite tricky to identify.   The term 'Dog Violet' is often used but is a rough phrase that is had for various plants within the genus that have no scent and which are usually smaller plants in general than the Sweet varieties.  Walking on, through the blossoming trees, we located a call within some dense Blackthorn bushes (Prunus spinosa) that could only mean one thing - a lot of waiting around to catch a glimpse of one of our summer visiting birds, namely the Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla).  From the pathside a brief glimpse was had so we moved to the other side of the hedgerow and waited in a field that rose a couple of thermal degrees in the 30 minutes or so that we frequented it.  The flowers of the Blackthorn seemed like out of season snowflakes determined not to be melted by the glowing orb in the sky and made for a delicately charming site so early in the year.  3 Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae) fed hungrily from various blooms and let us approach within feet to take in the delicate wing pattern that these declining flutterers display.   The Blackcap was less obliging but was eventually seen and two others were heard in the local vicinity, but by heck, when these winged wonders take to being discreet they don't half take some spotting.  Now and again they will sit out as bold as brass and have you wondering what all the fuss is about as regards getting a crippling shot but today - no way!

Leaving the duelling Blackcaps to their surreptitious business we wandered to the far end of the main Flash where we sought the confines of the open grassy areas, that were surrounded by various shrubbery, where solar rays were trapped and warmth built to hopefully entice out a few scaly winged beasties.  I had my lepidopteran head on at the moment (as I do throughout the spring and summer months) and at this time of year was still hungry after a long winter with no moths or butterflies to admire.  The first open area was a little too expansive and the wind rushed over with a slight nip to it and, although it seemed ideal for what we sought, no sightings were had.  In a more tucked away space though no sooner had we scanned the immediate vicinity than a Peacock (Inachis io) took to the air followed by the first Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) of the year, a Comma (Polygonia c-album) and a busily flapping White that could have been an Orange Tip but which I predicted, due to the behaviour, to be a Green Veined White (Pieris napi).  The pure white marvel kept up a good rate of flappology and I did wonder if this would be the first of those frequent 'White sp' recordings I get really frustrated with.  On the wing it really is a task to differentiate between the female Orange Tip, both sexes of the Green Veined White as well as the Small White (Pieris rapae) and to a lesser degree (if the glimpse is brief) the Large White (Pieris brassicae).  The markings on this energetic beast were somewhat subdued, the size nothing noticeable and so it seemed that Large White could easily be discounted.  The flight times these days don't really count for anything as with global warming these creatures are popping up when conditions suit.  Still, the butterfly refused to settle, although several times the consideration was obviously there.  Eventually however a branch was chosen and the wings were opened at specific angles so as to give us a chance at viewing those crucial hind underwings.  Binoculars focussed and with no green veining, no marbling and just a soft lemon evenness throughout the verdict was given of the year’s first Small White.  A nice surprise indeed.

My favourite butterfly - the reliable Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

The rest of the walk today was hard work with the bird list crawling up and flowers still holding back on a full on bloom fest.  Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) was one species however that displayed a burst of petals and grew in a watery ditch that seemed the most unlikely spot for any plant to want to flower.  More yellow flowers noted today, and most of the year, were found upon a good sized clump of Gorse bushes (Ulex europaeus) which were thoroughly checked for insect life.  It came as no surprise that numerous Gorse Seed Weevils (Exapion ulicis) frequented many blooms and once the eye was in a few Gorse Shieldbugs (Piezodorus lituratus) were picked out, resplendent in their tough green armour plating with the yellow laterotergites and the black wing membrane.  A blast at photography was had with little in the way of decent results although the shot of a Weevil I got was graded as acceptable.

The bright yellow flowers of Common Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and if you look closely a Gorse Seed Weevil (Exapion ulicis)

A liquid refreshment and the stroll on was ponderous with expectations of some mega sighting at a minimum. After seeing a Speckled Wood in a stretch of Silver Birch trees we thought we had disturbed another when a vivid flash of Orange from the hindwing, as well as a nice thick black border, brought visions of the day flying, and very much elusive, Orange Underwing Moth (Archiearis parthenias). No sooner seen on the ground than the little tinker took to the wing and teased us with a nearby sortie that had me amateurishly wafting my hands about hoping to gently get the critter to land. No chance - off it when into the great blue beyond with my brother feebly giving chase and getting absolutely nowhere. Initial thoughts were of what else the said moth could be and no such answers came to light so, with a fair amount of certainty, we drifted on. Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) or Skitties as we used to know them, were in fine condition and bubbled away before becoming airborne and opening up the old voice box to the pleasurable maximum.

Reaching the reserve proper a few hides were visited with nothing much out of the ordinary to report. Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) was noted fleeing into the distance as though its arse was on fire whilst Redshank (Tringa totanus) and Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) fed at the latest scrapes. The best bird of the day perhaps was when we arrived back at the car where a Nuthatch (Sitta europea) gave away its position by dripping out its call as it climbed a gnarled and knotted trunk in the hope of finding food and a mate. A veritable personal first for my Pennington Flash list this and only a recent arrival at this site.

And that was it for the day...or was it! A check of the time displayed that we were a full hour ahead of schedule so it was agreed that a trip to nearby Hope Carr Nature Reserve may be profitable, due to it being neglected by the local wildlife fraternity and, as it turned out, the local warden/ranger crews. What was once a great little addition to a day out at the Flash is now a pure shambles of a place with everything overgrown and offering little in the way of a good birding view. 5 Peacock Butterflies and 2 Small Tortoiseshells, besides a few common birds, and that was it with the bird hide gone and just a distant memory and several areas overgrown and lacking any life at all. For insects the place will be a dream for a few years but, for overall diversity, the place is destined to fail. 

So the day out was at an end and after a 30 minute car ride, a trip to Manchester Victoria, a walk across town to Manchester Piccadilly, another train journey to Stockport and a lift home via the chippy I was, to say the least, a trifle fagged out. A regular kind of day heightened by the confirmation of an Orange Underwing and also of the fact that the effort was made rather than sit around and twiddle ones thumbs or, indulge in less fruitful fiddling, that are only too readily forgotten. I could have easily bowed out of today but the effort gave the reward of an all time new moth - to some - 'so what', to me - a notch in the learning curve, a sound experience and part of a day that will slot into the annual achievements and contribute to the general flow - it's all positive.