Luckily, I have my pal Dave to go Butterfly Hunting with. We spent many happy hours together last summer visiting various sites staring at the ground or up in the trees or squatting down with cameras in our hands trying to get the perfect shot of these beautiful insects. We had a bit of a competition going to see who could get pictures of what first. He beat me in the end by a Silver Spotted Skipper and a Clouded Yellow, but I think I trumped him ultimately with my Purple Empress and my Clifden Non Pareill :o)
This morning, we met up to go looking for Something Very Special that doesn't exist outside of The Chalk and The Limestone any more. It is a species that is declining so rapidly that if we aren't very careful it'll soon be gone for good. It's an early Spring flutter that lives in small colonies and it is tiny so it's very easy to overlook.
I've never seen one before. Those of you who've been reading my ramblings for a while will understand therefore that excitement levels were just a tiny bit high this morning at the prospect that I might actually, finally, get to see this amazing little insect.
Thanks to The Butterfly Wizard (I think I'm going to call him that from now on), who knows the alchemy necessary to find one of these marvellous creatures, I was finally introduced to the diminutive Duke of Burgundy......
He is the sole representative in the UK of the sub-family known as 'metalmarks' because his South-American cousins have a metallic appearance (well, this one isn't the sole representative obviously, otherwise there would be none left at all after him, I meant the UK species is, obviously).
They are tiny-wee, with a wingspan of only 29-34mm and the boys only have four legs to the female's six, so they are unusual insects in that regard. This one is a boy. The underneath of the hind wing has this beautiful white chequered pattern.
Unfortunately, because they are so rare, they are a target for Butterfly Hunters. Grrrr. I am Cross About This. They need protecting, not exploiting. There really is NO EXCUSE to kill adult butterflies and keep them as specimens when we have digital photography to provide us with clear and detailed records.
Anyway, you will imagine that I was grinning from ear to ear and you'd be right. The Butterfly Wizard was pretty chuffed too, and he's seen them before. We were just congratulating one another when something small and orange flashed past us. We glanced at each other in puzzlement and Set Off In Hot Pursuit, only to nearly fall over one other in astonishment when we realised it had landed and was another rarity who is also highly threatened and has experienced rapid population declines in recent decades.
Allow me to introduce you to the Pearl Bordered Fritillary...
There were actually two of them squabbling over territory and one of them was so distracted by the argument he flew right past my nose. I've never had a Pearl Bordered Fritillary brush my nose before. It is something to be proud of, I suspect :o)
We decided we couldn't sustain any more excitement at that level, so we took ourselves off for a walk over the Downs to Calm Down.
There were White Throats and Willow Warblers singing, and the cows were Curious, as cows always are....
Friends have been reporting seeing Grizzled Skippers and Green Hairstreaks for the last few days. Despite keeping my eyes peeled, they had somehow both eluded me, so I was hoping we might find them on the Down. Sure enough, it wasn't long before The Butterfly Wizard spotted something small and grey in the grass at his feet....It was the first of six Grizzled Skippers that we would encounter.
A little further on and a flash of orange caught my eye...This was the first of five Small Coppers...
There were lots of other flutters, the Usual Suspects of Brimstone, Peacock, Green Veined White, Small White, Large White and Orange Tips, both male and female. This poor chap has come off worse after a fight with a bird, judging from the rip in his hind wing. Amazingly, butterflies still have viable flight with large sections of their wings missing.
We walked back through the Juniper, keeping an eye out for Juniper Shield Bugs (didn't see any) and then, just as we were about to head back to the cars, a flash of light on tiny bright green wings caught my attention and there he/she was: my first Green Hairstreak of the year, perched on a bramble leaf (see how tiny they are?).
He/she sat obligingly still on his/ her leaf for ages while I faffed about with the bloomin camera, trying to persuade it to focus on the flutter when all it seemed to want to do was focus on everything else.
There's something about Green Hairstreaks. I love them. They are friendly souls who will tolerate a person shoving a camera in their face at a distance of 1cm and (as much as a butterfly can) they manage to convey an impression of complete self-control and calm assurance in their own existence.
Aren't they glorious? Easy to overlook when the wings are open as they're a dull grey/ brown colour, but once they close them- wow!
I am now off for a lie down, because it isn't possible for one person to sustain the level of excitement I have had all morning and not be worn out by tea time :o)
Hope you're all well, my friends?