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Sunday, 4 September 2016

Story of a Quarryman - Summer, 2016

I'd never really paid much attention to quarries, except in September 2014, when I found a Little Owl in an old quarry on Portland, Dorset. However, earlier this year on 17th May I visited the old quarry at Ketton in Rutland just to check it out, prior to a visit organised by Sarah Proud for volunteers at Rutland water, primarily to look for butterflies. I was immediately impressed by the place, and this first visit was reported here. Since then I have visited other quarry sites and am now thoroughly enamoured with such locations. This report continues with the subsequent visit to Ketton Quarry, led by Sarah.

Saturday, 28th May - Ketton Quarry

Ketton Quarry nature reserve is an ancient part of a quarry which is managed by Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust. Elsewhere, the quarry is still active today. I set off early from home and arrived just before 08h00. It was relatively quiet at this time, with few butterflies showing. Before the other participants arrived I was able to find Common Blue butterfly (a less-than-perfect male, so I won't show it here), and several Burnet Companion moths. The latter were quite hard to photograph as, although they flew frequently, they had the habit of landing in, rather than on, dense vegetation, and then with their wings folded. I was lucky to find one that bucked the trend!

Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica) - Ketton Quarry
With little gained by arriving early, I went to join up with Sarah and the rest of the group for our 09h00 departure. 

We very quickly found another Common Blue, and this was in slightly better condition than the previous one.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (male) - Ketton Quarry
Sarah then made a star find - one that this location is known for - and that was a Brown Argus. Sarah explained the identification differentiators between this species and a female Common Blue, and also a Northern Brown Argus. This was a 'lifer' for me!

Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) (female) - Ketton Quarry
We next searched an area which was good for Green Hairstreak butterfly, but we were rather late in the season for these. We'd virtually given up and were heading elsewhere when Sarah's helper, David Needham, spotted one high up in a bush. It was a rather tatty specimen and it was an 'into the sun' shot, so not good. This one was of forma punctata, which has white streaks on the underside of the forewings.

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi - forma punctata) - Ketton Quarry
At a different location, a Grizzled Skipper was found. Considering how late this was in its season, this specimen was in rather good condition! This is another speciality species of this site.

Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) (male) - Ketton Quarry
The Small Heath is a relatively common small butterfly with a short common name and a longish Latin one! They are not difficult to find at this location at the right time of year! I think that this was a male.

Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) (male?) - Ketton Quarry
On our way to another location within the reserve, I'd stopped to photograph a beetle (more on this later) and so was trailing behind the main group. I did, however, spot the only Orange Tip butterfly of the visit, and called the others back to see it. Sadly this was the less colourful female of the species.

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (female) - Ketton Quarry
That concludes the butterflies for this visit. In a wooded ride, I did spot another moth which I've not been able to identify, and the others had gone on ahead (again, whilst I photographed 'beetles'!), so I couldn't ask for input on the ID. Pete Woodruff has now kindly informed me that this moth is a Silver-ground Carpet - thanks Pete!

Silver-ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata) - Ketton Quarry
We now come to the non-lepidoptera species. Quite early on in the visit, David lifted up a sheet of corrugated iron to find a grass snake there. He called us over, but I only had time to fire off one frame before it shot off . Sadly, I failed to locate the head before shooting so it's out of focus in the image.

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) - Ketton Quarry
I mentioned earlier that I'd stopped to photograph some beetles. These first ones are actually weevils, rather than beetles. 

weevil (Phyllobius sp.?) - Ketton Quarry
This next one is possibly my best find of the day, as it gave me a photo that I'm more than pleased with - such an amazing-looking beetle!

Swollen-thighed Beetle (Oedemera nobilis) (male) - Ketton Quarry
I saw my first Broad-bodied Chaser of the year that day, but only managed a record shot as it was high up in a tree atop a steep bank that I wasn't going to risk ascending! From the angle I was at, I couldn't even determine what sex it was, although I suspect female.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) - Ketton Quarry
Finally, we come to the orchids. We found these in several places, and this triggered an interest in me which has possibly taken a grip! My problem is that, even with a good guide book, I'm struggling to identify some species. I hope I've got these two right!!

Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) - Ketton Quarry
Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) - Ketton Quarry
My thanks to Sarah and David for this excellent visit, during which I saw and learned a lot.

Thursday, 7th July - Ketton Quarry

I was away for much of June, so my next quarry visit was not until 7th July, when I returned to Ketton Quarry with pal John on one of our regular Thursday afternoons out. John had not been to Ketton before.

Much had changed since my last visit. Unsurprisingly, the skippers had all gone and the hoped-for Marbled Whites were much in evidence. This spectacular butterfly, although not rare is very localised in these parts, and is one of my favourites!

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) (female) - Ketton Quarry

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) (male) - Ketton Quarry
We had a brief sighting of a Dark Green Fritillary, but no photos were possible.

There were still orchids in flower but most were past their best. There was one area where many were present. Please tell me if I've got the ID wrong for any of these. I've put them as Common Spotted, but there is considerable variation between them!

Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) - Ketton Quarry
I spotted the real prize, however, about two feet (60 cm) from that last orchid - a Bee Orchid! This was my first ever sighting of one of these!

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) - Ketton Quarry
This sighting absolutely made my day!

Thursday, 14th July - Ketton Quarry

I'd had a call from Rutland Water asking if I could switch my afternoon shift (13h00 to 17h00) to the morning shift (09h00 to 13h00). It was no problem for me, but not possible for John, with whom I usually share the shift. As it takes me around two hours to get to Rutland Water if I take the scenic route, and I need to be there half an hour early to give a leisurely walk to the hide, it indicated that a start at 06h30 was required. However, I was keen to try and see the early morning emergence of Hornet Moths at Ketton, so left even earlier and took the fast road.

As I understand, Hornet Moths lay their eggs in soil close to the trunks of Poplar, or Salix trees. The larvae then bore into the bark of the tree (sometimes deeper) where they live for up to two years before pupating. There is then a synchronous emergence in fine weather in the early morning, usually in July.

Although the weather forecast had been good I was disappointed to arrive and find cool windy conditions. I did a search of the bores in the base of the trees, and the nearest I got to finding one was a glimpse of part of one just inside a hole. The next time I looked it had gone - presumably still under the bark as, if it had emerged, it would have been on the trunk of the tree.

(almost a)   Hornet Moth (Sesia apiformis) - by Ketton Quarry
I had time to pay a quick visit to the quarry before I had to depart for my turn of duty. Several species of butterfly and moth were seen, but I got better images from a return later in the day, so I'll just offfer one from the early morning.

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) (male) - Ketton Quarry
I re-checked the trees for Hornet Moths before I left, but with no joy. It was an interesting session at Rutland Water with plenty of Osprey action, and Emperor dragonflies performing in front of the hide but, at the end of my duty at 13h00 I was setting off back to Ketton Quarry.

On the off-chance I checked the trees for Hornet Moths again and then set off into the quarry. Immediately I was seeing Dark Green Fritillaries! This was my first ever session with these butterflies (other than a really tatty one once in my garden), so here are more than a few images!

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja) - Ketton Quarry
There were also a few Marbled White around.

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) (female) - Ketton Quarry

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) (male) - Ketton Quarry
The only other butterfly photographed was a Large Skipper.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes syslvanus) (female) - Ketton Quarry
In the same area as most of the butterflies I found a Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Dater (Sympetrum sanguineum) (female) - Ketton Quarry
Also in this area I again found Twayblade orchid, and obtained an image which shows the flowers a bit better than my previous effort!

Common Twayblade (Neottia ovata) - Ketton Quarry
Feeling that I'd possibly exhausted the area I was in, I headed to a different part of the reserve which was a gently rising, very wide, tree-lined ride. 

I first encountered my old friends, the Soldier Beetles (or 'Bonking Beetles'), doing what they are usually doing!

Common Red Soldier Beetles (Rancher fulva) - Ketton Quarry
Further along I saw a beautiful male Broad-bodied Chaser which landed on a rock, but disappeared down the ride before I could take a photo. Whilst trying to locate this individual again, I happened on some Common Darters. When basking against a rock, these weren't the easiest to detect, especially when the sun went in (no shadows) as you can see in the first image.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Ketton Quarry
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (immature male) - Ketton Quarry
In this area, I also found the nymph of a cricket species that I've not knowingly seen before.

Speckled Bush-cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) (nymph) - Ketton Quarry
After the fritillaries, perhaps the most exciting aspect of the visit was spotting Common Lizard again as I was heading back down the ride. It must have been just the right time of day in the right conditions, as I spotted this species in five different locations! I reckon that is more sightings in just half an hour than I'd previously had in total over the past 40 (maybe 50) years!!

Common Lizard (Zootoca vivipara) - Ketton Quarry
Wednesday, 20th July - Ketton Quarry

For reasons I can't remember, John and I had switched our regular Thursday afternoon out to the Wednesday. As part of this, we paid a brief visit to Ketton Quarry. The fritillaries were rather tatty by now, and I don't remember seeing Marbled White either. I did find a lizard for John, and offered him first dibs, but it disappeared before he could find it. In fact, I've only saved four images from this visit. One was of a tatty fritillary, another was of a yellow flower, and then there were these next two.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Ketton Quarry
Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) (female) - Ketton Quarry
This last sighting was as we were leaving.

Saturday, 23rd July - Bloody Oaks Quarry

This was another day when Sarah Proud was leading a butterfly walk for the benefit of Rutland Water volunteers. I'd never been to this location before, and it is not the easiest to find, so I was glad when an option to travel to site via minibus from the Volunteer Training Centre was offered.

Bloody Oaks Quarry is an old limestone quarry. Little is known of its history, but first references seem to be in 1883. It is a quite small site with a total area of approximately 60 metres by 250 metres.

We arrived to find Gatekeeper, appropriately, just inside the gate! I think that, by its richer colouration, this was probably a male.

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) (male?) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
 Nearby, there were some Large Skippers.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes syslvanus) (male) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
A little further down the path was a large stand of fabulous flowers. I believe that these were Clustered Bellflower.

Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
A pair of mating Six-spot Burnet moths next caught my eye.

Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
In doing my homework for this visit, I'd read about Essex Skipper, but I needn't have bothered as Sarah carefully explained the key difference between Essex Skipper and Small Skipper. Essentially, the Essex Skipper is a bit thicker, and a party animal - No , sorry, the tips of the Essex Skipper's antennae are black underneath, whereas those of the Small Skipper are orange. I spotted and photographed this next specimen which, when viewed on the back of the camera,  was declared to be an Essex, but I'm now having my doubts as I'm not sure that the images actually show the underside of the antennae!

possible Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) (male) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
This next one is, I believe, a Small Skipper, as it seems to show some orange on the antennae tips! 

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) (female) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
At the southernmost tip of the reserve, one of our number spotted a male Banded Demoiselle. Unfortunately, the light at its resting point (almost at ground level) was difficult.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
There were many grasshoppers around, and I was delighted with the shot I got of this one - it was about 20 mm long!

Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus) (female) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
There were a few Brimstones around and as we headed back to the gate, I stopped for a shot of one.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (male) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
By the end of the short visit, we'd seen 14 species of butterfly, and had a fantastic time. However, I had to return with the minibus, or be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Having collected my car, I had a quick picnic lunch by the dipping pond at Egleton, where Ruddy Darters put on a good show, and then headed back to Bloody Oaks for another hour or so.

My main objective was to try and get some photos of Silver-washed Fritillary which we'd seen earlier, but I failed in this respect, although I had several distant sightings of specimens in flight.

Here are a few images from the afternoon session.

This Small Skipper was showing her credentials by displaying just how orange the underside of her antennae were.

Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) (female) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
 The Six-spot Burnets were there in some numbers and in quite good condition.

Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
It would have been a shame not to have photographed a Marbled White here, and I did find one in reasonable condition.

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) (female) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
This Dark Green Fritillary was also in quite good condition, although a bit faded.

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja) (female) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
It was an extremely hot and sunny day and, by now, I was fading fast with the heat - it was time to go!

The Gatekeepers were there on duty, to see me safely on my way.

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) (male) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) (female) - Bloody Oaks Quarry
Thursday, 18th August - Barnack Hills and Holes, plus Bloody Oaks Quarry

After the visit to Bloody Oaks Quarry, Sarah had recommended Fermyn Wood and Barnack Hills and Holes to us. The former is a site for finding White Admiral and Purple Emperor butterflies, whilst the speciality of the latter is Chalkhill Blue. Due to circumstances, I missed going to Fermyn Wood before the season ended, but there was still a chance to visit Hills and Holes, so I suggest this to John as a destination for our afternoon out.

Hills and Holes is a nature reserve  in the remains of a medieval limestone quarry. It is designated as a Special Area for Conservation (SAC) due to its important flora (primarily orchids) and fauna.

On arrival, we decided to take the path shown on the site map which took a circular root round the site. We decided on an anticlockwise approach. Things were not looking good at first as the habitat looked all wrong. After a while, however, the ground off to our left changed in character, and looked spot-on for our target - the Chalkhill Blue butterfly. We left the main path and entered this area, splitting up so that we could cover more ground. John was the first to spot our quarry in the quarry - sorry, couldn't resist that!

We found a few of these wonderful butterflies, but they were all long-past their best, with some looking extremely tatty indeed! This was my first sighting of these for around thirty years, so I filled my boots. Here are some images of the males. Even in their faded state, these are an amazing colour!

Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus corydon) (male) - Hills and Holes
 The females are quite drab in comparison and a little harder to spot.

Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus corydon) (female) - Hills and Holes
There were also Common Blues on site, and whilst the males were of a totally different blue to the Chalkhills, the females did cause a little confusion as there were several of the less common 'blue form' around. It was not until I came to process my photos that I found that I'd not taken any photos of the males of this species!

Common Blue  (Polyommatus icarus) (female - blue form) - Hills and Holes
Common Blue  (Polyommatus icarus) (female - 'normal' brown form) - Hills and Holes
There were other butterflies and moths here, but these were of less notable species and have already appeared in this post.

One sight that I found quite remarkable was a Hawthorn bush which had a collection of Common Darter dragonflies in it. It seems that each had its preferred perch that it returned to but they were quite close together. For example, I found five (there may have been more) with perches within a 2 metre radius. Furthermore, looking at the map, I can't see any water anywhere nearby!

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (immature male) - Hills and Holes
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Hills and Holes
There were plenty of grasshoppers here too. I believe this one to be a Field Grasshopper.

Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) - Hills and Holes
After our visit, I took John to Bloody Oaks Quarry as he had not been there before. It was, unfortunately, relatively quiet, and little was photographed. I'll close this post with an image of a Common Blue.

Common Blue  (Polyommatus icarus) (female) -Bloody Oaks Quarry
My thanks to Sarah Proud, Volunteer Coordinator - Rutland Water, without whom I'd probably never have visited these wonderful sites that have given me some of the most memorable moments of a very rewarding summer!! I'm looking forward to visiting these sites again in 2017.

The title of this post might sound a bit contrived, but it's taken from the title of a number by my favourite blues musician - Joe Bonamassa.

Thank you for dropping by - I'm not sure what the next post will be, but I promise it will be a shorter one!


  1. Well thats some post Richard, I was teenager when I started reading that!! Some lovely shots and a lovely variety to look at.

    1. Thank you, Marc. I was still in nappies when I started writing it!

  2. Wonderful selection of pictures Richard, I love the close-ups of the butterflies and I love the picture of the Bee Orchid.

    1. Thank you, Lin. That Bee Orchid was a real highlight for me!

  3. WOW! I started off thinking I will picking a favourite but your wonderful shots just kep coming on and on and so there was no chance. A excellent collection of shots Richard.

  4. Hello Richard, some great observations in this blog. Those orchids are so beautyful! Than all those special butterflies wow, some of it I have not seen yet, that Marble White for instance. These are indeed great places for all those butterflies, insects, lizzards etc. You must have felt like in a small paradise.
    Thank your for your comment on my latest blog.
    Take care, Roos

    1. Hello Roos! Yes, I have really grown to love these limestone quarries. I just wish that they were a little closer to my home - the nearest is about 80km from me.

      I'm looking forward to your next blog post.

      With my best wishes - - Richard

  5. An epic post indeed, Richard, with many fine images. it must have taken a while to assemble this one! Congratulations on a job well done.

    1. Thank you, David, It did, indeed, take quite some time to process and assemble the images, and the text took a while also. I just wish I could carry the latin names for the species in my head, rather than having to look them up each time!

  6. A mega sized post with plenty of images. I find the swollen thigh beetle is weird and wonderful at the same time.
    Looking around Northants most of sites are ex-quarries reverted back to nature. I kind of like the quarries that are unmanaged though a lot has to be said for those that are managed well.
    You know how one of my sites is such a quarry and one next to a working quarry, I really like watching/searching for nature that develops and adjysts alongside such conditions

    1. Thanks, Doug. I've never really learned the art of brevity!

      It's amazing, and refreshing, to see how quickly nature can take back an industrial site if it is not left in a too polluted condition.

      I hope we're going to be able to enjoy another post from you soon?

  7. Hey Richard! That's an interesting place. A lot of fine species and incredible images. Green woodpecker !!! Congratulations! I may never see the kind :-( Have a nice weekend!

    1. Thank you, Anne. There is a rich collection of wildlife in these places.

      Green Woodpecker is often heard in this region, but can be difficult to see - and very much more difficult to photograph!

      Have a great week!

  8. An education reading through this, with such an array of creatures to be seen and informed upon....Well done Richard.

    Your 'unidentified moth' is a Silver-ground Carpet.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, Pete, and for the moth ID. I shall edit this post now!

  9. Hi Richard, what a superb post, great images of the Butterflies, also the Orchids are beautiful. The Swollen Thigh beetle is certainly a find, glad to have found the quarry in the quarry!!, we certainly had a couple of wonderful afternoons at both Ketton and Hills and Holes.. See you soon.
    Regards John

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, John. I'm looking forward to revisiting some of those places with you next year. Hopefully we can start a little earlier in 2017 and catch more of the action.

      See you soon - - Richard

  10. Another terrific post,jam packed with interesting facts,information,and above all,superb photography.
    A real delight to see.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, John.

  11. WOW, my goodness, what a lengthy post!!
    It makes really difficult to comment on the photos but I'll say that Ketton quarry is certainly a very interesting place to discover and preserve.
    Great dragonfly and butterfly pics and a + for the green pecker lady!!
    Keep well Richard, and share my warmest regards with Lindsay :)

  12. Thank you, Noushka. I think that Ketton is probably past its best for this year, but I suspect that I'll see a lot more of it next year!

  13. Wow ...... what a great blog! The many butterflies that I see here are truly wonderful. The marbled witch is really great to see. Many vlidners, dragonflies and beautiful flowers. Nature gives us so much beauty! Great to see. My compliments.

    Greetings, Helma

    1. Thank you so much, Helma. I had much pleasure in getting these images, so I'm delighted that you enjoyed them too!

      Take good care - - - Richard


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