CUMBRIA, 3 - 6 JULY 2016
Sunday 3 July: journey north, Whitbarrow
The Wheatsheaf Inn at Beetham was reached at 1.20pm where we were able to dump our cases in our rooms before taking a quick snack lunch, plus pint, in the bar.
David Dennis and I would spend the afternoon at the southern edge of Whitbarrow, parking around 2.30pm by the farm below Backhouse Wood as on our previous trip in 2007. The walk up the steep lane soon took us into the beech wood, dotted with oak and yew, where we took the path on the left going steeply through the trees until the rock face appeared ahead. In patchy sun and a fair breeze we spent the rest of the afternoon at this dramatic site photographing mostly Grayling (Hipparchia semele) and Ringlets (Aphantopus hyperantus): high above us on the sheer rock face the call of Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) chicks could be heard but not seen.
We got back to the hotel by 6pm awaiting the arrival of Chris Winnick, the Chair of BC Cumbria, who we'd entertain to dinner in exchange for a thorough picking of his brains for site and species information. He'd come well prepared with bundles of leaflets and booklets to share with us.
Monday 4 July: Nichol's Moss, Latterbarrow
My sleep had been regularly interrupted by the church bells across from my window chiming every 15 minutes through the night and striking on the hour, exacerbated at 4am by a gaggle of Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) that seemed to be right outside my window. Today's forecast was for an ok morning but with rain hitting sometime during the afternoon. The first location today would be the shortish journey to Nichols Moss, a new venue for both of us and one recommended by Chris. The route passed through Milnthorpe westwards onto the A590 taking the right turn through Witherslack, past Halecat Nursery, along lovely leafy lanes, ending down a no-through road past Slate Hill (on the OS map) finally parking by the disused stone quarry.
We changed into our wellies, a good idea by David to bring them along for our Moss adventures, and followed the track along the woodland edge passing a variety of dumped machinery and other junk that Chris had warned us about. A slightly overgrown path to the right led to the moss entrance, an SSSI managed by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Arriving here at 9.30 we were to spend the next hour and a half in pursuit of Large Heaths (Coenonympha tullia) proving typically difficult to photograph amongst the grasses, heather, Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) and Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix). We reckoned we'd seen about 15 individuals during our time there. Judging by the persistent calling of Buzzards (Buteo buteo) our presence indicated their nest close by in one of the pines. We now retraced our route almost back to the A590 but turned right in front of the Derby Arms down the closed-off old road to park for a visit to Latterbarrow. This limestone meadow site was disappointingly quiet and it took much searching until David stumbled upon a pristine Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes) that had mapped out its territory on a weedy south facing slope. Cloud cover had now put an end to the chance of any sunshine so around 1pm we adjourned to the Derby Arms for a bowl of soup, and a pint. On the way back to the Wheatsheaf we decided to call in at Foulshaw Moss and parked up just as the rain started, so we didn't get to see the four Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) gracing the site, which included a nesting pair and a couple of unexpected visitors.
Rain continued steadily all afternoon against a misty backdrop.
Tuesday 5 July: Arnside Knott, Honister Pass
Two sites identified for today, off to the first in sunny intervals for the short drive to Arnside Knott. Almost immediately we set-up a pristine, gorgeous female Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja) that was reluctant to fly very far in cool and breezy conditions. I managed to relocate it once using the tried and tested wetted finger technique, such field craft! A further 2 hours were spent walking around the Knott until 11.30 but we left with a feeling of disappointment due to the relatively low numbers of butterflies in general. A single High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) would be id'd later from a photo, and Graylings (Hipparchia semele) were about on the SW corner where a weary Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) was also seen flat against a rock.
Based on the forecasts, my main target of Mountain Ringlet (Erebia epiphron) would be pursued this afternoon in the northern Lakes, and it was my turn to drive up the M6 to Penrith, onto Keswick with its bizarre road signage attempting to keep holiday traffic out of the town centre, but causing bewilderment instead, skirting Derwentwater and finally parking in the National Trust car park adjacent to the Honister Slate Quarry. The drive had taken about an hour and ¾. A soup and sausage roll lunch preceded the climb up the track onto the fells as we set off just before 2pm. Fleece and Regatta jacket were essential undergarments to combat the stiff cold wind. After about 15 minutes we left the main track and took the left path onto Grey Knott shielding Great Gable from view, a grassy hillside, home to the Mountain Ringlet. But the sun failed to illuminate our hillside, and even if it had done, I expect the cold wind would have disinclined any butterfly to crawl up its stem. I reckoned the effective temperature was c10°! So we endured a hopeful 2½ hours with highlights being the discovery of a frog, and a solitary Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) lying flat on the ground deep amongst the grass! From time to time a Raven (Corvus corvax) croaked overhead. Back down at the café we warmed up with a cuppa before puzzling-out Keswick again. David took us down the A591, the scenic route, towards Kendal, passing Thirlmere with Helvellyn and other fine peaks to the left. The sat nav led us to an Indian restaurant to the south of the town centre except it turned out to be a take-away only. Directions to a proper restaurant were duly followed, and the Eastern Balti turned out to be truly excellent. Called in at No 17 restaurant in Milnthorpe to book a table for dinner tomorrow.
Wednesday 6 July: Nichol's Moss, Whitbarrow
With a calm though mostly cloudy day in prospect we took breakfast at 8am and returned to Nichols Moss in the hope of improving on our earlier shots. The conditions turned-out to be perfect for the two individuals we encountered, both in good condition, and never travelling very far before settling. David even had the temerity to apply the wet finger technique to transfer the second insect onto a Cross-leaved Heath flower, the 'classic' pose! After a tremendous hour here we drove back to Whitbarrow, this time accessing the N E corner from The Howe. It remained overcast and mild, sufficient to encourage Graylings to fly, a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and male Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) (which turned out to be the first sighting in Cumbria for the year). On leaving the wood, we found Dark Green Fritillaries a-plenty on the grassy heath, some nectaring on thyme and also thistles, despite the absence of sun. The Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) colony was also strong, characterised by beautiful blue females. An unusual coffee coloured Ringlet was of interest and a pristine Northern Brown Argus afforded good shots too. We stayed until 12.45 when light rain began to fall so returned to the car and went back to the Wheatsheaf. By now we'd decided to cut the trip short by a day due to a wet forecast for tomorrow. At 6pm we made the short drive to Milnthorpe and the restaurant, No 17. This was a superb occasion!
Thursday 7 July: return home
Set-off at 8.30am in steady rain that became very heavy in north Lancashire, endured a slow M6, and eventually reached home around 2.30pm.