Thursday, 17 August 2017

A hot streak

The title cannot of course refer to the relatively mild mid-summer weather, but instead subtly alludes to a summer that has seen me connect with a number of new species of Butterfly in a short space of time (one of those of course a Hairstreak).

Early August, the now Bradley clan descended on the peaceful Cotswolds, first for a 10-mile pub crawl consisting of 8 pubs and at least as much local ale (Rose and Debs bit-part players in this quest it has to be said) but secondly for relaxation and some Blue Butterflies. The weather made seeking out the specialist species difficult, but I was thrilled to find 2/3 Adonis Blue on the chalky hillsides of Rodborough Common. Chalkhil Blue was very much the default Butterfly of these parts, so when I finally stumbled across a flash of electric blue, I knew instantly I was dealing with my target. Fantastic.

Whilst the same wow factor did not follow when I found a single male Small Blue, I will at least remember traversing the slopes of Selsley Common, stepping over many a Brown Argus, and finally giving up and ascending the common, only to stop in my tracks as my second of 2 targets flitted away from a patch of scorched grass. Taking all things into consideration, this was Butterflying to a new level. Small Heath, Small Copper, Silver-washed Fritillary, Brown Argus, Common and Chalkhill Blue were 'easy'. Throw in the real specialists, and the fact that I was outside peak season, and the southwest with its calcareous soils really does merit another visit.

I was priviliged to meet up with local Lepidoptera aficionado Peter Hugo, who invited me to go through his Moth trap one morning. His house overlooks the town of Stroud, and the garden list boasts Duke or Burgundy, Silver-washed Fritillary and White-letter Hairstreak. Although the previous night had been chilly, there was still a decent haul to go through which included a Beech Green Carpet and Nut Tree Tussock, both new for me.

Back home, numbers of Moths have been up and down due to the clear nights. However, I was lucky to come across a Sharp-angled Peacock, a coastal species with very few inland records attached.

A couple of day trips have yielded success on the Butterfly front. on Tuesday, James Emerson and I headed to Chambers Farm Wood in Lincolnshire as planned to hopefully see Brown Hairstreak. We spent as much of the day there as time would allow, enjoying crippling views of Purple Hairstreak on the ground in front of us, but only flight views of Brown. The mix of Ash, Blackthorn and a variety of plants to nectar on made this wood an ideal spot for this elusive Hairstreak, and as we began a slow trudge back to the car we both I think felt a little frustrated that the crippling views others had enjoyed were not to be permitted to us. Finally though, a female stopped James in his tracks a few feet from us. She then flew into an Ash, wings open, allowing us to see the large Orange blotches at an albeit acute angle. I then picked up a male nearby, and the set was complete. Job done, and a return visit in May is already being discussed for Marsh Fritillary.

Yesterday, I was very privileged to join Mr. Bird Therapy for a look at a small colony of Clouded Yellow. The site is private, and sadly may soon be up for sale and who knows what. I saw around 10 Clouded, including a Helice female. These Butterflies rarely come to rest, and are a speedy proposition to photograph over the trefoil. I am sure you have seen Joe's excellent photographs on Twitter though, wings open, so it does happen! Very lucky to be at the heart of this species' attempts to colonise the county. I wonder what will be next?

Looking back with anger, I noticed that Sally, one of the Norfolk Montagu's Harriers, has died under suspicious circumstances. I was privileged to see the family late in July, but the news was a stark reminder of how fragile their existence is here in Britain.