Monday, 13 July 2015

Brighton Hairstreaks 11th July 2015

I planned a visit to Brighton to see my good friend John Reaney which would coincide with a visit to the Royal Pavilion, former home of The Prince Regent, and its restored gardens where a Monarch Butterfly, a very rare vagrant not normally found in northern Europe had been present for the last few days. Sadly when we got to the gardens there was no sign of it and although we waited a whole afternoon to see if it would show up it never did.

The Royal Pavilion and Gardens
Visiting the Royal Pavilion Gardens reminded me of a funny story. Years ago I lived near Brighton but worked at Heathrow Airport for a big shipping company. One Monday morning I got into work and Rob, one of the young lads from Accounts, came over to my desk. 'Here Ewan, you live near Brighton don't you?' 'Sure' I replied. 'We were down there on the weekend and saw a demon curry restaurant but we were just on our way home so we are going to give it  a try next weekend'. Curious, I asked where it was in Brighton. 'Just by the main road to the seafront. It's huge with pinnacles and minarets and all that eastern stuff. It looks really classy.' Rob blithely informed me. Then the penny dropped. 'Rob that's not a curry restaurant it's the Royal Pavilion!' Bless.

Standing around in the not unpleasant sunny surroundings of the gardens, dodging the colourful crocodile hordes of young foreign students being led by their various teachers and chaperones through the gardens to the Brighton Museum we became aware that another desirable and often elusive butterfly was sharing the gardens with us. We first noticed one feeding on some white flowers, picking its way across the delicate white blooms, probing with its proboscis as it went. So small that it could be easily overlooked and often is! It was a White Letter Hairstreak. Normally they spend virtually their entire short lives at the top of their favourite tree, the Elm, but here they were coming down to feed on the nectar in the flowerheads. 

Elms as many people are aware have been decimated for years now by Dutch Elm Disease and very few full grown Elms survive, only the regenerating saplings which once they reach a certain height of regrowth are attacked by the beetle carrying the disease and die back and so the cycle goes on. 

In Brighton a far sighted council have for many years preserved the full grown Elms in the centre of the town by treating them each year with a chemical which keeps the disease at bay.  The Elms are famous and a unique feature  of Brighton and grow in and around the Royal Pavilion gardens which doubtless accounts for the presence of the hairstreaks. 

After our initial encounter we found up to six more White Letter Hairstreaks at several locations in the gardens, all near to the Elms, feeding on various  flowers. They showed no alarm at the point blank proximity of a camera lens aimed at them but happily carried on their wanderings over the flower heads in search of sustenance.They never stopped for long, maybe ten minutes at the most and then would rapidly fly upwards in erratic flight into the trees but others arrived in their place and probably there were many more than the six we saw. 

An unexpected, welcome surprise and some consolation for missing the Monarch Butterfly.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ewan
    Saw a tweet from BC Sussex recently that they believed the Monarchs were an recent & illegal introduction