Butterflies Old and New

2020 has certainly been a most unusual (and hopefully never to be repeated) year for all of us, but finding solace in nature has been a great help getting through these strange times. At the height of the lockdown, we felt very lucky to have a garden full of wildlife that we could enjoy. We have spent an awful lot of time watching the wildlife emerge as the weeks went by and have particularly enjoyed seeing how the new pond developed. But after a while you do start to go a little stir crazy and we were longing to get out and see things beyond the confines of our garden. So as things began to ease a couple of weeks ago and nature reserves started to reopen, we made our first tentative ventures out, first to a local one and then to one a bit further afield.

First stop was Monkwood, just a few miles away and a lovely reserve that we’ve been to quite a few times before. First delight was that we heard a cuckoo calling on and off the whole time we were there – our first cuckoo of the year.  It was the end of May and the Wood White butterflies were out in abundance. They had only been reintroduced to Monkwood a few years ago, but are clearly doing really well. They are small delicate little butterflies, not as showy as say the fritillaries, but really delightful to watch and very pretty in their own subtle way.

Several other butterfly species were out, but it was particularly nice to see some Large Skippers, our first of the year.

We also saw several small and non-descript moths flitting about. Despite me chasing them around, the best photo I could manage was this blurry specimen. Turns out that they were Drab Loopers, not perhaps the most attractive of names for the poor things. They are generally a bit of a rarity though and Monkwood is a stronghold for them.

Next up was a splendid large caterpillar of the Drinker moth. The Drinker is supposedly fairly common in the West Midlands, but we’ve never seen the adult moth; so it was nice at least to see junior here trundling across the path.

On a patch of Guelder Rose, we saw loads of what looked like caterpillars, completely destroying the rose leaves. Turns out (thanks to the good people of iSpot) that it was in fact the larvae of the Viburnum Leaf Beetle, so another new one for us.

Finally for Monkwood, it was great to see my perennial favourite, the Swollen-thighed Beetle.

This week as the lockdown measures relaxed a bit more, we decided to venture further afield. This was the week that we were supposed to be going on holiday to Norfolk, where we’d hoped to see our 51st British butterfly species – the Swallowtail. Obviously all holidays were cancelled, but we came up with a plan B to at least see a 51st species. The Black Hairstreak was on our yet-to-see list and the nearest sites were about 2 hours away in Northamptonshire – just about doable in a day trip. So we set off at the crack of dawn (well a bit later than that to be honest) and headed to Glapthorn Cow Pastures.

The name might suggest it was more of a meadow and indeed it did used to be grazed by cows. But now it is managed as a mix of woodland and blackthorn scrub – ideal habitat for the rare Black Hairstreak. We got there about 09:30 just as another keen butterfly spotter arrived. Funnily enough we heard a cuckoo calling here too as we got out of the car – a good omen perhaps? We’d had tips from kind people on Facebook as to where to look, but still finding a small butterfly in a big wood did feel a bit like a needle in a haystack job. We wandered around for a bit until we met up with the other traveller again who had found a local who knew where to look and consequently found the butterfly too!

We saw at least 2 Black Hairstreaks while we were there. The first was a perfect looking specimen, but rather flighty. So apologies that all the photos are either a bit blurry or it’s got its head stuck in a bramble. But it is at least recognisably a Black Hairstreak with the black spots on an orange background around the edge of the wings and the little tail.

The second individual has unfortunately lost his tail and half his black spots (the best bits of a hairstreak) and we nick-named him Raggedy.

Raggedy was however quite obliging and hung around long after the more perfect one had disappeared. He was so keen to be seen in fact that as more people arrived we could point him out to the newcomers. Glapthorn is clearly a popular spot; by the time we left there were 9 people all trying to see the hairstreaks (Raggedy’s moment to shine) – all trying to socially distance themselves at the same time of course.

It was a lovely hot day and plenty of other butterflies around – skippers, speckled woods, red admirals, lots of meadow browns, whites (too fast to determine which) and a small tortoiseshell. There were also quite a few of these stunning black and yellow longhorn beetles (Rutpela maculata) enjoying the flowering brambles.

Having come so far, we had a walk around the rest of the wood to make the most of the day.  There were lots of very pretty orchids in full bloom (possibly Common Spotted Orchids although I’m not sure).

The sounds of the cuckoo had given way to the calls of a woodpecker. We saw a couple of them flying high in the trees and managed a couple of distant shots – looks like we had both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers.

So that’s it, our 51st butterfly seen and photographed and a couple of lovely days out to quench our thirst for wildlife. It would have been great to have been in Norfolk this week for our holiday, but hopefully we can do that next year instead. In the meantime we are very grateful not only to have such wonderful nature close by, but also that we have been very lucky to have stayed safe and well during these unprecedented times. Stay safe everyone. xx


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!