Chequered Skipper a Chequered History

In 1976 England lost a species of butterfly as the Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon) was declared extinct from it’s heartland in the East Midlands.  Once again it seems as though the blame could be placed on habitat loss.  This pretty little butterfly requires wide open rides and glades in woodland with plenty of blooms to nectar on and the grass False Brome for it’s caterpillars to eat.  The forests were not managed as in the past and huge swathes of non-native pine planted for commercial timber production.

In 1939 colonies of the skipper were discovered in north/west Scotland, some 400+ miles from the English Chequers.  There were none in between, just two isolated populations.  Although the same species, the Scottish variety lived in a slightly different habitat and they bred on Purple Moor-grass.  Here, despite the sometimes adverse weather, the butterfly was doing quite well and over the years more were found in the ancient Oak woods close to lochs (lakes).

A few years ago Butterfly Conservation, Forestry England and the Back from the Brink partnership began to restore the habitat in a large block of woodland in Rockingham Forest Northamptonshire, the last stronghold of the Chequered Skipper.  In 2018 adult butterflies were brought over from strong colonies in Belgium and released in the secret site.  They bred successfully but more Belgian stock were added in 2019 to help boost numbers.  The skippers did well, though numbers were never high (60 recorded in ’21), so early this year Butterfly Conservation revealed the site details so the public could visit and, hopefully, catch a glimpse of this tiny star which has had much media coverage.

Chequered Skipper, Fineshade Woods Northants.  I could not have asked for a better memory of my visit

I waited excitedly for an opportunity to visit the woods.  Last Thursday the weather was perfect and the flight season being May to June I had the best chance of finding one.  It’s a big area and ‘needle in a haystack’ sprang to mind.  BC were holding guided tours but I don’t like crowds, I much prefer doing things my way.  As luck would have it my mate John from Hertfordshire had been the week previous and pinpointed on a map where he found some.

My first sighting, not immaculate but worth the sore feet!

I arrived at the ‘hot spot’ John found and with four other butterfly mad enthusiasts scanned the bramble flowers for our target.  After two hours, nothing.  It was decided to go to another area the skippers had been seen, quite a hike in the warm sun!  When we arrived a skipper was nectaring, relief!  My first ever sighting, I was elated.

The second individual was in great condition

After sometime and only a couple of other flight views I made my way back to the first spot passing the BC tour en-route, yes far too many people.  As I neared the area I could see there was a lot of people watching but obviously nothing to see.  A small brownish butterfly flew up the path and landed on a bramble flower next to me. I could not believe my eyes or my luck!  An almost perfect specimen.  When a cloud covered the sun it flew up onto a grass head and gave me the best images I could have ever wished for, what a little beauty.

The habitat improvement has been good for other species like this tiny Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae). Surprised to see so many (7) in June and in fresh condition too

Well that was a 200 mile round trip more than worth the cost of fuel and several miles walking worth the sore feet.  If the butterflies had not been re-introduced here it would have been a 1000 mile round trip to add it to my British list!

43 thoughts on “Chequered Skipper a Chequered History

  1. Excellent shots Brian. I was there that day too but sadly missed out on spotting them by only a few minutes, on two separate occasions! I followed the crowds :-(. Maybe one day for me!

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    1. If you were there Thursday our paths must have crossed! Then a scruffy, long haired, bearded idiot in cammo jacket and green bush hat is not the sort of person most people speak to!
      Sorry you dipped out, I just had a big dollop of luck.
      Here’s to next year!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Many thanks Brian…if at first you don’t succeed, try again next year haha. I usually like to make my own way round places too (part of the fun), so my fault for not sticking with what I know.

        I’m sure our paths did cross or have in the past :-). I was there with my family that day, but mostly searching bushes with my teenage daughter. On the contrary, you would be just the sort of person I would chat too!

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  2. Definitely a little beauty, and much different from the checkered guy here in Florida. I loved reading this blog and seeing your beautiful photos!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congrats on the new addition!! It’s a beauty. I’m not a big crowd guy either and it is fun to hunt for the targets by myself, with Ron or in a small group. Chalk one up for a successful conservation effort – glad to read about those endeavors.

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    1. Success so far B, time will tell if this is for the long term though they are preparing new areas to expand the range.
      Hard to avoid crowds when something like this is happening, short flight season, lovely weather and the chance to witness something ‘new’ and exciting. Had to smile when I had that butter all to myself when a hundred yards away the masses were staring at empty bushes. Almost felt like calling them up to share my joy (yeah right).

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  4. Outstanding, Brian Your dedication matched only by your enthusiasm, and as it should be,you were rewarded.
    Lovely shots.
    Makes me feel a bit guilty I just wander out to my garden!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nothing wrong in garden wandering Ark, I do a lot of it myself this time of the year though it only takes 5mins to get round!
      It’s exciting setting off to (hopefully) see something new, reminds me of when we went on holiday when I was a kid.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Congratulations!

    A trip totally worth it! I’m with you concerning crowds. Much prefer it on my own.

    Really nice photographs and how gratifying it must be to have “karma” on one’s side for a change!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Congratulations on a “life butterfly,” Brian. The checkered skipper is absolutely gorgeous, as are your photos. It’s heartening to learn of its successful reintroduction. May it continue to multiply and increase its numbers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tanja.
      Time will tell if the success is long term. In the past some of these re-introductions have failed after a few years. This time I think they have done their homework, a lot of effort has been put in and now they are preparing sites in other near-by woods. Fingers crossed.

      Liked by 1 person

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