Watlington Hill also known as Christmas Common in the Chilterns a good site for the rare Silver Spotted Skipper
Not every trip was successful here at Martin Down on a very drab overcast day, but glad I got the photograph
Admiring the view near Lardon Chase Goring and Streatley one of the finest parts of Berkshire and the River Thames
Another journey over to Afton Downs on the Isle of Wight
These two mating Glanville Fritillaries were seen just as we were leaving Compton Chine.
The Marsh Fritillary has been recently been re-introduced into North Hampshire on the MOD ranges around Fleet. But in the 1980's there was a good colony there and seeing them was a real treat.
Mile after mile………walks in the countryside with my father Robert Whitlock
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.”– Mark Twain
My father’s interest in Butterflies really started when I used to photograph his plants in the garden, he had many prize winners and in the rockery were Lavender and Ice Plants grew I used to see the odd Small Skipper and Small Copper. They loved to nectar, and their prize were the large Buddleias which my dad grew especially for the butterflies, where in the late 1970’s I used to see many Painted Ladies and Small Tortoiseshells. He was a keen walker like me and weekends when I was home from my duties in the Royal Navy we used to plan a trip out into the depths of the Berkshire countryside.
I was a member of the BBONT organisation: Berkshire, Oxon and Buckinghamshire Naturalist Trust, so I had the knowledge of where to go and what to see in the right part of the season…hopefully. I wasn’t always successful, for when you are away from the UK, you were out of touch of how the weather had been, which sometimes made viewing your favourite species a little more difficult, especially on sites where you hadn’t been before. We always travelled by train to wherever we decided to go although it had to be within walking distance from any station we decided to alight from.
One of our longest walks was when we went to Otmoor Rifle range in the depths of Oxfordshire to see the Marsh Fritillary, Otmoor which is an RSPB reserve very close to the town of Bicester. We walked from there, I remember distinctly it being an exceptionally hot day and we both got ‘sort; of lost in this huge corn field, but we made it to Otmoor, in the middle of the afternoon. The Marsh Fritillary wasn’t very common here either, and we had to wait for over an hour before we saw one. This was when I had the choice of seeing the Marsh Fritillary much closer to home, as it was still just over the border in Hampshire in the Hawley Lake area, quite close to Camberley. There was also a small colony on the Berkshire Downs near to Newbury, I chose this site as it was a challenge I guess, and we both knew we had walked a fair old distance once we got back home.
I remember when I’d been with my Jackie we decided to take my father out for a birthday treat, and we went to Bentley Woods, and we really picked a good day, these were the days when Bentley Wood never got very crowded, especially in May. We had a picnic and of course with a car so more can be assembled to make things so much more normal, and we also had a table, and sat there in the middle of the car-park with everything flying around us and eating our sandwiches, so blatant, and hilarious now I think about it. Still it made my dad’s day which is what it was all about, I don’t think you could do that now; you would certainly get some funny looks today. These were the days where good numbers of Pearl-Bordered Fritillaries, Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillaries, and Marsh Fritillaries could be seen in the Eastern Clearing; we also had good sightings of mating Duke of Burgundy's.
We both visited the Isle of Wight many times, especially in the early summer, getting the train down from Reading through Basingstoke, and on into Southampton where we changed trains at Brockenhurst for Lymington, where we got the short ferry crossing over to Yarmouth. Fortunately there was a short length of uplifted railway line which used to take us up to the start of the Chalk downs, and here in the summer there were numerous areas where we could see many Dark Green Fritillaries, especially Afton Down. This was one of the best sites to see them, flying around in droves.
Also at Compton Bay close by, this was also a good site to see the unique Glanville Fritillary and in the late spring a visit here earned us good sightings of this beautiful butterfly and other interesting butterflies like the Adonis and Small Blues.
One time we decided to visit the site at Milford on Sea on the mainland, where it was rumoured the Glanville Fritillary still existed in very low numbers. We saw them alright… bedded down in the grassy tussocks about half a dozen of them, while we were atop the sandy cliff edge, hanging on for grim death, as there was a howling gale, and we had great difficulty standing up!
One of the best sites to visit close to home was at Goring and Streatly a site called Larden Chase, this was in one of the most picturesque areas I’ve ever known, and here on the downs overlooking the River Thames the Adonis Blue could be found in quite large numbers, and in the autumn some Clouded Yellows used to join in the fray.
When I was home in and around my mother’s birthday on July 3rd dad and I invariably went to Butterwood to look for the elusive Purple Emperor. We in most cases were quite successful, although they never came down for long enough to get a photograph, they did ‘plonk’ themselves very briefly long enough for dad to get a good look at one. One time we saw one in a ride once flying towards us in the misty morning, we used to get there quite early! He flew onto a branch just above our heads; I think this was my first encounter with one…such a magical moment. Before we arrived the roundabouts on the M3 in those days weren’t sprayed or cut and the grasses were adorned many Skippers and Marbled Whites by the hat full. These trips I remember being some of my fondest memories with my father.
Another walk was from Watlington in Buckinghamshire, we had got there on a train to Henly-on-Thames from Reading and then a bus to Watlington. A fair old walk then to the chalk downland through picturesque villages along the way. Looking back now how we managed to get all this done in one day is some kind of miracle, thinking how easy it is now just to hop into a car. I suspect you cannot do any of this now, as country buses are a relic from the past, anyway the day was much enjoyed looking at the Silver-Spotted Skipper. Now residing in Hampshire many years later, I think I’m so lucky to have so many species so close now, with very little effort or great expense now to see these species.
My Father was still keen right up till he was well into his eighties, visiting Creech Wood and Martin Down in the late 1990’s and 2000’s. He even took notes of what he’d seen on holiday in the Alps. And made me very jealous of some of the species he’d seen like Camberwell beauty, and Apollo with my Mother.
Now sadly missed, always in my thoughts as I walk the butterfly trails, every year.
Compton Bay Isle of Wight
The Silver-Spotted Skipper was common in Buckinghamshire at Christmas Common and to get there was a real effort with buses and trains and good old walking, but well worth it!
My Dad, Jackie and I in Butterwood looking for the Assembly Point of the Purple Emperor butterfly near one of the large rides.