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


Out and About – Haugh Wood

Yesterday’s expedition produced not only the result we’d set out for, but a completely unexpected bonus. We’d set out in search of Wood White butterflies – a species neither of us had ever seen before, so one on our hit list to “bag” this year. The new Butterflies of the West Midlands book suggested a walk in Haugh Wood, Herefordshire so we ventured forth once again – it’s becoming a bit of a weekend habit this abandonment of our sofas!

Haugh Woods (there seems to be some debate as to whether it is pronounced Haugh as in Laugh or Hoff as in The Hoff!) is run by the Forestry Commission and is a nationally important wood for butterflies – in particular the Wood White. The Wood White is a nationally vulnerable species, so we’re lucky to have a colony close enough to visit.

The first white butterfly to show its wings though was a Green Veined White. Of course it took a bit of chasing around to confirm that it wasn’t a Wood White – we didn’t discover how small the Woodies were until later on. Still the Green Veined was lovely to see, even if it refused to pose its wings properly upright to see the veins.

Green veined white


It wasn’t long though before another much smaller white flapped by – again it took a bit of chasing around until it stopped long enough to confirm a Wood White. They’re really much smaller than I’d expected and not the most energetic of butterflies, which was good news for us pursuing them!

Wood White

We eventually saw several more once the showers passed and the sun came out again. I think both these photos are of males, which apparently have a white spot near the inside end of their antennae.

Wood White 2

Near the end of our walk a third white species showed up – a female Orange Tip. We didn’t spot any males, but there must have been at least one around, as evidenced by the fact that she was laying eggs! The female lays one egg at a time and if you look carefully you can just about see the egg here on the underside of the more or less horizontal stem at the point where it meets the more or less vertical stem. At least we think that’s an egg! They’re pale green to start with then go orange.

Orange Tip laying eggs

Throughout the wood we’d also been seeing Speckled Yellow moths flitting about. They are notoriously difficult to photograph, but we finally chased one down back near the carpark.

Speckled Yellow

The wood was full of ants, in places forming huge ants nests. Chris managed to get this really good shot of a couple of ants on spurge. Only trouble is we’ve no idea of the species, so if anyone can ID these, it would be much appreciated.


The real bonus of the trip though was something we only discovered we’d seen when we got back home and downloaded the photos. Chris had spotted what we thought was a caterpillar trundling across the path, so we’d taken a few snaps and then moved it to safety (probably a good job we moved it, as we had to double back down the path a few minutes later having got lost despite the very clear path markers – I’d hate to  have trodden on it!)

Glow worm

Looking at the photos properly back home, it didn’t look like a caterpillar at all. A quick google combined with a plea for help on Facebook and iSpot, confirmed we’d found a Glow Worm larva. It is principally the adult females that glow, although the larvae do glow a bit, but obviously not at 11:30 on a Sunday morning while tootling along a path! So it was hardly a bioluminescent spectacle (like the recent, excellent David Attenborough programme on the phenomenon), but we can still say we’ve seen a glow worm, so I’m happy with that. I feel a trip back to Haugh Woods in the dark may be coming up some time soon though!