Monday 6 August 2018

More on Brown Hairstreaks 4th August 2018

In this late summer weather of exceptional and forever sunshine it is also turning out to be an exceptional year for Brown Hairstreaks at Otmoor. I have seen one or more every time I have visited this year and previous, long and frustrating waits in years past, only to come away unfulfilled, are but a fading memory.

This afternoon on a very hot and humid day I made my way to the now familiar ride at Otmoor for another anticipated audience with this rare and elusive butterfly. Rare and elusive because we have made it so by destroying its habitat or, not satisfied with that, we destroy its eggs and larvae by indiscriminately flailing blackthorn hedges with machinery during the winter, heedless of the tiny green larvae or the minute eggs of the hairstreak, laid singly in the fork of fresh blackthorn shoots. Out of sight and so, out of mind, you might say.

Thankfully such practices are taboo on Otmoor and as a result the Brown Hairstreaks and countless other insects thrive. It really is that easy. All that is required is just some forethought and care.

The sheltered ride was a cocoon of heat, almost too warm for comfort and there was little sign of any hairstreak activity in the places I had previously encountered them. Since my earlier visits, others have come here  too and trampled the vegetation flat, making unsightly inroads into the thick tangle of plantlife beside the ride in order to get closer to a nectaring hairstreak. Someone, disgracefully, has even bent over part of the thistle where I watched a hairstreak for over three hours last week, just to get a better angle for a photograph. No concern for the hairstreak or consideration for others who might want to come and see for themselves.

I walked down the ride, each scar of trampled vegetation denoting where a hairstreak presumably had attracted attention. I got to the end of the ride and my quest for a hairstreak had proved fruitless.Somewhat dispirited I turned onto the main bridleway with the intention of checking the brambles, nettles and willowherb that tumbled over and along the fenceline guarding the ditch beyond.

A butterfly enthusiast was standing in the bramble with a camera and lens combination that required him to be very close to any butterfly he might care to photograph. I found myself subject to a familiar conflict of emotions. Happy because his presence and undivided attention directed to a clump of bramble surely signified he had found a Brown Hairstreak but disillusioned that here was yet another person possibly unaware that he was making an unfortunate and annoying incursion into natural habitat in order to satisfy his desire to get a photograph of the butterfly.

I joined him and he was pleasant enough as we chatted and I said nothing about the trampling of the vegetation. Fortunately for me my zoom lens, more suited to photographing birds, requires me to stand back rather than get within inches of my insect target so I had no need to force my way into the bramble. 

There was a butterfly here and it was indeed a Brown Hairstreak but it was on the further side of the bramble, perched low down on some bramble berries and leaves.

It was hard to see and even harder to photograph without getting closer and the enthusiast insinuated himself further in the bramble whilst I stood back. What do you do in such situations? I could have said something but what was the point? I had no official capacity and we were standing on a public bridleway. I was here to enjoy myself and to criticise would only create an unpleasant atmosphere between us and ruin my day. I kept quiet about my concerns as, slowly, the hairstreak clambered around the unripe blackberries and then sat on a leaf and very gently opened its wings to reveal two large orange patches, one on each of its upperwings. It was a female, much the more colourful of the two sexes.

It was totally absorbed in examining the small clump of green and red semi ripened blackberries on which it was perched, occasionally fluttering to an adjacent leaf but then returning to re-examine each and every berry it had already walked around and examined  many times before. I got my photos as did my fellow enthusiast and we parted when the hairstreak flew up from the bramble and disappeared.

So this is the conundrum I feel I face every time I come to see the Brown Hairstreaks at Otmoor. I know that I will get a feeling of achievement and pleasure when I see one, even more if I find it for myself but also I know my conscience will again trouble me about the wanton trashing of the habitat that some feel is acceptable in order to photograph one. Maybe writing about my experiences also contributes to the problem by publicising the Brown Hairstreaks but I know that little I do or not, will change matters. Pandora is well and truly out of her box.

Hopefully attitudes will change in time and peer pressure on the irresponsible will have an effect. I do hope so.

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