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
Monday 29th June
I visited Martin Down this morning, where I saw 7 or 8 Dark Green Fritillaries. Most were freshly emerged males, and were flying rapidly in wide circles in search of females, often covering distances of up to 100 metres before stopping momentarily to refuel at knapweed flowers. Other species seen included 5 Small Tortoiseshells, 2 very old female Brimstones, and about 20 Marbled Whites. The hot sunny weather made the butterflies very active and almost impossible to approach for photography.
In the afternoon I revisited Bentley Wood, and spent about half an hour at the wych elms, watching White-letter Hairstreaks. In total I had 10 sightings. At one stage I had 4 sparring males in view flying above the tallest elm. I counted 19 elms, and estimated that each tree probably had about 4 or 5 adults present. Unfortunately none of them descended to nectar at the nearby brambles. Elsewhere in the forest butterflies of all species were generally scarce, presumably because they were resting in the shade to escape the blazing sunshine. Those seen included 8 Small Skippers, 60 Large Skippers, 2 Small Whites, 1 White Admiral, 1 Red Admiral, 1 Comma, 25 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 5 Speckled Woods, 3 Marbled Whites, 100 Meadow Browns and about 200 Ringlets.
Sunday 28th June
I witnessed another life or death encounter today - this time it was a freshly emerged Red Admiral, which flew straight into the web of the spider Araneus marmoreus, stretched across the branches of an oak sapling in Bentley Wood. As soon as the butterfly struck the web the spider emerged from its retreat above, and dashed towards the butterfly. It was a race against time, but luckily the butterfly was able to struggle free just in time to escape. I watched the butterfly flying around afterwards - it appeared to be unharmed after its ordeal, which had left scratch-like lines across its wings where the scales had broken loose and adhered to the silk of the web.
My reason for visiting the site was to find and photograph a mating pair of Silver-washed Fritillaries to illustrate the website, but most of the visitors were of course searching for the Purple Emperor. My species list for the day comprised of an estimated 500 Large Skippers, 2 Large Whites, 1 Small White, 1 White-letter Hairstreak, 3 White Admirals, 1 Purple Emperor ( in flight ), 2 Red Admirals, 1 Painted Lady, 3 Commas, about 50 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 12 Speckled Woods, 3 Marbled Whites, about 200 Meadow Browns, and somewhere in excess of 1000 Ringlets.

Silver-washed Fritillaries, Bentley Wood, Wiltshire

Saturday 27th June
Until today I didn't realise that hornets were predators of butterflies, but at Alice Holt forest I watched one chasing after Ringlets and Meadow Browns, although it failed to catch any. Later however, when I was attempting to photograph a White Admiral nectaring at bramble, another hornet suddenly shot down and snatched the butterfly from the flower. In a split second it had grabbed it, dived down into the undergrowth, bitten off its forewings, and used the butterfly's hindwings to wrap the corpse up into a tight ball. Moments later, carrying the White Admiral in it's mandibles, it flew up to the top of a small oak, where it consumed its meal. Unfortunately the whole sequence took place so quickly that I was unable to get any photographs.
In the afternoon I visited Botany Bay in Surrey to look for Purple Emperors. Despite the warm sunny conditions I saw none, either on the ground or in flight. I did see about a dozen White Admirals, some of which settled on the ground to imbibe moisture. I saw a similar number of Silver-washed Fritillaries nectaring at bramble, but noted that the population is now considerably smaller than it was a decade ago, at which time it was quite common to see half a dozen on each bramble bush.
While at Botany Bay I also saw 2 Painted Ladies, and spent a few minutes watching one oviposit. The butterfly was totally unperturbed by my presence, laying 19 eggs as I watched. Each egg, pale green in colour, was laid singly on the upperside of a leaf - 16 of them on small spear thistle plants, and the remainder on leaves of greater plantain Plantago major - a foodplant not previously recorded in the UK for this species.
Friday 26th June
By far the commonest butterfly this afternoon at Stansted Forest was the Ringlet, of which I saw well over 100, all in very fresh condition. Meadow Brown numbers are also building up - I saw about 80 on a 2 hour walk. Marbled White has increased and expanded it's range at Stansted in the last couple of years and now occurs in 3 discrete colonies, each comprising about 20 adults. Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral numbers were about average for this site, with 5 of each species seen. Also seen were 4 worn Speckled Woods, 6 Small Skippers, 25 Large Skippers, 2 Large Whites, 1 Small White, 1 very old Painted Lady, and 2 hutchinsoni Commas.

Comma Polygonia c-album, f. hutchinsoni

Tuesday 23rd June
Today's warm sunny weather stimulated the emergence of the first Purple Emperors, with 3 males reported this afternoon from Hampshire. I've also received reports of Gatekeeper, Small Skipper and Essex Skipper - all recorded in Hants and West Sussex on 21st.
Monday 22nd June
Black Hairstreaks are one of Britain's most elusive butterflies - their range is restricted to a narrow strip of land lying roughly between Oxford and Peterborough, where they are found along blackthorn hedgerows and thickets where the bushes grow tall and untrimmed. At these sites they only occur in very localised areas and are notoriously difficult to find, as they spend almost all of their adult lives sitting motionless at the top of the tallest bushes. Under certain conditions they will descend for short periods to nectar at privet or bramble blossom however, and over the years I have been fortunate to capture a few individuals on film.
Unfortunately scanned film images do not reproduce well enough to publish on the website, so during the last fortnight I've made 4 separate trips to various localities in Oxon, Bucks and Northants to try and obtain some decent digital images. The first 3 trips resulted in brief glimpses of butterflies in flight above the bushes, but no close up views. I had almost given up hope as their flight season is almost over, but today I travelled with 2 friends to Northants and we struck lucky, seeing 3 individuals which came down from the bushes to nectar at a clump of bramble. Two of these were old and faded with  damaged wings, but the third was an immaculate female which settled long enough to allow a series of photographs to be taken, including the one below.
More images can be seen on the Black Hairstreak species page.

Black Hairstreak Satyrium pruni, female, Northants

Saturday 20th June
Butterflies were scarce at Bentley Wood this morning due to cool and overcast conditions, but the sun occasionally broke through the cloud and encouraged a few species to take to the wing. I saw 6 male and 2 female Silver-washed Fritillaries, 2 very worn Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, 1 Marbled White, and about 40 Large Skippers, 30 Meadow Browns, and 50 Ringlets including the scarce "blind Ringlet" ab. caeca. After leaving Bentley Wood I stopped briefly at Stockbridge Down, arriving at about 6 p.m. Conditions were heavily overcast and there was nothing flying so I spent about half an hour searching among the coarse grasses along the roadside for roosting butterflies. There I found a Small Heath at rest on a plantain flower, a few Meadow Browns tucked down in the grasses, about a dozen pristine male Marbled Whites roosting on flowers and grass heads, and amazingly another Ringlet ab. caeca !

Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus, ab caeca, Bentley Wood, Wiltshire, England

Friday 19th June
This afternoon I spent about 3 hours at Alice Holt forest in Hampshire, where I saw at least 8 fresh male Silver-washed Fritillaries, nectaring at bramble and thistle flowers. I also saw a minimum of 5 pristine White Admirals, and 4 hutchinsoni Commas. The commonest species as might be expected was Meadow Brown, with at least 80 seen, all of which were males. Speckled Woods were also very common, with about 35 seen, most of which were showing signs of wear and had probably been flying for several days. Other species included 1 Ringlet, 3 very worn Painted Ladies, 18 Large Skippers, 3 Green-veined Whites and 1 Large White.

Silver-washed Fritillary, male, Alice Holt forest, Hampshire

White Admiral, Alice Holt forest, Hampshire

Monday 15th June
This morning, on hedgerows near Waterperry Wood I watched 2 Black Hairstreaks flying around the top of the tall blackthorn bushes, and later I visited Finemere Wood hoping to get closer observations. By the time I arrived however the sun had disappeared behind a mass of grey cloud and apart from a few Speckled Woods and Large Skippers the only adult butterflies seen were 3 Small Tortoiseshells and a Green-veined White.
Rumbles of thunder warned of an approaching band of rain so I started to walk back to the car, but on the way I noticed an unusual caterpillar resting on a bramble leaf. It was clearly a Fritillary larva, but the pattern of grey stripes on a dirty whitish ground colour, orange head, and orange spikes along the back and sides were unlike those of the Silver-washed or Dark Green Fritillaries which were the only species that were likely to be present. To satisfy my curiosity I photographed the larva and when I returned home I consulted various resources to identify it. I was very surprised to discover that it was the larva of the Marbled Fritillary Brenthis daphne. The pattern, colour, anatomical features and the fact that it was found on a bramble leaf confirmed its identification beyond any doubt. After consulting a local entomologist I discovered that Marbled Fritillary had been deliberately introduced to Finemere - a fact that I found disturbing. This species has never occurred naturally in the UK, either as a resident or migrant. It's natural range extends from the north of Spain, across southern France and from there across the warm temperate areas of Europe and Asia to China and Japan. The fact that it appears with the advent of global warming to be capable of surviving the British climate is significant. However it should be noted that the deliberate introduction of an alien species is totally against the policy of all conservation organisations, and furthermore it is a criminal offence to release ( or allow to escape ) any animal of a kind that is not established naturally in the wild in the UK.
Sunday 14th June
I visited two Large Blue sites in Somerset today. In the late morning at "site H" - a private grassland reserve, I estimated a total of about 10 Large Blues across the site. It's difficult to be precise because Large Blues are very mobile, making it easy to inadvertently double-count. To illustrate their mobility, I spent about 15 minutes closely following one particular female, which flew a distance of almost a kilometre from one side of the reserve to the other, periodically pausing to lay her eggs on young thyme flowers. Other species at the site included 4 Large Skippers, 2 Small Whites, 4 Common Blues, about 40 Meadow Browns, 5 Speckled Woods, 3 Painted Ladies and 5 Small Tortoiseshells - the latter are being seen by myself and other observers in small numbers at almost all sites visited throughout southern England since the beginning of June, indicating a strong recovery from the disturbing nadir of the last 4 years.
In the afternoon I visited the well known Large Blue colony at Collard Hill, and estimated that about 10 males and 8 females were present on the site. As at "site H", most were very active and difficult to approach, but I saw several females ovipositing on the flowers of small inconspicuous thyme plants, while larger and more obvious plants were ignored. Other species seen at Collard Hill included about 6 Large Skippers, 3 Small Whites, 4 Common Blues, 5 Painted Ladies, 6 Small Tortoiseshells, 5 Small Heaths, at least 30 Meadow Browns, and 6 fresh male Marbled Whites.

Large Blue, female, Collard Hill, Somerset

Large Blue ovipositing ( note egg already laid on lower right of thyme flower ), "site H", Somerset

Wednesday 10th June
In southern England we are now entering what is traditionally known as the "June gap", a period when the flight period of the spring brood butterflies is almost over, but the summer butterflies have barely started to emerge. In fact the June gap is largely a myth, as there are more butterfly species found in June than in any other month of the year ! Unfortunately seeing many of them means having to travel long distances - currently there are plenty of Swallowtails on the Norfolk Broads, Northern Brown Argus is on the wing in Cumbria, Graylings have been flying for several days at Great Ormes Head in north Wales, and Chequered Skippers are delighting visitors to the Scottish Highlands !
Here in the south, things should pick up rapidly in the next couple of weeks - Black Hairstreaks are just beginning to emerge in Bucks and Oxon, Silver-studded Blues are appearing in ones and twos on the New Forest heaths, Marbled Whites and Purple Hairstreaks are just beginning to show in Sussex, Large Blues have started to emerge in Somerset and the first Silver-washed Fritillaries and Ringlets of 2009 has just been reported from Surrey. Within a few days these will be joined by White Admirals, Heath Fritillaries, White-letter Hairstreaks, Mountain Ringlets and Large Heaths at their respective sites across the UK.
Moths too are making news, with Common Swift, Map-winged Swift, Flame Shoulder, Shuttle-shaped Dart, Heart & Dart, Heart & Club, Miller, Burnished Brass, Beautiful Golden-Y, Dew moth, Blood-vein, Yellow Shell, Peach Blossom, Puss, Poplar Kitten, Scarlet Tiger, Elephant Hawk, Small Elephant Hawk, Privet Hawk, Eyed Hawk, Hummingbird Hawk and migrant Striped Hawk and Convolvulus Hawk all reported last week.
Following our fabulous butterfly-watching tour of Malaysia, I have now begun adding more photos to the Butterflies of Malaysia and Borneo gallery, and many more will be added soon....
Saturday 6th June
I had yesterday off work and made the mistake of wasting petrol and time, visiting Magdalen Hill Down and Noar Hill in cool, cloudy weather, and failed to see a single butterfly - not even a roosting Dingy Skipper ! It happens to us all. Today was just about warm enough to get a few butterflies flying, and although it was breezy I decided to risk a visit to the windswept grasslands of Martin Down. There I was lucky enough to see no less than 6 Small Tortoiseshells including an ovipositing female. It was like being reunited with an old friend, and so nice to see this beautiful butterfly recovering from its previous precarious position. Other species seen included about 30 fresh Small Heaths, 4 Meadow Browns, 2 Speckled Woods, 8 male Large Skippers, 2 weather-beaten Grizzled Skippers, 2 Large Whites, about a dozen battered old Small Blues, 1 Brown Argus, 10 male Common Blues, 8 Adonis Blues, 1 Marsh Fritillary and 5 Painted Ladies. One of the latter was so ragged that it must have flown through every bush between Martin Down and its home in north Africa ! There were also several moths on the wing including Wood Tiger, Cinnabar, Burnet Companion, Narrow-bordered 5-spot Burnet, Mother Shipton and Common Heath. I also saw several moths flying rapidly just above the tall grasses as dusk approached - they appeared pinkish orange in flight but never settled for identification, but my best guess is that they were females of Clouded Buff.



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