2018 Butterfly Highlights

How was 2018 for you?  This year just past had so many great memories for me.  It turned out to be a cracker for butterflies.  Spring got off to a brilliant start.  Armed with the new macro lens I got a huge amount of satisfaction photographing my favourite insects.  The long hot summer added to the fun despite the disaster with the camera.  I photographed five new species and got stunning images of so many more.  Here are just a few of my favourites, enjoy!

Back in April I got this shot of an Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) which turned out to be a favourite for you bloggers
After a long search I caught up with this Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae)
May and the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) my shot of the year!
A trip to Bentley Wood in May and my first ever sighting of the Pearl Bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne)
On the way home new species No2 the Wood White (Leptidea sinapis)
Can’t forget the Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) and the stinging nettles!
Black Hairstreak (Satyrium pruni) had a fantastic year at Glapthorne
White Letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) photographed for the first time
A trip to the Lake District and we found one of Britains rarest and most endangered butterflies the High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) at Latterbarrow
Also in Cumbria a tiny Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes)
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) in September as the season draws to a close

Next time I will be highlighting some of my favourite bird shots.


Still Going!

Mid October.  And after two days of wet and windy weather the sun came out after a misty morning.  Taking advantage of my day off work I visited the north Norfolk coast (after finishing my chores!).  I could not believe the number of Small Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) on the wing.  What a lovely sight as they nectared on ragwort.

Keep going my beauty!


Autumn Butterflies

Couldn’t resist any longer.  I dusted down the old D3100 and we went for a day out to Pensthorpe Natural Park near Fakenham, Norfolk.  This is a collection of flooded gravel pits that have been transformed into a wildlife haven.  Here you can see native waterfowl mingling with those from around the world, bit like a zoo I suppose but there is a serious conservation side with rare, endangered species being bred for release.

I was going to post some images of the water birds, but they are captive and not difficult to photograph.  Wandering around in glorious warm sunshine I noticed good numbers of butterflies, hello my beauties, smile please I’ve missed you!

Comma enjoying a blackberry

The Comma (Polygonia c-album) is often one of the first butterflies you see, and also one of the last.  These later generation in autumn will feed on ripe fruit then hibernate through the winter.  The one above was so engrossed in a blackberry it didn’t mind the macro lens only a few inches away!

Small Copper

I was amazed to see so many Small Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) gorgeous little butterflies with a wing span of 26-36mm (1 – 11/2 inches).  These were so fresh they must be a third generation.  The one above is of the form Punctata with blue metallic spots on the lower hind wing.

Small Copper underwing

Interesting using the old camera body again, I must say not as easy, it takes longer to change settings and the moment could be lost.  The quality is also not quite as good with only half the megapixels and a smaller sensor but I like these images.


The Chalkhill Blues

Some years ago an unknown person decided that they would introduce Chalkhill Blues (Lysandra coridon) to the Iron Age hill fort at Warham in north Norfolk.  The ‘authorities’ frown upon such activities, and yes putting an alien species into the wrong habitat can be disastrous, both for the habitat and the introduced species.  You only have to witness the effects that grey squirrels and mink have had!  However these butterflies have thrived, though their numbers fluctuate.  There is plenty of horseshoe vetch their only food plant and they do not compete with any other species, so for me all’s good.  The colony is however a long way from any other, the nearest being Newmarket 60 miles away.

Backlit Chalkhill Blue

As the long hot summer continues I thought it about time I had a look for the Chalkhills.  I was amazed at how many there were, especially females.  Hundreds of milky blue males danced low over the banks of the ring ditches looking for newly emerged females.  Females that had already mated and were looking to lay eggs were having to fight off the unwanted amorous attention of sometimes up to four males.

“What do you mean you don’t like me? What’s wrong with me?” A worn female rejects a very battered males advances

Perhaps it was too hot and sunny, it was very difficult to photograph a male with open wings in a nice setting, I’ve done better in previous years, check out the HOME page and tab ‘Iron Age Blues, Warham Camp’  When a little bit of cloud covered the sun the males did start to settle, but low down.

A fairly fresh male Chalkhill Blue

It was nice to see so many butterflies of other species today including the years first Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera)  The numbers of these in this part of the Country is very low compared to when I was young.

“Can’t see me” The superb camouflage of the Wall Brown

Cumbrian Discoveries pt2

With day one a great success for day two we headed across the River Kent estuary to Arnside Knott.  On the very southern edge of Cumbria the Knott is a 500ft high limestone hill with commanding views.  I had been given recommendations on two areas to search for High Brown Fritillary and Northern Brown Argus on the lower slopes, so we headed there first.  No Frits in the first spot and no Argus in the Primrose Field, which was very parched, plenty of commoner species though.  Time to head to the summit.

July 2018, a Grayling on Arnside Knott nectaring on wild marjoram

Despite the day being lovely and sunny a mist hung in the distance obscuring the views of the mountains to the north.  Last year this place was covered in flowers, now it was brown.  Patches of flowers were growing in the sheltered spots and one large marjoram was proving very popular with insects.  The Grayling (Hipparchia semele) in the above photograph is rarely seen nectaring, they usually sit, camouflaged, on stony paths.

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Nice to see you, a Northern Brown Argus

Whilst crouched down in the vegetation photographing the Grayling a very small butterfly zipped by, it was the Northern Brown Argus! (Aricia artaxerxes).  Amazing, when you are not looking for something it turns up.  This butterfly differs from it’s southern relative (featured a few posts back) by having indistinct spotting on the underwing, they also only have one brood per year.  I must have caught them at the end of their flight period as they were quite faded, in all we saw six.

ban DSC_0100a Northern Brown Argus
The colours might be faded but this Argus still looks sprightly!
A common butterfly but the colours of this fresh Small Tortoiseshell make for a lovely image

Didn’t get to see any High Brown Fritillaries but there were a few commoner Dark Greens, all females looking to lay eggs.  Also saw  a very early Scotch Argus, possibly the first of the year, but it would not settle, can’t win them all.

On day three would you believe it rained!  The first for many weeks.  So we acted like tourists and drove up to see the famouse lakes of Windermere and Coniston.  Beautiful scenery and if I was any good at landscape photography a paradise, but I’m not, so you will have to use your imaginations, ha ha.  In the afternoon the skies cleared and we visited Tina’s friends who live nearby.

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My final discovery, a Beautiful Demoiselle

We went for a walk in the parklands of the Holker Estate taking their three sheep dogs along.  When the youngest ran off toward a ditch I followed and made another discovery, my very first sighting of a Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopeteryx virgo).  What a fitting end to a short but welcome holiday.

For more images of Butterflies in Cumbria on my HOME page click on this link.  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/butterflies-in-cumbria/

Cumbrian Discoveries pt1

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.

High Brown Fritillary at Latterbarrow

Tina spotted a Fritillary whilst I was searching for Northern 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!

New species number two, a Black Darter

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)

Mint Moth
Slightly worn but still beautiful, the High Brown Fritillary

Day one a great success!  I have updated the portfolio on my HOME page https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/butterflies-in-cumbria/



The Emperor of Fermyn Wood


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.

Face off with the Emperor. A shot I wanted to get with the purple sheen on both wings

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!

My what a big tongue you have! The yellow proboscis acts as a drinking straw to extract minerals

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 the spotlight

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!

White Letter Hairstreak

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.

Also checkout  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/purple-emperor-fermyn-roberts-field/

And also https://apaturairis.blogspot.com/