A Pootle Round Poolbrook

This weekend we had a couple of lovely walks around nearby Poolbrook Common in search of butterflies. I say walks, they were really more of a pootle – a gentle meander through the grass. Poolbrook Common is so close to us there was none of the usual “pressure” to see things, as we could always go back the next day, or even later the same day. The butterflies were also so abundant that getting photos was a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. So we pootled happily for an hour or so just enjoying being surrounded by so many butterflies.

The butterflies in question were mainly Marbled Whites, although there were also Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Small Skippers and one Gatekeeper. Poolbrook Common seems to be well managed in that the grass & meadow flowers have been left to grow, then cut later in the year and the butterflies have benefited. We met a walker who told us one of the reasons the Common is managed this way is due to the presence of Skylarks. And sure enough we saw several of these rising high above the grass or flying past with beaks full of large insects.

We didn’t really care whether the Common was managed for butterflies or birds, the end result was lovely. We’d seen on the Malvern Butterfly Facebook Group that the Common was well worth a visit right now and they weren’t wrong! There must have been literally hundreds of Marbled Whites – neither of us have ever seen so many. We both tried getting photos to convey the abundance, but none of them really did it justice.

So I did make this little video, just panning around to try and show how many there were in just a small area. Not sure it was really any more successful than the photo – I think you just have to go and see them for yourself.

Marbled Whites are beautifully photogenic butterflies (not that there are really any butterflies that aren’t photogenic), both from above and from below.

Males and females look similar on the upperside of the wings, but can be differentiated by the undersides. The males have completely black and white patterning.

Whereas the females have a more sepia tone going on.

Mr and Mrs Marbled White.

We saw a few bits of flirtatious butterfly behaviour, but only found one properly mating pair.

None of the ringlets would pose for photos, but fortunately the sole Gatekeeper sat still long enough for one.

The Meadow Browns were quite flighty on Saturday, but on Sunday we’d got up really early and were down on the Common before the butterflies had really woken up. The Meadow Browns were still roosting in the grass and much easier to photograph.

There were plenty of Small Skippers about too; I always think they look cheery little butterflies, I don’t know if it’s their colour or their buzzing flight.

And of course I can never resist a moth, particularly one as dashing as this Five Spot Burnet (possibly Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet?) moth.

One final photo, just because we don’t often get the chance to be so face to face with a butterfly!

 

 

30 Days Wild – Day 25 – Marbled Marvels

It’s Day 25 of 30 Days Wild and after recent visits to canals, wetlands and woodland, I thought a walk through a meadow might be nice. They’re usually good places for butterfly spotting, although it was a bit windy so getting good shots was going to be tricky wherever I went. Being a bit short of time today, I headed to one of our local ones and a particular favourite – Boynes Coppice just outside Malvern.

Boynes Coppice and Meadows reserve is made up of 4 fields, plus a wooded area and is rich in plant and insect life. It was nice and sunny as I arrived and the butterflies were bobbing about over the fields in great numbers. Initial thoughts were that it was going to be easy to get some good shots; that was before I realised the butterflies were in frisky mood and just wouldn’t stop moving!

The fields have a diverse flora and looked lovely today. They are deliberately managed to maintain this, being cut for hay only after the seeds have set.

The two most abundant butterfly species I saw today were the Meadow Brown and Marbled Whites, both of which were present in large numbers and neither of which stopped flying to start with. Occasionally I’d see one land, but always too far away for a photo (you have to stick to the path to avoid trampling the plants, so can’t go chasing through the grass to get closer to a butterfly).

Eventually though a couple of Meadow Browns deigned to land close enough for me to get some photos of both wings up and wings down.

The marbled whites proved trickier at first – there were plenty of them, but I couldn’t get close. As I walked along the path, I occasionally looked back to see several dancing in my wake; but if I turned back they all flew off again. Eventually though, either I got my eye in, or they got slower (probably the latter) and I managed a few photos. The marbled whites look great from any angle, having beautifully patterned wings both from above and below.

Of course the trouble with taking photos of butterflies on grassland, is the grass! Nearly every time they landed, there was a bit of grass in the way of the perfect shot – like this one below.

Occasionally though I would get a clear shot.

Towards the end of my visit is started to drizzle and that definitely did slow the butterflies down. As I headed back to the car I could see quite a few of them sitting out the rain resting on flowers. I was really pleased when I found two close enough to get in one shot; when I downloaded the photos I then realised there was a third butterfly in the same frame – a meadow brown at the top.

Since the butterflies were a bit less flighty in the drizzle, I tried for a close up shot. Still not easy as I had to hold the camera out as far as my arms could reach, so that I didn’t stray from the path. So by no means a perfect photo, but it does show up just how furry they are, something that is not so obvious when they are flying around.

There were of course plenty of other insects around besides the butterflies, like this Red-Tailed Bumblebee and a beautiful hoverfly.

I also spotted (no pun intended) this ladybird on a thistle. The photo is by no means great, but I liked that the ladybird was so shiny that you can see my reflection in his back as I’m hunched over trying to take his photo!

I love going to Boynes meadow, it is one of the most peaceful places I know. It is only a small reserve and most times I go, I’m the only one there – as I was today. It is set back off a road, that is itself set back off any busy roads, so you can forget about the rest of the world. The perfect place to unwind and enjoy those marbled marvels dancing above the grasses.

Malvern Meanderings

Today we decided to explore our local patch – so often it’s your local stuff that you ignore, thinking somehow that the grass is always greener (or the wildlife more exciting) elsewhere. But the Malvern Hills are not only beautiful, but a fantastic location for wildlife. We forget sometimes how lucky we are to live here.

We’ve been concentrating a bit lately on “bagging” some new butterfly species and had so far added 5 this year to our lifetime list. But there is one species we’d never seen that has a colony almost literally on our doorstep – the Grayling butterfly is found on the Malvern Hills, less than a mile from our house. The Grayling is now a priority species for conservation as it is in decline over much of its former range. The Malvern Hills Conservators are making great efforts to protect our local population and improve the habitat. So we set off today in the hope of seeing our local speciality.

The Grayling likes areas of bare rock and short grass. We headed up the hills following the path recommended by the West Midlands Butterfly Conservation guide and having reached the favoured location, Chris spotted one almost immediately sunbathing on the rocks.

Grayling

The Graylings aren’t as flashy as the Purple Emperors we saw earlier in the week, they are more subtly beautiful. They are also masters of disguise and when they keep still they blend into the surroundings extremely well. We were lucky to spot this one. Fortunately it was intent on sunbathing and was also close to the path, so we got our usual bucket-load of photos.

Grayling 3

Grayling 2

The Graylings almost always sit with their wings upright with the forewing tucked behind the hindwing, which makes them look much smaller than they really are. We watched this one for ages and eventually while it was shifting position, we managed to get a shot with its forewing at least partially showing.

Grayling 2

We saw at least 2 other individuals on our walk, all basking on rocks. Lots of people walked by us and the butterflies while we were there, but I don’t suppose many of them realised what they were missing!

Feeling flushed with success (and also a good lunch at our local), we decided to try our luck back down on the flat ground at the edge of Malvern. There’s an area of rough ground by the road that is always good for butterflies and today was no exception. The Marbled Whites were out in force. Unfortunately it was extremely windy so although they were landing close by, the grass was blowing about so much it was hard to get decent photos. Here are a few of our better efforts.

Marbled White

Marbled White 2

Marbled White 3

There were several pairs dancing about in the wind, so I had hoped to get a mating pair. This was the closest I managed – not ideal, but at least there are two of them in one shot!

Marbled Whites

Marbled Whites weren’t the only butterflies around – Meadow Browns were particularly abundant.

Meadow Brown

There were also lots of Skippers – I think the top one is an Essex Skipper and the bottom one a Large Skipper, but happy to be corrected? Again the wind was blowing them about an awful lot, making the photography tricky. (excuses, excuses!)

Skipper 2

Large Skipper

As we headed back to the car, Chris spotted this day flying moth – a Mother Shipton. Really pleased to see this, as I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen it in books before. It is named after a 16th century witch because its wing markings look like an old crone with hooked nose and chin!

Mother Shipton

And finally a cricket. Not that this really fits in with the rest of today’s post, but it was such a nice photo it seemed a shame not to include it. And also I really like crickets!

Cricket