June 2nd. It was three years ago, when this blog was in it’s infancy, that I last drove the 120 miles south to Essex in search of one of Britain’s rarest butterflies. Except for our trip to the Brecks, all my driving this year has been the 5 miles to and from work on our local country lanes. So, it was quite daunting and a bit nervy to hit the dual-carriage ways at 70-80mph and battle it out with the endless line of heavy goods vehicles and business men on a mission, yep ‘lockdown’ is over it seems. Anyway two and a half hours later I arrived safe and sound. With blue skies, temperatures in the mid 70’s and a very light breeze it was a lovely day to hunt butterflies.
The butterfly in question is the Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia) and as I said it is a very rare beast. Athalia can only be found in three areas of the Country, Blean Woods in Kent, some coombes (steep valleys) on Exmoor and here in sth Essex with Hockley Wood the biggest colony. What makes this little (wingspan 1.5-2 inches 39-47mm) butterfly so rare is habitat. The only food plant of the caterpillar is common cow-wheat and this will only thrive in regularly coppiced woodland. The practice of coppicing is no longer a commercial activity so we are reliant on conservation bodies to carry out this work.
In all I saw about thirty individuals. The males zig-zagging low over the clearings whilst the slightly larger females enjoyed a feed on the bramble flowers. It was here I captured these images. I thought it would be nice to try and show the butterfly as part of the scene as in the two shots above. I still got the up close and personal images with the macro but with that type of photography you are limited by depth of field, so step back a bit, use the same lens to capture the fine detail and the results can be quite pleasing.
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.
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!
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)
I had a target at the start of the year to travel and see some new species of butterflies. A long weekend away in Hampshire enabled me to see the Pearl Bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) at Bentley Wood, which straddles the border with Wiltshire. This is one of the UK’s premier butterfly woods and the Frits are found in the eastern clearing which is just a short walk back from the car park.
The Fritillaries are a fast declining species in the UK, they require open sunny areas of woodland with plenty of violets for their caterpillars to eat. Woodland management has changed and these areas are only cleared through conservation work. They are medium sized with a wingspan of 38-46mm (1 1/2-1 3/4 inches)
Tina and I saw several, they were constantly on the move, criss-crossing low to the ground, very rarely stopping.
There was so much more to see, moths, bugs and other butterflies. I have put together a collection of images, https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/bentley-bucknell-woods/. For the journey home we stopped in Northamptonshire at Bucknell Woods near Silverstone. Here I saw my second target the Wood White (Leptidea sinapis) the smallest 42mm (1 3/4 inch) and most delicate of the whites. It is also now a rare butterfly which inhabits sunny woodland rides, and like the Pearls rarely stops.