Saturday 14 June 2014

A Heath Fritillary, a Ringlet and a Marbled White - 14th June 2014

After the fun of the Black Hairstreaks at Glapthorn during the week we couldn't wait for the weekend to get here as the weather forecast was looking good and we'd decided to head to Essex to see one of the rarest of the British butterflies the Heath Fritillary. Waking up in the morning and opening the curtains however showed a different story as the prolonged spells of sunshine had changed to dense cloud with drizzle. I checked the two weather apps I use on the phone and they both promised sunny spells by mid morning so Jon, Kirsty and me made the journey down. I had been sent detailed instructions by a friend of mine of Facebook so we knew we could easily find the location but I have to admit I was getting a bit worried about the weather especially as we drove through a heavy belt of rain just before leaving the M25. I rechecked my phone and now both apps were saying we weren't going to get any sun until at least mid afternoon and this was 5 hours away! We were still hopeful though as this was apparently the best place in this area to see this cracking little butterfly so we parked along a local road and walked into Little Haven nature reserve and headed straight towards the large clearing. Quite amazingly we had arrived during a break in the drizzle and we somehow managed to see a very nice looking Heath Fritillary straight away as it stretched out it's wings in an effort to soak up as much sunlight as it could through the thick cloud. It's wings closed as we approached showing us the incredible underside pattern.

Heath Fritillary, Little Haven, Essex
While we took pics the wind got up and disturbed it from it's perch but luckily for us it didn't go far and it found a resting place on a nearby leaf. We took a couple more pics and went off to explore the area. Jon had found a great looking Ringlet which also sat motionless while we took our pics. Sometimes inclement weather really helps the photographer (so long of course if you can find the butterflies in the first place) as they can sit quite still as you snap away, and if they are disturbed they don't tend to fly far before resting up again.

Ringlet, Little Haven, Essex
Ringlet, Little Haven, Essex
Despite a very thorough search though we simply couldn't find any more Heaths, we looked in all the suitable habitat and even went round round twice but we drew a blank. We did however find some very impressive Wood Ant mounds and despite me getting a nasty nip off one it was fascinating to watch them and they busily marched back and forth with bits if twigs, leaves and insects.

Wood Ants, Little Haven, Esex

We had to wait in the wood for a shower to pass and then decided to return to see if the lone Heath Fritillary was still there and surprisingly it was. It was becoming apparent that this was going to be the only one we would probably see today so we took a few more pics and left the site leaving it on it's leaf. It's funny how you can get attached to such things but I couldn't help feel a little gratitude to it. It was realised that if it wasn't for this single little butterfly our trip would probably have been in vain! The sun did try to poke through momentarily and it opened it's wings and then it slowly closed them again.

Heath Fritillary after the rain, Little Haven, Essex
Heath Fritillary, Little Haven, Essex

Heath Fritillary, Little Haven, Essex
As the rain started to pour down again we decided to cut our loses and head back to Northants to check up on the local Bee Orchids and try and get pics of the Marbled Whites that had recently emerged. The Bee Orchids are still looking great and I can never get tired of seeing them, they do have quite comical faces on the flowers.

Bee Orchids, Northants
We then left the bank at the Grange Park site and was pleased to see so many Marbled Whites on the wing. There were at least 10-15 flying around but getting pics were as always with this species a nightmare as they were very hard to approach but despite this we persevered. Lots of Meadow Browns were also seen and groups of Large Skippers could be seen whirling around together. The Burnet Moths are even more noticeable now as they gradually emerge and cocoons are everywhere so it looks like there's going to be lots at their peak. A couple of Little Ringed Plovers have bred on site which I now feel comfortable enough to mention on here as today I saw their nearly fully grown chick flying around with one of it's parents, and lots of Common Blues are also still present although they are now looking a bit tatty. Eventually after we did one more final walk along the bank we saw a Marbled White trying to sun itself in the overcast conditions and we all managed to get some shots. I do love these little crackers and years ago when I used to birdwatch Twywell Hills and Dales I used to see these at the right times of year and it was the main species that got me into reading about butterflies in the first place and learning their fascinating stories. No matter how many I see I still can't help but feel a little thrill of excitement whenever I see one!

Marbled White, Grange Park, Northants

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