Colias croceus – Male
The Clouded Yellow Colias croceus isn’t a butterfly most of us get to see every year. It’s a summer migrant from southern Europe. If you live near the coast in Devon or Dorset and you’re the type of person that looks then you might get to see one or two each year. But further north you can go for years without seeing one at all. In nine out of ten years it is scarce. Then for reasons that we don’t fully understand we get an invasion. A glorious ‘Clouded Yellow year’ where numbers can be exceptional and individuals can be seen throughout the country and if we are truly blessed as far as southern Scotland.
Sadly the year after, again for reasons we don’t fully understand, numbers can be extremely poor.
So having spotted a dozen or so on Saturday afternoon at Martin Down NNR in Hampshire, I did the only sensible thing and went back again on Sunday morning. Well, that and the fact that my photos from Saturday were truly shocking. In my defence they’re tricky to photograph in as much as when they land they immediately fold their wings, plus they are all too easily spooked.
As you can see the underside is attractive enough but you really need to get out there and see them flying to see the upperside which is rather stunning – something not lost on the Victorian collectors. Both upper wings are a warm sulphur yellow with black margins. The upper with a single black eye-spot, the lower with a double dark orange, yellow-edged eye-spot. For a change the female has the edge in colouration in that the black margin is sprinkled with bright yellow dots. These are absent in the male. The French have a good name for this butterfly ‘Le Souci’ (The Marigold) which is very descriptive of the upper wing colour.
I saw plenty of Clouded Yellows in Cyprus earlier in the year so it was great to see them here in good old blighty.
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?
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.
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’.
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.
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?
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
Slowly working my way across a hillside covered in yellow cowslip searching for my first Duke of Burgundy butterfly of 2013 I notice a moth-like flicker of dark chocolate brown arc into the dry grass further up the slope. With my eyes fixed on the spot where it lands I move cautiously upwards to find a freshly emerged Grizzled Skipper Pyrgus malvae. It’s not ‘His Grace’ but a real stunner all the same and another first for my year list.
Bolaria selene – Male
This little orange firecracker is a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary Boloria selene, a male I believe, photographed on the 9th June at Bentley Wood. This was one of the first butterflies I photographed last May when I got my macro lens and I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to viewing the results. Particularly as this was a new species for me. What a disappointment then to discover the vast majority were either blurred or just slightly out of focus. To be fair I did manage to get a few decent shots, one of which was shortlisted for the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s 50th anniversary photographic competition, but believe me that was more down to luck than judgement. Read more
Osmia bicornis – male
I really look forward to seeing these handsome little chaps each year. The Red mason bee Osmia bicornis is a species of solitary bee often seen in spring and early summer, usually from late March to early June, although this year due to the very cold weather they’ve been a little late. The males appear first, up to two weeks before the females and so like the male pictured above they spend a fair bit of time preening and sunbathing before the girls arrive.
These are extremely friendly bees. The male has no sting and the female will only sting if handled very roughly and even then the sting is very mild in comparison to the sting of a wasp, bumblebee or honey-bee. So these are good bees for children to get up close to and observe. Read more