Sunday, 12 July 2015

Salcey Forest Butterflies in 2015 The Story So Far - 12th July 2015

Since my old local butterfly patch (Grange Park) is now a building site I have been spending a lot of time concentrating on the butterflies in Salcey Forest which is just down the road from me. It is great of course to travel and see butterflies but nothing beats finding a good area and visiting it a lot to try and learn in detail the ecology of the site. One of the other benefits of watching an area so close to home is you can visit it whenever you get some free time with ease, in fact if I'm feeling fit I can be there within 15 minutes on the bike! This method of continued visits and study also means that new discoveries can be made, one of these will be covered in the last part of this post!

One of the real highlights of Salcey Forest is it's population of Wood Whites. This dainty little butterfly can be seen can be seen fluttering along the vegetation on the sides of the woodland rides and is always a welcome sight when they emerge in early summer. We've had another good year for them here in the forest and I managed to get a maximum count one day of over 90 whilst a week later when more had emerged a survey by other Butterfly Conservation volunteers reached 153 through the whole complex. With there being so many they were also very easy to find even in cloudy weather and I know quite a lot of people traveled to the site to see them this year, in fact a lot of people were asking me for directions to Salcey while I was at Glapthorn watching the Black Hairstreaks. Here are a few photo's of this years Wood White display.

Wood White, Salcey Forest

Wood White, Salcey Forest

Wood White, Salcey Forest

Wood White, Salcey Forest

Like other butterflies they do seem to like dung too, and as there are a lot of horse riders who also enjoy Salcey Forest there is no shortage of it. The main concentration of their population seemed to be along the rides around the Piddington crossroads area and quite often the dung piles had quite a few Wood Whites sat on them. For some reason it's something they seem to do when the sun goes behind a cloud or if it rains!

Wood Whites on Horse Dung, Salcey Forest
Wood White on Horse Dung, Salcey Forest.

They do have an amazing behavioural characterist that's a real delight to witness too and this is their courtship ritual. I was lucky one evening when I popped in after work to find a location where two pairs were busy with their display. While the female sits on a perch the male positions himself opposite and gently flicks her on either side with his proboscis while regularly flapping open his wings. He will carry on this relentlessly until she either agrees to mate or simply flies away. Unfortunately for the males on the evening I watched them they both ended in failure.

Wood White Courtship, Salcey Forest
I also managed to get a couple of videos which I've slowed down a tad so you can see the ritual in detail. Both clips are in HD so turn up the quality to watch.




Of course the Wood Whites aren't the only butterflies in the forest and many of the commoner woodland butterflies are all present in good numbers. One which proved a particular distraction for me and Doug Goddard (Northants County Butterfly Recorder) on one of our visits was this Red Admiral.

Red Admiral, Salcey Forest
While we watched she could be seen darting around through the Nettles and it became apparent she was in fact egg laying. Trying to keep an eye on where she was laying was far easier said than done but luckily she landed on a leaf in open view and we managed to find it. As you can see the tiny egg is remarkably well camouflaged!

Red Admiral Egg, Salcey Forest
Of course one of the benefits of having a static subject to photograph is you can get as close as possible and I managed to get this macro shot to show the structure of the egg.

Red Admiral Egg, Salcey Forest.
You may also remember from the previous post that I had found a great ride full of Garlic Mustard, the larval food plant of the Orange Tip butterfly. I'd spent a few evenings looking for the eggs and here is a photo showing one of the many found under a Garlic Mustard flower head, apologies for repetition as this photo was posted in the previous post but I've included it again for illustrative purposes.

Orange Tip Egg, Salcey Forest

The above photo was taken back at the end of May and by now they had all hatched. The caterpillars are cannibalistic so you can usually only find the one on each plant but once again their camouflage is very good. They spend their time busily eating the flowers heads and pretty soon all the flowers had vanished leaving just stalks.

Orange Tip Caterpillar, Salcey Forest
The colouration on their bodies even recreates the shine of the sun on the stalks of the Garlic Mustard.

Orange Tip Caterpillar, Salcey Forest

This caterpillar below was also interesting as I inadvertently knocked the plant and disturbed it while taking pics. As it felt in danger it positioned itself and lifted it's body up slightly to form the shape of one of the stalks. A very clever trick!


Orange Tip Caterpillar, Salcey Forest

Another interesting inhabitant of rows of the Garlic Mustard and with equally as good camouflage were these tiny Crab Spiders with this one positioning it's legs to blend in with it's background.

Crab Spider (Diaea dorsata), Salcey Forest

Some of the local Dragonflies also provided a welcome sight as the many small ponds in the area provide great habitats for them, Broad Bodied Chasers, 4 Spot Chasers, Emperor Dragonflies and Brown and Southern Hawkers are all fairly easy to find.

4 Spot Chaser, Salcey Forest

Broad Bodied Chaser, Salcey Forest

Broad Bodied Chaser, Salcey Forest

Emperor Dragonfly, Salcey Forest

Emperor Dragonfly

Southern Hawker, Salcey Forest
Getting back to butterflies the meadow section near the motorway also came up trumps with a nice population of Marbled Whites. These really are stunning butterflies and is in fact one of the species that got me into the subject many years ago. I can still remember standing at Twywell Hills and Dales as a Marbled White fluttered passed me and it completely took my breathe away. I went home and looked it up and from then on I was hooked on butterflies! It is one of the butterflies that has an underwing and upperwing that are equally beautiful in their own right. It is often confused as a "White" but it is in fact a "Brown" being a member of the Nymphalidae (four footed butterflies) as can be seen in the photo's below.

Marbled White

Marbled White, Salcey Forest
2015 has also been a good year for Painted Lady lots sightings throughout the UK and Salcey Forest has been no exception. They can be very hard to get photos of at times as they really can move like lighting. It can come as a real surprise that something so small and delicate can have so much energy and it's no wonder they can make such epic migrations. Occasionally they do come to rest though, sometimes to nectar on a flower or sometimes just to rest on the ground. When they do rest on the floor their underwing pattern really comes into it's own as it blends in with it's surroundings. In fact if you take your eye off it it can be surprisingly hard to find again.

Painted Lady, Salcey Forest
The first ones I saw were really quite battered, perhaps from their journey to get here. Despite it's appearance though this individual below was moving like mad and it certainly took some keeping up with before I eventually got a shot.

Painted Lady, Salcey Forest


Other Painted Ladies seen though were very fresh indeed and this one was no exception, that upperwing does have a real subtle beauty about it.

Painted Lady, Salcey Forest
Early to mid July saw the start of the really impressive woodland specialities emerging and Salcey Forest is becoming very well established as a home to iconic woodland butterflies included the Purple Emperor, Silver Washed Fritillary and the White Admiral. My first Purple Emperor of the year was unfortunate though as it looks like it had difficulty emerging, it's deformities certainly didn't seem to hinder it though as it soon shot off up into the Oaks after I took the below photo.

Purple Emperor, Salcey Forest
The Beds and Northants branch of Butterfly Conservation held an event on the 11th of July to look for Emperors and it was great to see so many flying around the canopies of the Oaks. A short walk from the south side car park had nearly double figures including a fantastic aerial display by a male chasing a female. Other masters of the woodland ride edges were the White Admirals that glide effortlessly through the dense branches looking for Honeysuckle. I was rewarded one evening as I wandered along a ride on the south side to see a White Admiral busily nectaring in an area lit up by the last shafts of light from a slowly setting sun.

White Admiral, Salcey Forest.
Now here comes one of my best ever butterfly discoveries! Until the end of the 90's Salcey Forest used to be a great place to see the Black Hairstreak but since then numbers dwindled and a few years later they stopped being reported. When I decided to start surveying Salcey as my local patch I set myself the almost impossible task of finding Black Hairstreaks in the forest - lets just say I like a challenge! So in the winter months I spent many days wandering around rides and thickets looking for areas of Blackthorn, this continued into spring and I always tried to keep an eye out for what looked like suitable places for Black Hairstreaks to be. Unfortunately (or fortunately whichever way you look at it) there were a lot of places that looked good dotted all around the forest and it became obvious very quickly that finding one would be a real needle in a haystack. Not deterred though I started my search whilst also keeping an eye on the sightings of the Black Hairstreaks being reported elsewhere to try and work out when they maybe emerging. Reassuringly I wasn't the only one looking this year as Alan Neale had decided to look too but hardly surprisingly we seemed doomed to failure. No matter how hard we tried we didn't catch even a glimpse of anything remotely like a Black Hairstreak despite spending long hours watching intently at the tops of the Blackthorns. Soon enough the idea of seeing one in Salcey became ever distant as the short lived Black Hairstreak season was coming to an end and they were well passed their best at the other sites and reports of them slowed down. On the morning of the 11th of July, as mentioned previously, we had arranged a Butterfly Conservation event to help people see the Purple Emperors in the forest. The event didn't start until 10.30am but as I woke up to a bright blue sky at 7am I decided to get there early armed with some fish sauce to try and help entice the Emperors out of the canopy. I walked into the forest and came across one of the many sections we'd looked at as a possible Black Hairstreak site. The sun was blazing into an open area that was fringed with old Blackthorn bushes and then amongst the many Large Skippers and Ringlets whirling around something caught my eye as it flitted up and landed on a small Sallow bush in the middle of the tiny glade. I couldn't help thinking that it looked very much like a Hairstreak as it flew but as I'd made the rookie error of coming out without the binoculars I had to do a lot of squinting to try and find it amongst the foliage. Luckily though eventually I did and it was now behaving like a Hairstreak too as it twirled round to get the sun on it's undwerwing. I took a ropey record shot at full zoom on the bridge camera but the photo was rubbish to say the least although it did show that the butterfly had held it wings closed despite the sun blazing down. Unfortunately the butterfly was very worn and had positioned itself at such an angle I couldn't make out any of the markings on the wings and then almost as quickly as it came it shot off and out of sight. I stood there as amazed as I was frustrated as White Letter and Purple Hairstreaks had emerged at the other local sites and I was very annoyed I couldn't get a positive id on this one. I kept checking the back of the camera from all sorts of angles but I couldn't get enough detail to see exactly what it was. I waited patiently for what seemed like ages and I was almost about to leave when another Hairstreak looking butterfly flew up and landed on a different area of the Sallow. This one was in much better condition and it conveniently turned round into a more favourable position enabling me to get a good look. I couldn't believe what I was seeing as the orange back to the butterfly's hindwing could be seen even at this long distance and my thoughts were that this must be a White Letter Hairstreak which was great as it's also a butterfly not seen here for a while. I got the bridge camera out again and took a shot at full zoom. It still wasn't very good so I took a couple more and checked the pics on the back of the camera. As I zoomed into the out of focus shot I started to see details which I couldn't quite believe at first. There running up the orange band was a row of black dots! I really had to pinch myself and look again several times to prove to myself I wasn't seeing things. Here in front of me, finally after all the weeks of searching was a Black Hairstreak! Here is the first record shot I took, apologies for the rubbish quality but as it's the first one I was able to get an identification from I thought I'd include it.

Black Hairsteak, Salcey Forest
I was almost in a state of shock! This one shot off quickly too and I waited for what seemed like ages (but in reality was only 15 minutes) and started to walk back to the car. As I did so I saw another Hairstreak fly up and into the Blackthorn further along and on other side of the ride. I watched as it did battle with a Ringlet before sitting up in the top of a tree. Once again it was well out of range of the SLR so I grabbed the bridge and got a shot at high magnification. This one came out a lot better and showed another very nice looking female Black Hairstreak up in the canopy.

Black Hairstreak, Salcey Forest
It then commenced to do battle with the Ringlet again and took off and shot across to the other side of the ride and settled low down in the vegetation. This time it was well in SLR range! I turned on the live preview mode and pushed the end of the lens through the grass and as I knew that I probably only had one chance of getting this the pressure was high. I rattled off shots while trying to constantly change apertures settings with one hand. I only managed half a dozen photos before it once again shot off and I tentatively looked at the back of the camera. The pics had really come out well and the below photos portray one of the highlights of my butterfly watching career! After several years of no records, I had now proven that the Black Hairstreak still exists in Salcey Forest.

Black Hairstreak, Salcey Forest
Black Hairstreak, Salcey Forest

As a nice touch as I left I noticed another butterfly tumbling out of the Blackthorn and into the vegetation below. I had a closer look and saw a very worn male Black Hairstreak, this was significant as the other two Black Hairstreaks seen were female so it looks like they may have bred. Again it's not the best photo but I thought I'd share it all the same.

Black Hairstreak (male), Salcey Forest

So now we know where they are and it was certainly a morning I won't be forgetting in a hurry. I'm already looking forward to next year when we can study them in more detail! It's moments like this that make local patch watching so worthwhile!









Tuesday, 2 June 2015

"none but those deprived of their senses, would go in pursuit of butterflies" - 2nd of June 2015

A strange title for a blog post written by someone who is a lover our of Country's butterflies I know but ever since I read it it's been in my mind and in some ways is strangely accurate. It was written by Morris Harris in his book The Aurelian in 1766 and is describing the court case regarding the contested Will of an Eleanor Glanville who was a C17th lepidopterist. Her family used the fact that she was obsessed with butterflies as evidence of her lunacy after her death in order to get her Will changed more in their favour. The attitude towards lepidopterists at the time was evidently one of suspicion, the judge found in the family's favour and poor Eleanor Glanville's reputation was left tarnished as a lunatic. Unfortunately though this doesn't seem to be an attitude that has been left in the C17th century and it still exists today in various forms. Indeed a few times me and my mates have sometimes looked at each other thinking we must be a little mad for doing what we do (normally while chasing a Clouded Yellow up and down in mid summer heat for a shot!) and you certainly meet some eccentric and interesting characters while you're out and about. More seriously though it is also an attitude of many developers, councils and landowners and habitat loss is damaging our butterflies to such an extent it's of real concern. I've lost count of the many stories I've heard at butterfly sites from people all around the country of populations that have been lost due to sites being built on or destroyed. My local patch at Grange Park in Northampton is a superb site for Common Blue, Brown Argus, Small Heath and Marbled White etc but by the end of the year it us due to be flattened and become transformed into two large industrial units. It's heartbreaking it really is, but it's just one story amongst many and it's happening all around the country as the authorities turn their backs on nature in favour of investment. I'm certainly not opposed to development but until the planners and decision makers take proper account of the ecology of the sites to be developed (and I don't mean turning up in February, saying "there's nothing here" and walking away again) then there will be serious issues in the future.

This is the first post from me after a long break from blogging. I don't tend to write about the stuff I do locally and my winter has been filled with BTO WeBS counts and Butterfly Conservation work parties etc. The issues outlined in the previous paragraph have led me to take more of an active role within Butterfly Conservation and I now find myself as the Membership Secretary of the local branch (Beds and Northants) and also run their Twitter account in an effort to spread awareness. It's not all doom and gloom though and over the last month or so I've been lucky enough to see some great butterflies which will be outlined below. A few people have inspired me to blog again and I've been asked why I've stopped a number of times (even by a nice couple from Lancashire last weekend!), and reading other peoples great blogs have given me the push to write again including local photographer Doug McFarlane's blog here and Lucy Flower's Natural Interlude here both of which I can recommend a read of.

His Grace the Duke of Burgundy

I'm very lucky to have some great the Duke of Burgundy sites not too far away down in the Chilterns and the first ones to be seen emerged up on Ivinghoe Beacon so on the 2nd of May me, Jon and Kirsty headed over to take a look. As it was so early for them it became quite clear that a lot of searching was going to be involved and while we were there we bumped into Lucy Flower and lead ranger at the Ashridge Estate Lawrence Trowbridge. A short time later Lawrence found one in a secluded area near the road and luckily it hung around long enough for us to get some shots of it. It's always a cause for celebration when you see these as you know when the Dukes are out the butterfly season is well underway!

Duke of Burgudy

Duke of Burgundy
Duke of Burgundy
The bushes along the roadside were also full of Green Hairstreaks which provided an added distraction from the single Duke and a rather colourful Yellow-tailed Moth caterpillar posed for photos too!

Green Hairstreak
Yellow-tailed Moth caterpillar
Yellow-tailed Moth caterplillar

The following day I returned to Ivinghoe Beacon this time with John-Friendship Taylor and Simon Hales for hopefully more of the same but unfortunately the weather wasn't too good and despite a lot of searching we couldn't find a Duke. The other specialities of the area more than made up for it with more Green Hairstreaks and a stunning Holly Blue which I managed to get a photo of almost completely open winged!

Green Hairstreak
Holly Blue
We also took the time to explore the nearby Wendover Woods as Simon had never seen a Firecrest before, we were very glad we did as we found the showiest Firecrest I've ever seen!

Firecrest
A couple of weeks later me and Simon Hales came back down to the Chilterns but this time headed to the Bedfordshire site of Totternhoe. It is such a superb area and there are things to see all over the place, in fact you could easily spend the whole day here. We headed straight towards the Duke of Burgundy area admiring a Corn Bunting singing it's head off along the way and it wasn't long before we were in the hollow at the east end and surrounded by Dukes. They are such charismatic little butterflies and a real joy to photograph as they perch up keeping an eye out for any other butterflies that stray into it's patch.

Duke of Burgundy
Duke of Burgundy
After filling our boots with the Dukes we then wandered off to explore the area with a particular Orchid in mind that I'd never seen before. We had been given directions and even armed with these they were quite difficult to locate but after a bit of searching found the stunning Man Orchids.

Man Orchid
Man Orchid
 We also found a rather friendly Bloody-nosed Beetle along the track too.

Bloody-nosed Beetle
When we arrived back near the car park we checked the area that's famous for it's Small Blues and met Jon and Kirsty who had also arrived on site. I had found one earlier but the day's strong sushine must have triggered an emergence as upon return several could be seen in the tall grass along the fence line.

Small Blue

Small Blue
We then decided to leave the site and head back up into Northants. Simon had never seen a Wood White butterfly before and as were seemed to be on a roll be decided to ignore the thick dark cloud that had now rolled in and try and find one in Salcey Forest. Amazingly as we walked along the path from the Horse Box car park and into the wood we picked one up resting on a plant. A great end to a great day!

Wood White

Twywell Hills and Dales

On the 5th of May we had a local branch Butterfly Conservation event to see roosting Skippers at Twywell Hills and Dales. The weather once again tried it's best to make things as hard as possible with a high wind relentlessly tearing across the site. I always find it amazing how wind direction always has that habit of being in exactly the wrong direction and this evening it was perfectly aligned right down the middle of the main ride! Despite this though we decided to make the best of a bad job and with us all separating we soon found quite a few. It's amazing how they can cling on in a wind we were finding it quite difficult to even walk in. A little bit of teamwork helped to get the pics too as the picture taken by Doug Goddard below shows, with me laying on the floor trying to get the pic while Andy Wyldes holds the butterfly steady in the gale!

Teamwork! Pic taken by Doug Goddard
It's really interesting to take the time and see these specialist butterflies roosting like this and if you have them at a site nearby I can recommend visiting in the evening to see it for yourself. It's amazing how well camouflaged the Dingy Skippers are when hugging their chosen perch for the evening.

Dingy Skipper
Even the Grizzled Skippers which roost much more prominently take a bit of finding as they're so small.

Grizzled Skipper
Of course where you have a reliable place for wildlife to visit you will also find the predators that like to prey on them. In the Skippers case it's this little killer, the Gorse Orb Weaver, sitting next to it's kill from earlier in the day. It's always a real pleasure to go out chasing butterflies with Doug and Andy and with their extensive experience you can learn so much!

Gorse Orb Weaver

Salcey Forest

Due to my local site now being set aside for development this year I've moved my local patching to Salcey Forest and an incredible site it is too. The area is absolutely huge and there is always something to see. It's almost impossible to do the entire site in one day as it's so vast but I am enjoying exploring all the rides and tracks and it has been coming up with some great surprises. The first part of spring saw the emergence of our Common Lizards and they really like some of the large Oaks in the forest to bask in the sun. I've been all over the country to look for wildlife but I've not had better views of Common Lizards anywhere else and it's amazing to be able to get so close. Arriving early means you can see them before they've warmed up and they're still a bit sluggish and you can get a lot closer than you can at midday when they're off at the first sign of anything approaching. A great deal of patience also helps as gradually they get used to you and you can snap away, it's not everyday you get to take macro shots of such a fast reptile! I didn't use a flash with these as that would disturb them too much so believe it or not that round light in the Lizards eyes is actually the sun.

Common Lizard
Common Lizard
Common Lizard
Common Lizards

It's really nice to see them in such good numbers too. My highest count was 16 on one tree and sometimes you could come across some quite sizeable groups all huddled together. How many can you see in this photo?

Common Lizards
Other local reptiles are the Slow Worms and quite a few individuals have been seen in the forest.

Slow Worm
Slow Worm
Some of the local bugs have been great to find too and it's the beauty of macro photography that everything comes alive when seen close up. There is so much to see down there in the undergrowth but the majority of people simply walk passed it all without noticing what's beneath them. The Brassica Shieldbugs were new to me this year and I've been seeing quite a few dotted around on the Garlic Mustard.

Brassica Shieldbug

The Cinnamon Bugs and Cardinal Beetles also add a dash of colour to the green undergrowth too. During my photography session with the Cinnamon Bug a family came passed who were giving me some right funny looks as I snapped away!

Cinnamon Bug
Cardinal Beetle
Also spreading a little colour amongst the hedgerows were the new flowers coming up. Forget-me-not and Herb Robert being particularly easy to find.

Forget-me-not
Herb Robert
On one of my visits is was nice to see a large Glow Worm larva making it's across the path. I've only ever seen Glow Worms actually glowing on one occasion and seeing this has given me the urge to get out here one night and try and do a survey. It is of course actually a beetle rather than a worm and it's a ferocious predator of snails. It does look pretty alien when seen close up.

Glow Worm Larva
Glow Worm Larva
I know from past experience that Salcey Forest is also a great place to see one of my favourite arachnids, the Crab Spiders. There are a few different species of Crab Spider here and some can be seen on the leaves like the ones below. If you're scared of spiders it's probably best to skip this next bit!

Crab Spider (Xysticus sp)
Crab Spider (Xysticus sp)
Crab Spider (Xysticus sp)
We also get good numbers of a very special Crab Spider called Misumena vatia. This is special due to it's incredible camouflage as it can change it's colour to match the flower it's on. One afternoon while on a stroll through the wood I noticed a female Orange Tip butterfly sitting patiently on the top of a Dandelion and as I got closer I realised why. I certainly hadn't seen the Crab Spider and neither did the butterfly leading to an unfortunate end. This was the first time I'd seen a yellow one!

Crab Spider and Orange Tip
Crab Spider and Orange Tip
I returned to this location the week after I took the above pics and I managed to locate the same Dandelion to find it had turned into a seed head. I was amazed therefore when I got closer and found not only was the Crab Spider still on it, now nestled in amongst the seeds, but it was still catching prey! This time it had caught a Bee sp.

Crab Spider and Bee sp.
While admiring the many Crab Spiders other insects were gradually starting to emerge in the forest including my first Longhorn Moths and Green-veined Whites of they Year and the strange looking Scorpion Flies.

Longhorn Moth
Longhorn Moths blowing in the wind
Scorpion Fly
Green-veined White
Green-veined White
My first Wood Whites of the year came on the 16th of May with several on the north side and a couple on the south. As I write this the Met Office is predicting some good weather for a change at the weekend so I'm looking forward to getting out there and doing a proper Wood White survey.

Wood White
Other spring butterflies, as already mentioned, were the Orange Tips and as always getting photographs was a challenge to say the least! A bit of perseverance paid off though as eventually I had a couple settle and one evening I also visited in order to look for Orange Tip eggs finding quite a few along one of the better rides for them.

Orange Tip
Orange Tip
Orange Tip egg
Orange Tip egg (with a thumb for scale)

Strawberry Banks

On the 23rd of May me, Jon and Kirsty headed to a very special place indeed to see some very special butterflies. The main target of the day were the Marsh Fritillaries at Strawberry Banks but we also couldn't resist a visit to Hailey Wood to try and see some Pearl Bordered Fritillaries first. We wandered down the path passed the Saw Mill and into the clearing and almost straight away a Pearl Bordered Fritillary whirled across the path in front of us. Bitter experience from last year taught us to get here fairly early as once the Pearls have warmed up they're almost impossible to photograph. The morning was perfect though with enough sun to keep them active but enough cloud to keep them still for longer than a couple of seconds!

Pearl Bordered Fritillary
Pearl Bordered Fritillary
It's also easy to forget when looking for butterflies that it's always a good idea to look up as these Pearls really like to perch on the tops of the trees!

Pearl Bordered Fritillary

After we'd taken lots of photos we then moved onto Strawberry Banks. Lots of reports had come through during the previous week of what a spectacle it was and they certainly weren't wrong. We parked up at the bottom of the wood and walked up the steep footpath (almost being blown away by the strong smell of Wild Garlic) and entered the site to be confronted with quite a sight! Lots and lots of Marsh Fritillaries! They were everywhere and as you walked carefully through the grass they flew up in front of your feet only to settle back down on the next set of flowers. Last year there were a lot too but this year was something else. We certainly didn't waste anytime and got straight to work taking photos. It was such a pleasure to spend the next few hours in such an incredible place!

Marsh Fritillaries
Marsh Fritillary
Marsh Fritillary
A few very nice looking Common Blues were also on site and proved rather more difficult to photograph than the Marsh Fritillaries.

Common Blue
It was also great to see many other people who had made the trip to witness this spectacle and a great deal of time was spent chatting to others from around the country. It's great to listen to the stories and tales from other peoples sites and it's interesting to hear how other Butterfly Conservation branches work and meet their volunteers. It should also be mentioned that it's not just the Marsh Fritillaries at Strawberry Banks that makes the place so special. It's also a superb place for Orchids and right from getting out of the car by the road you can see spikes of Birds Nest Orchids reaching up through the leaf litter.

Birds Nest Orchid
When up on the reserve there were lots of Early Purple Orchids and some very nice looking Lesser Butterfly Orchids too.

Early Purple Orchid
Lesser Butterfly Orchid
I was very excited to see the Lesser Butterfly Orchid and such were the numbers of Marsh Fritillaries I decided to see if I could get a photo of the two together. I waited patiently by a flower and it didn't take long before a Marsh Fritillary landed on it. You don't very often get two target species in the one shot!

Marsh Fritillary on Lesser Butterfly Orchid.
It had been an incredible visit to the site and all the butterflies and Orchids really made it a superb day. I finished it off by wandering up to the top of the bank and sat next to a small cluster of Lesser Butterfly Orchids, I put the camera down and and admired the Marsh Fritillaries flying around me while occasionally looking down into the valley to watch the many photographers running around getting their pics underneath. For a moment I think I even had a little snooze, today this place was paradise!

Strawberry Banks

Glanville Fritillary, Orchids and Adonis Blues

You may be forgiven for wondering why this blog post started with a history lesson but if you have made it this far reading this rather long post all will now become clear. The lady who was the focus of the quote, Eleanor Glanville, had a butterfly named after her - the Glanville Fritillary. The only place to see the last of the truly wild ones is the south coast of the Isle of Wight and I can't justify travelling so far this year but luckily I was sent the directions to a site where they have been reintroduced in 2011. So on the 30th of May me, Jon and Kirsty found ourselves heading down to Surrey and to a nice little reserve called Hutchinson's Bank. The Glanville Fritillary is very much a sun loving species and today was meant to be pretty good first thing but unfortunately the long periods of predicted sunshine never materialised as ever thicker clouds rolled in. Only a Small Heath could be seen up in the cutting so I decided to try my luck along the footpath parallel to the road. As I walked down the path I could see small clumps of Trefoil which was encouraging and despite the cloud and still saturated grass from the previous days heavy rain a Common Blue could be seen whirling about. My hopes were fading fast when all of a sudden a small brown butterfly came past me like lightning. I tried to chase it but it was going incredibly fast and I could hardly keep up with it. Then by an amazing piece of luck it changed direction and came straight back towards me and flew back over my head and landed in the vegetation in the hedgerow. I slowly walked towards it and as I got closer I got my first glimpse of that most exquisite underwing that belongs to the Glanville Fritillary. I rang the others to tell them I'd found one and started to take some pics while they came over.

Glanville Fritillary
We did manage to find another Glanville Fritillary which posed nicely on some bare ground before relocating to a small bunch of Trefoil and evidently we were very lucky to have the views we did. A local guy also came down to join us and said he couldn't believe we'd seen one at all considering the conditions!

Glanville Fritillary
Glanville Fritillary
Glanville Fritillary
We also had a dapper Small Blue up in the cutting area which due to the weak sun sat patiently on a leaf trying to bask allowing everyone there to get a photo but unfortunately there wasn't much else to be seen on an overcast day like today. At least we'd seen what we were after!

Small Blue
Luckily we also had another plan today once we'd seen the Glanvilles and one which wasn't quite so weather dependant. After seeing so many great Orchids this year I'd really got the bug and we decided to head to a fantastic Orchid Wood near Marlow on the way home after a tip off from John-Friendship Taylow who had been there week before. After some complicated navigation around the rural roads we found ourselves at the entrance to Homefield Wood and wandered in towards the first glade. It is such a good place for wild flowers and the main reason for the site being famous is the rare Military Orchid of which there were quite a few. My knowledge of plants is very limited but we were lucky to bump into a very friendly botonist who gave us a mini tour of the highlights in the glade and just about everything he showed me I had never seen before. Lots of Military Orchids with Fly Orchids, Common Twayblade, Greater Butterfly Orchids and White Helleborine dotted around too.

Military Orchid
Military Orchid
Common Twayblade
Fly Orchid
Fly Orchid
Greater Butterfly Orchid
Greater Butterfly Orchid
White Helloborine
Another nice find was this Common Spotted Orchid with a Swollen-thighed Beetle clambering up it.

Common Spotted Orchid and Swollen-thighed Beetle
After enjoying this site for a while the sun came out and after looking at the map we realised we were only just round the corner from Yeosden Bank and as we'd heard the Adonis Blue was out there we decided to pop over for a look. We ended up finding quite a few Adonis Blues at the far end of the reserve and I'd forgotten just how hard they are to get pics of. They always seem to settle in amongst the grass so getting shots of them out in the open is difficult and to make matters worse the wind had now picked up but we carried on and eventually got some good shots.

Adonis Blues
Adonis Blue
As we left Yeosden Bank Jon managed to find a stunning female Common Blue and the final photographs of the day were taken of that. It was a fitting end to a great day, we certainly seem to have had luck on our side. Also many congratulations if you are still reading as you have made it to the end of this rather large blog post, I'll try not to leave it so long next time!

Female Common Blue