|Small Blue (Cupido minimus). Male. (note the stripy stockings!).|
|Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus). Male.|
|Brown Argus (Aricia agestis). Female (the orange spots on the borders of the upper wing reach all the way to the top. In the male they stop half way).|
|Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages).|
|Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae).|
|Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)|
|Brown Argus female|
|Brown Argus male (orange border spots stop half way up the wing).|
|Burnet Companion moth|
|Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus). Female.|
|Beech on the Old Drovers' Road|
|Red-Headed Cardinal beetle|
|Common Blue male (the females are chocolate-brown).|
|Sheep are used to help maintain the Down|
|Common Rock Rose (food plant for the Brown Argus)|
Yesterday, with a good forecast, we drove to our local Downland, walked up the Old Chalk Road which once rang to Roman Feet and long before that to the gentler wandering of Stone and Bronze Age people, crossed through the beech wood at the top and emerged out onto the Chalk.
It was blowing, as it often is, but down in the sheltered sides of the Downs the sun was shining, the flowers were blooming, the turf was warm and the butterflies were out.
Common Blues flitted from flower to flower, twirling up in the air in a tight spiral whenever they got too close to one another like leaves caught in an eddy; the rare and heavily protected Grizzled and Dingy Skippers were sunbathing on leaves and the fronds of Chalk grasses; Small Heaths, whose numbers are declining due to loss of habitat, flew low and fast across the turf to land on Hawkbit which they especially like to take nectar from; Brown Argus, the looky-likies for the female Common Blue although much smaller, were darting about, alighting on the canary-yellow whirls of Horseshoe Vetch and the pink-punk locks of Salad Burnet.
Heading back up the hill out of the sheltered valley sides you pick up the old drover's road, which now is little more than a deep ditch running through the hillside. Brimstones fluttered here and more Dingies alighted at our feet, drawn by the micro-climate warmth offered by the bare patches of chalk that line the old trackway. The drovers road takes you beneath huge gnarled beech trees, their branches outstretched like arms cast open to protect the old way, up onto the Down, where the ground levels out onto a flattish plain. It is here that the Orchids bloom and a small population of Adonis Blue clings on.
Searching for the unmistakable (once you've seen it) turquoise blue of the Adonis, I found instead a tiny, dark grey butterfly that is also very rare, limited in Hampshire to only a handful of sites: the Small Blue. I have a soft spot for these butterflies from long association, but not having had time to visit any of their sites this spring had not expected to see one, so to find both a male and a female here was a complete joy. The male has a glittering of blue scales on his upper wings that are visible in flight and when the sun catches them at rest (you can see them in the photo) while the female is a more uniform iron-grey. Both are the same powder-blue underneath as the Holly Blue and can be confused with that spring-time species when their wings are closed. Kidney vetch is the sole food plant of the Small Blue, which also requires the right kind of shelter to flourish. The particular nature of its requirements means it is now severely threatened as we've lost a lot of the habitat that supports the specialist food plant. Where it is still found, it exists in highly isolated communities and as it is not good at travelling large distances to either join with other colonies or create fresh ones the threat of extinction looms large.
There were no Adonis. It was perhaps a little too windy for them, but I continued searching and was rewarded with a single Common Spotted-orchid instead. A dark brown flutter then hove into view, settling on the Horseshoe Vetch (food plant for the Adonis). It was the only Blue I'd seen all morning that had its wings closed, and as I like the spots and dots of the underwings I took some pictures. I assumed she was a female Common Blue and thought nothing more of it until I downloaded the photos at home and realised from the markings that she was, in fact, a female Adonis! If I had realised at the time I would have paid more attention, which just goes to show that valuing one species over another will eventually bite you in the bum :o)
Walking back through the woods in a butterfly-induced haze, I noted the ground flora was rich in flowering sanicle and woodruff, both ancient woodland indicators. For some reason, the Stone Age men and women who cleared the forest here to create the Downland so many thousands of years ago left this part its trees. Through them, the heights of the Downs are connected to the agricultural lowlands below in a way that makes the landscape seem like one continuous stream, instead of the parcelled and fragmented bits and bobs so much of Hampshire is typified by.
It was a Good Morning.
Hope all are well?