Sunday 29 June 2014

Coats of many colours

Claire went to London to see Dolly Parton this weekend, while the boys and I visited their Grandad in Devon to mark his turning 70 - just a couple of years older than Dolly. Coats of many colours were therefore being admired not only at the O2 but also on the Fritillaries of north Devon's coastal slopes - Dark Green, High Brown, Silver-washed specifically. Saturday morning saw us at Heddon's Mouth, a well known site for the rare High Brown Fritillary. Not a particularly long or leisurely visit due to commitments back in Dorset on Saturday evening, but long enough to locate just one fairly fresh specimen, along with a few of its commoner cousins.
Male High Brown Fritillary: I suspected High Brown on this initial view but needed to see the underside to be sure...
...which shows the diagnostic row of rust red spots with silver centres on the hind-wing.
Dark Green Fritillary: note the similarities in the upper-wing pattern to High Brown...
...but also the differences in the under-wing.
The High Brown, as it is now, has been through a veritable rainbow of names over the years - initially know as the Greater Silver-spotted, then the Dark Green, then the Violet Silver-spotted (a reference to the foodplant). Common across much of England until the 1950s, its decline was one of the more sudden and dramatic of all the British species, and it is now the subject of intensive conservation efforts in its remaining strongholds.
Male Silver-washed Fritillary
The stunning underwing pattern of Silver-washed Fritillary
This one was outside the toilets at the Hunter's Inn. Not a great place to hang about with a camera.
The long black lines on the forewing show this is a male.
The Dark Green Fritillary can be found in a wider range of habitats, particularly coastal areas, and while it too has declined, this has been nothing like as steep as that faced by the High Brown. I've struggled to get good undwerwing photos of either species, so when the one above sat with an almost closed wing in full sunlight on a thistle that was a bonus.
Fritillaries were note the only butterflies at Heddon's Mouth - this a Large Skipper
A smart Ringlet resting on a fern.
Small Heath.
Dark Green Fritillary.
The Silver-washed Fritillary, named for the silver streaks on the underwing, is one of our most graceful and spectacular. The footpath to Heddon's mouth descends through a steep valley so sometimes the canopy below is at eye level and we could see territorial males perched up and seeing off passing rivals. Another species having experienced long-term decline, it's range has at least expanded in recent decades, possibly due to climate change to which it appears particularly sensitive. 
Heddon's Mouth and the Bristol Channel beyond


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