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Tuesday, 5 August 2014

July butterflies and moths, and an unexpected visitor

After a bit of a butterfly lull in June, which is quite normal, July perked up and what pleased me most were the amount of skippers about. I haven't seen a Small Skipper this year but there have been many Large Skippers in the garden and I've seen loads elsewhere too. I also saw a Mallow Skipper through my binoculars out of the kitchen window!

Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola)
in my garden for the first time.

This Essex Skipper came on my finger! The main difference between Small and Essex Skippers
is the black on the tip of the underneath of the antennae, which is red on the Small Skipper.

The same thing happened this year as last; two gorgeous little Lulworth Skippers appeared and spent about a week here, mostly feeding on lavender. And then they were gone.

Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon), female.
These are smaller than Essex Skippers, which in turn are smaller than Small Skippers!

Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon), male. Not so easy to ID but I can just make out
a faint trace of the markings which are more prominent on the female.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) showing the sex brands
which is often the way to differentiate between the sexes.

2nd generation Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus), female.
I haven't seen a blue in the garden since then and
this is the only blue I've seen at home so far this year!

2nd generation Map butterfly (Araschnia levana). I live just outside of their breeding range so
feel lucky that I even get to see these butterflies maybe a couple of times a year, but have
never seen a first generation, which has completely different markings on the upper wings.

Another Map butterfly and in the middle, a Gatekeeper in the background. Marjoram and
Garlic Chives are great plants for butterflies (and other nectar lovers).

Gatekeepers (Pyronia tithonus) are abundant
and here are four on a Marjoram.

Was really pleased to find a pair mating as previously I've only ever seen Small Whites doing it.

These Gatekeepers didn't like the camera too close so moved to
another leaf and covered their modesty!

However, where there are lots of butterflies, there are also predators taking
advantage. This spider is Enoplognatha ovata which I'm seeing a lot,
in its many colour variations. Strangely on some flowers they seem to have
taken over from my favourite crab spider (Misumena vatia),
which I have barely seen this year.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), male - many are out and about again now and unlike the
spring butterflies which have overwintered as adults, these ones actually stop to feed often.

So happy to see the gorgeous Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)!
This is a male looking a little tatty.

And here is a perfect looking female Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia).

Onto some moths now and I'm just sharing a few of the more colourful or large ones (that I was able to ID).

Sulphur Knapweed moth (Agapeta zoegana) which I found on
my shoelace as I was changing shoes to go outside!

There's a story here and I'll try to be brief! This moth flew into the cellier/mud room one night and buzzed around like a lunatic so there was no way to catch it to put it outside. The next evening though, it was sitting playing dead on the floor. I took some photos and then it woke up .... and started buzzing around like a loony again! A couple of days later one of the cats was putting his paw in a cardboard box with jam jars in, and sure enough there was the moth. I was sure it must be dead by then and it certainly looked dead. I went to dispose of it outside but all of a sudden it started vibrating in my hand, flapping its wings really fast. Luckily it was dusk and I was outside at this point so was able to watch it fly off strongly, none the worse for having spent about three days indoors.

Oak Eggar (Lasiocampa quercus), female.

And another story - I went for a walk through the hamlet with my brother and I noticed this large brown 'butterfly' flying down the lane; it seemed to be following us as I also saw it when we went off down a track. It puzzled me and every day after that I would see it in my garden. Flying fast and strong, all I could make out was a chestnut brown colour with a paler marking near the edge of the wings. This went on for about a week and was driving me potty as I couldn't find a butterfly that looked anything like that. Until thankfully it dived into some vegetation, I crept up on it and discovered it was a large moth! The males of this species do fly during the day. 

Oak Eggar (Lasiocampa quercus), male.
Look at those groovy antennae which the females don't have.

Finally, I have to share despite the photos being poor quality as they were taken at 9pm and through double glazing. The evening before, I'd walked into the veg patch and a large bird with barred markings flew out. I came in and looked in my bird book because I could only think cuckoo or sparrowhawk. Then my OH mentioned that he thought he'd seen a cuckoo the evening before. Well this for sure was a cuckoo, a juvenile sporting the red form of colouring. After this, it hung around for about 5 days before flying off. I'm not sure if they leave for Africa whilst still juveniles, or grow up a bit more before departing. Whatever they do, they go alone as the parents are long gone!

Cuckoo! (Cuculus canorus).
This is the rufous colour morph which occurs more commonly in juveniles than in females.

I've only ever seen an adult Common Cuckoo once and in the distance; however we were very lucky to watch several juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoos (Clamator glandarius) close up in Spain.

P.S. I forgot to mention, most of my Cinnabar Moth larvae disappeared after I'd seen the Cuckoo in the veg patch, because they are one of the few birds who can eat hairy and/or poisonous caterpillars....... :-)


  1. Lots of lovely images here Mandy. I find the skippers a real pain to ID (apart form the Large) so this post will help a lot. Thanks.

    1. Thanks very much Roy. The little brown Skippers are not easy and I've plenty of ? photos where I can't tell! :-)

  2. Lots of gorgeous photos, again. My favourite is the brimstone. It may not be the most spectacular butterfly, bu that is a really beautiful picture.

    1. Thanks Rachel! I liked that pic too and they are rather lovely butterflies if you look at the interesting shape of their wings.

  3. You are so lucky to have a large garden full of wildlife Mandy. Actually, probably not luck at all, you have no doubt worked hard for it! Anyhow, so many Skipper species to record and photograph-not sure I have seen the Lulworth one yet? The Map butterfly is very beautiful and again, don't see them around here that I am aware of. The male Oak Eggar is gorgeous too. Erm..the Silver-washed Fritillaries that I have seen, have all been tatty unfortunately and so it's nice to see that you at least found a pristine one.

    To have the cuckoo is just the icing on the cake for me. NEVER seen a juvenile and rarely adult...terrific work on getting the pictures...

    1. Thanks very much JJ - well a lot of the wild side mostly looks after itself, but I do need to work on providing the nectar to attract the butterflies in as if I left it only to the wildflowers I wouldn't have nectar for 9 months of the year! But I'm happy to have the host plants and trees for the larvae too which is important, even if I never find the cats!

      As for the Lulworth, you'll need to go to coastal Dorset (it was named after Lulworth Cove in Dorset) and I think it's also found in Devon. To see the Map butterfly you'll need to pop over the channel - here's a link to a distribution map for it - Brittany and Haute Normandie are out of its breeding range but I do usually see one or two in late summer. I have never seen a 1st generation which is actually quite different looking to the 2nd generation one.

      And the cuckoo - well I bet that won't happen again so we enjoyed it whilst it did, and it solved my problem of too many Cinnabar larvae and not enough food for them! In fact only a day before I had moved a dozen from the veg patch onto ragwort elsewhere, so they were the lucky ones. :-)

  4. Thanks for this reply...which I finally found time to read ;-) The link was most useful too. Of course! Lulworth Cove...I have been there ;-)

    1. JJ you do know you can click on the Notify Me button before you press publish when commenting, then you'll get replies emailed to you? Course it does mean you get all comments emailed which can be a nuisance, though you can unsubscribe.
      Anyhow, next time you go to Lulworth Cove make sure you time it right. ;-)

  5. Ha! Nope...hadn't even noticed it there in the corner-might be an option though. I do always get around...well, almost always, to checking back for replies eventually though.

    1. lol, just HOW long have you been blogging?! :-)

    2. Not long enough it seems ;-) By the way...that 'Notify me' option isn't clickable when I comment here ;-) Or at least, it isn't for this reply...

    3. Oh that's odd cos when I click it, I get a message saying "Follow up comments will be sent to ....... (my email address)". :-( Try it next time you comment on a new post.

  6. Brilliant selection of flappy beauties Mandy. I've turned slightly green as usual.

    Red Admiral, Tortoiseshell, Green Veined White here mainly, along with quite a lot of small white ones which refuse to let me creep up on them. Been windy here for some days, so that doesn't help. Keep educating and entertaining me :-)

    1. I'm not seeing this variety any more since the weather turned wet and cooler! Though it's not really wet as such, more like a few showers after having been very wet last week. As soon as the sun comes out though, so do the butterflies. The Whites are just waiting for me to plant out my brassicas......... :-) Cheers, Nick.

  7. Hi there. Great to find your blog post while searching for photos of cuckoos feeding for my research project. Thank you for mentioning your observation of the disappearing Cinnabar Moth caterpillars, I'm getting convinced it's roughly the only species the juveniles eat.

    If you're still interested to know, I can tell you that juvenile cuckoos head off to Africa from their very first autumn (~ Sept/Oct), aged just a few months old. They do this without any guidance from adult cuckoos who have all left at a much earlier date (~ June/July) since on laying the eggs their 'work here is done'! The two plumage morphs of cuckoo you refer to are only seen in the adults, and as you say it's only females that may come out rufous (this form is very rare in western Europe but commoner further east). The juvenile plumage is always the same but yes, that plumage is indeed brown! Best wishes with the nature blog! Lowell Mills

    1. Hi Lowell - thanks so much for this interesting info and for taking the time to comment. There had been absolutely tons of Cinnabar Moth caterpillars in the veg patch eating groundsel which I was leaving in place for them (normally I hoe most of it off) and I was even transferring some of the poor things to ragwort as they didn't have enough to eat. So I knew for sure something had eaten about 80% of them. Saw tons of the moths around this year too so it was obviously a good year for them.

      As you can imagine, it was very exciting to have the juvenile cuckoo here! Cheers. :-)