Another visit to Chambers Farm Wood to see if I could get a photograph or two of the elusive Brown hairstreak butterfly and the nearly as elusive Grass snake. An early start, leaving home at 06:00 as I wanted to be at Chambers Wood no later than 07:00 to avoid the many people that I knew would be there later in the day. I have nothing against other people, it's just that when you are trying to photograph something that is as nervous and elusive as a Grass snake the last thing you want is other people disturbing the snake by their presence. I also thought I might find a darter or hawker perched up with early morning dew on it. Would like a nice photo of either of them with outstretched dew covered wings.
I knew a tripod would not be the best option to photograph a grass snake as quick reactions may be needed and setting up a tripod would be a no go as far as I was concerned, so it was the Canon 100mm and speedlite hand held today. The Sigma 150mm has become a bit of a spare part just lately but I'm sure it will get further use at some point.
Arriving at the wood at 06:50 I was soon set up and ready to go. The weather was as promised, with near cloud free skies and temperatures set to reach 23 degrees c. First port of call was the compost heap in the butterfly garden as I had seen Grass snakes there on a previous visit. I did think it was maybe a touch too early in the day to see any as the sun had not risen high enough to get onto the compost heap as yet. Nothing was seen at all. I calculated that the sun would be on the compost heap by around 07:45 so I went in search of other subjects to photograph until that time. I checked other suitable spots where I thought Grass snake's may be but none were seen.
Insects were fairly thin on the ground and I didn't want to wander too far from the butterfly garden compost heap to have to walk back later. It was certainly too early in the day to make the longish walk to the area where I knew Brown hairstreak butterflies may be seen as it was far too cold for them. It was early though, and I didn't expect to see a lot of insect activity.
The first subject to come in front of the lens was an Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar. It was on a Rosebay Willowherb plant, the favourite food plant of these great caterpillars. As a bonus it was covered in early morning dew as well. Okay it wasn't a darter or hawker but just as good.
Elephant Hawk-moth caterpillar covered in morning dew drops
Nothing much else was seen over the next hour so I made my way back to the compost heap to see if there were any grass snakes showing. As I very cautiously approached I could see a snake sat on top of the heap basking in the sun which was now fully shining on the heap. Despite my very slow and careful approach it slithered back down into the compost before I could get a shot. The tactic now was to stand and wait near enough to the heap to get a photograph without having to move if it decided to show again. Several times over the next hour and a half the snake would briefly pop it's head out only to promptly go back before I could get a shot. finally it decided I was no threat I guess and fully emerged. Oh what a beauty it was as well, I'm guessing it was near on a metre in length. I fired some shots off from the position I was in before attempting to move closer. Remember I was only using a 100mm macro lens and really needed to get in a bit closer. To my surprise it allowed me to approach very closely and I got the shots I was after. It stayed out for about five minutes before retreating back into the compost heap.
My legs ached and my back ached with being stood in more or less the same position for nigh on a hour and a half but I was elated to have got the shots I wanted, this is the first Grass snake I have photographed. I have seen a few but only brief glimpses as they have slithered off. Back to the car for a drink and a well earned sit down for a few minutes.
It was now 09:30 and warming up very nicely so it was time to go search for the Brown hairstreak's. There were plenty of darters and hawkers on the wing now as well as a few butterflies. I managed a very nice photograph of a Comm Blue butterfly. These butterflies have been very much down in numbers this year. Some sources say they have declined by as much as 62% in many areas this year so I was pleased to see one.
Back to searching for the hairstreak's. Well to cut a long story short, I did see some Brown hairstreak's but only at distance. Four were seen altogether but they were either high up in the oak trees or inaccessible on the blackthorn bushes. I walked up and down in the area where I saw them many times but to no avail as far as photographs of them were concerned. I did photograph other things as well though, Southern hawker's, Migrant hawker's and Common darter's being seen in good numbers.
Male Southern Hawker
I carried on searching for the hairsteaks until 15:30 when I decided to call it a day. I was hot, sweaty and weary from all the walking as the temperature had soared throughout the day. Chambers Wood has an odd bench or two to sit on if you want to take the weight off your feet but unfortunately not in the area I was in. It was a relief to get back to the car for a sit down. Although I came away without any hairstreak photographs I was still on a high from getting the Grass snake photos and as far as I'm concerned the day had still been a great success. I finish this post with another photograph of the Grass snake.