Welcome to Hampshire Butterflies and Moths
by Ashley Whitlock
This website is dedicated to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight butterflies, moths, flora, fauna and conservation
Ramsdean down from Butser Hill
Whiteley Pastures at Botley
Spring Nature Notes in Hampshire 2021
Mating Grizzled Skippers
Common Dog Violet
Following on from 2020 was never going to be easy or straightforward having suffered a mild Heart Attack 3 days after my 65th birthday in January, and with the Covid-19 still a threat to all of us, we certainly looked forward to the spring and warm weather. Having the best weather in the spring of 2020, I just knew somehow, it wasn’t going to be the same again in 2021, and so it turned out. January and February were cold at night although we had some quite barmy weather during the day especially in February which had ridiculous temperatures of 8 degrees for 9 days. It was quite warm for the winter as February turned to March and was warm with temperatures of 11 degrees for a period of 12 days, which really started to get flowers blooming and the birds start to get ready for nesting if they haven’t already done so.
Butterflies were seen in reasonable numbers and in February in Cosham close to Portsmouth I had a report of Large Tortoiseshells flying in gardens. Lucky for me it was a good friend’s garden and his son who saw it, and I managed to download his photograph after a second day of it being seen on his kitchen windowsill enjoying the sunshine. This is the second time they have seen it a few years ago another turned up in their garden, which makes me think that the butterfly may well be breeding in small pockets in and around the area on Elm, as there is some in the Hospital just up the road in Cosham.
A dry New Forest and Pony
Kestrel on Portsdown Hill
April turned out to be the coolest for 90 odd years with average temperatures at night well below zero, which affected the birds, and insects as well. Following closely behind came infamous May with a low pressure system sitting over the country for most of the month driving wet and gusty weather. It’s no wonder the Insects were so confused, my species the Duke of Burgundy started to emerge at Noar Hill on the 19th April, when we had a small warm period, and we thought wrongly everything was set fair, just how wrong we were!. Everything went back into hibernation, and other species just marked time for at least three weeks. June has come along with a start of summer practically with warm temperatures and High pressure sitting over the country a carbon copy of May 2021, and I’ve been out and about in the Meon Valley looking at the Duke sites, and the species are still emerging, which is most unusual.
Honey Bee covered in Pollen from Pussy Willow
Male Dog Foxes
Bee in my Bee House
Male Marsh Fritillary
Smiling Grey Squirrel
Covid rules and regulations meant that the Field Trip programme was restricted to just 6 people. So I started with the Emperor Moth in the New Forest, and with my trusty Emperor Moth Lure and on a perfect but cold day we managed to lure one perfect Emperor Moth to my trap. He was happy buzzing in and around my camera bag, and then he sat quite comfortably on a dried up piece of Bell Heather. The New Forest at this time like most of the country had hit a drought, and every part of the countryside looked rather dull and grey, and the New Forest was no exception, but the Emperor Moth brought some colouration to a rather dull landscape. We were not prepared for the deluge which was to follow…rain rain and more rain. The rather stunted Cowslips on most of the Duke sites were dried up, but when I returned on a dry and warmish day in May the Cowslips were quickly responding to a drink of water. Here the second field trip at Butser Hill was another warmish day after a cancellation after some rain. It paid off as
The Duke of Burgundy had kick started its emergence, along with Grizzled and Dingy Skippers. We heard and saw the Cuckoo which was a triumph as I never saw or heard it in 2020, such is the sad fact now, and I go out into the Meon Valley in the late spring and very rarely hear it. Bentley Wood on the 26th May was another field trip which was the first after Covid restrictions had relaxed and we could meet up to (30) people outside. We saw the Pearl Bordered-Fritillary but butterflies were very scarce even at this late stage of the spring, added to the mix were Broad-bordered Chasers, Common Lizards, and a good number of Slow Worms, which slithered in front of us as we walked around a rather soggy Inclosure. Again the Cuckoo made his presence known which is always a treat to hear. But it was good to back amongst butterfly friends again and talk about flora and fauna and other things and putting the world to rights.
Angle Shades Moth
Male Orange Tip
Female Duke of Burgundy
The last field trip of May was a journey to the magnificent Martin Down, this site is always a great place to visit, and on a perfect day, it was rather hot now, but we shouldn’t complain after the rather soggy start to May, we saw our quarry the Duke of Burgundy alongside the Marsh Fritillary, and the Adonis Blue. The Duke of Burgundy at Martin Down is rather scarce, but this year several recorders have seen it, whether it’s more common now, that there is more scrubby areas and there is a lot more Cowslip, which can only be a good thing. (6) Species of Moth and (16) species of butterfly were recorded, with good hedgerow birds like Yellow Hammer, Blackcap, Skylark, Chiffchaff, Linnet, Whitethroat, Corn Bunting, Swallow and Swifts. Unfortunately the Turtle Dove was not recorded on this day, whether it hasn’t turned up yet as a lot of other flora and fauna is late, or we were just unfortunate.
Common Hare on very dry ground
Head of a Pearl Bordered Fritillary
A day trip to the Isle of Wight in June 2021
Compton Chine and Freshwater Bay Isle of Wight
Male Glanville Fritillary Compton Chine Isle of Wight
White Plume Moth Compton Chine
Thrift covers most of Compton Bay in a sea of pink
Ribwart Plantain foodplant of the Glanville Fritillary caterpillar
Male Adonis Blue on Afton Down
Male Glanville Fritillary freshly emerged 8th June 2021 Compton Chine
Summer Notes for 2021 in Hampshire and Isle of Wight
Southern Hawker Dragonfly
The summer started off with lots of sunny periods in the first two weeks of June, and this helped the Duke of Burgundy keep flying well into this month and it was still being seen on Oxenbourne Down on the 12th June. Along with other late spring stalwarts the Grizzled Skipper, Dingy Skipper, Green Hairstreak and the Common Blue.
I decided to go to Bentley Wood in the evening to avoid all of the crowds of recorders going to snatch a sighting of the increasingly rare Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary. I was lucky just to glimpse of the species for a few seconds imbibing on the floor however I disturbed it and it flew off never to be seen again. This was on the 23rd of June quite late but every species were really late in 2021, and the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary was no exception. The sad state of the species here that I never saw another one is very sad. I fear for its existence in the next couple of seasons. Bentley Wood must try to close the site to butterfly tourism for a few season’s if possible and try to encourage this nationally rare and important species back from the brink, how easy this would be I have no Idea.
On a field trip to Abbotstone Down we saw the rise of the Dark Green Fritillary in good numbers in amongst the meadows on the 23rd June on a perfect day for weather. This started the Marbled White in small numbers, good numbers of Green Hairstreak also greeted us, and lots of Small Tortoiseshell as well; summer had really begun……
Dark Green Fritillaries were extremely common on Oxenbourne Down on the 24th June with a conservative estimate of at least (70) being seen on the downs. Silver-Washed Fritillaries were in evidence on the 30th June at Alice Holt Forest, but the weather seemed to be stuck in a cloudy period with no end. The Purple Emperor was certainly still stuck in the starting blocks…. The Purple Hairstreak had also made an appearance, and then bang the Purple Emperor appeared briefly twice in 30 odd minutes in Abbotts Wood Inclosure on the 5th July.
Male Purple Emperor
Field Trip to West Wood and Pitt Down
The weather was still stuck in a gloomy cloudy period, although it did break in the afternoon at Alice Holt Forest on the 8th July when I saw at least (8) male Purple Emperor’s so when the sun shone this brought out the Silver-Washed Fritillaries and the Ringlets could be counted in their hundreds, and the White Admiral was also noted in small numbers.
We even had periods of wet weather, which hampered anything vaguely to do with Purple Emperor spotting, but the sunshine came back as a mini heatwave on the 17th July and lasted until the 20th July, and this is when I concluded you had to be out in the woods very early, possibly by 09:00 and this obviously paid off for many recorders as they saw the Purple Emperor doing its thing very early.
Towards the end of July the Purple Emperor was almost burnt out due to playing catch up with the weather, however a visit to one of the top sites in Hampshire proved to be almost fruitless, with just one seen Oak edging briefly in Straits Inclosure. Again the Forestry Commission had been logging in the southern part of the woods, but luckily the main ride had been virtually untouched and the sallow are still intact, so hopefully this will bode well in the future. However the Silver-Washed Fritillary had done very well they seemed to be everywhere, and so too were the Ringlet and Gatekeeper, although the White Admiral was still playing catch up.
The general picture though throughout Hampshire was the Purple Emperor did not do very well, which is reflected in how many sites the species were seen in compared with 2020, which was supposed to have been a bad year, despite the summer being one of the best on record!
Painted Lady Caterpillar
Female Brown Hairstreak
August started with rain wind and lots of cloud; however despite this the Silver-Spotted Skipper was seen in small numbers on Oxenbourne Down and the remains of the Silver-Washed Fritillary and Dark Green Fritillary were still enjoying the flowery areas on the downland. The Chalkhill Blue just exploded and didn’t seem to mind what the weather threw at it. By the 11th August the Silver-Spotted Skipper had increased to well over (25) on the down. The Chalkhill Blues were now well into the thousands, and were seemingly everywhere, being very careful not to tread on them there were so many!
A field trip to Shipton Bellinger after another field trip which I had to cancel and rearrange after another rain soaked day. This proved to be a triumph and we managed to see up to a dozen Brown Hairstreaks, many of these were in a lecking tree, and playing tag with each other. Along with the Brown Hairstreak there was the other target species the Wall Brown which we also managed to see in the small rides and along the border with Wiltshire.
A visit to the New Forest at Beaulieu Heath also produced good numbers of Graylings, despite they having been out for some period of time, also the Silver-Studded Blue put in an appearance as well. The Bell and Ling Heather was starting to look a picture a purple carpet as far as the eye could see. Also seen in the woodland were basking Common Lizards, which were a treat as these shy creatures are somewhat overlooked.
Adonis Blues were seen towards the end of the month of August as the weather was still very unseasonal with cool winds blowing in off of the North Sea, blanking everything with a seemingly unshiftable blanket of cloud.
The weather shifted into a warmer period at the beginning of September and the Silver-Spotted Skipper and the Adonis Blue were in excellent numbers on Old Winchester Hill, along with excellent views of Wheatear, Ravens, and Redstarts in the fields on the far southern slope. We even espied a very late Silver-Washed Fritillary as well, one of the latest I've ever recorded.
Male Adonis Blue
Spring Nature Notes in Hampshire 2020
Orange Tip male
The 2020 Field trip programme was all set to be one of the best, in theory but as we all know best laid plans…..The middle of March we discovered we had to stay indoors because of the dreaded Corona Virus, but we could exercise for an hour …locally. It was a good time to get to know our local patch. There is an allotment less than 100 yards away from my house in Portsmouth and also a shoreline leading to the Hampshire and Isle Wildlife Trust’s Milton Lock. March is one of those months where it can be very warm and sunny and it turned out to be one of the warmest springs on record.
The butterfly counts soon increased, responding to the splendid weather, and in my garden I was really surprised how many moth caterpillars I found in the sprouting shrubbery. I watched the progress of Mint Moth, Garden Tiger and White Ermine Moths as they ravished whatever they could find. By the allotments Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells were eagerly laying eggs on the fresh shooting Nettle patches.
March turned to April and still the sun shone, which I think was a boon considering we had to be so confined. What with Redshanks and Oystercatchers keeping me entertained on the shoreline there was a lovely pair of Kestrels nesting near to the Nature reserve and hunting around the area. Lovely courting Orange Tips near the allotments reminded me what I was missing in the big wide world of butterflying.
When the government guidelines allowed you to travel for exercise further from home I drove for 20 minutes on empty roads to get to Oxenbourne Down; it looked like 2020 Butterfly season was just starting.
The Duke of Burgundy was flying in good numbers in the Meon Valley at most sites and it was a joy to see along with the usual Green Hairstreak, Grizzled Skippers and Dingy Skipper.
In early May there was an easing of restricted journey times and transects could begin again but alas Field Trips still took a back seat. However the air seemed fresher, there were no vapour trails in the sky, everybody who was out walking seemed to join in the joy of being out in the great wide world again.
On the 19th May Martin Down was my best day out in this very extraordinary time, with over fifty Marsh Fritillaries seen and equally the same number of Adonis Blues, the icing on the cake was a Small Bordered Bee Hawk Moth.
To add to all of this it was the warmest spring on record, and the Purple Emperor was flexing its muscles in the first week of June, which is unprecedented, as a result of the hot weather when we all cooked. We were almost getting back to normal ways, butterflying that is, and that’s another chapter.
Male Kestrel before hunting
Redshanks flying along Milton Foreshore
Summer Nature notes for 2020
Female Purple Emperor
With the prospect of the Purple Emperor entering into an early June emergence, due to the warm spring weather, anticipation was high about how well it was going to do throughout the warm spell. But unfortunately it didn’t emerge so early after all, with the cool nights it seemed to slow down its pupating and became very vulnerable in its late stages of emergence. There were signs that it wasn’t going to be a large emergence after all which is how it turned out, with extremely low numbers being seen at most woods in and around Hampshire. In my Moth trap there were countless different varieties of Moth, which kept me occupied in situ for hours.
The Silver-Washed Fritillary was seen in good numbers in the rides feeding on Brambles and Thistles along with better numbers of White Admirals as well, and the first appearance of the Purple Emperor was on the 21st June which in normal summer conditions is when they start to appear. Other butterflies seen in good number were the Comma, with plenty of ‘Hutchinsoni’ on the wing along with the Small Skipper in many of the flowery meadows.
Also in 2020 I noticed more Purple Hairstreaks than I have ever before, and at some sites I counted well over (50) in the tree tops, a few individuals coming down to shoulder level on some days. At a site near Romsey I counted over (25) White Admirals, where the site is festooned with many clumps of Honeysuckle. In June the weather was warm but very windy, it seemed that every day I ventured out it was windy, and Purple Emperors being Arboreal obviously have a great dislike for this type of weather. It became very frustrating sitting, and trying to observe this insect which was very torpid, not wanting to move due to the weather conditions.
July weather was hot, July 6th and 10th seemed to be the best days for all things Purple, on 6th I counted (12) Purple Emperors and well over (30) Purple Hairstreaks and on 10th I counted (8) Purple Emperors and well over (50) Purple Hairstreaks into the afternoon at Abbots Wood Inclosure. The weather though burnt out many species such as Marbled Whites and Ringlets which succumbed to the heat and soon disappeared.
On the 24th July a male Brown Hairstreak was observed freshly hatched out at Noar Hill, staying in my presence for well over an hour, and at Bedlam on 29th (40) Brown Argus were counted, along with (6) Wall Brown patrolling up and down the tank tracks.
Chalkhill Blues were very numerous at Oxenbourne Down and there must have been hundreds on the Motorway slope of the A3 at the end of July.
I organised a ‘Covid managed Covert Field Trip’ to Shipton Bellinger on 3rd August with a few friends, who come on my field trips, and we had the pleasure of seeing in excess of (30) odd Brown Hairstreaks that day, many of these were playing chase in one of the rides, settling on Sycamore and Field Maple trees. At Old Winchester Hill the Silver-Spotted Skipper was obviously enjoying the sunshine as (45) were seen on the 20th August along with many Adonis Blues.
Later in August I saw for the first time Dark Crimson Underwing and a little Chinese Character in my moth trap. The star of the year was the Merveille-Du-Jor, which wasn’t actually in the moth trap but just sitting on a fern close by, I managed to put it onto a fallen Oak branch with lichens on and with its camouflage it seemed to totally disappear. The Clifden Nonpareil, was in the moth trap again in 2020, this time a very fresh one, and I was wondering whether they actually breed here in the UK and are not just visiting from the continent.
Other highlights of the year were witnessing a Hobby hunting on the wing catching many Dragonflies and the year being rounded off by one of my favourite butterflies the Clouded Yellow on patrol over some meadows, and Small Coppers having a late surge late into October.
Male Brown Hairstreak
Female Small Copper laying eggs on Sorrel
© Copyright Ashley Whitlock A.R.P.S J.S.A.P 2020 & 2021