Breaking out from the usual this morning, I threw a hasty picnic together and headed south to make the most of the dry weather ahead of the forecast showers in the Land of the Prince Bishops. With Corn Bunting now extinct in Northumberland, apart from a single bird with an identity crisis, the nearest areas with any numbers are in Durham and the Borders.
Bee-eaters were the last species to draw me down to Bishop Middleham Quarry near Sedgefield back in 2002. That particular trip focussed as it was on obtaining good views of a single species resulted in no time to explore the surrounding area. A Durham Wildlife Trust Reserve BMQ has become well known for Orchids and Butterflies. Nearby Farnless Farm is a shining example of High Level Environmental Stewardship and has a a steady supply of Corn Bunting as well as more exotic fare such as the small herd of Bison used to provide Bison Meat Products in it's Farm Shop and an interesting change to the usual livestock.
We had no sooner caught sight of the Bison when the first of our morning targets conveniently popped up onto nearby wires over a sheep field perhaps 20m from the car. Corn Bunting, the first I've seen since my trip to Andalucia last December.
A slow walk through the wood and into the Quarry produced my second Speckled Wood of the year and good numbers of Green-veined White.
Whilst the kids occupied themselves finding 'special stones' and empty Snail shells I slowly walked a few yards ahead along the bare limestone path snaking between grass with the odd patch of Bird's Foot Trefoil and an occasional orchid, all of the same species and I think Northern Marsh Orchid.
Our first Wall of the year danced across the path and dropped down showing itself to be in good condition and providing a good photo opportunity as it basked on a nearby rock.
We also found Small Heath further around the quarry proving as impossible as ever to capture in an open wing posture.
Small Heath (male?).
What I had really come for was a species that we don't seem to get in Northumberland (although looking at the distribution maps on the Birdguides Butterflies of Britain & Ireland Ipone App) there does appear to be a couple of coastal sites. I wasn't disappointed with up to five Dingy Skipper found on a cool day with little sunshine. A cracking, and misnamed in my opinion, little butterfly that seems to keep very low to the ground in flight making it difficult to track but once settled is charming and as John Hague suggested 'understated'.