Sunday, 28 August 2016

Last throes of summer

Despite living in Dorset for eight summers now, there were still two species of breeding butterfly I had yet to see in the county before my ninth began: the Brown Hairstreak and the Silver-spotted Skipper. Both emerge rather late in the year so July and August offered plenty of scope for hunting them down.
Brown Hairstreak, Alners Gorse
The Brown Hairstreak eventually moved higher into an oak
The Brown Hairstreak is an elusive species, spending much of its time in the canopy, descending only occasionally to nectar on brambles, thistles and the like. The eggs are laid on Blackthorn, which grows in abundance at Butterfly Conservation's Alners Gorse reserve in North Dorset.
A flash of the Purple Hairstreak's upperwing
And the underwing
Jol Mitchell and I had been considering a trip there with our respective first borns for a while, and the annual visit to Dorset of my old friend Nigel Kersey (formerly a firebrand campaigner with CPRE, now a respectable apparatchik at DCLG) in mid-July provided the perfect opportunity to make the effort.
Silver-spotted Skipper - a plump-bodied female
This is the male - note the dark sex brand on the upperwing
We arrived mid-morning to find the skies disappointingly overcast but it was just about warm enough for Meadow Browns, Silver-washed Fritillaries and Purple Hairstreaks to be on the wing. We were about to give up on seeing any of the rarer Hairstreaks when what at first glance appeared to be a Gatekeeper on acid danced past at eye level. Despite not having seen one for over a decade, I called it tentatively as a Brown Hairstreak in flight, and fortunately it landed nearby to allow confirmation.
Another view of Silver-spotted Skipper
 A good view of the underwing from which the species gets its name
All enjoyed brilliant views, especially through Jol's new Swarovski scope, and even the teenagers were persuaded to stop looking at their smartphones to admire it for a few seconds. A few weeks later and I was able to catch up with my other late summer target, the Silver-spotted Skipper, at its prime Dorset site on Fontmell Down on another family jaunt. This was a bit easier, not least as one of Dorset's expert ecologists, Bryan Edwards, was leaving just as we arrived and told us exactly where to look near the top of the combe. A spectacular species in a spectacular setting.

Some other highlights from Fontmell Down below:
2nd brood male Adonis Blue
Adonis Blue underside
Male Chalkhill Blue - not doing terribly well in Dorset
Chalkhill Blue underside
Large White
Common Blue underside
Son George catches the bug with a meadow Brown
Ravens gronked over Fontmell Down
Small Heath
Spotted Flycatcher at Fontmell Down
Spotted Flycatcher

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