- field notes by Adrian Hoskins
sightings of each brood are highlighted in bold type
Monday 30th August
policy - details of certain sites where visitor pressure
or trampling may pose a threat to butterflies or alienate
landowners are excluded from these pages.
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.
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
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,
Small Coppers, 1 Large White, 8 Small Whites, 1 Green-veined
Peacock, 2 Red Admirals, 2
Small Tortoiseshells, 1 Silver-washed Fritillary,
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.
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.
female, Tidworth ranges, Hampshire.
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.
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.
male, Hod Hill, Dorset.
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
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.
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.
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
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.