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.

 

 

Out and About – Prestbury Hill – The Return!

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.

Kestrel

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.

Chalkhill Blue

Chalkhill Blue 3

The underneath of the wings have a pattern of dots quite similar to the Common Blue.

Chalkhill Blue 2

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.

Chalkhill female

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.

Small Copper

Small Copper (2)

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!

Small Blue open

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.

Brown Argus male

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.

Small Skipper

Gatekeeper

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.

Heath Snail

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.

Lizard

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.

Moth

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.