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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Compton Down, West Sussex, 18th December

Friday 18th December


As Xmas approaches, snow and bitterly cold winds are keeping adult butterflies deep in hibernation. Commas will be spending the winter in wood-stacks or hanging from the boughs of trees; Peacocks will be tucked away inside rabbit burrows or hollow tree trunks; Brimstones will be hiding amongst clumps of ivy, bramble or pendulous sedge; and Small Tortoiseshells will be overwintering in garden sheds. Sometimes they enter houses, and I'm often asked what people should do with them to help them survive. The best course of action is to gently transfer them to a sheltered dark place outdoors such as pile of logs that will be undisturbed until spring, or better still a hollow tree trunk. Place them high enough up to be out of reach of shrews, and out of sight of birds.
Apart from a couple of failed attempts to locate hibernating Brimstones in my local wood, most of my spare time recently has been spent adding photographs and articles to the website, which I hope will help to pass the cold winter days and dark evenings while we wait for spring to arrive. Several more articles about Malaysian butterflies have been added, including one about the delightful little Wavy Maplet and another about the stunning long-tailed hairstreak Drupadia ravindra. I've also now been able to identify several more of the fascinating moths seen in Peru last year, with the kind assistance of Kevin Tuck and Martin Honey, curators of Lepidoptera at the Natural History Museum, London. See Moths of the Amazon & Andes.

Saturday 5th December


Another cold, damp and overcast day in my part of Britain kept me indoors again, but gave me the chance to edit the website code to enable pages to download more rapidly. I've also now begun to write up the species articles resulting from our trip to Malaysia earlier this year. You can see the first of these articles here.

Sunday 29th November


I returned to Stansted Forest today to see whether the Brimstone ( see 22nd November entry ) was still at roost beneath its bramble leaf but unfortunately all that remained was a set of dismembered wings. I suspect that the insect was eaten by a shrew, as insectivorous birds usually fly off with their prey intact, and dismember them elsewhere.

Wednesday 25th November


It may be late November, but so far there have been no frosts in southern Hampshire, and despite very wet and windy weather there are still a few butterflies to be seen when the sun manages to put in an appearance. Today for example I saw a Peacock flying on an industrial estate in Waterlooville, and earlier this week there were reports of Red Admirals from Hampshire and Sussex.
Sunday 22nd November


I had a surprise this afternoon when I took my dog for a walk in Stansted Forest. I certainly wasn't expecting to see any butterflies, as it was cold, blustery and had only recently stopped raining, but to my amazement I spotted a pristine female Brimstone sitting on a larch trunk. I guess it got blown down this morning or during the overnight gales from its hibernating place ( probably among ivy on a nearby tree ), and crawled up the tree trunk. I can't see it having flown there as it's been too cold and windy for anything to fly. The butterfly looked very vulnerable sitting on the tree trunk, so I transferred it to a safer location beneath a nearby bramble leaf, out of sight of birds.

Saturday 21st November


learnaboutbutterflies.com is about to celebrate it's 3rd birthday, so I decided it was time to make a few changes. For some time I've been dissatisfied with the slightly old fashioned appearance of the original site, so I've replaced it with a modern and more visually appealing design. There were a few technical difficulties during the change-over period yesterday which kept me busy all through the night, so I apologise for any disruption. I've also changed my website-hosting provider, switching to a company which promises to offer a more reliable service. I hope you all enjoy the new-look site !

Saturday 7th November


A fine sunny day, but with temperatures struggling to reach 11C, resident species such as Brimstones, Peacocks, Commas and Small Tortoiseshells remained deep in hibernation. Migrants however do not hibernate in the true sense, and often fly on sunny days even when temperatures are low, so it came as no surprise to see singletons of Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady and Red Admiral flying this afternoon at Beachy Head. At Stansted Forest however it was a different story - two years ago, on 9th November 2007 when the temperature was only 8C, I counted 12 Red Admirals in a small area of the wood, and estimated that at least 150 were present in the entire forest. Today there were none. Surprisingly, I received a message telling me that a Red Admiral was seen today flying in Northumberland - a long way north for any butterfly to be active at this time of year !

Wednesday 4th November


After a wet and windy start to November, it would be easy to believe that the butterfly season is over, but there are still at least 11 species flying at the moment : I saw 2 Red Admirals in the New Forest on Monday morning, and another today at Bolderwood. Reports from Sussex indicate that Clouded Yellows are still emerging, copulating and laying eggs; several Painted Ladies were seen yesterday at Beachy Head; 4 Common Blues were seen on Monday at Mill Hill; and on the same day Speckled Wood, Small Copper, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma, Brimstone and Holly Blue were seen in Hampshire !

Red Admiral, Bolderwood, Hampshire

Monday 2nd November


When researching items for the website recently I found a fascinating report which sheds new light on the migration of Clouded Yellows, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Queen of Spain Fritillaries and other species that fly to Britain from southern Europe or north Africa :


I found that recent research on Monarchs has revealed that their annual mass migration from Canada to Mexico is controlled by a "time-compensated sun compass" that uses light receptors and a circadian clock, both of which are built into their antennae !  A "circadian clock" employs rhythms of biochemical, physiological or behavioural processes which control daily, seasonal and annual activities -  including migration.  When scientists removed the antennae from one group of Monarchs they flew strongly but in random directions, but a control group with their antennae intact all flew in the same direction - their south-westerly migration route. In another experiment the antennae of some were painted with black enamel, and these butterflies when placed in a flight simulator all flew together, but in the "wrong" direction compared to their normal migration route. Another group had their antennae painted with transparent paint, and these all migrated together in the right direction.


Click on these links to read all about Monarchs and Butterfly Migration.






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