Trip reports

Mid-week Walk on Bookham Commons. 8th July 2021.

Mid-week Walk on Bookham Commons. 8th July 2021.
Speckled Wood. (Steve Williams)

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Weather fine but with threat of rain later.

Bookham Commons are two commons, situated just to the north of the Great Bookham covering around 150 hectares. Great Bookham Common is predominately oak woodland with several ponds providing a varied habitat. This is a well-known site for the purple emperor, and other less common butterflies such as white admiral and purple hairstreak. Little Bookham Common is a mosaic of rough grassland and scrub and supports many whitethroats and chiffchaffs in the summer.

July is often a difficult month for birdwatching as this is when many birds moult. So, this July seven of us met in the Hundred Pound car park to see what butterflies and dragonflies we could find.

From the carpark we heard chiffchaff and blackcap, so some birds were still around. The first butterfly we saw was a somewhat battered ringlet. It landed with its wings open so the rings, which give it its name, were not clearly visible. We were then visited by white admirals hovering around the brambles.

As we were about to depart there was a shout and, as we looked up, a large butterfly flew into the top of a nearby oak tree. Its size and the strong white marking on the underwing indicated a purple emperor.
Buoyed by our early success we set off, after a slight detour due to leader error, along the path towards the nearest master tree where the purple emperors are known to congregate. Despite our best efforts, and possibly not being the best location, we were not successful. However, we did see speckled woods and silver-washed fritillaries and many more white admirals.

In the more open areas we spotted several skippers. Large skipper was relatively easy to distinguish but we only managed to separate small and Essex skipper by examining photographs taken on the day.
We then wandered through the trees towards the ponds and on our way spotted several common blue damselflies and a few of the more usual butterflies, e.g. comma, red admiral and large white. Patrolling the ponds were many emperor dragonflies and some male skimmer/chasers. The only birds here were mallards and coots.

We decided to return to the area around the master tree. Fortunately, we met a local who guided us to it, a large hornbeam. Despite being in the optimum location we did not see any more purple emperors, that early brief sighting in the carpark was to be our only one. With an increasing threat of rain we decided to call it a day and returned to our cars.

Thanks to all who came on the walk, especially to Alan and Simon for their lepidopteran knowledge.

Steve Williams