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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Sunday 25th October

The butterfly season in Britain is now drawing to an end, with very few species remaining on the wing. At Stansted Forest on Friday afternoon temperatures struggled to reach 16C - just about high enough to persuade a Red Admiral, a Comma and a Speckled Wood to momentarily take to the wing. Today it was a similar story at Brandy Hole Copse where the only species flying were singletons of Speckled Wood, Red Admiral and Painted Lady. Others have been slightly luckier, with Clouded Yellow, Peacock and Large White reported yesterday in East Sussex; and Small Copper and Common Blue seen in the west of Hampshire.


I recently received an e-mail from a guy who has done some research on parasitic mites. We knew already that the red velvet mite Trombidium breei ( which affects Meadow Browns, Marbled Whites, Small Skippers, Common Blues etc ) has been studied and found to have no detectable effect on the flight performance, orientation ability or lifespan of the butterflies, but apparently in New Zealand there are things called Dicrocheles mites which have an injurious affect on adult moths. They infest the "ears" on the wings of certain Noctuid moths. Studies have indicated that at sites where there are no predatory bats the mites attack both ears making the moths go completely deaf. But in areas where bats thrive, the mites apparently only attack one of the ears, so the moth can still detect the bat's acoustic pulses and take avoiding action. The theory goes that "if the moth cannot hear the bat, both the moth and the mites will almost certainly be eaten, so they make sure to keep one ear functional". Great theory !

Sunday 18th October

At Beachy Head this afternoon there were still plenty of Clouded Yellows to be seen.  I counted 59 in the fields either side of Hodcombe Farm, but the true number of butterflies may have been double that figure, as I must have overlooked many. I didn't see any helice or any mating pairs this time but was lucky to see and photograph an attempted mating. The female was freshly emerged and still had limp wings, but must have mated earlier in the day because she rejected the male's advances by opening her wings and raising her abdomen. At about 1530 the temperature started to fall quite rapidly, and by 1600 all the Clouded Yellows had disappeared into the grasses to roost. Painted Ladies continued flying for another half an hour though, with a total of 6 seen.

Clouded Yellow, female rejecting male by raising abdomen to prevent copulation

Friday 16th October

This afternoon I revisited Brandy Hole Copse, where 5 of us spent over 4 hours searching in vain for Queen of Spain Fritillaries.  Today's weather conditions were mostly sunny, and we found plenty of sheltered spots away from the breeze where temperatures were quite warm - enough to get 8 species flying. These included 3 or 4 Speckled Woods, 1 Red Admiral, 1 Comma, 2 Painted Ladies ( one freshly emerged ), 1 Clouded Yellow, 1 Small White, 2 Small Coppers and a Holly Blue but sadly no sign today of Queen of Spain Fritillary.

Painted Lady, freshly emerged female, Brandy Hole Copse, West Sussex.

Saturday 10th October

On 14th July this year a female Queen of Spain Fritillary was recorded at a small copse in Sussex. Today, thanks to a tip off ( thanks Neil ) I had the great fortune to see the progeny of this female in a field adjoining the copse. We found many field pansies in the area, and assume that these were used as the larval foodplant. The butterflies began emerging on 22nd September, with a minimum of 6 seen in the last fortnight. Today we saw 2 males, nectaring at thistles & dandelion, basking on a path, and at roost on maize. Neil Hulme also found a dead male that appeared to have been attacked by a spider. Other species seen included 10 Speckled Woods, 3 Commas, 2 Peacocks, 2 Painted Ladies, at least 3 Red Admirals, 2 Brown Argus, 1 female Brimstone, 1 Large White, 1 Small White and 3 pristine male Clouded Yellows. At one stage we watched a male Queen of Spain and 2 Clouded Yellows embroiled in a territorial 3-way "dog-fight". We also saw 2 Small Coppers and found several of their eggs. Curiously these were all laid on withered autumnal red leaves of clustered dock, while healthy green leaves were barren, as were the leaves of several common sorrel plants ( the most commonly used Small Copper foodplant ).


Incidentally learnaboutbutterflies broke another of our records today, receiving an an average of 1001 page hits per day during the last rolling month. We also smashed through another barrier, receiving no less than 10,962 visitors in the month of September alone. Unfortunately the high number of visitors means that running costs for the website are now very high, so sponsorship is needed urgently....

Queen of Spain Fritillary, male, Brandy Hole Copse, West Sussex. Click here for more photos.

Clouded Yellow, male, Brandy Hole Copse, West Sussex.

Comma, Brandy Hole Copse, West Sussex.

Sunday 4th October

The Clouded Yellow bonanza continues......

Clouded Yellow, male, Beachy Head, East Sussex

The promised sunshine may have failed to materialise at Beachy Head today but there were still plenty of butterflies to be seen. Each of the fields adjacent to Hodcombe Farm had at least 40 Clouded Yellows in them, including several freshly emerged males seen hanging from grass stems drying their wings. I spent most of the day on the scrubby hillside on the opposite side of the road however, as it was much easier to photograph the butterflies there in the more sheltered conditions. Early in the day it was easy to find Clouded Yellows roosting in the long grasses. Later, when glimpses of hazy sunlight penetrated through the cloud, I found several males lateral-basking on the foliage of traveller's joy and bramble. My favourite Clouded Yellow moment came just as I was about to leave for home : I always wondered why Clouded Yellows have that big round spot on their hindwings - now I know - it's a Diptera landing pad ! This little Muscid fly certainly thought so !

Clouded Yellow, plus guest !

Friday 2nd October

At Beachy Head today Clouded Yellows were still present, although in much lower numbers compared with last weekend. I saw about 80 in the fields either side of Hodcombe Farm, and a dozen or so flying on the scrubby hillside at Shooter's Bottom, including 2 helice females. Most spent their time nectaring at the abundant hawkbit, ragwort, knapweed and scabious flowers. I failed to find any copulated pairs today although I watched one male attempting to mate with a Small White, presumably mistaking it for a helice female ! Other species seen included 2 Painted Ladies, 1 Comma, 2 Small Coppers, 3 Small Heaths and a Red Admiral ( the latter flying in from the cliff top, so presumably a late migrant ).




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