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.
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Saturday 29th August
I visited Steyning in West Sussex today, a trip which proved extremely rewarding. Within minutes of arriving I saw a male Clouded Yellow fly past and settle in the grass a few metres ahead, providing me with my first chance this year to photograph the species. Before long I had also seen a Painted Lady, a Small Tortoiseshell, a Wall Brown, a Brown Argus, 2 Common Blues and a Small Copper, plus several Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Small Heaths.
The purpose of the trip however was to see Brown Hairstreaks. The first males appeared at Steyning on 2nd August so it seemed unlikely that I would see anything other than one or two faded and worn females.  There had clearly been a new wave of emerging butterflies however, as between 11am and 2.30pm a minimum of 9 females, mostly in fresh condition, were seen by myself and other visitors. Most sat obligingly on blackthorn or bramble leaves, basking with wings outspread or posing nicely for underside photos. One female was particularly accommodating, sitting stationary for several minutes, then laying eggs in front of us, before finally flying up to the top of an ash tree where we could see her feeding at secretions on the buds.
At Steyning I spoke to Neil Hulme of Sussex Butterfly Conservation, who informed me that the number of Painted Ladies at Ditching ( see 6th August entry ) has been revised. Using satellite photographs to determine the area of occupied thistles, and based on an estimated average of 3 Painted Ladies per sq metre, it is now believed that somewhere in excess of 250,000 butterflies emerged at the site !
Brown Hairstreak, female, Steyning, West Sussex
Brown Hairstreak, female, Steyning, West Sussex
Friday 28th August
The commonest butterfly today at Alner's Gorse was Speckled Wood. I saw about 30 in various states of wear, flying in areas that were sheltered from the strong breeze. In spring and summer this species rarely visits flowers, usually preferring to imbibe aphid secretions from the surface of oak and hazel leaves, so it was interesting to see how the autumn generation differed in its behaviour. Several were nectaring at fleabane, while some fed at fermenting blackberries. I saw several others feeding at the berries and flowers of alder buckthorn, but the majority spent most of their time walking about on ash twigs, feeding avidly at sticky secretions on the buds. Other species seen included 18 Meadow Browns, 5 Gatekeepers, 3 Painted Ladies, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Common Blues, 1 Small Copper, 1 female Brown Hairstreak, 4 Large Whites and 15 Small Whites.
On the way home I stopped for about half an hour at Martin Down. Butterflies numbers were low due to the blustery weather and the lateness of the season, but I managed to see about 10 Small Heaths, 20 Meadow Browns, 4 Small Whites, 1 Painted Lady, 2 fresh Adonis Blues ( 1m, 1f ), 5 Chalkhill Blues, and 1 Brown Argus.
Monday 24th August
In cool cloudy conditions this morning I arrived with a friend at Broughton Down, and saw about 250-300 Large Whites, all basking with wings half open on low herbage across the site. Other species were much harder to see, but I managed to find 2 Brimstones, 2 Green-veined Whites, 6 Small Whites, 20+ Small Heaths, 100+ Meadow Browns, 8 Speckled Woods, 8 very worn Painted Ladies, 4 Brown Argus, about 30-40 Common Blues ( mostly females ) and 2 Chalkhill Blues.  Silver-spotted Skippers were very difficult to find in the heavily overcast conditions, as they normally hide deep in grass tussocks in cool weather, so I was surprised to find a female at roost, hanging from the tip of a grass head in a large patch of tall grasses at the bottom of the hill.
In the afternoon we travelled to Hod Hill, arriving in cool overcast weather, but by the time we had climbed to the ramparts of the hill fort, weak hazy sunshine began to arouse the dormant butterflies, allowing us to see 4 Large Whites, 3 Small Whites, a mating pair of Green-veined Whites, 1 Small Copper, 1 Brown Argus, about 10 worn Common Blues, 18 fresh Adonis Blues, 10 Painted Ladies, 1 worn male Wall Brown, about 25 Speckled Woods, 40+ Meadow Browns, and 16 Small Heaths.
Adonis Blue, male, Hod Hill, Dorset
Saturday 22nd August
Last Monday my car engine decided to self-destruct, leaving me stranded on the motorway for almost 3 hours, and I'm likely to be without a vehicle for several weeks, so today's sightings are limited to what flew into my small garden at Havant !  Throughout the day there were always at least 4 Small Whites and 3 Large Whites present, along with 2 resident Speckled Woods and a male Comma that has been using the same leaf as a territorial perch for the past 3 weeks. The large Buddleia bush at the end of the garden no longer has Peacocks visiting, but today attracted a Red Admiral and a single Painted Lady. Much of the garden is overgrown with nettles, and these have regularly attracted female Red Admirals and Commas through the summer, although I have found no larvae of either. They do however support an enormous colony of the Mother of Pearl moth Pleuroptya ruralis - commonly up to 40 of these fly out if I stroll down the garden at dusk.
News coming in from other recorders indicates that at most sites the butterfly season is winding down, with low numbers of Common Blue, Small Heath, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Small Copper etc, and the odd Silver-washed Fritillary hanging on here and there. Brown Hairstreaks are still being seen in very low numbers in Sussex, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, but at it's former stronghold at Noar Hill it has suffered badly as a result of inappropriate management.
At Old Winchester Hill, which is on high ground and hence a "late" site, there are still good numbers of Chalkhill Blues being reported, including several fresh males. Silver-spotted Skippers, there and at other sites are still flying in good numbers, but have suffered slightly as a result of the poor weather during the 2008 egg-laying season. Clouded Yellows continue to be reported sporadically, with a maximum of 6 seen last Thursday at OWH, and singletons reported from various sites in Sussex and Dorset. Adonis Blues have had a poor 2nd brood at almost all sites, but Small Tortoiseshells appear to be sustaining their slow recovery from the nadir of 2007, with two's and three's reported from almost all sites visited in August.
Friday 14th August
Cool, dewy nights are signalling the approach of autumn, and most butterfly species are diminishing in numbers. Many wild flowers have already gone to seed, and those that are still flowering have had most of their nectar washed away by the recent rains. Consequently butterfly numbers at Noar Hill this afternoon were low in comparison with the swarms seen just 2 weeks ago.  Most Peacocks have now entered hibernation - just 5 were seen today.  Painted Lady numbers have also dropped significantly, with less than 20 flying; but the species showing the most dramatic drop in numbers was Large White, which fell from an estimated 250 on 31st July, to a pathetic 4 adults today. Small Whites however are still present in good numbers ( 40+ ); and Small Tortoiseshells have increased, with 15 fresh looking individuals seen today, mostly nectaring at marjoram.
Brown Hairstreaks continue to be elusive - I found a single female basking on a grass blade but she was a little too nervous for photography, and flew up over a blackthorn bush before disappearing into a tall ash tree beyond.
Other species at Noar Hill included 20 Brimstones, 2 Brown Argus, 50+ Common Blues, 1 pristine male Holly Blue, 1 Comma, 2 very faded Silver-washed Fritillaries, 2 Speckled Woods, 30+ Gatekeepers, 7 Small Heaths, and about 40 Meadow Browns including a fresh mating pair.
Sunday 9th August
At Broughton Down this afternoon I saw about 80 Silver-spotted Skippers, mostly of which were fresh males although some appeared to have been flying for about a week. The female emergence has only just begun but despite emerging later than the males most were quite worn, having spent most of their adult lives fluttering about amongst the grasses laying eggs. By far the most abundant species was the Large White, with at least 700 seen. Small and Green-veined Whites were also in reasonable numbers - about 30 of each. There were also impressive numbers of Brimstones, with at least 120 fresh adults avidly nectaring at basil thyme and other flowers. Highlight of the afternoon as far as I was concerned was a pristine male Clouded Yellow ( which sadly declined to have its photo taken ! ).
I spent about 3 hours at Broughton, which isn't enough time to do justice to the site, so the following is a conservative estimate of the other species seen - 2 worn Essex Skippers, 3 Small Skippers, 1 Small Copper, 15+ very worn Chalkhill Blues, 150+ Brown Argus, 100+ Common Blues, 1 Holly Blue, 1 Red Admiral, 300 Painted Ladies ( mostly very worn specimens ), 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Speckled Woods, 10 Small Heaths, 50+ Gatekeepers, and 150-200 Meadow Browns. Another visitor to the site told me he had also seen a Small Blue.
Holly Blue, female, Broughton Down, Hampshire
Silver-spotted Skipper, male, Broughton Down, Hampshire
Saturday 8th August
Today I revisited Noar Hill for yet another attempt to see Brown Hairstreaks, which seem to be more elusive than ever this year. I might well have failed again had it not been for a friend ( thanks Mike ! ) who spotted one at roost, about 6 metres up, on an ash stem. Peering through borrowed binoculars I could see that it was a male, and in fresh condition, so hopefully there should be further opportunities to find females ( which emerge a week later than males ). In comparison with my trip to Noar Hill on 31st July butterfly numbers in general were higher, and the species balance was different - 2 Speckled Woods, 40+ Gatekeepers, perhaps 60-70 Meadow Browns, 2 fresh Small Heaths, 1 Large Skipper, 2 Small Skippers, 6 Brimstones, 40 or 50 Large Whites, 10 Small Whites, 20-25 Green-veined Whites, 3 Small Coppers, 2 Brown Argus, 40-50 Common Blues including many fresh females, 3 Holly Blues, 2 Red Admirals, 5 Commas, 9 Small Tortoiseshells, 6 Silver-washed Fritillaries, about 35 Peacocks and between 70-80 Painted Ladies.
Small Tortoiseshell, Noar Hill, Hampshire
Friday 7th August
In sharp contrast to the report from Ditchling ( see below ), a walk around Stansted Forest early this afternoon produced only 14 Painted Ladies, although butterfly numbers in general were reasonably good - 2 Small Skippers, 1 Small Copper, 12 Common Blues, 11 fresh Brimstones, 15 Green-veined Whites, at least 40 Large Whites, 3 Small Whites, 2 Red Admirals, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 9 Commas, about 35 Peacocks, 16 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 8 Speckled Woods, 6 Meadow Browns and about 30 Gatekeepers.
Thursday 6th August
I've just I spotted an amazing report on the Sussex branch website of Butterfly Conservation in which an estimated 120,000 Painted Ladies flew up from a 200 x 300 metre patch of thistles on hills above Ditchling on the evening of 4th August. Even allowing for possible over-estimation this must represent easily the greatest concentration of Painted Ladies ever recorded in the UK, and must have been an incredible spectacle.
Other news includes several sightings of Clouded Yellows in Sussex; 2nd brood Dingy Skippers, Wood Whites and Small Blues in Dorset and Hampshire; and fresh Brown Hairstreaks in north Hampshire, Bucks, Dorset and Sussex. Among the more interesting moths turning up at traps recently have been Garden Tiger, Black Arches, Magpie and Pale Prominent. There have also been several records this week of Hummingbird Hawkmoth.
Sunday 2nd August
After another abortive attempt to see Brown Hairstreaks this morning at Noar Hill, I decided to spend the afternoon at Stockbridge Down. Chalkhill Blues were in quite good numbers- about 400, many of which were quite fresh and undamaged despite the wind and rain we've had over the last couple of weeks. My target species for the trip was Silver-spotted Skipper, and after a lot of searching I was lucky to find 2 fresh males on different parts of the reserve. Other species seen included at least 50 Large Whites, about 20 Small Whites, 3 Brimstones, 5 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 15 Peacocks, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 4 Commas, 20 Common Blues and 1 Marbled White. Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers were in quite low numbers but uncounted.
Silver-spotted Skipper, male, Stockbridge Down, Hampshire
Saturday 1st August
The unsettled weather of July looks set to continue well into August, and right now it's pouring with rain again, so to brighten up the day here are a few photos taken at Noar Hill yesterday :
Peacocks, Noar Hill, Hampshire
Common Blues at roost, Noar Hill, Hampshire
Peacock, Noar Hill, Hampshire


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