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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.



Satyridae….Little Brown Jobs

With most of my butterfly posts I tend to highlight subjects that are rather beautiful or quite rare, sometimes both.  There is one family that I have not featured very much.  These are the ones that when we are out in the countryside Mrs H will call another of them little brown jobs, the Satyridae.  So time to give them a moment of fame, and to be honest I have, er, ‘one or two’ images of them as I find them attractive.  These are nearly all species of high summer.  Their caterpillars eat various grasses, 2018 was very hot and dry and it is thought this might have an impact on numbers this coming year, we shall have to wait and see.

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Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

The Meadow Brown is the largest of the Satyridae with a wingspan of around 2 inches (50mm), it is also the UK’s most abundant butterfly.  Pictured above is the female, the males are much darker with only a smudge of orange around the eyespot.

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Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

Also called the Hedge Brown.  Both names are very apt as this butterfly is mostly found around these features.  It is smaller than the Meadow Brown at approx 1 3/4 inches (42mm) and with the wings closed can be confused with that species.  The i.d features are two white ‘pupils’ in eyespots and diagnostically the small white spots on the lower wing.  With it’s wings open there is no mistake as it’s washed with orange.

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Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

This has always been a favourite of mine.  Memories of childhood as we played in the country lanes and this chocolate brown butterfly would lazily flit along the flower strewn verges.

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Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)

Usually very annoying in trying to get photographs of. The Small Heath has a tendency to keep low, hidden among the grasses.  It is the smallest of the browns at less than 1 1/2 inches (35mm).

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Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

The longest flight period of all the Satyridae from early April to October.  This species loves shady woodland, if there is a small area lit by sunlight a male will defend this as his territory.

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Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

To finish a bit of a curve ball, not all browns are brown!  This beautiful butterfly is spreading it’s range.  One day I hope to see them in my home County, they are not too far away.

One feature of all the Satyridae are the eyespots or ocelli.  These are thought to act as a warning to potential predators.  Some species of butterfly have more complex and convincing ‘eyes’, if you would like to learn more fellow blogger Ray has written an excellent post

And while we in the northern hemisphere will have to wait a couple more months for butterflies to appear it is cheering to read of a mini migration in South Africa at Ark’s place


Musings & Marsh Fritillaries

Into February, another step closer to spring (hurrah!).  We had a little drop of the white stuff mid-week, it had all gone the next day, just enough to make a mess.  Some parts of our country had it bad, closing roads and airports, but stuck out in the North Sea this time it missed us.  Must admit I’ve not been out with the camera since the new year, the cold does not inspire me and it’s been mostly wet and grey.  Today it’s glorious sunshine (slightly frosty) so when I’ve finished here I’m out into the garden.  There are two weeping willows that need pollarding and I can’t put the job off much longer!

For this post I’m cheating a bit and re-visiting a subject that I aired way back when I first started blogging…… Marsh Fritillary the stained glass window of the butterfly world.

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Stunning Marsh Fritillary

Back in May 2017 I travelled up to Chambers farm wood near Wragby in Lincolnshire.  In an area called Little Scrubs Meadow a colony of Marsh Fritillaries had been introduced many years earlier.  Numbers were never very high, however on my visit there had been a record emergence and I saw well over a hundred, it was an amazing sight.  One day I shall have to return.

Beautiful underwing pattern

Marsh Fritillary (Eurodryas aurinia) a few facts.  This is a declining species that is mainly confined to the south west of the UK and Ireland.  They prefer slightly boggy ground (hence the name, duh) which must have a plentiful growth of devil’s-bit scabious, the food plant of the caterpillar.  These are the smallest of our Frits only up to 2″ (50mm) wingspan (larger females).  They are also very short lived on average four days.  The beautiful colouration (scales) is soon lost which led to them once being called the Greasy Fritillary.  When fresh they remind me of stained glass!  For a bit more

Now where are my loppers and saw.


Silver Lining

My last post concerning the fate of the Grey Partridge was slightly depressing, so I thought I would redress the balance with something positive.  It is still a few months before the butterflies start to appear and today is grey and wet.  For a ray of sunshine I bring you ….. The rise and rise of Argynnis paphia, the Silver Washed Fritillary.

Male Silver Washed Fritillary at Holt Country Park

It was in 2010 when I saw a report of a Silver Washed Fritillary in a North Norfolk wood not too far from home.  At the time it was dismissed as someone releasing a captive bred specimen, possibly for a moment of fame, or to fool those who would rush to see such a rarity.  Might sound a strange thing to do but people have been doing such things for a couple of hundred years!  Indeed the Chalkhill Blues at Warham , and the Brown Hairstreaks in Ipswich , are two recent examples.

However this was not the case.  The numbers increased and colonies were discovered in other woodlands.

A slightly faded female in August

These magnificent butterflies start to appear in July.  They are the largest of the British Fritillaries with a 3 inch (75mm) wingspan.  The males are a striking bright orange when fresh.  They are powerful fliers and will glide for quite some way along a woodland ride, stopping briefly to nectar on bramble flowers.  The males can be told apart by the four very prominent raised black veins on the upper forewings.  These are called sex brands and release a scent during mating.  The females are slightly larger and duller in colour.  An unusual feature of the SWF is that a very small percentage of females turn out a fantastic blue/green in colour.   These are the Valezinas and sightings are something to cherish.

A stunningly beautiful female of the form Valezina

So why are Silver Washed Frits doing so well when other members of their family i.e the Pearl Bordered and High Brown are disappearing fast?  A lot depends on habitat.  The latter two require special conditions.  Since woodland was left neglected, or worse planted with conifers, they started to die out.  They needed areas cleared on a regular basis so they could lay their eggs on violets, the food plant of their caterpillars.  The Silver Washed lays its eggs on tree trunks (and my jeans on one occasion!).  The caterpillars after hatching descend to the ground to seek out violets.  As I said these are powerful fliers and this has enabled the species to spread and colonise and now provide a delightful sight in a high summer woodland.

Silver washed fritillary at Holt, beautifully backlit. The name derives from the markings on the underwing

For a few more images of these butterflies

Now that’s cheered me up!

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!