Friday, 17 July 2015

More Birds, Butterflies and Botany at Bishop Middleham

16th July.  July is not noted for being the most exciting month, but I’ve been enjoying it up till now with more to come before the month ends.

Image of the day.  Ringlets.
Today it was a trip to Bishop Middleham, again with Marie and Sam.  Conditions were ideal with no breeze and plenty of sun.  On arrival we walked through the farm building and along to the back of the lake.  Sam suggested that the area was ideal for Little Owl and it certainly is.  It wasn’t long after that comment had been made that we were watching a Little Owl.  Our target bird was of course Corn Bunting and we picked up the jangling key call very quickly and were soon watching a singing Corn Bunting perched on the overhead wires.  Large White, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown and Ringlet Butterflies were flying over the grassland.

Poppy field
The Lake was as dry as I’ve ever seen it with some very inviting areas of mud for waders.  The only waders we picked up were the large flock of Lapwing, Oystercatchers, Redshank and Curlew.  We couldn’t be sure there wasn’t anything else in amongst the Lapwings as we struggled with binoculars to pick up anything across the other side of the lake under the hide.  Certainly nothing stood out and the area was fairly quiet although we had Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Mallard, Gadwall, Grey and Pied Wagtail and hirundines sightings.  Our next stop and main focus of the trip was to be the old quarry and so we headed off in that direction rather than completing the longer round walk that we usually tackle in the area.


Small Heath

 I’m never disappointed when I visit this quarry, one of my favourite little spots in Durham, but some years are better than others and good timing is essential if you’re to make the most of the butterflies and botanical interest here.  July is usually a good month in which to visit.  We soon found Common Spotted Orchids and Common Twayblade, much of the latter past its best.  Ringlet and Meadow Brown Butterflies were numerous and the Ringlets provided us with our best photographic opportunity when Sam came across a mating pair.  There were fewer but a decent number of Small Heath Butterflies about too.  Sam made an interesting point that the habitat was like much of what we had found in Hungary last year, but sadly there is only pockets of it here.  Another visitor mentioned in passing to me that he had seen images of Marble White Butterflies taken here in the quarry.  Whilst I know that this species does frequent a quarry in Durham (I believe that they were introduced) I wasn’t aware that they frequented this particular area and I have never seen them here.  I’d be interested if anyone can confirm if there have been sightings here.

Common Twayblade 

I didn't notice this insect until I uploaded the images.

As we moved further into the quarry we were on this occasion disappointed to find virtually no Dark Red Helleborines in flower.  Were we too early? I didn’t think so.  Neither did we find the numbers of Fragrant Orchids that usually are so abundant.  On talking to another visitor it was suggested to me that the Rabbits had chewed and destroyed the helleborines.  I did see signs of chewed plants, but I also found plants with new growth which suggested that some of these orchids might simply be late this year, although this would make them very late.  After we took lunch in the sun we were off to look for Northern Brown Argus Butterflies.

Common Spotted Orchid

What appears to be a chewed Dark Red Helleborine

When asked by another visitor what I was looking for I was virtually told I was too late, but I pointed out that we had just seen one.  The guy was friendly and being helpful, but I know this time of year is good to find this species, although I accept they may have been on the wing now for some weeks.  If I hadn’t known, I may have been put off from looking.  I always like to follow my own instincts and not listen too much to others views no matter how well intentioned, and they were well intentioned in this case.  Anyhow by the time we had finished we had found Northern Brown Argus, numbers into double figures.  Most were a bit worn.  I’d also been able to help out one or two other visitors with identification. so it was rewarding time spent.  Common Blue Butterflies and Speckled Wood Butterflies were also flying, but not in great 

Northern Brown Argus 

Northern Brown Argus
Happily we did eventually come across some attractive Dark Red Helloborines in flower, although not to the extent as on previous visits.  This one is in my top ten list of favourite plants.  I spoke with a holidaying visitor who was seeing it for the first time and he was well impressed.  Wild Thyme, Rock Rose, Birds-foot Trefoil and Eyebright were all much in evidence as was St John’s Wort species near the entrance.  However the lack of other flowering species in any quantity suggested late flowering this year.  After some searching I did eventually find a single Carline Thistle which flower had yet to open.  Marie I understand is returning to France for a trip and will be finding these flowering thistles the size of dinner plates, as they grow much larger in areas of the continent.

Dark Red Helleborine

Dark Red Helleborine
I think we spent at least two and a half hours in the quarry, much of the time photographing the Northern Brown Argus and Dark Red Helleborine.  There were few birds about here, but the Sand Martin nesting site was active and Yellowhammer song accompanied us as we walked around the area.  Wren and Magpie made an appearance.

Eyebright Euphrasia.  One of numerous species or types (depending upon which authority you care to follow. 

The name Euphrasia is of Greek origin, derived from Euphrosyne (gladness), the name of one of the three graces who was distinguished for her joy and mirth, and it is thought to have been given the plant from the valuable properties attributed to it as an eye medicine preserving eyesight and so bringing gladness into the life of the sufferer.

Carline Thistle

Another good day and very hot in the quarry where we examined some attractive Snail shells as we where preparing to leave for home.  Now who says July is boring?


  1. Great report of one of my favorite sites Brian.

    1. Thanks Brian.
      I have checked out the possibility of Marbled White Butterflies at this quarry. I see the first record in the region was at here in July 1994. They were thought to be from an unofficial release and they didn't persist. Not impossible that the species may have been seen again, but I suspect there has been some confusion with the Marbled Whites known to be at Wingate, of which there are numerous images on the internet. Cheers. Brian.