Hello and welcome to my madness!
OK, so just a quick overview...
This page isn't your typical Daily Diary type thingy. For starters I don't plan to update on a daily basis, probably just a couple of times a week at first before escalating into my usual rapidfire nonsense as the season progresses (and tempers fray!)
In this section I'll give voice to some of my thoughts regarding our mutual struggle to stay one step ahead of the other. If Sam starts to pull away from me on the species counts I might have to start playing dirty. Maybe I'll show her the secret Wood White site...or perhaps I'll go alone. Maybe I'll let her come along to Scotland...maybe I won't (and maybe she'll poke my eyes out, but maybe she won't!)
Check back regularly though, I shall try to captivate and amuse as best I can, apologies if you were expecting to glean something scientific or useful amidst this waffle.
Enough, read on!!!
I had envisioned adding at least one extra species of butterfly to the Blitz List every month of the year, up until about September when things would quieten down somewhat and I'd (hopefully!) just have Monarch and Winter Damselfly left on the "still need" list.
The realisation that it was the 30th January and I had yet to skore any lepidoptera (other than leafmines) suddenly hit me hard - I needed to find something on the last day of the month...hmmm.
Luckily, I'd already pre-emptively cheated. Last month I located a Blackthorn patch on Ashtead Common laden with Brown Hairstreak eggs. Nice one, and Sam's stuck at work so it will be 1-0 to The Gibster heh heh heh!
So, a short train journey from Raynes Park to Ashtead station had me on site at Ashtead Common. 400 metres later I was before the appointed blackthorn patch. An hour later I was still without eggs...definitely at the right patch??? Oh bugger, silly Seth! Moving a tad further upslope I soon located an empty egg followed by the first BROWN HAIRSTREAK EGG of the year. Gibster 1 - Sami 0. Get in!!!! I tagged the twig with a piece of red ribbon which will allow ease of relocating the larva as it grows throughout the season. It would be very pleasing to photographically record the pre-adult stages. Hope no-one finds and removes the ribbon!
Brown Hairstreak breeding patch...spot the eggs!
Typically Sam was not amused and declared I had yet to skore a butterfly. Eggs, it seems, are not admissable. Whatever!!!!
January tally: Seth 1 - Sam 0
I'm not entirely sure quite what happened - well, yeah, I was working all hours of daylight and the weather was pretty crap - but somehow I managed to let February slip through my grasp without recording a single butterfly. Not egg, not pupa, not hibernating adult in the porch roof. Nada. Not a bean. So endeth the plan to add at least one species per month. Didn't take too long to fall apart did it???
The only slight silver lining is that Sami hasn't seen anything either. So technically I'm still in the lead (eggs are DEFINITELY countable, lol!)
February tally: Seth 0 - Sam 0
I had a poor start to the month. Firstly a butterfly shadow whooshed across a wall beside me one warmish afternoon. No sign of the beast in question, just it's untickable shadow. Next a probable Red Admiral flew across the rooftops and into the light, probable but again not tickable. Lastly, on the lovely warm 15th I saw (yes properly saw!) a butterfly flitting across the road at Clapham Common. Unfortunately I was negotiating my 7.5T truck through the traffic and although I felt confident that it was a Small Tortoiseshell, I later withdrew my claim in case it was just a knackered worn Comma. No dodgey sightings allowed on the Blitz List, especially not the very first individual of the year!!!
15th - I reluctantly retract my Small Tortoiseshell sighting. Sam texts a shocking message, "I've got 2 Brimstones! Let the games begin!"
16th - Another text from my beloved..."Guess who just got the first butterfly photo of the year! And it's a Comma! :)" Note her annoying use of a smiley at the end of that text. Grrrrrr...
17th - Continuing her recent smug theme of wind-up text messaging, Sam completes the hat-trick. She sent me this today, "Small Tort + photo :) xxx " Note her excessive usage of the letter x after the smiley. She's up to something (and it sure as hell ain't fair...when I'm stuck at work all day!)
18th - AH-HAAA!!! I actually manage to finish work whilst there's still light in the sky. Sam was stuck at work...time for me to claw something back! Unfortunately it was overcast and rather chilly. Buggerit. I quickly nipped across onto Epsom Common in search of goodies. Undaunted by the weather I checked a huge isloated Pedunculate Oak and within a few minutes was merrily adding PURPLE HAIRSTREAK EGG to my Blitz List. One up on ol' Spammo at last! I took the twig with egg back home for Sam to see (but not count!)
"Purple Ronnie" at egg stage - taken through a hand lens!
21st - For the first time this year Sam and I journeyed out butterfly hunting together. We set off to explore Epsom Common. After a slightly overcast and chilly start, the weather improved to the point where butterflies were noticeable and we even found three newly emerged Adders (more pics!) Backtracking a couple of hours though, a fairly brief search of low Pedunculate Oak twigs revealed four more Purple Hairstreak eggs (two apiece, Sam's were the first butterfly eggs she'd ever self-found!) Soon afterwards Sam called a Brimstone disappearing through gorse scrub which I missed. She then called my first COMMA of the year and I called the second one, which the first one promptly chased off. Phew, I can still find my own stuff after all! Entering woodland we had a solitary PEACOCK flush up from the path ahead of us quickly followed by a deeply coloured male BRIMSTONE which allowed Sam to nearly photograph it, tee hee! By the end of our walk we'd tallied three Brimstones (2 for me), a Peacock, 6 Commas, 2 Orange Underwings and quite a lot of Tortricoides alternella, mostly of the pale form. But no sign of any Small Torts today. We found a few Psychids on tree trunks and wooden posts. Mostly the ubiquitous Luffia ferchaultella, many of which were active, plus Psyche casta and a few Narycia duplicella but the best find was of a single Proutia betulina near the base of a large oak trunk. We also found an old batch of Vapourer eggs, a solitary Orange Ladybird sunning itself on an oak trunk and watched loads of gall-wasps ovipositing into Pedunculate Oak buds. Weird shaped beasties!
Me, all tooled up and looking for trouble
One of the Adders found today, Sam took the top pic
24th - The Purple Hairstreak egg I brought home on 18th decided to hatch out tonight. Luckily I glance at it every once in a while, so the obvious hole in the top was immediately apparent. A panicked search revealed the tiny larva trying to chomp into the dessicated bud. I rushed out onto Epsom Common and secured a fresh twig, translocated Ronnie (yep, "Purple Ronnie" as dubbed by Sam. If you don't get it, ask your dad) and tried to grab a few pics for the family album. Except 2mm caterpillars are tricky buggers to photograph, particularly when neck deep in a bud!
Ronnie exploring his mashed-up babyfood bud
Found a 7-spot Ladybird next to the front door today, the first one of the year. It was pretty mild last night, I saw quite a few moths flying around the security light on the driveway. Must ask the landlords if it's ok to run a moth trap in the garden...
25th - Finished work and decided that Ronnie needed to see the real world. So I put him out in the rain (the bathroom is way too dry and warm, I need the buds to stay soft and moist and Ronnie ain't gonna grow up to be some namby poof who's scared of a bit of weather. Hell no!!!) After his soaking I brought Ronnie back indoors, dried his ickle feet and fed him some warm broth before bedtime stories...zzzzzz....zzzzzz.....
27th - Finally I've got a day off of work...and it's cold, windy and a bit drizzley Managed to grab a fresh oak twig for Ronnie. I split the largest bud and it was nice and green inside. He set to with gusto and, rather curiously I thought, tends to wag his bum end back and forth whilst gobbling the green stuff. I guess he's merrily contented!!! Hoping for better weather tomorrow so I can track down some more butterflies...maybe even that elusive Small Tort in the Grazing Area?
28th - A good hit on Epsom Common with Sam, we visited Castle Heath (Sam's first time there) and found an Emperor Moth cocoon (retained in case it's a female in which case I'm gonna have great fun assembling males!!) We also had a PEACOCK which Sam nearly managed to photograph followed by a COMMA which I netted out of the air before it obligingly posed for the camera and a quick vid too. Sam found her first 7-spot Ladybird of the year, we swept lots of Lochmaea suturalis from the heather and to round off, I found a stunning green crab spider Diaea dorsata sitting on a Yew Artichoke Gall! The nearest oak tree to our house yielded seven Purple Hairstreak eggs in a 5 minute search, all at head-height. Gotta be a good omen for photographing the females?!?
Flask-like overwintering cocoon of the Emperor Moth
A stunning Diaea dorsata on a Yew Artichoke Gall - a lifer for us!
Sam had to leave early for work. I waved her off before returning to the common, where I bumped into the couple whose house we live in. They were following my directions in the hope of finding Adders. No luck so far though. Within a couple of minutes I had them looking in the right spots and we quickly found three basking Adders followed by a very large Red-eared Terrapin hauled up on a log in the Great Pond. My personal highlight after that was a high up Peregrine, a site tick for me!
Close encounters of the Comma'd kind!!!
30th - A couple of days back I ordered Adrian Riley's butterfly book, today it turned up... and I have to say I'm a teensy bit disappointed for a couple of reasons. Firstly it's not A4 hardback sized (and dunno why I thought it would be and, lets face it, it doesn't make any difference anyway!) and secondly I had hoped the site guide element would prove more comprehensive than it is. That said, it's a bloody good book and I have no real gripes with it. Already I've learnt that there are more forms to many species of which I was completely unaware (blissfully unaware, in fact. Now our quest is doubly difficult. Cheers Ade!!!)
To look at Adrian Riley's book click here. It really is pretty damn good!
31st - been looking through the Riley book some more and I've come to the conclusion that it's an excellent work...I'm even getting used to it being softback! Using the info within, I've re-jigged our 2010 itinerary somewhat to include all the forms with extra attention paid to regional differences in the flight times. Cheers again Ade, call it payback for my finding Porthgwarra's Scops Owl that you so enjoyed a few years ago
March tally: Seth 3 - Sam 4 (boo hiss...)
6th - After several days of cloudy or cool weather, today promised to be a goodun. I phoned Sam at 10am to tell her to get out onto the Common pronto, but she stayed in bed and fell back to kip. I, on the other hand, kept half an eye on the road and half at anything resembling a flitting butterfly.Several times I was caught out by falling leaves, windswept toffee wrappers and bits of debris. Eventually, by about midday the weather became distinctly summery and a SMALL TORTOISESHELL nearly flew in through the truck's open window...a Yeartick! A short while later I saw a second Small Tort followed by a male Brimstone and later saw a Peacock flushed by a dog rooting through a flowerbed! A shape in the top of a blossom laden tree was probably a Red Admiral. Best of all - Sam saw nothing!! That's 4 all, Baby! Also of (somewhat minimal) interest, I saw a Harlequin Ladybird flying in Sutton, although I couldn't ID it until it landed.
10th - Spent a pleasant afternoon wandering Epsom Common. It was fairly warm, but the breeze kept the temperatures from climbing too high. Undaunted, I soon encountered a Peacock sunning itself on last year's thatch of Purple Moor-grass. Much to Sam's dismay I managed a couple of decent pics, lol! A large Downy Birch was covered in webbing, I'm stumped as to what formed it. Maybe something like Ermine Moth larvae??? On birch? The web was pretty thick at ground level and extended up one side of the trunk to at least 20ft up the tree. Weird! In the Grazing Area I finally caught up with the Small Tortoiseshell, plus another Adder and Orange Underwing. A Kidney-spot Ladybird was sunning itself on a sallow. Flies were very noticeable, sunning themselves on trunks and posts. One looked suspiciously like a horsefly. Are they out already? An abundance of hoverflies and Bee-Flies were also noted. Day total was 4 Peacocks, 2 Comma and 1 Small Tort.
11th - FULL day on Epsom Common with Sami Started off with 10-spot Ladybird on Pedunculate Oak twigs, then a 7-spot (we saw maybe ten in all) and I netted a couple of Orange Underwings out of the eight seen. Peacocks were far and away the commonest butterfly today. We totalled 16 in all. Commas could only manage 3 and Brimstones were strangely absent. Best butterfly find was a single RED ADMIRAL chasing a Comma. More species of ladybirds were noted and comprised Orange, Harlequin, Pine, 24-spot and Kidney-spot (the latter two lifers for Sam). We entered the Grazing Area in search of reptiles and soon found two Adders, two Grass Snakes and two Common Lizards. In one area of heather I swept three cases of Coleophora pyrrhulipennella, a site tick as far as I'm aware!! They certainly weren't there a couple of years ago. A lucky sweep netted the larva of a Broom Moth, possibly another site tick. Sam found a Diurnea fagella resting on the trunk of an Ash, I'd been looking for quite a while so was a teeny bit miffed that she beat me to it! We found a dead Common Shrew with Sexton Beetle. As we watched the beetle a small army of pale mites suddenly swarmed into view, scuttled across the elytra and quickly hid beneath once more - disgusting!!
Peacock basking fully-spread. Shame it's a tad tatty after hibernation
Kidney-spot Ladybird, a lifer for Sam (low-listing scummer!!!)
15th - another warm, sunny day and I'm driving the truck around the Surrey countryside for a change. Early afternoon, after miles of roadside scanning I finally strike lucky as a stunning male ORANGE-TIP flits along a grassy verge. Yeah!!!! This species says "summer's here!" and with just a touch of glee I quickly phone Sam. The conversation went a bit like this, "Orange-tip on my list! Get in there, yeahhhhhhhhhh!!!!" Then I hung up, tee hee. A few minutes later the first of her disgruntled texts comes through...bloody hell, I'm actually properly in the lead for the first time this year and she gets the arse. Moments later another Orange-tip flits across the road in front of me...he heeeeeee!!!
16th - Sam had to attend a court case in Truro today. We'd driven down last night and stayed with Danny The Pirate and his good lady Lucy The Nurse (kinda sounds like a panto already!) As it happened she didn't need to give evidence so we shot off early and tried The Lost Gardens of Heligan for butterflies. Despite the lovely weather a cold breeze beset us and after a couple of hours effort all we'd managed was a lovely male Redstart and two Peacocks. Humphhh.
17th - We said farewell to Danny and Lucy and sped back eastwards in time for Sam to start work that afternoon. Once inland the temperatures rose (the wind dropped?) and we saw several roadside Brimstones, several unidentified whites and three male Orange-tips, two of which Sam saw and gleefully added to her Blitzlist total which now equals mine. Darnit.
18th - had to drive the truck down to Brighton today (complete with Brighton Marathon and accompanying road closures. Such a joy...) but the weather was glorious and hopes were high! Before too long I skored my first SMALL WHITE of the year followed by several Orange-tips and a few Brimstones. Sam point-blank refused to believe me! So I reckon that puts me back in the lead once again!!!
19th - Delivering out in the sticks today. Managed to kick start the West Sussex list with Orange-tip and Brimstone followed by sightings in Surrey later that afternoon. I've decided that male Orange-tips are THE butterfly of the spring. They rock!!!
20th - Delivering around Middlesex today. First butterfly of the day was an 'in your face!' SPECKLED WOOD which nearly wiped me out at neck level! I executed a near-perfect backflip with pike manouevre in an attempt to clinche the record (basically I spun around and almost knocked over an old woman behind me) but the fact remains that I'm now pulling away from Ol' Spammo and her lowly three or four species for the year (heh heh heh) Also managed a Red Admiral in Uxbridge and a Small White in Hounslow...proof that butterflies can survive pretty much anywhere - well, have you seen Hounslow recently???
21st - saw a handful of Orange-tips and Peacocks whilst at work today. Walking home afterwards I was very pleasantly surprised to note a HOLLY BLUE flitting over a Rhododendron bush in somebody's front garden. It settled allowing distant but tickable views. Hah! That's another one Sami hasn't seen yet!!!
22nd - spent the afternoon on Epsom Common. It all started rather productively - a couple of male Orange-tips, loads of Brimstones and Peacocks, a Comma, the first 'in the wild' PURPLE HAIRSTREAK larva and LARGE WHITE of our year (tee hee, really sorry, Baby!!!) but then I got embroiled in chatting to the conservation workers who are installing the electric fencing in readiness for the grazing cattle's arrival. Lots of insider info was divulged, including plans for tackling the ongoing gorse issue and the Stew Pond mess. Consequently not too much more was seen apart from two Speckled Woods, several Orange Underwings sunning themselves on the dirt tracks, a pair of Peacocks in courtship chase, a pair of Bee-flies in cop , a Harlequin Ladybird, my first Eriocranids of the year and three Buzzards overhead. Tomorrow Sam and I are going to spend the whole day there.
My first ever 'in the wild' 1st instar Purple Hairstreak larva...aaaaaaah
Harlequin Ladybird on sallow...just stay away from those Purple Emperor larvae!!!
23rd - A full day on Epsom and Ashtead Commons with Sami Baby
Started off on Epsom Common and we were soon notching up fair numbers of male Orange-tips, Brimstones and Peacocks. We found a Red Admiral sunning in ivy and a handful of Speckled Woods. A lone Comma made its presence known.
We spent quite a while on the Gaspipe Ride alongside Newton Wood where we had great fun chasing male Orange-tips up and down the edges! A female Orange-tip was more obliging and allowed a few shots before zipping across the fenceline. A series of "Small Whites" were discovered to be a pair of GREEN-VEINED WHITES, a yeartick true - but I lost face with the bosslady for misidentifying in the first place. To make matters worse, I later called a female Brimstone, changed my mind to Large White, then Small or Green-veined before Sami kindly put me outta my misery and pointed out that it was, in fact, another female Orange-tip....and duly discredited ALL of my White sightings this year (she'd try anything to close the gap!) I can only plead temporary insanity due to intense hunger, heatstroke and being utterly sober...
After 'fun' with the whites we headed onto Ashtead Common where Sam pointed out our first Odonata species of the Blitz - a LARGE RED DAMSELFLY sitting in trackside brambles. Excellent! A few Eriocrania subpurpurella were flying in the sunshine along with a couple of mystery Nepticulids which landed on Sam's arm. We checked on the Brown Hairstreak egg I tagged last year, still unhatched. In fact the whole twig is pretty retarded with budburst only just starting to show. Possibly this is deliberate? I'm not sure if the ovipositing female selects twigs away from sunlit tips as a matter of course or not. Hmmmm. A brief search of Cuckooflower revealed Orange-tip eggs. We watched a female Brimstone ovipositing on an Alder Buckthorn and duly tracked down two eggs. Continuing the egg theme we successfully found unhatched Purple Hairstreak eggs, and that's definitely enough eggs to make a very small omelette!!!
Sam had to leave for work later in the afternoon which left me to return for more goodies. In the event I didn't see too much of note. A small Coleophora siccifoliella was best find, actively feeding on Sallow, and a Kidney-spot Ladybird was found in Blackthorn. The Blackthorn is putting on a simply amazing display, hence the pic below. Beautiful. (I checked this patch for Brown Hairstreak eggs without success).
OK, Sam took the Orange-tip - I'm just being a tad cheeky by using it here
24th - Went delivering down to Brighton and Hove today. Didn't see much though! On the way back I had a few drops in Crawley where I added two Holly Blues, a few Brimstones and a male Orange-tip to the List. A Peacock in Tadworth was the only extra addition.
So that's three Holly Blues for me, el zippo Holly Blues for Sami
Forgot to mention - in an attempt to clinch what could be a tricky species, we're tagging along on a BC Walk to Headley Warren on Wednesday 28th (next week!) The target species are Green Hairstreak, Dingy and Grizzled Skippers with the latter being the tricky blighter. Coincidentally, if we skore ALL three species we'll have successfully completed the first section of our Blitz List (see 2010 Itinerary here) ...apart from locating any White-letter Hairstreak eggs.
25th - Doh! I've only just remembered that groundhoppers overwinter as adults, hence can be recorded now! Both Common and Slender Groundhoppers occur on Epsom Common, so I'll have to get out there again and start searching. One patch, Bramble Heath as it's been dubbed, holds Common Groundhopper, but it's pretty much submerged or muddy at the mo. Although it's been proved that groundhoppers swim well (at least they do if thrown into a pond!) so maybe Bramble Heath is still suitable despite the flooding? The rear of the Great Pond holds Slender Groundhopper but management are keen to stop folks wandering the margins willy-nilly in an attempt to let the habitat recover and flourish after much restoration. I'll figure it somehow...
No butterflies seen today, too cloudy with light showers all morning. Bit humid later though, I bet those London Marathon chaps enjoyed themselves!
28th - Had a brilliant three hours at Headley Warren with the Surrey Branch of Butterfly Conservation, led today by Mike Weller. We set off on a mile-long circular route through grazing fields, downland scrub and mixed woodland. Target species here were Grizzled and Dingy Skippers and Green Hairstreaks. But would we skore???
A Peacock started the ball rolling before we had even left the cars. This was followed by several male Orange-tips and Brimstones flitting past us as we headed uphill past some scrub. High overhead a Kestrel and Buzzard wheeled with a very distant Sparrowhawk far beyond them. Nearer to earth, a small butterfly whizzed past our faces, Sam called "GREEN HAIRSTREAK!!!" and the first of our target species fell just like that! Sweet.
Entering an open area of grazed sward with managed hawthorn scrub, we spread out across the hillside in search of skippers. Before long Sam called "GRIZZLED SKIPPER!!!!!!!!!" and indeed it was, a lifer for Little Miss Observant! More pics ensued before she called "DINGY SKIPPER!!!!"...bloody hell, she's UNSTOPPABLE...Butterfly Conservation Surrey Branch won't know what's hit 'em!!! Eventually we had to move on but not before we'd tallied at least six Grizzled and two Dingy Skippers plus maybe a dozen Green Hairstreaks further upslope in the hawthorn scrub. This place is amazing! A single Red Admiral blasted down the treeline and over our heads, the only one of the day. Overhead the distinctive outline of a Hobby caught my eye and several of us watched it sweep across the treetops. Lovely.
We had a half-hour stop for lunch during which the day's only Speckled Wood flew past and another couple of Grizzled and a Dingy Skipper were seen and photographed, as were several more Green Hairstreaks. We looped through some mixed woodland, I noted Coleophora laricella on Larch needles. Back in the open meadows again we had a single Small Tortoiseshell which settled nicely until a male Common Lizard charged across the grass in what seemed an attempt to capture the butterfly, needless to say the Small Tort flashed away in an instant and was not seen again!
In amongst the skippers once more, Sam and I really set to trying to suss out the new camera and gain a few decently sharp images. We succeeded and spent ten enjoyable minutes with one particularly obliging Grizzled Skipper. Superb!
An excitable male chasing a quivering female through the grasses!
Back at the bottom of the valley, almost at the very last moment, Mike wheeled around exclaiming "Small Copper, right on cue!" and there was our fourth new butterfly for the year. A stunning, very freshly emerged female SMALL COPPER which allowed the cameras to run amok...possibly the most highly "papped" Small Copper ever on its first day of adulthood!
I think it's a female...the 'tail points' are very short and the forewings are rather rounded
We left the site very pleased to have had the opportunity to access this private estate, BC Surrey had better watch out, there's some fresh blood just entered their ranks!!!
1st - Just realised that I've made a bit of a hash of things. Waaaaaaaay back at the start of the year I agreed to lead one or two birdwalks for my local bird club, The Surbiton and District Birdwatching Society (SDBWS). Not ordinarily an issue, and I've led walks for them before, but this time it clashes with tomorrow's BC walk to Denbies Hillside near Dorking. Grrrrrr....guess it couldn't be helped. Actually, there probably won't be too much flying at Denbies that we didn't see last week at Headley Warren. Maybe an early Small Heath? So maybe not such a disaster after all. Fingers crossed the weather is OK for both walks tomorrow....plus I need to add a few more species to the rather faltering Bird Yearlist, 149 species by end of April is pretty miserable by my usual standards. I normally aim for 200 heading into May and hope for 250 by close of June. Mind you, I've never managed 17 species of butterfly by end of April before!!!
2nd - So I went birding instead of butterflying...to be fair though, I was the scheduled SDBWS Leader of the bird walk and the weather was utterly shite for butterflies. And not really a whole heapload better for birds either. We hit Hampshire, visiting Hayling Island followed by Farlington Marshes. The weather was wet and grey worsening to wet, grey and cold which in turn worsened to very wet, an even greyer grey and bloody cold thanks to a punishing east wind. Rather surprisingly (not!) I didn't note a single lepidopterous specimen all day. We did manage a surprising and fairly respectable 82 species of birds including 9 nests of Little Egrets at Hayling Mill Pond and a fistful of yearticks for my meagre total. I'm up to 160 UK Birds for 2010. That might sound like quite a lot but bear in mind that I've previously managed a best of 165 species in January alone before now.
At least I'm guessing I really didn't miss much on the Denbies butterfly walk - the weather, I gather, was just as crap in Surrey!
3rd - I'm worried.
Up until the end of April the weather had been lovely - warm sunny days with occasional light rain at night. Then we had tropical-force rainfall followed by yesterday's wintry conditions. Today it started cold, warmed up a bit then turned cold and I was stuck in a hailstorm around midday! By late afternoon the sun was out again and temperatures weren't too bad out of the cold wind.
What effect will this wintry spell have on freshly emerged spring species? Are they perfectly resillient to the odd cold spell, torrential rain and hail? Or will it decimate them? And what of the early instar larvae? Fingers crossed that the weather will moderate soon and things return back to normality. I haven't seen a single butterfly for three days now...
5th - after several days of driving through the country lanes of rural Surrey, parts of Sussex and Hampshire without a sight or sniff of anything lepidopterous, I'm very pleased to announce that I saw a female Brimstone flying in Byfleet today! So the crappy weather didn't wipe them ALL out. It reached seventeen degrees in Guildford (according to the digital readout in a petrol garage forecourt!) so I hoped for more than that single, solitary butterfly. Time will tell...
9th - what a brilliant day!!! Woke Sam up early (well, by her standards at least!) and we were on the road a little after 8am. We missed the turning for Bentley Woods a couple of times, but eventually found the right track and parked up in the car park. No-one else was here yet, maybe the grey skies and odd patch of drizzle would keep less keen folks away? Or maybe we were just being a bit overly optimistic in the poor weather conditions? Hmmm.....
And tonight's top prize is...a trip to Bentley Wood
We wandered the tracks through the Eastern Clearing, being careful not to trample the vegetation but it still took about 45minutes before Sam suddenly yelled, "I've got one!!! I've got one!!!" I hurried over to find her merrily reeling off the shots along a track I'd just walked along...dammit, she's beaten me to it again! And there, in all its glory, lay a basking PEARL-BORDERED FRITILLARY which allowed intimate views before it flitted off over the meadow and settled on a bare patch of soil. More pics! Then it flew into a low birch seedling where we shot off a great many pics of the underside of the wings. Before long we were joined by four other enthusiasts, the two chaps Glenn and Clive had some serious kit and set to taking some cracking pics. Somehow Sam's reddish shirt and my blue sweatshirt were used as background for their pics creating interesting, studio-like images. Sweet! Another couple (also with cameras) arrived and before long we were all gathered around one particularly obliging individual roosting near the top of a bare twig. Click click click went the lenses. Grin grin grin went the people. We felt fairly confident that one PBF was tolerant enough to manhandle, it was soon walking across our fingers and spreading its wings thanks to our body heat. I tried to get it posing on my nose but it (quite rightly) flitted off at the last moment. We left it in peace after that. With five cameras in action there must have been well over a thousand shots taken in total. Crazy stuff.
Me looking perplexed at the amount of camera equipment in use!
A stunning PBF Could that be lizard or bird damage to the hindwing?
Absolutely gorgeous little creatures! They emerged here at least 9 days ago this season.
A Common Lizard ran up the leg of Jill's trousers which was pretty amusing to see! A couple of Speckled Yellow and Green Longhorn moths were flying around. No other butterflies other than the four or so PBFs though. One PBF exhibited heavy blackish markings at the base of the upperside hindwings, quite distinctive but not heavy enough for abb. pittionii. Then my stomach really started growling so we quit for the lunch we'd left in the van, very satisfied with the hundreds of images we'd taken. We were only on site for three hours, but it was great fun. We'll be back in a few weeks for SPBF.
10th - A lovely day today, little in the way of wind, warm sunshine, blue skies...and I'm stuck at work!!! Typical...but not a complete loss. I was delivering around Sussex today where I managed to see a Small White investigating an allotment plot in Shoreham, another Small White in Storrington (along with a subliminal Peacock ricocheting off my windscreen!), a male Orange-tip near Billingshurst, a Large White in Horsham, plus a female Brimstone and three male Orange-tips in country lanes near Rusper. So not quite the devastating cull I'd worriedy envisioned a few days back.
Back home I was informed that the missing part for my car will be arriving on Wednesday. Then I'll need to have it fitted, a fresh MoT and tax and then I'll be mobile once more!!!! Noar Hill's Dukes are beckoning as are the Wood Whites in a secret south Surrey quarry. Time's a'ticking folks!!! Looks like we'll miss the Wood White walk on 12th, but should make the Denbies walk on 23rd.
12th - Well the car part duly arrived today, but sadly not in time to carry us down to the Chiddingfold Woods BC walk. So, no Wood Whites for us yet. But I know another great site anyway. Instead we spent time on Epsom Common where early morning sunshine gave way to rather occluded conditions and, at times, we suffered a rather chilly aspect to our outing.
We started well though, once we'd battled (yes battled!) through clouds of swarming St Marks Flies. They were everywhere!!! I've NEVER seen such numbers before, a scan across one clearing revealed hundreds and hundreds of them bumbling towards us - we simply walked the other way! Harmless, clumsy things but we'd rather not have to spit them out every few seconds! I showed Sam how to tell the males from females (check those eyes!) and she took some pics. Then a white butterfly flitted past us and up the track. "That's a Small White I reckon" I said. "Well go get it!" was Sam's response. Eventually I netted it, a long way up the track, and Sam gleefully punched the air - at last, her first Small White of the 2010 Blitz! Slow-listing scummer...
As the clouds thickened above us, we watched a steady passage of Swifts passing low overhead, just ahead of a rain front. All silently heading northwards, probably a couple of hundred in all. Nice. A single Brown Silver-lines was netted, my first of the year. Sam saw a couple of Adela reaumurella flying around thorn scrub.
No sign of any Holly Blue larvae yet...I'm probably a couple of weeks too early.
In light rain we headed into the woodlands where we stumbled across a female Orange-tip resting on a dandelion head, the only Orange-tip we saw all day! Needless to say it was massively papped by both of us as we lay along the tick-infested dirt!! (Edit: Sam had a tick by her belly button the next morning...eewww, the poor tick!!!)
We figured it was just too cold and dull for butterfly watching so turned our attention to the numerous stands of Garlic Mustard in search of eggs. We found a few, but it wasn't until we found an isolated plant that things hotted up. We counted TWELVE eggs on this one plant, something that isn't meant to happen! The larvae are known to be cannibalistic and florets holding more than one egg will result in one or more larvae being gobbled by its brethren. Supposedly the egg-laying females can smell eggs on a plant and, in an effort to avoid larvae killing each other, simply choose another plant to lay on. So something went badly wrong in this instance. A smaller plant held three eggs all in close proximity to each other...as shown below... my money's on the first hatched larva, the others are just fodder!
Three Orange-tip eggs right next to each other...madness, surely - the larvae are cannibalistic!!!
So no Wood Whites, but an interesting day with the swarming flies and insights into Orange-tip laying preferences.
14th - driving around Surrey in my work van beneath a blazing sun added Speckled Wood and Small White in Selsdon, a female Brimstone near Warlingham, a pair of Brimstones near Oxted, a Green-veined White in East Grinstead, a Small White in Horley and lots of schoolgirls going bonkers in Wallington...is it really end of term already? Do kids nowadays spend enough time at school to even learn how to spell their own names???
16th - I'd managed to secure the work's van for a second outing (the car has been fixed but still needs an MoT) so, despite the naff looking weather, we were finally going to Noar Hill! It started raining as we neared Selborne but it eased up as we arrived at Noar Hill proper. Still very dull and rather cool - not ideal...A singing Cuckoo was a surprise bonus, Sam insists it's only her second ever but we had loads in Scotland a couple of years ago. She just wasn't very into birds back then.
Wandering up to the favoured hollow we wandered back and forth gazing into the grasses and into low bushes for signs of life. I fairly quickly located a female Dingy Skipper amongst the grasses but then nothing for another half hour as the rain fell more steadily. Drat. Thankfully conditions improved and I settled myself on a tussock at the rim of the hollow to await butterfly activity. Within one minute of the sun breaking through a male DUKE OF BURGUNDY soared across the central path and settled in full view, sunning himself before cloud cover returned once more. Sam quickly followed my directions and within moments was clicking away at 6" range!!! Unfortunately it flew away and disappeared back into the grasses never to be seen again, I only saw it through binoculars and then as it flew over my head.
Male Dingy Skipper - note the "rolled" leading edge to the forewings.
Female Dingy Skipper - already mated, judging by the tip to the abdomen!
This male Duke of Burgundy appeared (briefly) during the full three minutes of sunshine that we experienced!
The favoured spot - 'Duke's Ditch' or maybe 'Burgundy Bunker' ??? Note me scanning from the rim
A second sweep of the hollow revealed a male Dingy Skipper, another (or the same?) female Dingy Skipper and a Common Groundhopper at our feet. With the weather worsening we decided a pub lunch was in order. If you are in the area we heartily recommend The Queens Inn at Selborne, a bit low on real ale variety (and no Stella so I had a Guinness instead, such hardship!!!) but the grub was pretty darn good.
Sam had to be back for work this afternoon so no second attempt at Noar Hill today. Hopefully we'll squeeze in another visit in the next couple of weeks when the weather is a tad more favourable.
17th - reading UKButterflies it seems that several folk visited Noar Hill on Saturday (in the sunshine) and skored up to 14 Duke of Burgundys...and Small Heaths too!!!
Today I added Camberwell Beauty to the Blitzlist...or rather the painting of one adorning a shop wall at Camberwell Green, lol! Very nearly the only thing of beauty remaining in that particular part of the world. No longer recognisable as the "leafy lane in a village not far from London." Plus a Small White in Battersea. Considering it topped out at 18 degrees today I kind of expected a few more sightings whilst on my delivery rounds.
The car is booked in for its MoT on Thursday so we'll be mobile for the weekend. Happy days!!!
18th - finished work nice and early and, whilst Sam was on the way to start her shift, snuck over to nearby Howell Hill in search of Small Blues. I know the site well, so meandered my way to the chalk pit where within just a few minutes I located a male SMALL BLUE flying low over the sparse vegetation. Yeeaaahhh!!! Another one up on Sami I took a few pics before it flitted across the pit. I then tried to find a female, but failed. A second male Small Blue flushed up from almost underfoot, gained height, shot through a gap in the hedge and disappeared across a football field!!! Blimey, so it appears that they really can move around the site when they get the urge.
Leaving the chalk pit I wandered through the meadows finding quite a few 7-spot Ladybirds, a Harlequin Ladybird, the first Cream-spot Ladybird of the Blitz List and some big Ophion-type thingies...evil-looking scary buggers.
The sun suddenly burst through the cloud cover and the temperature soared. I quickly stripped off my t-shirt and a mad ten minutes ensued as butterflies miraculously appeared all around me. First up was a very flighty Small Copper followed by at least two Small Whites, a Peacock (managed some nice underwing shots!), approximately 6 male and 2 female Brimstones and a Comma. Then the clouds covered the sun and most of them disappeared again. In the woods I noticed good numbers of Lime Nail Galls growing upwards from lime leaves (oddly enough!)
Lime Nail Galls - caused by the gall-mite Eriophyes tiliae...apparently!
19th - enjoyed close views of a Holly Blue today, flitting around a small ornamental bush in Upper Halliford. Also saw a male Orange-tip just north of Windsor, the first Berkshire Butterfly of the Blitz List.
20th - finished messing with the car, it's finally roadworthy, taxed, MoT'ed, insured and all systems are go...at last!!! So we picked Glen up (long time birding buddy) and headed down to Bookham Common for a couple of hours that evening. Targets - Nightingale and butterflies.
I found an Orange-tip egg on Cuckooflower, Glen pointed out a male Orange-tip heading over treetops (!) and I called the singing Nightingale which Sam and Glen briefly glimpsed as it flitted from one blackthorn stand to another. I pointed out Adela reaumurella on a buttercup and dozens of tiny Micropterix calthella on flowering rushes plus a small Speckled Bush-cricket nymph, another one struck off of the Blitz List target. Sam called a Brown Silver-lines and had fun finding many Geometer larvae amongst Pedunculate Oak leaves. The usual stretch of boardwalk near the ponds produced a mind-blowingly iridescent Chrysolina menthastri, it occurs here on Water Mint and Gipsywort. The pics don't do it justice at all...
Of course, they look much better on pondside vegetation...rather than in my grubby palm!!!
Other than lots of warbler action (we had Garden, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat and Willow) it was fairly quiet. It looked perfect for a high up raptor or reeling Gropper. But only that one Nightingale, no Cuckoo, no Turtle Dove, no Woodcock. A shadow of its former self.
22nd - yesterday was a hot, sweaty day at work. All day. Today started overcast and lulled me into thinking it wasn't going to be too horrific. Wrong! This afternoon it was proper scorchio and I felt drained by the time I hobbled back home some 11 hours after setting off! Phooey.
But, on the positive side, I did see heaploads of Brimstones, Small White (types!), a few Orange-tips, a couple of Peacocks and a Speckled Wood...and all from the truck! Day off tomorrow, we're tagging along on a Surrey BC Walk to Denbies Hillside for Adonis Blues. I'm also hoping for Common Blue, Brown Argus and Small Heath. And maybe, according to the bumf on their website, Brown Hairstreak larva. After that we'll probably try a Surrey site for Wood Whites which will be a lifer for Sam. Read on to see how it went, unless I'm hospitalised with heat and sunstroke!!!
23rd - brilliant trip to Denbies Hillside near Ranmore with Surrey BC. Good to catch up with David Gardner again after all this time! The top fields held COMMON BLUES, SMALL HEATHS (both yearticks for me) and a few Dingy Skippers. A single female ADONIS BLUE was a mere taster for later events...Burnet Companion and Mother Shiptons flew amongst legions of Narrow-bordered 5-spot Burnets whilst 6-spot Burnet larvae were preparing to pupate all around us. Moving into the lower fields we were soon surrounded by hundreds of Adonis Blues plus quite a few more Dingy Skippers and at least eight BROWN ARGUS. Sam found a few Green Hairstreaks, I pointed out her first Large White of the year (!) plus numerous Brimstones, a Speckled Wood with only one hindwing, a Peacock or two, a single Orange-tip, and plenty of micromoth activity. A couple of Lace Borders were well received as was my hand-caught Rose Chafer and Lesser Treble Bar.
Adonis Blues in cop...note the exposed "naughty bits"!!!
Female Brown Argus on Bird's-foot Trefoil
An unusually obliging Small Heath - they were hyperactive in the fierce heat
We sweated our way back upslope before departing for a secret south Surrey site where we had immediate success with upwards of 20 WOOD WHITES, a handful more Green Hairstreaks, a few Dingy Skippers, a Grizzled Skipper, lots of Small Heaths, a Small Copper, lots of Common Blues, a tiny (2mm) ladybird called Nephus redtenbacheri which is a good Surrey record and only the second one I've ever found, a couple of Common Lizards and a singing Nightingale outcompeting a nearby Garden Warbler. Sweeeeeeet! We both ended the day 5 species better off...and both somewhat more sunburnt than we started!!!!
Obviously the exposure is a bit naffy, but it was VERY bright and scorchio indeed!!!
24th - temperatures reached 30 degrees in London today, the current heatwave is only meant to last until tomorrow though, before falling to a more typical 17 degrees on Wednesday. I've noticed that lots of the bigger Holm Oaks are dropping their old leaves like crazy, despite huge amounts of new, pale growth. Still no sign of C.ohridella mines on the Horse-chestnut...but I guess it would be pure wishful thinking to hope they'd been wiped out!
Quite a few folk on UKButterflies forum are seeing Marsh Fritillaries now. I'm getting itchy feet! Adonis Blues are evidently having a super bumper first generation emergence. Glanvilles are doing very well on Isle of Wight, I don't know about the Hampshire colony. And one guy went up to Scotland last week and has had Chequered Skippers already! (Bruce McClaren from our birdclub was heading up there last night...wonder how he's doing so far...)
Finished work and plebbed in the garden with a book and beers for a couple of hours. Added Large White, Small White, Large Red Damselfly and House Martins to the garden list - to be fair though, the martins were very high up and technically not even that close to the garden. But Sam's never seen one from home so I'm having it! Also of note is a highly leucistic Collared Dove in the vicinity of our house which I've spied just once so far.
26th - the heatwave has finally dissipated, it was a more typical 18 degrees in London today and it even rained before dawn of 27th and into the early morning. Phew...work is not easy in the upper 20's! However, less butterflies noted. A male Orange-tip was all.
31st - well, I wish I had something to tell you all, but I've been working throughout (my last day off of work was 23rd) apart from yesterday when I was playing tour leader for Sam's sister and friend. Central London isn't renowned for a huge diversity of lepidoptera although St James' Park offered a diversion with some odd wildfowl to photograph. Smew alongside Fulvous Whistling Ducks??? Saw an immense mirror carp cruise past a Coot, causing it to panic!
Found a teneral Large Red Damselfly on a marginal plant at the garden pond today which could explain the two that Sam had flying around the kitchen a couple of days ago. Can't seem to find any excuviae though.
Just a couple more days and we'll be up in Scotland. Bought new batteries for my car key fob, now the immobiliser works as it ought to...happy days! My next update may be more interesting than those of late...fingers crossed. the weather is ok for us. Bruce skored nicely at Glasdrum...grrrrrr!
1st - at work today, thankfully a nice early finish, then off to bed in readiness for tomorrow's adventure...
FOR A FULL ACCOUNT OF THE SCOTLAND TRIP CLICK HERE (The following few paragraphs are merely the bare essentials of our superb trip)
2nd - woke up at 2am feeling really quite refreshed and we were on the road by 3am. Next stop Scotland!!! We hit the Spean Bridge area early afternoon and wandered across Allt Mhuic Butterfly Reserve finding plenty of Common Heath and Brown Silver-line moths, a large Drinker Moth larva, a single Green Hairstreak huddling in the grass and (thanks to Sami) a single CHEQUERED SKIPPER also roosting in the grass. Success!!! Well done, Baby. Other highlights included a pair of Hooded Crows hassling an immature Golden Eagle at close range, Black-throated Diver on Loch Lochy, a female Goosander with 9 young pelting across the water at speed, a Common Sandpiper flying just a few feet above the car bonnet all the way down a windy lane, a calling Cuckoo and a Green Tiger Beetle. I wussed out and booked us into a nearby B&B before hitting the pub for the night.
3rd - after a hearty breakfast we followed the B&B's owner's advice and headed into the Circular Woodland Walk above Spean Bridge railway station. Before long we'd secured our first SCOTTISH GREEN-VEINED WHITES of the BlitzList followed by a grand total of 28 Chequered Skippers (100s of pics!!), a Peacock, a Large White, several Green Hairstreaks, several Orange-tips, 5 Four-spotted Chasers, several Large Red Damselflies, lots of Green Tiger Beetles and some absolutely stunning scenery. Afterwards we set up our wild-camp in the woods and hit the pub once more!
4th - after being kept awake by calling Tawny Owls and Woodcock we finally arose and began the long journey south again. Scottish Green-veined Whites and Orange-tips were seen right down to where the motorway began. A very successful first trip into Scotland, hopefully we'll catch up with insularum SPBF on our next trip.
5th - back at work today, driving once again (for a change!) Saw a Brimstone and two Speckled Woods but that was all. Somehow Surrey doesn't seem quite as exciting as Highland forests...
6th - took a dirty day off today and reverted to the old ways...went twitching rare birds (Aaaaaaarrrggghhh!!!! Don't do it, tis all wrong!!!!) Anyhoo, somehow found myself sat at Denge Marsh next to the famous Dungeness RSPB reserve in southernmost Kent waiting for views of Purple Herons. Not as daft or pointless as it sounds, a pair have decided to build a nest in the RSPB reedbeds and I wanted a piece of this British ornithological action. Within 30mins one duly rose from the reeds, did a quick fly-by and ditched again. Hurrah! This happened maybe six times over the next three hours, interspersed with distant views of a 1st summer male Red-footed Falcon hunting alongside two Hobbies. Then a mad scramble homewards to see a simply stunning male Red-backed Shrike in Richmond Park (in exactly the same bushes as one favoured two years ago to the day! Same bird???)
But what of the BlitzList, I hear you ask...?
Denge Marsh, despite the bitterly cold wind, managed to yield four Red Admirals and two Small Whites. Richmond Park had two Small Heaths, a Cinnabar and several stridulating Common Green Grasshoppers. But that was all. To make matters even worse, there's a Marmora's Warbler in Gwent. I've never seen one before. It's incredibly rare in Britain. I'm sorely tempted to skip the fritillaries and go for it on Wednesday, and two mates are up for it too. Ooooh, what to do? We've already 'lost' one weekend to friends. Can we afford to lose yet another day??? Sam won't be pleased....
I realise that there haven't been many pics of late...we're having problems uploading. When I have a spare year or so I'll rectify the situation. Until then you'll have to put up with enthralling tales and use your imagination and field guides!!
9th - Today was a special day.
Set off with Sam, picked up Glen, and headed for the New Forest. First stop was a site by Keyhaven. Green-veined Whites flitted through the fields alongside the road as we struck off towards the appointed area. Thirty minutes later we were at the appointed spot and found ourselves scanning the meadow for Glanville Fritillaries. To be honest, we'd left it to the very last minute before trying for them. With just one adult generation per year the next hour or so could make or break our BlitzList attempt...last year they had already stopped flying at this site by 6th June. Soooooo, pressure ON...bigtime....gulp.
Small Heath was the first species encountered followed by at least seven Cream-spot Tiger Moths including two ovipositing; one on Oxeye Daisy and the other on Prickly Sow-thistle (I think!) A few Cinnabars, a Yellow Shell, a vole underfoot and some Brown-tail Moth larvae added interest but after an hour we still hadn't located any frits. I began to see the dream crumbling before my eyes, then I noticed a faded brown set of wings perched on bird's-foot trefoil just ahead of me...the BlitzList was suddenly straight back on track as I screamed, "I've got one, I'VE GOT ONE!!!, I'VE GOT ONE!!!!!!!" As the echo of my rather overly-enthusiastic yell finally faded I looked up to see Sam and Glen scrambling in my direction and within moments we were all grinning at what was, to be fair, an extremely scubby GLANVILLE FRITILLARY nectaring on low flowers. Sam secured a few pics before it flew off and into the meadow...phew, pressure OFF I had almost written the species off, figuring we'd need to jump a boat to the Isle of Wight in order to see any. Truly I was relieved, this Blitzing is tense stuff, and I honestly didn't think I'd become so emotionally wrought. The last thirty minutes had been a real rollercoaster-ride of anticipation, expectation, niggling doubt descending into morose gloom before ricocheting into joy and exhilaration. Blimey, who'd have thought? Not me.
Record shot of our only adult Glanville Fritillary of the Blitz List
We rather lazily caught a boat back rather than slog it by foot. We casually justfied this decision by figuring we'd have to walk through Wall habitat to get back to the car, which would be another species off the Wanted List (secretly we realised that Glen's new hip was playing him up a bit.) We saw a Small Tortoiseshell, plenty of Silver Y moths and a suite of Odonata at the pond. Certainly we had Large Red Damselfly, Black-tailed Skimmer, Blue-tailed Damselfly and Red-eyed Damselfly but a larger hawker-type remained unresolved. A quick streak of colour morphed into our first PAINTED LADY of the year. It briefly settled allowing conclusive and close views but was off again before Sam could swing the camera into action. Strangely we failed to find even a single Wall although we managed several Speckled Woods in the hedgerows and a Green Hairstreak by some gorse, possibly my latest ever. A small, very dark blue butterfly caught our eye, a female Adonis Blue egglaying if the pics are to be believed, possibly blown across from IOW???? Probably a very good record for Keyhaven, I suspect. We'll have to keep checking the pics but it looks good to me.
Back in the car we headed inland to Bentley Wood, Sam and I were there exactly a month ago when we saw a few PBFs in Eastern Clearing. What would today hold in store for us? We knew the SPBFs were flying in good numbers this week so hoped to obtain some decent images. Within the hour we were wandering the track down to the clearing and ten seconds later Sam said, "I've got a SMALL PEARL-BORDERED FRITILLARY - there's one...and another, and another...there's four of them!!!" Not a bad way to skore a lifer! True to form she set to grabbing pics left, right and centre. Bless! A very tatty individual flopped into grasses nearby, I chased it down figuring it to be a Pearl-bordered Fritillary and when it finally revealed the underwings I could see that it was the larger species. I caught it by hand (to be fair it wasn't too tricky - the poor, ragged bugger could hardly fly!) and Sam grabbed a quick pic of the hindwing underside pattern. Yep, PBF and Glen's second lifer of the day after the Glanville. Next up Sam spotted an absolutely pristine LARGE SKIPPER, unfazed by the multitudes of SPBFs flitting across the vegetation all around, often pairs chasing for a distance and causing Sam all kinds of headaches looking for the perfect in cop shot! A quick search of small Alder Buckthorn bushes resulted in a number of Brimstone larvae, one pretty much fully grown whilst others were a mere centimetre long. We saw four Common Lizards, at least three Argent and Sable moths, Brown Silver-lines, more Silver Y, Cinnabars, Speckled Yellows, Common Green Grasshoppers stridulating, Dark Bush-cricket nymphs, a conehead nymph, a huge queen Hornet which allowed an approach down to two inches before we chickened out of trying to stroke it! A Brimstone flew past, my first for at least ten days. We added a few Speckled Woods, followed by a faded but pugnacious Duke of Burgundy which held a small territory from the tops of bracken fronds - Glen's third lifer of the day!! He spotted a female Broad-bodied Chaser sitting in a bush and on the way back across the clearing I suddenly noticed a surprisingly fresh-looking Grizzled Skipper on a flowerhead, the FOURTH lifer I'd shown Glen today! Reckon he owes me a pint or three for that! We guestimated in the region of 40 SPBFs but it was very hard to accurately guage since they were all rather mobile across a large area of the clearing. The Argent and Sable was a new moth for me.
Playing hide-and-seek...I can see you, Mr Frit!!!
A rather trashed Duke of Burgundy (or 'Chicken Burgundy' as Sam pronounces it!)
News broke of a Hoopoe in Chertsey, not too far a detour from our homeward journey anyway. Sam is desperate to clap eyes on a Hoopoe so we headed for Abbeymeads and the bird...alas the directions were utterly useless (crap to be precise!) and we ended up in the wrong set of fields. So, no Hoopoe but I did find masses of Elm hedges which look fantastic for White-letter Hairstreak hunting. Plus my first Acrocercops brongniardella blister mines of the year on Pedunculate Oak and Camararia ohridella mines on Horse-chestnut. Massively reduced in numbers, presumably due to the hard winter, but still surviving - dammit. One patch of nettles held two male and a female Banded Demoiselles and three male Common Blue Damselflies. Walking back along the river we noted another three Banded Demoiselles. We celebrated with a pint of Peroni in The Kingfisher pub, bloody Stella went off as mine was being poured!
A long but massively rewarding day. Thank god we jammed into that lone Glanville. The Painted Lady and Grizzled Skipper were surprise bonus species and the Adonis Blue is an intriguing record. The odonata count is finally getting going and I'm looking forward to the grasshoppers maturing as the summer progresses. The BlitzList is still attainable!
12th - finished work, dropped Sam into her work, then zipped down the road to Fairmile Heath just north of Cobham. I was shown this site by the late Ian Menzies, my great tutor in all things insecty. It is well-known for its small but strong population of SILVER-STUDDED BLUES, three of which I found in the heather patches. Plus a few Common Heaths, Brown Silver-lines, a Yellow Shell and a Wasp Beetle. Grasshoppers were abundant but mostly immature. I shall be back in a month or so to sort them out! A quick search along a recently cleared earthen bund revealed patches of White Bryony which held several adult Bryony Ladybirds.
Brand spanking new male Silver-studded Blue - subspecies argus
Bryony Ladybird on...wait for it...bryony!!!
Next stop was Bookham Common where I reaquainted myself with the route to the Purple Emperor's "Master Oaks"... both Sam and Glen are very keen for me to bring them here to see the males dogfighting overhead so I'm glad I remembered the way! I found Nemophora degeerella in one glade, a Buff Ermine in the grasses and a Nightingale in Blackthorn but no sign of the hoped for Meadow Browns.
And Sam's at work...she's gonna kill me for this, lol!
13th - We headed to Blean Woods today (my fourth time in maybe ten years) in the hope of finding Heath Fritillaries. I know where the car parks are, I know Heath Frits are flying right now, I also know that I've always gone home empty-handed from the site. Heath Fritillary would be a new species for both of us. Bad traffic held us up and it took some 90mins to reach the Blean Woods car park along Hicks Forstal Road.
We pulled into the car park to find six butterfly enthusiasts huddled in a corner...would they be able to point us in the right direction? We needn't have worried. As we entered the trail leading out of the car park a butterfly flew around us and settled on a flowering hogweed head...a female HEATH FRITILLARY!!!!! How bloody marvellous was that? Grinning like a couple of demented weirdos (well, when I say "like"...) we took a few pics before heading into the trees in search of more frits. Before long we entered a recently coppiced clearing and were taking pics of a pair in courtship display, the male chasing the female all over a large leaf, curling his abdomen forwards in an attempt to pair-up with her. She, however, was having none of it and led him a merry dance before flitting off into cover. He looked a bit cheesed off and decided to chase another fritillary flying through his airspace.
We counted seven Heath Fritillaries in this clearing, two more in another and found a talkative chap from Southampton watching another one nectaring at buttercups. At this point a Holly Blue flew in and began nectaring on daisies, possibly the lowest Holly Blue I've ever seen!
Other insects noted included a Speckled Wood, Dark Bush-cricket nymphs, a Common Groundhopper, a Horned Treehopper, a female Broad-bodied Chaser, a Large White, a Common Wave, Phyllonorycter coryli mines on Hazel, a Silver Y and a fresh looking Red Admiral. Back at the car park we watched the female Heath Fritillary nectaring at bramble and hogweed plus coming down to the car park chippings presumably for minerals? A juvenile Nightingale, breast all speckled like a juvenile Robin, called from a nearby thicket. We noted one decent patch of Cow-wheat but it seemed quite thinly spread otherwise.
Jumping back on the motorway I sneakily detoured back to Fairmile Heath allowing a pleasantly surprised Sami to add Silver-studded Blue to her lifelist and BlitzList. We saw four males today, one with a hindwing only partially unfurled. A Large Skipper fed at bramble flowers and two Black-tailed Skimmers perched on the bracken fronds. The Bryony Ladybird was quickly found on its foodplant, Sam's third lifer of the day! Then back to Kingston in time for her evening shift...
14th - we've both got a day off work tomorrow. I'm torn two ways - Black Hairstreak in Cambridgeshire or Marsh Fritillary in Dorset??? I think Marsh Frit wins, they are getting rather worn now and the hairstreak should be out until the end of the month anyway. Plus I need some decent directions for favoured sites...
I posted on UKButterflies for help re Marsh Frits at Martin Down. Clive and Shirley called me, they managed just one sighting at Martin Down. A chap called Dave emailed me saying he saw a dozen on 4th but they were worn. Between the three of us I think we've agreed that the safest bet is to try Hod Hill just north of Blandford Forum. Failing that we could wander around Lydlinch Common or even across to Cerne Abbas.
So, an early night for a (kinda pleasant!) change...
15th - actually managed to set off quite early and suddenly noticed a mystery Tortrix on the outside of the car window. I sped up to 35mph...no worries...then 40mph...starting to look a bit worried...at 45mph it was clinging on for dear life...at 47mph it suddenly gave up trying and was swept into oblivion! Impressive grip though.
We entered Dorset and neared Hod Hill without the aid of a local map (where have all my maps gone???) and duly wandered the country lanes looking for an access point. Eventually we found a layby and started upwards. Quite a few ohridella mines on the Horse-chestnuts and a nymph Speckled Bush-cricket were noted before we arrived at the notice board - "Welcome to Hambledon Hill" - huh? Rather sheepishly we headed back down the hill and tried again...
A short while later we found Hod Hill and its car park, gathered our kit and began "The Assault of Hod." Sam seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time stopping to look at the view, the sheep, the clouds...let's face it, she's gonna suffer when we hit Mountain Ringlet terrain next month!!!
Once we reached the ramparts we were soon in the thick of it, Sam rather improbably called a male Banded Demoiselle (!) followed by a Small Blue whilst I managed our first MEADOW BROWN of the BlitzList which was soon followed by plenty of Small Heath and Adonis Blue action. Small Tortoiseshells were conspicuous all along the ditch but it took nearly fifteen minutes before Sam yelled, "Fritillary!!!" and stopped midstride - her foot poised above a nectaring MARSH FRITILLARY, she almost stomped it!!! (And I'm certain you'd be in trouble for that..) Lots of pics ensued, this was a female, and in relatively good nick too. Brown Argus was the next species to fall, we had several throughout our visit. Sam found Dingy Skipper followed by Grizzled Skipper. I found a dead badger cub which hummed pretty badly! A Mother Shipton and an incredibly battered Burnet Companion tried to confuse us. A fresh Speckled Wood and Large Skippers were around a scrubby patch. We strode along the ramparts seeing Yellowhammers, a Buzzard soaring with three Ravens and lots of grasshoppers but the wind was fairly gusty so we dropped back into the shelter of the ditch. Sam pulled out another surprise species - a Golden-ringed Dragonfly perched up eating a large fly. Great stuff! A Wasp Beetle and Orange Shell rounded off insect interest.
Here's a rough tally of the species: Small Blue 1, Meadow Brown 10, Marsh Fritillary 7 plus 3 dead ones in spider webs. 2 were 'greasy' individuals. Small Tortoiseshell 10, Adonis Blue 40, Small Heath 20, Brown Argus 5, Dingy Skipper 3, Grizzled Skipper 3, Large Skipper 2, Speckled Wood 1.
Heading back London-bound we managed to beat the rush hour traffic and had time to drop into Jubilee Woods at Malden Rushett near Epsom. I've noted lots of Elm hedges and Wych Elm trees here so we gave it 45 minutes checking for White-letter Hairstreak larvae. Absolutely loads of feeding signs (presumably not all WLH though!) but no sign of any larvae or pupae. Oh well, we tried.
Back home I realised we'd left it too late for larvae, most would be pupae by now, and some may even be on the wing already! Buggerit. But a brilliant day anyway, and with Marsh Frit safely in the bag (metaphorically speaking!!!!)
17th - I dropped Sam at work and decided the evening was far too good to waste, so I shot across to Esher Common's Black Pond in search of dragonflies. Walking across the heath I found an impressive male Emperor Dragonfly zooming across the heather patches, but he wasn't in a mood for posing so no pics I'm afraid. I had a quick search for Scarce 7-spot Ladybird, plenty of Wood Ants but not the ladybird. A pair of 10-spot Ladybirds (normal spotted and a melanic) were in cop on a birch and a Harlequin Ladybird was on a Sweet Chestnut nearby.
At the pond I noticed four male Black-tailed Skimmers patrolling the perimeter of a recently formed pool plus a lone 4-spot Chaser sunning itself on a broken reed stem. Two male Common Blue Damselflies were in marginal vegetation. Under the trees at Black Pond I found my second ever Brilliant Emerald flying over a small inlet beneath overhanging branches. But it absolutely refused to settle. I managed a couple of record flight-shots which thankfully show the diagnostic yellow on the frons and smooth yellow wedge under the first body segments. In a nearby meadow area I found a male Broad-bodied Chaser and managed a couple of decent pics.
Still in the mood for finding stuff I returned to Jubilee Wood in search of White-letter Hairstreaks. I scanned the elms for a solid 30mins without joy. I feel certain they're there. Maybe they just need another week...
18th - been doing a bit of planning for the rest of our days off of work in June. We don't have enough time to do things properly so we'll be combining trips. Just need the weather to be kind and have a bit of good fortune...
On 20th we're heading off to Hickling Broad with our birdclub. Whilst there we'll be targetting Swallowtail and Norfolk Hawker, plus anything else of note (plus the birds, of course!) Whilst up there we'll drive across to the Huntingdon area of Cambridgeshire, kip in the tent and spend the following day searching for Black Hairstreaks in Brampton Wood and Monks Wood, both good sites in peak hairstreak season. Except we've never been to either site before so it may be that we need outside help (offers welcomed!!! Seriously! Use the Guestbook to leave a message) That covers our days off this week. This means we'll miss the Surrey BC Walk to Mitcham Common for WLH, hopefully I'll be able to blag the relevent info from another BC member and have a look for myself soon afterwards.
The following weekend(ish) we plan to head across to the Heddon Valley near Barnstaple in Devon. High Brown Fritillaries are currently flying with Dark Green Fritillaries here. HBF is a MAJOR target species for both of us - neither of us has ever seen one before and this site may be our very best hope of connecting with this increasingly rare insect. On the way back to London we will call in to Collard Hill for Large Blues, another species neither of us has seen before.
With luck we may be joined by Danny The Pirate and Lucy The Nurse!!!! Cider and butterflies....hmmmmm.....
And there's still the scheduled trip to The Orme in north Wales for the endemic races of Grayling and Silver-studded Blue. Basically, that'll have to spill over into early July. My boss is away until 4th July anyway, so the chances of blagging any extra time off of work lies somewhere between slim and non-existent!
20th - after a harrowingly slow journey we finally arrived at Hickling Broad just in time to catch the boat across to Rush Hill Hide and Catfield Dyke. Thanks to the cold north wind we ended up spray-soaked on our mini 'pondlagic' expedition. No birds to talk of and even less insect-wise. Yellow Buttonweed was a new plant for me on the pond margins. We clambered the 50ft to the top of the Tower Hide, ending up amidst the oak canopy. I scanned for Purple Hairstreak larvae only to be told that sightings of the adults have diminished from hundreds five years ago to just one sighting last year...and nobody knows why...I quickly stopped searching at that point!
Our guide dropped us off at the Observation Hide where, thanks to Glen calling us over, we eventually saw two or three SWALLOWTAILS swooping through the reedbed. Sam managed just two very poor record shots and then they were gone. We found many Garden Tiger larvae, easily in excess of fifty before we stopped bothering to see them anymore! Variable Damselflies and Blue-tailed Damselflies enlivened the scene and a Hairy Dragonfly zoomed up and down one path. No sign of the rare Norfolk Hawker though. We found a perfectly spherical Swallowtail egg on a small plant of Milk Parsley (at least we managed decent pics of that, lol!) but otherwise the weather had us beaten.
At the end of the walk our birdclub returned to London. Sam and I stayed in Norfolk and tried our luck at Strumpshaw Fen, according to Adrian Riley's book it is the easiest place in all of Britain to see Swallowtails... In cool, rather cloudy conditions we managed precisely buggerall, three Orange-tip larvae on Garlic Mustard and a Hornet visiting a sap-run were the most notable "highlights".
That night we wild-camped in Waylands Wood, serenaded by a pair of delinquent Tawny Owls, and hoped the weather would improve for tomorrow...
21st - woke up at 5am to clear skies and not a breath of wind. Superb! We had a wander through Wayland Wood but couldn't locate any Willow Tits or Golden Pheasant. We did find Muntjac and an Elephant Hawk Moth. The moth was roosting in grasses and somehow ended up being photographed in a variety of poses - in situ, on our fingers and even on my nose!
With the massive improvement in weather conditions we decided to return to Strumpshaw Fen for decent Swallowtail sightings and to check for Norfolk Hawker (or Norfolk Orca as I dubbed it, huge dorsal ploughing at speed through the four-foot wide weedy ditches in search of midges and flies!!!) However, as we neared Norwich the weather reverted back to the cloudy, breezy conditions we'd experienced yesterday. Hence we completely failed to find even a single dragonfly and the only butterfly noted was a solitary Large Skipper.
Two reeling Grasshopper Warblers and a hunting Barn Owl were obvious highlights. We were wandering up Tinkers Lane when we passed Adrian Riley and his lady walking towards us. We said a brief hello and left them in peace. Sam immediately went a bit bonkers, "What do you mean, that's Adrian Riley? No it wasn't! Was that really him? He had a dog! It was, wasn't it? We gotta go back and tell him of our Big Year and buy him a beer!!! Was it really him? I don't believe you." etc etc etc. I figured he'd probably prefer to be left in peace but in the end I submitted to Sam's persistent pestering and, grabbing the Riley book from the car, set off back down Tinkers Lane in pursuit of an entirely different quarry.
Ten minutes later we'd caught them up and after a few bumbling awkward moments we were soon chatting at length about Adrian's forthcoming dragonfly book, air temperature requirements of Swallowtails, big year attempts - birds and butterflies - sites for our 'missing' species, his gout, birds, leaf-mining micro moths, plants... and after some 40 minutes we presented our copy of his book for his autograph. Josie said he'd be living off the ego-trip for weeks and we felt somewhat like good-natured stalkers - it transpired I've already got most of his books. We parted with hand-shakes and well wishes and, due to the continuing low air temperature, decided to give up on seeing any Swallowtails and instead head inland to Brampton Wood for the population of Black Hairstreaks within.
We had decent directions from "Nick B", a UKButterflies member from Cambridgeshire. Entering the woods we passed the main crossroads and struck inwards as the ground began to rise. Speckled Woods were numerous along the open rides and a pair of RINGLETS in grasses were the first for the year. Entering the blackthorn patch we had a two minute wait before our first ever BLACK HAIRSTREAK landed on a nettle leaf a mere five feet in front of me... AAAAARRGGHH - where's the camera?!?!?!? Sam, in a panic, couldn't free the camera neck-strap from her hair and the hairstreak flew off before she passed me the camera. I think I kept my frustration under control really rather well - all things considered.
We stayed put for a while seeing two Black Hairstreaks together at one point plus several more contacts of singletons, possibly the same returning individuals? Then it went a bit quiet so we pushed in deeper, following the trail through a carpet of sedges, past numerous dormice boxes and eventually into a larger clearing full of trampled grass. Within moments we were watching three Black Hairstreaks zigzagging across the tops of the blackthorn bushes or settling in ash and aspen trees. Occasionally one would explore the lower levels of a particular blackthorn but they rarely settled and we managed poor shots only. Through binoculars we enjoyed our best views. Six flying together was the max count we managed. Further exploration through the woods revealed Hornets, a Red Admiral, a Large Skipper and plenty of Speckled Woods but no extra hairstreaks. We returned to the first viewpoint and were handsomely rewarded with a pristine individual which stayed settled on one leaf for over ten minutes. Just a bit too far away for sharp images but a real beauty to see! Three nests of Peacock larvae were duly noted here before we finally quit and retired for shade and cold drinks.
A worn individual in the second clearing, possibly a male.
Pristine but distant individual in first clearing, probably a female
A brief diversion to Baldock for singing Quail was frustrating, we couldn't find the right area although Sam found her first ever Grey Partridges and Corn Buntings. The flowery roadsides held dozens of recently emerged Six-spot Burnets, many of them paired up. Yellow Shells were also common and a single Common Blue rounded off the day's sightings.
So, we missed Norfolk Orca completely and couldn't manage any decent pics of Swallowtail, but we did at least see the latter and found its egg. Plus we had Hairy Dragonfly, Variable Damselfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Banded Demoiselle, Ringlets and the Black Hairstreaks. And we met up with Adrian Riley, Josie and Bill the Dog too.
A most successful couple of days!
27th - not too much to report of late, a male Banded Demoiselle outside my house is bloody good for Epsom Common, maybe a wanderer? I seem to see them flying along busy roads in towns so guess they are quite prone to dispersal?
I've just finished a six day stint at work and the average shift has lasted between 11 and 12 hours. Basically it's been continuous work, eat, sleep, work, eat, sleep, work... but finally I've got two consecutive days off with Sami Baby
We have 'A Plan', of course, and it all starts rather early tomorrow morning...firstly we plan to slam across to Somerset and photograph Large Blues before they get too flighty as the morning heats up. Then westwards some more, all the way to Heddon Valley for High Brown and Dark Green Fritillaries, plus bonus Silver-washed with luck. After that it's a bit of a jaunt northwards up the motorway to Shropshire in search of the Prees Heath Silver-studded Blues which appear to be subspecies masseyi, the only ones remaining anywhere with the sole colony restricted to an area the size of a penalty box, although the adults wander a bit further afield than that. But just a bit. Then we'll probably call it a day and kip in the tent somewhere inconspicuous. The following day will be spent in north Wales, Great Orme for thyone Grayling and caernensis Silver-studded Blue. After that a quick jolly onto Anglesey for polydama Large Heath. Then it's a mere 6 hours back to Epsom, unless the traffic is bad... Watch this space to see how well we fared!
Having just re-read the last few lines it appears that I've gone all scientific! Don't panic, I'm still very much a pleb at this mallarkey. Hopefully we'll manage a few diagnostic pics showing why the races are what they are. Fingers crossed for better results than seen in the football...poxy bloody ref, but let's not go there eh?
28th - gimme a few days and I'll dedicate a whole page to this two-day trip. But here's the general gist of it all - woke up fairly early and set off to Collard Hill in Somerset. Upon our arrival we met a volunteer warden who pointed us in the general direction of the big, blue butterflies you get here. Off we trotted, quietly optimistic...
We crested the ridge and within minutes had a LARGE BLUE zigzagging across the slope. I gave chase, figuring they would be easier to photograph whilst it was still relatively cool. Like heck! Eventually, running with sweat, I clambered back up the slope to show Sami my 'amaaaaazing' pics. They were crap. Over the next two hours we (well, mostly 'I') chased a dozen or so Large Blues up and down the hillside for little reward other than dehydration and frustration. Masses of MARBLED WHITES, a Painted Lady, a Red Admiral, some Ringlets, Small Heaths, Small Tortoiseshells and quite a few Meadow Browns were sharing the slopes with our restless friends in blue. A Large Skipper summed up the species tally and we decided to quit before I lost the plot completely. Neither of us have seen Large Blue before. Personally I wasn't massively impressed, I seemed to be lacking a 'connection' with this species. An odd, unfamiliar feeling for me...
Collard Hill...ideal Large Blue habbo
We later arrived at The Hunter's Inn in Devon. Following Nick B's directions we soon found a number of SILVER-WASHED FRITILLARIES, a single hutchinsoni Comma on brambles, a few Green-veined Whites, lots and lots of Speckled Woods, a solitary Ringlet, a few Small Whites, some 20 Large Skippers, just one female Meadow Brown (!), a whole bunch of Common Blues battling with the Large Skippers for airspace supremacy, a few Small Heaths and - with a swoop - a smallish looking 'Silver-washed Fritillary' landed on nearby bramble blossom. A guy we'd been chatting to called it as Dark Green Frit. Through my bins I managed to gain fine views and soon corrected his initial ID, this was in fact a male HIGH BROWN FRITILLARY!!! We noted the diagnostic underwing pattern and could even see the paired sex brands lying along the forewing veins. Absolutely belting!!! And so much more satisfying than Collard Hill's Large Blues...happily my 'connection' was back again! Small numbers of very trashed Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries flew along the valley sides. We noted at least a dozen Silver-washed Fritillaries and found a tatty Green Hairstreak and pristine SMALL SKIPPER within yards of each other. Then the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped quite significantly. A breeze sprang up and effectively curtailed our fun. Rather disappointingly we couldn't find any more fritillaries at all, other than two trashed SPBFs. No more sightings of High Brown and not a sniff of a Dark Green. Oh well, we can try Box Hill for Dark Greens, fingers crossed. Other insect interest comprised of Brown Silver-lines, Speckled Yellows, a female Broad-bodied Chaser, a Ruby-tailed Wasp, a Velvet Ant (which I repeatedly tried to pick up but it insisted on thrusting through the grasses, which was probably just as well - I hear they can deliver a powerful sting!), Phyllonorycter coryli blister mines on Hazel and an Orange-tip larva on Garlic Mustard.
High Brown Fritillary - a new species for both of us!!!!
Silver-washed Fritillary - common at Heddon's Mouth
Small Skipper - first one of our year
Back in the car once again we headed northwards and eventually fell into The Raven Hotel bang opposite Prees Heath Nature Reserve in Shropshire. Surprisingly it only took one pint to set my eyes to drooping...nanight folks...
29th - we woke up to find total cloud cover obscuring the sky. Undeterred we crossed the A49 and entered Prees Heath Reserve. Immediately obvious was the high number of Common Blues interspersed with fair numbers of Small Heaths and Meadow Browns. A small 'blue' was chased down and was our first sighting of masseyi SILVER-STUDDED BLUE but it was too worn to appreciate the differences. A short while later the sun came through, the temperatures rose and we were suddenly in the thick of masseyi Silver-studded Blues including pairs in cop, a few still emerging and one with ant entourage!!! Generally speaking, the males tended to show reduced black borders to the hindwings which resulted in a distinct row of small black spots instead of the usual solid band. Some, however, seemed to be identical to argus and others had fine streaks rather than spots. All very odd, was this true masseyi at all - or just a clinal extreme? Whatever their status, we thoroughly enjoyed getting to grips with in excess of 100 individuals. If we hadn't have known better we'd have assumed the ants were attacking the newly emerged individuals, such an amazing development - how the heck did that particular relationship ever begin I wonder. It's easy enough to explain the refinements, but what about the initial concept? Bloody bizarre if you ask me! Other insects seen included Phyllonorycter geniculella mines on Sycamore and Cinnabar larvae on Ragwort. We left happy, Garden Warblers, Buzzards and Yellowhammers escorted us off site. Back at The Raven Hotel we enjoyed a huge Full English before heading into Wales.
MASSEYI-TYPE SILVER-STUDDED BLUES - Note upperside shows reduced width of black margins to forewing, hindwing margins reduced to spots, lack of violet tinge to upperparts and the underside of male is chalky pale greyish. We did not see 'blue flushed' females. Riley states that this Prees Heath population conforms closely to the extinct masseyi. General consensus is that these individuals are merely a northern cline of argus. Either way, this is the sole colony known from The Midlands and as such we were more than happy to see them here.
We once again delved into Riley's Site Guide and found ourselves at the footpath by Abbey Court, Llandudno. Within 50metres we were climbing the concrete steps and very rapidly halted as three GREAT ORME GRAYLINGS thyone flew past and around us, one even settling on my leg for a short while!! Surprisingly small (and approachable), this subspecies flies earlier than mainland races and has a more contrastingly pale central fascia-panel to the hindwing too. They allowed a close approach as they fed on Red Valerian and were rather unexpectedly joined by two DARK GREEN FRITILLARIES - the very species we missed yesterday at Heddon's Mouth. Fantastic, what a lucky jam!!!
We had quite a bit of fun with the Graylings and fritillaries before heading further upslope in search of blues. Sam quickly found one and was soon papping our first SILVER-STUDDED BLUE caernensis which were suddenly all around us! Ultra-apparent was the diminutive size of caernensis blues. Bigger and more angular-winged than a Small Blue, but not by much! We found a female with gorgeous shimmering blue/purple sheen across the wings, underlaid with blue scales across the hindwings - very different from any I've seen before. And the habitat! Not a sprig of heather in sight. Long grasses dominated the steep slope with many bird's-foot trefoil and Common Rock-rose flowers growing in the sward. We watched the blues nectaring on both types of flower and managed a few half-decent pics. We spent a while in the grasses of that one slope, attracting curious looks from the locals, one of whom told us the "little blue butterflies" were swarming two weeks earlier. We guestimated at least 60 individuals in less than 2 acres of grassy slope, plus two Dark Green Fritillaries zooming through the bracken areas, a few more Great Orme Graylings, Speckled Woods, Large Skippers, a Red Admiral and a Small White - Now that's the way to see new butterflies!!!
CAERNENSIS SILVER-STUDDED BLUES - Note the grassy habitat with numerous Rock-rose flowers in the sward. Characteristic features are the tiny size (obviously not apparent from the pics, so take my word for it!!!), reduced width to the black borders of all wings, pale underwings and especially the blue sheen across much of the female upperparts. Forewings are also longer and more pointed than nominate argus. No heather association and flight time is typically a month earlier than argus.
Non-butterfly interest consisted of Caloptilia syringella mines on Garden Privet, a Silver Y and 5 noisily calling Choughs overhead - and just after I'd fobbed them off as Jackdaws!!!!
Our last site for the day was the bog at Cors Goch. Here we hoped for Large Heath polydama but came away empty handed. Four Small Heaths caused a few headaches. I guess Large Heath will be one of those you'll-know-it-when-you-see-it species! A Common Hawker caught and ate a bee in front of us, a complete misnomer in our part of the world where they are largely absent! Other Odonata consisted of a Golden-ringed Dragonfly, an Emperor Dragonfly, 4-spotted Chaser, Emerald Damselfly, Variable Damselfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly. Common Heath and Large Yellow Underwing moths were noted. Another Dark Green Fritillary (or was it two?) patrolled the bracken along with 8 or so SPBFs. Meadow Browns were (for the first time this summer) properly numerous as were Ringlets and Large Skippers.
Back at the car we admitted defeat regards Large Heath and swung the car towards the motorways south again. A grand total of 819miles but plenty of new species for the Blitz List. Nanight folks, gotta be up at six tomorrow morning!
So that's the end of the first six months Blitzing. The story continues in Seth's Diary (July - Dec)