Out and About – Penny Hill Bank

You know how it is, you wait a lifetime to see a Green Hairstreak, then see them two days in a row! Flushed with success of finding them at Cannock Chase the day before, we ventured forth once more – this time to a small reserve in Worcestershire – Penny Hill Bank.

Penny Hill Sign

Penny Hill is an area of grassland that has apparently never had pesticides on it, so has a very diverse flora, including several types of orchid. We were probably there a bit early in the year to see many of them, but we did spot this Common Twayblade orchid (Listera ovata) and there were lots of pretty blue Bugle (Ajuga reptans) flowers.

Common Twayblade orchid (1)

Bugle (2)

The diverse flora of course in turn attracts a wide variety of insects, particularly butterflies. We’d only been there a couple of minutes before Chris spotted a Green Hairstreak. Perhaps now, having got our eye in with them at Cannock Chase, we’ll be finding them everywhere!

Green Hairstreak Penny Hill Bank

This was soon followed by another relatively unusual butterfly, the unfortunately named Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages). The skippers look a bit more like moths than butterflies, but have the typical butterfly antennae – smooth with a slightly bulbous tip. The Dingy Skippers are actually quite pretty in a subtle kind of way. They were also quite flighty, so not easy to photograph – this was the best we could do.

Dingy Skipper

We saw several other species of butterfly – Orange Tip, Green Veined White, and a possibly Large White, but none of them stopped long enough to get a photo. A Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) was however much more obliging.

Large red damselfly

The field was generally very tidy, with thankfully no rubbish, but there were a few old bits of farm debris lying around, so we checked underneath them. The first revealed a newt, but the highlight of our day though was finding another lifetime first – a slow worm! Neither of us had ever seen one, so we were both squealing with excitement (even Chris although he probably won’t admit that!) when we lifted an old metal sheet and found the slow worm underneath.

Slow worm

We hurriedly took a few photos, before carefully lowering his “roof” back down. As we’d been walking around Penny Hill, it had seemed like possibly adder territory, but the slow worm was a complete surprise. Penny Hill is also home to glow worms – so we may be back there one night in the hope of bagging another first!

The views from Penny Hill Bank were stunning, you could see for miles across Worcestershire. The photo below doesn’t really do it justice. It’s a small site tucked away off the beaten track and not that easy to find (thanks go to a local who pointed us in the right direction), but it’s a lovely, peaceful place to just sit and enjoy the view, whether you’re interested in plants and animals or not.

Penny Hill View

Chasing Butterflies

We went further afield this weekend chasing elusive butterflies – Cannock Chase for Green Hairstreaks (Callophrys rubi) to be precise. Cannock Chase is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) with large areas of heathland and woodland. Several areas within it are protected further as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Cannock Chase

We follow the West Midlands Branch of Butterfly Conservation on Facebook and had been jealously viewing lots of stunning photos on there of Green Hairstreak butterflies – a species that was on our “hit list” of ones to see for the first time. Many of these photos on Facebook had been taken on Cannock Chase, so we decided to stop off there on the way home from Chris’s Mum in Staffordshire. Clues gleaned from Facebook and Butterfly Conservation’s booklet on Butterflies of the West Midlands indicated that the carpark near the Glacial Boulder (seen below) would be a good place to start.

Glacial Boulder

So we headed out in hope and expectation, starting at the carpark just a few metres from the boulder. About a minute’s walk from the boulder we found this overgrown ditch which was warm and sheltered – an ideal spot for both us and the butterflies we hoped to see.

Hairstreak alley

Almost immediately I spotted one, then another and  we realised we’d hit gold – or perhaps green! There were maybe half a dozen Green Hairstreaks flitting around the bilberry bushes. Some pairs were chasing up into the air – presumably mating couples. The Green Hairstreaks are really small with green undersides with a white streak on. The uppersides of the wings are brown, but we only saw those in flight as they never settle with their wings open. In butterfly heaven we took loads (and I mean loads – thank god for the delete option with digital). So here are a selection of the best of our efforts – all Chris’s photos actually as he had the macro lens and also a much steadier hand!

Green Hairstreak 4

Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak 7

Green Hairstreak 6

Green Hairstreak 5

Green Hairstreak 3

Whilst happily snapping away at our prize butterflies, we met the very man (Terry) who had posted the photos on Facebook in the first place! He was extremely helpful (as have been all the butterfly enthusiasts we’ve met on our walks) and gave us tips as to what else we might see. Thanks to Terry we found a pond we would never otherwise have seen and subsequently spotted a new (for us) bird species too – a Reed Bunting. Apologies for rubbish photo, but they kept their distance, so this was the best I could manage. They looked like large sparrows with a white collar and were grabbing insects out of the air over the reeds.

Reed Bunting

Chris even spotted an adder, although it was too fast to get a photo – needless to say I missed it altogether!

All in all a very successful trip to Cannock Chase – far better than we’d dared hope for. The Green Hairstreaks are absolutely gorgeous little butterflies and well worth going that extra mile to see.