Sunday, 7 July 2013

Butterflies and Macaws

6th July.  I’d been looking forward to a return to Smardale, Cumbria for sometime so it was a pleasing to find the sun shining as Sam and I left Newcastle with the RSPB Local Group today.  It was good also to find a fellow blogger joining the trip.  It’s a nice drive to Kirby Stephen and Common Snipe were seen at the same area we had sighted them last week on our return from Martin Mere.  The short rest stop at Kirby Stephen was eventful with much colour being added to the morning as the Feral Scarlet Macaws flew across the High Street  and perched on chimney stacks and aerials, perhaps providing our ‘bird of the day!’  They certainly surprised a few members of the group.  There’s lots of information on the internet about the history of these birds.  It’s the first time I have actually seen the Kirby Stephen birds, which provided a rather different, but no less appealing sight than the birds I have seen flying through rainforest.

Cor! there's a Macaw!  Scarlet Macaws
The walk I know had been very carefully planned and covered a different area from a previous visit and allowed much better viewing opportunities down the valley in the direction of the very spectacular fourteen arched Smardale Gill Viaduct.  Whilst bird sightings were as expected rather limited, they did include the likes of Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Tree Pipit., although I admit the latter bird was seen only briefly in flight by me.  Blackcap and Willow Warbler were also seen and everyone had the chance to practice Garden Warbler song recognition, although no one actually saw the bird as far as I’m aware.

It seemed appropriate that there were plenty of Sun Flies about today.
The limestone area virtually guaranteed a good botanical display and I wish I’d had more time to study some of it, especially the many orchids which I assumed were in the main were of the common spotted type.  There were some very nice specimens.  Some others that stay in the memory were Jacob’s Ladder, Birdseye Primrose and carpets of Rockrose in the area of the old quarry.

Melancholy Thistle
With the temperature high, full sun and a peak in floral display I was hoping for lots of butterflies for which this year has so far disappointed.  I had assumed we would be too early for the Scotch Argus Butterfly, but thought we would catch the beginning of the flight period for Dark Green Fritillary.  As it happens we found no fritillaries at all, but did think we had caught a glimpse of the Scotch Argus, but maybe this was wishful thinking.  In any event I couldn’t confirm the latter butterfly, but can confirm nine other species seen often in large numbers.  As I began the walk I was wondering if we were to be disappointed by little in the way of butterflies and then we began to find Common Blue Butterflies.  This species was without doubt the most abundant today.  Other species definitely seen were Large White, Small White, Small Skipper, Painted Lady, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Northern Brown Argus.  A full hot sun meant that the butterflies were on the whole very active and those trying for photographs had to be very patient.

Common Blue Butterfly (male)

Common Blue Butterfly (female)

Common Blue Butterfly (male)

Sam took a hike up to the top of the old Limestone Quarry for photographs whilst I took a slightly easier option and sat down for my lunch.  Such were the numbers of butterflies, it’s a wonder I didn’t get indigestion as I kept jumping up to try to get a better look.  Rock Rose was everywhere in this area and thus we had the best sightings of Northern Brown Argus here as their larvae feed exclusively on the Rock Rose.  Full marks to those able to identify this rather small, and in flight rather moth like butterfly.  The one Painted Lady Butterfly was found at the end of the walk and this was my second only sighting of this species this year.  Nine species in total so the Scotch Argus or Fritillary would have had us in double figures.  The odd dragonflies seen appeared to be hawkers.

Northern Brown Argus
On the return walk we had excellent views along the valley towards the Smardale Gill Viaduct.  It was in this area we found the Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Sparrowhawk as Swifts flew overhead.  The group by now had left bird watching behind and were paying studious attention to Fish Watching from the eighteenth century packhorse bridge (I do wonder what this bridge may have seen over the years).  Small fish were packed together near the reeds at the side of the beck.  Members are in need of some fish identification skills as I heard numerous suggestions as to species and noted that no agreement was reached.  Frogs and Toads were found and I believe a few members found Brown Hare and Roe Deer.

This Frog has evolved a wonderful camouflage.

A true naturalist at Smardale Gill Viaduct

Fantastic vista looking back towards the viaduct.
As we headed back towards the A685 (I’d recommend this as the starting point for the walk as if you don’t want to walk the whole round trip this is without doubt the best area to be in) I noted that I was not the only one feeling tiredness in the heat of the day.  Our walk leader had wisely included an ending with a teashop, so whilst I can’t say it put a spring in the step of many, it did get them back in plenty of time!  Sam and I preferred to carry on the photography and settled for a double cream ice cream and coke somewhat on the hoof at the end.

Fish watch from eighteenth century horse-pack bridge

Sam and I come almost to the end of the walk and meet a Painted Lady
It had been a well reccy’d and planned trip (gotta say that, as the leader of it reads my blog:-)) and happily on the outward journey only included a rest stop of ten minutes.  Plenty of time for the necessary, although those who were hoping to fill up on late breakfasts of bacon sandwiches and to read the Guardian should have known better.  Sam and I are hoping to get this stop down to seven minutes when we lead the trip to Loch Ken and the Red Kite Station in Dumfries in November.  Great opportunities for photography up at the Red Kite Station so if you’re interested just get in touch and let me see the colour of your cash.

A great day in great surroundings with much history and industrial archaeology and with the added benefit of habitat encouraging the wildlife.  The day began so well with the Scarlet Macaws and of course the sunshine helped.  Sam and I left feeling we wanted to return soon.



  1. The Scarlet Macaws look very exotic! I'm not surprised a lot of the group were taken aback, they probably thought they were someone's pet, which had escaped, lol.

    A great day to be birding! (and yeah huge congrats to Murray).

  2. Yes Brian it was a good day out ,I hurried to catch a bus neglecting to say goodbye !! you got some nice photos .

  3. Thanks Brian. Good to see you on the trip and glad that you enjoyed the day. Everyone tends to dash off in various directions once we are back into Newcastle. Cheers.