As the butterfly season starts to draw to a close there is still a chance to see new species if I put in the effort.
The two last in the year to emerge are Silver Spotted Skipper and Brown Hairstreak. To see these in one day would require some planning, a lot of travelling and a big helping of lady luck!
On the 1st of August my daughter Victoria and I set out early on a 350 mile round trip to Oxfordshire. Everywhere is a long way from north east Norfolk! We arrived at Aston Rowant just after 10am and searched the southern section for the rare Silver Spotted Skipper. The wind was a bit keen and sunshine was limited, butterfly activity was very low. However it was not long before I saw my target and obtained some lovely shots. We saw about 10 in total but apart from meadow browns little else. Did manage 2 Chalkhill Blues, a few Brown Argus and Common Blues also a very worn and tired Dark Green Fritillary which sat on my hand for several minutes.
If the weather had been a bit kinder I am sure this reserve, with it’s flower filled chalk hills and spectacular views of the Vale of Oxford would have been alive with butterflies, you have to make the most of what time you have though. The skippers were great and very fast, not easy to follow, so with the conditions keeping them low made photography a bit easier.
After lunch we drove further west to Whitecross Green Wood. This is part of the ancient Royal Forest of Bernwood. Our target here was the elusive Brown Hairstreak which likes to spend most of it’s life at the top of ash and oak trees feeding on aphid honeydew, it will on occasion come down to take nectar from woodland flowers.
We walked the main ride, eyes peeled, with no joy. Three Silver Washed Frits and a few Meadow Browns, a Gatekeeper jinking by would cause a moment of excitement then frustration when it landed revealing it’s eye spots.
The showers that had been forecast duly arrived so we headed back to the car. A shame to have come so far and dip out but that’s nature. If sightings were always easy a lot of the excitement would be lost.
A hint of blue sky, I would give it one last try. Went no more than 100yds when a flash of orange, head high, in a bramble caught my eye. Bingo! I could not believe my luck a beautiful female Brown Hairstreak! There she stayed for over 15mins in her shady spot. When she turned, her colours would come and go, if the light had not caught her just right at that moment she would have gone unnoticed. I love the images I managed, being there, not on a flower in the open, gives the feeling of a true woodland speciality.
She was missing a tail off one hind wing. I have noticed this with hairstreaks before, I believe it is where they have survived bird attack. It did nothing to spoil her beauty and charm.
As my butterfly hunting quest this year nears it’s end all targets have been achieved. I must thank David Newland the author of the superb book ‘Discover Butterflies in Britain’. Without this and his encouraging e.mails I would never have seen so much.