Butterfly Diary - field notes by Adrian Hoskins
my earliest sightings of each brood are highlighted in bold type
Sightings policy - details of certain sites where visitor pressure or trampling may pose a threat to butterflies or alienate landowners are excluded from these pages.
Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jly | Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec
Saturday 31st May
My first Large Skippers of the year appeared today at Ballard Down - a total of 11 males, some of which were already showing signs of wear and had clearly been flying for at least 2 or 3 days. Dingy Skippers, Common Blues and Brown Argus were still in good numbers, with about 40 of each species seen. Other species included 4 Large Whites, 20 Adonis Blues ( mostly females ), 3 Holly Blues, 2 Red Admirals ( worn migrants ), 15 fresh Speckled Woods, 1 Wall Brown and about 20 Small Heaths. The biggest surprise was the appearance of 5 freshly emerged male Lulworth Skippers - a full month ahead of their normal emergence time.
Sunday 25th May
I spent a couple of hours this afternoon with my dog Buddy, enjoying the warm sunshine at one of my favourite places on the planet - Stansted Forest in West Sussex. In one sunny glade I spent about half an hour just relaxing and listening to the birdsong. The soothing 5-note cooooo-coo, coo-coo, coo of wood pigeons provided background music, while a few feet away a pair of robins seemed oblivious to my presence, chattering to each other for several minutes as I watched.
Butterflies were in low numbers - about 10 Speckled Woods, 1 Holly Blue, 1 Brimstone, 1 Small White, 5 Large Whites, 1 Orange tip, 4 Green-veined Whites and 2 Red Admirals. I watched a female Green-veined White for about 10 minutes as she searched for places to lay her eggs. Every 4 or 5 seconds she would alight momentarily on a leaf, tasting it using olfactory sensors on her feet to check whether or not it was the correct foodplant for her future offspring. Surprisingly she tested ivy, bracken and oak leaves ( all very different visually from the crucifers she needed to locate ), indicating that sight apparently plays little or no role in selecting plants for egg-laying.
Both the Red Admirals were in immaculate condition and extremely active - signs that they had almost certainly emerged locally within the last couple of days. This would seem to be fairly conclusive evidence that they were the progeny of post-hibernation adults that had successfully over-wintered at Stansted Forest ( see Red Admiral page ).
Saturday 24th May
Strong winds this afternoon at Martin Down caused most butterflies to hide deep in the grasses, and made photography a nightmare. Nevertheless I managed to see a total of 9 species, amongst which were about 20 very fresh Small Heaths, 8 Grizzled Skippers, 3 Dingy Skippers, 2 Brimstones, 1 Small Copper, 3 Common Blues, 2 fresh male Adonis Blues and between 40-50 Small Blues. Most of the latter were males, and from their condition it was apparent that they had been flying for at least a week. There were however also several very fresh females.
Saturday 17th May
Visits to several Marsh Fritillary sites in Dorset today indicate that populations are much lower than in recent years. At one site, where an estimated 800 were seen in 2002, less than 50 were flying today. At another site, which produced an estimated one-day count of 500 Marsh Fritillaries in 2005, the count today was less than 60. At all sites males are currently at peak numbers. The first females emerged a week ago, and currently make up about 25% of the totals estimated.
At one site I found a nest of Small Tortoiseshell larvae ( all 2nd instar ). At all the sites visited there were many fresh Dingy Skippers, dozens of faded Grizzled Skippers, and lesser numbers of Common Blue and Brown Argus.

Wednesday 14th May
This morning in Surrey I saw my first 3 Wood Whites of the season, but butterflies in general were very difficult to find due to the very blustery conditions. In the afternoon I made the mistake of going to a very exposed chalk grassland site in Hampshire, where the gusts were even stronger ! Butterflies were hiding out of the wind and almost impossible to photograph, although I did see several Grizzled Skippers, Dingy Skippers, Brimstones, Small Heaths, Common Blues and Dukes. I was also lucky to find a gorgeous adder basking on a timber stack, and an Angle Shades resting on a fallen branch.
Tuesday 13th May
I was disappointed to find that only about 10 Pearl-bordered Fritillaries were flying when I revisited a west Hampshire woodland this morning ( see previous report 9th May ). All were females, and none were in fresh condition, indicating that the flight season at this site is already drawing to a close. Even more surprising was the appearance of 3 freshly emerged male Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries at least 10 days ahead of the expected emergence time. In the afternoon I visited a grassland site in mid Dorset, and found about 30 male Marsh Fritillaries flying on a south facing slope. Other species included 3 male Adonis Blues, 10 male Common Blues, 5 Brown Argus, 2 Large Whites, 4 Brimstones, 30 Dingy Skippers, 50 Grizzled Skippers, 4 Small Heaths, 6 Speckled Woods, 1 Wall Brown, 2 Orange tips, and 5 Green Hairstreaks ( all ovipositing females ).
Monday 12th May
This morning I visited some of the New Forest Inclosures near Brockenhurst. On a walk lasting a little over an hour I counted about 20 Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. In the afternoon I spent about 3 hours at one of the mainland sites of Glanville Fritillary. I saw a minimum of 15 freshly emerged males. The warm sunshine seemed to discourage them from flying, as most spent long periods settled with their wings closed, on the pebble covered beach. Later in the afternoon when temperatures dropped they began to nectar at kidney vetch and hawkweeds, and basked for short periods on the flowerheads. At the same site I also saw 3 Common Blues, 1 Dingy Skipper, 3 Small Heaths and 2 Large Whites.
Saturday 10th May
Butterfly activity in today's cloudy conditions was minimal, but at Ballard Down I was lucky enough to see about 25 Adonis Blues, 1 Holly Blue, 3 Green Hairstreaks, 3 fresh Brown Argus, 3 male Wall Browns, 2 Small Heaths, 4 Speckled Woods, 2 Peacocks, 2 Orange tips, 3 Brimstones and 12 Dingy Skippers. In the afternoon, at a site a few miles further west I saw 8 fresh male Marsh Fritillaries, 1 Peacock, 3 Speckled Woods, 2 Small Heaths, 3 Orange tips, 2 Green-veined Whites, 2 Large Whites, 5 Brimstones, 3 Brown Argus, about 30 Dingy Skippers and a minimum of 60 fresh Grizzled Skippers.
Friday 9th May
After a week of warm and sunny weather the butterfly season finally seems to be getting under way, albeit slowly. Today at Stockbridge Down I saw my first 2 Small Heaths of the year, 12 Brimstones, 2 Peacocks, 8 Grizzled Skippers, 2 Green Hairstreaks, 2 Holly Blues, and 4 Orange tips. I also visited a woodland site in the west of Hampshire. There I saw about 8-10 male Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, all extremely active, patrolling in search of females, and occasionally dipping down to gorge at the nectar of the abundant bugle flowers.
Sunday 4th May
Today I spent a very pleasant afternoon visiting one of the Duke of Burgundy sites in east Hants. In total I saw 9 males and 3 females. Several were found at rest on cowslip flowers, while the remainder were seen in flight, or basking on grasses. Other species seen included 4 Peacocks, 2 Brimstones, 1 Dingy Skipper and 1 Orange tip. Reports coming in from elsewhere include Small Heaths and the first Glanville Fritillaries on the Isle of Wight, and Pearl-bordered Fritillaries from several sites in Devon and West Sussex.
Saturday 3rd May
Orange tips are at peak flight season now, with 11 seen at Stansted Forest this morning despite lightly overcast conditions. Other species included 1 Green-veined White, 2 Large Whites, 2 Brimstones, 4 Speckled Woods and 3 Peacocks.
Friday 2nd May
Another warm sunny day at Ballard Down produced a frenzy of butterfly activity. Green Hairstreaks were often seen engaged in territorial battles. When 2 males meet they zip about in tight circles, each trying to outwit and out manoeuvre the other with constant changes of direction. Dingy Skippers were also in fighting mood, as were Wall Browns and Brown Arguses, males of each species doing battle with all intruders. Several female Dingy Skippers were also seen, together with all of the other species seen the previous day. The only additional species were Brimstones and Large Whites - I saw 4 of the latter, all fresh males, suggesting that they emerged locally rather than arriving as migrants.
Thursday 1st May
Today at Ballard Down Hills weather conditions were much more pleasant than on Monday, and at least 12 Wall Browns ( all fresh males ) were seen along the coastal path. Other species seen included 7 Green Hairstreaks, 10 Dingy Skippers, 3 Orange tips, 1 Green-veined White, 2 Peacocks, 5 Speckled Woods, 4 Small Coppers, 1 Brown Argus, 1 Clouded Yellow and 5 fresh Holly Blues.


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