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.

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.

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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.