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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.
 
2009
Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jly | Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec
 
July
 
Friday 31st July
 
I escaped from work early today and spent a magical afternoon at Noar Hill.  By far the commonest and most conspicuous butterfly was the Large White. I saw at least 250, often flying in strings of 7 or 8 at a time, and nectaring at marjoram, thistles and knapweed. A few were in fresh condition but the great majority were quite worn, and from their appearance and behaviour I formed the opinion that they were migrants. At times I could stand in one spot and see 50 or more close by. There were also at least 50 Small Whites and 30 Green-veined Whites present, although sometimes it was difficult to distinguish between them as many were only seen in flight.
 
Painted Ladies were also in high numbers - I estimated a minimum of 200, in various states of wear. There were an exceptional number of Peacocks, well in excess of 150, by far the highest numbers of this species I have ever seen. There were often 15 or 20 on a small patch of thistle or a single clump of hemp agrimony. At about 6.30pm the breeze suddenly dropped, and at the same time cloud cover obscured the sun. The Peacocks and Painted Ladies responded by settling in groups of up to 6 to bask on ant hills and patches of bare chalk, and made a wonderful sight.
 
Other species seen at Noar Hill included a Large Skipper, about 30 very worn Small Skippers, a single 2nd brood Dingy Skipper, 3 Brimstones, 2 Small Coppers, 3 Brown Argus, 20 Common Blues, 3 Red Admirals, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 5 Commas, and 6 worn Silver-washed Fritillaries. Numbers of Gatekeepers and Meadow Brown appeared quite low, perhaps 30-40 of each. There was no sign of a Brown Hairstreak, but I would expect this species to appear within the next day or two.

Peacocks, Noar Hill, Hampshire

 
Monday 27th July
 
Today I visited several sites in Dorset, hoping to see Lulworth Skippers, which normally emerge in late July and can be seen well into August. This year they appear seem to have emerged about 2 or 3 weeks earlier than normal due to the hot weather in mid-late June, and their numbers have since been decimated by the wet and windy weather of July. Consequently at Lulworth Cove I saw only 4 or 5 very worn males, and a single faded female. At Durdle Door today's very strong winds made it near impossible to see any butterflies, and if any Lulworth Skippers were present they stayed well hidden deep in the grasses. Out of desperation I also visited Ballard Down and failed again despite a 2 hour search of the butterfly's usual haunts. Not the most successful of days, but partly compensated by a Wall Brown and a pair of Marbled Whites which posed nicely for photos at Lulworth.

Marbled Whites, Lulworth Cove, Dorset

 
Saturday 25th July
 
Here are some more photos taken today and yesterday at Arnside Knott. The top picture is a female High Brown Fritillary feeding on hemp agrimony. I watched her alternate between nectaring and ovipositing, typically dropping down to lay an egg at each of about half a dozen spots within a small area, and then spending 2 or 3 minutes nectaring at nearby flowers before repeating the process.
 
The lower photo is a male Grayling which had set up a territory on a small patch of scree. As I was crouched in front of it another Grayling flew past and he instantly darted up to intercept it. The pair chased each other around in tight circles until the intruder was driven off, at which point the original male dashed instantly back to reclaim his territory.
 
Click to see more photos on the Scotch Argus, High Brown Fritillary and Grayling pages.
 

High Brown Fritillary, female, Arnside Knott, Cumbria

Grayling, male, Arnside Knott, Cumbria

 
Friday 24th July
 
It's several years since I've had the opportunity to visit Cumbria, so this weekend I took advantage of an unexpected break from work and headed north to Arnside Knott hoping to see Scotch Argus. I wasn't disappointed, and saw a total of about 40, all freshly emerged males. There were also several High Brown Fritillaries to be seen. Although it was getting close to the end of their flight season I saw 2 males and about a dozen females, mostly very worn specimens although there were still one or two in quite fresh condition. Graylings were present in good numbers, with at least 40 seen, of which the majority were males. Other species at Arnside included 4 Northern Brown Argus, 60+ Meadow Browns, about 15 Gatekeepers, 1 female Brimstone, 3 female Dark Green Fritillaries, 4 Red Admirals, 15 Painted Ladies, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 3 Peacocks, 6 Speckled Woods, 1 fresh male Wall Brown, about 10 very worn Small Skippers, 2 Large Whites, and 6 Green-veined Whites.
 
I also had time for a brief visit to another nearby site, where I saw 3 High Brown Fritillaries, 1 Dark Green Fritillary, 3 Graylings, 4 Small Heaths, 2 Northern Brown Argus and 2 Common Blues. The star species at this site however was a male Silver-washed Fritillary. I watched it in near disbelief, as the butterfly was over 100 miles beyond the recognised northern limit of it's distribution range !

Scotch Argus, male, Arnside Knott, Cumbria

 
Sunday 19th July
 
Although today was reasonably sunny and warm at Noar Hill, the very blustery winds were enough to prevent most butterflies from flying, even at the most sheltered spots. It was interesting to see a Red Admiral however, which was still determined to lay a few eggs. Normally this species lays on the uppermost leaves of stinging nettles, but this particular female placed 3 eggs individually at the base of nettle stems, presumably because the strong gusting wind made it impossible for her to settle on the upper leaves. The total species count for the day was 9 Small Skippers, 1 Small Copper, 1 Common Blue, 11 Green-veined Whites, 8 Large Whites, 2 Red Admirals, 28 Painted Ladies, 2 Peacocks, 3 Commas, 1 Silver-washed Fritillary, 15 Marbled Whites, 16 Meadow Browns, 3 Ringlets, 10 Gatekeepers and 1 Speckled Wood.
 
By late afternoon the winds had dropped, and I visited my local wood Stansted Forest to take my dog for a walk. On arrival I spent several minutes watching the butterflies visiting a large Buddleia bush - these included 6 Large Skippers, 8 fresh Large Whites, 1 Green-veined White, 1 White Admiral, 2 Red Admirals, 12 Peacocks, 2 Commas, 3 Silver-washed Fritillaries and 11 Painted Ladies.  There were similar numbers on another Buddleia within the forest. I then followed the grassy tracks through the larch plantations where I was able to add 5 Speckled Woods, 4 Ringlets and a fresh female Brimstone to the list. At the far end of the wood is a nice patch of flowery grassland, and there I saw 15 Small Skippers, 2 Large Skippers, 1 Small White, 12 Marbled Whites, 30 Meadow Browns, 2 Ringlets, 15 Gatekeepers, 1 Comma, 2 Red Admirals, 2 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 4 Peacocks and at least another 30 Painted Ladies. Finally I walked back along the wide grassy avenue where I managed to add 2 male Common Blues, a Small Copper and several dozen 6-spot Burnet moths to the day's sightings.
 
Saturday 18th July
 
For the past week Britain has experienced what weather forecasters like to call "unsettled" conditions - in other words there have been a few sunny spells, but generally it has been cool and cloudy with quite a lot of rain. Today was no exception - when I left home the sun was shining but by the time I'd arrived at Stockbridge Down rain had started to fall. After driving 30 miles to get there however I was determined to see and photograph a few butterflies, and within a few minutes I had found 7 Meadow Browns, 3 Marbled Whites, 5 Small Whites, 2 Painted Ladies, 8 Small Skippers and 37 Chalkhill Blues. Fortunately I was able to squeeze off a few shots of Chalkhill Blues before the drizzle turned to heavy rain and gave me a thorough soaking !

Chalkhill Blue, male, Stockbridge Down, Hampshire

Chalkhill Blue, male at roost, Stockbridge Down, Hampshire

 
Friday 17th July
 
Those who follow this diary regularly will know that on 15th June I visited Finemere Wood and found a fully grown caterpillar of the Marbled Fritillary Brenthis daphne. Investigations revealed that adults of this species were seen by other visitors in 2007 and 2008. This species is a native of southern Europe and has been introduced by an unknown individual. It now seems that a minimum of 4 adult butterflies were seen by various people in the wood during early July this year. It is possible that the culprit has introduced fresh livestock each year. It is also possible that the species may have become established and be breeding at Finemere. If this is the case it may be able to take advantage of our increasingly warmer summers to spread throughout the countryside, although so far there have been no records received from other habitats in the vicinity. Please allow me to repeat the fact that these unsanctioned introductions of alien species are anti-conservation, irresponsible and illegal.
 
Monday 13th July
 
Early this morning, in drizzly conditions I visited Magdalen Hill Down where I found about 20 Chalkhill Blues at roost. After about an hour the rain cleared, and the sun struggled to burn through the clouds, at which point it became apparent that many more Chalkhills were present, and I saw a total of about 60, all males, basking amongst the grasses. I also found several Chalkhills and Marbled Whites which had been caught by Theridiid spiders Enoplognatha ovata. Based on my observations I estimated that over 5% of Chalkhill Blues at MHD probably perish at the hands of this common spider.
 
Later in the morning, in overcast conditions I revisited Pitt Down to see the Dark Green Fritillaries. On my last visit ( 5th Jly ) warm sunshine and a pertinacious wind made it extremely difficult to approach the butterflies, but today they were much more cooperative, basking for long periods on low herbage, and I was able to photograph several examples of each sex.
 
Back home at Havant, a Peacock, 4 Commas, 3 Small Whites and 3 Speckled Woods took advantage of the late afternoon sunshine, flying around a Buddleia bush in my garden, and basking on bramble leaves. At about 6pm I watched one of the Commas settling down to roost - it spent 2 or 3 minutes fluttering around on the shady side of an ivy covered fence, and eventually settled for the night under an ivy leaf, resting on the midrib, with head pointing towards the stem.

Dark Green Fritillary, female, Pitt Down, Hampshire

 
Sunday 12th July
 
It was a great pleasure when visiting Bentley Wood this afternoon to discover that the Painted Ladies have fulfilled their promise - the vast numbers of migrants arriving in late May have now produced a new generation of adults. I estimated seeing somewhere between 250-300 pristine Painted Ladies in total, and on several occasions found myself standing in one spot with up to 30 in view at a time. At times over a dozen could be seen together nectaring at certain bramble bushes, or basking on nearby foliage. Other species seen included a fresh female Brimstone, 3 fresh Large Whites, 5 Small Whites, 2 White Admirals, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Commas, 20 Silver-washed Fritillaries ( mostly females ), and the usual common Skippers and Browns.
 

Painted Lady, Bentley Wood, Wiltshire

 
Monday 6th July
 
Despite overcast and very windy conditions I saw 17 Silver-washed Fritillaries and 3 White Admirals at Stansted Forest this afternoon. The Fritillaries were all recently emerged males, and were nectaring at bramble or basking on foliage along sheltered trails.
 
Sunday 5th July
 
At Pitt Down this afternoon I saw about 8 hyperactive Dark Green Fritillaries. They are very powerful flyers, and seemed almost to enjoy battling against the strong wind on the open downland. Every now and then one would settle for a moment on a knapweed flower. On the few occasions when I was able to get close it was very difficult to focus and frame a photograph before they shot off again. Luckily I managed one fairly sharp photo, reproduced below. Also at Pitt Down I saw about 150 Marbled Whites 4 Gatekeepers, 6 Small Skippers and numerous Meadow Browns and Ringlets.
 
Afterwards I visited Stockbridge Down. Unfortunately over-zealous cattle grazing coupled with rabbit grazing has virtually eliminated nectar sources, and butterflies were very scarce indeed - just 3 Dark Green Fritillaries, 1 Silver-washed Fritillary, 1 Red Admiral, 1 Comma, 2 Chalkhill Blues, 2 Small Whites, 1 male Brimstone, 15 Marbled Whites and perhaps 20 each of Meadow Brown and Ringlet.
 
Finally I dropped in for an hour long visit to Crab Wood, hoping to see White-letter Hairstreaks on the wych elms, but saw none. There were at least 30 Silver-washed Fritillaries present though, along with 6 White Admirals including 2 pristine females. The most prominent species however was the Comma - I saw about 30 of these, all in immaculate condition.
 
Saturday 4th July
 
Anyone checking out the various local branch websites of Butterfly Conservation cannot fail to have noticed that Purple Emperors have appeared in much higher numbers than usual this year, with as many as 8 males seen on the ground with wings outspread, in one Surrey woodland last Sunday. This abundance is unprecedented in recent decades, and has probably been caused by the twin factors of a hard winter and a warm spring and summer, which in combination have resulted in reduced larval mortality - parasitism and avian predation both being lower in such conditions.
 
Something else that web visitors and butterfly-watchers cannot fail to have noticed is the high number of aberrant butterflies being seen this year. Ringlets, White Admirals, Purple Emperors, Silver-washed Fritillaries, Heath Fritillaries and Commas are just a few of the species which have been producing strange-looking varieties with abnormal colours and patterns. The occurrence of these "abs" is usually attributed to unusual weather conditions during the pre-pupal and pupal stage of the lifecycle, which increase the production of melanins, resulting in darker and more heavily marked adults.
 
Two examples of Silver-washed Fritillary aberrations are illustrated below. Both were flying around the same patch of bramble early this afternoon in an inclosure of Alice Holt forest in Hampshire. Note that names such as "nigricans" and "ocellata" given to aberrations are not scientifically valid
( unlike subspecies ) but are used widely to describe certain recurring morphs.
 
I also saw 4 fresh male Gatekeepers, 100+ Meadow Browns, 200+ Ringlets, 12 Speckled Woods, about 40 "normal" Silver-washed Fritillaries, 20 White Admirals, 8 Commas, 1 Red Admiral, 2 Purple Emperors, 1 fresh male Peacock, 2 fresh female Brimstones, 2 Green-veined Whites, 1 Large White, about 50 Large Skippers; and I was told that 2 freshly emerged Painted Ladies were seen in the west of Hampshire yesterday.
 
Silver-washed Fritillary, female ab "nigricans", Alice Holt forest, Hampshire

 

 

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