Butterfly No. 41!

May finished in fine style with a trip to the Wyre Forest and the hunt for another new (to us) species of butterfly. We were joined by our friend Anna who was visiting from Scotland and didn’t mind being dragged out into the woods in search of butterflies. Not only did she not mind, but she is a photographer, who is generous enough with her expertise to give us lots of tips and hints (not that they all went in!)

We parked in the usual spot at the end of Dry Mill Lane and headed off down the old railway track. First stop was an ornately carved bench with a lovely gentleman and his robin friend, who he fed with mealworms regularly.

After a brief chat, we headed on down the track towards a long open area with banks either side –  looked like perfect butterfly ground!

Our primary target was the Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary which should be out at the end of May/early June. We all got very excited by the first fritillary type butterfly we found, but then realised it was a Pearl-Bordered, not a Small Pearl-Bordered. The former are coming to the end of their season, but there were still a few about. It was still a beautiful butterfly all the same.

We saw lots of the Pearl-Bordered Fritillaries last year (more photos of those on a previous blog post https://toolazytoweed.uk/2016/05/18/out-and-about-wyre-forest/), so we continued with our hunt for the small ones.

The sun came out about 3pm and suddenly the Small PBFs all started flying. It was hard to count as they don’t really stay still or all show themselves at the same time, but there were probably at least half a dozen. Eventually a few slowed down enough to get some pics.

They are beautiful bright orange little butterflies. To be honest we weren’t totally sure we were seeing both species, although the presence of black marks resembling “730” is supposed be diagnostic of the small ones – see close up photo below.

Thankfully the good people on Butterfly Conservation West Midlands Facebook page confirmed we’d got both species.

We had hoped to get photos of the underside of the Small PBF wings, which are beautifully marked like stained glass windows, but they wouldn’t oblige and settle with wings  up. The best we managed was this shot taken while crouching down lower than the butterfly – it gives a glimpse of the underside, but is far from ideal.

Heading back to the car, we spotted a couple of Large Skippers (or possibly one that was just following us!) The Large Skippers were a bit more obliging than the fritillaries and posed on some bird’s foot trefoil flowers.

The Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary is the 41st species of British butterfly we’ve managed to see since we started butterfly spotting. It is the 3rd “new” species that we’ve found in the Wyre Forest, highlighting what a fantastic place the Wyre is for butterflies!

The Darling Bugs Of May

Apologies for the title, couldn’t resist a bad pun! After the quiet winter and early spring months, all the insects are suddenly emerging in May. It feels like our garden is gearing itself up again ready for the 30 Days Wild in June. Everywhere I look there is something buzzing (everywhere except the bee hotel I’ve put up which is of course silent!)

May wouldn’t be May with out the arrival of the May Bugs in the moth trap. These huge beetles can apparently be a pest for farmers, but I love seeing them. They are fascinating animals and I can still remember my amazement the first time I found one in the moth trap a few years ago. (Chris wasn’t so excited when I woke him up to show him my find!)

One of the areas particularly buzzing at the moment is a patch of poached egg flowers that I’d sown last year. I’d forgotten about them, but they all popped back again this year and look fantastic. I’d grown them originally as I’d read they were good for hoverflies – not sure about that but the bees love them!

Most of the bees are plain old honey bees (very welcome all the same of course).

There were also a few of these very small furrow bees Lasioglossum sp. It’s virtually impossible to get this one to species level without killing and examining it, which I’m not prepared to do, so it will have to remain a sp.

This next bee is one of the yellow faced bees – Hylaeus sp. Unfortunately since I didn’t manage to get a shot of its face, I also can’t identify this one to species. But since I’ve not recorded any other Hylaeus, I’ve counted this as bee species number 30 for the garden!

This next one did get identified to species (not by me but by a kind soul on facebook) as Osmia caerulescens – the Blue Mason Bee. This was also a new species for the garden, making 31 in total now over the last 2 years!

The bees weren’t the only ones enjoying a poached egg. This beetle (some kind of click beetle I think) spent a long time perusing the flowers.

This Hairy Shieldbug didn’t move much, just seemed to be using the flowers as a vantage point to survey the garden!

And of course my favourite – the Swollen Thighed Beetle had to get in on the act, displaying his fat thighs nicely.

The poached egg plants weren’t favoured by all the bees; some preferred other flowers like this Early Bumblebee on the alliums

and this Common Carder bee on a campion.

Somewhat inevitably the new bee hotel that I put up in the spring has been virtually ignored by all the bees. But at least it provided a resting place for this shieldbug.

The hoverflies were supposed to be interested in the poached egg flowers, but like most things in the garden, they never do what I expect! This little marmalade hoverfly preferred this small yellow flower to the slightly brash poached eggs.

This large fat bumblebee-mimicking hoverfly (Merodon equestris) preferred just to perch on the leg of the bird table. Even when I had to move the bird table to a different part of the garden, the hoverfly followed it over – no idea why?

After a very quiet spring moth-wise, May has finally brought an increase in their numbers to the moth trap. The moths of winter and early spring are generally fairly subdued looking, so it’s always nice when some of the more interesting species start emerging. I love this Pale Tussock with its lovely furry legs.

The Buff Tip is a regular visitor to our garden – it has the amazing ability to look just like a broken twig.

The hawkmoths are the biggest of our native species. Over the years we’ve had Elephants, Small Elephants, Eyed and Poplar Hawk-moths but never a Lime one. So I was thrilled when not one but two turned up last night!

With more moths emerging, more of their foes have emerged too. This beautiful but deadly (if you’re a moth of the wrong species) wasp Ichneumon stramentor parasitizes moth caterpillars.

As well as all of the above, there have been plenty of beetles, flies, caddis flies, daddy longlegs and other insects buzzing around this May, I just haven’t managed to take any photos of those. Something for another blog post maybe. But finally one of my favourite images from the month, a ladybird, even if it is a Harlequin rather than one of our native ones.

The Duke of Prestbury Hill

Flushed with the success of finding the Grizzled Skipper the previous weekend, we headed out again on Sunday in search of our next target butterfly – the grandly named Duke Of Burgundy. The nearest place we could find with a colony of Dukes was Prestbury Hill near Cheltenham – a fantastic site that we’d already visited at other times of the year.

Prestbury Hill reserve consists of 2 areas joined by a section of the Cotswold Way. We started off at the top of Masts Field which has amazing views out over Cheltenham and for miles around. It also has a convenient bench near the top for lunch. While we were sitting there, a pair of kestrels were hovering almost at eye level in front of us. Although they were more or less stationary in the air, they were still really difficult to get decent shots of, even though the one seemed to be staring right back at us.

We spotted our first Duke almost immediately as we entered the field – it’s not often we get so lucky. Considering it is one of Britain’s most threatened butterflies, it seemed almost too easy! It’s quite a small butterfly, looking like a miniature fritillary.  In fact it used to be called Mr Vernon’s Small Fritillary – I’ve no idea who Mr Vernon was, nor why it is now named after a duke! (if anyone knows I’d love to find out?)

His Grace (I’ve googled the proper term for addressing a duke!) is small but perfectly formed, with lovely stripy antennae and pretty orange and brown/black patterned wings.

The males are territorial and like to display themselves on prominent leaves or grasses. The Duke of Burgundy is really unusual in that the female has 6 legs, but the male only has 4.  So I reckon the one in the photo below must be a male – showing off!

Although we saw quite a few Dukes on the day, I didn’t know at the time about counting the legs, so don’t know if any of our Dukes were actually Duchesses!

The other butterfly we’d hoped to see at Prestbury on this visit was the Small Blue. I had glimpsed one once before, so it wasn’t a new one for the list, but we wanted to get a proper look. Again we were lucky and there were plenty of Small Blues around. They really are what it says on the tin – small and blue! They are Britain’s smallest species of butterfly and are absolutely tiny. Once we got our eye in though, we found loads at Prestbury. They’ve got a beautiful dusting of pale blue scales on the upperside of the wings, while the underside is almost all blue with a few black spots.

We even found a few pairs mating (so unlike the Dukes we can at least be sure we were seeing males and females!) The only trouble with them being so small and so shiny blue on the underside is that it makes it really difficult to photograph them – especially with the inevitable bits of grass blowing across the shot!

Prestbury is great for butterflies of lots of species so it was really nice to spot this Brown Argus and a lot of Dingy Skippers. I do feel sorry for the Dingy Skippers with their lowly sounding name next to the Duke of Burgundy!

I also couldn’t resist taking photos of one of  my favourite moths – the Mother Shipton. I do at least know the origins of this name – the moth is named after a 16th century Yorkshire witch because its marking are supposed to resemble her with an eye and hooked nose and chin!

And finally Spring was clearly in the air for these beetles. I’ve no idea what they are, but they looked so shiny and green against the yellow buttercup, I just couldn’t resist.



Jubilee Bells

Every May I look forward to the bluebells appearing along Jubilee Drive in Malvern. Actually I start looking forward to them in April and find myself doing drive-bys on the off-chance that they’ve arrived early and the fear that I might miss them. Waiting for the bluebells is like waiting for the first strawberries in the garden or the first Orange Tip butterflies in the hedgerows. They’re all such pure pleasures, nothing showy, no monetary value, no prizes. And none of them ever disappoint, they all just make me happy! So please excuse me gushing over them, they are just so damned lovely.

They have been pretty much at their best over the last few weeks, so my drive-bys have turned to desperate hunts for parking spaces, as I make my now annual attempt to get decent photos of them. They grow in great swathes along Jubilee Drive and you’d think it would be easy to take photos, but somehow the pics never seem to do them justice. I can never seem to capture their full glory. I guess like so many things in nature they are best just witnessed for yourself. I usually give up after a while and just stare at them, enjoying the spectacle and the smell of thousands upon thousands of bluebells.

Inevitably I take hundreds of photos, most of which are rubbish, but here are a selection of some of the slightly better ones. There’s not a lot else I can say, other than if you get the chance to go and see bluebells where you live, then make the most of them before they disappear for another year.

A Grizzly Day Out

Yesterday we went out on our first butterfly bagging expedition of the year – our target the Grizzled Skipper. Using the excellent        Butterflies of the West Midlands book as our guide we headed down to the Doward in South Herefordshire. The woodlands of the Doward are part of an Area of Outstanding Beauty – always a good starting point for any day out!

The butterfly guide book had described the best route to take to see the Grizzled Skippers, start at the main entrance to the White Rocks Nature Reserve. In our usual disorganised way we managed to head off in completely the wrong direction and somehow started at the other entrance. This was no great disaster though as it took us into the woodland which was carpeted with wild garlic (you could smell it in the air) and looked stunning.

Our accidental route also meant that we stumbled across King Arthur’s Cave. The Doward lies on limestone rocks and the cave goes deep inside them (not that we ventured very far ourselves). It has apparently been used by humans since Palaeolithic times, with everything from flint tools to mammoth bones having been found in there.

We carried on our erroneous path and came to a stunning view point looking over the River Wye.

By this time we’d twigged that we were on the wrong path, so tried heading back up hill, stumbling upon a large quarry as we did. It was baking hot in the quarry, so I stayed at the edge while Chris (who had been sensible enough to take a hat to keep the sun off his head) ventured in to look around. While I loitered by the gate, I spotted what I thought was a small moth darting about.  Closer inspection revealed it was actually a Grizzled Skipper – we’d found one by shear chance after all! I’d never realised that they would be so small, or so fast – it could disappear very quickly.

Out first ever Grizzled Skipper wasn’t unfortunately a pristine specimen, looking a bit ragged at the edges, but it was what we came looking for, so I took loads of pictures.

He or she looks a bit more respectable from the side as you can’t see the missing bits of wing.

Flushed with success (and the heat of the quarry) we decided to head back to the car and start again on the proper route. Not too surprisingly on the proper route it was a lot easier to spot the skippers. We quickly found about half a dozen flitting around a sparse area of ground. They were so quick though it was difficult to track them – I think all 3 photos below were of the same slightly slower specimen.

It is still relatively early in the “butterfly season”, but we did spot a few other species around the bluebells – a female orange tip and a large white.

The Grizzled Skipper is a delightful little butterfly, but it unfortunately becoming increasingly rare.  There are not many sites around us where we could have seen them, so we were very lucky to be able to add this species to our butterfly tally. Species number 39, only 20 more to go, but I have the feeling they are going to become increasingly difficult to find!