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Sunday, 19 September 2021

A Very Fine Day - on 11th August 2021

A good friend, and Chairman of the wildlife group that I am part of (Blackfordby Wildlife Group), is a keen botanist, and very interested in orchids. When I once mentioned that I was aware of a particular area of a nature reserve that was said to be good for Yellow Birdsnest (a plant that has no chlorophyll), he was rather interested, and so I offered to show him the area at a time when this particular plant might be found. It was to this end that Brian and I visited Ketton Quarry Nature Reserve on this August day.

Although we did not find Yellow Birdsnest, the day turned up some remarkable surprises.

With the current Covid situation, I did not fancy car sharing for a journey that would, with stops to check out locations en-route, take approximately two hours each way, so I led Brian on my favoured cross-country route. A stop at my Little Owl site No.34 came up with the goods as Brian had never seen a Little Owl in the wild before!

Little Owl (Athene noctua)  - my LO site No.34
Just to give a little background to Ketton Quarry, this is an ancient disused limestone quarry and supports some wonderful wildlife. My visits here have mainly been in spring and early summer, primarily looking for butterflies and lizards. The reserve is a great place for Green Hairstreaks, Grizzled and Dingy Skippers, Dark Green Fritillaries, and Marbled Whites, with the occasional Silver-washed Fritillary being seen also. I had previously seen very little in the way of dragonflies here, and the same goes for birds too.

It had been more than two years since my last visit here (29th June, 2019) and the visit then had been dominated by Dark Green Fritillaries and Marbled Whites. No dragonflies had been seen during that visit. I was, therefore, somewhat delighted when the first item of interest seen on this visit, beside the entrance gate, was a Common Darter.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Ketton Quarry
On entering the site I was immediately struck by the good numbers of 'white' butterflies seen, which I initially presumed were Large Whites. I was, therefore, surprised to notice the odd yellow one and realise that these were all Brimstones. I think that I saw more Brimstones this day than I have, cumulatively, over the past ten years or more! I didn't record numbers but if pushed for an estimate I'd say over 50.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (male) - Ketton Quarry
As we headed up the path to the area where we hoped to find Yellow Birdsnest I spotted a Painted Lady in pristine condition.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - Ketton Quarry
By now, I was seeing Common Darters everywhere, but the perched ones were all female.
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Ketton Quarry
I was also seeing numerous fritillaries. It had been a couple of years since I last saw a fritillary and I'd forgotten the ID pointers that distinguish Dark Green from Silver-washed and seeing the different patterns on the upper side of the wings I thought that I was seeing some of each species. It was only when I'd got home and looked at my photos and my reference book that I realised that every single one was a Silver washed - the difference in wing pattern being the difference between male and female. Again, I will have to guess at numbers but I suspect that there may have been over forty seen - certainly more than the cumulative number from the whole of my life up until that day!

Sadly I did not spot an undamaged specimen amongst the whole lot, with some of them surprising me that they were still flying. The males were particularly tatty. These are the best condition specimens that I could find of each sex.

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) (female) - Ketton Quarry
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) (male) - Ketton Quarry

We had a few sightings of day-flying moths and these all seem to have been Shaded Broad-bar.

Shaded Broad-bar (Scotopteryx chenopodiata) - Ketton Quarry
Near the northern end of the site we noticed a dragonfly which seemed to be looking for a place to settle. It did, and we were both able to get close-up shots of this male Southern Hawker.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (male) - Ketton Quarry
At the extreme north edge of the reserve, where the ancient quarry meets the solar farm, now part of the vast modern quarry operated by Hanson, the insect situation changed significantly. Past visits here at a different time of year have turned up good numbers of Green Tiger Beetles. Here we found Common Blue butterflies.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (male) - Ketton Quarry
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (female) - Ketton Quarry
I thought that this was a fresh female Common Blue when I took this next shot, but realised when I came to look at the photo that it was a female Brown Argus - and not so fresh!

Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) (female) - Ketton Quarry
There were many grasshoppers around, and I believe these to be Common Field Grasshopper.
Common Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) - Ketton Quarry
Brian created some excitement when he found a cricket which neither of us were sure about. I subsequently identified it (I hope that I am correct!) as a male Roesel's Bush-cricket - although apparently common, this was a 'first' for me.

Roesel's Bush-cricket (Roeseliana roeselii) (male) - Ketton Quarry
On the way back, I came to one location where there was an area, probably about 8 metres by 8 metres where I can say with all honesty that I have never seen so many dragonflies in such a small area - damselflies, yes, but dragonflies a definite 'no'! I'm guessing at 50 plus individuals but they were swirling around in a cloud. They were in an inaccessible place at some distance but, as far as I could tell, they were mainly Common Darters, a number of Migrant Hawkers, a few Southern Hawkers and two Brown Hawkers. I tried to capture the scene with my camera but everything was happening too fast and too far away.

Exploring other areas of the reserve turned up little that we'd not already seen in abundance.  A Peacock butterfly posed quite nicely, as did a hoverfly.

Peacock (Aglais io) - Ketton Quarry
hoverfly (Helophilus pendulus) (female) - Ketton Quarry
It had, for me anyway, been a remarkable visit with so many 'most evers', the most amazing being the number of dragonflies. This location, in just hours, went from 'somewhere where I consider myself lucky if I see a dragonfly' to a place where I probably saw the biggest concentration of dragonflies that I have ever seen. The crazy thing is that I'm not aware of any significant area of water nearby!
After this, Brian had to take the speedy route home to attend to his wife who was recently out of hospital. I took the scenic route which really paid off as, on reaching my Little Owl site No.41, I found a Little Owl showing, confirming my suspicions that the owls here had found a new nest hole. This was, of course, the real icing on the cake for this day.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Little Owl site No.41
Thus ended a somewhat satisfying day, even if the prime objective (for Brian anyway - sorry Brian!) was not achieved. If there was a downside to the day for me, it was that there was not a lot of opprtunity for dragonfly photography as most of them were constantly in flight against a background of trees and bushes.
At this point in time, I am not sure what the subject of my next blog post will be, but I suspect that it will largely feature damsels and dragons. In the meantime, take good care of yourself and Nature.


  1. Wow. what a great day out and the Little Owls as you say just made the day for you. I have seen the Little Owls here a few times, but nothing close enough to get good photos. I have no idea where they are nesting now, there are too many barns around on private property here for me to wander about trying to track them down.

    Sorry you did not find the Yellow Bird's Nest but you did well in every other respect. Fabulous photos as always.

    Take care and have a great week. Best wishes to you both Diane

    1. It certainly was a most enjoyable day, Diane, and it was good to enjoy some warm weather for a change!

      I'm pleased to hear that you still have the Little Owls nearby. How frustrating it must be to not be able to check out where they might be nesting. They won't be far away as they rarely move more than a field away from home.

      Best wishes to you and Nigel - - - Richard

    2. They are very noisy at present, maybe because they have young? D.

    3. Probably trying to persuade the young to pack their bags and go!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Anne. The search was very enjoyable!

  3. The Silver-washed Fritillary my favourite, follows by Roesel's Bush-cricket, fantastic Richard.

    1. For me, Bob, the dragonflies were the most exciting, closely followed by the cricket. Stay safe - - - Richard

  4. There are so many positives about this post, Richard. It's a shame that you were unable to locate Yellow Birdsnest for Brian, but I can well imagine that a Little Owl would be adequate compensation, especially given that he had never seen one before. Birders are thrilled with owl sightings, and non birders even more so. The sheer numbers of butterflies and dragon flies represent the stuff of record books! It may be a long time before you are able to repeat such an outing. The season for odenates must be coming to a close, so you probably composed this post with extra pleasure. As always, I look forward to the next one. All the best. David

    1. I'm hoping that the later dragons will be around for a few weeks yet, David. However, I think that much will depend on the weather. It's not unknown for some to last into November in a good year. I suspect that the next post will major on dragon hunting.

      Best wishes - - - Richard

  5. Wonderful selection Richard. Iam very impressed with the little owl shots. Take care,

    1. There's not much that's as heart-warming as the sighting of a Little Owl, Mike. Thank you for your kind words. Stay safe - - - Richard

  6. Hello Richard
    I enjoyed your post as much as you did this great day, warm weather, impressive pictures and this sweet view from the little owl ... you melt away ... beautiful ... if I may ask how much focal length you photographed the owls 500 , 600 or 800mm? Thanks...
    Greetings Frank

    1. Hi Frank. All those shots in this blog post were taken with the Sigma 50-500mm zoom lens which, sadly, has now been discontinued. It is very versatile and is great for distance and for macro shots too. Both the owl shots were taken with the lens at 500mm and both were heavily cropped afterwards - the first to approximately 30% of the original frame width and the second to approximately 20% of the original frame width. The hoverfly image was taken with the lens at 140mm and is also approximately a 30% crop on the original frame width. I'm delighted that you enjoyed the results.

      Stay safe - - - Richard

  7. I really like all the pictures of both the butterflies and the dragonflies but....... I turn very green when I see those beautiful feet of the little owl! Wow!
    Greetings, Helma

    1. It is good to find someone else who appreciates the wonderful feet of Little Owls, Helma. Welcome aboard!


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