Buxton Heath and Holt Lowes, 2 July 2021

The day started well when Honeyguider Ann Greenizan arrived at mine and found caterpillars of toadflax brocade moth on purple toadflax in my front garden. But we were still in good time for today’s morning at Buxton Heath which was, initially, in overcast weather. Usually you’d hope for sunshine to find the heath’s star butterfly, silver-studded blue, but after four wet days they were evidently keen to be out and we found them immediately on low-growing bell heather close to the car park. Better still, the conditions meant they were moving slowly, allowing for close views and photographs. As the weather brightened we found many more, both here and on the western side of the heath, and in places there seemed to be scores on the wing.

Silver-studded blue, male.

Silver-studded blues, mating pair, on bell heather. The silver 'studs' are best seen on the browner female.

We moved towards the boggy area in search of plants, though firstly some birds deserve a mention. A yellowhammer, then two, on a wire; great spotted woodpeckers flying around and, especially, a woodlark in full song, at first a distant dot then quite hard on neck muscles as it soared overhead.

A slime mould on a log, probably Lycogala sp.
The orchids were the stars here, with various sizes, shapes and shades of pink. Common spotted, heath spotted, southern marsh and Pugsley’s march orchids all occur here, plus hybrids. The more I looked and, later, studied the book, the less clear-cut identifications seemed to be. Perhaps it doesn’t matter: the show was quite something. Marsh helleborine was certain, though. Here bell heather gave way to paler cross-leaved heath, sometimes in mounds among the sphagnum. Doug found a water avens and there were little clumps of bog pimpernel, some ragged robin and fen bedstraw.
Marsh helleborine.

We returned past the entrance to the heath and to a wet area, with lesser spearwort, fenced to prevent overgrazing. Here there were two female keeled skimmer dragonflies, an emperor dragonfly flew past, and Julia found the first common darter I’d seen this year. The local stonechats posed nicely, and Ann found a moth later identified as brown silver-lines. Back in the car park there was a painted lady on bramble flowers and green-eyed flies that were probably the horsefly called twin-lobed deerfly.

Brown silver-lines, larval food plant for which is bracken (Helen Crowder).

Twin-lobed deerfly.

We drove onto Holt Country Park and there ate picnics or food & drink from Hetty’s cabin. We took the path through the afforested area to the big pond at the edge of the heath where there were many large red and azure damselflies plus banded demoiselles and four-spotted chasers. We studied two moths on the underside of water lily leaves; one came closer and Helen photographed and ID’d it as the aquatic brown china-mark. We noted greater spearwort; the size difference compared with lesser spearwort was obvious.

Brown china-mark (Helen Crowder).

Moving onto Holt Lowes, we walked along the edge of the heath, coming across three red admirals that seemed to be feeding on sap on a gash on an oak tree. 

Red admiral, this one on gorse and low enough for a photo. 
Here we dropped down a little to skirt the wet edge, the path helpfully in the dry while overlooking the many boggy patches that make this place so special. The first had sheets of lesser spearwort and, as at Buxton Heath, keeled skimmers. We continued to see keeled skimmers in various wet areas all along here, including many powder-blue males.

Lesser spearwort.

At a small pond, we watched two broad-bodied chasers. The blue male was patrolling and the yellowish female was busy egg-laying, her abdomen repeatedly bent forward to touch the water. There were keeled skimmers again, then Ann noticed a large insect struggling on the water’s surface. She rescued it and the four-spotted chaser soon dried out on her hand, then on the perch where we left it.

Rescued four-spotted chaser.

A female brimstone butterfly was moving around a nondescript green bush, but for good reason as that bush was alder buckthorn, a larval foodplant for brimstones. With a little searching we found several tiny white eggs on the alder buckthorn’s fresh growth.

Brimstone eggs on alder buckthorn, Holt Lowes.

Julia and Helen were at the front of the group as the path weaved through some tall gorse and they called us to a halt to see a slow-worm, which helpfully stayed still, presumably hoping we hadn’t seen it. Remarkably, soon after there was a second slow-worm. Another star finding on a bare path was a green tiger beetle. It seemed to be hunting ants.

Slow-worm.

Common spotted orchid, marsh helleborine (as at Buxton Heath) and marsh lousewort were among the flowers in wet areas and it would be only fair to mention the wonderful show of foxgloves on the dry heath, as well as lots of bell heather. Finally, on the last boggy bit, we found one of the botanical stars of Holt Lowes: round-leaved sundews.

Round-leaved sundew.
Chris Durdin

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