Friday, 22 May 2015

A Treasure Of The Woods: The Rare Marsh Fritillary & More Dukes....


I'm aware I use the words 'extremely rare' and 'severely threatened' a lot in relation to flutters. I don't use them lightly- many species are in real trouble, and I have another one to show you today.

The Marsh Fritillary is found in only a small number of sites, mainly in the west of the UK and a few locations in Ireland. It has very precise habitat requirements: damp, tussocky grassland subjected to low-intensity grazing and plenty of the larval foodplant which is devil's-bit scabious. The wrong management techniques, habitat loss and the butterfly's susceptibility to parasites make this species especially vulnerable to local colony extinction. A thriving colony with thousands of adults can become extinct within a handful of years.

I have long wanted to see them. They belong to this time of the year and only fly for a few short weeks so you can blink and miss them. With this is mind I was prepared to travel for them.

BUT.

I got talking to a friend on Tuesday who is a butterfly expert (not the brilliant Butterfly Wizard, but another Clever Man whom I shall call the Butterfly Magician for his ability to conjure flutters apparently out of thin air. He is quite something to go out walking with) and he took me to a remote woodland where a colony of these beautiful creatures exists. Another friend who works for the National Trust came too, both of us Rather Excitable at the thought of seeing this rare butterfly.

It was cool and cloudy, so not great flutter weather and the Marshes weren't out (it is early in the season for them yet), but we did see a very rare moth, an Argent & Sable, which was a first for me, and Pearl Bordered and Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries which are very difficult to tell apart - but I am learning - as well as some Speckled Yellow moths :o)

Anyhoo, the Butterfly Magician had essays to mark the following day so Dave (Butterfly Wizard) and I decided to go back for another look armed with a better forecast. And guess what we found in a small woodland clearing....










Are these not beautiful things?

I have, as always, gone overboard on the photos, but you all know me well enough by now to expect that, right?

I wanted to get a photo of the underwing because they are rather glorious too. Dave said ooh, that's hard and wandered off to look for Sables while I Sat Down with one of the Marshes. We sat in companionable silence for a few minutes before I plucked up courage to respectfully ask whether it might just be possible for a closed-wing moment? Please? 

He thought about it for a moment, then decided to oblige.... 
 


Lovely. No?


Here's a Pearl Bordered Fritillary for you to enjoy too. Also wonderful butterflies and a special sight in their own right, they are one of our most rapidly declining species thanks to a cessation in coppicing. The Small Pearl Bordered is only really distinguishable by the chevrons at the base of the wing which are joined up in the Small, but not (as you can see below) in the Pearl. They also have more silver on the underwing. Confusing, eh?



Already grinning substantially from these close encounters with such rare and beautiful species, my ego took another boost when a Speckled Yellow landed right at my feet and remained perfectly still for a piccy (they having eluded Dave all morning :o) )...


Slightly Drunk from everything that we had seen, we wandered back through the woods which were looking beautiful in the sunlight with lots of oaks and beech and ancient wood banks....





We kept an eye out for any other flutters that might be about and found a freshly emerged Comma....



And a Speckled Wood...



Wood Spurge was looking a lovely fresh green colour...




I left Dave looking for Argent & Sables and headed off to college to walk the transect there. Half way round I was startled to see a Mother Shipton moth nectaring on some daisies. They're called Mother Shipton after the Tudor Prophetess of that name who lived in the ancient forest of Knaresborough in Yorkshire and was said to have been born in a Cave there in 1488. The cave bares her name and claims to be England's oldest tourist attraction. She is said to have foretold the end of the monasteries, the rise of the printing press and the demise of Thomas Cromwell, amongst other things. The reason the moth has her name is the hook-nosed profile of the old lady which is visible on its wing. Can you see it?



I've only ever seen one Mother Shipton before, so this was a real and unexpected treat. Coming on top of the Marsh Frits and the Pearl Bordereds I was already beaming from ear to ear when I found a Small Blue on the next daisy along from Old Ma Shipton and that increased my grinning as it was way off it's normal range on the transect and near some clearing work which was done over the winter- the flutters all love it there as the open ground is warm but wind-free as it's sheltered by trees...



Then there was a Green Veined White...Daises are clearly The Flower Of The Month, eh?


But the real piece de resistance was waiting for me where the wood comes out into chalk grassland. He flew over my shoulder right in front of my nose and landed on some bramble leaves on the other side of the path.

You all know who this is, right? I've been banging on about them for the last couple of weeks....


It's only a Duke of Burgundy! A Duke! Of all things! And on our transect! We don't have Dukes at college (well, not yet anyway). I nearly fell over. I really didn't trust the evidence of my eyes so I got the picture and emailed it to Dr H who oversees all the flutter stuff for this area and has been working on the Dukes On The Edge project for the last three years. Needless to say he was really chuffed, because it might, it just might, be evidence of natural colonisation, and as you all know, this flutter is teetering right on the brink of extinction and needs all the help it can get.

Incidentally, while I'm in Boasting Mode I'll share with you something else of Magical Proportions that happened to me this week. Who is this little flutter sitting on my finger....?


Only The Duchess herself :o) She sat there so long I had to ease her on to a leaf so I could go looking for (among other things) glow worms. We found those too...



glow worm larva
Anyway, back to the transect...

I carried on, grinning like an idiot and totally incapable of rational thought. But Nature hadn't done with me yet. A little further along was this beautiful Longhorn Beetle Agapanthia villosovirdescens. More common in the east and central UK, this is another rarity for Hampshire so it's also a Good Record...



It is fair to say the remainder of the transect passed in something of a blur, although I did record Green Hairstreaks, Orange Tips and more Small Blues..






When I got home (still grinning and with cheek-ache by that point) I had another Wonderful Surprise...

Do you remember the large pupa I have been looking after all winter? I thought initially it was a Large Yellow Underwing moth, then realised that it couldn't be because the timing was wrong....



It's been in the butterfly case by the front door, sheltered from wind and rain and sunlight along with four others that have been dug up by accident over the winter. Never re-bury pupae because they'll suffocate, instead, put them in a pot with something the newly emerged insect can climb up such as a twig. Better still get a small pop-up zip-fronted mesh butterfly cage (not expensive - £10 or so) and put it somewhere safe and sheltered from rain and direct sunlight- a porch is perfect. Don't bring them indoors because light and temperature are their gauge for hatching out (eclosing) and if they come too soon they won't survive. They don't need spraying with water because the atmosphere hydrates them naturally, and they can survive frosts and very cold weather. All you do is leave them be, checking on them once a day in case anything has emerged and then when it does, gently tip the moth (if that's what it is) into a plant pot or vegetation where it's safe from birds- as soon as night falls it will sort itself out and fly away. Use a paint brush or a piece of paper to move them- avoid touching if you can because the scales on their wings that help them fly get damaged by human hands. Also, their legs are delicate and their feet stick easily to things, making them prone to damage, including coming off.

I checked the pupa in the morning, nothing doing, but look who was waiting for me when I got back...


A beautiful and perfect Buff Tip moth :o) Isn't it nice to know who was in there all winter long? I am soooo relieved he/ she survived and emerged Fine and Dandy.

And here is the empty pupa case...They create them underground in earthen cells. Clever Old Things.

 

Phew! It's been Quite A Week here for wildlife, one way or another :o)

I'll leave you with a photo of my friend Ruth's Common Pipistrelle bat that she is nursing back to health after a cat got it. Sadly, the damage to the wing is too great for a full mending and this little chap won't ever be able to fly again. As bats live for 25/ 30 years, Ruth is set to be Bat Mummy to this little one for Quite Some Time to come. I should add that she is a licensed bat handler as they are a protected species and shouldn't be handled otherwise.


Badger Watch next week....

Wishing you all a peaceful weekend, half term and bank hols (if you're reading this in the UK).

CT :o)





34 comments:

  1. Ted!!! Toby here - did I read correctly that your Mum is going to post about Badgers soon????? Oh , how I cannot wait and how I envy you badgers!!!!!

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  2. Hi Toby- how are you? Yes, that's right, she is off Badger Watching next week. But I'd keep any thoughts of hunting them to yourself if I were you- mum takes a Dim View of that sort of thing. She lacks the Hunting Instinct that we finer creatures have :o) Best regards to you both.

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  3. Lovely pictures (of course) m'dear, the Marsh Fritillary being especially stunning. I truly do so envy your wildlife excursions CT.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words my dear :o) I know I am very lucky to have all this fantastic wildlife on the doorstep. There isn't anything I'd rather do than spend a day outdoors seeing all these wondrous creatures. I'll bet you'll be pleasantly surprised at what starts coming to your garden over the next couple of years - all that good work you're doing will be rewarded, I'm quite certain. Karma and all that :o)

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  4. Wonderful post, how do you get such brilliant photos? Myself and the kids were delighted to find lots of peacocks in a lovely walled garden last year, did we get one decent pic? Nada!! Can't wait for the badgers. :)

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    1. I spend ages sitting on damp grass contorting myself into shapes I then can't unbend from, long after everyone else has given up and gone to the pub :o) xx

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  5. Wow lots of beautiful butterflies, you have had a good week, I like the yellow moth, I have been to Mother Shipton as it's not far from me but I did not know about the connection to the moth. So many wonderful things, great post.
    Amanda xx

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    1. I thought you would know the cave- I'm now interested to visit it :o) xx

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  6. Wonderful!!!! The flutterby's seem to be so happy to see you this year and to pose for photos! I see you got an orange tip too! Happy fluttering! xx

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    1. Hi my dear, yup a really good week :o) Perhaps the Orange Tips are making up for last year?! xx

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  7. Oh my, your photos are in a league of their own, absolutely stunning. I'm so thrilled that you saw marsh fritillaries and your very own Duke of Burgundy, as well as everything else. So much! It really is quite amazing. And really rather distressing that so many of these exquisite creatures are becoming so rare. Good luck with the badgers. CJ xx

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    1. Hi CJ. It is a huge concern re British wildlife but we've still time to turn it all around and passing on info to people is the best way to do it I reckon. So pleased you enjoyed the photos- I have been very spoilt this week :o) Have a lovely weekend xx

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  8. Well, I hardly know what to say what a jam packed post full of beautiful wildlife...you had the most wonderful day and then topped it off with a fantastic moth. Just so lovely to see that bat too.

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    1. I think I've been very spoilt indeed this week- so many beautiful creatures at such close proximity. The bat was a poppet - lovely to see him close up but sad about his poor wing. They really are tiny wee xx

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  9. Such an amazing show of beauty. X

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  10. What a thrilling time - I know that grin, sort of makes you feel you might burst. Love the image of the MF next to a leaf with similar colours - seems you can do some conjuring of your own. I've never seen a glow worm in real life, would love to - so quite a treat to see your pics.

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    1. I was a wee bit giddy by the end of the day :o) We're off glow worm surveying later in June- with any luck, I'll have some pictures of actual glowing females to post. We saw them last year- such a lovely, soft light :o)

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  11. Wonderful photos and I was especially interested to see the pearl bordered fritillary. Last week in Cornwall, whenever we were just inland from the coastal path, we kept seeing a small gorse-coloured butterfly usually feeding on the gorse. I did manage one not very good photo and identified it as a pbf from the very comprehensive butterfly book in our Landmark house. But I'm not entirely sure. It was the size of a small blue butterfly and the habitat was quite scrubby. Could it be do you think?

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    1. It's more likely to have been a moth at that size. The other possibility is a Small Heath butterfly, a kind of plain orangey/ brown colour, or perhaps a Wall. The fritillaries are a lot bigger and usually look orangey brown from a distance, with darker markings evident close up.

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  12. A great post with some wonderful photos. Well done on the MF's - feeling rather envious as I've never seen one. Lovely to see a glow-worm again too - I haven't seen those since we used to holiday in Cornwall (when I was a child!!).

    Its very interesting to see what emerged from your pupa :) A trifle more interesting than a LYU.

    Have a lovely weekend - you have certainly had a wonderful week :)

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    1. They are well worth a trip to see- very beautiful.

      Yes, poor old LYU :o) Perhaps if they were less abundant we'd all be more pleased to see them :o)

      Hope you have a lovely weekend too x

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  13. what absolutely gorgeous wee beasties!!

    i think you've a touch of the flutter wizardry yourself...;)

    xoxo

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  14. Absolutely stunning pics! Thank you!
    The Asian Long horned beetle is a pest here. Transportation of any type of wood from an infected area is prohibited. Luckily, we don't have them in our area,but a couple of hours south they do.
    I nearly had a wobbly when I saw the bat handler holding the bat..gloveless! I had to handle them wearing gloves due to the risk of rabies...then I remembered that rabies isn't risk there.
    Jane x

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    1. Our Longhorns are rapidly dying out so it's always a pleasure to see one (not enough dead wood available because parks and gardens tend to get rid of it all).

      It was a joy to see that little Pip close up- we have a pair roosting in our house who fly about at night :o) x

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  15. Love the bat photo I adore bats. I'm keeping my eye open for the next bat walk locally. We have them here but I'm not clever enough to identify the species but scare Mike & the hound when I spot one flying past the window :) A glow worm larva too, you lucky lucky girl x

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    1. You'll love a bat walk. We do bat surveys here in late summer for Daubentons (water bats) along the river and can get upwards of 400 passes a night :o) Bat detectors aren't all hugely expensive- might be worth thinking about it then you could listen to them and work out what the species were. Mike would love that! :o) xx

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  16. Is CT code for Snow White? I'm jut picturing you in a clearing of woodland singing to all the creatures that reside there. They are feeding out of your hand and helping you with the washing up!!!
    Serious butterfly envy here. What an absolute beauty your marsh fritillery is. There have been loads of orange tips in the garden this week. And a couple of green veined whites (I think). No joy in the woods yesterday though. Usually see loads of lovely ones there.
    Leanne xx

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    1. May's been a bit hit and miss weather-wise hasn't it? Flutters are choosey souls when it comes to flying and weather :o) Hopefully June and July will be better.

      Re the Snow White thing- you will think this even more when you see who I rescued last night - post coming up shortly xx

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  17. Oh wowee you are having an amazing butterfly spring! I'm very envious of all the beautiful fritillaries you are finding (I'll swap for a turtle dove!). The moths are lovely too. I'd love to see a Mother Shipton. Fun to discover what your pupa turned into, and great news about the Duke at your college. I came across that longhorn here yesterday - love their funky antennae. Keep up the butterfly whispering. :-) xx

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    1. I've made a list of all the species I still want to see- one more in June then a whole load in July and Aug- it'll be interesting to see how many I manage :o) xx

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  18. Wow those are incredible pictures of the butterflies I enjoyed everyone and marveled how you manage to get so many pictures with their wings open. Sarah x

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    1. It is the most beautiful of butterflies. I spent ages crawling about in the grasses to get the pics but it was worth it :o) xx

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