UNORTHODOX BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS NO 6: SEPT 2001 – AUGUST 2002

 

14th September 2001: Odsal, and Raw Nook, Bradford, West Yorks

 Saw a Purple Hairstreak on Odsal golf course then went to Raw Nook. Photographed a Common Blue both male and female on the heather. Saw only two males on the meadow leading from Cleckheaton Road in spite of the fact it is covered in birds' foot trefoil. The butterflies would pass between two areas, one, the more typical for the Common Blue, with thistles – mostly dead heads - ragwort, long grass whilst the other area, was covered in heather with two patches from which the heather had been cleared. Photographed a mating male and blue female after I observed them for sometime. They engaged in a similar tug of war to the one I witnessed on Shipley Station Meadow, the male dragging the female one moment, the female dragging the male the next.

 

16th September 2001: Odsal, Bradford, West Yorks

Surprised to see a Purple Hairstreak still flying vigourously in an oak on Odsal golf course. Again to Raw Nook. This place appears to have the most diverse population of female Common Blues. They range from the usual brown female to almost perfect examples of ab: mariscolare – at any rate the most perfect to be found in the Bradford area. I would need to check on Shipley Station Meadow to see if the numbers of blue females are less in the second generation.

 

16th April 2002: Baildon, Bradford, West Yorks

 Saw a Comma flying around the grass verge where Leeds Road crosses Killinghall Road in Bradford. There were a fair number of Small Tortoiseshells on Baildon Moor out-numbering the Peacocks. One Peacock basking in the sun in a slightly shady cleft chased a meadow pipit. Maybe this rash action was a case of mistaken identity or perhaps attack was a better form of defence. The meadow pipits appeared to be more numerous on the Shipley Glen side of Baildon Moor even though it is exposed to the prevailing winds. The town of Baildon may make them more wary on the eastern side because they were fewer in number. They are exceptionally shy birds and it is not easy to get close to them. Even forty yards away a slight movement is enough to unsettle them. Noticed one dipping into the mud around the pond on the top of Wind Hill.

 

19th April 2002: Otley Chevin, West Yorks

Twenty is an underestimation and thirty a slight exaggeration. But the number of Green Hairstreak already on the wing must be around one hundred in the big field alone. I took around 36 shots seeking as much as possible to get an early spring feel with the trees still bare of leaves. The heather likewise had a wintry look to its grey stems and brown foliage without even a hint of green. On the upper slopes the heather may have been used by the males for perches. I must have arrived about 10 30 a.m. and almost instantly espied a couple mating; normal forms I think. They were easy to photograph and the few other Green Hairstreaks I saw up to midday were quite docile. I scuffed one up from the bilberry and I assumed most of the emergent population was still in the dormant stage low down in the plants. Come midday and the Green Hairstreaks were beginning to behave in a more normal fashion becoming far more difficult to approach and photograph. In particular they favoured the area around the evergreen conifer at the foot of the field along which a stone wall runs. As many as three would be flying around the tree at once. The tree was used as a perch and in fact it was the only tree on the Chevin that was used as a perch because it was the only tree of any size in leaf. I managed to procure photos of the butterfly resting in pine cones. Occasionally a butterfly would alight on the path, a form of behaviour I had noticed only once before on the footpath leading up to Surprise View. It was then late in the day and in the season. A butterfly also followed the bare earthen path for some way that fringes the upper field.

 

17th May 2002: Scrubs Lane, West London

 Speckled Woods. Had shifted their position from yesterday preferring horse chestnut to the may. In fact I saw none in the copse fronting the common where yesterday there were quite a few. The rain stopped them descending onto the path and presumably because the temperature was lowered as a result. Once the ground began to dry a little they were more attracted.

 

10th May 2002: A walk on Baildon Moor, West Yorks

 Found a Green Hairstreak on gorse possibly one third of a mile from the nearest patch of bilberry. Looks promising. Swarms of St marks fly this time airborne not dormant like yesterday. Long walk but enjoyable. More males than females. There was an air of suppressed eroticism just waiting to get out of hand.

 

 11th May 2002: Ilkley Moor, West Yorks

 Saw an ab: caeca, an ab: punctata and a normal form of the Green Hairstreak. All were fairly close to housing. Very little sun and quite cool in the shade, thus very little flight activity remaining dormant while the sun remained behind the clouds. Gorse was used for perching. The colour of gorse buds just before they open when petals show through are similar in colour to the viridian green of the Green Hairstreaks. The closest approximation is the flower bud of the bilberry.The florets of bilberry develop before the leaves giving the plant in early spring a denuded though flowering appearance.

 

16th May 2002: Ilkley Moor, West Yorks

 Expecting to see the Green Hairstreak everywhere I found it nowhere. In despair wondering what had happened during the interval of three days sitting on a rock between White Wells and the Cow and Calf almost under the shadow of Rocky Valley, I noticed one fluttering about. Within a short space of time I saw a couple more but was unable to get a photo with the rocky landscape in the background. I thought of the American Green Hairstreaks and the possibility of intergrades speculating as to what the Green Hairstreaks might look like that fly in the American canyons. Further down I found Green Hairstreak on gorse which alternated between that and the bilberry. Managed a couple of shots. But elsewhere close to Wells Rd I found nothing though there were many Common Heath moths some quite small. Obviously a very variable moth. Also saw a number of Brown Silver Lines which is a bracken feeder. The Common Heaths would 'inspect' me obviously attracted by a large moving man. Their visual system seems to be sensitive to large sizes as are hover flies. Probably for this reason they are extra ordinarily difficult to approach and photograph. The Green Hairstreak in comparison is not nearly so sensitive. They appear to lack the Common Heath's investigative capacity.

 Why is the Green Hairstreak so thinly spread on Ilkley Moor? On the newer sites they are far more abundant. The Green Hairstreak has been known about on Ilkley Moor since the 1950s. I only found them perching on gorse though the lower moor contained hawthorn, rowan and a small conifer.

 

19th May 2002: Shibden Dale, West Yorks

 Visited Shibden though intended to go to Otley and Ilkley. Reached the dale by ten and though the sun was shining there was a cool breeze. Saw a few Common Heath congregating forthe most part close to the base of the hillsides where it was warmest. The grass was wet and the herbage decidedly cool. Returned over the bridge and up the other side where I observed around seven male Orange Tips flying around a pond. Occasionally one would alight on a lady's smock bloom. No females to be seen. – just like last year. As the cloud started to clear I returned to the main area of bilberry. Eventually I did espy a normal form of the Green Hairstreak though it was not in the best of health. Most surprisingly I spotted a female Holly Blue which alighted on one oak and displayed its upper wings.

 For some reason Shibden does not entirely suit the Green Hairstreak unlike Holly Bank Bluff just over the brow of the hill. I glimpsed a number on this site a couple of days ago (17th May). Interestingly, I did not see one Common Heath though invariably the two fly together. It is a variable moth both in colour and size though the moth seems to be more varied on Ilkley Moor than Shibden Head. David found nothing on Brown Royds Hill – the Bradford approaches to Odsal Stadium - though the bilberry patch is quite substantial. He also did not find any at Howcans –on the bluff – though here like Shibden Dale the sun's rays never strike the bank side directly. Not finding any he believes gives an idea of the speed which the butterfly is colonising new territory. At the moment the butterflies in West Yorks only nectar ion gorse or favour the birch tree as a perch. Gorse has not yet become a food plant though clearly the insect is attracted to it – possibly as the ancestral plant. Maybe the northern and southern populations are distinct and their historical origins are quite different. It is feasible the northern populations are an ice age relic while the southern populations swept across from the continent at the ending of the last ice age. Hence the fondness for the insects more customary plant even though at some indeterminate date in the north thousands of years ago it made the switch to bilberry.

 

 21st May 2002: Brow Ghyll, Otley, West Yorks

 Not as many Green Hairstreaks as last year but still flying in substantial numbers. Some appeared to be reasonably fresh. Far less woodflies and longhorn moths then last year. Took several photos with a field camera – not very good ones I suspect but it's a start with a large format. By far the most Green Hairstreaks were to be found at the bottom of the bank. I even found a mating pair both looking rather dished. And they were at it for a surprising long time flitting at least twice from one rowan tree to another. Could it be a case of double mating; double pleasure if you like? Conventional wisdom has it that females once they have emerged mate quickly. For both older male and female to mate is quite unusual in the butterfly world. The males appeared to have ceased perching which may mean that the greater majority are females still on the wing. However, I did witness a courtship flight which I initially took to be one male chasing another. The persistence of the chase convinced me otherwise.

 

24th May 2002: Brockadale near Pontefract, West Yorks

 I never really expected to see a Brown Argus and approaching the reserve I may well have kicked one up sunning itself on the path or rather basking on the exposed earth. Having reached the steep hill side we were not long in espying several. The first I saw was a normal agestis form with a bit out of its lower wing. However, the vast majority proved to be an ab: albunnalata form probably in the region of 80%. I thought it worthwhile to investigate the flood plain of the River Went just below the steep hillside with its outcrops of magnesium limestone. The place was covered with dock, nettles and buttercups but no rock rose or trefoil. Here the normal form seemed to predominate and David found a somatic mosaic with one lighter upper side under wing. The white-scaled albunnalata seemed to favour the hillsides to the lowlands. It was a windy though sunny day and I couldn't help but feel how the wind aided the butterflies making it almost impossible to follow them once they took off. They seemed in an instant to merge completely with their background, yet they undoubtedly preferred the more sheltered areas. The height of the emergence must be some two weeks away. Significantly we did not find any on slopes at an oblique angle to the sun i.e. on the other side of the River Went though I did see one in a large field that is part of the Went's flood plain on the opposite side of Brockadale. They literally are to be found all over the nature reserve – and outside it. This must mean the colony has been here for sometime – at least ten years. I would suspect 200 adults would be a conservative estimate. I would put it over 350 possibly covering far more ground than we yet realise.

 The Common Blue was on the wing but only just. We saw a number of blue females, remarkably blue - almost turquoise - in some instances) than any seen in the Bradford area. None had dark spots surrounded by white scales as they do in the Bradford area. We photographed a remarkable specimen with hardly any orange lunules with dark markings on the upper wings almost like a female Holly Blue.

 

31st May 2002: South Elmsall, Fitzwilliam, Outwood to Middleton, West Yorks

 The slag heap once belonging to Frickley colliery has not yet been grassed over – so it was pointless looking anymore. How different the atmosphere was from seventeen years ago when strangers would greet you. In the window of the South Elmsall Express occupying pride of place was a book on the miners' strike. The site of the former Kilnsey drift mine at Fitzwilliam has been landscaped. Plenty of trefoil and many Common Blues. All the females I saw had a blue iridisation though none as startling as Brockadale.

 Stork's bill seemed fairly restricted in its range but not uncommon. But looking for the Brown Argus is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Singletons must occasionally reach here if the colony at Brockadale has been there for some time. As the reserve becomes established storks bill could increase in quantity. The Latticed Heath moth was fairly common. Moved onto Outwood walking the entire distance into Middleton. Storks bill was also occasionally evident both in the larger and dwarf forms. There was quite a number of Common Blue though by this time it was clouding in. Throughout I noticed a fair number of Walls, some even flying on the M62 motorway verge. The Middleton housing estate was far worse than anything I had ever seen in Bradford but based on the same principal – post war inner city removal to higher ground eventually deteriorating into a slum with entire streets now boarded up and evidence of fires everywhere. An avenue of oaks on the Beeston Road could be a Purple Hairstreak corridor though the continual flow of traffic could put paid to that.

 

Ist June 2001: Fairburn Ings, West Yorks

 A very hot day – hot enough for the Common Blue, especially the females to keep their wings closed. It was not until after 4 pm I was able to get any photos. There were one or two passably normal forms. Most however possessed a blue flash more marked in some than others. Very few displayed any of the white flashes rather more typical of the Bradford area and a few miles further west. In fact I would hazard a guess they were an intermediate between the 'Brockadale' form and the 'Bradford' form. The females display far less than the males. In fact if a female wishes to stop a male pestering her she drops low into the herbage and closes her wings so only the underside is visible. This apparently fools the male and they abandon the chase.

Females when pursued tend to fly into the wind or at an angle to it without flying directly across a head wing. This appears to stimulate the male probably because pheromones are released which are picked up directly by the male. Often it is not easy to distinguish males from females on the wing if the blue flash is covering almost the entire wing areas. So much so that I thought it possible in some instances a male ardently pursuing a male in the off chance it is a female. However, for the most part they continue to buzz each other losing interest after several seconds. One couple (M&F) I witnessed travelled a few feet out into the lake some eight to ten foot high before returning to the shore. How I wish I could have taken a photo of this with the mute swans in the background. It is after all how I saw it – a lovely lunar type landscape - grassed over in parts, bare in others burning in the sun with the wind sighing in the few reeds on the shore.

 Saw quite a number of Burnet caterpillars feeding on trefoil. Motionless on the top of grass stalks prior to spinning cocoons they resemble the heads of plantain. Again I wished it was possible to photograph them with the chemical works in Castleford clearly visible in the background. From when I saw my very first Burnet it has never been other – a factory, a pylon or railway siding in the background. These weren't extraneous to the Burnet in fact they enable me to recognise and anticipate the species which is very much part of the act of recognition.

 

 4th - 6th June 2002: Kiveton Park and Dinnington, South Yorks

 Explored Dinnington pit: A mating pair of Dingy Skippers and this species seems widespread in the area. These brownfield sites are far more bio-diverse than the surrounding agricultural areas. Ragged robin and also bee orchids and must have seen at least twenty of the latter. Crossed the quarry at Kiveton Bridge: The spraying of the vast fields with agricultural pesticides must reduce the insect life to a mere shadow. In these vast fields I only saw two poppies in a corner close to urban development.

 

17th June 2002: Raw Nook, Low Moor, Bradford, West Yorks

 A warm but windy day: Probably because of both factors the Common Blues were reluctant to open their wings – especially the females. Generally they rested low down in the vegetation occasionally nectaring on birds foot trefoil. Probably they were engaged in egg laying resting awhile before reconnoitring their food plant. However, the males were also reluctant to open their wings and only did so around 3 50 pm. The blue females were similar unlike the range of variation evident in the second emergence last year. There was no discal spotting with white scaling as far as I could see.

 

 18th June 2002: Frizinghall, Baildon Green, Trench Meadows, Shipley Meadow

 Fitful sunshine and blowy: Common Blues appeared not to have arrived at Frizinghall though there is a rapidly expanding growth of trefoil. Nothing at Baildon Green and Trench Meadow. Discouraged I went to Shipley Meadow. I saw possibly three blue females one close to the normal icarus form. The other two were remarkably similar to those I saw in Raw Nook yesterday. So far it would seem this year variation within the blue female is much reduced. I noticed a male suddenly pounce on a female with closed wings. Obviously it did not need to display to be recognised. A feely touchy ceremony led by the male commenced only to be interrupted by another male. The first male broke off his courtship to give chase to an intrusive other male. The biggest surprise was to find Common Blues on the area of land we seeded last year on Shipley station. I saw four in all and one blue female at the far end of the platform and where the seeding experiment did not take. The station wall acted as a windbreak and could eventually be a much favoured spot.

 

19th June 2002: Brockadale near Pontefract, West Yorks

Another pissing useless day: Ringlets out, one Marbled White. The Brown Argus is nearly finished. Very few Common Blues. Didn't get one good look at a female. Overcast a large part of the time with a cool wind. Rock rose was far more prolific than I ever realised. None on rides though lumps of magnesium limestone were sticking up through the soil. It is possible they are in the woods but today was just not the day to find out. Lay on bank thoroughly depressed. What a hopeless year. Two ruined films, plate camera not functioning as it should. Life turned inside out. What more? Cheered up as I walked back. Being dormant was depressing me just lying there on the bank feeling hopeless. Made me think of the theory of praxis and the activity of the field naturalist: Nature and depression and the decline of social praxis.

 

21st June 2002: Shipley Station and Gaisby Quarries, Bradford, West Yorks

 A Common Blue female made a mad lunge in the direction of a flying male. They do respond and are not by any means totally passive. Less white flashing on the wings. The aberrations appear to be 'settling down'. Saw three blues chasing and dancing together. I could not say for certain if one was a female. They flew over the cars and alongside the main concourse of Shipley station. Then two flew back in the direction of the meadow leaving the other one. For a moment I thought it was going to land on the elderflower. These mad ariel dances could act as a dispersal mechanism, a thermal lifting – one or more – upwards and outwards. The blues appear to be absent from behind platform one. Roundup defoliant may have done for them. Photographed two Burnet caterpillars one much smaller than the other. Gutted by Gaisby. Nothing left but I saw some Jacobs ladder. It was the richest urban wild life area in Bradford. So let's destroy it in the name of progress.

 

26th June 2003: Pollard Down, Poldens, Somerset

 My feelings on first seeing the Large Blue are as contradictory as the butterfly is strange. At first I felt let down and flat seeing this butterfly I so desperately wanted to see aged 13 decadesago. I did not go up – but at the end of the day I did not go down either. I was left in a state of perplexity, rivalling that of the butterfly's behaviour which for so long was unknown. The presence of other people at the site undoubtedly helped take a lot of the shine of seeing the butterfly. In particular I objected to the photographers with their telephoto lenses and an endless number of extension tubes. Both were using flash on a small aperture so the chances of getting even one perfectly in focus would be about one in sixteen. They just were not interested in the butterfly in its proper habitat. They also hogged the insect as though it were their right – one even following an egg laying female as it hopped from thyme plant to flowering thyme plant all the way up the steep bank side. He would position his tripod at each interval of egg laying activity thereby excluding all others from taking a photograph especially someone like myself who needs to get in closer at the risk of disturbing the insect.

 As I thought the site emptied of people around 4 15. The ritual of tea time required that all research stop. It is like a reflex action and it made me wonder how much of nature goes unobserved because of these everyday conventions. The gaze of these people is that of the collector or the gallery goer. They never go on their knees and look from outward angles or lie flat on their backs and try to look up from underneath as I did recently with a Burnet caterpillar on Shipley Station Meadow. The young site warden employed by the NT was putting together a report on the Large Blue. She didn't appear to know a great deal about the butterfly – for instance their tendency to suddenly disappear in an instant not just one but several. Richard South records just such an instance in the coombes above Bude in a memorable passage which now I find even more relevant having experienced the Large Blue at first hand.

 We had hoped the butterfly would make a reappearance after four but when it failed to do so we drew comparisons with the behaviour of the Swallowtail. However, as we were about to go suddenly the Large Blue reappeared about 4 40 and one actually began to open its wings. Had we been able to stay another hour we would have got all the photos we wanted – short of getting one in its dream location in the coombes of north Cornwall with the blue sea and rocky caves as backdrop. At the same time another two appeared down the slope. The warden was worried so many visitors to the site may actually be harming the butterfly. She reckoned there were around 250 Large Blue on the site. It would be interesting to establish if the constant stream of visitors did have an effect. However, if they do have a disrupting effect it is only on the egg laying females. The constant trampling of the steep hillside will actually stop the area from becoming shaded out by grass and scrub. Shoes may actually substitute for sheep.

 My encounter with the butterfly shattered my expectations. Yet at the same time I came away feeling its allure and mystery wanting to see more. Like so many other lepidopterists in te past I had ended up transfixed by the butterfly.

 

 28th June 2002: Ranmore Common, Dorking, Surrey

 Surprisingly there was not one Common Blue to be seen. I found one struggling Adonis Blue female clearly on its last legs. Marbled Whites were out in number; Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths but a dearth of blues. One Humming Bird Hawk moth. I photographed a pyralid moth. As they cannot fold their wings they must be at the mercy of the wind. Each gust would cause them to swing around the stalk they were resting on and yet they seemed to like nothing better than to hang on to the tips of grass stalks instead of seeking refuge lower down in the grass where one would have thought they were better protected.

 

4th July 2002: Ashstead Common, Surrey

 Rushett Lane was by far the best. I had only to wait a minute or so before I espied a White Admiral. But that is as far as it went. I was unable to ever get sufficiently near for a close up shot. But the enforced distance obliged me to study the butterfly more closely. It is a species of woodland butterfly that needs the proximity of trees. Hence they only come down on the far side of the bramble thicket bordering the path. They may have been aware of my presence. Watching one from a distance I was conscious how the white bands blended in with the bramble flower it was nectaring on. A telephoto shot with a fast film may well illustrate what I saw.

 The White Admiral would also swoop up into the trees if not with quite the same motion as the Silver Washed Fritillary, its companion in these arial forays. In particular the White Admiral seemed to favour the hazel as a resting place maybe because the leaf is more capacious than the oak and not so bunched together. From this vantage point it would rest and sun itself quietly which contrasted with the almost frenzied nectaring activity on the bramble flower. To the inattentive observer it would go barely noticed, the white bands appearing as wisps of cloud glimpsed through the leaves. But they would also fly high into the oaks where they may briefly be mistaken for Purple Emperor.

 The Silver Washed Fritillary would also nectar on the far side of the bramble thicket as if needed and felt reassured by, the presence of woodland. Seen from a distance and in shadow I was convinced I had found a Silver Washed Fritillary resting with its wings closed on a leaf. On closer examination it turned out to be a large, yellowing leaf. I also saw a White Admiral almost fly into a large spider's web. One of its wings only just touched the gossamer thread causing it to tremble forcing the butterfly to quickly alter direction. It is in cases like these that digitised photography has its point and only through sheer luck would I have caught it on film and in that case why not make up a composite photo – just so long as there is a reality check in place, I can't argue. When resting with its wings open some twelve feet above the ground, other White Admiral experienced no difficulty in pinpointing a basking butterfly, diving down to inspect it. Travelling on the train to Chessington I noticed in the metro newspaper the Hubble photos of an exploding supernova in Corneopeia to commemorate American Independence Day. The time interval separating the second exposure from the first was two years. But from that distance nothing much will have moved in two years.

 

10th July 2002: Rushett Lane, Chessington, Surrey

 The butterflies performed very nicely in spite of the unsettled weather. Rushett Lane is a sun trap and very sheltered and probably the best place in Ashstead for butterflies, baring the Purple Emperor. Other butterflies would fly up and settle on the hazel and oaks not just the White Admiral. The Silver Washed Fritillary preferred the high canopy and never settled further down. Around 4 pm with the shadows lengthening the White Admiral settled down somewhat even on bramble flowers. Gone was the characteristic frenzied feeding of earlier on in the day. Around this time they also took to settling on oaks and other trees. The males and females were very active around this time and would chase each other in a hectic manner sweeping in and out and around the canopy. How deep they went into the wood it was impossible to say. Frequently one would dive bomb another resting on a leaf and then a chase or pretend courting ritual would ensure. I think this darting in and around trees is a prelude to mating and enables the males to spot the females. I managed to get photos of Ringlets, Commas, Red Admirals and White Admirals either sheltering or basking amongst the leaves. Possibly all may have been nectaring on the aphid honey dew which because of the rain could now be imbibed. David noticed how high the honey suckle was growing – up to and exceeding ten feet. Maybe it is on these tall tips the White Admiral finally lays its eggs rather than on the lower tendrils. Again the Silver Washed Fritillary was evident on the far side of the bramble thicket running along the length of the wood. On the whole it was a good day. I observed for instance that White Admiral will still continue flying in light rain and while the sky is overcast. However, I did not see one come down and nectar on the bramble while the weather was so disposed. Will 500 mm shots - or even just one – turn out remotely as I hope?

 

12th July 2002: Shipley, Leeds/Liverpool Canal, West Yorks

 My search for the Ringlet between the canal and the River Aire proved fruitless. Steadily advancing though it is up Wharfedale it has yet to make any headway up Airedale. However on this level marshy ground between Shipley and the giant sewerage works edited out of the Emmerdale Farm soap intro sequence, Small Tortoiseshell outnumbered Meadow Brown. At one point I thought the larvae must be feeding off thistle then I espied nettle patches. However, it was a delight to count up to twelve Small Tortoiseshells nectaring in an arc of 90 degrees. Possibly because the area is so undisturbed apart from the occasional illegal angler it helps the butterfly.

 Towards Shipley I noted several Cinnabar caterpillars crawling together on ragwort. They were only a few millimetres in length and maybe huddled together for protection. Later on I saw three slightly larger caterpillars on a lone plant of ragwort by the canal. Is black and yellow banding fairly common in the early stages of larval growth - The Emperor for instance (before it turns green) and the initial instar of the Northern Eggar? Does this warning coloration give the caterpillars some protection in the early stages? The fact that they are gregarious may act as a combined deterrent adding up to a far larger creature.

 

14th July 2002 Ben Rhydding gravel pits, West Yorks

Expectations dashed again but from this ruin arose a new hypothesis: practically the entire Ringlet population was looking very worn, especially the arête and caeca forms. Initially I got the impression the high percentage of varieties were declining into a roughly 50/50 ratio. If anything the normal specimens appeared slightly better preserved. Frequently the varieties would disappear deep into the grass even in the full sunshine – and it was hot. Maybe it was too hot for them so they took avoiding action behaving as they would in cool weather. Once lodged deep in the grass some would just stay put no matter how you tried to provoke them. This behaviour was most unusual. In the past I have noticed how when settling they would veer round to catch the sun's direct ray's before opening their wings.

I moved on to the area we had opened up two years ago. I was disappointed not to find any Ringlets there but on coming back I espied one dished specimen – more arête than caeca. So our coppicing which we had carried out in late autumn last year had worked and ten days ago maybe more could have been found. I then found two pairs of normal Ringlets mating. One conjugation appeared to be over in a flash and could have been an instance of pseudo-mating; a simulation. This was near the path leading to the entrance. A little later I found a genuine mating pair of normal Ringlets. I was able to photograph them on teasel and then fairly high up on a willow tree. Maybe they were trying to get away from me and the behaviour may not have been all that typical. Still willow is not an alien tree to them as it likes damp places.

It then occurred to me that it was the normal forms that looked the more robust. Clearly they must emerge later than the arête and caeca. This could be an instance of assortative mating – a later emergence time following the more normal specimens and hence reducing the chances of mating with one of the varieties. This would have aided a balanced polymorphism with the varieties more adjusted to the latitudes and able to take the damp, the cold and rain and maybe a drenching in the caterpillar stage when the Wharfe overflows its banks. In a spell of more normal weather like in the past two days it is the normal form that is more equipped to survive. Rather than fearing this unusual population will be swamped by newcomers the reverse could happen because the variations are selected for. It was with this thought in mind I made for what we called, "Son of Ben Rhydding" at Burley in Wharfedale hoping maybe to find an arête/caeca variation. But no such luck and in fact I did not see one Ringlet. Yet the Ringlet I photographed last year was in a pristine state and must have emerged on the bank side of the Wharfe. Can the 'colony' have perished? Better luck next year!

The males roam unceasingly about their territory diving deep into the undergrowth then rising to fly over a small bank. At some point they must flush out a resting female and courtship will then ensue. The females must rise to the occasion should they wish to mate rather than engage in combat as a male would. She must signal her readiness through her wing movements which must be different from the males but in ways we are not yet clear about. The Ringlets also fly down by the side of the Wharfe along the waters edge. One male (presumably) made a habit of this returning by various circuitous routes to the same patch of ground ceaselessly flapping its wings and settling only for an instance to briefly nectar nearby on bramble flowers.

 

15th July 2002: Otley gravel pits and lakes, West Yorks

In spite of having a drink last night I decided to hit the road after all. This time it was Otley gravel pits. I found the Ringlet almost immediately and just where David said it would be. But would they settle so I could examine them? Hell no! All five of them! I did get to briefly examine one normal one which still looked in pretty good shape though a little past its best. Obviously different then, to the Ben Rhydding Ringlets. I also saw a Hedge Brown and a little later I was to find a substantial population in a small wood planted probably some twelve years ago by the side of the first flooded gravel path on the opposite side of the Wharfe to Ben Rhydding. Obviously like the Ringlet they had been there some time (They were flying side by side with the Ringlet in this little wood). I walked along the fenced in boundary of the wooded bank side of the lake and noted a couple of Ringlets. Some obviously must have got swept across the large field between the bank side woodland and the River Wharfe. But the two I saw were quickly able to regain control and flew back into the long grass growing between the trees on the bank side. One for a brief moment latched on to some wire fencing where I was quickly able to examine it. It was a normal form. So far so good.

I walked around to the marina boat yard. About thirty yachts had been turned upside down for protection and in between grass was growing unhindered. A haven I thought for Ringlets. And if they weren't here there's a good chance some will be in the small wood adjacent to the yard even though the growth is denser than the other wooded areas I visited around the lake. Unfortunately around 2 43 it became quite dark though still warm. With each passing minute the chances of photographing the Ringlets diminished. Around 5.30 I gave up altogether. The males flop endlessly to and fro over the same terrain dipping down into the long grass and rarely rising to much over six feet. They have not the same powered flight as the Meadow Brown and their wings appear to flop in much more regular though random way and scarcely ever alighting which make the business of examining them very frustrating. A net would lessen the odds. Ringlets: endlessly flopping, flapping, flopping, flapping endlessly never stopping to rest. In fact Ringlets behaved in a similar fashion to those I have observed in the south rarely resting or nectaring only for the briefest of sips. I'm beginning to wonder if it is the newly emerged females that can be found nectaring on thistle etc. and once they have mated, they lay low in the grass which is the reason I think for the males close reconnaissance of the ground. When they do find a female, from what I can see, mating is perfunctory unlike the sometime elegant courtship of the Meadow Brown. The Ringlets are the low lifes of the satyridae. I observed a male Meadow Brown woo a female. I noticed it would land a few centimetres away and occasionally flash its wings to reveal the scent glands. Maybe this is a mechanism for eviscerating scent. The couple then took off flying high up, higher even than a tall sycamore, where they became lost to view. This courtship ritual must aid dispersal when on occasion an individual is blown for miles by the wind.

What I witnessed today strengthened the views I formed yesterday. Even given the overcast conditions the Ben Rhydding Ringlets would have exposed themselves to view resting on bramble leaves and butterbur with their wings wide open. They appear to be less phased by the cooler climate, the fitful sunshine and the rain and winds. In that sense I am now almost certain the caeca/arête gradient is a phenomenon of adjustments and seeks to remain within the family rather than becoming too diluted in its expression by mating too often with normal females. Long tailed tits, blue tits and greenfinch - even combined flocks of them - were in the trees bordering the lake. Interestingly I saw a Meadow Brown chase one of these birds for a brief second before realising its mistake.

 

17th July 2001: Anston Stones Wood, near Sheffield, South Yorks

Though the Marbled White population must be past its best in terms of numbers I only saw one battered butterfly. The most curious aspect of the entire day was the marked difference in the behaviour of the Marbled White between Little Stones and some half mile away deeper into Anston Stones Wood. Though the sun managed to come out from behind the clouds around 3 15 the butterflies did not respond and rather than flying appeared to take up roosting positions only briefly opening their wings for a split second. However, at Little Stones a short while later around 4 o clock they were still flying and occasionally nectaring on the knapweed – a favourite – scabious and even thyme.

 There were obviously subtle differences to each habitat which changed the behaviour of the separate colonies. What they were was anybody's guess and it demonstrated to me what a complex system habitat is and not one reproducible at will. Tried out the field camera. I was sorry I moved one Marbled White which showed the butterfly resting on the grass close to invading bracken and dog's mercury. Hardly a typical habitat since I have never once seen a Marbled White resting on bracken.

 

20th July 2002: Little Stones, near Sheffield, South Yorks

In spite of the day I managed to get some photos during the brief intervals of sunshine: One was a somatic aberration of a Marbled White with a slight irrroration of the melanism on one of the under side hind wings.

 

22nd July 2002: Kirkstall Abbey to Apperly Bridge – along the Leeds to Bradford Canal

A cool, overcast day with very intervals of sunshine: Nevertheless, within minutes of arriving at Kirkstall we saw our first Ringlet – then another. No point in staying so we moved on up the canal as we had proved our point. But what was the limit of their range? We found one at Newlay Locks and again on the old sewerage works near the Abbey Inn at Horsforth. Our best find was at Calverley Gate on some private property on the banks of the Aire. Here there was a substantial colony all of the normal form. I espied this piece of ground from the opposite bank of the Aire. It was a patch of immature plantation woodland with plenty of grass and from past experience it looked ideal. Within seconds we had scuffed up about five fairly dished Ringlets as it is close to the end of the season.

 After that we ran out of luck as the weather closed in but to my way of looking at things, Apperley Bridge maybe something of an obstacle to get round with little in the way of the natural vegetation close to the river which could attract the Ringlet. Playing fields for example are located right on the river bank while on the opposite side there is the canal tow path with its shorn grass verges. And it is the uncared for, largely un-negotiable river bank of the Aire which is far more likely to have spread the Ringlet up the Aire valley. The canal in contrast has nothing to offer.

 Sites: Ringlet (normal): Kirkstall Abbey, Newlay bridge, Forge Locks: - No Ringlets on the perimeter of Toadshole Wood. We thought Ringlets had been stopped by Bramley Falls Wood. However we found an alluvial floodplain of the Aire at Rodley sewage works close by Newlay Locks and Abbey pub. Rodley Nature Reserve: part of Rodley Water Treatment Works (i.e. Newlay Bridge site). Run by Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Yorkshire Water and Ladywood and Water Co ltd. Caverley Bridge: Farsley Ring Rd – on the west of the ring road.

 

 24th July 2002: The peat bog on Baildon Moor, West Yorks

I decided on a return visit after seeing the bog in all its glory yesterday. In the middle of the bog had noticed a number of Small Heath butterflies flying over the clumps of cross leaved heath. This caused me to think the Small Heaths were returning to their ancestral site before they formed a separate, less picky species than the Large Heath. And as this bog is very ancient I wondered if this site had been home to Small Heath for many thousands of years. So I fired away never once looking through the Mamiya lens – just hoping I would catch something a little bit special.

The Small Heaths did land on the bog asphodel and maybe even tarried to nectar. But mainly they preferred the cross leaved heath. I would have liked a panoramic view of the bog but unfortunately the Small Heaths stayed put on the upper slopes of the bog. I was also surprised to see several Northern Eggars. This would seem to discount the existence of Northern Eggar years as I did not see a newly emerged caterpillar in early June on Ilkley Moor. Or maybe the cycles are different on Baildon Moor alternating with that of Ilkley Moor? Certainly they had an attraction to this ancient bog which I found unusual. It would seem to confirm the view that the most diverse areas are also the oldest and least spoilt. Nothing else on Baildon Moor can compare with its many-sided richness. I also saw a male Northern Eggar which undeviating chased a Large White over the bog and up the bracken never faltering once from its purpose. The Large White appeared truly alarmed as if it was being chased by a bird. This was I reflected an instance where a digital reconstruction would be perfectly legitimate.

I surprised a courting Asian couple screened from prying eyes by the bracken on the edges of the bog. I apologised and told them I would be photographing on the bog. I must have spent at least three hours striding from tussock to tussock and attempting to keep my balance – and all the while under their watchful eye. I wanted to explain to them that this was an important site but I think what was uppermost in their minds was their privacy.

Noticed a mating pair of Meadow Browns suddenly taking flight as they were disturbed in their love making by an intruding male Meadow Brown. The larger female led the way lifting the male clear of the grass. Disturbance during mating could be a factor – a haphazard one – in the adjustment to new habitats – like when a pair of maturing Ringlets took to a willow some eight foot from the ground when I disturbed them in Ben Rhydding two weeks ago.

 

4th August 2002: Sun Lane Nature Reserve, Burley-in Wharfedale, West Yorks

Generally overcast day interrupted by downpours. There were a few brief intervals of sunshine. However, the Hedge Brown has spread over virtually the entire area and now outnumbers the Meadow Brown. Possibly they came down from the railway embankment. Three years ago I had thought the Hedge Brown maybe was following the railway line from Menston through Burley onto Ben Rhydding and Ilkley. Certainly they were the most abundant near to the railway embankment. I Managed to get some photos of the butterfly perching on alder with hopefully the Wharfedale hills in the background.Though it did seem a favourable White Letter Hairstreak site with young elms abounding and plenty of bramble and thistle, it wasn't until the last moment that we espied a White Letter Hairstreak. It appeared to be nectaring on thistle and when disturbed it flew off into the elms. Now that I have got a feel for the butterfly in West Yorks it should prove much easier to find new locations like Judy Woods and Bierley Hall Wood.

Depressed all day. A feeling of utter worthlessness has swept over me as though I was an abomination. No doubt it is the relentless persecution I have suffered over the past year that is the cause of it.

 

August 5th 2002: Sun Lane (again)

Saw a White Letter Hairstreak around 2 30 nectaring on thistle near the railway. Several were to be seen until around 3.45. There were two varieties of Hedge Brown, more somatic than genetic – no symmetry.

 

August 6th 2002 (Sun Lane yet again)

In spite of being a warm day with little wind, not one White Letter Hairstreak was to be seen. However, we may have seen one flying into anash tree. Maybe they have changed trees and now jink around ash trees of which, there are plenty in Sun Lane – and only use the young elms to lay their eggs on. The butterfly probably is under recorded because we need to study its habits before we are able to see it. In fact rather like the Purple Hairstreak. As for the latter we saw a number in Cattan Wood and on a large oak close to the Burley / Ben Rhydding and Escroft roads. We are now certain the butterfly is widespread in Wharfedale.

 Met the former recorder of the Wharfedal Nats: Edith Draper. She was obviously learned but not keen I suspect to let me look at her collection of photos. Possibly Susan Stead had a similar response leading her to think the Wharfedale Naturalists are secretive.

 

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