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Saturday, 17 August 2013

A butterfly walk

Just the other side of my little hamlet is a track leading up past a derelict house with an overgrown orchard which peters out shortly afterwards, ending up in a field of maize. In just a short, maybe 1/4 km long track, there is an amazing wealth of insect life! I came to look for butterflies and was not disappointed. Now my garden is heaving with butterflies and has been since about mid July, but they are enjoying not just wildflowers but also my cultivated ones. I was interested to see what was out there in the wild. Suffice to say, more than in my garden! They were feeding on three main nectar plants, Common Knapweed, Bramble flowers and Greater Burdock and on the second walk I saw 18 different species. In total over two walks here I noted 20 (list at the end).

The plants in the photo below are:
The yellow flower is Ragwort and more attractive to pollinators such as hoverflies than to butterflies.
The white flower is Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), not so attractive to the larger pollinators or butterflies, but small insects can usually be found on it.
The purple flower is Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra), now this one is beloved by butterflies, bees, hoverflies, beetles, you name it, and probably one of the most important wildflowers to have right now. Let it grow in your lawn as it's quite happy to be mown and will still flower low down in amongst your grass!
There's also a Bramble/Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) cane running through the picture top left and the flowers of this plant are very popular with both bees and butterflies and other pollinators.

Typical wildflowers found in July/August.

Mallow Skipper (Carcharodus alceae) -
I saw one in my garden last year but not yet this year.

Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) -
a lifer for me and not yet seen in my garden.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) and a solitary bee on a bramble flower.

The track dips downhill to cross over a stream in dense shade amongst woodland and despite the warm sunny day, the soil was still wet with water gathered in tractor ruts. Around here not only did I see demoiselles and a beautiful dragonfly, but some Red Admirals were perched on the ground - presumably taking minerals from the soil (although it was not on the wet mud) and others were enjoying some rotting cherries.

Below clockwise from top left:
Peacock (Inachis io)
Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera) eating a cherry
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus)
Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta)

Butterflies galore!

Bordering the little bit of woodland on one side of the stream was a small uncultivated field which only seemed to be being used as a dumping ground for some bales of hay. In it I discovered an unknown to me plant with flowers very similar to the Knapweed flowers. A cry for help on Facebook gave me the ID of the mystery plant - it is Burdock, I assume Greater Burdock (Arctium lappa), as some of these plants were taller than me, and they were teeming with butterflies!

A Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) showing how leaflike and well camouflaged their wings are,
and a bumble bee enjoying the Burdock flowers.

A Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) - I only saw my first one in
the garden recently to much excitement. Here it is sharing the picture
with a Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)
and up top a bug that I hadn't even noticed!

The derelict house, the track looking back towards it with the orchard on the left and
the woodland and stream beyond, and the overgrown orchard.

Probably the most exciting find as it's a lifer meaning I haven't ever seen it before -
a Sooty Copper (Lycaena tityrus).

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) male - cheat photo from my garden on left,
photos from the walk on the right!
Isn't it the cutest little thing?!

Clockwise from top left:
Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)
Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)
Green-veined White (Pieris napi)
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)
Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus)

You can see how popular the Knapweed is!

There are daytime flying moths about too and the following are two that I commonly see in my garden, the Silver Y moth below being abundant and around in the garden for several months now. The Jersey Tiger moths appear later but are quite common in high summer, at home having a preference for lavender and coneflowers.

Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma)

Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria) - when it spreads those tiger wings the underwings are a vivid orange/red and quite amazing. In flight you just see the red colour.

Of course where there is such an abundance of insects there will always be predators. I didn't even spot what was going on in the photo below until I'd looked at it for about the third time! I also saw a Garden Spider with one of the Snout Moths (Pyralidae family) and zooming in on a dead looking butterfly hanging high up in the brambles showed me the legs of a crab spider peeking out from behind the foliage! Photos not good enough for sharing but my superzoom SX50 is brilliant for IDing and showing me just what is going on out of reach.

A Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) completely oblivious of the spider (Enoplognatha ovata)
with its beetle prey below.

Obviously where there are nectar rich flowers so there are all kinds of bees and hoverflies, and many other insects. I really only had eyes for butterflies but sometimes I couldn't help but notice other insects and many just appeared in my butterfly shots anyway!

Clockwise from top left:
Helophilus sp. hoverfly sharing bramble blossoms with a Brimstone butterfly.
Unknown species of solitary bee.
Male Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo).
Unknown Grasshopper.

Obviously there were many other insects about,
but I was mostly just photographing butterflies!

Below are some pictures by the main road showing the kind of flowers that are abundant in high summer when the verges have not been mown (here, predominantly Common Knapweed and Ragwort). The track I took was just in front of the house in the distance beside the line of trees, along the edge of the maize field.

Showing the wealth of wildflowers on the unmown grass verge and ditch.

I shall certainly be going back here over the next month to see which species of butterfly are still about as certain flowers, such as the brambles, go over. I also want to collect some seed from the burdock plants as I absolutely have to have that in my garden!

Butterfly species seen (20 in all that I am sure about, although I may well have seen some Large Whites as well):

Small Skipper
Essex Skipper
Large Skipper
Mallow Skipper
Clouded Yellow
Small White
Green-veined White
Small Heath
Meadow Brown
Wall Brown
Speckled Wood (in the woodland area beside the stream)
Marbled White
Red Admiral
Painted Lady
Silver-washed Fritillary
Holly Blue
Sooty Copper 

Now that's not bad! :-)


  1. What an amazing variety of insect life you managed to spot. There are so many that are new to me, and the one that caught my eye was that beautiful Demoiselle. Congratulations on finally seeing the Sooty Cooper. What a treat! Stunning photos.

    1. Hi Bernie and thanks very much for visiting and commenting. We have different climates and obviously our plants (and bugs!) are very different too but I would guess that you, like me, enjoy seeing what goes on in other corners of the globe! :-)

  2. Incredible! I don't think we have that many species in our area so I am extremely jealous! You've done a great job documenting and identifying them all and your photos are wonderful!

    1. Thanks very much Kim! IDing is pretty easy as I know most of them very well and it was only the difference between Small Skipper and Essex Skipper that took a bit of time, as the only difference is the colour at the tip of the antenna. The SX50 is great for butterflies. :-)

  3. That's done it. Probably never going to post a butterfly picture. May just steal one of these and pretend - excluding you from the post of course ;-)

    Have a theory about my problems :

    1 It's normally windy so the butterflies get blown off flowers before I can focus.
    2 It's normally cool, so they have to keep flying to keep warm.

    Picture are seriously enviable :-)

    1. Haha thanks Nick! If you are not right up close with a macro lens then use autofocus. The AF with my DSLR is so much quicker and easier than with my SX50 which is the camera I was using here. Earlier in the year most were continually fluttering so I couldn't get much in the way of decent shots but now they've settled down to feed so it's a lot easier. And thankfully we've had some less windy days of late as it's been a breezy old year so far which is totally hopeless for macro shooting and manual focus.

  4. I've just caught up with your blog Mandy, lovely as always!

    Philippa x

  5. Beautiful photo collection! I'm so envious as weve had a very poor year for butterflies. Typically, there are dozens of species in July and August in Flagstaff but this year, I'll be going home with only two butterfly photos Here in Flagstaff where we all go for butterfly outings, there was a very early warm spell followed by another heavy snow which knocked everything back. Good thing I'm just as excited about fungi :-)

    1. Thank you Marianne! Oh but you had some fantastic butterfly walks earlier in the year near home - you saw tons of them! It's a shame there are not many up in Flagstaff though but good that there are other things to keep you happy like your fungi.

      Being overun by the two species we call Cabbage Whites here now, just because I've got brassicas growing now, but it's a small price to pay for having all the other butterflies about. And I still like the whites... :-)