Sunday, 25 May 2014

A Time Of Fluttering People: Mother Shipton, Beautiful Golden Y, Grizzled Skipper, Small Copper, Green Hairstreak And Various Blues

I'd say Butterfly Season is Well And Truly Here.

My family think I have Officially Gone Mad- every time the sun peeks out I grab the camera and dash off to various spots locally in search of flutters. This morning they all came with me to Danebury Hillfort, and I got into trouble for Making Us Late For A Christening, because I was busy chasing a Grizzled Skipper up a slope. At the Christening, M was invested as Godfather of a screaming three year, who quite rightly took massive exception to the strange man in the white dress who insisted on sloshing water all over his face three times, and then encouraged various grown ups he barely knew to draw crosses on his forehead with oil. I would have screamed too.

It was worth the lateness, because I got the picture I wanted: this is my first ever Grizzled Skipper Butterfly...

These flutters are declining nationally due to habitat loss, and survive in small self-contained colonies, usually on chalk grassland. Food plants for the pillars are Wild Strawberry and sometimes Creeping Cinquefoil and Tormentil. They are Quite Small at 23-29mm and you'll probably spot them best by their quick darting flight. They are Quite Feisty, the boys engaging one another in impressive acrobatic flying displays. As well as their food plants, they also need patches of bare ground.

There were also Brimstones on the Hill...

Common Blues....

And a Kestrel hunting over the slopes of the old Iron Age Fort...

Yesterday, I got another couple of Life Ticks in terms of moths and flutters. First, this beautiful Mother Shipton Moth that I spotted high up on the north face of the Down where I am Shepherdess to a flock of Wiltshire Horns....

Mother Shiptons are so-called for the profile of the eponymous witch's face born on their wings. Can you see it? The long nose, eyes and open mouth with a pointy chin beneath? I've never seen one before and have been keeping an eye out, so this was a real treat.

The second life tick for me this weekend is this beautiful Small Copper, which was on the transect at college....

In fact, there were LOTS of flutters on the transect, and because I wasn't having to concentrate on counting them for recording purposes, I spent nearly two hours wandering up and down in a haze of smiles enjoying looking at them and marveling at how amazing they are.

I saw TWO Green Hairstreaks, which is fab news, because the area they were on was only returned to Chalk Grassland two years ago (having been heavily grazed and managed farmland previously) and now it looks like a colony is already establishing itself, which is testament to a) the value of the right type of habitat and b) just shows what you can achieve in a small space of time.

I am particularly pleased with the first pic, because they are so hard to photograph well, the green of the underwing often disappearing in a silver sheen.

Green Hairstreaks fly in May and June and are quite small, measuring 27-34mm. They are territorial butterflies, the males having favourite perches on certain shrubs, from which they will attack other males or chase females and I saw this in action, because they were in more or less the same place I saw them last Wednesday. Me and the Hairstreaks are getting very chummy- I was lucky enough to get very close to this one and sat watching his behaviour for ages. What I learnt was that, when feeling threatened, he hopped down into the grasses close to the earth where he folded his wings and effectively disappeared, merging so effectively with the leaves that you really couldn't see him. He didn't seem remotely concerned by my presence, and at one point came very close to climbing on my finger!

Other species of note on the transect included this Blue, which I think may be an Adonis, being slightly bigger than the other Blues and also slightly different colour-wise. Any thoughts or opinions welcome on this. My Friend Dave (whom I generally refer to on flutters) isn't certain, because Adonis Blues have black veins that cross the outer white margins and it isn't 100% clear on the shot below. See what you think. Opinions welcomed....

The Adonis Blues are highly restricted in their distribution and rely entirely on Horseshoe Vetch for their breeding (there is no other larval food plant), laying a single egg beneath the leaves. They like unimproved, unfertilised close-cropped chalk or limestone turf on south-facing slopes, so they are extremely particular in their requirements. They find barriers such as roads, high shrubs and managed grassland virtually impassable. They have a mutualistic relationship with red and black ants which is common to many blues and is Quite Amazing. This is an excerpt that explains what happens from learn about butterflies website 

'The ants are attracted by a sugary secretion which they milk from a gland near the caterpillar's tail. The larvae seem unable to survive without the ants, whose presence deters other insects that would otherwise attack and kill them. At dusk the larvae retreat to the base of the foodplants, where they assemble in groups of about half a dozen. They are followed by the ants which cover them in a thin layer of soil particles, and stand guard over them during the night.

Adonis Blue larvae ( and those of most other Blues ) appease their attendant ants by "singing" to them, thereby avoiding being eaten themselves. It is not known how the larvae produce their song, although there are microscopic knobs and plates around the opening of the honey gland which may be involved.'

Horseshoe Vetch
Other Blues were also in abundance on the transect and I saw both Smalls and Commons....

Small Blue, our smallest butterfly measuring just 18-25mm, extinct in many areas of the UK. Requires kidney vetch and sheltered chalk and limestone grassland. UK Biodiversity Action Plan listed priority species.

Common Blue

Common Blue. 29-38mm, our most widespread blue flutter.
Also present on the transect were Orange Tips (both the male and female were happy to be photographed, now they've got steep competition....)

Female Orange Tip (black tips to the wings, no orange like the male. Easy to ID from the green splodges on the underwings)
Female Orange Tip, showing off her black wing tips

Male Orange Tip nectaring on Ragged Robin

This Speckled Wood has seen better days perhaps....

There were Folk other than flutters out and about. I saw lots of these Fat-Legged Flower Beetles (great name) enjoying the buttercups....

Oedemera nobilis (male)

Oedemera nobilis (Mrs Flower Beetles)
And this beautiful lady Slow Worm enjoying a moment's peace beneath her corrugated iron sheet (until some Irritating Nosey Human lifted it up to see what was underneath....)....

 And then there were the moths...
5-Spot Burnet

Beautiful Golden Y
Fairy Longhorn Moth (Nemophora degeerella)
I've had a Tremendous Weekend and seen so many wonderful, precious, beautiful creatures that I am feeling Very Blessed Indeed. I hope you've had a Good One too.

I'll leave you with this beautiful Roe Deer who was a Bit Interested in what I was doing as I walked back through the woodlands in a Butterfly Daze....

Happy Days...

CT x


  1. Wow, you have had a good few days, great post and photos, love the Roe Deer they are so cute, getting a little jealous of all these Butterflies and Bugs you have found... We have had rain again alllllllll day and cool as well. Checked on the Bees yesterday still living and building their nest again further down the rotting tree stump.
    Happy hunting x

    1. I'm learning all the flutter hot-spots round here I reckon :-)

      I hope you get better weather this week- being cooped up waiting for rain to stop when you'd rather be out finding wildlife is deeply frustrating I know.

      Great news about the bees- good to know they are resilient. Let's hope their nest remains safe for the rest of the summer. x

  2. You did have a good day!! Some amazing photos, the butterflies are beautiful, love the Mother Shipton, I can see the witches' face!!,
    its great! I think my favorites are the blues, such gorgeous colours.
    The Fat-Legged Flower beetle is certainly true to his name!!! lol.
    The Roe deer is so cute, great photo.
    We've had rain most of the weekend, but today is looking fine, sso hopefully we can get out and about.
    Have a good day xxx

    1. I love the face in the Mother Shipton :-) The Blues are stunning little flutters- it looks to be a good year for them so you may find some, especially if you're near Chalk or Limestone areas. I think we've been lucky with the rain- not so much of it over the weekend and looking good for today too. Hope you get a dry day x

  3. Great shots CT. I love the blues, especially the Adonis if that is what it turns out to be.

    1. I'm doubtful about the Adonis, having read a bit more about them. We live in hope....

  4. Certainly lots of variety and different species to be seen! It is good to see that the orange tips are cooperating for their photo shoots now. Glad that you made it to the christening - in the end! - I agree with you about the childs feelings, I think that I would be shouting too if I had been him, at least babies don't get quite so cross! Hope that you are enjoying your bank holiday. xx

    1. I think they know their time is running out as it's coming towards the end of their season :-)

      Soggy bank hol here- hope yours is a bit dryer x

  5. Ooh such a variety of moths and butterflies - feeling very green here!!! Love the Mother Shipton - my son is desperate to see one! Visiting a meadow soon where they have been spotted before so may drag him along in the hope there is one there.

    Not sure about the Adonis - not a species I'm familiar with (we don't get that many "blue" species here)

    I do like the last shot of the deer.

    1. I was lucky I think- in the right places at the right time :-)

      I'm not so sure about the Adonis now- if it is one, it will be great. Will have to wait for further evidence. Glad you enjoyed the deer- another special moment, and quite unexpected.

  6. I am permanently amazed at how many moths and butterflies you find. Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places.
    Although when I once went to Badbury Rings hillfort in summer I spotted quite a few insects, so maybe there is something about hillforts...
    Love the words and pictures - keep up the good work :)

    1. It's the chalk plants and the sheltered areas on the slopes- the flutters love them. Bradbury should be a good spot.
      Many thanks for the comment- glad you're enjoying all the winged people :-)

  7. Fabulous flutterbies! Just been reading a bit about the Small Blue, now I don't even recognise their larval food plant so I guess I won't see them round this immediate area, but in France Green Hairstreaks feed on raspberries and currants, amongst other plants.... so I will carry on hoping one might arrive in my garden one day. :-)
    Nice bunch of other critters too!

    1. I hadn't appreciated that the Small Blue is extinct in areas of the UK, so it was a real treat to see them. Good luck with the Green HSs- fantastic little flutters :-)


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x