Rombald was a Yorkshire giant, so folklore tells us, who bestrode the heather moor watershed between Airedale and Wharfedale. Rombald’s Moor refers to the entire area containing the sub-moors of Ilkley, Bingley, Morton, Hawksworth, Burley, and others.
This article is not only a collection of life-long entomological and wildlife recollections but also a glimpse into the formation of a profound love of my county’s heather moors built-up over a lifetime. It all started a long time ago, before I was 10 years old, when the family moved from Middlesbrough to Shipley in West Yorkshire. I had already become acquainted with the North York Moors prior to the move and although my interest in butterflies and moths had already begun I had not yet connected the two passions ‘in the field’.
This connection was soon to be revealed on the famous moor accessed from the legendary Dick Hudson’s pub above Eldwick, itself high above Bingley nestling in the Aire Valley below (photo 0). ‘Rombald’s Moor’ became the shorthand designation of countless visits during my teenage years with my bird-watching life-long school-mate Ian Cockburn, my 13th birthday butterfly-net present in hand (which I still have, but no longer use), pill-boxes, ‘killing jar’ charged with carbon tetrachloride, and small Kodak Brownie camera carried in one of Dad’s ex-Army rucksacks (photos 1 & 2 taken in May 1962). These were supplemented by night-time visits to the nearby Morton Moor where my father would park the car so as to illuminate the heather in the headlights, my initial introduction to moth-trapping, charging around frantically after Antler Moths Cerapteryx graminis, and others, with net in hand, frequently stumbling and falling flat in the rough vegetation. Ian and I would often walk up all the way from Bingley if we’d missed the red single-decker West Yorkshire bus to Eldwick, and it was an uphill trek all the way, but we thought nothing of it. Sometimes we’d be accompanied by Ian’s older sisters, Alison and Sheila, and her friend Ruth, on visits to Rombald’s and Haworth Moors. One-page natural history leaflets bought at the Cartwright Hall on Manningham Lane, Bradford, whetted the appetite, particularly the Emperor Moth one (photo 3).
Emperor Moths Saturnia pavonia, Northern Eggars Lasiocampa quercus var callunae, Ruby Tigers Phragmatobia fuliginosa, plenty of Fox Moth Macrothylacia rubi caterpillars (but never an adult insect) became familiar inhabitants with the accompanying distinctive call of Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica and the occasional liquid and sublime notes of the Curlew Numenius arquata.
What follows are journal extracts from some of my visits to this heather moorland habitat during the past two decades, most frequently following visits to see my late sister, Trish, on her birthday on 1st May, when she lived with my mother in nearby Otley, and latterly in Guiseley. Inevitably, given the ‘updated diary’ nature of these extracts, a sense of repetition will probably start to creep in…
The night of Tuesday 10 May 2005 had seen temperatures fall to freezing across the country and the chill north wind had persisted for several days. But the following day dawned with blue skies and a gentle easterly breeze and a visit to my old haunt between Bingley and Ilkley beckoned.
Boots were laced in Dick Hudson’s car park around 10.30am and camera, binoculars, and a couple of pill boxes completed the kit. Crossing the road to the steel gate leading up onto the Bingley Moor part of Rombald's took me back forty years, and apart from the gate being relatively new, little had changed in this time. Through the wall and onto the moor edge where a Peacock Aglais io butterfly was ready with its welcome, and within a few more paces, two Carrion Crows Corvus corone lifted-off noisily to be pursued immediately by Lapwings Vanellus vanellus protecting their nests. A Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis sat very visibly on the top of an old bracken stem and watched my progress as a Curlew flew past in the near distance uttering its haunting call.
The air temperature was still cool although the sun was warm on my neck. The Common Heaths Ematurga atomaria fluttered their short distances before crashing into the heather, not staying long in one place before setting-off again.
The first stretch of moor to the next wall and gate had lost some of its heather to bracken encroachment over the years but not to any alarming extent. In any event, there’s still plenty of wild heather moor left! But there did seem to be more weed species than I remembered: Dandelions, Rosebay Willowherb, nettles, and thistles.
I had scanned the brown heather through binoculars and the naked eye searching for the grey/white patch resembling a small piece of litter that could indicate a female Emperor Moth, but to no avail. On reaching the gated wall, I rested and surveyed the immediate dip and steady rise beyond, an area I know like the back of my hand. A noisy pair of geese flew past east to west and then returned in the opposite direction, letting me know I’d been spotted. I think they were Grey-lags, but couldn’t be sure. By this time the sun had been hidden by clouds which seemed to be increasing.
The marshy drainage dip, (photo 4) a fruitful location in the past for Fox Moth caterpillars, Northern Eggars, and Emperors was immediately familiar but yielded nothing. I had often found Fox Moth caterpillars in the Spring on the tufts of grass within this wet depression and I marvel at their ability to spend their hibernation in such a boggy area. A Mallard Anas platyrhynchos nest (photo 5) was discovered here in those early days of May 1963. Then a Hare Lepus europaeus was spotted through some burned heather making its way with reasonable haste to better cover. Later, a cock Pheasant Phasianus colchicus ruffled its wings noisily somewhere towards the far-off pine plantation.
As the sun came through again I reached Hog Hill, my 'vantage point' to the west of the main path where, more than forty years ago as a mid-teenager, sitting quietly on my own, I had found a Ring-Ouzel’s Turdus torquatus nest at ground-level in the heather. At first, I thought it was a Dipper Cinclus cinclus, as far away from its normal habitat as it could have been, but quickly knew it was something else. This is the only Ring Ouzel I have ever seen. On the same occasion, I watched motionless as a Weasel Mustela nivalis dragged a dead Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus many times its own weight into the heather. Each rise and hollow was untouched by time. It made me think of Tom Paxton’s line from his song ‘I’m bound for the mountains and the sea’ about going back “just to see if everything’s still the same” (ask Alexa). Maybe I'll end up here one day? I must have been on the moors for an hour by now and still not much was happening. Perhaps I’d already missed the Emperors. Or perhaps I was too early?!
The binoculars were being used a lot and through them I noticed a bright green spot on a piece of heather at the top of a bank just below the skyline. As I made my way to investigate I saw two Green Hairstreaks Callophrys rubi (photo 6) at ground level on some young Bilberry, and I knew at once that I had found a small colony. These butterflies were not fully revved-up and made very accommodating photo subjects. As the sun strengthened, more were seen and became abundant. They were definitely not here when I was a teenager - they would have been impossible to miss.
Making my way east along the contour and crossing the main path to inspect a sheltered rocky hillside I was struck by the absence of Red Grouse – both visibly and audibly – and clearly they were sitting on their eggs or chicks. A Skylark Alauda arvensis made up for their absence stepping-up high into the sky making its unmistakably beautiful continuous call until almost disappearing from sight. The remains of a pigeon indicated the presence of a Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus or perhaps, less likely, a Peregrine Falco peregrinus, and its ring bore the initials GB – one racing pigeon that didn’t make it back. The ring couldn’t be easily removed without using the Swiss Army knife my daughter Alice had bought for my first Naturetrek trip to the Spanish Pyrenees in 1996, but as I didn’t have it with me, the ring remained in situ.
It was now midday and possibly I had just seen a male Emperor pass by at speed, but it might also have been a Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae having seen one a few minutes earlier. Sitting on a rock facing the distant Aire Valley in the warm sunshine I phoned my wife Jean to update her with my plans, then wandered off through the cotton grass and heather to intersect the main path in the direction of Ilkley. Still the forensic search for Emperors remained unfulfilled. A cocoon high in the heather contained the unhatched chrysalis of a Ruby Tiger (photo 7) and it could easily have been overlooked as a tired head of cotton grass: I include a picture of the adult moth (photo 8 taken elsewhere).
No sooner had I reached the main path when I found the main purpose of my visit – a female Emperor moth resting high up in the heather (photo 9) So, they are still on the wing! Being a night flier, she was easy to photograph and many shots were taken. I looked around for her empty cocoon but it became clear that she had hatched somewhere else. Using my knowledge of the species, I checked to see if her abdomen was smaller than it would have been for a freshly hatched female, and it was, indicating that she had already laid some eggs. I looked down the stem on which she was sitting and there they were, a one-centimetre collar of brown ova stuck to the stem. Carefully the stem was broken and the moth placed on another sprig. The collar would soon be heading to my Hertfordshire home!
With mission accomplished, my intention of walking to the next wall and gate – the one that leads up to the wireless masts on Morton Moor – (photo 10) was abandoned and I headed back towards Dick Hudson’s for a sandwich. En route, the path side was alive with Green Hairstreaks and more photos were taken, including a pair ‘in cop’ (hindwing dots interesting). The Lapwings were still chasing the crows. A Green-veined White Pieris napi bade farewell at the same spot where the Peacock had welcomed me three hours earlier.
As I left the car park, the temperature reading was 14°C.
It is hard to express the deep sense of happiness and oneness I have with this environment. It is a complete feeling. I shall come back in June and August and update this diary. It will become a glimpse of Rombald’s through the year, and when the years catch-up on me and I can no longer visit this place, I will read about it with a sense of longing, and with a tear in my eye.
One month on and the weather pattern had not changed much. The night of Monday 6 June 05 had seen temperatures drop to 2° as high pressure moved over the country following a cold, wet and windy few days. But the blue skies of 7 June were not accompanied by any breeze and a warm day was in store as I detoured here again on my way home from Otley.
Dick Hudson’s again provided the car park and, and I got equipped as before, I crossed the road at 10.30am to the first gate but even before reaching it had noticed a small butterfly just into the field. This was my first Small Copper Lycaena phlaeas of the year and its photo was taken nectaring on cow parsley. Within a few more steps at the bottom of the sunken path between the walls another butterfly was on the wing. This turned out to be a Wall Brown Lasiommata megera and it kindly led me right up to the moor edge where a second was seen. On the way, a Peacock paid a visit – three butterfly species and the heather not yet reached!
Immediately a pair of Curlew flew up on the first section ‘proper’ of the moor and quickly created some distance between themselves – presumably drawing me away from young. Both maintained a lot of calling even though I remained on the path. A solitary Lapwing came to see what was going on and quickly departed again.
The second area of moor containing the depression northwards to the ‘wireless mast wall’ was alive with Common Heaths (photo 11) but the Green Hairstreak season was clearly over – not one was to be seen. The cotton grass was in full flower and inspired another photo. A half-grown Northern Eggar caterpillar was feeding prominently on the heather and merited a photograph (photo 12). Upon reaching the ‘mast wall’ an hour after leaving Dick’s it was time to turn back, pretty much retracing my steps until turning off to the right towards 'my' small quarry at Hog Hill. In an area of recently burnt old heather (photo 13) the whitened cocoons of Northern Eggars were fairly common, some revealing the pin-hole through which an adult parasite – ichneumon fly – had hatched before the fire occurred. Meadow Pipits flew from vantage point to vantage point.
Towards the wall between the ‘first’ and ‘second’ sections of the moor, a number of Green-veined Whites were flying. This first section used to be predominantly heather, but today it has been invaded by bracken, thistles, nettles and other weed species.
On walking back down to the road, the realisation occurred to me – still not a sight nor sound of a Red Grouse…
By 12.30pm I was in the pub for a quick sandwich and a drink before heading-off back to the motorways. The air temperature had reached 17°.
A visit in July had not been possible, but normal service was resumed on 18 August 05. The previous day had been hot and largely sunny with temperatures touching 80°F. The forecast for the 18th promised more of the same, at least for the morning.
I arrived at Dick Hudson’s just after 9.30am and donned trainers. The sun was already warm and a gentle breeze was coming up onto the moor from the Aire Valley below. As the path between the walls was now overgrown, I followed the path through the grass and Harebells trodden by many previous visitors. Immediately pale, worn Meadow Browns Maniola jurtina were disturbed and by the time the entrance to what I term the ‘pre-moor’ was reached I had also seen Wall Browns, a Small Tortoiseshell, Small Heaths Coenonympha pamphilus and a Small Copper.
Once on the pre-moor, I was struck by the huge numbers of a black, languid fly hanging in the air. Although a nuisance, it was quickly evident that they were not interested in human flesh or blood, so they became tolerable. (Later, at home, I identified these as the ‘heather fly’, a species of St Mark’s Fly, Bibio pomonae). A couple of Small Tortoiseshells nectaring on new heather invited the first photo of the day and in doing so I startled a rabbit into the bracken.
The squeaky metal gate onto the moor ‘proper’ led to a wonderful mauve and purple vista (photo 14) that carried a softly honeyed scent in the warm air. I felt sure that the bright green, fully grown caterpillars of the Emperor Moth would be easy to spot against this background assuming, of course, that I wasn’t already too late. I also fully expected to find Northern Eggar larvae in some numbers. A Wall Brown and Small Coppers followed/led me down the first slope. Turning left along the wide cleared path through the heather proved uneventful and as I made my way up the slope towards the old ‘vantage point’ a Peacock was spotted basking. The vantage point was still alive with 'Heather Flies' and a couple of photos were taken in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the experience. At the edge of a recently burned patch of heather a white ring of remnant Emperor Moth eggs stood out clearly – presumably laid three months ago – but a quick local search did not reveal larvae or cocoons.
Apart from a steady stream of aeroplanes taking off from Leeds-Bradford airport there was little in the way of other sounds. For a moment I thought I heard a Grouse – it would have been the first of my three visits – but concluded that it was possibly a Partridge (if so, most likely a Red-legged Alectoris rufa) as the ‘go-back, go-back’ refrain was absent. I walked as far as the gate in the wall leading towards Morton Moor and took a number of landscape shots in an attempt to produce a series of images of the moor through the seasons. But still no caterpillars…
On the way back I stopped to photograph a weakly day-flying moth that turned-out to be a new species for me, a Chevron Eulithis testata, (photo 15) albeit a very common insect (and a poor photo). Silver Y’s Autographa gamma were about too, constantly on the move. A fresh green caterpillar high in the heather caught my eye which I recognised immediately as being that of a Beautiful Yellow Underwing Anarta myrtilli, (photo 16) and snapped it for the record. Shortly afterwards I saw the first humans of the visit, the first pedalling up the hill on his mountain bike followed by three blokes on foot, one of whom felt the need to be supported by two alpine walking sticks. By now the sun had been banished by clouds.
Back in the dip a couple of Wall Browns were ovipositing deep amongst the fine grass stems growing through the heather, ling, and bilberry. I had not witnessed this flight behaviour until now – instead of the flying characteristically fast they were fussing about in a fluttery way. Small Coppers also visited the heather for nectar and one was captured on film. Small Heaths were here as well.
I drank in the honeyed scent one last time before closing the squealing gate behind me disturbing a Meadow Pipit in the process. A Large White Pieris brassicae and Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta crossed my path back down the pre-moor area and all the species noted on the way up were there to greet me on my return.
But there had been no sightings of the large caterpillars I’d hoped to find and, once again, where were the Grouse?
I drove away from Dick’s at 11.45 with the temperature gauge reading 27°C and headed home.
Some six years later on 2 May 2011 I took the opportunity of being in the area, following un-documented visits on 6th May 2006, 16th May 2008, and 26th April 2010. However, photos were taken on the 2008 visit of an Angle Shades Phlogophora meticulosa (photo 17) and an unidentified caterpillar (photo 18).
Changing into field wear in the gents at Dick Hudson's through a packed bar I decided that my polo shirt would probably be sufficient to keep out the cold easterly wind that's been blowing for the past few days. Air temperature was around 13-14° under azure blue skies but the wind was stiff and very cool. Making my way up the sunken path between the dry-stone walls just after 1pm, to the frantic calling of a Pee-wit (i.e. Lapwing), I decided to visit the old quarry on the basis that it would provide some shelter and might be 'interesting'. It wasn't. Rabbits scattered as I came into view and they had nibbled all the vegetation, including the heather, to a fine beize. Following the fence down to the first wall had been completely unproductive until a Green Hairstreak revealed itself flying with some difficulty in the lee of the wall.
As I passed through the first gate I was met by a blackened vista where the old heather had been burned to encourage fresh new growth for the Grouse to feed on, before the guns came out on August 12th to commence the shooting season, and my hopes of seeing much immediately faded. But I was not to be disappointed. Up the slope after the dip several Green Hairstreaks were battling the wind to find perches on or near the ground in whatever sheltered spots they could locate. I made my way through the blackened twiggy stems of the old burned heather hoping that my special place had escaped the ravages of fire, but it hadn't. On the way there a Hairstreak landed on the charred ground and I took a poignant shot. My Hog Hill special place was not very special today and the strong colony of Green Hairstreaks so enjoyed on previous visits were no longer in evidence. No doubt they'll recolonize the area once the bilberry and heather regenerates.
After about an hour on the moor I decided to call it a day and slowly made my way back to the main path around the edge of old heather. The tough little green butterflies flew short distances low down on the heather, sometimes being whisked away by the wind. A Grouse got up close-by (photo 19) reminding me to keep out of the old growth. Nice to hear the old familiar call at last!
The only other thing to catch my attention appeared to be a Red Kite Milvus milvus hanging into the wind and making its way slowly away to the east. It was certainly Red Kite size and didn't seem to be behaving like a Long-eared Owl Asio otus, but without my binoculars on me I wasn't able to get a good enough view.
Got back to the car around 2.30pm and enjoyed the solar heated interior as I quickly reviewed the photographs taken this afternoon.
3rd May 2012 presented another chance to retrace old footsteps but the wettest April for a century and today's cold wind under grey skies did not bode well. I arrived in Dick Hudson's car park at 11.30 and donned trainers and Regatta jacket as a Curlew called and landed on the near skyline across the road (photo 20).
The sunken path between the walls led me onto the first stretch of the pre-moor much to the consternation of several Lapwings in the right-hand field and a startled rabbit that dashed-off ahead of me. The brisk wind was making my hands cold as I ate a Cox's apple as quickly as I could, and my eyes were streaming!
Grouse were also much in evidence on this first stretch. The frequent calls of Grouse, Curlews and Lapwings were joined by honking from a pair of Grey-lag Geese Anser anser that had spotted me passing through the gate leading to the moor proper, as on a previous visit. The Hog Hill dip was wet and soggy necessitating some careful footwork and the geese came very close overhead. It occurred to me that I couldn't recall seeing the moor so full and busy with birdlife as it was now. Meadow Pipits also twittered about in the tops of old heather. I scanned the heather, bilberry and grass tufts for a small emerald green triangle but the Green Hairstreaks were not in evidence, and who could blame them?! I also had an eye out for a female Emperor Moth, which would be grey against the dark heather, but also to no avail. A quick nod to a couple of walkers from the Ilkley direction interrupted the sense of isolation.
As usual I cut across to the left of the path towards the old vantage point - Hog Hill - being guided by a couple of short white posts. Curious to see what these might be I found that each one marked a kind of cat tray containing what looked like cat litter and other than providing some nutrition for the Grouse I couldn't determine what they were for. The fire of a few years ago was still much in evidence and the vantage point remained pretty desolate. But on a sheltered bank I spotted a Green Hairstreak sitting on the peat (photo 21) and took some photos: it turned out to be the only one seen on this visit.
I rejoined the main path at right angles and slowly scanned the vegetation as I made my way back towards the road but, apart from the odd bumble bee Bombus spp, insect life was absent. A mountain biker dismounted nearby having encountered a problematic boulder and we chatted briefly, he first of all asking 'what are you after?' He wasn't sure if he'd go all the way to Ilkley but knew the moor well having, like me, run it over the watershed many times in the past. But unlike me he'd run it carrying a full back-pack and wearing heavy boots - 'mad' I told him. However, in the centre of the marshy dip I passed within a foot, 30cm, of a beautifully camouflaged sitting Grouse (photo 22) and she didn't move a feather as I activated the camera to take a few shots - very pleasing, and a flash-back to the early 60's as if nothing had changed. Her nest was no more than 6 feet (2 metres) from the path - so important for dog walkers to keep their charges on a lead (photo 23). The geese had made a return to honk at me, pretty stupid I reckoned as I seemed to be at the far end of their territory and if they'd been a bit more sensible I'd never have known they were around!
The pre-moor leg repeated the alarm routine for the perfectly safe Lapwings in the adjacent field and I reflected on how much the bracken had invaded this part of the moor - the high point that I'd used as my 'base camp' with Ian Cockburn is now part of the bracken field.
The couple I'd passed on the way out were now just starting their return journey, into the wind, having had a drink at Dick Hudson's and we passed, me on the sunken path and they in the field. The woman, in her seventies I'd say, was with her son, and commented on how smart Dick's was these days, but it had been 20 years ago since she'd last been there. But she readily agreed that the walk from Ilkley was just as good as she remembered it to have been. 'See you in another 20 year's time' I said as we went our separate ways.
It was good to get out of the cold and into the car, and at 12.45 I was on my way home.
Three weeks later, on Friday 25th May, I arrived at Dick's in glorious hot sunshine but the easterly wind was still present. The day felt completely different, however. No sooner had I passed through the gate at 11am and started up the path between the walls when a Peacock flew up ahead and basked on the left-hand side wall (photo 24) sheltered from the wind. A short way further on a Small Tortoiseshell was busy laying her eggs in a nettle crown, taking absolutely no notice of me as I passed.
An immediate difference to my previous visit became apparent as I reached the first level of moor - bird activity was low and song was particularly absent apart from a sole Lapwing that fussed around. No Curlew, Grouse, or Greylag called. Meadow Pipits and Skylarks were their usual selves. Cotton grass dotted the wet Hog Hill dip and the moors looked lovely capped by a cloudless blue sky (photo 25). In the relative shelter from the wind on the path up from the dip (photo 26) the Common Heaths were getting themselves dashed into the heather - this is a very clumsy moth that clearly hasn't learned how to land in blowy weather. The first Green Hairstreak came into view up the path and soon became very common, mostly hunkering low down in the lee of the wind on the heather. My stroll continued, as is often the case, to the wall that delineates Burley Moor and runs north towards the Morton Moor radio masts. I stopped here for a short while to breathe the air deeply into my lungs, eyes closed. I do so love this place.
On the stroll back a male Emperor Moth was seen flying strongly into the wind, the only one seen on this visit, and my best efforts to scour the heather for a female proved fruitless. A couple of Beautiful Yellow Underwings buzzed around the base of the heather and one of them seemed to be egg laying. The only Curlew of the trip put in an appearance at this point circling ahead of me and calling plaintively. The Green Hairstreaks were abundant on the return leg, unsurprisingly, and I was struck by the great variation in underside markings.
A Grouse egg, pierced by a crow, (photo 27) lay at the edge of the track and the Peacock was still in the sunken footpath to welcome me back. This time I had not wandered off the path, happy to observe the poster requests, in order not to disturb ground-nesting birds.
Back at the car just before 1pm with the temperature gauge reading 23° I was now about to set-off on my way home after a very satisfying morning.
25 May 2013 I felt proud and honoured to be sharing this place with my good friend David Dennis after the 3-hour drive north to Dick Hudson's and Bingley Moor. The Green Hairstreaks are much more photographable on the heather than on the hawthorn trees and shrubs of our local Chiltern Hills and we both spent a happy morning filling-up our cameras (photo 28). A Peacock and Small Tortoiseshells put in an appearance as did a male Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni back in the pub car park - another species that certainly wasn't familiar to me in this neck of the woods when I wor ‘ere as a lad. A quick detour to pick-up my sister in Guiseley to join us for lunch at the pub completed a very satisfying morning.
Upon leaving ‘Dick’s’ and taking Trish back home, we then took the A64 around York and the A19 to Thirsk where we'd overnight at the Three Tuns on the corner of the cobbled market square. The next day, we followed the lanes to Helmsley and then on to Hawnby in the middle of the North York Moors, an eagerly anticipated deviation from the usual west side of God’s Own County. David had the co-ordinates for the Butterfly Conservation restoration project nearby to bring the Duke of Burgundy Hamearis lucina (photos 29 & 30) populations back to strength and we were pleasantly surprised to find them in good number among their larval host plant, Primroses (Primula vulgaris).
The next venue was Spaunton Moor, near Kirkbymoorside, in search of Pearl-bordered Fritillaries Boloria euphrosyne, and we weren’t disappointed there either (photo 31). In all the years I’d lived in Yorkshire I was unaware of the existence of these two species here, not to mention Large Heath Coenonympha tullia as well deeper onto the moors! A pub lunch at the Fox and Hounds, Sinnington, completed this short trip to the Hambleton Hills setting us well for the four hour drive home.
3 May 2014 I arrived at Dick's at 12.30 with the temperature reading 14° and with a gentle breath of a breeze. A Small Tortoiseshell flew past me as I walked up the sunken path onto the moor. Bird song was noticeably absent, presumably due to a preoccupation with nesting. On the first descent through the plateau wall I noticed a Green Hairstreak low down on the heather, soon to be supplemented by many more of these emerald gems. A Fox Moth caterpillar (photo 32) was seen busily following the path so I let it run onto my hand before depositing it into a safer place. A customary visit to Hog Hill was made easily across previously burnt heather with no risk to ground-nesting birds and several Green Hairstreaks were flying there.
On my way back to the main path a Grouse alerted others to my presence, sitting prominently on top of old heather. A couple of Northern Eggar larvae had their photos taken (photo 33). Around 1.30pm the sun disappeared behind clouds and the Green Hairstreaks disappeared too, abandoning their vantage points on top of the heather for the safer bright green bilberry patches and ground-level grass - interesting survival behaviour I thought! Somewhere close by a Curlew called. The stroll back to the car was pretty uneventful with only a pair of Meadow Pipits flying anxiously across the path. My trip finished at 2.10pm and the temperature had crept up by all of a single degree.
4 May 2015 Arriving at the pull-in just before Dick Hudson's around 10.30 I booted-up and put on my fleece as the temperature gauge was showing 12° and a brisk south-westerly was blowing. A Kestrel Falco tinnunculus hung motionless in the air towards the top of the walled path - a perfect characterisation of its vernacular name 'wind-hover' - and Skylarks welcomed me as I reached the first area of the moor. I scoured the heather but was always careful not to walk into it so as to avoid disturbing any ground-nesters. As usual, I was looking out for a female Emperor Moth, her greyness contrasting with the darkness of the heather but a good half-hour passed before anything of note came to eye, a Northern Eggar caterpillar sitting on the heather top. Down in the 'dip' I found a new species (for me) in the shape of a lizard, a Common Lizard Zootoca vivipara, and managed to get a few shots (photo 34). Cocoons of Ruby Tiger – it’s scientific name Phragmatobia fuliginosa must be THE best of any moth - and also Northern Eggar larvae were spotted high in the heather, and photos taken.
Eventually, I made my way across to the small, old quarry at Hog Hill and in the lee of the higher ground found the first Green Hairstreak of the day, but by now it was midday! A second was seen nearby. A total of two Common Heaths had also been seen alongside the main path, both of them blown crashing uncontrollably into the heather, as usual. Grouse were clearly sitting tight on their nests although I disturbed a cock which flew off complaining. Curlew song was often liquid in the air. I returned to the car around 12.30 with the temp gauge reading 14° reasonably satisfied with the couple of hours and not surprised about the absent Empress.
20 August 2015 Hoping to pick up some fully grown caterpillars so that I could be certain of getting decent photos next Spring, I parked in Dick's carpark on an overcast though humid day just after noon and a gentle southerly breeze assisted me up on to the moor. Just as the track levelled out a Small Heath (photo 35) settled in the sheep-grazed grass and light heather before transferring to bilberry, a very suitable candidate for this habitat. Further on, by the first transversal wall, another three were seen. The sun was illuminating the purple swathes of heather at this point inviting a couple of photos.
A Red Kite also circled and soared overhead and, once again, I think this confirmed sighting was new to my experience up here, though not at all unexpected due to a major re-introduction of the species at Harewood, north of Leeds. But no caterpillars yet. Two or three Silver Ys buzzed around in the heather and a few Common Heaths allowed themselves to be blown about. My 'miss' of the day was a Peacock taking nectar from the heather, a lovely composition, but as I raised my camera to shoot, it flew off.
4 May 2016 With two of my ‘old’ University buddies, Dave Rusdale and Bri Rogers, we set-off on an ‘Emperor quest’ eventually reaching the Bronze Age standing stone circle on the Burley Moor watershed known as the Twelve Apostles (photo 36), but failed to see any of our targets. But a very fine Heath Goldsmith beetle, Carabus nitens, (photo 37), new to me, provided some compensation as it scampered away through the grass. The walk on a pleasant day with two good companions rounded-off a morning well-spent.
3 May 2018 Parking up at Dick Hudson's around 2.10pm the sound of a Curlew down the valley was wonderful and I made my way up the sunken path to the moor stopping to track and identify a pair of Mistle Thrushes Turdus viscivorus (photo 38) probing the path. Meadow Pipits were around and a distant Grouse welcomed me. The moor was very quiet but I decided to track across to Hog Hill picking my way at times through the beautiful sphagnum cushions resplendent in their spring green (photo 39). Upon entering the 'quarry' bit of Hog Hill I spotted a female Emperor Moth low down amongst the bilberry (photo 40) - totally unexpected, and a real treat made even better when I realised that she was still paired with a male, mostly obscured behind her. Photos were taken. I then tried to apply some fieldcraft to move the pair for a better view but the male immediately separated and began revving up, soon to fly up and be taken away on the breeze. Further shots of the female ensued (photo 41). Nothing else was flying, except for some handsome Bumble Bees, as I made my way back to the car arriving an hour after departing. A most worthwhile first visit of the year!
The Covid pandemic now being over (?) after some two years, a flying visit on 12 June 2022 was soon abandoned due to cool and windy weather but not until a Small Heath (photo 42) had been spotted after an obligatory inspection of Hog Hill. The cotton grass was in fine form, blowing around in the stiff breeze! (photos 43 & 44) I also noticed, for the first time ever, that saplings were growing in the heather (photo 45), will check out the species on my return.
As old habits die hard, in 2023 I will return to my roots and indulge myself once again…..and this happened on Friday 26 May when a couple of old school mates, Ian and Roger, joined me for a quick visit on an overcast and cool day. The heatwave of last year seems to have hit the heather hard with large areas appearing dead and the usual fresh new growth suppressed. A pair of Green Plovers (photo 46) advertised the closeness of their chicks compensating in small measure for the complete absence of Red Grouse in sight and sound. Green Hairstreaks stood out on the brown heather and a Brown Silver-line moth, Petrophora chlorosata (photo 47) could do nothing to prevent the breeze blowing it repeatedly into the vegetation.