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
Monday 30th August

Today I visited Dunch Hill, part of a vast military training area on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. This little known site is a mixture of ungrazed flowery chalk grassland, with small pockets of woodland, and is used for tank-training by the army, so is criss-crossed with numerous dirt roads. It is an area rich in butterfly diversity, although populations of some species are thinly spread across the site.


The most abundant species today, unsurprisingly was Meadow Brown, of which I must have seen in excess of 500 adults, many in quite fresh condition. Small Heaths were also very common, with at least 150 seen. The site also holds large populations of Adonis Blue, of which I saw about 80 fresh males and 10 females.


Brown Hairstreaks also put in an appearance - I saw 3 females, each on small isolated "islands" of blackthorn scrub, surrounded by broad stretches of grassland. I watched one female basking on blackthorn, and soon afterwards she took flight across an open expanse of grassland, eventually resettling on another blackthorn bush about 150 metres away. Other species seen included 3 Small Tortoiseshells, 1 freshly emerged Comma, 1 Red Admiral, 1 Green-veined White, 2 Large Whites, 20 Small Whites, 3 Brimstones, 50+ Common Blues, 30+ Chalkhill Blues, 1 Holly Blue, 4 Brown Argus, 2 Small Coppers and 6 Speckled Woods. I also found 2 larval nests of Marsh Fritillary, which at this site feed on small scabious rather than the usual devil's bit scabious.


Comma  Polygonia c-album, Dunch Hill, Wiltshire.

Sunday 29th August

Overcast conditions and strong winds today were far from ideal for butterfly study, but my visit to Cissbury Ring in Sussex began with a sighting of an Adonis Blue nectaring on hemp agrimony, and at least 20 more were seen in the course of the next 2 hours, including a pristine male that basked for several minutes with wings fully outspread, in a sheltered spot on the hill ramparts. Also seen were 10 Small Coppers, 18 Common Blues, 25 Chalkhill Blues, 100+ Meadow Browns, 4 Speckled Woods, about 30 Small Heaths, 2 Large Whites and 20+ Small Whites.


In the afternoon I visited Steyning to look for Brown Hairstreaks. After half an hour without any sightings I was almost on the point of giving up when a female suddenly appeared and landed at the top of a small blackthorn sapling. She behaved in typical Brown Hairstreak fashion - walking down the main stem, spiralling around as she descended, and periodically curling the tip of her abdomen round to probe for suitable egg-laying sites in the forks of the twigs. Having found the perfect spot she quickly deposited 2 eggs, then a gust of wind grabbed her and took her out of site. Exactly an hour later she reappeared about 50 metres away, laid 3 more eggs, and then spent about 5 minutes basking on nearby nettles. Other species seen included 6 Speckled Woods, 3 Small Heaths, about 20 Meadow Browns, 1 Gatekeeper, 6 Small Whites and a fresh Comma.


Small Copper  Lycaena phlaeas, female, Cissbury Ring, West Sussex.
Saturday 28th August

The rainy weather of the past week has decimated butterfly numbers, with only 15 Common Blues, 3 Holly Blues, 4 Small Coppers, 1 Large White, 8 Small Whites, 1 Green-veined White, 1 Peacock, 2 Red Admirals, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 1 Silver-washed Fritillary, 1 Gatekeeper, 30+ Meadow Browns, and 8 Speckled Woods seen this afternoon at Alner's Gorse in Dorset.


On the way home I stopped for about a hour at Martin Down in Hampshire. A strong breeze and largely cloudy conditions kept butterfly sightings to a minimum, but my sightings included 5 Adonis Blues, 10 Chalkhill Blues, 6 Common Blues, 1 Small Tortoiseshell, 3 Small Whites, 2 Brimstones, 40+ Meadow Browns, and about 20 Small Heaths.


Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus, male, Martin Down, Hampshire.
Sunday 22nd August

Despite humid and overcast conditions, I saw a fresh Brown Hairstreak within 10 seconds of arriving at Tidworth ranges this morning, and counted a total of 8 females and 2 males during the 3 hours I spent at the site. All were very approachable, basking on blackthorn or on nearby nettles. As usual with this species there were often quiet periods when all the females would retire to the tops of the blackthorn bushes, but periodically there would be a burst of activity as they went on their egg-laying "runs", which usually lasted for about 10 minutes at a time. Normally Brown Hairstreaks lay their eggs in the forks of blackthorn twigs, at heights between 0.5 - 1.5 metres above the ground, so it was surprising to see 2 different females walking down the stems almost to ground level, and lay their eggs on the main stem of small 20cm high saplings. These egg laying sites were often in deep shade, where the bases of the saplings were hidden under dense herbage. By carefully pulling back the herbage I could watch the females walking about at the base of the blackthorn stems, laying their eggs in the damp shady conditions below, at a height of less than 10cms above the ground.

Brown Hairstreak Thecla betulae, female, Tidworth ranges, Hampshire.
Other species seen at Tidworth ranges today included 2 Speckled Woods, about 30 Meadow Browns, 3 very worn Gatekeepers, 1 Small Heath, 1 Peacock, 1 Comma, 1 Silver-washed Fritillary, a mating pair of Large Whites, 15+ Small Whites, 1 Green-veined White, 1 female Brimstone, and about 30 Common Blues.
In the afternoon I spent about an hour at nearby Broughton Down, where I saw 6 very old, worn Silver-spotted Skippers, 8 Brown Argus, 50 Common Blues, about 20 faded Chalkhill Blues, 1 male Holly Blue, 3 male Adonis Blues, 40+ Meadow Browns, and about a dozen fresh Small Heaths.
Sunday 15th August

Today I visited 3 different sites in Hampshire and Dorset. First stop was Stockbridge Down, where I spent a few minutes in a flowery glade near the car park, and saw 22 Chalkhill Blues, 20 Common Blues, 6 Small Coppers, 1 Comma, 2 Peacocks, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 1 Silver-washed Fritillary, I Brimstone, 12 Small Whites, 15 Meadow Browns, 1 Small Heath and 3 Speckled Woods.


Next I headed for Alner's Gorse in Dorset, where almost as soon as I entered the site I found a very fresh female Brown Hairstreak nectaring at fleabane. I saw 2 more Brown Hairstreaks on other parts of the site, plus 1 Purple Hairstreak, 50+ Common Blues, 1 Brown Argus, 1 Small Copper, 26 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 6 Peacocks, 12 Small Tortoiseshells, 1 Painted Lady, 1 Red Admiral, 1 Brimstone, 15 Small Whites, 1 Large White, 2 Small Skippers, 3 Ringlets, 10 Speckled Woods, 20 Gatekeepers, 40 Meadow Browns and 1 Small Heath.


Brown Hairstreak Thecla betulae, female, Alner's Gorse, Dorset.


My final destination of the day was Hod Hill, where I arrived just as most butterflies were going to roost for the evening. On the walk up from the village I saw a fresh male Holly Blue, 1 Green-veined White and 5 Speckled Woods. On a walk around the ramparts of the old hill fort I was able to add 14 Chalkhill Blues, 23 Common Blues, 8 fresh male Adonis Blues, 1 Small Blue and 1 Small Copper, bringing the total count for the day to 25 species.


Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus, male, Hod Hill, Dorset.


Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae, Alner's Gorse, Dorset.

Saturday 7th August

Transport problems have made it difficult for me to get out to butterfly sites recently, but a friend kindly took me to Alner's Gorse butterfly reserve in Dorset today. This small but very lovely site is a fascinating mosaic of ancient grassland, blackthorn thickets, oak copses and hedgerows which has survived intact while most of the surrounding countryside has been turned into farmland. The site is rich in nectar sources and larval foodplants, so has an excellent butterfly fauna. Today for example, despite overcast conditions and frequent drizzle, I was able to see 6 Small Tortoiseshells, 1 Peacock, 2 Red Admirals, 8 Silver-washed Fritillaries including a valesina female, 1 Painted Lady, 1 Brimstone, 6 Large Whites, 4 Small Whites, 4 Green-veined Whites, 20+ Small Skippers, 5 Small Coppers, 20 Common Blues, 1 Holly Blue, 2 Purple Hairstreaks, 4 male Brown Hairstreaks, 6 Speckled Woods, 50+ Meadow Browns, 70+ Gatekeepers and 4 Wall Browns.


I was particularly fascinated to watch the courtship display of the Wall Browns, in which the male chases the female until she settles in the grasses, and then flies around her, eventually settling in front of her, face to face. The female then responds by quivering her open wings, at which point the male half opens his own wings, and "bows" several times to his prospective mate. Unfortunately when this was taking place the pair were disturbed by passing walkers, and the male flew off, so I was unable to discover whether the ritual would have resulted in copulation. Nevertheless it was fascinating to watch.


Peacock Inachis io, Alner's Gorse, Dorset.

Sunday 25th July

This afternoon I spent 3 hours at Tugley Wood in Surrey, watching one of my favourite British butterflies - the Wood White, which is currently enjoying a very successful 2nd brood. I saw a minimum of 40 fresh individuals, nectaring mainly on bush vetch, but also visiting knapweed, bird's-foot trefoil, self heal, cranesbill and willowherb. Among them were 2 individuals with dark sooty markings on the underside wings, and a female in which the eyes were black, rather than the normal green colour. I also watched 2 separate pairs indulging in the mysterious face-to-face ritual in which the male repeatedly twirls his proboscis in the air, "tickling" the female alternately on the underside of each hindwing. Some entomologists claim that this is a pre-nuptial routine, but I've watched this behaviour countless times over many years, and in my experience it never leads to mating. Today in fact I watched one pair "courting" in this way for about 2 minutes, after which the male flew off in search of another female. Meanwhile his intended bride proved that she had already lost her virginity to someone else, by laying an egg in front of my eyes. Afterwards I spent a few minutes searching the immediate vicinity, and found over 20 eggs, laid on the leaflets of various Fabaceae, primarily bitter vetch, bird's-foot trefoil and black medick.


Wood White Leptidea sinapis, Tugley Wood, Surrey.


Other species seen at Tugley today included about a dozen Large Whites, 5 Small Whites, 2 Green-veined Whites, 15 Brimstones, 60 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 3 White Admirals, 1 Red Admiral, 1 Comma, 1 Holly Blue, 6 Common Blues, 1 Small Copper, 1 Purple Hairstreak, 30+ Large Skippers, 40+ Small / Essex Skippers, 30 Ringlets, 50+ Meadow Browns and about 40 Gatekeepers.



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