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 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.


From various chalk grassland sites in Hampshire and West Sussex there have been reports today of the first Silver-spotted Skippers of the year. Chalkhill Blue numbers are now building nicely at most sites, and Graylings have been reported in high numbers on heathlands in north Hampshire. There have been no reports yet of Brown Hairstreaks at their Hampshire strongholds, but a few early individuals were seen today in East Sussex, as were the first 2nd brood Wall Browns.


Sunday 18th July

I revisited Farley Mount with a friend this morning but this time there was no sign of the ab. obsoleta Dark Green Fritillary, in fact numbers of this species were poor with less than 10 observed, although this was partly attributable to the overcast weather. After giving up the search we went to Bentley Wood. By the time we arrived the weather had changed completely, becoming warm and sunny with blue skies. Silver-washed Fritillaries were flying in quite good numbers, with about 30 seen including a mating pair and a f. valesina. We saw at least 6 low flying Purple Hairstreaks, two of which settled very briefly on the ground to imbibe moisture. Other species seen included a dozen Marbled Whites, a couple of Peacocks, 2 fresh Red Admirals and a f. hutchinsoni Comma which I photographed as she oviposited on nettle inflorescences. The most conspicuous species by far was the Brimstone, of which I saw at least 60, freshly emerged, roughly equal numbers of male / female, mostly nectaring on betony. They were a lovely sight with the sun shining through their wings, but I found them very difficult to photograph as they were constantly on the move, and were invariably partly obscured by grasses when they did settle. Luckily after looking through the 50 or so photographs that I took, there were one or two pleasing shots among them :


Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni, male nectaring at betony, Bentley Wood, Wiltshire.

Sunday 11th July

After experiencing the paucity of butterflies on my suburban walk on Friday, it was nice today to visit one of Hampshire's loveliest nature reserves, Crab Wood, where I saw about 10 White Admirals, 30 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 2 Brimstones, 3 Green-veined Whites, 40+ Meadow Browns, 30 Ringlets, 1 Marbled White, 6 Speckled Woods, and about 20 Small / Essex Skippers. Afterwards I visited nearby Farley Mount, where I saw 8 fresh male Gatekeepers, about 40 Marbled Whites, 60 Meadow Browns, 1 Speckled Wood, 15 Ringlets, 3 Large Whites, 2 Small Whites, 1 Small Copper, 2 Common Blues, 50 Small / Essex Skippers, 1 Comma, 2 Silver-washed Fritillaries and 10 Dark Green Fritillaries.


It struck me immediately that most of the female Dark Green Fritillaries were noticeably paler in ground colour than normal, probably attributable to the warm dry weather during the late larval / pupal periods, which tends to reduce melanism. I was very surprised however when I spotted a stunning aberration, which does not appear to be previously described or allocated a scientific name. I therefore find myself in the enviable position of being the first to describe and illustrate this variety which I hereby name Argynnis aglaia aglaia ( LINNAEUS, 1758 ) ab. obsoleta ( HOSKINS, 2010 ).


Dark Green Fritillary, female ab. obsoleta, has the upperside ground colour of typical aglaia. It has the usual submarginal chevrons and post-median black spots, but on both forewings and hindwings the series of median black bars that normally link the veins are entirely absent. Additionally the central black bar of the forewing discal cell is absent, as is the black bar normally found in the hindwing discal cell.

Friday 9th July

Early this afternoon, in hot sunshine, I walked the 5 miles from my workplace in Waterlooville to my home at Havant. The object ( apart from saving bus fares and getting exercise ) was to see how many butterflies I could see at the peak summer flight season in the very unnatural edge-of-town environment in which most of us live and work these days. After an hour and a half I arrived home having seen the following - 1 fresh male Brimstone, 5 Large Whites, 4 Small Whites, 2 Common Blues, 1 Holly Blue, 1 Comma, 3 Meadow Browns and 1 Ringlet. The "habitat" included a couple of small patches of grassy wasteland and the edge of a small block of dense woodland, the remainder being urban and suburban roadsides.

Saturday 3rd July

Today was my first UK outing since returning from Peru a couple of weeks ago, and although I got immense pleasure from studying and photographing all those hundreds of gaudy and spectacular tropical species, it was nice to return to the tranquil Surrey woodlands at a time when some of my favourite British butterflies are putting on their summer show.


On a 4 hour walk around Fisherlane Wood, Tugley Wood / Botany Bay, and Chiddingfold Woods I saw 3 Purple Emperors, including the pristine male in the photo below, which spent several minutes sitting on a wooden signpost in Tugley Wood. There were lots of Silver-washed Fritillaries - about 50 fresh males in total, most of which spent the early morning patrolling back and forth along the forest tracks searching for females. I saw a mating pair at 0930, and another pair at 1100. By about 1300 the males were spending most of their time nectaring at the abundant bramble flowers, which also attracted high numbers of White Admirals - one of Britain's most graceful butterflies, which delights in weaving in and out among the branches of oaks in the mornings, and joins the Silver-washed Fritillaries to feast on bramble nectar in the early afternoon. In total I saw about 60 White Admirals, with up to half a dozen at a time on particular clumps of bramble. Other species seen today included freshly emerged singletons of Small Tortoiseshell, Holly Blue and female Brimstone, plus about 80 Ringlets, 40 Large Skippers and 50 Meadow Browns.


Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia, male, Chiddingfold Woods, Surrey


Purple Emperor Apatura iris, male, Botany Bay, Surrey


Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, female, Fisherlane Wood, Surrey


Thursday 1st July

I can report that the first Chalkhill Blues of 2010 were seen at Magdalen Hill Down in Hampshire today ( they have also just started emerging at Butcher's Hole in Sussex ) and the first of the year's Gatekeepers was recorded in Oxfordshire yesterday. Also yesterday the first 2010 Grayling was recorded at Portland in Dorset, and just along the coast at Durdle Door the numbers of Lulworth Skipper ( another declining species that is causing us concern ) are beginning to swell, with an estimated 30 individuals recorded on 26th June, having begun to emerge a week earlier.



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