Butterfly Diary - field notes by Adrian Hoskins
note : earliest sightings of each brood are in bold type
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Sunday 30th March

Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to get out into the countryside this weekend, but judging by the reports of Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites seen at several sites yesterday, it seems that spring has now well and truly arrived. Further signs of a very early spring included a Wall Brown seen at Brighton, and a fully grown larva of Pearl-bordered Fritillary found at Rewell Wood near Arundel in Sussex.

Sunday 16th March

Another gorgeous sunny spring day brought many records of Brimstones, Commas, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells from sites across southern England. In Hampshire the first Orange-tip of the year was repoprted from a garden at Fareham, and the first Holly Blue was seen at Frith End. At Ferring Rife in Sussex one observer counted as many as 77 Small Tortoiseshells!

I spent the day at Stansted Forest, where male Brimstones came down from their overnight roosts in the ivy at 10am. They soon began patrolling, searching meticulously under every bramble leaf for females. The latter are almost impossible to spot when at rest, so the males probably rely on recognising them from ultra-violet patterns that are invisible to our eyes. Females are not normally seen in flight until several days after the males, strongly suggesting that they only fly after mating has taken place. In addition to the Brimstones I saw about 20 Commas, a dozen Peacocks, a Small Tortoiseshell and a Red Admiral.

Comma, Polygonia c-album, Stansted Forest, Sussex

Thursday 13th March

Brimstones were much in evidence today at Stansted Forest, where at one point I had 6 males in sight at the same time. They were everywhere, constantly flying in and out of brambles in search of females. Occasionally one would settle momentarily to nectar at primrose or celandine; or to bask among leaf litter, leaning over at an angle to present the maximum wing area to the sun. At about 2pm, when the temperature began to drop, one by one the Brimstones flew up to settle for the night in clumps of ivy on the oak trees. Commas and Peacocks however continued to bask and fly for another hour, and spent much of the afternoon nectaring at catkins on an isolated sallow tree. The total count for the day was 20 Brimstones, 1 Small White, 7 Peacocks, 9 Commas and a Red Admiral.

Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, Stansted Forest, Sussex

Comma, Polygonia c-album, Stansted Forest, Sussex

Thursday 6th March

The Butterfly Conservation Sussex branch website today carried a report of 4 Brimstones seen at Broadwater Warren. Even more encouraging was a report of no less than 16 Small Tortoiseshells, including 3 courting pairs, seen at Ferring Rife. Let's hope this bodes well for the coming season!

Saturday 1st March

The generally rainy weather of early spring was interrupted again today by spells of very welcome sunshine, encouraging a few post-hibernation butterflies to take to the wing. In Hampshire there were 3 reports of Small Tortoiseshell singletons, at Andover, Gosport and Basingstoke; and at Botley Wood 6 male Brimstones were seen.

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