If there is one name in British butterflies that intrigued me from a young age it was the Duke of Burgundy fritillary. The fritillary part of the name has since been dropped as this delightful little butterfly belongs to the metalmark family. This insect has quite a following. Known as his Grace it even has it’s own website!
One of my aims for 2017 was to see the Duke for the first time. With a great deal of planning I visited my nearest site on the 16th of May. Totternhoe old quarry near Dunstable in Bedfordshire is 130 miles away, the weather forcast had not been great but it was now or never as the flight season would soon be over.
As it turned out the weather was hot and humid and the fresh south westerly was no problem in the quarry which had lots of shelter. The only person I met was a student who was studying Dukes. We had a good chat and he told me about the best habitat and areas to search. These turned out to be sheltered slopes and the quarry bottom with medium length vegetation and nearby scrub. In all I found six different butterflies in two areas. They were not all in great condition but then they like a good fight.
I was thrilled to see another species of butterfly new to me. This was the small blue. Britains smallest butterfly. I had hoped to see one but it was early in the flight season and there had been few reports. As it turned out I saw two individuals, and they are gorgeous, with blue scales like glitter on their dusky background.
I also had sightings of dingy skippers, green hairstreaks and the years first small heaths plus many commoner species, also a mother shipton moth, another first.
12th of May 2018. Paid a return visit to the Old Quarry at Totternhoe to try and obtain better images of His Grace the Duke of Burgundy. The weather was far from ideal about 13c, cloudy with the threat of rain by early afternoon. Climbed the steps from the car park, a quick left then right and follow the rutted track to the medieval chalk workings. On the way Whitethroat and Corn Bunting were singing from the hawthorns, but not a single butterfly was seen.
Searched the slopes where last year I had found Dukes, no joy, this could be a long wasted journey. So I sat on the bank and watched, sure enough His Grace awoke and settled in a hawthorn to survey his domain. Unexpectedly the sun broke through for about ten minuets, in that time Tina and I counted at least six Burgundies in the one area. Then the skies turned grey, time to leave. As we were going another butterfly photographer, who I had chatted to earlier, excitedly called me over. He had seen a Duke go to roost on a sapling presenting the opportunity for the perfect image. A fitting end, and it wasn’t until we had returned to the car that we saw another species, a Small white.
Was the long journey and traffic jams in Dunstable and Luton worth it? Oh yes!