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 28th March


Yesterday I visited a site in east Dorset to search for Marsh Fritillary larvae and had a couple of surprises. The site is normally grazed by cattle specifically for the benefit of Marsh Fritillaries, but the cattle had gone and had been replaced by sheep. These were the strangest sheep I'd ever met - instead of being timid and scampering off at my approach, they stood on the opposite hillside for a minute or two baaing at me, and then the whole flock came charging straight at me at full gallop. I thought for a moment that they were actually going to attack me, but when they got within about 10 feet they suddenly eased off, and strolled right up to say hello. I was even able to stroke one of them on the head ! They then spent the next 5 minutes following me around as I searched for larvae, and I felt a bit like "Mary and her little lamb" ! Very odd. The second surprise of the day was to find that the Marsh Fritillary larvae were already in their 5th instar, and mostly solitary, although I did find a few groups of between 3-6 smaller larvae huddled together. After the cold winter I had expected their development to be retarded, but they are in a quite advanced state of development, so it seems likely that the adults will emerge "on time" in early May. Larvae numbers here and at other sites are much higher than they have been in the last 3-4 years, so it could be a bumper year for this lovely butterfly.
It is worth mentioning here an interesting report by James Giles, manager of Thursley Common NNR in Surrey, just published on the website of the Sussex branch of Butterfly Conservation. It refers to a group of about 12 Red Admirals that were observed flying out of a rabbit burrow on 18th March, possibly responding to the smoke or heat from a nearby fire. Until recently records of Red Admirals hibernating in this country were extremely rare, but during the very mild winters of 2006/2007 and 2007/2008 they were a common sight in Stansted Forest ( report here ), where they roosted openly on the trunks of larch trees. This winter, despite very harsh conditions they have clearly been able to survive by adopting a different strategy, hibernating below ground where they are protected from the worst effects of the weather.
The website of the Upper Thames branch of Butterfly Conservation today reported a sighting of Speckled Wood from Cholsey, Oxfordshire. This is I believe the first confirmed 2010 sighting of this species ( discounting records of individuals that probably emerged in greenhouses etc ).
larvae of Marsh Fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia, nr Dorchester, Dorset

Friday 26th March


Spring is finally getting under way - primroses, violets, coltsfoot, dandelions and sallow catkins are now flowering; ponds and ditches are full of toad spawn; and despite torrential rain yesterday there were a few Brimstones and Peacocks on the wing when I visited Stansted Forest this morning.
Peacock, Inachis io  Stansted Forest, West Sussex


Grey Shoulder-knot moth, Lithophane ornitopus  Stansted Forest, West Sussex


Wednesday 24th March


A report appeared today on the website of the Upper Thames branch of Butterfly Conservation, of a Holly Blue, seen in Bracknell, Berkshire, the first record of this species for 2010.


Sunday 21st March


Brimstones, Commas, Small Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals all now all being reported on a daily basis here in southern England, although my only personal sighting this weekend was of a male Comma which has set up territory in my garden.
A wide variety of moths have also been reported this week, including the first 2010 records of Pale Pinion, Lead-coloured Drab, Clouded Drab, Common Quaker, Small Quaker, Twin-spotted Quaker, Shoulder Stripe, Early Grey, Hebrew Character, Yellow Horned, Engrailed and Oak Nycteoline, but so far there have been no reports of Orange Underwings.

Sunday 14th March


Today I visited Bentley Wood in Wiltshire, where I saw my first butterfly of 2010 - a male Brimstone seen flying in a small glade. Half an hour later, along a track in another part of the wood I spotted another Brimstone, and a very weather-beaten Red Admiral. Just before I left the site I took a quick look along a minor track and was very pleased to find the pretty green pupa of a Speckled Wood, attached to a leaf of pendulous sedge. On the way home I stopped for half an hour at Crab Wood in Hampshire and was able to see my fourth species of the day - a Comma, basking among leaf litter.
Reports today of Small Tortoiseshells seen in Hampshire, Dorset, Sussex, Surrey, Oxfordshire and Berkshire indicate that ( as per my 26th Feb predictions ) the butterflies survived the winter in good numbers. There have also been a few reports of Red Admirals, although it is unclear whether these are migrants or post-hibernation survivors. Brimstones, Commas and Peacocks have also been reported in low numbers from across southern England this weekend.
pupa of Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria, Bentley Wood, Wiltshire

Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni, Bentley Wood, Wiltshire


Saturday 6th March


A Painted Lady, presumably an inbound migrant, was recorded at Bolderwood in the New Forest, Hampshire yesterday. Today singletons of Small Tortoiseshell were reported from Berkshire and Oxfordshire.


Tuesday 2nd March


The website of the Hampshire branch of Butterfly Conservation today reported a Red Admiral seen in Portsmouth, and 3 records of Brimstones, seen at Alresford, Swanmore and Staunton Country Park respectively. Small Tortoiseshells were reported from 3 sites on the Sussex coast; and the first Comma of the year was reported from Frieth in Buckinghamshire.


Monday 1st March


There were 3 reports of Red Admiral singletons seen in various parts of Hampshire today, also a Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock, both seen at Winchester. Further east, in Sussex, no less than 3 Peacocks were reported from different sites, in addition to 2 Red Admirals and a single Brimstone. Another Brimstone, a female, was also recorded at Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire.



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