Thursday 19 November 2015

Salcey Forest Butterflies, Autumn Update - November 2015

As late summer merged into an unseasonally warm autumn Salcey Forest continued to produce some great butterflies. It's been very enjoyable to concentrate most of my wildlife watching efforts at this site this year and I am already looking forward to next year's butterfly season! This brief post will finalize the end of the butterfly season within the woodland. As the daylight hours slowly dwindled we were lucky enough to have some good spells of sunshine and the butterflies certainly seemed to take advantage of it. One of my favourite sightings of the late summer was a single White Letter Hairstreak down in the motorway meadow but this will be covered in more detail at the end of this post. The grassland strip by the solar farm and the clearings dotted around the rides to the north played home to some very nice looking Blues and Skippers. Lots of Common Blues could be seen during August and also quite a few superb looking Brown Argus.

Brown Argus, Salcey Forest
Large, Small and Essex Skippers took advantage of the long grasses by the solar farm and the Whites enjoyed the nectar sources in the area too as Large, Small and Green Veined White were prolific during August to late September. Small Copper seemed to be easier to find during their second emergence and once again the solar farm played host to most of the sightings. One particularly small specimen was seen down in the clearing south of the Horsebox car park and during one evening visit seemed to settle nicely for photographs which I certainly took advantage of.

Small Copper, Salcey Forest
The usual late Nymphalidae and Brimstones could be seen in the forest flying late into the season, well this was if you knew where to look. I'd stumbled across a late flowering Buddleia in a clearing and I gave it a lot of attention especially when time was limited. Some days in the early afternoon the Buddleia's branches were almost bowing with the Red Admirals, Commas and Brimstones!

Brimstone, Salcey Forest
Comma, Salcey Forest

Red Admiral, Salcey Forest
Red Admiral, Salcey Forest
One afternoon while enjoying the spectacle of so many butterflies feeding in one place I had an unexpected visitor in the shape of a Hummingbird Hawkmoth. It shot in like a rocket and over the course of 10 minutes or so seemed to visit every flower head on the bush before shooting off with as much speed as it arrived! I did manage to keep up with it for some shots though but perseverance and constant setting changes on the back of the camera were definitely needed!

Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Salcey Forest
Some of the young from the earlier Painted Ladies had also started to emerge and one morning I stumbled upon this beauty sunning it's self at dawn.

Painted Lady, Salcey Forest
 Other sightings within to woodland concerned the Hairstreaks. Purple Hairstreaks were seen all over the site with the best areas being the north ride near the solar farm, the ride south of the Horsebox car park, the area over the road from the main car park and the ride running north of the motorway meadow. It was great to watch them during evening after work visits and I was lucky enough at one point to have one down on the ground but just as I was about to get a photo a flipping fly came out of nowhere and attacked it sending back up high into the canopy! During one of my many visits to the south side I also found a new spot for some of the other spectacular site specialities, these being the great Common Lizard population. As I wandered down ride near the motorway meadow I noticed a tiny little face peeking out of the undergrowth during the midday sun. I managed to find at least three Common Lizard in the area and after a bit of stealth and patience (and a lot of funny looks from a group of passing joggers) I got some shots.

Common Lizard, Salcey Forest
At the beginning of August as I had a quick after work walk in the meadow I saw a little butterfly whirling around the Thistle heads. I waded through the grass and was amazed to find a very tatty White Letter Hairstreak. As far as I am aware the White Letter Hairstreak has never been common in the forest and although the odd annual report of one normally comes in not much is know about them. I got a couple of shots and rang Doug Goddard the county recorder of my find.

Tatty White Letter Hairstreak, Salcey Forest
It's never good to admit to favourites as of course all of our wildlife is special but I have to admit I've got a real thing for Hairstreaks so I set myself the ridiculous challenge of trying to find where this butterfly must have come from. During November, as the weather turned more autumnal and the leaves slowly disappeared from the trees I started to search the Elms in the area looking for White Letter Hairstreak eggs. Believe me this is far easier said than done! On my first attempt I searched and searched before finally heading back to where I'd parked the car seemingly doomed to failure. I suddenly remembered a small Elm by the roadside and went to take a look but at first glance I couldn't find any. I took a breather and tried to remember what I had to get from the shop on the way home and as I did so I looked up and saw a tiny little disc underneath one of the branches. I took a pic using the macro lens and zoomed in one the back of the camera. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, I'd just found a White Letter Hairstreak egg! Despite searching I couldn't find any more so went home and as I was working or otherwise committed to other things for the next couple of weeks I had plenty of time to try and work out how to be more productive in finding these tiny eggs. The biggest problem I found when looking is due to the location they like to lay - this being on the scar underneath areas of new and old growth. Consequently you're always looking up against the sky. So the next time I went I took my bright LED torch with me and this helped no end. I not only managed to find a total of five eggs but they were in two separate locations which meant I'd also found two colonies now. Here's a few of pics of the results.

White Letter Hairstreak Egg, Salcey Forest
White Letter Hairstreak Egg, Salcey Forest
White Letter Hairstreak Egg (with my thumb for scale), Salcey Forest
White Letter Hairstreak Egg Cluster, Salcey Forest
You may wonder why I've spent so much time trying to find these eggs but as the White Letter Hairstreak is a UK BAP species of high concern I thought it worthwhile. So anyway this draws to an end a rather short post. This year I've certainly learned a lot about Salcey Forest and the richness of habitat in there. It's one of those places where once you've seen the site specialites such as Wood White etc. it's very easy to dismiss it as a site of "not much there" but when you delve deep down it's amazing what you can find. Lets hope next year will be just as productive.


  1. I can't believe how small and vulnerable looking the eggs are, they don't blow off? It's impossible to pick a favourite image to be fair as they're all fantastic but the Lizard and Hummingbird Hawkmoth are definitely up there as special.

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed catching up with what you've been seeing and doing in recent months, Dave. Wonderful series of images and I am in awe of your White Letter Hairstreak egg finds!! Incredible!


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