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Try to set the night on fire

Fire Bug – Pyrrhocoris apterus

Pyrrhocoris apterus

The recent run of warm weather here in the UK has been a reminder of how hot it was when I visited Cyprus in April. This little chap was one of the first insects I encountered in the village of Frenaros where my mum and dad now live. My reason for showing it here is that this strikingly coloured red and black bug, that looks as though it has an african mask painted on its back, may be spreading northwards into England. Recently it has been found in Devon. Previously there have been small colonies in Surrey and Sussex and sporadic reports elsewhere. Although Britain has traditionally marked the northernmost edge of its range it has been a native of Jersey and Guernsey in the Channel Islands for some time now. In the last decade the populations there have increased greatly. So it may be an insect worth looking out for in future.

It proved a particularly difficult subject to photograph. Being almost manically active due to the very warm temperature. It wouldn’t keep still, even for a fraction of a second, and so the vast majority of my photos were just slightly blurred. But I persevered over several days and eventually succeeded in getting this image. Read more

Small Tortoiseshell

Small Tortoiseshell – Aglais urticae

Aglais urticae

This is a butterfly we’ve taken for granted. The Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae was once one of our most familiar and numerous garden visitors. Sadly it is no longer as common as it once was. In recent years, particularly in the south it has declined, possibly due to predation by the parasitic fly Sturmia bella. Somehow our buddleia bushes just don’t look quite the same without these butterflies nectaring on every other mauve, orange-centred flower head. But, let’s not get overly maudlin. Instead let’s reflect on what a stunning little insect this still is. Gorgeous orange set off with deft little touches of black, dabs of yellow and white, ringed with a necklace of brilliant turquoise. What’s not to like?

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A morning with the Emperor and the Admiral

White Admiral – Limenitis camilla (Male)

Limenitis camilla – Male

I arrived at Bentley Wood to find the car park packed, not only with cars, but with people gazing upwards. The nearest chap whispered in hushed tones that we were in the presence of ‘His Majesty’ the Purple Emporer Apatura iris. A first for me. An elusive, almost mythical butterfly that until then I’d only read and dreamt about. I hadn’t imagined for one moment that one day I’d simply step out of my car and find it waiting for me. If I’d known, I would have had it cleaned and valeted.

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Aerial zebras

Marbled White Butterfly – Melanargia galathea (Male)

Melanargia galathea – Male

Readers of my last post about my visits to Collard Hill may have got the impression that it was a disappointment. It wasn’t, the view from the Polden Hills is breathtaking and freshly emerged specimens of the monochromatic magnificence that is the Marbled White Melanargia galathia were abundant. I’m often asked which is my favourite butterfly and that’s a really tough call as I have so many. But, this is possibly my favourite ‘white’ even if technically it’s a ‘brown’.

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The return of the Large Blue

Large Blue Butterfly – Maculinea arion (Female)

Maculinea arion – Female

Sunday before last I drove down to Somerset to catch a glimpse of the Large Blue Maculinea arion. Always a rare insect, our native Large Blue became extinct in 1979. It has since been reintroduced from stock brought in from Sweden to various sites in southern England, most of which remain ‘secret’. However, Collard Hill which is owned by The National Trust is open to public access. Thirteen years ago larvae were introduced there and the population has now grown to the point where it is one of the best sites in Europe to see this rare butterfly. Well, at least it has been. Last year’s extremely wet summer and this year’s cold spring haven’t helped. But that’s not the only problem it has to contend with.

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Common Blue

Common Blue – Polyommatus icarus (Male)

Polyommatus icarus – Male

Last Saturday morning was spent pootling about on a favourite chalk ridge taking photos of powder blue butterflies and scarlet moths. All rather glorious really. It was warm and overcast, buzzards were mewing overhead and skylarks were ascending to the heavens. I was in heaven too as the conditions were ideal for photography and despite the fabulous weather I had the whole hillside to myself – didn’t see another soul. How fab is that?

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Blue-tailed Damselfly

Blue-tailed Damselfly – Ischnura elegans

Ischnura elegans – Male

The weekend a couple of weeks back now didn’t start well. I drove to Martin Down in Hampshire hoping to see the Marsh Fritillary butterfly only to be greeted with wind and horizontal rain. Sitting in the car listening to Radio 4 didn’t help, nor did muttering to myself. Giggling at a couple of twitchers in bright blue anoraks carrying a tripod and scope large enough to zoom in on a bird in France amused me for a while. But hey, there’s only so much chortling you can do on your own in a car in the middle or nowhere before it begins to look weird, so I drove home again. On Sunday I awoke to a leaden sky and… drizzle. Much swearing ensued. Ever the optimist I set off to Langford Lakes for a Dragonfly walk and talk by Steve Brooks from the Natural History Museum, London. And what an interesting talk it proved to be. Read more