Follow my recent butterfly visits, sightings and reflections. Earlier blogs are available to view in PDF format using the links at the bottom of the page.
Important Information Concerning This Website
As indicated in my blog entry of 4 June, 2020 will be my final year running this website. If you live in or very close to Hampshire and are interested in taking it over (with a change in title), please let me know. You can do this via the contact page, either by using the contact form itself or using the email address provided.
2 July 2020 - Another Purple Morning But Evidence Of Too Many Late Nights!
It is a frustrating week weather-wise, with the recent warm sunshine being replaced by windy, unsettled days and little sun. However, bearing in mind it is also a significant week in the butterfly calendar in terms of the progression of flight periods for some key species, I visited two sites this morning before the showers set in.
First up it was Whiteley Walks, my local woodland. Despite leaving home with a good amount of blue sky above, the walk along the main track at my destination woodland, just 15 minutes later, was under heavy cloud with few butterflies to be seen (except Meadow Browns and Ringlets). Later, some brightness and even glimpses of sunshine tempted down a few Sliver-washed Fritillary from their tree roosts in the Ridge Copse area. Having seen no Emperor activity at all on the outward leg, imagine my surprise at finding a male down of the track on my return, near the first junction. However, I suggest he gives the talent contest a miss this year, with far too many rough edges after a series of late nights (see below)!
Next, it was on to Browndown South, now referred to as Browndown Beach according to the sign outside. It is not unusual to find that, during unsettled, showery weather, the coastal area fares significantly better for sunshine, and certainly the improvement from 90% cloud cover to around 75% was welcome. The main target here was Purple Hairstreak, found on the scrub oak close to the shoreline. It was noticeable that several of the taller oaks were occupied by Purple Hairstreak, but only the more densely leaved (healthier?) smaller trees and scrub oak had purple residents. One smaller tree, forming a group with other shrubs had at least ten Purple Hairstreaks, several of them easily accessible at just above head height or lower, although the stiff breeze made photography difficult. The downside was that many of hairstreaks (both male and female) are now past their best.
So despite the poor weather, it would seem that this week is certainly significant in the flight period calendar of our two Purple named species (Emperor and Hairstreak). The week has has seen the transition from typical specimens being in good or very good condition to generally fading individuals. This is all the more unusual, when both species are typically associated with July rather than June, and yet July has barely begun.
Whilst visiting Browndown, I made the short excursion to the Grayling area, but a quick search did not produce any early sightings. 6 photos of Purple Emperor, Purple Hairstreak and Silver-washed Fritillary posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
29 June 2020 - First Wild Large Tortoiseshell Eggs/Larvae Detected In UK For 70 years!
I must admit this one has gone under my radar for a while, but very exciting news nonetheless. The Large Tortoiseshell, which has been considered extinct in UK since the 1950’s, is recorded sporadically from southern and eastern counties, with sightings attributed to continental migrants (or sometimes captive bred releases). In recent years however, on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, there have been just too many sightings from the same area for days at a time, for them all to be primary migrants.
Not surprisingly, there has been much speculation about the origin of Large Tortoiseshells on Portland, with the possibility that they are breeding there being strongly suspected. A search on 14 June 2020 of elm (a preferred larval foodplant) confirmed these suspicions, with spent egg cases, shed larval skins and larval leaf damage discovered in the Church Ope Cove area, even though no actual larvae or pupae were found during the search.
The discovery that the species is breeding in the wild on Portland has been further reinforced by an adult Large Tortoisehell seen recently, not far from this area.The Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation is encouraging observers to go out looking for these butterflies on Portland and help to chart what will hopefully be their spread.
The Large Tortoiseshell, with adult records also from Sussex this year as well as Dorset, is certainly a species that observers in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight should keep in mind, as we enter what will be the start of their flight period, prior to hibernation.
27 June 2020 - White-letter Activity Still In First Gear
I have been visiting a roadside White-letter Hairstreak colony in SE Hampshire during the last couple of weeks. The first activity detected was on the 15th June, when a female was seen nectaring deep in bramble, but no activity was seen in the elms above it. This was two days after my previous visit when no activity at all was seen. It is unusual in my experience to see a female white-letter before the males, however, I was still fully expecting the number of adults on the wing to build quickly, as in previous years, given the forecast for fine weather.
That expectation has not materialised! Several subsequent visits, whilst never drawing a total blank, have produced only odd sightings, with activity either in the elms (1 or 2 individuals) or exclusively males feeding on bramble or nearby daisies (again 1 or 2). I called in at the site again yesterday, around midday on my way back from Alice Holt Forest, with again a lone male White-letter Hairstreak feeding on the bramble.
I think we can add White-letter Hairstreak to a list of species where the flight period pattern and behaviour has not been typical this season (and that list would now seem to include Purple Emperor) with numbers of adult butterflies suppressed compared to normal. 2 photos of White-letter Hairstreak posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
26 June 2020 - Alice Consigns Chiddingfold Emperor No-Show To History!
The word on the grapevine is that 2020 is not turning out to be a great season for ‘His Majesty’ with the expected good emergence at main sites not materialising so far. Following my disappointing visit to Chiddingfold (Surrey) on Tuesday, I was not sure what to expect from this morning’s exploration of Alice Holt Forest, this time staying firmly within Hampshire’s boundaries.
I was prepared to visit both the Straits Inclosure and Abbotts Wood, but opted for the latter as the initial port of call, on learning that it seemed to be doing rather better for Emperor sightings so far. A one and a half hour exploration along the main track produced 4 encounters with male Purple Emperors, including fly-pasts, brief tree landings, and ground skimming. Best of all, however, was one male down on the ground for around 15 minutes, flying around close to ground a few times before settling to take minerals and then repeating the stunt a few times, briefly flicking open his wings to reveal his sheen. This male was at first glance in excellent condition - quite dapper in fact, but on closer inspection, was missing a small piece from his rear right wing.
As if that wasn’t enough, I was teased by the shadow of a probable fifth Emperor and a brief glimpse of dark blue, but on looking all around to find the owner of these manifestations, he’d gone! After the emperor encounters, I should not forget other species seen which included White Admirals, Silver-washed Fritillaries and common woodland species.
Instead of visiting Straits Inclosure I called at another (non PE) site on the way home which I will report on tomorrow. 4 photos of Purple Emperor posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
23 Jun 2020 - Support Act Becomes Main Event After Chiddingfold Emperor No Show
I set off this morning quite hopeful of seeing my first Purple Emperor of the year at supposedly one of its best sites in the South East (Chiddingfold in Surrey), but was in the end beholden to the emperor’s ability both to thrill and disappoint (the latter applying to today’s visit!).
Thankfully the morning did not end without anything substantial to show. On my way to Surrey, I called at Broxhead Common, just before leaving Hampshire, since I had not yet seen Silver-studded Blue this year and their season is already 3 weeks old. Fortunately these little butterflies are not usually difficult to find in the right habitat, and so it proved, although numbers certainly seemed down on what I was expecting. Several of the males seemed quite fresh too, although some were fading and far outnumbered the females. Having checked a couple of locations on the heath where the heather is thinning, and found the butterfly present at both, it was time to move on to what I hoped would be the main event.
It’s an obvious advantage during Emperor time to arrive at the Botany Bay entrance to the Chiddingfold Woodland complex earlier than I did, and avoid a 1/2 km walk from the nearest available parking spot. Still it meant mine would not be the only pair of eyes searching for regal activity. Unfortunately, at the time I departed 90 minutes later, all seemed to have been disappointed on this front, especially after the site had a good start on Saturday with a pristine male Emperor down on a pile of logs.
So I fall back on the supporting act, being the other occupants of Chiddingfold seen today, which included Silver-washed Fritillaries, White Admirals, a late Wood White and an obliging Purple Hairstreak, which was happy to pose for a photo. 5 photos of Silver-studded Blue and Purple Hairstreak posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
21 June 2020 - Summer Butterfly Season Gathers Pace In Whiteley
Following my visit to the roadside White-letter Hairstreak colony yesterday afternoon, I took my first stroll of the season in my local woodland of Whiteley Pastures (now called Whiteley Walks). My arrival occurred during a period of heavy cloud, so with no large butterflies to be seen along the first sections of track, I was able to take a closer look at the verges.
The odd Ringlet and Meadow Brown were still active and two or three Large Skippers were resting on grass stems. Approaching the bridge, it was evident that some widening of the verges and tree thinning has taken place during the previous months, with undoubtedly loss of sallow in the section approaching the bridge, which can be a good spot for Purple Emperor (in a week or so here). Thankfully there is still a decent quantity of sallow along the track leading from the other side of the bridge..
By now the sun was starting to glint through the breaks in the cloud and soon the woodland would be bathed in almost unbroken sunshine. That seemed to be the cue for some larger species to start appearing, but the main focus of activity did not occur until I reached the shady glade, beyond the ridge.
Here Silver-washed Fritillary were dashing around, high and low, occasionally feeding on bramble, and watched over by the occasional White Admiral, weaving intricately among the boughs. At least today I did manage to see 2 White Admirals (from around 8 in total) feeding among thick stands of bramble but never for long enough or accessible enough for a photo. 4 photos of Silver-washed Fritillary and Large Skipper posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
20 June 2020 - White-letters Gone AWOL But One Did Turn Up For Photo Shoot!
I have paid several short visits to a roadside White-letter Hairstreak colony in SE Hants so far this season, with much fewer sightings than is usual for this site. You can usually spot them flitting around high in the elm and other trees around the site, but this year activity has been much lower than usual (maximum of two individuals on any visit seen in the trees and no more than one feeding down low, often briefly).
Today I did not see any tree activity at all, but thankfully that was more than compensated by a male which was feeding deep in bramble on my arrival, but made a brief foray to feed on daisies and allow a few quick photos. 2 photos of White-letter Hairstreak posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
17 Jun 20 - White Admirals And White-Letter Spotted, But Both In A Hurry!
I made my first woodland foray of the season this morning in hazy sunshine, but very pleasant conditions for butterflies and photography. It’s a pity the species I was seeking didn’t share my views on the photography however!
My main destination was Portland Coppice near Purbrook. There are extensive felling and logging operations going on there at present, so it was a relief to reach one of my favourite butterfly rides away from the commotion!
I did mange to see 3 very active White Admirals too, all flying along the overhanging boughs, occasionally dropping down for a ‘drive through’ pause on the plentiful brambles, but never actually stopping. This is usually quite an early site for Silver-washed Fritillary but none seen today.
On the way home I called in at a roadside White-letter Hairstreak colony near Havant. After a few minutes eye-balling a large bank of brambles, a White-letter Hairstreak made a brief appearance zig-zagging around the crown of the bushes. I did not see where it came from (it could have been tucked away feeding!) but I did see where it went - back up into a nearby elm! From its size, I suspect this was probably a female.
So its still early days for our summer species and hopefully there will be plenty more opportunities as numbers build over the next couple of weeks, with the likely appearance of Purple Emperors too in our area. Sadly no photos today.
15 June 2020 - Dark Green Frits In A Frenzy On Oxenbourne
My most usual time to visit Oxenbourne Down is during late July or August when I visit for Silver-spotted Skippers, but I usually notice a few (by then) faded Dark Green Fritillaries, including females egg laying. This year I bucked that trend by visiting at the start of the Dark Green Fritillary season and was rewarded by plenty of them, with their focus being the large open meadow which opens up after climbing the hill past the skipper area.
Almost all were males, flying incessantly but pausing to investigate anything which could resemble a female. One or two however were in feeding mode, taking their fill on the plentiful patches of yellow hawkweed. Whilst I saw about 10 Dark Greens in the central and SE area, this large meadow must support at least double that number.
With the summer butterfly season just starting, it was perhaps not surprising that there were few other butterflies around, save for a few Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns and Small Heaths. The wait for our most iconic summer species is now basically over with White Admiral seen in Hampshire, Silver-washed Fritillary on the IoW and Purple Emperor in Sussex - and let’s not forget the little White-letter Hairstreak, with a few early starters now flying around Hampshire’s elms. 4 photos of Dark Green Fritillary posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
8 June 20 - Main Summer Season Kicking Off In Hampshire
It might be a week or two earlier than usual, but the main summer butterfly season is just starting in Hampshire. At lunchtime I visited a White-letter Hairstreak site not far from home in SE Hants, following isolated reports from elsewhere in the county that this species is starting to emerge.
Well it seems that they are not quite on the wing yet at this particular site, but the journey was certainly not wasted, with several fresh male Marbled Whites showing (stunning when newly emerged), as well as a female Comma of the pale hutchinsoni form. It certainly makes photography easier when there is only a little sun on offer and the butterflies are not racing around!
Woodland summer species such as White Admiral, Silver-washed Fritillary, Purple Hairstreak and of course, Purple Emperor, will be starting to emerge in Hampshire soon, although the season’s progress will have been slightly slowed by the current spell of less than summery weather. 3 photos of Marbled White and Comma posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
4 June 2020 - IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT AND INVITATION!
There is no good time or easy way to say this, so I will cut to the chase. After much consideration, I made the decision at the end of last year to make 2020 my final year running this website on Hampshire Butterflies.
Whilst it has overall been a very rewarding and positive experience spanning more than 15 years, things do evolve over such a significant period of time, which for me includes retirement, the arrival of grandchildren and taking on voluntary work for Hampshire County Council. Whilst I will continue my interest in butterflies and the natural world in general (probably for life), in future I would like to do so without the commitments and constraints of running a website at its hub. It should also allow space for me to pursue some other summer interests during my retirement. In other words the time is coming for me to move on.
Nevertheless, I am keen to see the service and value this website has provided continue, both for the local butterfly community in Hampshire, and for those further afield. Hence this message also serves as an invitation to other butterfly enthusiasts living in Hampshire (or very close) and with the motivation to take over the running and development of the site, to express their interest via the contact form. Continued development of the site under a new owner could be either in a similar or somewhat different direction and, of course, my name would no longer feature in the website title.
Finally, and hopefully also in preparation for a new owner, the site content is being replicated on to a new Wix platform during the next days, with a switchover later this month. This action, whilst perhaps coming at an inconvenient time for me, has been forced because the current ‘long in the tooth’ product on which the site is built, is no longer being supported. The change to a more modern and capable platform should be for the better in the longer term.
2 June 2020 - Dark Greens Take Wing As Smaller Cousins Fade Out
This afternoon, I made a circular tour from home to Bentley Wood (Eastern Clearing) calling at Farley Mount (Pitt Down) on the way, before returning home. My principal purpose was to take a final look at the tail-end of the small fritillary season in Bentley Wood and check if their larger and more powerful cousin, the Dark Green Fritillary, has indeed started to emerge in central Hants.
At Pitt Down my exploration in hazy sunshine was proving fruitless, at least for the target species, but I did come across a Small Blue at the western end of the down - a species which has been trying to establish itself there but was thought to have been dealt a mortal blow by grazing livestock eating its foodplant. Well, there is at least one still there!
As for Dark Green Fritillary, after twenty-five minutes searching I was about to give up. However, just as I started to head back to the car, one flew up from almost under my feet (Grrr!) and a few minutes later another was seen in flight. Both were last seen travelling at 50mph! Without a doubt these are the earliest dark greens I have ever seen, by almost two weeks, showing how early the 2020 season is.
It was then on to Bentley Wood. Unfortunately, there is not too much to say. I did not see a single Pearl-bordered or Marsh Fritillary in the Eastern Clearing in about half an hour of searching. They are recorded up to a few days ago (in the visitor's book) but I suspect the continuous dry, sunny weather has, in effect brought their seasons to a close here.
What is perhaps worse, however, is that I only saw one Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, a species which in normal years would not even be peaking yet. Unfortunately, they are becoming scarce here year on year it seems, and the very dry spring has desiccated their favoured breeding habitat. On a slightly better note, I did see my first Large Skipper of the season in the clearing. Sadly no photos to post today.
31 May 2020 - Very Early Summer Season Beckons (But Maybe An Early Finish Too!)
It is likely that the spring of 2020 will turn out to be the sunniest on record with confirmation expected in the next days from the Met Office. Dry, sunny weather is a factor which is leading to butterfly flight periods starting and finishing earlier, and in some cases significantly earlier than usual.
I am already aware of isolated sightings of Dark Green Fritillary at two Hampshire sites (Martin Down and Old Winchester Hill) indicating their flight period is now beginning in the county (and it is still only May!). Woodland species such as White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary, subject to no dramatic downward change in the weather, can be expected to take wing in Hampshire later this week, followed in mid-June by Purple Emperor. Based on monitoring of the Emperor’s larval stages, this should be a good season for 'His Majesty', but it may also be a short one if the fine weather remains for a further few weeks.
That might all sound great at face value, but there is no such thing as a free lunch, and the consequences of a very dry summer for butterflies is likely to be mixed (even for heat-loving ones). Many species which do not overwinter as eggs, rely on their foodplants being available in late summer and early autumn to allow them to achieve their needed pre-winter condition (as larva or pupa).
As we know from a similar situation in 2018 (which was the hottest ever summer in England), by early August ground cover vegetation had largely dried up, leaving many feeding larvae struggling, and the same is likely to happen this year. It would be also be accompanied by an early tail off of butterflies remaining on the wing into late summer and early autumn. We have not quite reached true Mediterranean climate yet in southern England, where the extended fine weather results in additional broods. Rather for us, additional broods tend to be at best partial and can actually be detrimental to the species, by removing breeding stock from the following spring.
28 May 20 - Dukes At Last Reveal Their Beacon Hill Bolthole!
On my way back from Bentley Wood yesterday morning, I returned once again to Beacon Hill (Warnford) for a third and final attempt to find its secretive small colony of Duke of Burgundy, this time armed with additional information.
In order to reduce the amount of walking (which is a long slog round from the main car park to the western end of the north slope), I had been told it was possible to make a shortcut through the beech woods. There is no specific path to follow, just what seemed like trailblazing through the leaf litter floor and thin brush below the beech canopy to the fence at the top the north slope, somewhere near its western end. I succeeded in finding a way through at the second attempt, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend it!
In and around a shallow valley at the extreme western end of the down, several male Duke of Burgundy were engaged in typical Duchy of Burgundy business, tussling with each other, perching on low vegetation and rising up to chase whatever flew past. Isn’t it typical that the Duke has found a bolthole for itself in the most remote, most inaccessible location on the whole reserve! Despite the fact that in some places the Duke season is now all but over, those seen today were in tidy condition, probably as a result of a later emergence on this north-facing aspect.
There was no more trailblazing for the return walk - instead, I opted for the more interesting but long route, with plenty of small butterflies and wildflowers to see. Indeed there seemed to be many more Dingy Skippers around today than on my previous visits. 2 photos of Duke of Burgundy posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
27 May 20 - Eastern Clearing Quiet But Small Pearl And Marsh Make Appearance.
An early visit to Bentley Wood this morning found me exploring the Eastern Clearing by 9 am! After being shocked and saddened on arrival by a consignment of household debris, which has been fly-tipped at the far end of the car-park during lockdown, I made my way to the clearing to start searching, following a quick check of the now re-instated the visitors book.
I have to say butterflies were quite scarce by Bentley Wood standards, and during an hour or so I only recorded about a dozen butterflies, including a few faded Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, one lovely female Marsh Fritillary (probably the highlight), one Dingy Skipper, and one enigmatic Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, which appeared for a few minutes, but sadly wasn’t stopping for my camera, before disappearing.
24 May 20 - Still No Duke Success On Beacon Hill As Spring Downland Season Wanes
Following reports in recent years of a small colony of Duke of Burgundy in the scrub area on the north slope of Beacon Hill (Warnford), I paid a return visit there early this afternoon. The usual cast of downland species was evident on the long walk around the beech plantation, including Dingy Skipper, Small Heath, Common Blue, a few Grizzled Skipper and a fresh Small Blue. The four-legged fast-moving grazing mammals evident on my previous visit, in the form of Brown Hares, had now been replaced by a somewhat slower variety, namely sheep!
On a more serious note, a thorough search for Beacon Hill’s Dukes once again did not produce any sightings, despite the habitat looking very duke friendly. It is possible that the fledgeling colony reported last year did not manage to arrange for Duke and Duchess to meet, resulting in a lack of heirs to the House of Burgundy throne from the Beacon Hill Duchy! If anyone knows differently, however, and has seen the Duke at this site in the past few weeks, please let me know.
Finally, it is clear that for the most part, this year’s spring downland butterfly season is now on the wane with a number of species well past their peak, perhaps with the exception of Small Blue and Common Blue. Four photos of Common Blue, Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper and Small Heath posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
21 May 2020 - Video Snippet Of Courting Wood Whites
During my visit to Botany Bay (Surrey) two days ago, I recorded this video snippet of a pair of Wood Whites engaged in their courtship ritual. It does not show the full ritual, but you can see the male (on left) extending his proboscis and ‘waving it’ at the female whilst she responds by flicking open her wings. Unfortunately, the ritual on this occasion did not lead to mating, as the male flew off a few seconds later.
20 May 20 - Good Variety Of Species On The South Field, Including Adonis
On my way back from Botany Bay yesterday, I made a stop at Old Winchester Hill, exploring only the south field area, just below the fort. By midday, the cloud had almost fully dispersed to leave a beautiful late spring afternoon, so I knew the butterflies would be very active. They certainly were. The most numerous species were Small Heath, Common Blue and the stunning Adonis Blue.
On this occasion, as well as around 10 male Adonis, there were a couple of females, one of which seems to have been found by her handsome suitor even before her wings were fully expanded. The two were joined and perched on a flower head. Luckily one or two of the males opened their wings whilst feeding, which sometimes doesn’t happen in very sunny conditions.
The variety on the south field was completed by singletons of Small Blue, Dingy Skipper and finally, a Green Hairstreak, disturbed from low scrub. During my walk from the car park, common species such as Brimstone and Speckled Wood were also encountered as well as a fresh Small Copper. A very productive short visit! 5 photos of Adonis Blue, Small Blue and Dingy Skipper posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
19 May 20 - Expedition To Botany Bay Sees Wood Whites In Courtship
Now that lockdown has been eased somewhat, my journey this morning to Botany Bay in Surrey did feel like something of an expedition, after being limited to travels for exercise to one’s local area.
On arrival, the early cloud was dispersing to leave sunny spells, which was probably perfect for seeing the target species - the dainty Wood White, which I have not seen for several years and is not found in Hampshire. I am told they don’t get up very early, and in warm, unbroken sunshine, once the males have got out of bed, they tend to fly incessantly, unless they come across a female of course.
Well, the males seemed to get going a few minutes into my walk, with most of the action being along the lush verges in Tugley Wood, a little further on from Botany Bay. On two occasions a flighty male’s radar homed in on a female roosting on vegetation, so beginning the ritualistic courtship behaviour consisting of the pair facing one another at close quarters, with the male waving his antennae and proboscis towards the female, accompanied by some wing flicking. Apparently females will sometimes ‘lead on’ males, even if they have already mated. Anyway, on neither occasion did mating result, with the male eventually giving up and flying off. I saw 8 Wood Whites in total, and there were stretches of my walk where they were completely absent.
I managed to capture a video snippet of the courtship behaviour and will post that in a subsequent blog. 5 photos of Wood White, including courtship, posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
15 May 20 - Visit To Hampshire & IoW Trust’s Latest Acquisition - Deacon Hill
On 1st May 2020, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust were able to complete its purchase of Deacon Hill, near Winchester, following a successful public funding appeal and a donation from Hampshire County Council, having achieved its target of raising £150,000. This north-facing scrub and chalk grassland escarpment is home to one of the only colonies of Duke of Burgundy around Winchester. It is a location I have visited several times over the years and have sadly seen a deterioration in the chalk grassland quality, partly due to the excessive encroachment of scrub.
In view of the news that Deacon Hill has now been purchased by the Trust, I called in there on my way back from Bentley Wood yesterday. It is clear that the site is in desperate need of grazing and scrub clearance, but hopefully, its full potential for wildlife can soon be fulfilled as a result of the acquisition.
My previous visits to Deacon Hill have focussed on the lower part of the escarpment, however much of this is now overgrown and almost impassable in places. Thankfully I did manage to see one Duke of Burgundy (a somewhat faded and slightly damaged male), for which I was grateful, and the weather conditions, which were by then quite cold with 70% cloud cover, could have been a contributor to the lack of sightings. Nevertheless, the scrub encroachment and lack of grazing mean that there could soon be insufficient suitable habitat (including sparsity of cowslips) to maintain the small colony of Dukes for much longer. Several years ago I used to see Grizzled Skipper here too, but suspect they are now long gone.
One photo of Duke of Burgundy posted to Latest Photos Gallery. By the way, whilst the main appeal target was achieved (and I happily donated!), the public can still donate to the important work of managing the site for wildlife (link).
14 May 20 - First Outing To See Bentley’s Frits, After Lockdown Eased
A chilly but sunny start to the morning saw me heading out to Bentley Wood for my first outing after the travel restrictions were eased. My precise destination was Barnridge Meadow on the Wiltshire side of the wood, in the hope of seeing a few fritillaries for the first time this season. Traffic was, as expected much quieter than usual, allowing an earlier than expected arrival at the western entrance to the wood, with the temperature still in single digits.
Nevertheless, after a 10 minute socially distanced walk to the meadow area (i.e. no-one else around!), I was watching my first Marsh Fritillary of the season, followed a few minutes later by my first Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Butterflies were by no means plentiful, and this was the only Pearl I saw, however a further 2 Marsh Fritillaries showed up - all the butterflies being fresh or quite fresh. The Marsh Frits, in particular, became very docile when the sun disappeared, seeking to hunker down amongst the grass stems as the apparent temperature plummeted.
Oddly enough, all the Marsh Fritillaries were seen in a relatively small area, whereas in some previous years they have been more widely distributed around the meadow, and one wonders if the low numbers are an indication that their struggles here are not over. With just one Pearl saw, one could say the same about them of course, but Barnridge is not their main focus within this large woodland complex.
I had debated whether to complete my visit to Bentley Wood by visiting the Eastern Clearing and maybe would have done so if there was a reasonable chance of finding an early Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (bearing in mind this has so far been an early season). However, it seems that one other casualty of COVID-19 is the Bentley Wood visitors book, which I presume has been removed as a potential source of infection. So, with no specific indication that Small Pearls were out, and with cloud building, I decided to call at a different site on my way home, with a blog entry to follow tomorrow. 6 photos of Marsh Fritillary and Pearl-bordered Fritillary posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
9 May 2020 - Butterfly Conservation Plea To Help Measure Impacts Of Climate Change
The COVID -19 pandemic and consequent restrictions have resulted in the suspension of normal butterfly monitoring activities. The value of butterfly monitoring is as much about determining trends in the medium and long term to aid research, as well as providing a snapshot of the ups and downs of an individual season. Trends, of course, include the impacts of climate change on our butterflies and the natural world as a whole. Whilst intuitively we might expect that a warmer climate with seasons starting earlier would be beneficial to butterflies, the science is actually showing a rather mixed picture, with some species benefitting, whilst others continue to decline.
A vital indicator of the effects of climate change in the UK is butterfly phenology (I.e. the study of the timing of natural events) and whilst official recording is going to be severely affected this spring due to the restrictions, Butterfly Conservation is asking the public for help, by submitting butterfly observations from their gardens or local open species. Observations of common species such as Brimstone, Comma, Speckled Wood, Holly Blue, and Orange-tip will provide valuable phenology data as an input to the study of climate change, as well as providing specific data on these species, including the evolution of their distribution with climate change.
If you would like to help, you can do so via a dedicated page on the Butterfly Conservation website accessible here.
6 May 2020 - Small Blues Emerging On Portsdown
A walk this afternoon in unbroken sunshine below the Paulsgrove Quarry produced 4 fresh Small Blues - all males. This area at the foot of Portsdown Hill has had tracts of scrub methodically mown to leave a mosaic of habitats to suit different species. Some tracts are close-cropped, others have a longer sward and in some areas, the gorse and bushes have been left intact. I also had two confirmed encounters with Green Hairstreak disturbed from the scrub, as well as seeing 7 male Common Blues and several Brimstones.
4 May 2020 - Courting Orange Tips At The Moors
Having truncated my visit to Beacon Hill (No Dukes!) on Saturday, I called in at The Moors LNR near Bishops Waltham on my way home, to complete my day’s exercise. Being a damp site, there is usually a reasonable supply of Cuckooflower, which is, of course, a favoured foodplant of the Orange Tip and Green-veined White.
During the few minutes I was there, both species were in evidence including a courting pair of Orange Tips. Sadly the courtship came to nothing as the male flew off after a minute or so fluttering around the willing female, as can be seen from the single quick photo of the female.
Hopefully, in about a week, we should be learning of the government’s plans to ease lockdown and start the country on the no doubt, long road back to normality (or near normality). Perhaps we can look forward to much fewer restrictions for the summer period of the butterfly season? A single photo of female Orange Tip posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
2 May 2020 - First Visit To The North Face (Of Beacon Hill)!
This afternoon I visited an area of Beacon Hill (Warnford) which I had not previously been to. This site, being around a 20-minute journey is about the furthest I can reasonably adventure during lockdown for an hour’s walk. Beacon Hill used to be listed on my butterfly sites page and was a decent site for Silver-spotted Skipper which were present on its steep south-facing slopes. However, the site degraded over a few years, due to lack of grazing/management and the lengthening sward no doubt contributed to the demise of its Silver-spotted Skippers.
Happily, things have now improved significantly, and whilst we still have to live with the steep slopes, the quality of the downland is being returned to its former self (and even better!) through effective management. It is also pleasing that Silver-spotted Skippers are returning, albeit in small numbers and were recorded last year during August.
This afternoon I visited the north-facing downland slope on the other side of the beechwoods. This slope is not quite as steep and contains an area of scrub with bushes where a small colony of Duke of Burgundy have been reported in recent years. Although the area looks very suitable for Dukes with plenty of cowslips, bushes for shelter and tussocky grass, alas it seems I was not lucky today on that front. However, during the long walk around the woods from the car park, both Dingy and Grizzled Skippers were encountered sporadically along with two fresh Small Coppers as well as a couple of Brown Hares, which I did not try to outrun (wow… can they shift!).
I suspect I may have been too early for Dukes on this site, as it is north facing and the beechwoods do cast a lengthening shadow from mid-afternoon. So maybe there will be an opportunity for a return visit in a week or two, to see fresh Dukes when they are fading elsewhere. In the end, I actually cut short my visit to allow a short walk at another location, which I will report on later. 3 photos of Dingy and Grizzled Skipper posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
27 April 2020 - Common Blues Mating On Portsdown But No Sign Of Small Blue
I have noticed one or two reports of Small Blue from southern counties in the last days (yes it is very early!), so thought I would take my exercise walk on Portsdown Hill this afternoon, below the Paulsgrove Quarry, which is a good site for them. It would seem on this occasion however, I had jumped the gun for this particular species with none seen. Common Blues, however, we're wasting no time in meeting up for the important things - a mating pair was anchored to a grass stem with two other males making a nuisance of themselves.
With only common species on view today, I ventured up to the shallow pond at the foot of the quarry face, which had lots of tadpoles resting or swimming close to the pond edge. A more easily identifiable older version of the same species was also present - a smooth or common newt (but if anyone knows better, please let me know!). I have posted a photo of the amphibian in addition to 2 Common Blue photos to the Latest Photos Gallery. It looks as though our spell of fine weather is finally coming to an end, so I may take a break from these exercise outings for a few days, although cannot rule out additional posts.
26 April 2020 - Butterfly Season Races Ahead, Despite Normal Life On Pause
It seems rather ironic that when normal life is on pause for many people, the butterfly season seems to be racing ahead. With a number of websites understandably suspending new postings, it is more difficult to gauge where the season is, other than anecdotally knowing that it is already well advanced for the time of year. Indeed, I learned yesterday from an observer living close to a site, that our first fritillary of spring, the Pearl-bordered, is not only emerging early in Hampshire but that a female was seen egg-laying!
With most sites where our small fritillaries are found being some distance from population centres, many of us (including myself) will likely miss seeing these delightful species this year.
25 April 2020 - Video Snippet From Stephen's Castle Down
Just before I departed from Stephen's Castle Down yesterday, I took this little video snippet. Well, one has to be a bit inventive during these unprecedented times
24 April 2020 - Good Spring For Butterflies On Stephen’s Castle Down
Now that the guidelines on making short journeys to the countryside to take exercise have been clarified (ie it is permissible to make a car journey provided the journey duration is much less than the exercise), I made the modest journey to Bishop’s Waltham this afternoon, spending an hour or so walking on Stephen’s Castle Down. Much clearance work has been done since last year, clearing invasive scrub, particularly on the southern section, and the down is now looking in very good condition for some of our smaller downland species, including Duke of Burgundy, Dingy Skipper and Grizzled Skipper.
Whilst sightings of these species started off a little slowly, by the end of an hour I was easily into double figures for all three (Grizzled probably the lowest), although I cannot exclude a few double counts. Despite the fact that the down faces East, which is a cool direction, it was clear that some of the Grizzled Skippers had been around for probably more than a week, and the odd Dingy was fading too. The Dukes, however, were mostly fresh males, darting around, engaging in tussles with anything flying and taking short breaks to perch on leaves or feed on Lady’s Bedstraw.
I did not explore the northern third of the down and most of the sightings were in or within a stone's throw of the lower section of the shallow valley, running west-east towards Dean Farm. Having seen several Green Hairstreaks on Portsdown Hill last week, I was not especially looking for this species today - perhaps I’ll save that for another visit! The main downside for me was that I really missed my DSLR camera today (I have been using a compact during these challenging times) and struggled at times with the display in the bright sunshine, obtaining several decent photos with a brown leaf perched proudly as the main subject!
6 photos of Duke of Burgundy, Grizzled Skipper and Dingy Skipper posted to Latest Photos Gallery. I have also posted 1 photo of the down, looking north, with the shallow valley clearly visible.
21 April 2020 - Grizzled Struggling In Botley Wood But Orange Tip Settles At Last!
Whilst I have visited Whiteley Pastures numerous times in the last few years, my last spring visit to its neighbour, Botley Wood, was in 2014. On that occasion, I was successful in recording one of its less well-known spring residents - namely Grizzled Skippers, in its damp flowery rides (the wood's Nightingales are perhaps one of its more audible spring residents!). Sadly, as another walker who knows the wood much better than I do confirm, funding cuts have meant that much less ride management is being undertaken nowadays, resulting in some of the once open and airy rides becoming overgrown and shadier. Botley Wood’s small population of Dingy Skippers (which may not yet be emerging) is also reported to be in serious danger for the same reason. Although I was not successful today, one Grizzled Skipper (in wayleave close to an electricity pylon) had been seen earlier by the other walker.
16 April 2020 - Green Hairstreaks Clashing On Portsdown
Bearing in mind that a few unsettled/cloudy days are in the forecast, another exercise walk on Portsdown Hill this afternoon was an easy decision, hopefully in the company once again, of a decent crop of fresh Green Hairstreaks. In broken sunshine conditions, I managed 5 Green Hairstreaks during a 45-minute walk, mostly well-spaced along the thick hedgerows and scrubby margins. However, two were engaging in an aerial duel, one later revealing minor wing damage, perhaps from the encounter (photo in gallery).
14 April 2020 - Season Further Advanced Than Expected
My exercise walk on the western section of Portsdown Hill this afternoon was somewhat of an eye-opener, clearly demonstrating that the spring season is already further advanced than expected. Orange Tips were plentiful and even more surprisingly, Green Hairstreaks were being encountered in singletons in several sections of thick hedgerow, and it’s only 14th April!
My aim of essentially keeping moving during this surreal period in our lives was very well matched by the Orange Tips (mostly males) which barely stopped for a second during the continuous sunshine, and the Green Hairstreaks, usually first glimpsed in flight, were extremely difficult to follow. Of the two species, thankfully one Green Hairstreak did settle briefly within range, tilting its wings to catch the full rays of the sun. Small whites, Holly Blues, Commas, Brimstones and Speckled Woods completed today’s species.
Significant scrub clearance has been undertaken during the winter, and my guess is that this will be a good season for butterflies on Portsdown if today’s ‘taster’ is representative. It’s just a pity that opportunities will be limited for the foreseeable future. 3 photos of Green Hairstreak, Small White and Holly Blue posted to Latest Photos Gallery.
12 April 2020 - At Least COVID-19 Can’t Stop Spring!
Just as well too, but it seems likely for the next few weeks we will only be able to directly experience the joys of spring from our gardens, or during outdoor exercise in our local area. Maybe it will force some of us butterfly enthusiasts (including myself) to diversify and take a broader interest in the natural wonders close to home, or at the very least take greater interest in the commoner and more widespread species which we can still encounter during a walk or cycle ride. As I queued outside my local supermarket last week, several squirrels were scampering around above me in the trees bordering the car park - so you see that is something I would have completely missed during normal times!
The start of the butterfly season is often a stop-start affair as the weather tries to make its mind up, between lingering wintry spells and a few warmer spring days - like we are enjoying at present. There are now regular sightings of Orange Tip being reported in Hampshire (including mating pairs) as well as a few Whites, Holly Blues, Speckled Woods and of course hibernators. The first Grizzled Skipper has been reported from Sussex, Green Hairstreak from Derbyshire and Kent, and Small Copper from Dorset. One suspects these species will now be emerging at many sites following the mild winter ard warm recent weather. They will soon be joined by Duke of Burgundy and even Dingy Skipper at their earliest sites. Sadly the flight periods of these early spring species are set to go massively under-recorded this year, albeit for the best or reasons (to stem the spread of the dreadful virus). We should remind ourselves, however, that butterfly recording is a long term activity anyway, where not too much weight should be attached to a single season, especially one where data gathering will be limited due to events outside our control.
Finally, I want to return to the point made in my first paragraph about diversifying. This afternoon my exercise walk took me along the bridleways between Funtley and Knowle, near Fareham, returning via an old railway trackbed, now converted to a bridleway. The young leaves of spring, blackthorn blossom and tree blossom were much in evidence as was birdsong and the regular drumming of woodpeckers. The meandering River Meon, with its clear water and quaint wooden bridges, was more reminiscent of the Test Valley than the Meon valley and somewhat surprising in a good way to have such a picturesque spot so close to home. Perhaps also surprising, but in a more disappointing way were that lack of butterflies - just two whites saw and one of those was in Funtley. However, as I said, spring can always be a bit like that. Hopefully some further local and enjoyable walks coming up.
22 March 2020 - Life As We Knew It Is Being Turned On Its Head
It was almost unimaginable at the beginning of this year that within a short few weeks we would be in the midst of a devastating public health crisis, which is without parallel in living memory.
Life as we knew it in the UK, and indeed across the world, is being turned upside down by the Coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps contrary to temptation, the best chance of minimising the severity of the epidemic, is to follow the drastic measures being advised by the government (which are evolving quickly) on social distancing, avoiding unnecessary travels, self-isolation (where appropriate) and on personal hygiene.
By now I would normally be planning my first butterfly outings of the year. Hibernators are on the wing in increasing numbers and the first emerged species are just around the corner, bearing in mind we expect this to be an early-season after the mild, but wet winter. As it is, I have shelved the prospect of any butterfly outings before Easter. For the moment, going out for fresh air and to exercise individually or in small family groups is not out of bounds, but my concern is that it could be within a few weeks, if the virus is out of control and spreading ferociously, as a result of insufficient people heeding the advice.
I expect my next blog entry will be around Easter when I will review the situation. Let’s hope by then we are starting to turn the corner in the battle with this invisible enemy!
8 March 2020 - Warmest Winter On Record For Europe
This winter (Dec-Feb) has officially been the warmest on record in Europe, according to Copernicus, the European Climate Change service. As if that wasn't enough in itself, this winter has blown away the previous record for average winter temperatures across Europe (set in 2015/16) by no less than 1.4 deg C!
6 February 2020 - Shining A Light On Cryptic Species
You will recall that one of the butterfly species mentioned in my previous blog on ‘Time To Start Planning’ was the Cryptic Wood White - a species which, in the UK, is only found in Northern Ireland and only formally named in 2011. This metaphorical acquaintance with the Cryptic Wood White (which is the only UK resident species I have never seen) prompted me to do some background reading into the subject of cryptic species as a whole, discovering in the process what a fascinating, yet challenging subject it is.
Cryptic comes from the Greek word Kryptos, meaning hidden, and at a broad-brush level that is just what they are. The ‘cryptic species complex’ to which the Wood White, Cryptic Wood White and Réal’s Wood White belong, is one of many examples throughout the natural world of the phenomenon, from parasites and worms to giraffes and elephants. They are groups of species which look alike (at least to the human eye) but which are genetically different and cannot interbreed, thus rendering them reproductively isolated to follow their own evolutionary path.
The existence of cryptic species is important in many ways. For instance, there are implications on biodiversity - where we thought we had a single well-defined species, we now have several cryptic species which all look alike, but are different. Some cryptic species may be in danger of extinction, and others may still be ‘hiding’ and await unmasking. Recall that the Cryptic Wood White was only recognised in 2011 when it was unmasked as distinct from Réal’s Wood White, and this despite butterflies being one of the most studied of all wildlife groups. Thus, there may be conservation implications too, impacting the habitats and environments in which they live, bearing in mind different members of a cryptic complex may prefer different habitats (as in the case of the Wood White and Cryptic Wood White). There are also practical consequences. In the early 1900s, attempts to control the spread of malaria in Europe were thwarted because, as we now know, the Anopheles mosquito which carries malaria is actually a cryptic complex of 6 species, but only 3 of them are able to carry the disease.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many questions surround the existence of cryptic species, and these questions are still taxing the scientific community and are the subject of study and debate. What is their purpose in the grand scheme of evolution? Why does species divergence sometimes manifest itself through genetic changes, whilst in form and structure (ie morphologically) those species remain identical or almost identical? If this was the evolutionary norm, then the richness and diversity of the natural world would not have occurred in the way we know it. I could go on of course, but maybe it is time to stop and allow the reader to investigate for themselves the mystique which surrounds the cryptic species phenomenon!
12 January 2020 - Time To Start Planning (Part 2)
This is not the first time in my history of blogs going back to 2006 that I have suggested visiting butterfly sites using public transport, however this time I am focussing on locations well outside Hampshire. Here in part 2, I cover a few sites where the journey can be substantially completed by rail (with one exception), however, the final destination may involve either a longer walk (up to say 1 hour), use of local bus services or a short taxi ride. Since these visits are somewhat more challenging in terms of logistics, I embellish with some additional information, either based on my actual experience of visiting the site or by researching the location and journey. Sites on mainland UK also include a link to streetmap. For combined rail and bus journeys in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) the Traveline site is useful for journey planning. So if you are ready, here we go:
Irton Fell (Cumbria): Mountain Ringlet. Irton Fell is one of the lowest altitude sites for the Mountain Ringlet, the butterflies emerging initially on the lower slopes as early as the end of May but slightly later on the higher slopes. The start of the ascent on foot is from from the car park at Irton Pike and close to the delightful narrow gauge Ravenglass and Eskdale railway, which joins the national rail network at Ravenglass. For Irton Pike alight at Irton Rd (request stop) and head almost one mile on a minor road north-west to the car park at the foot of the Pike. Take the footpath which starts just past the car park and heads in a north-easterly direction, initially through woodland, with Irton Pike on the left. If you get the timing right and the weather is OK (some sunshine) you could see Mountain Ringlet soon after emerging from the woodland on to the hillside of Irton Fell. The plateau (or shoulder) at the head of Greathall Gill, further up the ascent, is a usual hotspot for the species. This is a long journey from Hampshire and not compatible with a day trip!
Daneway Banks (Glos): Large Blue. This Large Blue site is close to the village of Sapperton in the Cotswolds. The most convenient station to get there by public transport is Stroud on the Golden Valley Line. From Stroud, there is a choice of bus services towards Cirencester which can be used. Services 54/54A, operated by Cotswold Green, take you directly to Sapperton (a short walk to the site) or service 52, operated by Stagecoach West, will drop you on the main Stroud to Cirencester road, by the Sapperton turn off (approximately 30 minutes walk to Daneway Banks). In 2019 I saw a few Large Blue not far from the western entrance of the Daneway Banks reserve, but being a mobile species, they can be encountered in modest numbers at several other locations on the reserve, generally where wild thyme is present.
Meathop Moss (Cumbria): Large Heath. We are back in Cumbria at this site for Large Heath, and more specifically the most prominently marked of the three UK subspecies, called Davos. The moss is accessed on foot from a minor road on its eastern side and is about 3 miles from Grange Over Sands station, again like Ravenglass mentioned earlier, on the Cumbrian coastline. Hence it is about a 1-hour walk unless you take the luxury of a short taxi ride - a taxi one way I usually think is a good compromise. The Large Heath and Mountain Ringlet flight periods in Cumbria nicely overlap during the second half of June, so a visit to Meathop Moss can be combined with Irton Fell.
Spean Bridge (Highland): Chequered Skipper. Spean Bridge is the stop before Fort William on the magnificent West Highland line from Glasgow (also served by Caledonian Sleeper service). If only the weather there matched the scenery - these being my thoughts after a failed chequered skipper visit in 2011! However, many others have been successful so don’t let this put you off. Sites seem to be distributed on the south side of the River Spean to the east of the village and close to its junction with the Cour which flows into it (1.5 miles from Spean Bridge). If you are contemplating this trip, I would recommend seeking up to date location and abundance info from the Highland Branch of Butterfly Conservation.
Craigavon Lakes (Northern Ireland): Cryptic Wood White. This is a trip I have not done and is hardly green (involving a flight to Belfast) followed by a train. However, for those keen to see every UK species, the logistics aren’t that daunting. Craigavon Lakes is 2 miles from Lurgan station on the Bangor to Portadown line, also conveniently serving Belfast City Airport (station at Sydenham). The journey by train from Sydenham to Lurgan is approximately 1 hour with trains every 30 minutes during weekdays. The train service is operated by Translink NI Railways where timetable info can be found. The lakes area is close to some pedestrian-unfriendly fast roads, so my research suggests the use of the entrance on Ballynamoney Lane if approaching on foot from Lurgan. The Cryptic Wood White, unlike the Wood White found in England, favours open scrubby grassland. At Craigavon Lakes, look in the open scrubby grassland on the south side of the railway which bisects the site.
6 January 2020 - Time To Start Planning For The New Year!
I have enjoyed a nice break from blog posts since November, but a new year has begun and it’s time to start planning ahead, not only in respect of places to visit in Hampshire but also the odd outing further afield. With the consequences of climate change all too evident and accepted as reality (by most people anyway), it would seem improper to indulge in long journeys using non-green modes of transport to observe butterflies.
Electric vehicles are of course one answer, but for those who have not yet taken that step (including myself), public transport offers a greener alternative to the internal combustion-powered car, if one can work within its constraints. I have over the years tried to make use of public transport, especially by rail, to visit a few good butterfly sites. Travelling by train can compete with the motor car on journey times, making some destinations feasible for a day trip, and can actually be rather enjoyable!
The main limitation is, of course, the number of butterfly sites which are practical to visit by train - unfortunately not too many seem to have a station handy! However, a few do and this constraint can be partly alleviated if use is also made of the local bus network for the final part of the journey, or indeed if one succumbs to a less purist approach by renting a car or using a taxi at the destination end, in order to reach those more remote sites.
So after all that preamble, let’s get down to business without further ado by suggesting a few key butterfly sites well outside Hampshire which are amenable to visiting by train, and the key (non-Hampshire) species which can be found here:
Arnside Knott (Cumbria): High Brown Fritillary, Scotch Argus, Northern Brown Argus. Flight periods slightly overlap, however, visit timing is probably best tuned to see one or other species in their best condition. Arnside Knott is a 30-minute walk from Arnside Station.
Hockley Woods (Essex): Heath Fritillary. Hockley Woods entrance is just a 10-minute walk from Hockley Station.
Strumpshaw Fen (Norfolk): Swallowtail. Brundall station is a 30-minute walk from the entrance to the fen.
Ditchling Common (Sussex): A recently discovered colony of Black Hairstreak outside the main UK territory on the Oxford clays. Ditchling Common is about 1 mile from Burgess Hill station.
In my next post I will be listing some further sites outside Hampshire which can be visited using public transport, but where the station is further from the site, requiring a longer walk, use of a local bus service or a short taxi ride at the destination end.