Blue, Blue, Electric Blue!

“One last hurrah before the summer fades away”  My reply to John from Hertfordshire on a fb group when he jokingly comments I’ve not been out and about much recently.  He’s quite right though.  The only butterfly trip I have been on this year was back in July to see the Purple Emperor in Fermyn Woods.  A hot, hard day with only eight sightings in six hours and only two half decent photos, so no post.

With Mrs H on holiday, my day off and the weather set fair I knew the perfect place to visit and the perfect species – Yoesden Bank and the Adonis Blue.

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“There ain’t no cure for the summertime blues” sang Eddie Cochran. Well here’s one. The stunning male Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus)

It was two years ago when I made my previous visit to this beautiful nature reserve ( https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/adonis-blue-delight/ ).  The journey is a round trip of 330 miles that takes eight hours so we were up before dawn to make the most of the day.  Yoesden Bank is in the county of Buckinghamshire on the border with Oxfordshire in the village of Bledlow Ridge.  The area is known as the Chilterns.  It is a range of hills that form a chalk escarpment across four counties.  Yoesden is a steep south facing hill covered in wild flowers and the most northerly site (and closest to home) to see this enigmatic butterfly.

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The world looks so much nicer this way up

The Adonis (named after the Greek god of beauty and desire)  is one of the largest of the blues with a wingspan of 1.5 inches (40mm).  The caterpillar only eats horseshoe vetch and they require the perfect conditions.  Because of this they were predicted to become extinct in the ’80s as farmers stopped using the hills for grazing and the rabbit population was hit with myxomatosis.  The grass grew too long for the Adonis to survive.  Now thanks to major conservation work the butterfly is back from the brink, still rare but increasing.

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Ta dah!  As the sun appears the Adonis reveals his beauty

It was a touch breezy on the bank and every now and then the clouds would hide the sun.  We sat and watched.  When the sun appeared so did the butterflies.  Hundreds of sadly faded milky Chalkhill Blues rose from the turf flapping weekly about as their life cycle draws to a close.  Smaller but vivid Common Blues fed on the scabious and marjoram making you think Adonis?  Then the real deal, so bright and electric.  The males kept low down to the grass, searching for newly emerged chocolate brown ladies without luck.  Not interested in nectar they were difficult to photograph.  I had to wait for cloud cover, then they settled, carefully get in position and try and clear a few grass stems.  When the sun comes out they open their glorious wings to warm up allowing time for a couple of shots.

Well that’s probably a wrap as far as butterflies are concerned this year.  For sure there will be plenty around for weeks to come if the weather behaves and I might make a few more images.  If you are interested in the butterflies of the UK check out this page I have put together, those who already have big thanks!  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/british-butterflies/

All of a Flutter

August has so far been an excellent month for all things fluttery in the garden.  It’s been warm and mostly sunny.  We have had the odd spectacular thunderstorm but not the flooding experienced in other parts of the Country.  The last two days have been very windy, but this has not stopped the little winged ones.  The buddleias are living up to their common name ‘butterfly bush’.  At times dozens of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Peacocks have been feasting on the light purple sprays with their heady scent.  These are joined by various species of white and brown.

And now the dragonflies are appearing.  Hyperactive Migrant Hawkers zipping around, slower, larger and more colourful Southern Hawkers, even a Brown Hawker but with none of the drama of my last post.  Now they just seem satisfied to hunt tiny flies, not each other.  The seasons are slowly starting to change.  The fruits of the hawthorn hedge are turning red and the elderberries a deep glossy black, a sure sign summer is on the wane.

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Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) takes a breather on the ripening haws.
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Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on garden blooms

Mid-week I took a drive a few miles east around the coast to Winterton.  In autumn this is an excellent site for finding migrant birds but I went to look for butterflies and odonata.   This is an area of outstanding natural beauty and managed by Natural England.  The beach is wide and sandy and is backed by an extensive area of sand dunes that stretch for several miles.  At this time of the year the inland section is covered in beautiful flowering heather.  There are also a few little groups of stunted oak trees.  It was among the heather and along the sandy paths that I searched for the Grayling (Hipparchia semele).  These butterflies are the masters of disguise.  You see one in flight, it lands and almost instantly folds it’s forewing into the hindwing.  It turns to angle itself into the sun so as not to cast a shadow and disappears, only to fly up when you step too close.

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Grayling caught with forewings raised

About a mile west of the village, nestled in the dunes, are two ponds known as the ‘toad pools’.  The toads in question are the rare and protected Natterjacks, none around today.  There was a lot of damselfly activity but since I last visited a few years ago someone has kindly erected a fence.  No one about so let’s get closer.  The damsels were Emeralds (Lestes sponsa).  In the past the very rare Southern Emerald has bred here but I found none today.  Two large and impressive Emperors patrolled the pools and dozens of tiny darters, Common and Ruddy, went about the business of creating a new generation.  A lovely morning out.

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Male Emerald Damselfly. Possibly photographed from behind the fence with a massive lens or probably not

Invasion

An invasion of the most beautiful kind.  After several days of torrential rain we have had some dry spells.  I had been noticing several Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterflies passing through the garden, not stopping, heading northwards.  Today was lovely and sunny (showers now).  We had to go out in the car and during the drive of some twenty miles hundreds of these gorgeous insects were flying across the road.  When we got home they were in the garden in good numbers, this one enjoying the catnip.DSC_0215aDSC_0254a

Every once in awhile here in Europe we experience these ‘Painted Lady years’.  Millions of them migrate out of north Africa and head our way.  They stop and breed en route and the offspring continue the journey.  Come the autumn the second or third generation in this country then start heading back south, they cannot survive our winter (yet).

This species is also found in America.  Earlier this year I heard they had also had a mass migration in places like California with countless millions heading through.

Sleeping Beauties

Even after x number of years kicking around this planet I still get excited when I witness something new.  Just last week was a good example.  I was mowing the grass, the day had been cool and cloudy now the sun was breaking through.  In a patch of nettles and other assorted wild plants a flash of orange caught my eye.  Went to investigate, there to my absolute delight were three male Orange-tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines) roosting together on the same flower head of cow parsley.  I have never seen this before so thought it better be recorded, the grass can wait!

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Three.  As the sun breaks through one stirs
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Two.  A little flutter around and a move to another flower
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One. “With those two gone think I’ll get my head down for another forty winks”

And there he stayed for the rest of the afternoon.  What were they missing out on?  Well as they dozed away the day two female Orange-tips were in the back garden patrolling the flower beds, unlucky boys!

Joys of Spring

I wasn’t going to do a post ’till after the weekend (spoiler alert it involves very fast noisy cars and bikes)  as I’m fast running out of free WordPress gb’s and will soon have to pay our blog masters for the privilege to post more images if I want to carry on.

However we had a great day out yesterday, the weather has kicked into full spring mood, and I just wanted to share some piccies, hang the expense!  First off, Mrs H and I took a walk around Foxley Wood to admire the sea of bluebells, very nice they were too.  Then over to the coast and Wiveton Downs.  Here we saw four newly emerged species of butterfly for the year including the first Green Haistreaks and very early Small Coppers.  Nearly all the action took place around a hawthorn that was bursting into bloom, enjoy.

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Remember this cute fellow from last year? The very aggressive Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi). Tina was delighted as this was the first she had seen
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Another species that likes to give everyone a hard time. The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) has a quick refuel on hawthorn
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Taking a look at the world upside down. The years first Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)
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Bugs as well! This impressive creature is a Hairy Shield Bug (Dolycoris baccarum) it is only 1/2 an inch (12mm) long
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Also bees! This is the beautifully coloured Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)
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A delicate Green-veined White (Pieris napi) enjoyed the blossom
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And to finish, my absolute spring favourite a male Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) nectars on a bluebell just minutes after Tina said she had never seen one land!

That’s another gigabyte used up!  Join me next time for something completely different.

Battling Butterflies

When the sun shines and temperatures reach the high 50’s F those butterflies that overwinter in hibernation are stirred into life.  On Wednesday we had those conditions.  After two plus weeks of continuous gales and periods of rain it was a welcome relief.  Driving the four mile round trip to get my daily newspaper I spotted a couple of Brimstones, it just felt like it was going to be a good day.

The back garden is a little sun trap, surrounded by high hedges it is also nicely sheltered.  Movement caught my eye, a Peacock (Aglais io),  got the camera ready and popped outside.  The Peacock was almost unapproachable, it was so full of testosterone (or caffine!).  Anything that ventured into view was immediately chased, the poor old Bumblebees on the winter heathers where getting a hard time!  Enter Peacock number two, all hell breaks loose, the two butterflies join combat and go spiraling upwards till they are so high they disappear from view.  A few seconds later and he is back on the patio!   Then the interloper re-appears and the performance is repeated, again and again!

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The cause of all the garden grief, male Peacock

I recorded all five hibernating species in the garden.  Several Brimstones danced along the flower beds and the Comma was back, it might even have been the same one from February it was looking slightly worn.  My first Small Tortoiseshell of the year landed on a daffodil, this would make a lovely image such colours, just about to hit the shutter button when a certain butterfly decided the Tortoiseshell was not welcome!  The Peacock was becoming a bit of a thug.  I did manage to photograph the Comma before it too was attacked.

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Is it the returning Comma? Quite possible

It is often hard to imagine something as delicate as a butterfly being violent but several species are well known for their appetite for a fight.  The tiny Green Hairstreak and Duke of Burgundy are very aggressive so too the White Letter Hairstreak.  The champion though is His Imperial Majesty the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris).  This fellow is not satisfied with assaulting his own kind or any other butterfly but will attack birds up to the size of pigeons!

Thanks Feb

The last two weeks of February were an absolute joy.  The totally unexpected spring like weather lifted my spirits and got me out with the camera again.  Not only photographing the birdlife I encountered on my days out, but also out in the garden where I could use the macro for the first time this year.

It was lovely being in the garden.  With everything pruned, weeded and mown I could just relax into the therapy that is trying to image bees in flight!  This is fun, however the af of the macro does not see the funny side!  Photographing the butterflies was also a bit of a challenge.  The male Brimstones would enter the garden, search the ivy for any emerging mates, then zip off over the roof.  On a day I didn’t have a shift at work I could spend longer observing things.  This was excellent as I discovered there was a small period when the Brimstones stopped to nectar on the natural primroses in my flowerbeds.  Just had to be in the right spot as they only paused for a second or two to refuel.

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Ha ha got you at last! A male Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) on a primrose

There were many types of bees all being, er, busy.  Their flower of choice was the winter heathers (Ericas), the pulmonaria (lungworts) were only just starting to bloom, but they would investigate any likely source of nectar and pollen.

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Honey Bee approaching a wallflower, I can hear the auto focus complaining even now 😀

In all during the fabulous fortnight we had three species of butterfly in the garden.  The last to appear was a Comma.  The first day he (definitely a he, very territorial) showed up he was very flighty, I just could not get close.  After a couple of days he either became very friendly or thought if he let me take a few snaps I would be out of his face!  Whatever I got the images I wanted.  The Comma was not interested in nectar but sought out the warmest places where it could eye it’s domain, when another entered the garden one day a frantic chase ensued.

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Close enough? A male Comma (Polygonia c-album) in the sun

Well it’s now March and the weather is back to how it should be, wet and windy!  but thankfully not cold.  Looks as if I shall have to creep back inside for another couple of months.