Since moving to town some of my old haunts are now a few miles further to drive to. Because of this (and the forever on-going renovations) I have not visited them as much as I used to or as much as I would like to. Mid-week, before the mini heat wave hit, I dropped in on the (now not so) local heath to see if the Silver-studded Blues (Plebejus argus) had started to emerge, they had!
On the purple heather flowers these lovely and fresh butterflies made for some nice colourful images. When the sun was hidden by cloud they would temporarily ‘roost’ in the long grass. I found them quite easy to spot even though there were only no more than ten on the wing. Here’s a little sequence of shots I took as one got active again.
I have featured this species before in the past so will not bore you by repeating various facts. Just a couple of things for anyone new to the blog. The name is derived from reflective metallic scales in the outer row of black spots on the under hind wing, some adults lack these. The upper wing of the female is not blue but brown with orange spotting (lunules) on the outer edge.
Two other species were seen for the first time this year. The Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) Which is the UK’s most widespread and commonest butterfly. Also spotted was a Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) which really isn’t that large.
Nice to return to a favourite site and watch the comings and goings. Must get back home, another room to refurbish.
“Roll up, roll up folks. Come and see the amazing spring. One day only, be sure not to miss it. roll up roll up”
Perhaps I’m being a bit pessimistic but our little bit of England, whilst being ‘green and pleasant’, has been a bit, er, ‘under the weather’. Others have been ok, over here northerly winds, grey and very cool but also extremely dry. Plants are growing and flowering but the poor old insects need to put on an extra woolly jumper! However the last day of April and the sun shone! After a week of having my head stuck in a pot of paint we just had to get out and enjoy it. To some this post will seem a bit ‘deja vu’ but I do like to visit old friends.
My choice of destination was Wiveton Downs about 20 miles east up near the North Norfolk coast. A lovely place at this time of year. The top of the hill is covered in flowering Gorse bushes which have a heady scent of coconut. The lower northern slope is sheltered and awash with Bluebells the flower of spring. We had not gone far when a tiny butterfly caught my eye as it fluttered low down by some Gorse. The first Green Hairstreak of the year. If it had not been flying almost impossible to see when perched.
Butterflies were out in good numbers along the lower path. Male Orange tips zig-zagging among the Bluebells looking for love, only stumbling across another male so a fight ensued. In fact all the butterflies were getting a bit aggressive, pent up hormones I guess. Only the little Holly Blues seemed quite sedate but not giving me many photo opportunities.
A really enjoyable few hours and with the forecast now set fair hopefully more to come. I have a lot more ‘old friends’ I would like to visit.
As had been hoped for in my last post I got the chance to switch to the macro lens for the first time this year. Last Thursday was sunny and warm (out of the easterly breeze) so we decided on another stroll around the edge of town taking in a small wood, adjoining a housing estate, that I had not been to before. The butterflies were out to greet us, not in great numbers yet but spring is only just kicking off.
There are five species of UK butterfly which spend the winter in adult (imago) form in what we call ‘hibernation’. They are actually in a state of dormancy or diapause. The beautiful Small Tortoiseshells are a joy to see and several were enjoying a drop of nectar. A big surprise was a small plain white butterfly on a roadside verge. I had to do a double take. This was a species not awakened from it’s winter slumbers but one that hatches from a pupa usually in April! Why so early? We have not had any sustained high temperatures, in my view, to trigger the hatching process. This species is also known to migrate from the Continent, so that’s a possibility but unlikely.
There were a lot of Peacocks lapping up the sun and indulging in territorial battles with whoever flies by. Also spotted were the first Commas of the year adding a touch of bright orange to the hedgerow. Not just butterflies though. Hoverflies and bees were noted. One species of bee caught my eye. It was very small and several were attracted to a sunny, sandy bank. I posted some images to a specialist fb group and it was identified as male Andrena clarkella, a species of mining bee and new to me.
We shall be off to Berlin in a weeks time, hopefully the weather is as kind and we can enjoy a bit of spring in the German capital with our daughter.
A nice morning so re-visited Wiveton Downs for a couple of hours butterfly hunting. The Downs is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and is an esker, in layman’s terms a glacial crevasse which was filled in and forms a winding ridge. Situated a mile or so inland from the Nth Norfolk coast. The top of the ridge is mostly Gorse and on the north side the lower slopes are clothed in Bluebells and well sheltered.
My target was seeing the Green Hairstreak. Spurred on by Mike’s post yesterday https://alittlebitoutoffocus.com/2021/05/10/green-hairstreak-butterfly-val-dherens-switzerland/ I was hoping the locals would be out and about, I was not disappointed. I have posted about this species before and have mentioned their rather nasty temper (yes B in Illinois, hard to believe but true). These butterflies are the size of a thumbnail but that doesn’t stop them from beating the living daylights out of each other and attacking any thing else that flies past!
All the butterflies were condensed into one area near a flowering Hawthorn and a bank of Bluebells. There was more than Hairstreaks though, in all I saw ten different species.
What are your early memories of butterflies? For me back in the mists of time it was the long hot summers of the school holidays. A neighbour had a buddleia so big we could physically climb it and it was always smothered with Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and various members of the Whites. They were attracted to the gorgeous heady scent that even today is one of my favourite smells of late summer. We, as children, were attracted to these brightly coloured living jewels. Armed with our little nets and jam jars we hunted the best and brightest, they were always released at the end of the day, it was just the fascination to see them and hold them. Walking, the then, overgrown and traffic free country lanes the brown butterflies would abound, my favourite being the chocolate brown Ringlet. Looking through my old butterfly books there were species I dreamed of as a boy, the Purple Emperor and the Duke of Burgundy, all the Fritillaries, not the sort of butterflies that would appear in my back yard. They lived in places far away and unreachable. However the ones in the books that really caught my eye were the little blue ones.
I don’t have many memories of encounters with blue butterflies but I still have the fascination. Today I can, if I wish (and I do), travel the Country in search of those rarities and childhood dreams. For one species I need go no further than two miles down the lane to a local heath where the beautiful Silver-studded Blue was introduced a few years ago.
On Tuesday I paid a visit to see if they had emerged. The heath had undergone some serious clearance during the winter. All the gorse bushes had been removed apart from around the perimeter. I presume this is to allow the heather to regrow. It was a bit confusing as the paths I used to follow were no longer there! I headed in the general direction of the Silver-studded Blue colony and was delighted to see these sapphire coloured gems on the wing and that the massive amount of ‘destruction’ had not affected them.
These delightful little butterflies like to keep low and nectar on heather. No chance of nice clean backgrounds to my images, I had to get right down to their level and let me tell you, all that debris left on the ground from the gorse removal is very painful to kneel on and difficult to remove from clothing!
Several males were looking for love, criss crossing the ground stopping briefly to nectar on the heather. I saw a few females searching for places to lay eggs. Inevitably a male would find her and pester her to mate. The ladies were having none of this. They may have been smaller but managed to see off the unwanted advances with much wing flapping and aggressive posturing. Once spurned, the male would sulk off for a quick nectar or tussle with a rival.
A lovely couple of hours spent in the company of these beautiful creatures. How nice to fulfill those childhood dreams.
If you are in the right place at the right time with the ideal conditions then what you wish to see should happen. So it was towards the end of May when I went for a wander along my favourite part of Hickling Broad. It’s Swallowtail season and the UK’s largest butterfly is on the wing enjoying the driest, sunniest spring on record. Early to mid-morning and the newly emerged adults will look for a quick boost of nectar before embarking on their quest to reproduce. One of the butterflies most liked flowers at this time is red campion. Not the tallest of plants so any photos will have a ‘messy’ background of reeds and sedge. Later into June and the thistles will be in flower. Better images can be had but by then most of the Swallowtails will have tatty wings, I like to catch then nice and fresh.
It was a reasonable morning and I counted seven individuals, not a bad total. One thing I like about this species is when it feeds it’s upper wings are almost constantly flickering but the body is still. Nice to have shots of a static subject, wings open, but I thought I would experiment and try and get some to relay that movement.
I have mentioned before that ‘britannicus’ is unique to the Norfolk Broads. It’s caterpillars only eat the milk parsley that grows in the reedbeds. Also the butterfly has a smaller thorax than it’s continental cousin and as such is a weak flyer unable to travel far to colonise new areas. Thankfully it and it’s habitat are well protected and butterfly lovers from all over the Country come to admire and pay homage to our ‘Queen’. The only dark cloud on the horizon is if sea levels rise with global warming the Broads will be flooded and the habitat lost.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
However this was not the case. The numbers increased and colonies were discovered in other woodlands.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A beautiful warm sunny morning so I decided to return to our local heath to seek out the Silver Studded Blues (Plebejus argus). Butterflies were everywhere, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Heaths. As I wandered among the gorse and heather I came to an area where dozens of the Blues where flying. I was delighted to find a butterfly emerging from deep in the grass, slowly it climbed the stems to inflate it’s new wings in the sun.
It took many attempts as the gentle breeze kept knocking it back down. It persevered, the will to survive is strong. This is the first time I have witnessed the first moment of a butterflies life.
Also delighted to find a mating pair. Hanging on the top of a grass stem, swaying in the breeze, starting a new generation. They also had to put up with the unwanted attention of other males trying to muscle in, but carried on regardless.