Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A Clouded Yellow and a Painted Lady at Grange Park in Northampton -21st July 2014

The last few days have seen some interesting weather systems as the sunny and hot conditions gave way to some very impressive thunderstorms and some incredible lightning displays. These fronts  coupled with the recent photos and sightings I had seen online turned my mind to a special migrant butterfly called the Painted Lady. The numbers that visit Britain fluctuate every year and sometimes there's lots and other times they can be quite scarce. In fact I only saw one last year and that was in Norfolk so we were wondering how easy they'd be to see this year. They originate from north Africa and they gradually migrate north with some reaching our shores and heading inland during the summer months so with this in mind I headed the my local patch at Grange Park in Northampton on the 20th July. Gatekeepers, Small and Essex Skippers seemed to be everywhere and just about every teasle head had a stunningly fresh Peacock busy feeding away. I went through these systematically hoping to see the orange flash of a Painted Lady but no luck at the base of the bank so I moved along slowly and headed up and hadn't got far before noticing a large butterfly take of and fly to the other side of a small clump of teasles. I was sure it was paler and noticeably more spotted than the Peacocks so I walked round to be greeted by the sight of a Painted Lady busy nectaring away. Migrants can always be held with a degree of uncertainty at the start of a year so a sigh of relief is exhaled when you see one. I rang up Jon and Kirsty to tell them the news and in record timing they arrived on site to enjoy it too. Here's a couple of pics which with the exception of a small degree of tattiness along the hindwing it was a nice looking specimen.

Painted Lady, Grange Park, Northampton
Painted Lady, Grange Park, Northampton
  I also had the following day off work but the all day sunny spells never materialised in the morning. I did have a half hearted look at Brackmills Wood but a couple of lads on a motorbike and the ever greyer cloudy weather meant that not much was seen. I decided therefore to head back to Grange Park to see if anything else had turned up. I was surprised to see the Painted Lady was not only still there but it was busily feeding away on the same bunch of teasles, in fact it hadn't moved from it's location the previous day! I had a walk along the base of the bank and it was all pretty much the same as the day before until I reached a secluded area that's blanketed with a carpet of Trefoil. Almost as soon as I went passed a little yellow butterfly shot up and whirled up and down the bank! "I don't believe it" I said to myself as I watched a male Clouded Yellow do what Clouded Yellows do and tore across the wasteland with very impressive stamina! I'm 6 foot 4 inches tall with a large stride and although I'm not a marathon runner I consider myself to be pretty fit and within an hour it had well and truly wore me out! The first Clouded Yellow of the year (found by Ian Pretty while I was showing him the Bee Orchids here on the 8th of June) shot off so fast I couldn't get pics so I wasn't letting this one go lightly. For those who have seen the epic western The Good, The Bad and The Ugly if you can picture the last scene at the end of the film before the gun fight when Tuco is running through the graveyard then was that pretty much sums up what I was doing, and my legs are still aching a day later! Despite the fierce sun (the previous clouds had dispersed) it did stop every now and then to nectar on a flower allowing me a couple of shots before shooting off again with me running along in tow - only the Benny Hill music was missing (or Ecstasy of Gold if you're still thinking about the film). My favourite shots during the chase are below.

Clouded Yellow, Grange Park, Northampton
Clouded Yellow, Grange Park, Northampton
 I'd made a few phone calls while all this was going on and Jon and Kirsty managed to get to the site in the afternoon to see it while a few more decided to head down in the evening. I couldn't resist heading back too as they're normally more photogenic as they settle down to roost. It took a bit of finding upon the return and unfortunately Ian Pretty had to leave before it did so but as Jon, Kirsty and Doug Goddard appeared I saw the little mustard coloured speck appear through the undergrowth and the chase started again. We did have quite a laugh as we raced round trying to get pics and then eventually it slowed down as it started to find a roosting site finally allowing prolonged and close up photography. We got some good shots as it rested on the floor and posed under leaves with the now low sun shining through the wings.

Clouded Yellow, Grange Park, Northampton
Clouded Yellow, Grange Park, Northampton
Clouded Yellow, Grange Park, Northampton
Stuart Mundy also arrived at the right time as we were watching it roost and he got some good shots too. It's amazing how much happiness one little butterfly can bring to many and I'm not sure if it's the thrill of the chase, getting good pics or just seeing one on the first place? To be honest it's probably a combination of all three!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A Purple Hairstreak Photo Completes the Set - 17th July 2014

This evening I was lucky enough to get a photo of a Purple Hairstreak which for me is very special little insect. I love the whole family of British Hairstreaks as they (with the exception of the Green Hairstreak) have secretive lives and can seldom come down to the aspiring butterfly photographer. I have long since lost count of the many hours I have put into trying to get pics when the best views I could achieve is of their tiny silhouettes as they fly around their canopy of choice. Despite this a mixture of persistence, good luck and a few tip offs have meant that I have managed to get decent pics of the five British Hairstreaks with the final one tonight - this being the Purple Hairstreak. I find it slightly bizarre really that it took me this long to get a decent shot of one of the commonest Hairstreaks, and one which I regularly see flying around the large Oaks when I am out but until tonight I have never seen one down at eye level. This evening's Purple Hairstreak pics are included below and as it finishes my set of pics of the family I have decided to include all my best Hairstreak pics on one post, so apologies for regular readers as most of these pics you will have seen before.

Black Hairstreak
The Black Hairstreak is one of the rarest of our butterflies and is only found in a handful of sites in Britain. Luckily for us here in Northants one of the best places to see them is Glapthorn Cow Pastures near Oundle. They are stunners and always draw in quite a crowd when they emerge which can sometimes mean they are a challenge to photograph as a crowd of people can rush to see one if an individual tumbles down from the Blackthorn, particularly in years of bad weather when low down specimens can be few and far between! Lucky 2014 had superb weather during the period they were on the wing and I was lucky enough to have them almost to myself this year during my brief but productive visit after work. The main identifying feature is the row of black spots running along the out edge of the hindwing (compare to the White Letter  Hairstreak at the end of this post for comparison).

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Haitstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants

Black Hairstreak, Glapthorn Cow Pastures, Northants
 Brown Hairstreak
Last year (4th August 2013) I visited RSPB Otmoor with a group of friends and we decided to look along the "old Roman road" just in case a Brown Hairstreak had emerged. We walked up and down a couple of time before a tiny brown butterfly was seen by Sam Candy flying over the group. I watched it land at the top of a Bramble bush and was astonished to see a pristine Brown Hairstreak on top of a leaf. We hurriedly took pics and then it took off and we all held our breathe. We expected it to head back up into the canopy of the nearby Ash trees but in fact it did the opposite! It flew around for a short while before coming down and settling on a flower right infront of us. The below shot says more than I can put into words. An absolute cracker and I was incredibly lucky to be able to get it!

Brown Hairstreak, RSPB Otmoor, Oxon
 Green Hairstreak
Green Hairstreaks hold a special place in my heart as they're one of the first butterflies I actually went out to try and find after seeing reports of them at Twywell Hills and Dales many years ago in 2005. Being rather wet behind the years at the time I had to find them for myself as I didn't know anyone at the time who was into butterflies. I'll never forget that first green flash as one flew infront of a bush and with my limited camera gear I got a passable shot. A lot has changed since then and my experience (and camera gear) has improved considerably! The below pics were taken early this year on Gloucestershire were I was lucky enough to not only capture mating of the species but also egg laying. You may notice the dotted white line on the egg laying individual goes up the outer edge of the forewing aswell as the hind - this makes it the aberration punctata which semed to be very common in the area.

Green Hairsteaks in cop, Prestbury Hill, Glos


Green Hairtreak, Edge Common, Glos

Green Hairstreak egg laying, Edge Common, Glos
 Purple Hairstreak
The below pics are the ones I managed to get tonight (17th July 2014) at Thorpe Malsor near Kettering in Northants. I have a friend of mine called Stuart Mundy to thank for me getting these after he gave me the tip off a few days ago about the site. The normal view of these is of little lilac flashes as they whirl around the tops of Oak trees so to have one so low for a prolonged period of time was a real treat! To add to the occasion it was also a nice looking specimen too.

Purple Hairstreak, Thorpe Malsor, Northants

Purple Hairstreak, Thorpe Malsor, Northants

Purple Hairstreak, Thorpe Malsor, Northants
 White Letter Hairstreak
The story behind these pics of the final British Hairstreak was covered in the previous post so I'll keep it short to avoid repetition. These were taken over two seperate occasions a few days apart at Bedford Purlieus in Cambridgeshire. Once again I was very lucky in the first instance as the butterfly was literally flawless with hardly a mark on it. Notice also the comparison between this and the Black Hairstreak above with the lack of black spots along the outer edge of the hindwing.

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus, Cambs

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus, Cambs

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus, Cambs

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus, Cambs








Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Purple Emperors, Silver Washed Fritillaries, Dark Green Fritillaries, and White Letter Hairstreaks - 16th July 2014

Since the last post Northamptonshire has played host once again to one of the butterfly higlights of the year, this being the Purple Emperor display at Fermyn Woods. This year didn't disappoint with plenty of sightings throughout the wood and also the first White Letter and Purple Hairstreaks of the year for me. What was also nice on the day we visited (2nd of July) is we met with a few people from a Facebook group that concerns butterfly sightings in the area. These groups are invaluable for meeting new people and learning about new sites and when butterflies emerge at them. We all met up at 09.30 and a few of the early people (myself, Jon and Kirsty included) were awarded with a Purple Emperor in the car park before we even set off into the wood.

Purple Emperor, Fermyn Woods, Northants
We then ventured into the woods admiring the many White Letter Hairstreaks whirling around at the tops of the Ash and Elm trees and it wasn't long before we chanced upon another Purple Emperor loafing about in the path. It was very well behaved and all of the group managed to get good views and shots of it. I spent so long last year preoccupying myself with getting overwing shots I neglected the rather stunning underwing and so I concentrated on this in my photography this time. It performed very well on the ground and in nearby bushes allowing photography from nearly every angle.

Purple Empeor, Fermyn Woods, Northants

Purple Empeor, Fermyn Woods, Northants

Purple Emperor (close up of wing), Fermyn Woods, Northants
 Purple Emperors are of course partial to settling on people too and this year the above butterfly after a brief fly around decided to have a look at my shoe, and was so preoccupied in doing so it allowed me to pick it up. Here are a few shots of it taken by Antony Wren.

Purple Emperor on my shoe, Fermyn Woods - pic taken by Antony Wren

Purple Empeor, Fermyn Woods - pic taken by Antony Wren

Purple Empeor, Fermyn Woods - pic taken by Antony Wren
 After a brief walk around Lady Wood seeing more Purple Emperors and White Letter Hairstreaks (and also bumping into Andy Wyldes for a nice chat) a few of us left Fermyn Woods and headed to nearby Bedford Purlieus in the hope that White Letter Hairstreaks may have come down to nectar. Unfortunately despite a few hours searching we drew a blank but astonishing number of Silver Washed Fritillaries slightly made up for it even if they were a challenge to photograph!

Silver Washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus

Silver Washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus

Silver Washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus
 After this visit I didn't have any time off work until the following Monday and as I had to visit the east of the county to get some tyres off my Uncle I couldn't resist driving the extra half an hour or so to Robert's Field in south Lincolnshire to try and see Dark Green Fritillaries. I wasn't to be disappointed as I saw one almost as soon as I entered the gate into the reserve! The weather was so hot though they were incredibly charged and getting pictures involved a lot of chasing around! Eventually after about an hour of running and swearing a lot I did get one nectaring on a flower head and it posed for pics before taking off and shooting off across the field.

Dark Green Fritillary, Robert's Field, Lincs
Dark Green Fritillary, Robert's Field, Lincs
As soon as I got the pics though I decided to leave, I could have spent all day chasing them in order to get better ones but there was an ulterior motive for coming up here and this was to return to Bedford Purlieus. Hairstreaks are my favourite species of butterflies and ever since learning last year  that White Letters regularly come down at this site I've been chomping at the bit to see it for myself as I've only ever seen them flitting around in the tree tops. I drove straight from Robert's Field and arrived at Bedford Purlieus at 09.45am and wandered down the ride (luckily coming here the previous week meant I at least knew where to be even if we hadn't seen any at the time) meeting local butterfly watcher Keith who was also there for the same reason as me. We walked up and down but to no avail and to add to the sinking feeling the clouds were now rolling in and a previously bright blue sky was becoming cloudy with sunny spells. I kept walking up and down though and at about 10.15 a small brown butterfly whizzed passed which looked very much like a White Letter but I lost it in amongst the swarm of Gatekeepers buzzing the tops of the bushes. I continued to walk up and down and then as I passed the block of ferns I noticed a small brown triangle in the middle! I walked closer and jumped the ditch to be rewarded with a few of a pristine White Letter Hairstreak slowly rotating on the top of a fern. To add to the luck it was a stunning looking specimen, one which Keith quite rightly referred to as "flawless", and it posed fantastically for photo's as it slowly pirouetted on it's perch.

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus
After we had our pics I decided to push my luck a bit as no one else was around and popped my finger next to to see what it would do. I couldn't believe my luck as it slowly crawled onto my hand! The below pic also goes someway in showing just how small they are. After a few pics I popped it back onto it's fern and it then flew onto a nearby flower before heading up and back into the trees and lost from view.

White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus
I left here at this point to get some jobs done that I needed to do (dreaded MOT so tyres were needed) and as the clouds built up I tool one last snap of the day as a fantastic looking fresh Small Tortoiseshell nectared on a flower during a brief visit to Fermyn Woods

Small Tortoiseshell, Fermyn Woods
Such is the allure of these White Letters I couldn't resist coming back to Bedford Purlieus yet again at the weekend this time in the company of Jon Philpot. We spent the whole day out exploring a few sites but as the weather wasn't playing ball we didn't see much elsewhere but as ever Bedford Purlieus was alive with butterflies with the Silver Washed Fritillaries putting on quite a show despite them starting to look a bit tatty now.

Silver Washed Fritillaries, Bedford Purlieus

Silver Washed Fritillary, Bedford Purlieus
Jon also found a stunning newly emerged Peacock too which just had to have it's picture taken! It's a shame that the commoner species get so often overlooked as they can look incredible when at their best.

Peacock, Bedford Purlieus
We had met a couple at the site who were also looking for White Letter Hairstreak and after hours of searching I was noticed they were taking pics of something. I looked over and they waved us over. We dashed over and was rewarded with a White Letter feeding on Marjoram so we got to work taking pics and I also couldn't resist a short video.


White Letter Hairstreak, Bedford Purlieus
The next focus of my attention will now be drawn in the direction of Chalkhill Blues and Silver Spotted Skippers and so hopefully the next post will be full of them. Well fingers crossed it will anyway!!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Silver Studded Blues, Scarlet Tigers, Six-belted Clearwings, Large Blues and soggy Marbled Whites - 24th June 2014

I had an unexpected day off from work on the 19th of June and after speaking to Jon we decided to head south to a Silver Studded Blue site near Reading with the hope of seeing Scarlet Tigers near Oxford on the way home. As it was all so close me, Jon and Kirsty waited until midday and headed down to the first stop which was Silchester Common just in the Hampshire border. Information about exactly where to see the Silver Studded Blues seemed to be very hard to find on the internet but as the site looked fairly small on the map we had a good feeling that we should be able to find them. This feeling however was short lived as we arrived just as the sun went behind a cloud! We searched the site from the car park heading to all the likely places but we could see no sign. We walked through the wood and met a local dog walker who didn't know either. It really wasn't looking good and that pessimistic sinking feeling really started to take over the mood but as always we persevered and heading out into another area of the clearing. I had read that Silver Studded Blues can be very communal so if you can manage to find one then you find them all so the speak as the local population can stick to a small very small area and luckily by now the sun had returned so things were starting to look up again. We walked across a more open area and out of the corner of my eye I saw the flash of blue. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when the "flash of blue" settled and proved itself to be a Silver Studded Blue! Then we saw another, and another, and another! We spent the next hour or so snapping away at this tiny colony of very nice looking butterflies and for once the weather was in our favour as bright sun gave way to a touch of cloud meaning we could get under and overwing shots. The Silver Studded Blue is definitely one of those things where no photo or picture in a book can do it justice and if you ever find yourself in an area to see them it's really worthwhile taking a look - they really are stunning butterflies! To add an added bonus for our butterfly lifelists this was our 50th British butterfly species seen for all of us.

Silver Studded Blue, Silchester Common,Hants

Silver Studded Blue, Silchester Common, Hants

Silver Studded Blue, Silchester Common, Hants
Silver Studded Blue, Silchester Common, Hants
We left here late afternoon and headed to Cothill just south if Oxford to try and see Scarlet Tiger moths. We found the area they were and found them easily but unfortunately they were incredibly flighty and when they did settle they did so at the tops of the trees. Luckily one came down far enough to be able to get a record shot but despite a lot of chasing I couldn't manage any better pics.

Scarlet Tiger, Cothill, Oxon
My next day off wasn't until the Sunday the 22nd June and it was earmarked for a trip to try and see Large Blue. As it was closest to us here in Northants, and the fact that we'd seen pics of them on Twitter the week before,  we decided to go to the reserve at Daneway Banks in Gloucestershire. Jon and Kirsty had managed to see them the day before while I was at work but they very nicely offered to take me with them on a return visit on the Sunday as well. I had been starting very early at work the week before and my body clock woke me up at 4.30am so after some breakfast I headed my local site of Grange Park before getting picked up to head to Daneway. Despite the sun blazing down even at 6am there was still a lot of dew on the grass and some of the still roosting butterflies looked pretty soggy in the damp.

Wet Common Blue, Grange Park, Northants


Wet Marbled White, Grange Park, Northants
As the sun came up they started to dry out and some were quite tame before the sun fully recharged their batteries. One even sunned itself for a moment on my hand.

Marbled White, Grange Park, Northants
Time came to head to Daneway and after hearing about Jon and Kirsty's sightings on the previous day I was very excited. We arrived in good time and we shot up the bank to be greeted very quickly by the sight of my first ever Large Blue butterfly! I chased it up the bank before it finally settled and I got some pics. It must be said that photographing these butterflies is harder than it looks as they tend to settle deep in the grass and when they do pose in the open it can be difficult to find a specimen that isn't covered in red mites. With the exception of a lunchtime pitstop for a couple of pints of cider at the fantastic Daneway Inn at the bottom of the hill we spent most of the day there snapping away. The other thing to be mentioned is they hardly ever rest with their wings open and the only open winged shot I achieved has a stem of a plant going across it! I real shame but it's included here as it's the only one I got to show the upperwing pattern. Oh and they really are "large" too, I was surprised at just how big they were especially in comparison to the Small Blues that were also present.

Large Blue, Daneway Banks, Glos

Large Blue, Daneway Banks, Glos

Large Blue (and obligatory thing in the way!), Daneway Banks, Glos

Eventually the heat got to us and we left and headed back to Northants. Recently during the previous week I had found a small population of Six-belted Clearwings at the Grange Park site so we rounded off the day looking for them and luckily they weren't too hard to find.

Six-belted Clearwing, Grange Park, Northants

Six-belted Clearwing, Grange Park, Northants
It's now time to turn our attention to the woodland species as Purple Emperor, White Letter and Purple Hairstreaks, Silver Washed and Dark Green Fritillaries are all emerging. It's going to be a very busy few weeks!