Wonderful Whixall: dragonflies, butterflies and much more
Whixall Moss in Shropshire is one of my favourite nature reserves in the UK. Its such an amazing habitat of raised bog that is right on the border between Wales and England. Where I park, you pass through a small wood before walking out to see the wide expanse of open bog in front of you. You have to walk carefully here, don’t stray from the path as you’ll be, literally, in over your head! The deep wet ditches are full of amazing wildlife and open up with small pools and some larger ponds with areas of reedbed. The sound of breeding Curlews is lovely to hear, and you have to keep you eyes scanning for hunting Hobby, picking the dragonflies (of which there are 29 species!) out the air. Lots of other wildlife include adders, which I’ve found basking on cut grass in the sunshine, carnivorous plants: the round-leaved sundew, and a gorgeous small moth, the Purple=bordered Gold (its gold bordering vivid purple wings). The following picture was as close as I could get without risking drowning myself!
Worryingly, I also found another carnivorous plant, the Pitcher Plant, a non-native species which can grow vigorously and out-compete our native plants.
For me it’s a butterfly and a dragonfly that draw me to Whixall regularly in late June. The dragonfly is the White-faced Darter that inhabits the small sphagnum rich pools. The male of this gorgeous dragonfly has a lovely re-patched thorax and abdomen and its obvious where it gets its name from! Watching them dart over the moss=covered pools is delightful, but there are so many other dragonflies to see here as well.
The butterfly that brings me to Whixall is one of my favourites. That’s maybe a surprise as it’s a brown butterfly, one of the satyridae that also includes our commonest butterfly the Meadow Brown. However, the race that occurs here is the heavily spotted and bright orangey-brown darvus race. Very different to the plainer race I’ve seen in Scotland (scotica), these are a lovely butterfly to watch – not that I was disappointed to find the ones in west Scotland!
The number of Large Heath at Whixall seems very variable; I’ve been on one day and seen over 50, then on another only 5 to 10. They can be frustrating to get good views as they fly out over the wetter areas of the bog. But whatever you do don’t chase them! Be patient and they often come and perch on the dry raised paths and with care can be approached for pictures or to watch through close-focus binoculars.
The picture below is a newly emerged :Large Heath that I sat and watched as it inflated its wings over about 30 minutes.
Lastly, to match a newly "born" adult butterfly, a newly emerged White-faced Darter sat on its exuvia.
In short, I love it here!