Monday, 1 July 2013

What do you mean they are rare? 1st July 2013

Last week I went to Waterperry Nature Reserve looking for the rare and often elusive Black Hairstreak butterfly. Last year was pretty disastrous for them so it was by no means certain there would be any but I found four over the space of four and a half hours and felt very pleased with myself.

Fired by my success at Waterperry, today, I tried my luck at the nearby Bernwood Forest Nature Reserve. To be precise I tried my luck at the M40 Compensation Area which is an area of land sandwiched between the forest and the M40 and a well known place in which to find Black Hairstreaks. This was the first time I had visited here and I was told the Compensation Area was at the end of the main track that runs through the forest. This was true. What I was not told was that it was very hard to find, necessitating following hardly discernible tracks through nettles and sundry other vegetation and I met several other enthusiasts also very confused but after several wrong detours through the woods and some uncertainty we finally found ourselves in the right place.

We were not alone when we got there. I suppose being a sunny, warm weekend it was inevitable that a considerable number of people would come looking for the hairstreaks. Nonetheless I was a bit taken aback by how many people there were with some even from as far as Cornwall. The Compensation Area looked prime habitat for hairstreaks with swathes of Blackthorn everywhere you looked. Normally it would be deserted as no one in their right mind apart from butterfly enthusiasts would come here for enjoyment, slap bang by an endlessly busy and very noisy Motorway.

The prime areas seemed to be right by the fence running along the edge of the Motorway. Not the quietest spot by a long way as vehicles roared up and down the six lane highway literally feet from us but this was where the butterflies were so it was here or nothing. After a while the incessant noise seemed to become less intrusive as one's ears got used to it although using a mobile phone was nigh on impossible.  

Almost immediately I saw a couple of Black Hairstreaks fluttering around the Blackthorn but they never settled low or close enough to photograph. This went on for about an hour with regular appearances by the hairstreaks but always bringing frustration as they settled high up in trees or just flew off. Another butterfly enthusiast came along and suggested we go further along the fence line, maybe half a mile south where there were up to twenty, yes twenty Black Hairstreaks settling low down on leaves and everyone was getting great pictures. Apparently one person had even video'd one laying eggs! 

I needed no second invitation and following his directions arrived at another area of Blackthorn even closer to the edge of the Motorway. Black Hairstreaks seemed to be everywhere I looked. Fluttering high and low around the Blackthorn and settling on a particularly favoured flowering Wild Privet and nectaring from the opening flowers. Remarkably, considering their scarcity they were the most numerous butterfly species present during my stay.

I stood there with others and just waited for suitable photo opportunities as an endless procession of Black Hairstreaks came and went or was it the same few individuals? Probably not. I estimated there must have been at least twenty present over the four hours I watched them, maybe more, it was hard to tell. Close up views were the norm but they rarely remained still for more than a few minutes before restlessly moving on or interacting with other Black Hairstreaks or the occasional Speckled Wood. Everyone had a camera of one sort or another and no one was disappointed.

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