At last a weeks holiday! A return visit to Southern Cumbria. This year we are picking up our daughter Victoria (the Norfolk Lemming) from Manchester Uni a few weeks later, so I hope to see and photograph some new species. Beautiful weather and on day one we went to Latterbarrow nature reserve. This is a narrow site on a hill near Witherslack, the vegetation was parched dry due to the very hot summer with few flowers.
Tina spotted a Fritillary whilst I was searching for Norther Brown Argus. To our great delight it was a High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) one of the UK’s rarest and most threatened species. Once widespread in woodlands across Britain it can now only be found on a few limestone hills around the Morecambe Bay, and at a couple of sites on Exmoor. The population has crashed by over 90% since 1970!
Absolutely elated. I noticed a small dragonfly, eventually it settled on a swaying grass head and I reeled off a few shots. It was a Black Darter (Sympetrum danae). I have never seen one before. In Norfolk they only occur at two sites in the west of the County.
Then a really pretty moth, a Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata)
Day one a great success! I have updated the portfolio on my HOME page ‘Butterflies in Cumbria’
Fun in the sun at Santa Pod Raceway on Sunday the 1st. The Summer Nationals held in scorching hot conditions gave us a fantastic days drag racing. Many records were broken and personal bests set on the new concrete drag strip. There are a lot more pictures and report on my HOME page, click on HOME portfolios of images and then click tab ‘Drag Racing 2018.
The one species of butterfly that most UK enthusiasts look forward to seeing each year is the mighty Purple Emperor (Apatura iris). Once this was a mythical beast that lurked deep in ancient woodland and was rarely seen. When I was a child I never dreamed I would see an Emperor, that was a long time ago, now with the internet and my car it is (relatively) easy. The most famous woodland for seeing Iris on the ground is Fermyn, part of the ancient forest of Rockingham near Corby in Northamptonshire.
On the 26th I set off early. It was very misty when I arrived at 7am. Parked opposite the glider club and waited for a friend to arrive from Hertfordshire. The mist did not clear until 10.30 then it went from cool to very hot in minutes, not great for seeing Emperors on the ground. At about 1.30pm they did however start to land in partial shade and become very approachable. What they are doing is extracting minerals, they don’t nectar on flowers like most butterflies but will feast on dead animals, excrement and other delicacies!
The beautiful purple/blue sheen on the upperwings is only seen at certain angles when the light catches it right, the females lack this. The Emperor is a large butterfly with a wingspan between 70-92mm (3-3 3/4 inches). The eggs are laid on the caterpillar’s food plant sallow. Males will congregate around the tallest, sheltered trees in the woods. Here they will watch out for passing females and joust with rival males. Their battles are quite vicious and they will even attack passing birds the size of pigeons!
In all I saw probably twelve different individuals. The most fantastic sighting sadly was not caught on camera, it was aberration iole where the wings lack the white markings. This is the ‘holy grail’ of Emperors, the rarest of the rare, unfortunately as it came to land it got involved in a skirmish with two Ringlet butterflies and glided off, not to be seen again, sigh!
I left Fermyn at 3.30pm, it was 84f. I had another target the White Letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album). This small butterfly lives most of it’s life high up in elm trees feeding on aphid honeydew. It will occasionally come down to nectar on bramble. I saw several at Fermyn but none descended, but a visit to Bedford Purlieus near Peterborough and I struck lucky. This is a species I have never photographed before, a lovely ending to the day.
A beautiful warm sunny morning so I decided to return to our local heath to seek out the Silver Studded Blues (Plebejus argus). Butterflies were everywhere, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Heaths. As I wandered among the gorse and heather I came to an area where dozens of the Blues where flying. I was delighted to find a butterfly emerging from deep in the grass, slowly it climbed the stems to inflate it’s new wings in the sun.
It took many attempts as the gentle breeze kept knocking it back down. It persevered, the will to survive is strong. This is the first time I have witnessed the first moment of a butterflies life.
Also delighted to find a mating pair. Hanging on the top of a grass stem, swaying in the breeze, starting a new generation. They also had to put up with the unwanted attention of other males trying to muscle in, but carried on regardless.
“Ha yew orl gittin on tha tgether?” Translated from the Norfolk dialect “Everyone ok?” It seems just lately I’ve been spending an awful lot of time travelling on the potholed, crumbling, congested joke of a road network we have in this country. But to see new, exciting and rare species that is the price you have to pay. It’s stressful but you can unwind when you reach your destination.
There is always something to see if you stay local however. Get out in the garden or just a couple of miles down the road. Within a few minutes I can visit the Broads, heathland, woods or coast. Plenty of subjects to point my camera at! Here is a selection from the last few weeks.
Of course my blog wouldn’t be complete without a butterfly (or two). On a heath just 2 miles from home is a small colony of Silver Studded Blues (Plebejus argus) one of only four colonies in the whole county ( also click on HOME & tab ‘Buxton Heath Blues’) I had been unable to find these before but struck lucky last Thursday when I discovered a freshly emerged male flying weakly among the heather and gorse.
As I write this post I am looking forward to the emergence of the magnificent Purple Emperor, another trip to Northamptonshire! Then the Summer Nationals at Santa Pod (ditto) Finally a few days in Cumbria mid-July, but there is always something local.
Mention to anyone with a keen interest in UK butterflies the wonderful name Glapthorn Cow Pastures and one species springs to mind, the Black Hairstreak (Satyrium pruni). Glapthorn, as the name suggests, used to be grazing land, now it is a wonderful woodland nature reserve. It is located about 3 miles north of the historic town of Oundle in Northamptonshire, a drive of 2 1/2 hours from home.
The Black Hairstreak is a small and rare butterfly. In the UK it can only be found in a narrow band of woodland stretching from Peterborough to Oxford, it also has one of the shortest flight periods, only 2 to 3 weeks in mid-June. When I visited last year I struggled to see two in an afternoon, this year has been a record emergence and there was over twenty around their favourite dewberry bushes when the sun shone. Unlike most butterflies the Hairstreaks are very approachable allowing for some great photo opportunities.
The Black Hairstreak spends most of the day in the tops of trees or scrub feeding on aphid honeydew. They need banks of blackthorn in sunny spots to lay their eggs on, the egg overwinters and the caterpillar hatches in spring. The adults have a wingspan of 35-40mm (about 1 1/2 inches).
I really enjoy my visits to Warham Camp in the summer. The two huge ring ditches that surround the 2,000 year old Iron Age fort are made of chalk. This has created a rare habitat for Norfolk and many beautiful plants grow on the steep sides, these in turn support a healthy population of fascinating insects including the Brown Argus (Aricia agestis).
Last week while watching the Common Blues I was keeping my eyes open for this small butterfly. Due to size, colouration and the speed they move at they can be difficult to spot, however they are fiercely territorial and will launch themselves at any unsuspecting passing insect, and this is what gave away the presence of this fellow. Unfortunately for me he had chosen a bed of stinging nettles to defend, and although he allowed me to approach to within a few inches, I swear you could hear him laugh as my knees got badly stung!
The Brown Argus is found in the southern half of the UK. It has a wingspan of 25-31mm (1- 1 1/4 inches). The caterpillars feed on common rock-rose or cranesbill. The adults emerge in May and June with a second brood late July through to September. They prefer sunny chalk downs but can also be found in coastal sites.
I have been a huge fan of Drag Racing ever since my first visit to Santa Pod when I was 7-years-old. I love all Motor Sport but Drag Racing is still the one that gets me jumping around enthusiastically. Despite America having the larger NHRA Championships, which I also continuously follow, I have always preferred European and British Drag Racing. This is mainly because I have grown up with it - the first official FIA European Championships were held in 1996 and I haven't missed a big event at Santa Pod since 1997. When an event is on I get to the track, plonk myself down somewhere along the spectator banking and would very happily sit without moving for the entire weekend watching the racing.