Monday 16 July 2018

Wood Whites 2nd July 2019

I decided to try a different wood today rather than go to Bernwood Forest for my usual fix of Purple Emperors, so made my way to Bucknell Wood, owned by The Forestry Commission and which is near Silverstone, in the nearby county of Northamptonshire. It was another perfect day of sunshine and I got to the wood just before nine in the morning and headed up the pleasant main ride through the wood. What a pleasure it was to walk it with no dog walkers anywhere to be seen, such a contrast to Bernwood. I had the place virtually to myself.

I had come here to try and find a valezina type Silver washed Fritillary which is a rare aberration in which the normal bright ginger colouring is replaced by greenish grey brown. It sounds dull but believe me when you see one it is very much the opposite. There were masses of Silver washed Fritillarys speeding up and down the ride, searching the vegetation for females and occasionally stopping to feed on the profusion of bramble flowers growing on the verges but sadly there was only one fleeting view of a valezina.

Silver washed Fritillary
Three  remarkable sights did greet me however, the first being a profusion of White Admirals. During the whole morning I counted almost thirty, easily the most I have seen in any wood, mainly nectaring on the bramble flowers, often three or four to a bush. They do not possess the macho personality and striking colouring of a Purple Emperor and their flight is slightly less powerful and more diffident but they could still glide through the glades and up the ride with some energy and speed but always looking graceful as they alternately flicked and then glided on horizontally held, black and white wings. 

White Admirals
The second remarkable sight to greet me was the large number of Purple Hairstreaks that were also flying around or crossing the ride, flying up from brambles into the higher parts of the trees, although some were content to remain almost at ground level.The grey undersides to their wings, caught momentarily by the sunlight were made to appear even paler than normal, almost silver, betraying their presence as they flew erratically in a wild whirling flight across the ride and between the trees on either side.

Purple Hairstreaks
The third sight was totally unexpected, as on walking further to where the ride came to a more open area and a cross road of tracks, I came across some Wood Whites, a butterfly I have not encountered for a very long time. Small and almost a transparent white, like tissue, a couple fluttered with their characteristically weak flight along the verges. It was the last real chance for me to see them this year, part of a first brood that was nearing the end of its time but here they were, for today at least, fluttering hesitantly amongst the yellow flowers of Meadow Vetchling, one of their food plants. Its flight is slower than the other whites so its wings can be seen to be oval and are attached to a pencil slim body.

Wood White
They are the smallest and most fragile looking of the white butterfly species found in England and by far the rarest, although Northamptonshire remains one of its last few strongholds. It is estimated that colonies of Wood Whites in Britain now number no more than fifty in total and most  consist of only a small number of butterflies and are very vulnerable to disturbance and habitat loss. A familiar story to all butterfly enthusiasts

I watched a female going about her task of laying her eggs, fluttering endlessly around the yellow flowers of Meadow Vetchling growing by the track until she found the precise spot to lay her egg, carefully curving her fat egg filled abdomen under the leaf to deposit a single egg and then fluttering to search for the next suitable flower or leaf, never straying very far from her original location.

Of course there were visitations from a number of H.I.M. His Imperial Majesty, the Purple Emperor, throughout the morning too.

I saw up to nine, one of which looked to be a female, sailing around some Sallows looking for somewhere to lay her eggs but for the most part all kept to the trees, perching on leaves or flying up the ride and through the trees. One, a male, did settle briefly on a bare part of the track, enough to tantalise with  the merest flash of his purple magnificence before he was up and away, swooping through the trees.

No comments:

Post a Comment