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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
 
September
 
Tuesday 29th September
 

At lunch time today I had the pleasure of seeing what was almost certainly a Pale Clouded Yellow at Waterlooville, Hampshire. The helice form of the Clouded Yellow, which I saw at Beachy Head at the weekend, appears creamy-grey or whitish when seen in flight, but the insect which flew past me today was a beautiful pure primrose colour. The Pale Clouded Yellow is of course much rarer than helice, and without a photograph I can't claim a definite sighting, but I'm nevertheless confident enough to record this as a 98% certain male Pale Clouded Yellow.

 
Sunday 27th September
 

After yesterday's excitement a trip to Crab Wood this morning seemed a little tame, producing just 1 Speckled Wood, 1 Peacock, and 6 Commas ( including 2 nectaring at ivy flowers high up in an oak ).

In the afternoon I visited nearby Stockbridge Down which seemed equally quiet, but a careful search produced counts of 3 Small Heaths, 51 Meadow Browns, 1 Speckled Wood, 2 Commas, 1 Red Admiral, 2 Large Whites, 1 Small White, 2 Brimstones ( 1m, 1f ) and 21 Small Coppers.

 

Clouded Yellow, male, Beachy Head, East Sussex

 
Saturday 26th September
 

What an amazing finale to the season !  2009 has been a fantastic year for butterflies, but I'm rapidly running out of superlatives, having seen about 300 Clouded Yellows in hay fields near Beachy Head in Sussex today. At least 40 of these were pristine females, several of which were still drying their wings after emergence. The remaining females and most of the males were showing slight signs of wear, and appeared to be about a week old. Some however were in a very faded and weather-beaten state, and may have been migrants. Among the females I saw 2 f. helice. Better still, I saw a deep orange male

( unnamed aberration ), and no less than 8 copulated pairs !

 

At about 4.30pm the butterflies began to go to roost. Some elected to spend the night under bramble leaves or among tall grasses, but most just settled on the ground in the middle of the field where they tucked themselves away among tussocks of short grass. Often it was possible to see a dozen or more settled within an area of a few square metres, and it was common to find little groups of 2 or 3 adults huddled together in the grass.

 

In the same fields I saw about a dozen Painted Ladies, mostly in immaculate condition, plus 3 Common Blues, 3 Small Coppers, 1 Small Heath, 3 Large Whites and 4 Small Whites.

Clouded Yellow, female nectaring at knapweed, Beachy Head, East Sussex

Clouded Yellows at roost, Beachy Head, East Sussex

 
Friday 25th September
 

This afternoon at Cissbury Ring there were plenty of butterflies enjoying the warm September sunshine including about 20 Meadow Browns, 2 Speckled Woods, 2 Large Whites, 3 Small Whites, 1 Red Admiral, 2 Peacocks, 1 Painted Lady, 1 Holly Blue and 2 female Common Blues. Small Coppers were still flying in good numbers, with at least 35 seen, including a mating pair. I was particularly delighted to also see a beautiful Hummingbird Hawkmoth gently whirring from flower to flower, hovering over each bloom for a second or two while probing for nectar with its long proboscis.

 

The reason for my trip however was to see Clouded Yellows - and I wasn't disappointed ! There were several present, including a f. helice, but they were all extremely active and unapproachable in the hot sunshine. Then at 4.00pm I spotted something yellow on the ground, and as I got closer I realised that it was a very fresh mating pair. Unfortunately they had chosen to settle right next to a wasp's nest !

 

Perhaps unwisely I decided to risk getting stung - I crept close, laid down on my belly, and managed to take a couple of photos, but then a wasp landed on my face, causing me to flinch. The mating Clouded Yellows reacted instantly by flying up to settle high in a nearby ash tree. Amazingly, a moment later I found another mating pair settled on a bramble bush !  At about 5pm the temperature began to drop, and the Clouded Yellows began to look for roosting sites. One by one they settled, some on bramble leaves, and others on small privet bushes. In one small corner of the site I found a "hot spot", where I found 7 Clouded Yellows and 23 Small Coppers enjoying the last rays of the sinking sun. Heaven !

 
Sunday 20th September
 

Butterfly numbers are diminishing rapidly as autumn approaches, but today in overcast conditions at Old Winchester Hill there were still singletons of Adonis Blue, Chalkhill Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper flying, although all were in very faded condition. I also saw about 35 Meadow Browns, 18 fresh Small Heaths, 2 Speckled Woods, 1 Small White, 1 Large White, 3 Common Blues, 4 freshly emerged Small Coppers, 1 Red Admiral, 2 fresh Commas and a pristine and extremely alert Painted Lady.

 
Saturday 19th September
 

I revisited the schmidtii site today ( see 12th Sept ) and can report that the butterfly is alive and well. This time there were a minimum of 4 Small Coppers present - the male schmidtii, 2 normal males and a very damaged female. I saw one of the normal males "trying it on" with the female, but she did the usual "bum-wiggling, wing-fluttering, walk down the stems" rejection routine.

 

The other male was periodically intercepted by the schmidtii, which despite now being a fortnight old ( geriatric in Small Copper terms ) still had an amazing amount of energy. Each encounter resulted in a frenetic high speed chase in which the duo rocketed across the glade, constantly spiralling around each other and then shooting up into the oaks, disappearing out of sight. Predictably however within a few seconds the schmidtii always returned to the exact spot ( usually a fleabane seed-head or an oak leaf on the ground ) from which the chase started, to reclaim his territory.

 

Later I paid a mid-afternoon visit to Steyning. I failed to see any Brown Hairstreaks this time, but was pleased to find 2 Painted Ladies nectaring at ivy blossom, 2 Red Admirals, 1 Peacock, 1 male Comma, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Small Heaths, 1 Small Copper, 2 Speckled Woods and 3 Meadow Browns.

 

Finally I visited the spoil heaps at Ouse Estuary reserve hoping to see Clouded Yellows, but by the time I arrived the weather had become overcast and it was difficult to find anything at all. Persistence paid off however, with sightings of 3 very fresh 3rd brood male Wall Browns, 1 Painted Lady, 1 Peacock, 2 Meadow Browns, 1 Green-veined White and 4 freshly emerged Small Whites, including a mating pair.

3rd brood Wall Brown, male, Ouse Estuary, East Sussex

 
Sunday 13th September
 
Cloudy weather minimised any chances of seeing butterflies today so instead I spent a couple of hours at Tidworth Ranges searching for eggs and larvae. I found 28 Brown Hairstreak eggs. All were laid on young blackthorn shoots, while older lichen-encrusted growth was ignored by the ovipositing females. The vast majority of eggs were laid on east or south facing woodland edge blackthorns, often quite a long distance away from the ash trees where the adults meet and copulate. There were definite "hot-spots" favoured by the females, where up to half a dozen eggs could be found close together along a one metre stretch of blackthorn. The only adult butterflies seen were a Red Admiral, a Comma, 2 or 3 Meadow Browns and 4 Speckled Woods. I did however manage to find a few larvae, including those of Dot moth, Yellow-tail and Vapourer. The latter normally flies in late July and August, when the wingless females lay their eggs in large batches on tree trunks. Vapourers always overwinter in the egg stage, so the appearance of a half grown larva in mid September is puzzling.

Brown Hairstreak egg on blackthorn twig, Tidworth Ranges

Comma on fleabane, Tidworth Ranges

 
Saturday 12th September
 
This morning, after receiving a tip-off from a friend ( thanks Colin ) I visited a flowery woodland track at a site I cannot name, where an aberrant Small Copper had been seen earlier in the week. Within a minute of my arrival, the exquisite gem pictured below appeared. Its behaviour was very predictable and almost ritualised : When the sun was shining it undertook periodic flights, zipping about erratically for a few seconds before settling with wings closed at the tip of a grass flower. Immediately afterwards it walked down the tall grass stem until it was at about knee height, and then opened its wings to bask. This behaviour was repeated at least 30 times on different grass plants.
 
When cloud obscured the sun it flew down and settled on a stone or bare earth and closed its wings. After a few seconds it opened them to bask. The usual brilliant copper on the upperside was replaced by an almost luminous silvery white, overlaid at the base of the wings with metallic green. I got down on my hands and knees and begged it to please please please settle on a nice yellow fleabane flower and open its gorgeous wings. I had to wait nearly an hour, but my patience was finally rewarded with the image reproduced below. No photo however can do justice to the silvery sheen of this butterfly, or the gorgeous metallic greenish iridescence at the base of its wings.
 
This very rare and beautiful form of the Small Copper is known as "ab. schmidtii". On the same patch of ground there was also a freshly emerged "normal" female. Unfortunately she stayed in the area for no more than a couple of minutes and did not cross paths with the aberrant male during the hour that I was present - a great shame as it would have been fascinating to observe interaction between these 2 spectacularly different versions of the same species.
 
Other species seen along the same stretch of track included a Large White, a Green-veined White, a Small White, a Comma, a Red Admiral, 2 Common Blues, 3 Meadow Browns and 2 Speckled Woods.
 
In the late afternoon I spent an hour at Stockbridge Down. Butterflies were generally very scarce, but there were 2 female Brimstones and a Large White nectaring at a Buddleia bush in the car park, and on the tall grasses along the roadside I found several roosting butterflies including a Common Blue, 3 Chalkhill Blues, 8 Small Coppers, a Small White, 10 Meadow Browns and 11 Small Heaths. Altogether an extremely pleasing and productive day, and thanks to my good friend Colin Baker, a lifetime first sighting of the enchanting Small Copper ab. schmidtii !  My thanks also to Steve Meredith for driving me to this and other sites during the past few weeks while I've been without a vehicle of my own.

Small Copper, ab. schmidtii, male nectaring at fleabane

Small Copper, normal form, Stockbridge Down, Hampshire

 
Sunday 6th September
 
Today has been generally overcast, but during a brief sunny spell this morning I was pleased to see a fresh male Holly Blue fly across my small garden in Havant, joining the 4 resident Speckled Woods, and the occasional passing Small Whites and Large Whites.
 
Saturday 5th September
 
There is no doubt that the gale force winds and lashing rain which swept across Britain mid-week have seriously depleted butterfly populations, but warm sunny conditions this morning at Old Winchester Hill nevertheless enabled me to see 12 Speckled Woods, about 150 Meadow Browns, 15 Small Heaths, 10 Chalkhill Blues, 2 Common Blues, 1 male Adonis Blue, 1 Brown Argus, 14 fresh Commas feeding at fermenting blackberries, 1 pristine Red Admiral, 20 Painted Ladies, 2 Small Whites, 3 Large Whites, 2 Brimstones and about 15 Silver-spotted Skippers.
 
In the afternoon I travelled with a friend to investigate a private woodland near Plaistow in Sussex. By the time we arrived the weather had become cool and very overcast, so butterflies were quite difficult to find, just a handful of Speckled Woods and 3 or 4 Commas on the brambles. However I noticed that there were some fine clumps of dead garlic mustard along the edge of the ride, and decided to make a brief search for Orange tip pupae. I spotted the first pupa almost instantly, and within about 3 minutes we had found no less than five. Four of these were the normal pale brown form, and the other was the pretty pale green variety. All were found on garlic mustard plants, about halfway up the stems. One had been nibbled by a small mammal ( probably a pigmy shrew ), another had been parasitised, and the remaining 3 were healthy.

Orange tip pupa on garlic mustard

Orange tip pupa, green form
 
Tuesday 1st September
 
Yesterday I revisited Steyning for another look at the Brown Hairstreaks. Numbers were lower than on Saturday, due largely to the strong breeze which kept the butterflies clinging tightly to their roosting places high in the trees. The first female descended from an ash tree at 11.15am and settled for a few moments on a sprig of dog rose, but a gust of wind swept her off and it was another half hour before the next sighting. In total 4 or 5 females were seen, mostly slightly worn specimens. Other species included 3 Commas, 2 Wall Browns, 4 Common Blues and 10 Small Heaths.
 
In the afternoon I visited nearby Cissbury Ring, where I saw about 25 Common Blues, 1 Brown Argus, 6 very worn Chalkhill Blues, 2 fresh male Adonis Blues, 2 Red Admirals, an ovipositing Painted Lady, about 30 Large Whites, 6 Small Whites, 12 Speckled Woods, 5 Gatekeepers, 100+ Meadow Browns, and about 20 Small Heaths including a mating pair.
 
There were also at least 40 Small Coppers at Cissbury. It was amusing to watch an incident when a male attempted to get friendly with a female that had settled on a ragwort flower. She decided to play "hard to get" by running down the stem, fluttering her wings rapidly as if to tease him. The male at this point decided that there were plenty of other fish in the sea, and flew off in search of a more willing partner !

Comma, Steyning, West Sussex

Small Heath, Cissbury Ring, West Sussex

 

 

 

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