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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
 
May
 
Sunday 31st May
 
I spent this afternoon visiting clearings within the Bentley Wood complex. In the Hampshire sector of the site there were only 4 or 5 very worn Pearl-bordered Fritillaries flying, but Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries were present in reasonably good numbers, with a minimum of 30 seen. Also seen were 3 Brimstones, 1 Large White, 1 Small White, 8 Speckled Woods, 10 Small Heaths, 1 Duke of Burgundy, 4 Painted Ladies, 3 Dingy Skippers, 1 Grizzled Skipper and an Argent & Sable moth. In the Wiltshire sector I saw 5 Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, 2 Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, 3 male Large Skippers, 2 female Brimstones, 4 Small Heaths, 2 Painted Ladies, 1 Comma and about 10 Marsh Fritillaries.

Marsh Fritillary eggs

Large Skipper ( male )

 
Saturday 30th May
 
I revisited Cerne Abbas this morning and saw about 120 Marsh Fritillaries. Males and females were in roughly equal numbers, and most were getting a bit worn, having been flying for a week or more. It is common to find copulated butterflies but the entire courtship and nuptial process is rarely seen, so it is worth detailing my observations as follows :
 
At noon I saw a male intercept a flying female, which immediately settled on the ground with her wings open, among short grass. The male buzzed around her but made no attempt to copulate. The female then flew a very short distance, followed by the male which alighted beside her. This process was repeated 3 times until the female found a suitable blade of grass on which she settled with her wings outspread and her abdomen curved downward. The male approached from beneath and curled up his abdomen to make contact. The pair remained copulated in this position for several minutes until a gust of wind caused them to readjust, after which they crawled onto a nearby bramble leaf on which they rested with wings closed. About 2 hours later when I returned to the spot I found them basking with wings outspread. It is likely that the butterflies remain copulated overnight - on occasions when I have bred this species in captivity the pairs have always remained joined overnight and parted early the next morning.
 

Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia, Cerne Abbas, Dorset
 
Thursday 28th May
 
If you thought the Painted Lady counts published on Tuesday were impressive, figures reported today on the Butterfly Conservation Sussex website are nothing short of staggering - almost unbelievably an estimated 1590 Painted Ladies per hour were recorded passing through a woodland ride adjacent to Park Corner Heath reserve !  The butterflies arriving last week were mostly old faded specimens, but we now seem to be experiencing "phase 2" of the invasion, the majority of specimens currently arriving being in much fresher condition. Reports from France, Belgium and Italy indicate that at least another million Painted Ladies have yet to reach Britain................
 
Tuesday 26th May
 
The Painted Lady invasion continues unabated. Many people have reported substantial counts at sites across southern and eastern England, e.g. 80 seen in half an hour yesterday at Newhaven, 96 in less than 10 minutes at Granborough, Bucks; and a colossal 800 per hour at Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk. The vast and almost unprecedented numbers are the result of a population explosion in the Sahara, and estimates of the numbers vary from "hundreds of thousands" in Spain, to "millions" in Italy !
 
Sunday 24th May
 
I spent the afternoon in Surrey, watching butterflies, and listening to nightingales, cuckoos and turtle-doves in Tugley Wood. The commonest butterfly was the Painted Lady - I saw over 30, all migrating through the wood in a northerly direction. Most were very faded, but amongst them was one pristine specimen, indicating that more than one generation of butterflies is involved in the current migration.
 
Wood White and Brimstone were also in excellent numbers with about 25-30 of each seen. As usual it was fascinating to watch the inter-sexual behaviour of the Wood Whites. When a male intercepts a female, the pair quickly settle face to face on a leaf, and the male flicks out his proboscis to "whip" at the underside hindwings of the female, alternating rapidly between left and right wings. The female responds by momentarily flicking open her wings.  This ritual is repeated several dozen times in the course of about 5 minutes. If the butterflies are deliberately disturbed they simply fly a short distance to settle on another leaf, and resume the process. Some observers speculate that this is a prenuptial ( courtship ) display, but I've watched the ritual dozens of times and in my experience it never leads to copulation. It seems likely that the male is simply checking out the female to ascertain whether she has previously mated. Most Pierid females, if previously mated, simply raise their abdomen to send a rejection signal to unwanted males, but in the case of Wood Whites this process seems to be unduly elaborate and time consuming, so perhaps there are other explanations for the behaviour.
 
Other species at Tugley Wood included 2 Grizzled Skippers, 4 Dingy Skippers, 1 Green-veined White, 1 Orange tip, 2 Green Hairstreaks and 4 Common Blues. I searched in vain for Pearl-bordered and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, but it seems very sadly that both of these species have now become extinct in the wood. It is possible however that they still persist in low numbers in one of the adjacent woods, so it is feasible that they could recolonise now that a more enlightened conservation policy exists, and the woods are beginning to return to their former glory.

Wood Whites ( male on right )

 
Saturday 23rd May
 
I've received several reports of Painted Ladies in the last couple of days and there is no doubt that a large migration, numbering several thousand, has taken place. The butterflies have spread rapidly northwards, and have been seen ovipositing on thistles and stinging nettles, so unless the summer suddenly turns cold and wet it seems likely that we will see a sizeable emergence of UK bred Painted Ladies appearing in a few weeks time. I personally saw 8 today - one in my garden at Havant, and 7 more at Cerne Abbas in Dorset in the afternoon.
 
My main reason for visiting Cerne Abbas was to see the Marsh Fritillaries and I wasn't disappointed - in total I estimated there were about 60 flying today. Some were already faded and worn, and had clearly emerged several days ago, but most were in quite fresh condition. I found several males that were still hanging from grass stems, drying their wings after emergence; but only 4 females. As well as Marsh Fritillaries and Painted Ladies there were many other species flying in the warm sunshine - about 50 Dingy Skippers, 60 Grizzled Skippers, 5 Brimstones, 4 Small Whites, 4 Orange tips, 4 Green Hairstreaks, 3 Small Blues, 25 Brown Argus, 20 Common Blues, 1 Holly Blue, 2 fresh Adonis Blues, 4 Speckled Woods, 1 fresh male Wall Brown and about 20 Small Heaths. Moths included 2 Cinnabars, several Mother Shiptons and Burnet Companions, 1 Fox moth and 1 Forester.

Marsh Fritillary ( male )

 
Wednesday 20th May
 
The following notes from various contacts in southern England are intended to bring readers up to date regarding which UK species have emerged during the past fortnight while I have been in Malaysia and unable to update the website :
 
The first Small Blue of the year appeared in Bucks on 1st May, and the first Adonis Blue was seen in Sussex on 2nd May. Several Glanville Fritillaries were seen the following day at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, and it is likely that all of these species will be flying in good numbers this weekend, given suitable weather conditions. A single Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary was seen in west Hampshire on 16th May.
 
A considerable number of moth species have emerged during the last fortnight including Lobster, Puss, Buff tip, Pale Tussock, Lime Hawkmoth, Cinnabar, Cream spot Tiger, Buff Ermine, White Ermine, Oak Hook tip, Barred Hook tip, Narrow-bordered 5 spot Burnet, Turnip, Green Silver Lines, Heart and Dart, Alder,  Shears, Bright-line Brown-eye, Small Yellow Underwing, Light Brocade, Rustic Shoulder-knot, Brown Silver Lines, Treble Bar, Lychnis, Vines Rustic, Brown Rustic, Coronet, Spectacle, Treble Bar, Cabbage, Setaceous Hebrew Character, Clouded Border, Flame Carpet, Spruce Carpet, Green Carpet, Treble Lines, White-spotted Pug, Mottled Pug, Lime-speck Pug, Small Waved Umber, Clouded Silver, Tissue, Maidens Blush, Common White Wave, Brimstone moth and Common Swift.
 
Friday 1st May to Saturday 16th May
 
Please note that the website was not updated between these dates as I was leading a butterfly study tour in West Malaysia. We saw and photographed a fantastic selection of exotic butterflies, and during the coming weeks I will begin producing illustrated species accounts describing many of the species seen. These will be accessible via the Butterflies of Malaysia & Borneo gallery and the Species Index. Meanwhile I have just published a brief TRIP REPORT, which will be expanded soon.

 

 

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