Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Butterfly Extravaganza

With a continued spell of warm and sunny weather, I have been launching operation Butterfly over the last 4 days, with splendid results. Spurred on by Matthew Oates' book and a belief that this is something I 'can' do (peak birding time often held up by work, but long halcyon days in the summer allow for extra time in the field) I began with a visit to Bonny Wood in Barking, near the family home in Suffolk. In fact, many of the family turned out for the walk including Moysiebirder and dad. The 23rd was a hot day, the wood itself quiet save for the buzz of insects. We were onto our first Silver-washed Fritillaries before long, at least 6 individuals dashed past us on the woodlands rides, rarely stopping to feed and not allowing any photos. A few of us got onto Purple Hairstreak high up in the Oaks, and on the way back we found a much more confiding and more easily observed colony. The target- Purple Emperor- did fly through high and strong, but sadly only myself and Ben got onto this beast of the canopy. Walking back to the village, Ben was quick to spot a White Admiral, completing a good haul although views were a challenge. Really exciting to think that the neighbouring parish to home has Purple Emperor- and now I have the evidence to prove it to myself! I wonder what their status is in Suffolk? The Theberton colony are apparently introduced, but with others popping up at Bradwell and Monk's Wood, perhaps this enigmatic species is on the rise and has naturally expanded its range in my home county. 

With Emperor season at its peak, I was keen to try Fermyn Woods for the first time, tying in a visit to a friend and a beer festival/village fete. Arriving midday on the 25th, the bright sunshine had been replaced by cloud and locals were reporting hard work inside the Fermyn complex. I spent an hour on the first ride, craning my neck in an attempt to identify a small Hairstreak colony. There were a few Elms around, so probably White-letter, but not confirmed. Then, a larger Butterfly caught my eye- a Purple Emperor high above the canopy. Jackpot. Walking on to a small clearing, I observed Silver-washed Fritillary engaging in what can only be described as harassment by male on female, and another Emperor perched high up just out of good view. With the day fast disappearing, I retraced my steps and eventually achieved good views of a perched Emperor, too high to even dare photograph. I was desperate for one to come to ground, but on this occasion my experience of this species in Hertfordshire a few years ago was not to be eclipsed. (See here: http://jimsbirdingblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/purple-emperor-visit.html)

Onwards then to Bedford Purlieus, absolutely no sign posting for this area of Rockingham Forest but when I pulled over to consult the map and a Fritillary flew past, I decided I was in the right place. With only half an hour until I was due to meet my friend for the first pint, I spoke to a couple of guys searching for the target species here- White-letter Hairstreak. One chap had been looking for 3 hours and was then headed home. Even if I could have caught up with him, not sure I would have dared show him the image I captured below. Very lucky. Easily my best views of this species.  

 White-letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus, Northants. 

We made a surprisingly early start this morning despite the late night at Thurning Fest, during which I won a bottle of QE2 Whiskey, unopened in decanter. (Whiskey auction sites have this going for around 100 quid! One to hide in the cupboard and forget about). Although I knew it was too late in the season to look for Black Hairstreak, I wanted to check out their stronghold, Glapthorn Cow Pastures. An enchanting little reserve, and hopefully a return visit here next June will deliver. Today, we contented ourselves with commoner species and the contsant mournful call of the Bullfinch. Goes without saying almost, but Red Kites were everywhere.

 Inside the reserve- no cows or horses in sight, just a lot of Blackthorn. 

I then headed home, via Devil's Dyke on the Cambs/Suffolk border. I have been meaning to visit here for years, and what a treat this was. 100s of Chalkhill Blues fluttering over the chalky hillsides here, a new species for me. It was not long until I added another first, Marbled White. I only counted 5 of these which were subsequently harder to pin down and photograph.

So, an excellent few days and thanks to James Emerson for site details. I snapped a few wildflowers pictures which I am hoping he will be able to id when I see him Thursday! Cheers James.

 Chalkhill Blue, Devil's Dyke

 View from the Dyke- keep walking for Reach Fen! 

 6-spot Burnet Moth

Marbled White


  1. Terrific sightings. I have only ever seen one Purple Emperor (at Chedworth Roman villa, which seemed appropriate!). Incidentally, I got married in Surlingham 31 years ago ... and taught in Thetford! Will any of your sightings go towards the Big Butterfly Count, I wonder?

  2. It's a small world, Caroline!
    I will be submitting my sightings today (various wildlife related admin to get through).
    Thanks for the comment,