Thursday 30 July 2015

Scotch Argus and Grayling

With just one butterfly outstanding on my list we just had to make another visit up north. Not as far as Scotland this time but to Arnside Knott in Cumbria and Gait Barrows in Lancashire . There are only two populations of Scotch Argus in England, Arnside and Smardale Gill, and we were prepared for a visit to both.

I picked Martin up at 05:30 and we made good time as there was amazingly little traffic. By leaving early we had cleared the Birmingham hold ups before the mad rush, so we even had time to stop for breakfast. Arriving at Arnside at around 11:30 we set to work immediately. On the path into the reserve we found a High Brown Fritillary which was nectaring on bramble, it even posed for us but we studiously ignored it. No mission creep today, we were making for the top where, as everyone knows, the Scotch Argus abide. By a stroke of luck we met another butterfly enthusiast who was looking for HBF and we traded information and barely 60 yards into the reserve we were shown where he had just located a fresh SA.

It wasn't long before we spotted one and it sort of posed for us. My 58th species of UK mainland butterfly - great celebration! For a couple of hours we chased these difficult to catch butterflies, though we hardly moved from our original location. Then the weather intervened, heavy rain, so time for lunch. It was a much needed break and after the rain abated, we had bright warm sunshine and, at last, the butterflies responded. Magically lifting up from the grass and bracken before diving into some grassy hideaway.


By the late afternoon we had had enough and we made our way to our overnight stay in Lancaster. I felt well chuffed with a great result but slightly sad that I had no more butterflies to chase, on the mainland that is. Of course there is always the Cryptic Wood White in Northern Ireland and, as Martin suggested, Europe is a whole new ball game.

The next day was forecast as bright and sunny but we left the hotel in overcast conditions, on top of that temperatures had dropped dramatically overnight and as we arrived at Gait Barrows it was still a cool 13C.

Gait Barrows provides a variety of environment including limestone pavement, woodland and limestone grassland and we were hopeful of catching up with Grayling and Northern Brown Argus so we set off on the white trail to take in as much of the limestone pavement. A total contrast to the South Downs, great stretches of limestone riven with potential ankle breaking cracks and potholes. Within the expanse of stone, small islands of grass and scrub, all of which offered the chance of something different. Unfortunately the cool overnight temperature meant little was moving, just the odd Ringlet and Meadow Brown and as we completed our circumnavigation we were a little disappointed. However, after a brew and with the sun getting stronger we decided to have another go. By happenstance we took a wrong turning and we found ourselves amidst some very active but territorial Grayling that posed really well.

Cryptic camouflage - take your eyes off it and it has gone!

Limestone pavement.




Wednesday 22 July 2015

Silver-spotted Skipper and Chalkhill Blues


Today's outing was a walk up Windover Hill in East Sussex, supposedly a search for Grayling, unfortunately they appear to be a little late this year. I diligently searched the area, where last year we found plenty on  a date nearly a fortnight earlier, with no success. Never mind there was still much to be found and photographed. I was very pleased when a Silver-spotted Skipper photo bombed the recording of a fresh Chalkhill  Blue. Plenty of other Skippers and Small Coppers on the wing, most of them looking fairly fresh too.
A strong south westerly breeze wasn't helping so I gave up early - hope the weather is better tomorrow.

A Large Skipper for comparison

Deep Dean - home of the Grayling
 When I took the Deep Dean photograph I was sat on a bit of an anomaly, Chalk Heath, a habitat that forms very locally when a shallow layer of sand or acid drift material overlies the chalk. Heather (Calluna vulgaris) and other calcifuges, plants that normally avoid calcareous soils growing in gay abandon.

It is so interesting that Miss M Cheveley Rayner published an article about it called "The Ecology of Calluna Vulgaris" in 1912.




Wild Strawberry, Fragaria vesca - delicious

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Purple Hairstreaks and a Valesina at last.

An early morning dash to Alners Gorse in Dorset, one of my favourite butterflying venues. I arrived far too early, about 07:30, but even at this early hour Ringlets, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns were on the wing. Unfortunately the weather wasn't quite as forecast and it remained overcast for at least another hour. As soon as the sun peeked through, the place started to buzz. Plenty of Purple Hairstreaks coming down to nectar on the brambles kept me busy, shame they only have one pose. No real open wing shots though, but you can't moan when they are at eye level. Nice to meet Lee from Bristol, he was after White-letter Hairstreaks but sadly there was only one present but it provided some good shots.


I wandered off to see what else I could find but returned post haste after Lee had found a stonking Silver-washed Fritillary of the valesina form. Thankfully I managed to capture a few shots. So, by mid morning I had both my planned targets in the bag.

A Brown Hairstreak had been found on the path down to the reserve, perfect photographic evidence was provided so we went off in search of the specimen, alas we never found it.

Plenty of SWFs about and a full supporting cast of the usual suspects - a place that is well worth a visit.