UNORTHODOX BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS No 4: May 2000 - MAY 2001

 

14th May 2000, Banstead Downs, Surrey

Several Grizzled Skippers were flying but not one Dingy Skipper. This late emergence could be due entirely to rain; the Grizzled Skippers were all to be found on the 'sheep paths' rather than on the footpaths. Several were to be seen nectaring on buttercups but preferred to land on the just to say opening corolla of daisies. The butterflies also had a preference for areas where the grass was a little shorter than the surrounding expanses of longer dead grass from last year. However, this backdrop provided an effective camouflage once the insects took flight dazzling the eye. Like the colour of the butterfly's wings the dead vegetation had a greyish brown hue. In flight the chequer markings produced a streaking effect on the retina particularly when the butterfly would suddenly switch from horizontal to vertical flight – as skippers do. This retinal after image would merge imperceptibly with the stalks of grass. Occasionally when the insect would fly higher the clouds provided yet another near perfect foil. All in all, the most difficult of the skippers to follow with the naked eye.

I have often wondered why nature didn't colour butterflies wings with more life-like markings. To answer this I think we need to look at the perceptual system of the predators. A landscape reproduction on a wing may be far less effective form of defence than abstract markings.

The Green Hairstreaks were behaving in a manner I had never noticed before. They were less agile than last weekend and their flight was not characterised by the arial rolling displays. Quite a few were fluttering weakly above the grass landing now and then for a couple of seconds on plantain or a bent leaf of grass. They were most difficult to photograph in this position. One I watched for several minutes studiously avoided the usual perches provided by the oak and the bramble, finally when it did rest on an oak leaf it remained there for longer than when alighting briefly on the grass.

Most but not all the Green Hairstreaks engaging in this behaviour were slightly dished. There was an exceptionally heavy downpour yesterday and David thought the battering may have disoriented them. The Lattice Heath moth was out as were small micros with yellow under wings and a dark border.

While writing the above there was a showing on TV of a programme on Tate Modern. Like in a silent film, Duchamp would appear and reappear alongside repeated shots of his urinal, the Tate's prime exhibit. The interviews were originally given for BBC TV in 1962 and 1968, the latter with Joan Bakewell. The programme was simply called 'Tate Modern' by John Chapman and offered "an insight into the motivation of artists dedicated to challenging the critical establishment".

 

19th May 2000: Shibden Dale, Bradford, West Yorks

On crossing the stream at the gully bottom to climb the steep path I noticed a Green Hairstreak on the first patch of bilberry. It was the first and last we were to see because of the intermittent heavy shower. Combined with a cool north westerly it succeeded in lowering the temperature to such a degree that even in the brief intervals of bright sunshine it was not enough to stir up the Green Hairstreak. After each successive downpour the stream was to be seen rising in the bottom of the dale once the sun came out. However, it was never sufficient to dry out the underlying vegetation or even warm it up sufficiently to get the hairstreaks on the wing. The same phenomenon was visible on the far side of the gully. Photographed several small moths, one of which is to be seen flying alongside the Green Hairstreak appearing many minutes before the latter flies.

There have been three bad springs but they don't appear to have affected the hairstreak population. A combination of rain and winds stop the insect from flying but appears not to affect the female's egg laying activity.


21st May 2000: Wharton Cragg, Carnforth, Morecambe Bay

The clouds broke over the coast and we probably had about three hours of sunshine. A few Pearl Bordered Fritillary were to be seen but none on the quarry face unlike three years ago on a very hot day. Toward 4 o clock they appeared to start nectaring on bluebells but mostly they preferred to sun themselves on the dead bracken staying close to the earth rather than resting on the dead stalks. This provided a certain amount of camouflage but when flying against a background of bracken – dead bracken – they all but disappeared and were exceptionally difficult to follow with the eye. The dead stalks of bracken break about half a metre from the ground to form angles which touch the earth. Combined with the dead fronds it forms to the unfocussed eye it is like lattice not all that dissimilar to the butterfly's wings in flight provide a kind of vertical/horizontal streaking or cross-hatching in movement.

In addition one needs to look at the heat absorbent capacity of water. The living tissue of plants does not absorb heat to anything like the same degree as dead vegetation. The dead bracken is then a kind of electric blanket compensating for altitude and lack of sunshine. When the sun just to say peeking from behind clouds the Pearl Bordered Fritillary was to be seen on the wing. When completely overcast it was no where to be seen. Coming away from Wharton Crag I realized I should have taken some general views of the bracken. I squinted at the dead bracken to get an impression of glinting verticals and horizontals having and irregular and more regular triangles. The dead stems also had a burnished sheen in the sun possibly comparable to the sheen of a butterfly's wing.

On departing I also sank into thought as I suddenly realised the photo I wanted was of a basking Pearl Bordered Fritillary on dead bracken side by side with an in focus new shoot of bracken.

Colour in insects, birds and plants. Plants have evolved the most highly developed defensive mechanisms of all. Literally they are rooted to the spot. ....... The red sepals of herb robert.

The dialectic of being and nothingness was experienced most with a candle. Goethe's "Ecstasy and Desire" was not possible with the electric light bulb. There was a question mark over talking when tonight I went through the five senses: See, Hear, Touch, Taste, Smell. Perhaps talking as taste – something ingested. Perhaps talking should be defined as an ability to make a sound – but a sound with a difference – a unique sound.


22nd May 2000: Shibden Dale, Bradford, West Yorks

Relatively warm though wind was still in a north westerly direction. Saw a number of Green Hairstreaks. The one I managed to photo may have been a normal specimen or a variation of a punctata. The other I managed to get a close look at had two spots close to the wing margin – one above and below. Shibden Dale is possibly a site on which the normal, caecus and punctata meet with many different gradients in between. The camouflage is near to perfection, the slight reddish tinge on the upper wings blending with the reddish tinge of the bilberry leaves particularly those of younger plants. Recently sprouted young oak leaves tend also to have a reddish tinge.

The first Green Hairstreak I saw was also using a young oak as a perch. The insect seemed to favour the lower slopes of the bilberry covered hill sides which were more sheltered from the keen north westerly wind. David claimed a Green Hairstreak I was endeavouring to photograph flew away down the hillside up and over the tallish trees of the valley bottom. If so it does suggest the butterflies do fly through the woodland visiting different sites. The Green Hairstreaks are inveterate sun lovers and disappear rapidly once the sun clouds over. Equally it takes a good twenty minutes of warm sunshine to get them to stir. If there has been a downpour beforehand or a steady drenching lasting some hours it can take much longer.


26th May 2000: The Chevin, Otley, West Yorks

It was the worst of days; it was the best of days. It began quite sunny then clouded over followed by fine drizzle then a downpour. It was cloudy by the time I had walked up the Chevin. Thinking it was hopeless I decided to check out the bilberry in any case. The leaves did not have the rust spotting I had half expected and weren't all that different from the bilberry of Shibden Head – with one exception: the leaves were more reddish because "the big field" was not as thickly carpeted as Shibden and the areas of thinner, younger pinkish green bilberry shoots more noticeable. About to turn and go home I suddenly noticed a pair of Green Hairstreaks (male and female?). At no time did the sun ever come out but it did feel quite mild. Bradford Telegraph & Argus newspaper put the maximum temperature at 57 degrees and the wind was very definitely from the south west. Neither of the two butterflies were very active and one settled immediately with the other settling close by even though I was shortly to lose sight of it altogether as I decided to concentrate on the former.

For the next ¾ hours I closely concentrated on the first Green Hairstreak. It never once strayed from the plant nor sought shelter from the rain at any time even though an actual downpour developed lasting for well over one hour. During this time rain drops would frequently strike the butterfly and in response it would flex itself. But at no point did it ever seek to hide itself deep within the bilberry remaining close to the tip of the plant shoot. Sometimes its antennae would move and sometimes its front legs as if it felt it needed to move. During the heaviest part of the downpour rain drops would strike the butterfly with such force as to almost dislodge it. But it would then valiantly crawl back up the stem some 5 to 10 mm. Having observed the Green Hairstreak for some three hours I formed the impression that it looked rather more dishevelled after the period of time had elapsed.

Also it appeared to swing its undersides around in the direction of the sun even though it was hidden from view. Maybe like honey bees, it is sensitive to polarised light. Only when the downpour was at its height did it appear to angle its wings in the direction of the sheeting rain so its wings were edge on to the rain drops. Initially when I disturbed it before the rain started to fall the butterfly would crawl and swing from one leaf to the next. There was an absence of that tumbling motion evident in both day and night flying moths.

Do the butterflies behave in a similar fashion on damp, overcast days when a keen north westerly is blowing? Is it perhaps the direction of the wind that is the all important factor? I have never before observed an insect so closely. Sitting out there drenched to the skin, trousers soaked, hands glowing red with cold, I felt few of my age would ever do that. Observation was rescuing me from myself as I became absorbed in my object of study. Had anyone before me observed this phenomenon? All I needed was for the sun to come out to see what it would do next. This endurance test was in the nature of a triumph.

This came about as an assertion of independence against David and his need to control and blame because he is a victim I thought of my death and how he is willing it only to be consumed by never ending grief. And of Marie in prison; how she is lost to herself having found herself in prison. For, on release she will revert to her alienated ways of whoredom and managing directors. But it is never quite the same; there will no longer be a party of endless forgetfulness.

 

"A thoroughly miserable day": BBC Weather Centre......  28th May 2000: Otley Chevin, West Yorks

Day began overcast with a sharp north westerly; though not so dark overhead as on Friday it was noticeably chillier. So there were no Green Hairstreaks to be seen when we arrived on the Chevin. After around three quarters of an hour we found them on the lower 'big field' close to the wall. We saw three practically instantaneously lying on their sides basking in the hazy sunshine. Almost immediately there was a shower of rain, and the Green Hairstreak I was observing dropped deeper into the bilberry – a rather different form of behaviour to the one I had observed on the previous Friday. I kept it under observation for an hour. At the height of the shower the butterfly realigned its wing so its upper wing margins were edge on to the shower. Yet it received a good drenching and in fact every Green Hairstreak looked a bit dished – even the mating couple – a punctata and a normal form did not look in a pristine condition (the female could only have emerged that morning). The latter stayed mating for at least one and a half hours unlike the 20/25 minutes we witnessed on Banstead Downs in Surrey.


Visibility

In fact the hairstreaks were not difficult to spot on the bilberries. Their iridescent blue/green colouring did not match the green of the bilberry leaves given the particular conditions then prevailing. However, when the sun came out the bilberry leaves that were slanted to reflect the sun's light in a particular way gave off a bluish sheen and therefore more clearly approximated the colouring of the Green Hairstreaks wings. Also the hue on the wings tended to change somewhat according to the nuances of habitat. The fact that they refract light by an optical mixing of colour maybe of great benefit to the hairstreak.


Variation

Observing the sparkling pinpoints of light on bilberry leaves after a shower of rain particularly those at the tops of the stems. It had occurred to me that the crescent of dots on the punctata might be an imitation of this phenomenon. Showers after all are frequent in the Pennines. However, this in no way explains the absence of spotting as for instance with caecus.

"The big field" on the Chevin is warmer than any other site I have visited despite being so exposed. There is reason to think the surface temperature is higher because under the moss and bilberry cover there are many rocks and stones which will retain and reflect back the heat. It is a warming pan. Could it be that the dotting on the punctata is an effect of heat stimulating the action of a gene? The ratio of normal specimen to the punctata is high – I would say 60/40.


29th May, Ripponden, near Halifax, West Yorks

The best day weather wise but still a cool north westerly. Definitely, the Green Hairstreaks prefer warm corners with plenty of wind breaks. The site is a veritable freak show of varieties – caecus, two spots, half and semi male punctata's. But by far the most perfect form is to be found on the Chevin – the most ideal form but why? The two crescents on the upper and lower under wings are near perfect. On the other sites there is only an approximation. It would appear Shibden is the same but the numbers are well down in comparison to Ripponden.

Throughout the past ten days the weather in the rest of the country especially the south was very bad. There were flash floods in Essex, Norfolk, Surrey and the Netherlands had the worst storm for decades.


3rd June 2000: Ranmore Common, Dorking, Surrey

Rich carpeting of birds foot trefoil. Adonis Blues tended to stay at the foot of the bank adjacent to the coach road. But as soon as the sun came up they moved up the bank. Common Blues kept their wings shut more than the Adonis. Possibly a regional characteristic as the Adonis is at the limit of its range and the Common Blue far more ubiquitous. Possible ab: semiceronus females. Generational according to some. Not uncommon either. We saw a couple of specimens, possibly more. Also female aberration of Common Blue streaked with eye spot on corner of upper wing and also very battered. In fact all the Common Blues were dished. A couple of aberrant Burnets one with suffused spots the other with very pale orange markings. It is possible both specimens had lost their scales and had become smudged. A sort of Mother Shipton moth. Found an Adonis Blue in a field much closer to Dorking than I had ever seen before.


10th June 2000: Hockley, South Essex

A dummy run to nowhere. One way of looking at it.

Rather overcast with patchy sunshine. Perfect conditions for photographing the Heath Fritillary for there is considerably more coppicing since when I last visited three years ago. Managed to photograph four together on a medium format camera.

When wings are closed against a mulched background combined with leaf litter (particularly oak) the Heath Fritillary is difficult to detect. Do they feel safe against such a background and seek it out? The reddish tinge of new hornbeam leaves also add to the effect as does bramble. Should the butterfly tentatively open its wings in weak sunshine when approached the wings are suddenly closed to make it less conspicuous. Have coppicing methods improved? A nearby cut coppice had been mulched hence grass, bramble and nettles had been prevented from taking over. There was no cow wheat to be seen.

Met an Essex wildlife photographer who was rather orthodox in his approach using a telephoto with extension rings. I think he found my methods anarchic. Maybe he sells his photos. His model could well be Chris Packham. He called fritillaries "flitillaries" and refereed to cow wheat as "cow weed". Managed to photograph a Heath Fritillary against stacked hornbeam logs in a coppice – an ideal setting! (Cow wheat seems to show a fondness for hornbeam roots).


11th June 2000: Strumpshaw Fen, Blundell, Norfolk

Saw a Swallowtail almost immediately. Definitely attracted to the prepared managed area of fen. Last year it was denuded of vegetation just cropped tree trunks. Now it was thick with young reeds and milk parsley. For nectar there was marsh thistle and ragged robin. The Swallowtail at 10 30 in the morning of a hot June day were nectaring in abundance on marsh thistles. Occasionally they would fly into the bramble flowers and valerian. By 12 o clock at the latest the Swallowtails had ceased to nectar and never came down again as we expected them to. They seemed to fly off into the thickly reeded part of the fen where there was no milk parsley. These seemingly inhospitable areas may be essential to their survival.

A number of photographers all with telephoto lenses. Their photos would say nothing about the butterfly as they could be nothing more than butterflies suspended in mid air; suspended animation butterflies, free floating butterflies – but not real butterflies.

Met a young primary school teacher. Desperately shy she would blush every time she spoke. I asked if she took notes. She replied she noted the birds she had seen; so for this year she had seen around 240. She was due to visit Scotland to see the osprey at Garton Lock. She said interestingly that she thought the ospreys there were sort of performing for visitors. She followed me back to the original reservation for the Swallowtails almost as if she wanted to be asked out. She was driving a car so she left the fen around four in the afternoon as did most other people. I pointed out that it was easier by train to travel from Cheshunt –where she lived – via London. The thought had not really occurred to her. She was distressed by the consumer habits of young children, their lack of interest in nature etc. "the children in my school think I'm mad" she said. Once pointed out she was aware of how different the managed area looked from the rest.


24th June 2000: Brockadale near Pontefract, West Yorks

My first sighting of a Yorkshire Marbled White and as usual, an unforgettable experience. Though the day was overcast with a cool westerly wind, it was not difficult to find the butterfly. Walking through the grass was enough to scuff them up whereupon they would fly briefly before settling down low in the herbage occasionally with their wings open in the haziest of sunshine. During the brief moments of sunshine they were up and flying everywhere. Do the florets of dog daisy provide them with any protection? From a distance it is easy to mistake a Marbled White when its wings are opened for a dog daisy. There is also just a hint of yellowish brown when they fly rather like the flowers calyx.

It was impossible to determine how far the butterfly actually flew in Brockadale because of the overcast conditions. To truly understand a butterfly they must be observed in all conditions.

Many Ringlets. They were much harder to photograph settling deep into the grass when the sky was stormy. When conditions lightened a little they would open their wings. In comparison to the Marbled White they are a difficult butterfly to approach. If disturbed when roosting some would drop ever deeper into the herbage until they actually were on the earth from where it was impossible to dislodge them and get them to even climb a grass stalk or fly. One climbed on my probing finger and I proceeded to photograph it. Finally it flew off but for the moment it rested for some time on a grass stalk some fourteen inches or so from the ground. Had my probing finger suddenly caused it to alter its behaviour choosing to remain on a grass stalk rather than tumble to the earth for safety?


27th June 2000: Brockadale, West Yorks with Barbara

Around 4 pm and on the point of leaving I believe I discovered how the Marbled White fans out from Brockadale. Rather than move up the valley bottom amongst the dense grasses, parsley, pignut etc towards Wentbridge they are actually drawn by the immense fields of barley flying some thirty yards into the barley and even settling before returning to their more usual habitat. I chased one in a parallel dance for some one hundred yards clicking the shutter repeatedly – though my activity, it is true, may have prevented the butterfly from returning to Brockadale proper. A south westerly would propel them towards Eggborough and Drax not towards Ferrybridge. Maybe a shift in wind direction from the south east (which is unusual) blows them towards Leeds.

Noted a Clouded Yellow flying ever onwards. It did not stay for one moment flying into the trees and disappearing from view.

Also saw two Painted Ladies. One hopped along the path in front of us leading out of Brockadale. It was past four in the afternoon and it desperately wanted to settle on the bare earth. It would repeatedly fly off and settle once more a few feet in front of us. It must have done this a dozen times. It made me wonder about reflected heat from paths, roadways, railways as possible migratory arteries propelling their advance.


21st/ 23rd/24th June 2000. Shipley Station Meadow, West Yorks

On all occasions the sky was overcast with very intermittent spells of sunshine. Common Blues were to be seen roosting quite high up on grass stalks. When it finally did rain on the first visit none of the ones that were roosting with their wings folded moved off at all – just like the Green Hairstreaks – in fact rather less so. Managing the pitiful area of grassland allows the birds foot trefoil to flourish and so keeps up the number of Common Blues from year to year. In fact the plant seems to thrive amongst oil sumps, tarmac, piles of broken bricks and mortar lumps of rusting iron and fly tipping because uncut grass eventually shades them out.

The Common Blue also flies outside the managed area particularly behind the Leeds /Skipton platform. It was here I found the most developed and beautiful blue female with the orange lunules. For quite sometime it remained dormant with its wings closed on a dog daisy though it noticeably continued to feed until the chill wind finally proved too much as it stopped feeding altogether. Finally when the sun did begin to emerge from behind the clouds the butterfly began to open its wings and moved to the margin of the flower head perching on one of the petals before taking off. I was able to get photos of it with trains standing in the station.

Because of the notice on the butterfly meadow people are obviously aware of their presence. A man asked me if I was photographing the butterflies adding that he'd never seen them. I immediately pointed one out much to his surprise. Seeing as I had come from London to photograph the butterflies he began to impress upon me the tourist attractions of the area particularly Salts Mill and the Hockney Gallery. Hockney had been given the freedom of the city the day before which he "was welcome to" because he didn't "reckon much to him" in any case. So butterfly preservation becomes an aspect of tourism!

On the second day it was particularly windy and cold. Even so the intense blue males could be seen low down in the herbage with their wings open. I meant to check out if the same were true for the actual meadow but decided to search for the common blue elsewhere – with no luck.


Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford, West Yorks

Visited the cemetery twice. Why is it so barren of wild life? One of the volunteers preparing a wall blamed the grass cover which he claimed was thicker than ever due to global warming. Also the magpies had wiped out any bird diversity. He was opposed to the landscaped Garden of Remembrance with a gazebo as its central feature. In his opinion a simple meadow would have attracted the wild life and not the attention of vandals because it was a focus and provided shelter whereas a meadow would be ignored.

I suggested to Susan Stead that it may be an idea to release Common Blues because of the amount of trefoil on the borders of the park. She was obviously deeply opposed to the idea not wanting any of her precious females to be abducted from her jealously guarded site. She even asked me if I had closed the gate after me! I very much doubt if Shipley Station Meadow is the sole breeding ground for the Common Blue. It is proprietorial and fanciful to claim that. She hadn't realised the Common Blue had flown in Forster Square railway sidings prior to that wretched development bringing in big stores like Shoe World, PC World, Curry's etc. Nor is she aware the butterfly is on the hillsides above Shipley.


29th June 2000: Lawkland Moss, Cravendale, High Pennines, North Yorks

An overcast day which became cooler. Wind north easterly. Chimney Sweeps on Lawkland Moss and a couple of Meadow Browns but no Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary. The temperature in Bradford never rose above 10 degrees. A couple I stopped to ask directions from at Stainforth said there had been a university visit to Hellwith Bridge to view the insects. Possible other sights: Eldroth above Lawkland, Love Lane between Austwick and Horton in Ribblesdale and on the flat land between the quarry and railway line in Horton in Ribblesdale.

Stinking iris on road from Giggleswick to Lawkland. Monkey flowers by side of stream between Austwick and Horton. Giggleswick is a village that revolves around the public school. Sedate, dead, rich and reactionary like an Oxford quad in the wilds of the Pennines. It was hell cycling on the A65. At one point I tried cycling across fields in preference to the roadway even thinking of riding on the railway line to Long Preston. I was told by a girl in a fish and chip shop in Hellifield that many people have been killed on the roadway. In these unpleasant, repressive villages and beautiful houses and nasty people there probably is a great deal of support for a Lakeland motorway which would run alongside the head waters of the Ribble and destroy the last remaining vestiges of the mosses.


1st July 2000: Baildon, West Yorks

Bee orchids by side of rough track. Also small heath on other side of track to be seen resting on soft rush. Fell asleep on Baildon Moor top (Windy Hill). Became conscious of bird sounds and awoke refreshed and almost relieved of anxiety. I thought of the god Pan and his habit of falling asleep on hill sides. Once asleep we pose no threat and animal life is free to play around us as we ourselves are released into our natural selves.


12th July 2000: Shipwrights Wood, Benfleet, South Essex

A mainly overcast day with wind from the west; reasonably warm however. Masses and masses of young elms so it is scarcely surprising if it is the White Letter Hairstreaks meta-population. In fact I found only one mature elm and it did not look the usual sort. Maybe it was a wych elm. The leaves were broader. Saw a White Letter Hairstreak almost immediately. They seem to like feeding off bramble close to elm sprays and young elms. They frequently disappear into them or use the young elms as perches. I called it the new habitat of young saplings and bramble bushes. The old was characterised by large elm trees.

David described the day as the White Letter Hairstreak experience. It was hugely instructive in spite of seeing half dozen insects. I felt from now on I would be able to spot a potential White Letter Hairstreak habitat from a mile off. All habitats now must have very similar characteristics. Met a young enthusiast who was studying the butterfly close to. He had been encouraged to visit the site. He did point out that a number of the butterflies had disappeared from the woods and was seriously worried about the decline in Small Tortoiseshell numbers. I thought he might be a professional entomologist but he shook his head self-effacingly. I never did find out what he did. The difference between him and the brief case and suits that got off a commuter train at Benfleet station. It was depressing just to look at them.

The name of the wood – Shipwrights Wood - means that in the past the elm has been hewn for the purposes of ship building. No doubt bramble and thistle spread within the coppiced areas and young elm saplings also sprouted. Its use of wood for boat building would have encouraged the spread of the White Letter Hairstreak.


15th July 2000: Ben Rhydding Gravel Pits, Ilkley, West Yorks

Cool, overcast day with brief sunshine but untypical for this wet cold summer and the wind was blowing from the North West.

More Ringlet than ever before extending down the River Wharfe bank path in the direction of Burley-in-Wharfedale. Noticed three pairs of mating Ringlets in the space of three hours. Never seen mating Ringlets elsewhere though in much greater abundance, at Ben Rhydding it is not at all unusual. They tend to be much lighter in colour than anywhere else I have seen them. Also there is a considerable variation in wing spots. Possibly it is sex linked with the males having the least ring spots. They are not in fact difficult to photograph but elsewhere they are invariably unapproachable flying off at the slightest disturbance.

In terms of observing the Ringlet nowhere is better than Ben Rhydding. They don't seem to be as restless as elsewhere – a sort of restless laziness descending to rest more frequently than elsewhere. They are not easily spooked as is habitual elsewhere. Frohawk described the Ringlet as a "peaceful butterfly" and is certainly more approachable than the Meadow Brown. One Meadow Brown we photographed (a male) looked remarkably similar to a Ringlet and for a time we thought it might easily be a hybrid. Even the wing shape was remarkably similar to the Ringlet. How many will it fool and yet it was clearly a Meadow Brown when it closed its wings.

The reduced wing spotting in Ringlets, Meadow Browns and the former Scotch Argus colony at Grassington poses a question as to why. Chance or a unique configuration? Starting out today I never expected to find so much variation and excitement. Fake Ringlet – chased by two female Meadow Browns. Most unusual to have female Meadow Brown chase the male. N.B. the 'Meadow Ringlet' opened its wings when resting which the Meadow Brown rarely does even in Ben Rhydding. In fact it proved difficult to get the 'Meadow Ringlet' to close its wings.


17th July 2000: Ben Rhydding again

Visit to Addingham where there were no Ringlets at all so returned to the gravel pits. A Ringlet went further towards the gate onto the main, traffic heavy road than I had seen previously. It landed on a buttercup but I was unable to photograph it. Many Meadow Browns. There is a greater range of variation than in any other adjacent localities. They range from a dark male form with a spotting similar to the ringlet, to a dark female form with particularly brilliant yellow forewing markings.

It is possible that by clearing a path skirting a quarry further east towards Burley, that the Ringlet colony could be extended. It must have grown six fold over the past four years possibly helped by the wet summers.


20th July 2000: Lawkland Moss, High Pennines, Cravendale, North Yorks

No Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary; a few Meadow Brown and Chimney Sweeps. Possibly two other Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary sites at Eldroth and above - high into the Forest of Bowland. Saw a Painted Lady and Small Tortoiseshell. They both were to be found sunning themselves on a dry stone wall and thistles growing close to the wall. We also found a Painted Lady chrysalis on the door of a barn which has been made to look like a house with kitchen and upstairs window. Inside it was still a barn without joists for a first floor. Maybe the farm close by – Birks Farm – was hoping for a quick sale by giving the barn the appearance of a house.

Saw more Small Tortoiseshells than ever on the lowlands or in urban areas. In fact their amount I judged to be close to normal. So why are they disappearing so rapidly? Rain, herbicides? One certainly sees more walking or cycling. I would never have noticed the number of Small Tortoiseshell in the Pennine lanes from a car window. The same may be true when it comes to spotting potential sites.


21st July 2000: Shipley Station Meadow, Boars Well, West Yorks

There was an egg laying blue female – rather tattered. None were to be found on the bank side of the cliff face. It is undoubtedly richer in flowers, grasses etc –and the terrain is broader. Went on to the Boars Well reservation. At the Boars Well, Large and Small Skippers would land on the algae spores on the pond and imbibe the water. They preferred this to the usual practise of puddling. I thought this behaviour may have been due to the amount of algae in the water thriving in the nitrate-rich water. But since it was running water it could hardly be due to eutrophication. I found out later that it was mineral rich water and was bottled in the past and sold as Spink Well Water.

Met a person from the North British Housing Association. His chief passion was bees – honey bees – but especially bumble bees. Why "because they served no useful purpose" – which bemused his wife. He was distrustful of naturalist societies because of the snobbery of the members – retired doctors, dentists etc. but he reckoned he had "taken a few out" in the past because of the precision of his observation. This gave him a great deal of satisfaction. I told him about Bradford Urban Wildlife Group and he seemed keen to join; however, he had a native working class mistrust of the council – it gave with one hand but took back with the other. He was unembarrassed, almost proud to consider himself "working class". He must have only been in his mid 30s. Class attitudes are still very much alive in Bradford.


22nd July 2000: Wetherby, Pool and Otley, West Yorks

Established the existence of Ringlets beside the Wharfe very quickly on reaching Wetherby in spite of overcast conditions. Saw some sixteen in all but none were of the arête form. Most were dished. Appeared to prefer the bank side and particularly liked to alight on the common sedge growing right on the river margin. When disturbed they would head off up river propelled by south easterly winds. When they came to a willow tree that was growing aslant the river rather than alight on it they would seek to bypass it thus moving up river all the while. We also found Ringlets in the lanes some eighty yards from the river. They could easily have been on the roadside verges swept along by the traffic. Banded Demoiselles were also common at Wetherby. And elsewhere??

We then moved on to Pool some ten and a half miles from Wetherby by road but undoubtedly longer following the twists and turns of the Wharfe. Between Pool and Arthington viaduct managed to scuff up a tattered Ringlet about 4 45 pm. The weather was distinctly cool and cloudy. We walked back to pool checking out potential sites east of pool. We went onto private land owned by D S W W Whiteley and Pool Paper Mills. The land had been set aside for Pool mills and social club. The development had been proposed for 1981 and little had been done. The area was similar to Ben Rhydding gravel pits though with far less diversity of plant life. The number of rabbits appeared to be far greater and there were notices up forbidding shooting.

Along the road to Otley I jumped over a wall running along the river bank and more or less opposite Caley Crags on the Chevin. Striking the grass I eventually scuffed up a pristine Ringlet. Its emergence seemed to coincide more with the Ben Rhydding Ringlets than with the Pool/ Wetherby population. Moved on up the road to Otley surveying other sites like Wharfe Meadows and Gallows Hill Nature Reserve, the former actually in Otley. Undoubtedly Otley is a formidable barrier to further expansion unlike either Wetherby or Pool. Ilkley is also a barrier but is not an obstacle like Otley.

Everything depends on the presence of the arête form between Otley and Pool. If it does occur then this population which has become diluted with normal forms spreading in from the east. The eastern approaches may well finally swamp the uniqueness of the Ben Rhydding population with the arête occurring far less frequently.


27th July 2000: Draycott Sleights, Mendips, Somerset

What we took to be the Swedish Large Blue was almost certainly a Chalk Hill Blue. However, it was more oblong than any I had seen. The markings on the upper wing were darker and the area of metallic blue much smaller. With the light shining through the wings I thought I saw the characteristic spotting of the upper side wings of the Large Blue. Their flight was also more powerful and in overcast weather flew for longer periods of time before settling.

It was not a large colony and between us we saw maybe eighteen. The disappointment at not seeing the Large Blue hid from us the uniqueness of this particular colony on the Mendips.
3rd August 2000: "Son of Ben Rhydding", Burley-in-Wharfedale, West Yorks

Found three Hedge Browns on the north bank of the playing fields in Otley just east of White Bridge. Also two very dished Ringlets –yesterday's storms I think have finally finished them off. Yesterday we saw two close-by the allotments between Jeffries of Otley and a path leading to Wharfe Meadows Park. None of the specimens were varieties, all appeared completely normal. As we only saw one Ringlet today at Ben Rhydding – with reduced spotting – we can only assume the Ringlet population east of Otley is much larger than that at Ben Rhydding.

At Burley there is a bank side running parallel to the Burley by-pass. I believe it to be a glacial moraine because the floral diversity must mean the soil is enriched with limestone. Marjoram was even to be found growing there – a plant I have never seen growing along the banks of the Wharfe before. It likes well-drained soil but this particular bank side is drowned in raging waters most years which admittedly only last a couple of days at most. But still it's not unusual. Time will only tell if the Ringlet flies here and if it is like the Ben Rhydding population with a high ratio of varieties. For the moment I suspect the eastward invasion of the Ringlet and the Hedge Brown is backing up east of Otley.

The varieties of Meadow Brown are more extreme than any I have ever seen. Some can be very pale – I chased one with what seemed exceptionally pale under wings – others dark with pronounced white borders (males) which we have called 'Ringlet' Meadow Browns. The degree of similarity can be very striking especially from some distance away. Only the orange colours of the top under side wings gives the game away when flying.


4th August 2000: Otley, West Yorks

A dark cold day. However, it confirmed my opinion that both the Ringlet and Hedge Brown are backing up at Otley. There is no way I believe that the Hedge Brown is likely to climb up the northern slopes of Otley then descend into the Wharfe valley once more west of Otley. The terrain is either thick woodland with uninviting rides, bare fields for pasturage with a near total absence of field margins. Found out by talking to an angler that "Son of Ben Rhydding" had been constructed to make way for the Burley by-pass. Even the Wharfe had been diverted leaving a deep pool in which fishes congregated. Paradoxically, what has replaced the river bank is probably better for nature with marjoram, yellow rattle, field and devil's bit scabious etc so a trained eye could have seen the area had been constructed as a nature reserve. To the untrained eye it is somewhat like a Van Meeregan (fake) of nature conservation. It is very convincing – a give back for taking away in the first place. It is possible that ecologists could even welcome such silences because it gives them a chance to put their theories into practise.
5th August 2000: Brighouse, West Yorks.

A fine day, north westerly, 72 degrees. Many Meadow Browns on the land between the canal and the River Calder. There was a significant degree of variation some pale, others darker. Also there were differences in size, some quite small. Much birds foot trefoil. One Common Blue, no Hedge Browns. Obviously the latter's expansion into the Pennines is far from effortless and it is experiencing many obstacles.

Met a photographer. Took butterfly pictures (slides) and gave slide shows. Had knowledge of cameras and lenses and was experimenting with flash having constructed a little box to concentrate the flash. Mentioned a friend who invented a strobe flash before they actually became available in the shops. The photographer did not study nature sufficiently so he was unable to transcend mere photography.


7th August 2000: Otley (again)

The school playing fields. The sky rapidly became overcast but it remained warm. Found Hedge Browns in the far hedge of the upper playing field; then finally one near a gate leading out into a huge field of wheat above the playing field. We were thus vindicated: there is substantial, dispersed population of Hedge Browns immediately to the east of Otley. They prefer hedge margins to the actual Wharfe river bank. We feel sure they have already by-passed Otley and can be found along the railway line from Menston to Ilkley. They may even be at Addingham by now.


12th August 2000: Brompton Road Cemetery and Hyde Park, London

Sunny hot day and very still. Temperature was in the mid 80s. A perfect day to look for Hedge Browns. But it was only on the point of leaving after spending some two and quarter hours that we saw the butterfly. Maybe we saw three in all, one for certain which I managed to photograph. It was a rather dished female. Tended after flying awhile to flutter into the trees to perch there – a very characteristic habit.

However, it did prove to me that a small colony can be very elusive and even in ideal, sunny conditions not an easy butterfly to positively locate and identify. Maybe there are many colonies in Wharfedale and well into the Pennines which have remained hidden from view.

Also, most importantly sae a blue female of the Common Blue. There were also a number of Speckled Woods.


13th August 2000: Hyde Park and Regents Park, London

The grass is now being left to grow over a considerable part of the park. There is much quaking grass. Some timothy and meadow grass. Yarrow, mugwort, fat hen, knapweed and thistle are also to be found. In spite of a fairly wide search we found we only saw one Meadow Brown – a female in good condition. There were a number of Speckled Woods preferring the shade of the trees. Many Silver Y and one Painted Lady. I would think the Hedge Brown will eventually reach here in the not too distant future. A little later we did discover the Hedge Brown in Regents Park.


3rd September 2000: Ranmore Common, Dorking, Surrey

Many Clouded Yellows – more than I have ever seen. Though they never once opened their wings. Seemed to be attracted to sweet pea and secondly, scabious. There were some slightly bluish female Adonis Blues. Also more Silver Spotted Skippers than I have ever seen before either here or Box Hill. Saw a Meadow Brown with a spot on left upper wing missing – white circular flash with central dot though the right wing was normal. Also an ab: mariscolare of the female Common Blue though very dished.

 

THE YEAR 2001

 

18th April 2001: Scrubs Lane, West London

Observed a Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. Both angled themselves until their open wings met the suns rays head on, on this still chilly, early spring day. A Peacock was to be seen nectaring from a coltsfoot flower. To do so it clasped hold of a drooping bud of coltsfoot hanging above the open coltsfoot flower. In this way it was able to completely absorb the sun's ray's whist darting its proboscis into the flower below.

Another Peacock was sunning itself low in the grass. The clump of grass was casting shadows across its wings and by continually opening and half-opening its wings it was able to evenly distribute the sun's rays. Is it more important to warm the extremity of the wings where the eye spots are located than the inner surfaces. A Peacock in the full sun was far less restive and content to spread its wings for several minutes without moving. A small fly – not much large than a midge – can cause the Peacock to close its wings then flash the eye should that fly cross the field of vision.


6th May 2001: Kensal Rise Cemetery, West London

During the short breaks of sunshine a number of butterflies could be seen – one Holly Blue, two Peacocks and a male Orange Tip. The latter had I think emerged that very day. It was in a pristine condition and I was able to approach it with a camera which is quite unusual. I have reason to believe that on their first day of flight male Orange Tips are easier to photograph than subsequently stopping to nectar and rest on flowers and leaves. Thereafter they are an extremely restless butterfly rarely alighting long enough to photograph. I noticed once the male had closed its wing it drops the orange upper wing behind the lower wings all but concealing the orange flash completely.


11th May 2001: Mitcham Common, South London

There appears to be no Green Hairstreaks on Mitcham Common though the habitat seems perfect: masses of gorse, stripling oak and birch for perches. Why? Could it be the twin populations – one expanding at different rates and the bilberry feeding one easily winning the race? Does the calcareous soil make any difference? Mitcham Common was very loamy and part of the area of London clay.

Watched a Comma which had over-wintered feeding off the budding oak leaves. It was too early for aphid honey dew so maybe the leaves still have traces of sweet sap. The Comma tended to probe the more developed leaves not those that had barely emerged from the bud form. It was late in the season for the butterfly and it would be interesting to know if this behaviour was far from unusual. I would have liked to have taken a photograph of this as this was clearly an instance where a photo would be useful.


13th May 2001: Banstead Downs, Surrey

Arriving at the downs we were told by a member of Surrey Butterfly Conservation in charge of managing Banstead Downs that he had only seen one Green Hairstreak and one Grizzled Skipper. Persevering, we walked to our favourite spot and were rewarded with the sighting of one Green Hairstreak. Eventually we were to count around six in this little dell presumably all males because we did not see one mating pair while last year what we took for courtship displays may have merely been acrobatic displays between males.

The butterflies favoured a particular sycamore probably four to five years old. A far more mature sycamore nearby was hardly used at all for perching. The preferred height of the Green Hairstreak here from the ground was from seven and a half feet to eight and a half feet and likes to perch on sunlit leaves. The lower branches on mature trees tend to be more shaded and for that reason are probably avoided. Also it is possible to do a swift 360 degree circuit of a small tree allowing the male to rapidly cover more vantage points.

I also managed to take photos of the Green Hairstreak nectaring on crab apple blossoms something I had never seen before. They would disappear deep into the blossom becoming concealed from view reappearing a while later after having taken their fill of nectar. We wondered if like other insects they stayed put inside the blossoms during prolonged overcast periods. Also the butterflies appeared to alternate between the crab apple tree and the gorse scrub surrounding it. Not one of the Green Hairstreaks appeared to be nectaring on the gorse. Rather they would cling to the unopened yellow flowers moving their lower wings and body in an agitated manner almost as if in preparation for egg laying. As they were probably all males this behaviour is surprising.

If today is anything to go by there is a countrywide reduction in spotting. We saw one ab: caecus but the rest were hardly typical Green Hairstreaks. In previous years every Green Hairstreak we have seen on Banstead Downs has been a typical specimen. There is no doubting that subtle changes of colour occur on the Green Hairstreaks iridescent wings. It is the under wings that tend to be more viridian, the upper wings more closely approximating the leaf colour especially when they habitually tip on their side to catch the sun's rays head on. On the lower wing the viridian is more marked the closer it is to the butterfly's body. It spreads according to the angle of the wing and the intensity of the sun's rays.


15th May 2001: On the banks of the Thames, Battersea, London

Took photos of Brown Tails and used a 500mm mirror lens. The caterpillars showed a strong preference for sycamore but were also eating bramble and several other shrubs. Significantly they left buddleia alone. They appear to prefer staying within the silken webs even after the second instar. However, some do roam spinning threads which are then wafted by the breeze which disperses the caterpillars. They may even be able to do this before the first moult.

I had never seen such a concentration of caterpillars. They seem to be stripping tress from the top down over. Obviously the caterpillars can't spin threads up over. If they were to spread there would be something fearful about them like on the scale of a biblical plague. Birds leave them alone and other than insecticides nothing can stop them. Even insects like hoverflies keep a respectable distance.

It was sometimes before I realised the rash on my skin had been caused by them – David put it down to hot iron filings from the angle grinder we were using working on a boat. Five days later the rash is just beginning to disappear.

*****************

Spent ten days trying to photograph butterflies in terrible weather. So all my plans have been ruined by nature's caprice. On the other hand I observed behaviourial patterns which I hadn't suspected. So all was not lost.

The Accelerating Universe: Mario Livio (Head of science programme at Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore) which controls NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, is a self-confessed art fanatic.

****************
Eurpractis similes

Caterpillars "hibernate reach in a silken case and recommence feeding in the spring". Some confusion with the Brown Tail – eurpractis chrysorrhaea. Mammals have the hormone oxytocin secreted by the pituitary gland which is associated with courtship and sex, birds and reptiles have a similar chemical vasotocin.

Neurobiologists have tracked primary emotions down to an evolutionarily ancient part of the brain called the limbie system, and in particular to a small, almost almond shaped structure known as the anygdola – this 'emotional' brain is thought to have evolved to allow sophisticated analysis of smells in fish, mammals, birds etc – brain structures and biochemistry associated with so called "felt emotions" in our own species are found in others.

 

 ***************************************