Bit of a Butterfly Fest!


Well Hello there!

You may recall that in a previous blog  I mentioned that summer seemed to be off to a late start,  well on my local patch, during July and August,  things finally caught up.   

Whilst all the birds are busy raising young and also, in most cases, going through a moult, during the summer months I tend to focus on the smaller creatures which appear.  Our non-feathered companions, such as spiders and beetles can give some folks ( including me) the heeby-jeebies, however since I have been taking a close up view, (ok, from about two metres away, with a big lens!) not only have I become less fearful, but I have also seen how beautiful our minibeasts are.

  There are no spiders here though!  Instead I had a browse through my diary and was surprised at the number of different types of butterfly I have seen this year, which, whilst all are familiar  (and common) species also included a couple of new ones for me as well!

 The 'local patch' habitat consists of field margins and a large 'meadow' area, bordered by brambles and blackthorn, with woodland that is a mix of oak, ash and beech trees.

 The first butterflies I saw in reasonable numbers, were the Meadow Browns, on an evening walk along the edge of the oatfield.  

Meadow Brown (open view)

These are often found in grassy areas, such as meadows, hedgerows and along the edges of fields.  My most usual view of them, is when they rest in the grasses, blending in very well until they flutter up out of the grass. They can be seen in large numbers and will nectar on brambles, knapweeds  and thistles, as well as ragwort. 

 The more familiar view of the Meadow brown, is the closed one, as they rest in the grasses.

 A few days later I was wandering on the 'meadow' part of my walk, which, during the summer, is a mixture of tall grasses, hogweed, knapweed, thistles, common vetch and ragwort. The area is bordered by banks of brambles and blackthorn.  There were many of the Meadow Browns about, but these were now joined by 'box fresh' looking Ringlets.  


 These favour sheltered areas, such as woodland clearings or edges as well as meadows, they nectar on similar plants to the Meadow Browns and the majority of them were seen towards the shadier end of the meadow, amongst the grasses.  On one warm evening walk, I stood in the middle of the grassy area, with literally clouds of Meadow Browns and Ringlets fluttering around me, a magical moment indeed!

 Whilst they may just look rather 'brown', close up the Ringlets are quite beautiful.  The brown colouration also helps them to warm up quickly, I found this one basking under the eve of the woods, low in the grass.

 About a week later, I was out on a morning stroll and there were a fair few thistles which had finally bloomed, as well as a lot more bramble blossom showing.  This was good news for the butterflies, as these plants provide plenty of nectar for them to feed on.  Previously conspicuous by their abscence, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells were out and about and feeding, however I have not seen them in great numbers at all this year, compared to previous.  

Small Tortoiseshell on a head of thistles

Peacock (If you have Buddleia bushes in your garden, then these love feeding on them!)

Small Tortoiseshell, busy in the brambles.

On the same morning, I spotted one of our day flying moths busy feeding on a thistle head and completely oblivious, a handsome Five Spot Burnet.

 These can be seen during the day in July and August, feeding on many different flowers, Birds-Foot trefoil is the larval foodplant though.  I rarely see them in such good condition and was afforded a chance to watch it close up for quite a while.  In later weeks, I have seen a few more of these, feeding on a big trefoil patch.  Whilst I was having a read about these, I found out that they are quite toxic, with the Burnet species of moth containing cyanide, which their bright colours warn of; despite this, occasionally birds do still eat them!

 In the same area where the Burnet was, Small White butterflies were also taking advantage of the thistle heads as well as being found roosting in the oatfield.  

Small whites nectaring and at rest       

I have missed seeing any Common Blue butterflies on the local patch so far this year, however, towards the far end of the meadow, away from their favoured patch of previous years, a few started to appear along with Brown Argus butterflies.  These tiny blue butterflies stay low in the grasses and best views are often to be had in the late afternoon, when they 'go to roost', often sitting on a grass stem, soaking up the last of the day's sunshine.   I usually see a fair few of them in May / June time, but this year, not a glimpse.  One afternoon in early August, however, I spied maybe half a dozen fluttering around in the grasses.

Common Blue nectaring on a thistle head.

Some of them were nectaring and others were settling down for the evening,

Catching some rays!

Whilst I was watching them I was fortunate enough to see a female - these usually stay tucked away low in the vegetation, however this lady was making the most of the sunshine.

Basking female Common Blue.

Delighted as I was to see these, along with a few Brown Argus which had also been flitting about,

Brown Argus

 there was a further treat or three from the Lycaenidae family in store for me!  In the first few weeks of August I saw three butterflies, which I had not seen before.  The first one was a Small Copper, which was nectaring and flying about over a stand of thistles amongst some head height grass.  The males of these little orange butterflies are very territorial and there are usually only a few in a colony, which is possibly why I've only seen a few here and there and certainly not sharing the same space!  One of the foodplants they favour is dock, there was plenty of this growing on the patch where I made this character's acquaintance.

Small Copper (and weevil) 

I had also been seeing tiny chrystal blue butterflies circumnavigating my back garden amongst other places, but never settling.  Now as I have never seen Common Blues away from their 'patch', I was getting curious as to what these could be.  On a warm Saturday morning, I was at the far end of the meadow, which is a big bramble bank under the eaves of some big old oak trees, watching Meadow Browns and Common Darters, when, amongst the brambles, something tiny and blue settled, wings shut tight at first...

It was a Holly Blue!

After a moment or two, it found a sunnier spot and I was treated to a 'wings open' view of a very dapper male.  These tiny butterflies like Holly and Ivy as well; I was surprised to read that instead of favouring nectar, as most butterflies do, they have a taste for honeydew, which is a sticky sugar rich secretion left by aphids and other insects.  

After the Holly Blue had had it's fill and fluttered off, I carried on peering at the brambles to see what else was about.  Small Whites, Meadow Browns and quite a few Comma butterflies, which were either nectaring or basking.

Comma Butterfly

Comma butterflies are very distinctive, both by shape and also by their brilliant colours.  When their wings are closed, however, they are somewhat less conspicuous, although a small comma shape can be clearly seen.

Then an 'odd' looking blue butterfly caught my eye.  It looked like a Common Blue, but with most of it's dots missing and stripes instead..  

 Purple Hairstreak 

Back home and having had a trundle around butterly books and ID sites, it became clear that this was a Purple Hairstreak.  (Now as I've never seen any kind of Hairstreak, ever, there was a spot of dancing!)

 Anyway, these favour oak woodland with their presence and usually stay way up in the tree canopy, sometimes one oak can house a whole colony!  They do, just occasionally though, descend to levels where we may glimpse them basking.  Similarly to the Holly Blue, it's preferred diet is honeydew, of which there must be plenty, given the other insect life that an Oak can support.

 This year, I have been privileged to see a few more Red Admirals than in previous years.  Solitary Admirals have appeared from time to time and I usually see them basking on tree trunks or between feeding on brambles or the remaining thistle heads.  

 In the autumn, they are known to like drinking the juice from overripe fruits, such as apples and can be a familiar sight in many gardens.

Another pair of abundant visitors in the meadow have been Large and Small Skippers, I have been seeing these nectaring on brambles (one of their favourites) and flying about in the grasses, particularly on warm days.  These lay their eggs in the grasses, in the case of Essex Skippers, this has helped spread the species by way of hay bale transportation!

Large Skipper, notice the hooked clubs on the antenna ends.

Basking Small Skipper 

Now that we are starting to head towards the end of the butterfly season, two final species have put in an appearance.  

 The first I often see within and around the edges of the woodland, the Speckled Wood.  These like to settle and bask in sunny spots, either low down or in the tree canopy.  Often in the woods, I see a pair dancing around each other, whilst they are courting.  Speckled Woods are very territorial and will see off other males or even other species of butterfly which encroach on their 'patch'.

Basking Speckled Wood, sizing me up!

After defending their patch, they will alight up in the tree canopy, with a good view of their territory, whilst basking. They are very striking in appearance, with eyecatching cream spots and various hues of brown, so if you are wandering, look up - you may be under  butterfly surveillance!

The last of the butterflies that I have seen this season, are small and colourful and have been, as with the Meadow Browns and Ringlets, abundant on my local patch.  They can often be seen basking with wide open wings and are extremely eyecatching - the Gatekeeper (also known as a  Hedge Brown) that appears from the middle of summer onwards.  

 They are small but striking orange butterflies which habit field edges and grassland.  The 'Gatekeeper' name stems from regular sightings of them along hedgerows and by gates into fields!

Gatekeeper, also known as the Hedge Brown.

Hedgerows and field edges often have at least one of their preferred plants for nectaring- brambles, of which there are plenty of around the meadow.  They will also feed from Devil's Bit Scabious, thistles and Ragwort, as well as supplementing their diet with honeydew.  


There are further images from my Minibeast diary for 2015, over in an album on Flickr 

 Warning though, 'May contain Spiders!'





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