UNORTHODOX BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOK NO 2: 1999-2000

 

1st May 1999: Brent Reservoir, North West London

Duck, coot, Canada geese and a pair of great crested grebes. The yellow flag on the lake was all strangely snapped off at the top of the stem. I watched a coot do this. One could identify the limit to which the ducks came onto land whether or not the top of stems of yellow flag were intact. I watched a coot carry a piece of sodden paper to its nest. A large carp floating just beneath the surface of the water dived slowly as two Canadian geese approached.

Many Speckled Woods, a number of Orange Tips, numerous Peacocks and one female Brimstone. On Scrubs Lane yesterday I approached a man I took to be a professional naturalist. He turned out to be an 'Irish countryman' – and every other word was cunt and fuck. He was joined by a familiar figure from Selby. All three of them were now grouped around a eucalyptus tree in the centre of the reservation. It had been planted by a 'Nial Sharkey' type in memory of his dog. The young sapling had I believe been stolen from a nursery. It is significant how the tree now provided a focal point, I having for instance planted, tansy, valerian and achillea beneath its branches.

I tried to say hello to 'Nial Sharkey' without knowing his name. He now has become an alcoholic and both men were sympathetic to his condition and started to discuss the question of alcoholism. He had even kicked drink in the early 1990s but his landlord had set the house in which he lived on fire and taken the reformed alcoholic who was now in hospital several bottles of drink. Once back on the booze he was no good as a witness. So Notting Hill's perennial landlord question surfaces again in the midst of Scrubs Lane Park. Nial was now in sheltered accommodation but the countryman thought the system prison-like with a "fucking grill on the door with a fucking buzzer, no fucker answers". He also thought sheltered housing had potential particularly if it was made more communal by introducing a more village-like atmosphere with gardens and a village green.

Both men condemned the meals on wheels service as nutritionally hopelessly inadequate. What interested me was how quickly with working class people green issues immediately start to overlap with social issues. Middle class people are able to keep them apart, nature becoming an extension of their social existence, tamed and neutral and correct. Neither batted an eye about making an introduction – in this case a eucalyptus tree- without getting official permission beforehand.

 

11th/12th May 1999: Shibden Dale, Bradford, West Yorks

Went to Shibden Dale more by chance than design as the showery weather with intermittent sunshine wasn't promising. More or less ruled out the chances of seeing the Orange Tip at the Flappit. However, we did see them on the descent to Shibden Dale and in the valley bottom. Later on that day we saw one, possibly two Holly Blues on the far side, i.e. quarry side of the dale where holly bushes often of a considerable size form bands and occasional thickets. We both felt cheered as we think we have made a discovery and are almost certain the Green Hairstreak flies here. If not there is a problem awaiting an explanation? A small colony of Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary could also be here. In any case it looks a good place to bring a tilly lamp, white sheet and a sugar solution. The dale has a great strangeness to it. Upper Shibden has something sinister about it. "Drac's Castle" – Lower Shibden Hall – is square and forbidding; a deserted part- Georgian, part haphazard 19th century factory building. and then the giant rampart dry stone walls, at points many metres thick, thicker even than castle walls. At the far end of the dale there is a tunnel running some sixty yards through a wall. Going into it was like descending into a tomb. It could have been 4/5000 years old not 150. I reckon the walls were constructed to cushion seismic blasts from the quarrying on top preventing the hill from tumbling into the valley below.

The dale is home to a wide variety of trees and the oaks vary considerably from many saplings to mature oaks poised precipitously above the deep ravine rising to Shibden Head. Some of the oaks are squat without the typical trunk; the main branches almost truncated then arching toward the ground. I took a photo of one but whether it will bring out its striking form is another matter. There was a spring (Catherine Slack Well?) which appeared to have run over a stratum of limestone as the stonework had a liquid whiteness to it. We must wait about the Green Hairstreak. The matter will be settled in 2/3 weeks time.

 

23rd May 1999: Kensal Rise Cemetery, West London

Fitful sunshine but quite warm. Orange Tips are still to be seen in reasonable numbers. The females were settling so I took some flash photos. (F16 with plus 4 lens and C grey filter). There were around ¾ Common Blues and the same number of Holly Blues none of which ever settled. Many Burnet Companions on the wing. Though diurnal their rapid flight is similar to night flying moths when disturbed seeking out low flowering plants rather than the taller type which are more directly exposed to the sun rays. I was unable to obtain an in depth photo because of their habit of settling low down in the grass; a jumpy insect.

 

30th May 1999: Northcliffe Woods, Bradford, West Yorks

Noticed an aspen sucker growing on a stone in the stream. Discovered many more dry stone walls interspersed frequently with fossil rocks. The more crafted dry stone walls presumably of a later date had the majority of the fossil imprints cut away. Found what maybe a lepidodendrum cone. The cellular structure is much closer than on pith casts of tree branches. Found a beech tree bowl covered in oyster mushrooms which because it was now late spring had turned brownish. Went to Carl's wildlife allotments. There was a fence of spring mattresses laterally attached to scaffold poles sunk in the ground. An upright mattress served as a door.

 

1st June 1999: Rishworth in the Ryburn Valley, West Yorks

Not a glimpse of a Green Hairstreak whereas I saw one roosting around 6 30 in the evening last year. However, it was a lot warmer than last year but even so throughout the greater part of the day the sun hits the site at an oblique angle. It does not seem to be anything like as favourable as Shibden. Headed off at speed to Ripponden but arrived too late for the sun so was unable to scuff up one Green Hairstreak. Where do they roost? Have had to alter my opinion on Green Hairstreaks. I think now as a result of a couple of poor springs and summers there's been a population crash and where they were once abundant, few if any are to be seen a couple of years later. I was in fact pleased that I did not see a Green Hairstreak at Rishworth because it makes me think that in 1997 they would have been abundant at Shibden. In the foothills of the Pennines weather conditions assume an all important role.

Coldest June day on record in 1998. 7 degrees in Leeming in North Yorks.

 

4th June 1999: Visited Chambers Farm Wood near Lincoln looked in Little Scrubs Meadow, Ivy Wood for Marsh Fritillary and Chequered Skipper.

The day dawned overcast and cool. I thought the trip pointless but went along for the sake of an initial reconnoitre which would make it that much easier the next time. So I was gloomy and uncommunicative on the train there little realising in a few hours time I would be elated.

Once we got to Lincoln the weather started to break and the sun came out. The bus to Wragby – a Skegness bus – climbed up the hill to the cathedral and then on to the more typically suburban part of Lincoln passing an industrial estate of car showrooms full of Honda, Renault, Alfa Romeo, Vauxhall and Ford Lincoln. I had never seen such a conglomeration of car outlets and car servicing factories. Also a number of DIY stores – Halfords, Wickes etc set the tone of the surrounding district – smart houses and expensive cars.

The countryside around Lincoln was as dead as the town: vast fields, grubbed out hedgerows, lone trees, isolated hamlets surrounding the cultivated, morbid deadness increasing their remoteness and menace. By chance we started off on the wrong path which was to save us at least a couple of miles only to read a notice after we had ventured half a mile that it was not a public footpath. But we continued after walking half way along to hear the sound of gunshot half expecting bullets to whiz past us. Eventually we arrived at Chambers Farm Wood, a police car passing us on the approach road adding to the atmosphere of menace.

Half an hour later we had found the Marsh Fritillary. The sun hadn't as yet really broken through so the fritillaries were most obliging. Most were faded having been lashed by the torrential downpour of June 2nd. But they were there in considerable numbers feeding off ragged robin and pyramid orchids mainly. I thought they were confined to only one area of the field but as the sun grew hotter they were to be found in every corner. The devil's bit scabious existed in considerable profusion and a few were to be seen on the leaves probably testing suitability for egg laying. Fortunately we were on the official path when we encountered three people who turned out to be English Nature wardens. There was a girl with the two older men who may have been a trainee. She remained quiet throughout. When asked where the Chequered Skipper was one of the men replied in a gruff surly fashion, "There aren't any here" and walked off. However, the other was more genial and prepared to talk and directed us to the proper spot in Ivy Wood. Visitors on English Nature sites are barely tolerated and many of the wardens are like gamekeepers and hate the common people. They put their trust in nature and their anti-humanism is shared by their more aristocratic bosses.

We made our way to Ivy Wood but having taken a wrong turning came across a couple who put us on the right path. I was immediately captivated by the woman nearly treading on a grass snake which gave me a shock. A short while later in a narrow ride I saw the Chequered Skipper on the ragged robin. Again it was a dished specimen and we were not to see a perfect specimen. There was a shower of rain and I was surprised to see the Chequered Skipper remain where it was on a grass stalk in spite of the pelting. When the rain stopped I observed the skipper's proboscis uncoil testing the slightly concave surface of the grass stalk. It repeated this action a number of times before its proboscis finally curled up.

Coming away we met the couple again. Perhaps because we had succeeded after a futile week on the 11th hour, the woman made a lasting impression on me and I began to dream of love and its longed for pleasures and pains. I felt she wanted to give us her telephone number, that in the middle of this nature reserve, life was to begin again. That night I dreamt of her and of going to live in the woods where houses become trees, the bark like clapboard thick with moss and lichens. Nature now is a leisure activity; it is a reservation, a 'themed' nature according to one's preference whether it be for lime woods or Marsh Fritillaries. But for nature to become a real pleasure (and not merely leisure) it must once again be respectfully lived in.

It is not it is not Lincoln itself, nor is it just a matter of reclaiming the streets but of reclaiming places like Lincolnshire bringing all that dead countryside to life again where not a weed, where nothing natural is allowed to disturb the fields of cash crops. What a living thing Lincolnshire must once have been. And to look at it now and where the Lincolnshire poacher lives on as a fashionable eatery. The rural housing: Each area of the country has something indefinably distinct about it even though the houses vary but little in shape and size. What is the same are the dreary rows of semi detached and bungalows along the rides of the roads leading from the city centre. The bricks on the old houses had a uniqueness about them. Fashioned from the local clay they were alternatively reddish and clay coloured. Even their size was somewhat unusual.

Arriving in Lincoln around 6 30 the town was deserted. Not a shop or café was open except a kebab house opposite the railway station. The owner possibly from Greece or Turkey thought we were "Yanks or Aussies" and refused to believe we were from West Yorks. Eventually we found an off licence with a security guard on duty! Coming back drinking on the train was a joy as we looked at the skies over Lincolnshire, then the dramatic citadels of clouds approaching West Yorks from Doncaster. The sulphuric shafts of light from behind the dark, massing clouds which, as a child only added further hellish aroma to the smoking chimneys and furnaces.

If only everyday could be like this and better!

 

5th June 1999: Ripponden and Shibden Dale, West Yorks

On both accounts we were successful. One dished ab: punctata specimen of Green Hairstreak on both sites. It was a fine warm day and the feeble state of the insects we put down to the previous storms and the fact that it was late in the season. There were notably fewer bees possibly because of the deluge and the fact that the bilberry flowers were now few and far between. But persistence has paid off and in a good year or after a couple of good years the Green Hairstreak should be there in considerable numbers in Shibden Dale. The postcode is Bradford 13 so we can well and truly claim the Green Hairstreak is an urban species rather than a butterfly to be found on the furthest high moorland in the Bradford Metropolitan District reaching as far as Bolton Abbey.

Also saw one Holly Blue and a male Orange Tip still able to fly vigourously. I had just surmised the storm had done for the Orange Tip in Shibden. However, it does appear to have had a notable impact on the Holly Blue. On the previous sighting the weather was distinctly cool. Noticeably both the Marsh Fritillary and Chequered Skipper were dished at Bardney Woods yesterday. for insects in general the storm on June 2nd was a catastrophe.

It was my sixth visit to Shibden. In my bones I knew the Green Hairstreak was there not least because it is warmer than the valley of the River Ryburn and the bilberry is more plentiful. Also there are many ants which are essential to the Green Hairstreak. When I went to retrieve my shoulder bag in the grass several were sunning themselves on it. What else flies at Shibden? The Ringlet, the Purple Hairstreak, the Hedge Brown – even the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary?

 

24th June 1999: Strumpshaw Fen near Norwich, Norfolk

Visited Strumpshaw Fen for the third time. The weather forecast for the south east turned out to be completely inaccurate. At the most there was three quarters of an hour of sunshine, David managing to take three photos of the Swallowtail on the ragged robin. The sun came out around 4 45 but it was too late catching brief glimpses of two Swallowtails but none coming to nectar.

As usual interesting encounters: Met a person from Nottingham with a battered birdscope equipment and no camera. He was more into observing and making notes than taking photos. He was a storehouse of knowledge travelling by train and bus because he did not have a car, he was not competitive either making light of his learning. His comments were weighed and thoughtful. I would have liked to have delved into his fat notebooks to see if it was more than a mere recording of sightings. He wasn't well dressed but not shabby neither though he was wearing a grubby jacket. His face was weather beaten from having spent weeks in the rain, wind and sun. He was also very patient accepting the overcast skies without a murmur. One sensed there was a refusal in his life that he had not toed the line preferring to spend his life on the dole rather than opt for conformity. Maybe he had cracked up somewhere along the line and his voluntary work, for instance on Gait Barrows in Morecambe Bay had been at the behest of a psychiatric institution.

Also met a couple from Hampshire: Both worked for a nature reserve but I suspect the woman only worked in a voluntary capacity. They were still interesting to talk to and soon we were freely swapping privileged information; like the whereabouts of the lady's slipper orchid in exchange for a Glanville Fritillary colony on the Hampshire mainland. Also he told me which telecomputer to buy for a 300mm lens. His wife was more bashful but once more the atmosphere started to sizzle with repressed eros and when I started to walk along the path to the gateway leading from the fen she seemed to stick to me like glue quickening her step in time with mine as if she wanted to leave the nature reserve arm in arm with me and walk into the sunset. Because nature is so much under threat it is a place of encounter and camaraderie. Rarely do you come across a person who is actually off-putting – and then they often turn out to be wardens.

When we went in through the main gate of the fen we were jumped by the RSPB who in a rather forceful, off-putting manner said we usually charge an entrance fee in the form of a donation. The amount was left to us but we weren't allowed to put the money into the donation box but rather hand it over to them as a way of shaming us to pay more. They also started to pressurise us into joining the RSPB. We were also called "naughty" because we had used the back entrance to the fen rather than the main gate. The insinuation was we had done so deliberately because it was automatically assumed we had come there by car and the only car park was in front of the main gate. In fact we had stumbled on the back entrance by accident, the path to Blundel station being far more direct. The experience of the RSPB was unpleasant enough to cause us to walk around the perimeter of the fen rather than face going back the shorter route and confronting the RSPB once more. As a result we lost the best of the sunshine and the chance probably to photograph nectaring Swallowtails.

Everything within the organisation, nothing outside it: This appeared to me the credo of the RSPB and was no different from any Trotskyist (say) political party. And so numbers come to count more than truth and any dissent is unthinkable and lunatic.

 

26th June 1999: Hadleigh Wood, South Essex

Hot clear day clouding up around 6. Arrived around 11 30 but was unable to photograph the Heath Fritillary before 4 in the afternoon. Stayed more or less in the main part of Hadleigh where the butterfly had been introduced and there were notices advertising the presence of the insect asking people to keep to the footpath. Two men and women carrying large video cameras on tripods appeared. They could well have been BBC cameramen. One said, "Any luck" just as if it was a fishing expedition and the other exasperated by the Heath Fritillaries in the bright sunshine said, "We could do with some glue". A little later I chanced on them again this time forming part of a larger group. I happened to remark it must be heavy lugging the video around all day and he replied telling me to be careful as the warden was conducting visitors around!!

Watching this little butterfly attempting to track its movement I was struck by how easy it was to lose sight of it when a gust of wind would rustle the grass backdrop. Though easily buffeted and swept along by the wind the sudden blurring effect produced by the wind in the grass melts the outlines of the flying butterfly causing it to meld into the background. Given the grassy habitat favoured by the Heath Fritillary it is a protective device.

How could one capture this on film? I need to study the phenomenon more carefully. The Heath Fritillary likes a dry sandy habitat. This was more apparent in nearby Dodds Grove than in Hadleigh Wood. Scrub and bracken were beginning to take hold but in-between there were extensive patches of wheat grass, meadow grass and soft rush. In the evening (and even during the day) the fritillary has a fondness for resting on meadow grass florets. It also likes to rest on bracken fronds. The fritillary had not been introduced into Dodds Grove and had colonised the area unaided appearing to thrive there more successfully than in Hadleigh Wood.

 

28th June 1999: Visit to Bude in Cornwall

We failed to see the Large Blue. However, we probably did find one of its sites at Hartland Point. Had we read up on our subject and stayed in the coombes chances are we could have seen it. The coombes seemed to have all the requirements – ant hills, thyme, close cropped grass, bare ground and a sheltered situation. My hope eventually is to photograph the blue in a coombe because I doubt if the Poldens or the Gloucester Cotswolds can equal such a magnificent site.

Much taken by Cornwall – the geological folding, the actual rocks, the flora, the landscape. Particularly intrigued by the hedges many of them are made of stone which in time became grassed over making it difficult to grub out. The rocks were surprisingly deserted and on the smaller roads it was possible to walk for a couple of miles without one car passing. There was much agricultural machinery on the country roads. Some roads were more like tarmacked lanes with a rich profusion of vegetation growing on either side. But the loveliest spots of all were the coombes. I could really get to love Cornwall and north Devon.

Met a pleasant woman at the B&B in Bude. She had moved there with her husband who worked in Reading as a junior fire officer. He was unable to get a transfer so he commuted as often as he could. She was attracted less by status than a kitsch romanticism. She could be disarmingly frank not the slightest bit embarrassed to say her dad – who was now living with her – had been a council tenant all his life. (She was originally from Camberley, Surrey) and she was always looking to fulfil her dreams but within a marriage situation with a good husband and a house in a dream location. She was interested in our passionate pursuit of butterflies and wished she had a similar interest mentioning how she envied steam tractor enthusiasts she had met at a Cornish fair. She very decently ran us out to Hartland Point in her car. She was friendly without being flirtatious and the experience did add up to a kind of encounter but without the subversive, explosive consequence. Unfortunately, I have to say this essential ingredient wasn't there and if pushed too far I'm sure would shy off.

Many of the working farm houses must have been heritage cottages with thatched roofs etc. I noticed how over time the walls of farm barns etc became encrusted with lichen and the red sandstone began to take on a pale grey look. The warm climate must have encouraged the growth of lichen. Seemed to be a tendency to steep, pitched roofs. Many Methodist churches. One cottage I noticed in Bude had been rendered on the outside with a space left to show off a large granite rock – or just like we had done at Bieda's house in London's Soho with the old wooden stays in the wall.

Coming back from the car-less, narrow winding roads of Cornwall, the cliffs, the hedgerows etc on approaching Heathrow by National Express bus I thought how like a moonscape, futuristic city. A moon colony not as a natural experience but as the last word in urban refinement and state of the art technology.

 

14th June 1999: Shibden Dale, Bradford, West Yorks

We failed to find the hoped for Ringlet colony. Meadow Browns were flying in fairly large numbers particularly in the boggy bits though on the drier hillsides numbers were much less. Also in that sense their behaviour is not dissimilar to the Ringlet at the limit of its range. Seemed to like flying amongst the softrush which was interspersed with fronds of meadow grass. It was, all in all, an unusual environment for the Meadow Brown. Marsh thistle abounded with here and there a white variety of the plant. Below Catherine Slack found the occasional ragged robin. I bet it is the only place it grows so close to Bradford. Noticed three different species of dragonfly but was unable to name them. Why was Shibden Old Hall abandoned? Did the ground become excessively waterlogged?

A good number of Large Skippers – also on the bogs.

 

18th July 1999: Ben Rhydding gravel pits, West Yorks

The day was overcast but very warm the sun continually threatening to come out. For sometime I thought the Ringlets had deserted Ben Rhydding and was too out of sorts to look for them further. Nothing in this life made any sense and I would have died there and then. I lay on the ground and drifted off to sleep. On awakening I noticed the grass parting slowly a few feet from me. It was a stoat.

On returning to the spot I immediately noticed a Ringlet and I began to wonder if I had not mistaken Ringlets for Meadow Browns both at Ben Rhydding and Shibden. It would be worth paying attention to them at this outpost of their existence. The spot they fly in is hedged by willows, hawthorns etc and some three feet immediately above the River Wharfe. It is hot, humid and lush with thistles, cranesbill, meadow sweet and brambles , I noticed when the Ringlet rests if the sun is out it invariably adjusts its body so it is at an oblique angle to the sun; when the sun is behind clouds it will open its wings to bask.

Why do I look at nature – to hold a mirror up to nature or a depression?

Went on to Otley. Asked to get off private land. Was the woman an eco farmer? She looked after a pair of swans over winter. I was immediately hostile to the whole implication it was private land and felt sympathy for the lads from the nearby housing estate who were terrorising the birds. I did notice also a flock of Canadian geese move out of range of me as I approached the borders of the lakes. This would not happen in central London. Are they seeking to eventually convert the lake into a boating marina and the whole wild life thing just mere bullshit?

 

25th July 1999: Ashstead Common, Surrey

Took a visit with B. Hoped to be able to photograph a Purple Emperor in the foliage then get it digitally enlarged conveying thus the habitat of butterfly such as how people normally become acquainted. Alas the sky clouded over and I was even cheated of that prize, saw two Silver Washed Fritillary and a Vapourer moth on entering Chessington Woods.

When will I ever get the breakthrough I am looking for? Or are memorable nature photos the outcome of hard graft and persistence there being no formula to be learned by rote. All the fresh green oak leaves were mildewed – something I had not seen before.

 

28th July 1999: Scrubs Lane and Old Oak Common, West London

There has been an enormous increase in Hedge Browns. They now easily outnumber the Meadow Brown; there were two or three Common Blues. During the heat of the day, the Hedge Browns stay low and feed off low growing plants. It was also quite windy and this may have deterred them from feeding on the more exposed higher thistles. When pursuing each other even in spite of the wind they were able to maintain what appeared to be a constant distance.

 

1st August 1999: Brompton Cemetery, Earls Court, West London

Very hot -90 % F. Couple of Common Blues, a few Meadow Browns but no Hedge Browns. Most kept to the shade as it was so hot.

 

4th August 1999: Kensal Rise Cemetery, West London

The Hedge Brown is here but not in the same proportion as nearby Scrubs Lane. The Meadow Brown easily outweighs the Hedge Brown. There even was one in the butterfly garden close by Ladbroke Grove. Didn't see any on the grand union canal tow path but the odd one must be there. More Cinnabar caterpillars than I have seen for several years.

 

5th August 1999: Kensal Rise again

Photos of Holly Blue and mating Meadow Browns (still very jumpy flying off as soon as I approached). Then on to Scrubs Lane. Several Common Blues on waste ground near railway bridge. Also one Burnet Companion (are they double-brooded?) then on to thistle patch on Scrubs Lane. Eventually secured some Hedge Brown photos. Female Common Blue on bank side next to where Heathrow shuttle is parked.

 

21st August 1999: Ilkley Moor, West Yorks

No Emperor caterpillars. Carlo from Northcliffe Woods's wildlife gardens saw a small Northern Eggar. Didn't see one grouse. Were the absence of Emperor and grouse related?

 

27th August 1999: Hell's Coppice, Burnwood Forest, Oxon

Memorable because of encounters with visitors rather than being able to get a shot of Brown Hairstreaks. Met the North Yorks recorder for Butterfly Conservation and his wife. And a man from Merseyside who claimed he didn't have a TV and only watched it when he visited his brother. He was interested in rare birds like wilson's petrol and the wood sandpiper, hoar finches etc. Both were looking for the Brown Hairstreak as was a man who turned out to be a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. He had stories to tell of EB Ford working to debar women from from common rooms; his scanty notes on genetics when it was expected there would be reams to edit on his death, and how his "Butterflies" (book) began with the fall of Constantinople, the beauty of the colour plates and his memorable account of the capture of a monarch butterfly. I said I thought Oxford was a very different place from today's Oxford (in a reference to joy-riding he described Oxford as, "The city of screaming tyres"). He misunderstood what I was getting at – the leftward drift in 1930s Oxford and which influenced Ford, Huxley, Haldane, Inns etc. – thinking I was referring to increased paperwork and administrative duties etc which Steve Jones also indicted. Appeared not to have heard of Inns and was somewhat put out. From his accounts we got the impression Hell's Coppice was becoming depleted of butterflies. The Pearl Bordered Fritillary has disappeared and the Black Hairstreak is obviously in severe decline. Once the Marsh Fritillary flew in the woods but our Fellow reckoned the construction of a tarmac road to aid nature tourism may have led to is disappearance. (Rides were widened filling in ditches in which the devils bit scabious grew and where the hibernaculum of the fritillary were to be found.) However, he couldn't be absolutely sure.

Seemed not to be interested in introductions. Mentioned rather disparagingly the introduction of the Glanville Fritillary on the Wirral by the Professor of Genetics at Liverpool University. The rate of extinction is not natural but is 1000 times faster than normal. The attempt to preserve species is not counter to natural law understood as an average leaving out the vast acceleration of extinction at the end of the Permian and Jurassic periods. When I asked is EB Ford something of a legend in Oxford, the Fellow answered "Yes and no" – and his negative view was largely based, I suspect, on accusations of sexism which scientists appear to be extremely sensitive too.

 

29th August 1999: Ranmore Common, Dorking, Surrey

Best day ever on Ranmore Common helped make up some for the two dreadful butterfly years since I was last here. It promised to be a hot day but the sky became rather overcast which meant the butterflies became less active and the Adonis Blues obligingly opened their wings. There appeared to be an equal number of Adonis and Common Blues. But it was on the lower slopes of Denbies Hillside where they were most common. Managed to photograph a small, aberrant male with a yellowish blotch on its right under wing. Having lost sight of it momentarily it appeared again in roughly the same spot. Later we photographed another male variety. This time the blotch occurred on the inner side of the right under wing and both upper and lower wing were crumpled. Is the pronounced tendency to variation in the Adonis Blue also a symptom off weakness? The first male was noticeably smaller.

Also there were Chalk Hill Blues some quite pristine to be seen. Blues seemed to prefer the horse shoe vetch to marjoram which was going back. Suddenly chanced upon three Adonis Blues on dog shit. Seem to prefer dog shit to horse shit; carnivore to herbivore shit. Horse shit still has un-dissolved strands of straw and maybe the nitrate content is less concentrated. Late I was to see two more Adonis Blues on a dog turd beside the pedestrian footpath higher up the bank side.

There were also two Silver Spotted Skipper and a number of Brown Argus. Dwarf thistle commences at a distinct line on Denbies Hillside; also clusters of bell flower and eyebright.

Lying in bed late August bank holiday, Monday. The Notting Hill Carnival has ended, more spectacular than ever according to the self-serving justification of its organisers. A police helicopter is hovering above Notting Hill, a searchlight snaps on and off. Is this an anticipation of the future? Ever more contained manipulated festivals rounding off field trips; natural history and a circus?

 

2nd September 1999. Box Hill, Surrey

Found several Silver Spotted Skippers on Burford Ridge. Some were nectaring on the hawksbit, dwarf thistles and to a rather lesser extent, eyebright. However, the majority were we thought females either egg laying or testing for practical sites. The latter were exceptionally difficult to follow and were quickly lost to view. Their mimicry on the short sward was amazing. Their flight pattern was characteristically zigzag but also appeared to hop rather than fly quickly dropping to the ground where they merged imperceptibly into the short grass and barish earth. This technique must aid the survival of the female of the species during the egg laying season. Juniper Valley and several Silver Spotted Skippers were to be seen. One rather dished specimen nectared obligingly on the marjoram still in flower in the cool of the valley. There was a couple of Brown Argus, one perfect, the other on its last legs which however persistently pursued the recently emerged specimen.

The Meadow Browns were to be seen flying some thirty foot into the trees. They also did the same at Hell's Coppice. The behaviour maybe characteristic of the end of the season helping to aid dispersal. Found several death cap mushrooms – one had been picked and hastily thrown away.

 

5th September 1999: Hell's Coppice, Bernwood Forest, Oxon.

Butterfly Line on Friday 2nd of September claimed the Brown Hairstreak was at its peak. We actually only saw one fairly dished specimen at the very same spot as two years previously - a docile, egg laying female it was very amenable to being photographed. Eventually it took off into the oak canopy where it remained lost to view in spite of the hot weather. I had always wondered why the Brown Hairstreak was attracted to this corner of the coppice given the absence of tall ash trees, indeed any ash at all. Later David saw one in the adjacent field which again took shelter in the oaks after coming down to the buckthorn. Our Brown Hairstreak first rested on tender sprigs of buckthorn. May also have seen a Brown Hairstreak on marshy ground between Stanton St John and Sandhills earlier in the day. There were certainly plentiful numbers of ash trees and banks of buckthorn. None were to be seen on the road from Stanton to the coppice. In previous years the insect was often to be seen swept along by the wind and passing cars. None either in an adjoining lane which seemed perfect.

One can only assume it was just too late in the season and all we saw were stragglers. The exceptional heat of this time last year may have been decisive for their early departure from the scene.

David met an arrogant naturalist from Oundle who impatiently picked him up for mispronouncing the name. Insisted the Brown Hairstreak emerged in August whereas there is an early emergence in July. He was a know-all who knew little and was probably in a position of authority – an ex-headmaster or such like. His wife threw passionate glances wanting liberation from this tyranny.

 

17th October 1999: Scrubs Lane, West London

Counted a number of double flowering plants – toadflax, rosebay willow herb, vetch.

 

27th November 1999. Visit to Regents Park, West London

Duck, red crested pochard, pochard, common scoter, scoup, shoveller, slavonian grebe, shelduck, fergusons duck, mandarin, mallard, tufted duck.

 

30th November 1999: Kensington Park, West London

Great increase of grey lag geese. The number of Canada geese appears to have declined (territory contested?) Increase in tufted duck. One grebe.

 

THE YEAR 2000

 

10th April 2001: Ilkley Moor, West Yorks

A weather window permitted us to look for micros on Ilkley Moor. It was well nigh impossible to scuff them up. But as the sun came out they could be found in considerable numbers around the cross and radio masts on Keighley Back Lane and especially around the rocky outcrops a couple of hundred yards down from the masts. All the moths fly within seconds of the sun coming out, settling on exposed heather tips as soon as the sun goes in and when disturbed they drop down into the plants going ever deeper if disturbed further. Their antennae were very active when crawling around heather shoots. By far the most difficult place to photograph them was around the rocky outcrops up from the masts where the ground temperature was undoubtedly higher than on other less rocky terrain. Dry stone walls were also important as outdoor storage heaters. Significantly, all five or six species we identified occurred on the high moor and not on the lower slopes. In all cases the camouflage was excellent in spite of wide variation in markings. One species in particular resembled the bleach look of the withered heather blooms. This worked especially well from a distance of 18 inches or so. On getting closer, like when looking through a close-up lens, the camouflage was far less convincing. Is it therefore a defensive mechanism that has been selected for or merely a matter that anything that small will have a semblance of camouflage due to our lack of visual resolution? Besides what are they seeking protecting against? The meadow pipit? In which case the pipits ocular capacity for detection must be as sharp or sharper than ours. What would a spider see? Fragmented blotches at best. When I was last on the moor a couple of weeks ago, I saw a spider shoot up a sprig of heather to take on a wasp many times its size retreating just as rapidly when the wasp buzzed away. Could it have been driven by a desperate search for food after the long winter frost?

 

29th April 2000: Scrubs Lane, West London.

Visited with a Mamiya camera. Peacocks in abundance all dished of course. At the end of their lives there is still pretence of a nuptial flight. Saw two couples basking on the ground together. Many of the butterflies seem to be drawn by the Euro Star rail sidings where not a blade of grass is to be seen maybe it is the reflected heat that attracts them given it has been such a wet spring. There is obviously much to and froing between the Scrubs and Kensal Green. Saw three male Brimstone, many Peacocks, one Small Tortoiseshell and several Orange Tips which may have just emerged on this fine warm day. Took photos of Speckled Woods feeding on May blossom. Normally they prefer to bask on the ground or perch on bramble leaves. Otherwise I have never seen them nectaring. Several Commas but once disturbed they fly off quickly not returning for sometime.

Met a posh woman with a lurcher dog; apparently their eyesight is exceptionally sharp (longsighted), she had gathered up snails from her garden and released them on the Scrubs. She seemed informed but it is doubtful how far you can push such people.

Attitude very different from a retired Irish man practising golf. He told me to try Ruislip Lido where I would be sure to find lots of "fucking woodpeckers and lots of fucking cuckoos".

Visit to Kensal Rise Cemetery with B. The butterfly activity tended to be confined to that side of the path adjacent to the containing wall on Harrow Rd and like the rail track the previous day, the wall reflected the sun's heat. Only Holly Blues were to be found here. One had landed on a holly leaf and had then closed its wing. I asked B to keep it in her sights while I got my camera ready. Turning to look away for a brief instance she then experienced some difficulty in locating it once more. In fact the perlescent blue of the under wing from a distance seemed like a glowing highlight reflecting the blue sky on the raised surface of the holly leaf. This excellent camouflage appears not to have been noted before.

How to capture it on film? The closer I got to the butterfly with my lens the less apparent was this trick. I think what is called for is a grainy photo (400 asa) taken from some distance and then enlarged to a considerable size so the actual detailing of the underside wing of the Holly Blue is lost. The diminished resolution may then convey the point.

 

Visit to Banstead Downs, Surrey (no date)

After having walked up to the main field we concluded the Green Hairstreak had not yet emerged. But then I saw one fluttering between the gorse and hawthorn. We then saw a fair number. In particular we took shots of two of them mating in a hollow with sycamores, hawthorns and gorse – the same place we collected some two years ago to release in Scrubs Lane. The mating was preceded by a short nuptial flight and lasted some 20/25 minutes before they separated to resume their dive bombing. How butterflies are able to follow each others erratic course keeping a constant distance (more or less) is a source of amazement to me. Four Small Tortoiseshells did the same for a brief interval. The male could have been responding to chemical signals from the female in the Green Hairstreak's case but nothing like to the same degree with the tortoiseshells which would be close to death. Many Brimstones, a number of Orange Tips and three Holly Blues.

Used the Mamiya camera and must wait on the results. The human eye is a much more flexible instrument than a camera lens. Distortions of scale are inevitable. A telephoto lens would result in an exaggerated foreshortening suggesting a far greater closeness between buildings, houses, roads, etc than is actually the case. On the other hand, a 500 mm lens does the opposite and background appears more distant than in fact they are. A wide angle lens of about 25/28 mm seems to produce the most accurate results providing one gets in close, the background being neither too overpowering nor too distant.

The entire history of illustrations including photography has been taken up with speciation. By emphasising background and habitat that requires a deep depth of field especially with insects – even to the point where the insect is almost lost to view, we begin to look at an evolutionary whole in the process of continual adaptation. We need to seek analogies and then we must go on to determine the common ground of this analogical perception which takes illustration into areas that have an extra human content even if we are the only living things to properly appreciate three dimensions on a two dimensional surface.

 

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