The main highlights for me this month has been seeing Emperor dragonflies, rare silver studded blue butterflies and seeing and listening to yellowhammers. Christleton Pit has also been an excellent viewing site, with appearances of a male Emperor, male 4 spotted chaser, and male black tailed skimmer dragonflies, the latter two being new species at The Pit. They were joined by both blue tailed and common blue damselflies. Another great moment came on 4th July when I witnessed an early morning feeding frenzy by 100+ house martins over the meadows and lake at Hockenhull. There were so many of these sleek black and white fliers coming from all directions, I frequently had to duck down to avoid being hit, as they came across the meadows and from along the river, at lightening speeds, feeding as they flew. Then they seemed to gather in a great circle in the sky above my head, communicating with each other in some way before repeating their feeding frenzy, and once again swooped on unsuspecting insects over the lush meadows. This lasted for about 45 minutes in all, before they flew off, some towards the lake and others towards their roost in the barns at Cotton Farm. There were probably 50+ swifts feeding over the lake, their dark black scimitar shapes, making recognisable flight patterns in the big grey skies. Sadly I have seen no swifts in Christleton at all this year, and only a handful near the shops at Waverton, both regular sites to see these superb flying machines. Many people have commented on the lack of swallows in the village and surrounding area this year, and although I have seen a reasonable number they are well down for the reasons that I explained last month.
Let me get back to my sightings of the Emperor dragonfly. I have tried for years to photograph these rare insects, the largest UK dragonfly. These beautiful, elegant blue creatures seem to buzz, dart and dance in front of you, not giving a moments opportunity to capture a sharp image with a camera. Watching a male flying into a strong headwind at Prees Heath a week or so ago, gave me the best opportunity yet, and the results can be seen in my images above. We had called in at Prees Heath, an area of restored heath land between the A41 and A49, really to see a butterfly speciality, the rare silver studded blue which we were delighted to see, and it was during our search for these tiny blue insects, that we came across a small pond where the Emperor was in flight mode. Imaging our excitement when two days later near the Japanese Garden at Tatton Park, we not only watched another male Emperor, but he attracted my attention to a female laying eggs on some pond weed just 20m away. He kept dipping and diving around her, so gave me the opportunity to see exactly where she was and then take some pictures. Another rare sighting at Prees was the appearance of singing male yellowhammers with their distinctive song a repetitive” little bit of bread and no cheese”. Cheshire and locally in Christleton was once a stronghold for these delightful bright yellow birds, with as many as 100 roosting in the reed beds at Hockenhull in winter months. In fact it was named by enthusiasts at one stage as Cheshires County bird, but numbers have dwindled rapidly since those heady days in the 1970’s. There have been a few local sightings this year, at Birch Heath Common, along Hockenhull Lane and Walk Mill, but you really have to be lucky to spot them.
Finally this month I'm delighted to report that the cluster of common spotted orchids on the Legion Meadow has spread further this year, and we hope that they will continue to do so in the future. Although they are not obvious in the tallest meadow grasses they have a distinctive purple and pink colour, and I'll highlight them and other flowering plants in my next report.