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 (female)|
|Common Blue (male)|
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.
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?