Monday 16 November 2015

"If Carlsberg Made Butterflies", The Silver Washed Fritillary form Valezina - August 2015

I've been wanting to see a valezina form of the Silver Washed Fritillary for many years but they they always seemed to elude me. In my defence I hadn't looked too hard for them as I really wanted to find one of my own in Salcey Forest but as time wore on it was becoming apparent that that's easier said than done! There comes a time therefore when if you want to see something you have to travel and luckily for me I didn't have to travel far. The nearby forest of Bucknell Wood has been a very good site for Silver Washed Fritillary and it often throws up a valezina for the lucky butterfly watchers who visit it. Soon after I had returned from Indonesia (see previous post) I heard a valezina had indeed made an appearance again this year so I chucked the camera in the car and headed over. I searched the area it was seen in for a while and while I did so a tatty White Letter Hairstreak descended from the trees and onto the bushes. These had been absent from the wood for a while so it was nice to see them making a return. I turned my attention to taking photos of this while waiting for the Fritillary to make an appearance.

White Letter Hairstreak, Bucknell Wood, Northants

White Letter Hairstreak, Bucknell Wood, Northants
 A few other interesting butterflies were also whirling about in the forest glade I found myself in. There was a number of Gatekeepers on the wing and they seemed to be everywhere you looked. I spent a while inspecting them and easily found a few of the Gatekeeper aberration excessa. This aberration has extra spots leading down from the main forewing spot.

Gatekeeper ab.excessa, Bucknell Wood, Northants
A tiny Small Copper whizzing around among the long grasses also added a nice distraction.

Small Copper, Bucknell Wood, Northants
I was about to give up and head to Salcey when I finally saw a Fritillary glide down from the woodland edge and settle on a Bramble bush. There was my first Silver Washed Fritillary valezina in all it's glory busily feeding on a flower! I had spent many years admiring other peoples photos of these stunning butterflies online and to finally see one was quite a moment! The valezina is a variant form of the female Silver washed Fritillary where the orange on the wings is replaced by a beautiful greenish pearl effect. Unfortunately this pearl effect quickly wears off and as this butterfly had emerged while I was away on holiday it was now looking a bit ropey to say the least. I left the site glad to have finally seen one but a little disappointed it wasn't in better condition. Whilst I was at work the following week though amazing records started to come out of Bucknell Wood of up to five valezinas being seen in the same area I had been in at the weekend! There must have been some new emergence and as the weather was looking good on my next day off work I was joined by Simon Hales and we shot over there to have a look. No sooner had we arrived in the glade we found a valezina nectaring on a Bramble, and then we saw another and then yet another. We had three valezina feeding on the same bush right infront of us all in varying condition but one though, with the exception of a tiny notch in the wing, was pristine! I have to admit, I've been lucky enough to see some magnificent butterflies abroad and here in the UK but this butterfly, as it twirled around in the bright sunshine, was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen!

Silver Washed Fritillary form valezina, Bucknell Wood, Northants
Silver Washed Fritillary form valezina, Bucknell Wood, Northants
The stunning colours changing from green to blue and then to bronze as the light reflected off the butterfly's wings was almost mesmerizing but it's something that you can't really recreate in a photo. Luckily I had the foresight to record this short video clip of it feeding. Play in fullscreen and the highest quality you can.

I also spent a lot of time trying to get the underwing shot. The underside of this butterfly is a gorgeous green colour and it was quite a challenge to get as the heat of the late summer sun shone through the woodland canopy. I posted this picture on Facebook and someone commented on the Easter Island Statue's face on the forewing, ever since then I can't help but notice it!

Silver washed Fritillary form valezina, Bucknell Wood, Northants
Silver Washed Fritillary form valezina, Bucknell Wood, Northants
Even more luck headed our way during our afternoon visit as for a period of less than an hour a few Purple Hairstreaks seemed to like descending from the tree tops and onto the grasses by the paths. They really put on a show as they flew around our feet and before settling deep in the vegetation.

Purple Hairstreak, Bucknell Wood, Northants
Eventually on came down and started to feed on the honeydew on the low laying leaves of the Bramble bush. I slowly sneaked up on it and luckily got one of the best Purple Hairstreak photos I have ever taken.

Purple Hairstreak feeding on honeydew, Bucknell Wood, Northants
We left the site very happy with the day's sightings! I returned yet again a few days later in the week in order to try and get photographs of the Silver Washed Fritillary eggs. The area is so good they were very easy to find and several were found in a quick search of the moss on the trees by Violet patches. I've included a couple of shots, one macro pic to show the structure of the egg and another more distant one to show how small they are.

Silver washed Fritillary egg, Bucknell Wood, Northants

Silver Washed Fritillary egg, Bucknell Wood, Northants

It was great to pay a few visits to Bucknell even if I did have pangs of guilt for neglecting my local patch while I was there. The butterfly sightings were superb! From now on though I'll keep searching in Salcey Forest and hopefully one day that beautiful greenish pearl will gentle glide through the forest and I would have finally found my own.


  1. What a stunner that Silver Washed Fritillary form valezina is David.
    Never managed to see one yet; just the regular one.
    Excellent video clip too. Really shows the colours in the wings.

  2. Thank you, I had to try and get a decent video just to remind myself how stunning it was. If any get reported next year give me a shout and I'll point you in the right direction :)

  3. Interesting piece and great shots David.

  4. Wev'e just seen a 'Silver Washed ..Valezina' and was totally foxed as to what it was - thank you so much for clarification (Snakehome Pit Lincolnshire).

  5. on a geeky note, are you sure that's not a Brown Hairstreak?


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