I’m not normally given to the expression OMG, but OMG Prestbury Hill is an amazing place! We made a return trip today to see the Chalkhill Blue butterflies that we didn’t see a few weeks ago (because I’d got their season wrong!) We ended up seeing 15 species of butterfly, a beautiful bird of prey, some moths, a new snail and a lizard! Pretty amazing for a few hours walking in beautiful countryside.
We started leisurely by heading to a bench for a picnic (I’d love to be able to claim that I’d loving crafted cucumber sandwiches and other home-made delights, but actually it was left-over fried chicken from the night before!) We spotted our first Chalkhill Blues before we even reached the bench, but decided to eat first then take photos later. Said bench has glorious views out over Cheltenham and beyond and is the perfect place for a picnic. We could see a bird of prey hovering over fields below – turned out it was this beautiful kestrel. We couldn’t get very close, so this is taken zoomed in from a fair distance, but you can still see what a stunning bird it is.
It hovered round about for much of our visit, never coming close enough for a better photo though. But by then we were distracted by the object of our desires – the Chalkhill Blues. The beautiful blue butterflies need either chalk or limestone grassland (Prestbury is limestone) and are one of the last species to appear each year. The males have gorgeous bright blue upper wings edged with black.
The underneath of the wings have a pattern of dots quite similar to the Common Blue.
As is so often the case with butterflies, the female is much drabber. We saw mainly males today, but that could be just that they are easier to spot with their bright colouring. The few females we did see were often being pursued by more than one admirer. This one was having a quick rest between suitors.
Already delighted with having bagged our Chalkhills we got chatting to some fellow butterfly twitchers, who knew much more about the area than we did and were very helpful. They mentioned that they’d seen Brown Argus further up the slope – a species that we’d never seen before. Needless to say we puffed our way back up the hill to the area they’d described in the hope of a second prize for the day. Chris caught a glimpse of something different, which turned out though to be some lovely Small Coppers. Our photos don’t really do them justice, but they were positively glowing a coppery red in the sunshine today.
While Chris was concentrating on the coppers, I noticed a tiny, fairly plain little butterfly, so took a few quick photos thinking it would probably turn out to be a Common Blue. So we were amazed when I downloaded the photos later and realised it had actually been a Small Blue! Another new species for us – two in one day!
We carried on back up the hill and about half way up saw another small butterfly. This time we’d found it – a male Brown Argus. Our third new species of the day! Again they look quite similar to the female Common Blues, but have the orange dots going right the way to the end of each wing.
Obviously seeing three brand new ones was the highlight of the day, but we also saw 12 other species, including our first Small Skipper of the year and some nice fresh looking Gatekeepers.
We also saw lots of these interesting snails. They are Heath Snails (Helicella itala) and seemed to have the habit of climbing grass stems like this.
As we got back onto level ground, Chris found a lizard basking on the path. Of course the lizard spotted him before he spotted it, so it dashed into the grass – this was the best shot we got of it.
And finally we couldn’t have a day out without finding a moth – this time a Shaded Broad-Bar as we headed back to the car.
So if you want to see butterflies, I can’t think of many places better to go than Prestbury Hill. And it still has more to offer – Duke of Burgundy butterflies in the early summer apparently, so we’ll be back again next year.