Thursday, 14 May 2015

His Grace, The Duke Of Burgundy, The Small Blue Returns & I Get To Hold A Bank Vole

It's raining here today. Wall-to-wall.

The doggy people and I timed our morning stroll through the woods to perfection, arriving home as the first fat drops began splooshing onto the car windscreen. They are currently fast asleep in their basket and I am supposed to be revising, although as you will be able to tell because you are all Perceptive, I am NOT revising, I'm writing this post, and this afternoon I won't be revising either because I'm having cake with my friend Mrs M. This is not much of a problem because on Monday something clicked and everything fell into place revision-wise. Let's hope it's not a case of Pride Before A Fall or indeed Peaking Too Soon :o)

Anyhoo, yesterday was a beautiful day, so I made a packed lunch, slung the camera in the car, phoned a couple of flutter friends for specific and secret directions, downloaded a map and went out to look for butterflies.

I've written before about Green Hairstreaks and how much I love them. It's their attitude. For such small (27-34mm) colourful people they are Pretty Fearsome when it comes to staking their claim on a blade of grass, a leaf or a flower. They are also Pretty Unperturbed by the presence of one slightly-butterfly obsessed girl (thank goodness).

I saw lots of them yesterday, which made my Heart Glad. In fact, I saw so many I had to take Great Care not to tread on anyone. They were so busy flitting about from leaf to leaf I got the distinct impression I was In Their Way and was being Tolerated with a degree of impatience.

I found myself apologising to the Greens (they have that effect on me) and moving swiftly on before I could annoy them anymore to look for the Small Blues. In the process I very nearly fell over this Burnet Companion, who is not a butterfly, but a day flying moth....

After I took the photo I straightened up to look around and a small flash of grey/ brown close to the ground caught my eye. There they were: The Small Blues. This also made my heart glad because this miniscule British Flutter (18-25mm and our smallest one) is seriously endangered and its strongholds have retracted to a handful of sites on the Chalk in the south of the country. They are Completely Reliant on Kidney Vetch- it's the sole food plant for their larvae. These have recently emerged from their winter sleep as a caterpillar and spring metamorphosis from pupa into imago....

It's good to know they are back. 

Also present was this perfect male Brimstone who was almost lying down on his leaf sunning his wings...

After counting four or five Small Blues I moved sites to a place I know is good for Brown Argus. Once there, I picked up three Old Boys With Cameras (perhaps we'll abbreviate that to OBWCs as they are so prevalent at butterfly sites) who were lovely and not remotely like death-by-garlic man from last week :o) We shared Butterfly Tales and commiserated with one another over how hard the Common Blues and Brown Argus were proving to photograph in the heat of midday (flutters don't like it when temps reach 18 Celsius or higher - they tend to fly around a lot in hot weather and don't settle for piccies).

Eventually, after much patience and sweet-talking The Hill, I got the shots I was hoping for....
Brown Argus

Brown Argus (female)

Common Blue (male)

Common Blue
The Common Blue above had been having a right old set-to with a Small Copper who had the temerity to suggest a small white pebble of chalk sitting on the path belonged to him. The Blue took great exception to this, and every time the Copper tried to sit on the blob of warm chalk, the Blue flew furiously down at him and chased him off it. The pair of them went spiraling up into the air, angrily twirling around one another, before the Copper managed to disentangle himself and bolted back down again to his pebble, only for the Blue to catch up a second later and chase him off it again.

This went on for Quite Some Time before the Blue was distracted by a Brown Argus straying too close to his speedwell flower, who got the same treatment as the Copper, leaving ownership of the chalk pebble and a nearby blade of grass to the Triumphant small orange person with the brown spots below (and you thought butterflies were gentle, peaceful creatures)....

Smiling, I made my way back up The Hill, bumping into a Grizzled Skipper along the way. I've included the first pic (below) to demonstrate just how tiny these butterflies are (23-29mm)  - you get no sense of scale from close-up pics. Add in the camo and it becomes obvious how easy it is to not see them unless you're practiced at looking...

The Grizzled is another flutter in trouble, red listed under the BAP (biodiversity action plan), it too is declining throughout most of its range because of habitat changes. They live in small colonies, but the good news is that they seem to respond positively to the right kind of habitat management, which includes coppicing and maintaining the grass sward at the right height through conservation grazing, which is what happens on The Hill here. This little flutter is another of my favourites. Folks find them hard to see but I've always been lucky - they tend to appear whenever my thoughts stray to them. Chalk Alchemy :o)

Back at the top of The Hill, a small blur of orange caught my eye. It was a Small Heath, another butterfly in trouble (sorry, this all sounds very depressing, but that's the state British Wildlife is in after fifty years of intensive agriculture, pollution and now increasingly house building). Ploughing wrecks the grassland the Small Heath needs in order to survive, and under or over-grazing also impacts on them, making this a hard species to manage habitat for. We do quite well for them on The Chalk, so I tend to forget they are threatened....

Small Heath and Friend
Also visible nectaring on Jack In The Hedge was this pretty Green Veined White. One butterfly who is NOT threatened and is doing well all round the country. Yay! :o)

I was about to turn back to the car when a flash or orange on a much bigger butterlfy than all the tiddlies I'd been photographing all morning hove into view. I wondered if it might be a frit, but decided against as most aren't out yet and we don't have any violets on The Hill. Which left only one possibility- a Painted Lady, those remarkable migrant butterflies that arrive in the UK over the summer, some coming from as far away as North Africa. The earliness of this one and it's tatty appearance suggest it has indeed flown all the way up from Africa to land here in this quiet butterfly-haven corner of Hampshire :o)

Having seen everyone on my list except for the Holly Blue (as well as a couple not on my list), I took a couple of pictures of The Hill, which was looking lovely in the sun.....

....and decided it was time to visit my third and final site of the day. This Top Secret Location has a small population of Dukes residing on it, and a later emergence date than the one from last week. I had it on Good Authority from my friend The Butterfly Wizard and another expert (Dr Barker) that the Dukes there were out as of a couple of days ago.

I made my way back to the car, hesitating slightly at the site of another human further along the path. It can feel a teeny weeny bit vulnerable sometimes, being a lone female out and about miles from anywhere, but I figured someone wearing a straw sunhat and sandals with a camera slung around their neck and their arms held behind their back as they strolled happily along probably wasn't going to turn out to be a mad axe-wielding murderer. In fact, it was another of my OBWCs out looking for butterflies.

Armed with a map marked with sightings of FIVE Dukes seen yesterday, I climbed back in the car and set off. I had to stop twice on the way to check whether hedgehogs on the side of the road were dead or alive.They were all dead - very upsetting.

In due course I arrived and made my way onto the site. It was over-grown and hard to access, probably a haven for ticks, but all this is good as it looks an unlikely place to find a rare flutterby and hopefully people won't be encouraged to go looking for them, trample the habitat and destroy the eggs in the process, as has happened elsewhere :o(

I hadn't been looking long before I spotted the first of two Dukes: a male, characteristically perched on a hogweed leaf right in the middle of the path....

There are a lot of photos of the Dukes. If you love butterflies, you'll be pleased, if not, you probably stopped reading this post quite some time ago so it won't matter anyway:o)

His Grace, The Duke Of Burgundy, is one of our most endangered species. They have extremely precise habitat requirements (north facing slopes, blackthorn bushes and cowslips/ primroses) and have suffered huge declines in their colonies in recent years, now holding on in only a handful of sites around the south, with a couple further north. They can be a grassland flutter or a woodland one, so a cessation of coppicing and an increase in intensive farming methods have really hit them hard, as has the resurgence in bunnies after myxomatosis as they crop the sward (grass) too close and destroy the food plants.
Males are fiercely territorial and patrol their bushes/ patches of vegetation in a very determined fashion, the females are much more illusive- I've yet to see one.

Both sexes are small- the male 29-32mm and his mate 31-34mm. The pic below demonstrates this, and indicates how hard they are to see unless in flight...Can you see him? He's right in the middle on a blade of grass...

They often rest with their wings half-open and I had to wait quite a while to get this shot of the upperwings of this male. I know he's a boy because male Dukes only have four visible legs unlike the females who have six.

Had enough? 

Oh, go on then.

One more picture, just for you.

So I had a Great Butterfly Day yesterday, which is just as well as there won't be any out at all in this cold, wet weather today :o)

Next week, the Butterfly Wizard and I are planning a trip to some local woods to look for other interesting flutters. We're hoping to see some Marsh Fritillaries, another highly endangered species, so I'm not sure whether we will. Perhaps Tree Alchemy will be required on that occasion? I'd better start working on it now.

I'll leave you with a pic of an adorable little Bank Vole who found his way into a Longworth trap (humane and used for observation purposes only) we'd set by some hedges at college on Tuesday. I had the privilege of holding him. until he leapt out of my hands, burrowed into the grass and was gone within milliseconds!

And one of Naughty Poppy, caught in the act of trying to push an understandably grumpy Ted into the pond :o)

I will try and get round all your lovely blogs this weekend, but you might have to bare with me till next week when time becomes freer after the exam.

Hope all are well?

CT :o)


  1. Lovely photos CT. That hill looks very inviting indeed.

  2. Hey CT,
    Good luck with next week's exams. And thank you for your profusion of butterfly pictures. They were delightful. Olly and I looked at them together.
    Leanne xx

    1. Thanks hun :o)

      Glad you and Ols enjoyed the fluttery people xx

  3. Blimey! It's all go in butterfly land isn't it!
    I really need a butterfly ID book...not that we have that many butterflies here,and those we do, I've made up my own names for.
    Do I say best of luck....or break a pencil...or something? know what.
    Jane x

    1. It is all go on a sunny day. There haven't been many of them though! I'm now wondering what names you have made up? M does that for moths, they are always inappropriate and of course I encourage him by falling about laughing :o) If I break my pencil I will be cursing loud enough for you to hear me in Canada :o) xx

  4. Simply outstanding stuff again CT, you are so lucky to have so many of the UK's rarer butterflies in your neck of the woods. The Dukes are also flying up here in Yorkshire but I haven't had a chance to go and see them for myself just yet (fingers crossed for the week-end!). As you say many rare butterfly sites are actually damaged by a small minority of butterfly hunters/photographers so I think it is important to keep the exact location of some colonies a secret to prevent excessive disturbance (indeed Yorkshire's only Small Blue site is a very closely guarded secret despite the fact that it is actually right next to a very busy road).

    Great to see a Painted Lady already, I believe that someone said earlier this year that this might turn out to be a good year for them, though of course time will tell.

    Love the Small Blues whilst that first photo of the Green Hairstreak is simply outstanding and really shows them off in all their stunning glory :-)

    Hope all is well with you and yours and kindest regards to all :-)

    1. Thank you David :o)

      I hadn't realised I think until this Spring quite how fortunate we are here in terms of access to rare butterflies. It's down to the Chalk largely, but we also have some splendid butterfly woods nearby that host populations of white letter hairstreak, white admirals, purple hairstreak, emperors, and fritillaries. I am hoping to see more of them this summer.

      Huge good luck with the Dukes at the weekend- do let me know how you get on. And yes, I was very pleased to see the Painted Lady and had also heard this summer was predicted to be a good one for them- maybe even a mass migration like a few years back? We are due one, hopefully!

      Many thanks for your lovely comments and all best wishes to you all too :o)

  5. Dead jealous of all the tiny species you are seeing! The only littley I've seen so far is a Holly Blue. Never seen a DoB and don't even know if they are around this side of the channel - shall have to look into it. Sounds heavenly the places you've been visiting. Love the last photo of the doggy people! xx

    1. I am very lucky to have all of that on the doorstep :o) xx

  6. Absolutely gorgeous butterfly pictures, they really are. The colour of the green hairstreak is beautiful. I've never seen one, or in fact most of the ones you've photographed. But I do love to learn about them here. I found a good-sized chrysalis on the garden path yesterday. I think it must have fallen out of the hedge. I've put it somewhere safe, I think it might be an elephant hawk moth. We've had a few of the caterpillars. I'm hoping to see it when it emerges, as I've never seen the moth itself. Good luck with the revision, I'm glad you've had a moment of clarity. CJ xx

    1. Ooh, that will be very exciting to see what happens with the pupa. They shouldn't be re-buried as they can suffocate- keeping them out of rain and direct sunlight in a pot with air holes is ideal, as long as they've got something like twigs to climb up when they eclose (come out of the pupa) and can allow their wings to fill with fluid. Let me know how you get on. I should have some pics of elly hawks here in a few weeks- we get them in the garden, they are fantastic creatures xx

    2. Thanks for the tips. I put it in a terracotta pot that is lying on its side and sloped to let any rain drain away. I'll sort out some twigs as well. CJ xx

  7. utterly breathtakingly gorgeous photos! oh, to be treated to such delights....

    it's early days here for butterflies, but i can guarantee that i'll be much more aware of them now, having followed along on your flutter travels. :)


    1. I'd love to see your native flutters, Mel. If the weather is good, June/ July/ August should be fab for winged folk here xx

  8. As much as I enjoyed the butterfly photos that shot of Ted & Poppy is just the best, gosh she is a little character isn't she x

    1. Isn't she naughty? Poor Ted, the things he has to put up with! xx

  9. Fantastic to see all these butterflies through your blog, and rare ones too...thank you!

    1. Many thanks, Suzie- glad you enjoyed :o)

  10. Wonderful set of photos, must be making you very happy.Just seeing one would have made my day!
    Love the last's to more sunshine and butterflies to be found..
    Amanda xx

  11. Hope you don't get this comment twice - I wasn't signed in!!

    Great photos and a wonderful selection of species. You are so fortunate to have so many species in your County. I'd have to travel to the depths of Gloucestershire for Duke of Burgundy!! Have been keeping my eye on records for Grizzled Skipper and Small Blues at the site I visited last year in South Warwickshire but they don't seem to have emerged yet. Its cold very cold up her again!

    1. Nope- just the once :o)

      I know, I am extremely lucky to have so many wonderful sites nearby. I want to see Marsh Frits this spring and suspect will have to travel for those, and I have a long-term plan to go up to Norfolk for the swallowtails!

      Let me know when the grizzleds and small blues are out near you- be very interesting to see how it compares :o)


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