All A-Flutter!


Well Hello !  it's been a while, but I have been out and about and have finally gotten round to starting to catch up here though!

 This is all about the Butterflies I've been seeing on my Local Patch, from the end of May through to the end of July.  For those new to my ramblings, the patch of land I go walking on close to home is a fallow field (meadow) on farmland, which is bordered by a small brook and three small areas of woodland.  The meadow supports a wide variety of wildlife - Rabbits, Foxes, Muntjac, Brown Rats, Voles, Grass Snakes and Common Lizards as well as a wide variety of birdlife, including Chiff Chaffs, Whitethroats, Great, Blue, Long Tailed, Marsh and Coal Tits, Blackbirds, Goldfinch, Bullfinch, members of the Corvid family, Buzzards and Kestrels too.  

 Flora-wise, there are banks of brambles around the borders, nettles, thistles, hogweed and hemlock, buttercups, stitchwort, St Johns Wort, vetch, trefoils, spotted and meadow orchids and dog rose. There are also a number of small sallows and oak saplings. The woodlands comprise  of oaks, hawthorns, ash, alder, beech and hazel.

 Just before we went to Mull, I managed a few hours wander on a warm but blustery afternoon; I was wading through thistles, which were not quite open and observing how much vetch was coming into bloom and also just peering about in the grasses to see what was about.  From time to time I was seeing flutterings of russety orange as Burnet Companions were chasing about in courtship.  

These are day flying in sunshine or when it is warm and overcast and are easily disturbed from low vegetation.  Whilst I was watching I also saw at least one Mother Shipton moth, (so called because of the witch's face on the wing)  however, none were accessible for even a record shot!  As I carried on peering in the grasses, a blue fast flutter caught my eye - a rare sighting on the patch of a Common Blue! 

Around five years ago, there were reasonable sized colonies of both Common Blue and Brown Argus butterflies in the meadow, however, three years ago (as part of some kind of land management) the meadow was mown at the end of July, with not a blade of grass or wildflower left standing.  The cuttings were all burnt and there was no second brood of butterflies that year; as neither colony ever recovered sightings of these tiny delicate butterflies are now scarce.

 In silly grin mode, I stayed still in the grass and watched as he flew back and forth searching for a partner.  After a little while, he disappeared out of sight and I carried on, following rabbit paths through the grass.  Just ahead of me, clinging to a grass stem though, was a sight I'd not seen before - a mating pair of Common Blues! 

Eggs would be laid on whatever preferred food plants are available for the caterpillars - red or white clovers or trefoils, once the caterpillar reaches the chrysalis stage, this is formed on the ground and as with some of the other Lycaenidae species, may on occasion be tended by ants. Ants may also take a chrysalis into an ant nest, where the half grown butterfly will hibernate - rent is paid though, as the butterfly produces honeydew, which the ants feed on!

 I was not out and about again on the patch until the end of June, followed by fairly regular excursions through the rest of July as well. In the back garden, I had seen a few Holly Blues fluttering through, however, to see one settled this year has been a mission failed - the part of the patch where I have taken delight in watching these nectar at close quarters has been cleared and is now a building site... 

 Adjacent to the building site however, as a sort of natural 'barrier' to the cultivated farmland, there is still an area of tall grasses, thistles and brambles, so on most walks, I include this on my route.  It is a 'warm' area as it is at the top of a south facing bank adjacent to a dual carriageway and is often the first spot that I will see many familiar Butterflies emerge.  

 One afternoon I was there and it was busy with six different Butterfly species all fluttering and feeding amongst the thistle heads and grasses.  There were plenty of Bees and also Soldier beetles feeding as well.

 The first that I saw was a Brimstone, which settled to nectar on some Red campion which was growing along the path.  I had followed it along as it went back and forth over nettles and brambles, before it paused for refreshment. 

These are often seen patrolling busily along banks of brambles or other vegetation and rarely seem to stop for long.  As I reached the top of the path by the road, along the fence, there were a number of thistle heads in bloom, with Small White butterflies, Meadow Browns, Small Heath and Small Tortoisehells all taking advantage of the available nectar. 


The Meadow Browns usually roost in the grasses, both here and in the meadow, flying up and about at the slightest disturbance.  On one side of me they were fluttering through the grasses and on the other, competing with the other species for a free space of a thistle head.  When I walked around the meadow later that afternoon and over the next few weeks, the Meadow Browns would also be roosting in the grasses there and would be found nectaring on thistles occasionally although they seemed to favour the bramble blooms more. 

 Another eye catcher were number of Small Tortoiseshells which were feasting - there were quite a few about on this part of the patch, although elsewhere around the meadow part I have not seen very many.

 These were great to watch, pirouetting slowly around as they fed, or seeing off rivals to 'their' flowerhead, or at other times oblivious and sharing with bees or a second butterfly - they all appeared to be fairly freshly emerged, with few tatty wings seen and were taking on fuel, before they went a-courting!  Across from the path, as well as grasses, thistles and brambles, there is also a good sized bank of nettles, which Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars love!  (Elsewhere around my route, the big banks of nettles along the woodland margins have not yet recovered from last autumn's flaying, so not too many have been seen about elsewhere on the patch..) 

 Amongst the thistles, Meadow Browns and Small Tortoiseshells, I could see one smaller butterfly lower down in the vegetation.  It was taking no nonsense from incomers, whether Bees, Butterflies or beetles, on looking closer I could see it was a Small Heath. 

I don't often see these, maybe one or two a year, in one location or another on my patch, if at all.  Last year, for a few weeks, there was one maintaining it's territory at the edge of the oat crop, this year they have grown beans, so this one had appeared in a more favourable habitatWhen seen, they are always close to the ground and seem to prefer grassy areas, whilst widespread, they are causing concern as their numbers have dropped.

Just across the path, which is a grassier area, there were quite a few Small Skippers flitting around in the grasses and occasionally nectaring on the thistles as well. 

These like grassy areas and in the meadow I also saw reasonable numbers of these as well as Essex and Large Skippers.  

Large Skipper

These will nectar on brambles, thistles and also vetch or trefoil and lay their eggs in the grasses; indeed where hay is transported and then the bales broken for feed in fields, is one way that these have become widespread, through their eggs travelling long distance in the hay!

 I mentioned that I'd been seeing a lot of Small White butterflies earlier, well one afternoon, I saw a behaviour I'd not seen before - courtship in earnest!.  I'm used to seeing them in flight tumbling and twirling around each other, however I saw a lone female nectaring.  After a while she was aware of a nearby male, so raised her abdomen towards him.  He spent quite sometime fluttering around near her, attracted by whatever scent she was emitting to attract a mate. 

After a while they both flew off dancing, presumably to find a suitable spot for the next stage of their courtship.  

Around the woodland edges and also within in sunny spots through the tree canopy, I have seen quite a few Speckled Wood Butterflies.  These are great to watch, fluttering up and about and determinedly defending their spot.  One afternoon, I spent some time in a sunlit spot in the woods watching one that was seeing off allcomers including a stray Ringlet that was taking some shade from the blazing meadow (it was that warm, even the squirrels were walking that afternoon!)

Out in the meadow, there were a fair few Meadow Browns, Small Whites and Ringlets throughout the grasses in addition to a good number of assorted Skippers.  

The Ringlets, as do the Meadow Browns, made good use of the brambles and available nectar and late in the afternoons, if watched carefully, could be seen roosting low down in the grasses.  Here and there around the meadow, particularly around the thistles, I also had been seeing quite a few Five and Six Spot Burnet moths. 

These striking day flying moths are a warning to predators of 'not to eat' as they are very toxic.  One day flier I haven't seen this year is the Cinnabar moth, also black and scarlet, however I have seen quite a few of their striking orange stripey caterpillars feeding on Ragwort.

 Another day flier I have had glimpses of, very low down amongst the grasses has been the Silver Y moth, often only revealing itself as a fluttering blur as it moves from one spot to another. 

One afternoon in July, I was coming to the end of my walk and was watching a Comma as it tried to decide on a spot to perch on a big bank of brambles under the eaves of some Oak trees. 

All of a sudden, a much larger beautifully marked butterfly flew out of the woods and settled on the brambles.  I did a double take - this beauty was a Silver Washed Fritillary! 

Now, not only had I never seen any of the Fritillaries before, I had also never seen one of these on the local patch; once I'd got home and identified it from my photo's, well, there was a bit of dancing at the pc!.  Anyway, these are woodland butterflies, favouring sunny grassy clearings with nectar rich brambles to feed and shadier areas to breed. They are extremely eyecatching and beautifully marked, as well as being fast fliers. This is the most common colouration of them, although in some parts of the country the females are a bronze/green colouring, known as the valezina form.  

A few weeks later, a good number of fresh Gatekeepers emerged, both around the bramble banks in the meadow and on the little patch up by the road. 

With wings closed, they look a little like small Meadow Browns, however, I tell them apart by size and also the two tiny white spots in the black dot on their wing.  There were a good number of these around, both in the meadow and even in the 'new planting' part of the woods.  They were good to watch as they chased potential mates around or simply settled to bask or nectar.

 One afternoon, I was watching these up on the 'road' patch, when another surprise appeared.  A pristine Painted Lady fluttered off the brambles and onto a thistle head, whilst out the corner of my eye, I saw another one flutter off and into the grasses.


I have seen very tired looking Painted Ladies around the field after the harvest before and even one last year in the same spot, but never this new!  These butterflies seem to have a continuous mating cycle, so that they reproduce as they migrate in waves; this pair then, were most likely the progeny of arrivals earlier in the summer.

Painted Ladies are long distance migrants, starting in North Africa and gradually reaching the UK, sometimes their arrival across the south coast here has been on the spectacular side and some years are better than others for seeing them. They are not thought to overwinter here and high altitude surveys have noted autumn migrations back to warmer climes. 

 And finally, I must not forget a mention to at least one of the Red Admirals I have seen on my patch this year.. 

These seem to have had a particularly good year here, with quite a few seen all over the patch, either around the woodland margins, occasionally on brambles, the one which regularly frequented my back garden for a few weeks or the one above on a young Oak tree.  

 From a 'Citizen Science' perspective, I do try to log all my sightings on the Butterfly Conservation site using the iRecord Butterflies app  and I also did the Big Butterfly count - not only does the information help monitor species  for conservation, it also helps monitor climate and environment changes and their ongoing effects.





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