Saturday, 15 July 2017

Get counting

Yesterday's launch of the 2017 Big Butterfly Count reminded me that it has been a colourful summer so far for lepidoptera, including a number of subjects I haven't got round to posting about yet. Many butterfly species seem to be having a good year - the count will help establish whether or not that is true - and I have caught up with some spectacular ones around Dorset and beyond over recent weeks.

After a business trip to Cardiff at the end of June I was travelling back through Somerset and despite the lateness of the hour, the temperature was sufficiently high to make it worth dropping in to Collard Hill, site of a successful Large Blue re-introduction scheme, to see if they were still on the wing. The sky had clouded over by the time I arrived but with a little patience I found one or two of these striking butterflies roosting in the long grass of the down. One opened its wings just enough to get a half-decent photograph of the exquisite finger-print pattern on the forewing.
Large Blue
A close-up of a roosting Large Blue...
... and the same individual from a wider angle
A conservation success story, the Large Blue is now established at a number of sites in the south west
Marbled White was also on the wing at Collard Hill
Back in Dorset, a visit to Brownsea provided me with an opportunity to catch up with the White Admiral, one of our most impressive species. It's so many years since I saw them there that I had almost forgotten White Admirals could be found on the island, but I was reminded when another visitor in the bird hide asked if he might have seen one near the start of the track to the hide. Sure enough, on returning there two or three individuals were still coming to the same flowering shrub to nectar.
White Admiral
The White Admiral is a shade tolerant species
The White Admiral posed above me for an underwing photo
The underwing must be one of the most attractive of the British butterfly species... the underwing catches the light to reveal its bright rust colouration
Silver-studded Blues were also out in Dorset early this year and I photographed several in Wareham Forest and around Morden Bog in mid-June. These diminutive blues have declined historically in parallel with the loss of the lowland heath habitat they prefer, but they can still be found in good numbers on the Dorset heaths.
Female Silver-studded at Morden Bog
The silver studs were particularly prominent on this female...
...but more under-stated in this male
Upperwing of a male Silver-studded Blue
These males seemed to have each other in a head-lock
Much rarer than the Silver-studded Blue in a Dorset context is the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary - I called in at its last remaining site in Purbeck on the way back from Brownsea one afternoon and was pleased to find a few among the grass and gorse in a short visit. Hopefully the Purbeck colony will have a good year. Another brief visit last week to Durlston Country Park produced good numbers of Lulworth Skipper, only found in the UK along the stretch of coast between Swanage and Portland. Another local speciality which we must hope benefits from seemingly benign weather for butterflies this summer.
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary underwing
Large Skipper was also at the Fritillary site - compare with...
...the Lulworth Skipper, photographed at Durlston
These Marbled Whites were engaged in synchronised nectaring at Durlston

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