Chalk Downland is poor in nutrients, thin in soil, exposed to the elements and steeper than steep,which is why most of it has never been farmed or improved. The most it has usually had on it since it first began life millenia ago, is sheep and rabbits grazing, so it is a pretty rare habitat here in an island where most of the land has been used for farming. This has produced, over the years, a unique habitat that supports specific species of flora and fauna that you generally don't find elsewhere (apart from on dunes, but then the basis for dunes is crushed seashells, as chalk).
I've done a few wildflower and chalk downland species courses with our local wildlife trust over the last month, and Very Interesting they have been too. I've learnt some new plants- Red Bartsia, Rest Harrow (which smells of human sweat- mmm, nice), and Hound's Tongue (which smells of mice- lovely), as well as some poisonous ones such as Wild Parsnip, the sap of which reacts with sunlight to blister your skin. Our tutor told us the tale of an amorous couple whose bodies got covered in blisters after a romp on a local Down among the wild parsnip. It's scratchy stuff so Lord knows why they chose it, but I doubt they'll do it again :-)
No romping when we were up there yesterday, just lots of beautiful flutters and lovely, ancient plants. I saw my first Chalkhill Blue of the season (early, as everything is) as well as a female Brown Argus, a tiny brown butterfly that is actually a member of the Blue family. Both are relatively rare, although the Brown Argus which suffered badly last century has now recovered and looks to be expanding its range Northwards, which is great news. The Chalkhills are in comparison are confined to chalk-based habitat scattered through the South. Ploughing has destroyed many of the colonies- they rely on the caterpillar food plant Horseshoe Vetch, so autumn and winter grazing by sheep or cattle which prevents the food plant being over-grown by other species, rather than ploughing which hoicks the plant out of the ground is the management tool now favoured to ensure their survival.
|Chalkhill Blue Underwing|
|Chalkhill Blue nectaring on Scabious|
|CHB for Leanne, to be of Good Cheer xx|
|Brown Argus Underwing (very similar to many of the Blues, but has some diagnostic differences in the pattern of the spots)|
This is such a precise relationship and the Large Blue so utterly dependent on it, that when people destroyed the anthills during the last century they also unknowingly destroyed the butterfly.
Swedish Large Blues have now been introduced to a handful of closely-monitored sites in the West of England and so far they are doing well.
The Motto of this story is: everything is interconnected and nature has so many connections that we can not possibly know all of them, so we do well to respect her and let her get on with it.
Susan (my tutor for the day yesterday) and I got Very Excited when we thought we'd seen a Chequered Skipper. That would have been Quite Something, given that they've been extinct in England since 1976 (the farming practices of the last century have a lot to answer for) and now they only exist in specific colonies in Western Scotland. We are on the South Coast, about as far from Scotland as it's possible to get in the UK. We calmed down and decided it was a Silver-Spotted Skipper instead, which was almost as exciting as these flutters are rare having declined drastically since the 1950s and are now localised in a handful of sites across the South.
It wasn't that either; it turned out to be a strikingly marked female Large Skipper. Oh well. Lovely flutter she is anyway...
I found a few moths (of course).
|Crambus Perlella (miniscule)|
These are easy to ID- you just count the spots. The 5-Spot Burnet has 2 spots at the base of the wing, 2 in the middle and one large one at the top near the head, whereas the 6 spots below are easy to see.
We also saw some Frog Orchids. I don't know about you, but I can't get excited about these. Is that a terrible thing to say? I don't want to upset any Orchid-Lovers out there because I know these are relatively rare plants and I should feel blessed to have seen them, but I thought they were a teeny weeny bit boring..... :-0
Other flutters seen Out And About this week include.....
|Another Large Skip|
|Fairy Longhorn Moth Adela cuprella|
Pay Particular Attention to his Tongue from the third photo down......
Marbled Whites are having a fantastic year. I have recorded huge number of this butterfly of grassland in various sites locally....
Also the same for Ringlets, which are coming up to their Busy Time in terms of numbers (mid July)
|Ringlet wings open|
|Ringlet wings closed|
|Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar feeding on Ragwort. They take the plant's poison inside and then become bitter tasting to put birds off eating them (along with the colours- an eg of Mullerian Mimicry)|
|Gatekeeper (note the small white dots on the lower wing)|
|Meadow Brown with wings open|
|Mecyna flavillis (a moth)|
|Pupa on dogwood.|
I hope you've enjoyed all the flutters. I am putting together a post on wild flowers which I hope to publish some time this week. Tomorrow Dave and I are off to look for Purple Emperors in the morning, then Glow Worms after dark; Weds is Bat Watch and I've another Water Vole survey to do this week too, so time is short at present.
I'll leave you with a photo I took yesterday at the bottom of the Down. M says it is a classic 'think up a caption' photo, so I'll leave you to mull that one over and leave it with your comment if you'd like to.
Wishing you all a peaceful Sunday and a lovely week ahead,
(please excuse any errors- I've run out of time to check) :-)