Sizzling, speedy, spunky, shimmering, sassy, spry, salient, sensational, shapely, striking, snappy, sparkly, spellbinding, splendiferous! Okay, I got a bit carried away but Small coppers are special.
Off we went again, our gallant gang of four, this time in search of the rare Brown hairstreak at Butterfly Conservation’s Alners Gorse reserve in Dorset.
This reserve is beautiful, the colourful swathes of wildflowers reminiscent of a painting by Monet or Van Gogh, the wide range of trees providing diverse habitats for local wildlife and welcome shade for butterfliers on yet another hot summer’s day.
Unfortunately, the Brown hairstreaks eluded us, and most of the other 20-odd people wandering around the reserve, staring intently, as we were, at bramble bushes, hedgerows and oak trees.
One person, on turning a corner in the path, had almost bumped into a Brown, but the butterfly immediately flew off and wasn’t seen again. A couple said they’d seen one high in a tree but much tree staring failed to produce another sighting.
Still, there were butterflies in abundance and my list for the day totalled a very respectable seventeen: Silver-washed fritillary, Purple hairstreak, Comma, Peacock, Red admiral, Painted lady, Essex skipper, Small skipper, Small white, Green-veined white, Common blue, Small copper, Brimstone, Meadow brown, Ringlet, Gatekeeper and Speckled wood. My companions also saw Marbled white, bringing the group total to eighteen – I was obviously staring at a tree at that time!
Alners Gorse is a well known site for Marsh fritillaries – now finished for this year, and we saw large numbers of other insects – hoverflies, bees, flies, crickets and grasshoppers, and several species of dragonfly, so it’s well worth a visit at any time of the year.
On the hottest July day on record, yesterday, three mad gents and a Kiwi woman went butterflying in the noon day sun!
Our destination was the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Lower Woods Nature Reserve, which, according to their website, is ‘one of the largest ancient woodlands in the south-west of England’. I can believe it!
We walked most of the Horton Great Trench, one of the long grassy roads that have been in existence since Medieval times, as well as detouring in through the woods on one of the many tracks, and it was beautiful – extremely hot, but beautiful! Towering old trees edged the ancient trackway, with clearings widening out to wildflower meadows in many places along the way.
The trench was perfect for butterflies. I have never seen so many Silver-washed fritillaries before, and there was also an abundance of Peacocks, flashing their brilliant colours on the bramble flowers. We spotted several Purple hairstreaks up high in the ancient oaks and then had the delight of watching one come down to the grass to drink from the overnight dew – fabulous!
Our list for the site came to 17 species: Silver-washed fritillary, Purple hairstreak, Peacock, Red admiral, Comma, Large and Small and Marbled whites, Brimstone, Small skipper, Common blue and Brown argus, Speckled wood, Meadow brown, Ringlet and Gatekeeper, and two gorgeous Small coppers.
We didn’t actually find our target species, the White admiral, at Lower Woods but a detour to Slade Wood on the way home produced one individual, bringing our top-spotter car-driver his 50th butterfly species of the year. Congratulations, Gareth!
Butterflies have a hard life. Having to weave their way through a maze of wildflowers and long grasses, squabbling with other butterflies, taking evasive manoeuvres to avoid being eaten, these all take their toll on creatures that are not very robust to begin with.
During today’s stroll around Cosmeston, I discovered a stunning, pristine Small copper, presumably newly emerged, one of their second brood for the year, but I also saw a very tatty looking Common blue, its wings frayed around the edges, its colour very faded, its life almost over. Yet it was battling on into a strong headwind, not giving up. There’s a lesson there, I think.
I was hoping to see several different butterfly species during our days in Kent but the weather was mostly against us – we had, at various times, gale-force winds, squally rain showers, and batterings of hail, and it was generally quite cool. I was quite hopeful, though, when we arrived at Cliffe Pools on our last day, as the sun came out to play and the paths were mostly enclosed by sheltering trees and low scrub. It was by sheer chance, though, that I managed to spot my first ever Green hairstreaks – two butterflies were swirling around each other, disputing territory, and I immediately realised they were something different.
Luckily, I kept an eye on them, as their camouflage is so good that they’re incredibly difficult to spot once they’ve landed on a bush.
Plus, they often do this thing where they angle their wings to one side, presumably to make themselves look even more like a leaf.
I also saw my first Wall brown butterfly for the year at Cliffe Pools – this was the species I’d seen reports of and was particularly looking for there.
At the RSPB nature reserve at Dungeness I also saw my first Small copper for 2019.
And during the rest of our trip we also saw Peacock, Brimstone, Holly blue, and some of the White species – not a lot really but, though I didn’t get the quantity I expected, we certainly saw quality butterflies.
‘The quickness of the wing deceives the eye.’ So write Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss in their brilliant book Wonderland: A year of Britain’s wildlife day by day (John Murray, London, 2017). They’re describing those butterflies that ‘fly so haphazardly and so fast that they are little more than hallucinations, a flicker of motion at the edge of our vision, making us question whether we’ve seen one at all.’
The Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas) is one such butterfly but, I find, with a pinch of stealth, a sprinkle of luck and a tablespoonful of patience, it will settle and even pose for photos. And the outcome is no hallucination but rather a delicious creation, even a gourmet would admire.
#30DaysWild, 30 Days Wild, Blue-tailed damselfly, Broad-bodied Chaser, Common blue butterfly, Emperor dragonfly, Large Red damselfly, Large skipper, Lavernock Nature Reserve, Six-spot burnet, Small copper, Speckled wood
Day 12 of my #30DaysWild was spent wandering around the nature reserve at Lavernock. Though it’s not yet the riot of colour it will be in another month or so, many wildflowers are already blooming, including the Common spotted and Pyramidal orchids, and plenty of critters were feasting on nectar and pollen.
Today’s highlights included my first Six-spot burnet moth of the year, which was dazzling in the bright sunlight, and my second Small copper butterfly, a rather tatty looking specimen but still lovely to see. The Large skippers, Common blues and Speckled woods were abundant, and I also saw whites, a Brimstone and several Meadow brown butterflies.
The pond was alive with dragon- and damselfly action, with both a female Emperor and a female Broad-bodied chaser ovipositing. There were three male Broad-bodied chasers constantly squabbling over territory and a Four-spotted chaser trying to avoid them all. Damselflies included Large reds, Common blues, Azures and Blue-tailed. ’Twas a very lively place today!
On day 8 of #30DaysWild I paid my first visit to the Aberbargoed Grasslands, with my friend Sharon. We were hoping to spot some of the Marsh fritillaries this National Nature Reserve is known for but, sadly, we didn’t even see one. Perhaps the overcast weather had sent them into hiding. The good news is that I saw my first Small copper butterfly for the year, we saw a small number of Common blue butterflies and a few whites. We also spotted several moths, the most spectacular of which was a group of five male long-horn moths, Nemophora degeerella. They were dazzling, even on a grey day, and just look at the length of those horns!
It’s three weeks since I caught a fleeting glimpse – and shot some very shaky photos – of my first-ever Small copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas), and I’ve been keeping an eye out for them wherever I go ever since. Ten days ago, I saw another, briefly, but a man came walking along the path and scared it away just as I was lining up for better images. Then, four days ago, another of these little beauties popped up on a flower right in front of me at Cosmeston and I got some reasonable, though not sharp photos – the wind was howling across the field that day.
And, finally, two days ago, when I was revisiting one of my former haunts, the glorious old meadows near Llanishen Reservoir, I saw first two, then another one Small copper, and these were so busy feasting and ‘interacting’ that I was able to watch them for ages. Butterfly bliss!
Now, I know I’ve been posting quite a few butterfly photos lately but I just adore them and, as summer will soon be over and they’ll disappear for another year, I can’t help but share their beauty while I can. So, as well as that gorgeous Jersey tiger I showed you yesterday, here are just a few of the 16 species of Lepidoptera from Lavernock Nature Reserve on Thursday: there were 4 Brimstone butterflies; large numbers of Common blues; this pair of Large whites mating; 5 Painted ladies; 2 stunning Peacocks; 4 Red admirals; 2 Silver Y moths that just wouldn’t keep still for a sharp photo; and only my second-ever Small copper that got scared off when someone came walking down the path towards me.