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
Saturday 24th April
Today 7 Duke of Burgundy males - the first of the season, and 3 Dingy Skippers, were seen at Noar Hill by a friend who also told me that Wood Whites have just started to emerge in Surrey. I didn't see any "first of season" species myself today - I visited Ballard Down in Dorset, where cool conditions kept butterfly activity minimal. Nevertheless I managed to see 2 Commas, 2 Peacocks, 14 Speckled Woods ( including an ovipositing female ), an Orange tip, and 2 Dingy Skippers.
Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, Magdalen Hill Down, Hampshire
Dingy Skipper, male, Erynnis tages, Ballard Down, Dorset
Friday 23rd April
Green Hairstreaks were very active at Magdalen Hill Down this afternoon. In some spots up to 4 males could be seen within a metre or two of each other, perching on low growing bramble leaves. Every now and then one would fly up and immediately a battle would take place, with 2 or 3 males spiralling rapidly up to a height of about 3 metres, after which each returned to it's original perch or to another nearby leaf. Other species seen included a Small Copper, about 15-20 Grizzled Skippers including a mating pair, 2 Commas, 6 Peacocks and one Orange tip.
Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi, Magdalen Hill Down, Hampshire
Thursday 22nd April
The first Painted Lady of the year was reported today from Lardon Chase in Berkshire.
Wednesday 21st April
The first Clouded Yellow of the year was reported today from Swanage in Dorset.
Sunday 18th April
Orange tips are now appearing in good numbers at Stansted Forest. Early this afternoon I watched several males relentlessly patrolling back and forth searching for females. Most of the latter seem to have already mated however, judging by the "raised abdomen" rejection signals that they were displaying to their suitors. Peacocks were present in high numbers, indicative of a very high winter survival rate. I also saw my first Speckled Wood of the year, basking on a sunny path in the late afternoon. Total count for the afternoon was 11 Orange tips ( 8m, 3f ), 1 Speckled Wood, at least 40 Peacocks, and 9 Commas.
Speckled Wood, male, Pararge aegeria, Stansted Forest, West Sussex
Saturday 17th April
Peacocks were by far the commonest butterflies at the 3 Hampshire sites that I visited today, with counts of 19 at Magdalen Hill Down, 8 at Stockbridge Down and 7 at Pitt Down. Magdalen Hill Down had the greatest species diversity - in addition to Peacocks there were 12 Brimstones, 7 Grizzled Skippers, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 2 Commas, 1 Green-veined White, 1 Holly Blue and 3 Orange tips.
The first Small Copper of the year was reported today from Gosport, Hampshire.
Grizzled Skipper, male Pyrgus malvae, Magdalen Hill Down, Hampshire
Friday 16th April
The number of Commas seen this afternoon at Stansted Forest was slightly lower than it was a few days ago, but Peacocks were present in high numbers, and could be seen sparring with each other, or chasing bumble bees, in sunny spots throughout the woodland. My species count comprised of 6 Commas, 17 Peacocks, 2 Brimstones, 1 Small White and 2 Orange tips ( 1m, 1f ). Strangely I have not yet seen any Speckled Woods, but these can only be a day or two away from emergence.
Orange tip Anthocharis cardamines, Stansted Forest, West Sussex
Tuesday 13th April
The first Dingy Skipper of the year was reported from Mill Hill in Sussex today.
Sunday 11th April
Cool weather reduced the numbers of butterflies seen this morning, but nevertheless a visit to Noar Hill in Hampshire produced a mating pair of Brimstones, a Small Tortoiseshell, 2 female Commas and 4 Peacocks.  In mid afternoon I visited Dunsfold in Surrey, where temperatures were by then high enough to encourage a few more butterflies to take flight. In a boggy woodland clearing I saw 4 male Orange tips ( and a single female ), 2 Brimstones, 3 Peacocks and 2 Commas. Just over the Sussex border in nearby Fisherlane Wood I added another 5 Peacocks, 2 Commas and 2 Orange Underwing moths.
Orange tip Anthocharis cardamines, Dunsfold, Surrey
Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae, Noar Hill, Hampshire
Peacock Inachis io, Stansted Forest, West Sussex
Saturday 10th April
This afternoon I visited the Butterfly Conservation reserve at Magdalen Hill Down, Hampshire, and saw my first Green Hairstreak of 2010. Other species included 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 1 Comma, 7 Peacocks, 3 Brimstones and 2 Orange tips. I also had time for a short walk on Stockbridge Down where I saw a Red Admiral laying eggs on nettles along the valley bottom. There were also at least 4 Commas, 2 Brimstones, 4 Peacocks and a Small White flying in the same area. More exciting news came from a visitor to Parkhurst Forest on the Isle of Wight, who saw and photographed a Large Tortoiseshell today !
Friday 9th April
At Stansted Forest, this afternoon's warm sunshine resulted in a frenzy of butterfly activity. In one small glade I counted no less than 8 Commas, mostly males. They were actively defending their territories against each other, and against the Peacocks which regularly intruded, and it was great fun watching them chase around, trying to anticipate which butterfly would emerge triumphant after each sortie. Commas are brave and inquisitive butterflies, and succeeded in chasing off most of the Peacocks, also bees, flies and even an angry hornet !
By 5.30pm the temperature had dropped, and I spent several minutes watching the various species seeking out their overnight roosting places. I lost sight of some of them, but saw 2 Brimstones settle down for the night under bramble leaves. The Commas were the hardest to follow, but I saw one go to roost under a branch, and another disappeared into a log pile. Peacocks were quite easy to follow, and I watched 2 of them investigating a tangle of fallen branches, beneath which they both settled. My total count for the afternoon was 12 Commas, 7 Peacocks and 5 Brimstones.
Thursday 8th April
As the long cold winter finally ends, and the first warm sunny days of spring arrive, sightings of Peacock, Comma, Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell continue on a daily basis. More surprisingly, the last 2-3 days have brought earlier than expected sightings of the first Green-veined White, Small White, Large White, Orange tip, Grizzled Skipper and Duke of Burgundy of 2010 from various sites in Hampshire, Sussex, Dorset and Oxfordshire.
Monday 5th April
I revisited Bentley Wood today and took the opportunity to take another look at the Speckled Wood pupa that I discovered there on 14th March. At the moment there is no sign of it "colouring up" in preparation for emergence, but the first Speckled Wood adults of 2010 have already been reported from Oxfordshire on 28th March, so it's emergence at Bentley Wood can be expected soon. The only adult butterfly I saw today was a Brimstone which briefly took flight during a short sunny spell.
Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni, Bentley Wood, Wiltshire
At another site in Wiltshire I found several half grown Marsh Fritillary larvae, including some which had been parasitised by Apanteles bignelli wasps. The photo below shows a cluster of 4 Apanteles cocoons and the corpses of half a dozen Marsh Fritillary larvae. The wasps will emerge in a few days and lay their eggs on other aurinia larvae, and the resulting grubs will feed on them until the larvae are fully grown. Luckily a small number of larvae manage to escape parasitism and produce adult butterflies. Marsh Fritillaries lay about 500 eggs, to ensure that enough larvae are produced to survive the ravages of Apanteles and other natural enemies.
Apanteles wasp cocoons lying beside the corpses of Euphydryas aurinia larvae, Wiltshire


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