Friday 23rd June
At this time of year I always give myself a break from birds and make time to concentrate on my second passion, namely butterflies.
The recent spell of decent summer weather in England has helped enormously in bringing butterflies out in good numbers, so today I headed back to Finemere Woods in Buckinghamshire, a BBOWT Reserve where a couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to find some Black Hairstreaks.
From the road where I parked I followed the dusty track that leads through the fields to the woods, the verges now thick with the grasses and flowers of high summer. Flowers with old country names redolent of past times, such as Meadow Sweet, St John's Wort, Lady's Bedstraw, Tufted Vetch, Rough Chervil and Milk Parsley attracting numerous Large Skippers. A Weasel, a tiny cylindrical body of brown and white, so swift in passing it was almost an illusion, crossed the track in a millisecond and was gone into the lush grass.
|The Main Ride|
|A different Purple Hairstreak to the one above!|
For me all butterflies have so much more attractive patterning to their underwings than their upperwings. Eventually the hairstreak opened its wings to reveal that it had seen better days and was, unfortunately, quite a tatty specimen but no matter we got some images of its purple upperwings.
|Silver washed Fritillaries-males|
Occasionally one would remain lower, cruising over the grass and brambles before coming to a brief fluttering stop on a Bramble flower or leaf and spreading dark brown wings wide to display a white diagonal stripe across each wing
|Silver washed Fritillary-female|
Saturday 24th June
Saturday and my wife was exhibiting this weekend at a small craft show in a barn at the delightfully named Potato Town, which is not a town at all but a microdot of buildings on the road to Banbury. My main interest was in the country garden surrounding the barn as on an ornamental willow in the garden were up to eight Puss Moth caterpillars.
The caterpillars are fascinating as over a period of thirty days they rapidly grow from a small black almost invisible caterpillar into a fleshy green monster with a forked tail.When almost mature they are bright green with a black saddle outlined in white and their head is contained in folds of green outlined in rose pink. When the caterpillar is disturbed it adopts a defensive position where it retracts its head into the fleshy green and pink folds and rears up with the head presented as if enlarged, square and pink while the forked tail is simultaneously raised. It maintains this position until it is satisfied the danger is past and then resumes a more normal appearance. They are remarkably well camouflaged, clinging tightly with their claspers to the thin shoots of the willow bush and in the strong wind buffeting the bush today were completely unphased by the constant motion as they were swung about violently on the shoots they clung to
The caterpillars on this particular bush were of varying sizes from very small to almost their maximum size of three inches, so presumably they were from eggs laid at different times. A pleasant half an hour was spent seeing how many I could find secreted in the bush. I found eight but probably there were more.
|Puss Moth Caterpillar|
Sunday 25th June
I had signed up for a guided butterfly walk today to Strawberry Bank and Daneway Bank, both reserves managed by Gloucester Wildlife Trust. I had been to Daneway Bank before but Strawberry Bank was new to me.
The weather as I arrived in the rural village of Oakridge was not encouraging, in fact it was downright depressing with a fine drizzle and low cloud as I met up with a dozen or so fellow enthusiasts come to see Strawberry Bank which lies below the village and is part of a series of very steep sloping meadows accessed from the village by footpaths.
Undeterred by the weather we headed down the footpath and as we did the sun broke through, blue sky was visible and matters became much more pleasant. The aim here was to see Marsh Fritillaries but I thought we were a bit late for this and it turned out I was right. No matter, at least I now knew of a place not an hour from my home where I could see Marsh Fritillaries next year. Marbled Whites were everywhere, and as at Finemere most were pristine and obviously just hatched out. Is there any finer or more attractive image than a Marbled White, an intricacy of black and white perched on the cerise purple head of a Greater Knapweed?
The best butterfly we found was an immaculate male Small Blue, clinging to a grass blade before finally being blown away by the strongly gusting wind. So tiny and delicate, this the smallest of the blues is the least colourful but on close examination it is still exquisite. They are an unadventurous insect, the small colonies of usually less than thirty individuals often restrict themselves to less than two hundred square metres of habitat. It has the widest distribution of any blue butterfly, colonies being found from northernmost Scotland right down to southern England but conversely it is rare and local in every region it inhabits
|Daneway Banks and part of our butterfly group|
|Six belted Clearwing|
Daneway Banks was recently in the news for all the wrong reasons when a notorious butterfly collector was observed with a butterfly net trapping Large Blues on the reserve in June 2015 and when police raided his home they found at least one specimen of a Large Blue from Daneway Bank. He was found guilty and given a six month suspended sentence this year and it was the first ever prosecution of its type and therefore made headline news in the media.
Today the only people present were genuine enthusiasts armed with nothing more than cameras. It did not take too long to encounter a Large Blue and we clustered around this rare and protected insect to admire it as it fed. Although it is called 'Large Blue' it is in fact only slightly larger than a Chalkhill Blue and the blue of the upperwings is not as bright as on other blues possessing a unique steely grey tinge to it with black markings, as if someone has scattered ink spots, on the forewings and when they fly they look dark against the green grass, purple orchids and the yellows of the catsears and vetch.