UNORTHODOX BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS NO 10: AUGUST 2003 – AUGUST 2004

 

29th August 2003: Raw Nook, Bradford, West Yorks

Visited Raw Nook where there was by far the largest second generation of Common Blue I have ever seen here. There were also a number of brown females (3 or 4) yet none could possibly be mistaken for agestis (Brown Argus). Both forms of the female Common Blue were in good nick excepting one, which was slightly faded. It was all so very different from the Shipley station agestis suggesting a slightly earlier emergency, which conforms to what we observed previously.

Two days ago all four of us – David, Susan, Jenny and myself sat in a café opposite the ASDA store in Shipley market place and swapped notes. It could be one of those moments none of us will ever forget provided of course we were right. The pieces of information we swapped began to fit together like a jigsaw. On the same day we had spotted the "agestis" Susan had noted something peculiar about the alleged "brown female". They were dished and a male Common Blue paid them no attention. She also recalled noting something peculiar about a brown specimen in the first generation. As we had seen more males on the far side on platform 1 we began to wonder if they had been chased out of the meadow by the aggressive behaviour of the agestis males. However, the overriding factor was that all the brown females we had seen were dished and yet the Common Blues all looked fresh. The matter will have to wait until next spring before it can finally be settled.

Photographed a Speckled Wood on the side of Odsal golf course .It was in perfect condition. However, it was the only one we saw. Throughout Bradford there is a large dispersed breeding population and nowhere with the possible exception of Denso Marston nature reserve is there as yet a definite colony. Saw a number of Purple Hairstreaks. They are somewhat lower in the branches than earlier in the season. They seem to tumble out of the oaks, their flight becoming almost gyratory and looping, climbing to then fall in a corkscrew motion to regain as if in a frenzy the tops of the oaks and escape their immanent death.

 

May 2nd 2004: Oats Royd, Queensbury, West Yorks

Was going to the Prince of Wales Park at Eldwick but as it turned out to be a warm day I decided at the last moment to go to Oats Royd. The bilberry wasn't quite out but a few Green Hairstreaks were flying. The tree planting has been indiscriminate and on the lower slopes the bilberry is in retreat. Slowly getting used to the camcorder and it was easier to use the unipod than I imagined. But am I learning anything about nature when using the camcorder? Maybe close-up lens might be an idea for nectaring, ovipositing etc. Also capturing the butterflies landing then angling so they are at right angles to the sun. The ability of the Green Hairstreak to change colour still puzzles me. Is there such a thing as partial polarisation?

Susan is unable to look at me directly gazing at my throat rather than my eyes. She asked if I had sought permission before trespassing on railway property. The fact that I planted trefoil on the far side of the triangle of Shipley station is of no interest because it was an illegal act. She is almost scared to take a look as if the act of observing would make her a criminal or at least, a party to a criminal act. Both Jen and Susan treat their charges – caterpillars/pupae- like they were their babies. When the Emperor moth emerged Jen phoned Susan to say, "They had a daughter".

 

3rd May 2004: Otley Chevin, West Yorks

Took a bus to the airport and walked across the fields to the top of the Chevin. Brisk wind, broken clouds, quite warm in the sun. The only Green Hairstreaks to be seen were in the "big field". They were perching on the bilberry and not on the several small trees along the path, which were only just to say coming into leaf.

Is it partial polarisation? They certainly have an astounding ability to change colour. They shift from a viridian green/blue to an almost perfect match with bilberry leaves. Polarised light vibrates on only one plane though it does so imperfectly near that plane. This 'nearness' explains I think the change in colour once exposed to strong sunlight. Polarised light can work almost as effectively behind clouds.

Noticed one Green Hairstreak flip over to warm its other wings that were hidden from the sun's rays. I noticed this whilst videoing it. If I had been taking a still photo chances are I would not have noticed it. A keen observer would have noted it without either a still camera or camcorder. When they bask in the sun manoeuvring so as to be at right angles to the suns rays at all times – I tried to convey this impression by passing back and rotating the camera up and around until hopefully I caught the sun's glare. Natural history filmmakers would not do this sort of thing: it would look amateurish. The aim must be to destroy and expose all the conventions of natural history 'film' making beginning with musical accompaniment.

The reddish tinge of young leaves. It is very pronounced in sycamores. Sometimes it is present on oaks, sometimes not. The young cones of the larch are reddish contrasting with the brilliant green lower down. Stalks can also be reddish before putting forth leaves. Noticed a cockerel eating the reddish husk that protects the growing sycamore leaves. Does the cockerel metabolise, the anthocyanins using the cockerel's tail for all repair feathers etc? Saw a child pushing a skateboard. On the skateboard was a hamster. She turned and scowled at me.

 

14th May 2004: Banstead Downs, Surrey

A try out for videoing the Dingy Skipper but there was not a sign of the butterfly. A gay entomologist reckoned they had all but disappeared from the North Downs. He had not seen one on Banstead Downs for two years. However, the Grizzled Skipper is surviving which was a relief. It had moved from its usual locations possibly because there had been a considerable degree of cutting back leaving large, empty areas. It was to be found by the side of the path leading up to the road nectaring nearby on buttercups but also to be seen on gorse. Later in the day it folds its wings rather than fully displaying them.

Videoed Brimstone eggs which were laid on buds that had barely broken into leaf. The Green Hairstreaks were reduced in numbers possibly because the gorse had been burnt where in the past most insects were to be found. Twice I saw a Green Hairstreak amongst the brambles – feebly sprouting brambles – which had been cut down to the roots last winter. Could it now be seeking out the bramble? Unfortunately I was not able to video the two insects I saw.

 

20th May 2004: Dinnington, South Yorks

Relieved to find the Dingy Skippers were out. They commenced roosting around 5 pm. The Dinnington spoil heap is much changed. It now has a rolling downland aesthetic and the pit spoil heap once could look so dramatic against the skyline. First clay is thrown down over the shale; then topsoil is added; then seeded with grass making sure all other vegetation is shaded out. A dull barren green carpet is the outcome. No trefoil: the spoiling of the spoil heaps. Nature and humanity are prevented from reclaiming it in their own way. There is something indescribably dull about these country parks. The makeover is drastic and unnecessary. Let nature retain it, as it will with just a little assistance. It is now altogether too planned and nature will prefer untrammelled industrial dereliction any day.

Found a new colony of Dingy Skipper looking down over a Safeways super store. Possibly it is also the hub of the Brown Argus colony. In the late afternoon about 4 30 pm, the Dingy Skipper are attracted to dead knapweed heads and plantain heads but are not detained, preferring if the sun is warm, to bask on the ground or low growing herbage. (The old form of conservation was better: less formal, no attempt to lay down paths, rather humanity was left to find its own way around them. They were more organic and much less managed).

 

22nd May 2004: Dodworth and Woolley, South Yorks

The Dodworth colony of Dingy Skipper is obviously quite large. Thetop of the spoil heap yields the most interesting finds. The colony at the bottom is at risk from a roadway, which no one in Dodworth wants. The Woolley colliery site is larger. Much of it has already been destroyed. Much of the opencast has been levelled for development. In fact it is so large it could end up a small town rather than a housing estate. For the moment we found Dingy Skippers at the foot of the spoil heaps running parallel to the railway tracks. There are at least two hundred in the colony and possibly hundreds more.

 

22nd May 2004: Kiveton Park, South Yorks

This site will probably be lost to development. The carr woodland needs thinning out on the pit slopes, otherwise the trefoil will be shaded out within five years. At the moment it is just right. The trefoil is not quite a pioneer plant and is found more on the pit heap slopes than on the top. The Dingy Skippers were restless, rarely resting on this hot day. The females were less so and around four of both sexes began to rest and nectar on the vetch, which stands higher than the trefoil. Obtained images of them on the dead knapweed around 4 30, otherwise I hope I have been able to suggest their disused industrial habitat: the shale, the coal, the bare earth.

 

24th May 2004: Fitzy and Frickley, West Yorks

There's a small colony of Dingy Skippers at Frickley. A judicious planting of birch, sycamore etc would certainly speed up and expand the colony because the site is perfect. The great mound of the spoil heap is like moorland – industrial moorland. There is a stark grandeur about it. Nature should be left to itself to recolonise it with just a helping hand here and there. How long have the skippers been here? There are however none at Fitzwilliam. The landscape has been too prepared and prettified despite the planting of trees such as one would expect to find on a reclaimed spoil heap – birch, sallow willow, alder, oak, etc. But if the Dingy Skipper were to arrive here there are several areas it would find suitable and these would be on the least doctored areas. Though there is much trefoil generally it is suitable only for the Common Blue. There is an insufficiency of bare earth to suit the Dingy Skipper. Occasionally a Latticed Heath moth might be mistaken for a Dingy Skipper when flying. However it does not hug the ground to the same extent and will fly a metre or more above ground level, which the Dingy never does.

 

26th May 2004: Horbury Bridge, Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, West Yorks

A cool, largely overcast day. It is difficult to estimate the size of the Horbury Dingy Skipper colony. Are they only in the marshalling yards proper or on the elevated footpath? Found one at Ravensthorpe and it seems likely they will be at Mirfield.

 

27th May 2004: Stourton, Leeds, Raw Nook, Bradford

Not a sign of the Dingy Skipper just as I thought. The Skelton Grange 'reserve' is so much more exciting than the nearby Rothwell Country Park created out of the former colliery. It is artless and dangerous from the giant hogweed to the manky gravel, the crumbling concrete blocks and the rusting iron bars protruding from the ground. All this in a council-sponsored nature scheme would be a potential cause for litigation, but the most exciting nature is dangerous. In attempting to take whatever is dangerous out of natural landscapes, nature is made barren and boring.

 

28th May 2004: Caphouse Colliery (National Mining Museum), Thornhill Edge, Wakefield/Calder 'Soapstone', Forge Lane

Once there could have been a small colony of Dingy Skippers at Caphouse but the trefoil has been well and truly tractored out when the museum was established and a nature park thrown in for good measure. Judging by the amount of trefoil in a lane that comes out on the former spoil heap there was once plenty of trefoil. What an irony to think the creation of a nature park is funded by the destruction of this endangered butterfly! But the colliery became the National Mining Museum because it is very scenic situated high up overlooking the valley below with Thornhill Edge in the distance. However we found nothing on Thornhill Edge – just as I had predicted viewing it from afar. Once the whole place must have been covered with drift mines and all one can now discern are mere traces of spoil heaps, fields that still don't quite look like fields. Went onto Calder Island. Very little trefoil but I would wager the Grayling is there and goes all the way up to Forge Lane railway sidings. Strongly suspect there is a Dingy Skipper colony there also.

A marathon slog of a day but probably worth it. We could probably check for Grayling from Calder Island to the other side of Ravensthorpe in the space of a long day. (I dreamt of her again last night: Not quite the shrivelled, skeletal, humped-back repellent creature I saw at my elder brother's funeral, but she was changed. And yet I still felt the pain of rejection all over again. It was something to do with Durham. Some do or another. We were to meet at her car yet she managed to fool me again by finding an unmarked exit so I was unable to find her. I determined to go to Newcastle to find her, to unlock the doors of a flat I had not visited for forty years and then to find her car and set fire to it......No ghost has been laid. It continues to haunt my dreams. But now my last words won't be "Dorothy, Dorothy").

 

31st May 2004: a continuation before an emotional interruption

Was it a case of mistaken identification at Ravensthorpe? I spent an hour looking for the Dingy Skipper. Was it a Small Heath after all? And yet the Dingy is a retiring butterfly and if a colony numbers only ten at most then it is possible to spend time searching and not find one. The rubbish, the mattresses covered with moss, the three-eyed alien toy, the empty lucozade bottle, office detritus, burnt wooden pallets and birds foot trefoil.

Visiting Forge Lane much of what I took to be birds foot trefoil was hop trefoil – the taller, leafier variety. Do Common Blues, Skippers find these species of trefoil an acceptable substitute? But no sign of the Dingy Skipper. Lying amid the steel girders from the body repair shop against a mound of railway ballast I waited for the slow moving dark clouds to pass over. I could have done with a book to read. Seeing the fluorescent jackets of railway engineers I thought it best to leave and wandered awhile on the golf practise course nearby. I decided to take one last look as the sky was lightening. Rather than waste the day I decided since there were so many Common Blues to take some video footage of them flying on this brownfield site. All the 'females' I saw were brown excepting one. Well this was something of a find and a trifle smaller. But it was hardly undergoing a mating ritual. And then the scales of misperception fell from my eyes; there was the Brown Argus and never for a moment had I expected to see them here! But what are they feeding on? It is my belief they have switched to the commonest wild geranium of all, herb robert. So railway lines once again are the arterial flight paths responsible for this rapid expansion, swifter even than the Purple Hairstreak. But they do need to be studied most carefully. Maybe they have moved from the wild geranium onto the rose family like tormentil for instance.

 

4th June 2004: Penistone, South Yorks

The day dawned overcast, windy but warm. Arrived Penistone around midday. Nothing on the old Woodhead side of the platform. But crossing over the still functioning line I immediately espied several Dingy Skippers once the sun came out. From then on everywhere I looked – provided I was diligent and patient enough – I found Dingy Skipper. They were also past their best and within five days they will have gone. The colony stretches for a mile by the side of the railway line in the Silkstone direction where it comes to a stop at a Barrett's housing estate called "The Sidings". How dare they! They preserve the name not the reality of a real railway siding. On Huddersfield station I saw a poster advertising the Penistone Line Station Walk from Sheffield to Huddersfield renamed the Heritage Trail - perhaps because of the stir over the closure of the Woodhead Pass line. But this is not conservationist stuff because the laying of the path destroyed much of the trefoil. Where it stops is clearly visible: on the railway line trefoil, on the heritage trail, nothing!

There is also a housing development just outside of the station. A fence demarcates civilisation from the barbarian encroachment of trefoil, rubber tyres, porn mags and heaped-up clinker from long forgotten blast furnaces. Two wary children were constructing a den on this fascinating site but most likely it will not remain for long. It looks set to be built on: yet more anti-nature housing in the name of sustainable housing. Names, names, names! Let names substitute for reality: the lip service and lipstick of conservation! In fact there is a wooden fence separating this estate from the railway line and behind it there are suburban gardens. The refuse from the gardens, lawn cuttings from ridiculously manicured lawns etc are dumped over the fence onto the former rail tracks. Here it decomposes creating fertile topsoil on which nettles and thick grass luxuriate – but not trefoil. Hence the corridor is cut in two. Right down the track just before the Barratt's housing estate a three-acre site has been cleared of carr woodland. It has been set-aside for industrial units. For the moment the makeshift piles of cut down birch provide a windbreak behind which the Dingy Skippers can shelter in the sun, but for how long? Formerly it had been a railway siding. Without exception all the colonies of Dingy Skipper we have found can be wiped out at a stroke. And probably will be because little will be done to prevent it. And the rubber fangs of the biodiversity groups will bend to the developers. Their claws will be retracted every bit as useless as the abandoned teddy bears and the three-eyed alien soft toy I found whilst searching for the Dingy Skipper at Ravensthorpe – that litter these sites of industrial dereliction. I videod plenty and a Barrett's flunkey – one eye open the other tightly closed – tried to stop me saying, "If you're taking photos anything can happen?"

 

3rd June 2004: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, West Yorks

Overcast but warm. Pioneer plants (other than birch) Greater willow herb, herb robert, field forget-me-nots, St john's wort, heath groundsel, thistles. Then, birds foot trefoil and clover. Rabbit droppings rot down forming a base on which grasses etc grow. Early purple orchid. Healey Mills substrate: a base rich and acidic – base rich in calcium carbonate.

 

6th June 2004: Raw Nook, Low Moor, Bradford, West Yorks

The Common Blues were only just beginning to emerge. For a brief moment I thought I might have found the Brown Argus. This was on the railway embankment close to the bridge on Cleckheaton Road. It was silvery, smaller and a mite dishevelled. All the other females – perhaps two more – were like this. There was not one blue female. This suggests the normal form emerges earlier perhaps in some cases earlier than the male, which is not unusual. The fact that the blue female is now the dominant form is not due to sexual selection. The blue female possibly has adjusted to the warmer climate, adopting a more leisurely development. The 'normal' female has an apparently 'truncated' development because its biological clock is set to a colder climate. All the smaller females that I have seen are 'normal' forms. I have yet to see a small blue female. The gene – if such it is – that determines the time of development must in some ways be linked to the gene coding for colour. How is this possible? There was a Selby biodiversity action plan stuck to a converted chapel in the village of Cridling Stubbs near Kellingley Colliery. "Your attention is drawn to the Town & Country Villages Action Plan where is it possible that you could help manage and protect habitat of species – The BAP is intended to raise awareness of the issues and problems associated with a range of habitats and species".

 

20th June 2004: Dinnington, (The Hedges) and Kiveton, South Yorks

Was unable to locate the Brown Argus, which, is a mystery after discovering it in these areas only last August. Maybe only two or three were present but unnoticed by us. If it is a good summer they successfully breed and the second generation becomes a substantial one.... But what are they feeding on? I was unable to find storks bill, deep cut cranesbill and herb robert or anything like wild geranium. Does that mean they have switched from rock rose and wild geranium to now feeding on the rose or pea family? If so it would mean revisiting these sites in August and continuing to do so for the following few years.

The Common Blue is established across t'mucky beck in "the Hedges". Was it attracted to the two modest plants of birds' foot trefoil, or was it already feeding on the black medic? The female must have a considerable sensory apparatus when it comes to locating birds foot trefoil. Neither of the plants was flowering so are the butterflies picking up molecules from a distance of fifty yards? Significantly it was a female David saw.

Maybe it would be worth planting a little trefoil some distance away where there is no black medic to see if the butterfly can possibly locate the plants across a large distance.

 

10th July 2004: Woodhall Quarries, Ravenscliffe Wood, Bill Wood and Round Wood, Bradford, West Yorks

The day dawned overcast and cold. Yet I thought it was worthwhile visiting Woodhall Quarry feeling sure we would see a couple of Ringlets in the grass. We wanted to establish the perimeter of the Ringlet colony but it is far too big to do so in one day. The numbers run to thousands perhaps now even tens of thousands. However, we were not able to establish the percentage of varieties. It most certainly is a variable colony but because the day was largely overcast with very weak sunshine at best, the butterflies after a lengthy dance over the grass would eventually settle only briefly closing their wings before fully opening them to soak up the warmth. So we only had a split second to check to see if it was variable Ringlet. The majority were normal – perhaps over 90% and the ab: arete seemed to be the commonest variation. I presumably did not see one ab: caeca but they are undoubtedly there as I managed to photograph one last year.

It is difficult to ascertain where the largest concentration is – maybe Round Wood. It was however unusual to see them flying on the fringes of the 'notorious' Ravenscliffe Estate. I would have liked to have gotten a shot of one with a police car in the background or a bus, or a house with sitex protective shields. On this account alone it makes it the most unusual Ringlet colony in Yorkshire. And to tell the truth I have never seen Ringlets in such abundance anywhere. I still maintain this is a pre-industrial colony. The numbers and elevation would seem to rule out it being a colony founded on the southern influx. However, the variation is nowhere near what it was in the Ben Rhydding gravel pit colony on the River Wharfe four or five years ago where percentage variation could be as high as 80% or more. Presumably the fact that the Ben Rhydding Ringlets were an isolated colony may have helped contribute to this high percentage. It certainly suggests the varieties were best fitted to survive. However with the arrival of the southern invaders 'normality' was restored.

David thought this Bradford (Ravenscliffe colony) to be "a confident colony". I liked the term. The Ringlets were not afraid to stray onto the cut, roadside verges fronting the Ravenscliffe estate; they never, never, never have done this at Ben Rhydding. It also suggests they have spent a long time adjusting to this landscape and have ventured out into it, exploring its limits as it were.

 

11th July 2004: Great Horton Country Park and Buck Wood

The introduction of Ringlets has proved successful in Great Horton Country Park. What a pity we did not do it four or five years ago when the percentage of variation in Ben Rhydding was at its height. However, the Ringlets were not to be found where they were released. Instead they had migrated up the bank side away from the very boggy though unprotected area fringing the lake. What immediately struck us was the similarity of the environment the Ringlets have chosen to that of Ben Rhydding. There was something almost claustrophobic about it and it will be interesting to see if the Ringlets migrate to other less 'typical' areas or if they choose to stay hemmed in thus reproducing the behavioural characteristics of the Ben Rhydding populations. As the introduced colony is practically on our doorstep it will be instructive to see if the percentage of variants fluctuates and if like appeared to be the case in Ben Rhydding, the tendency is for variation to increase either through genetic drift or selection pressures. Introducing the Ringlets has also been a salutary lesson in identifying habitat. David thought he had selected the best possible spot in the park to release the Ringlets. However, the Ringlets had other ideas. What we can't say for certain is if the Ringlet immediately made for the higher, more sheltered, though much drier ground to lay their eggs. Or seeing it was such a hot, dry summer last year stayed put and only on emerging this year flew above the dense network of tress in the area, which for the moment constitutes the hub of the colony.

Moved onto Buck Wood alongside the Leeds/Liverpool Canal. Here we found slight arête variations of the Ringlet but as it was an overcast day we could not determine the degree of variation with any accuracy. However, we feel certain these Ringlets are from the old pre-industrial stock and belong to the Woodhall Quarry / Ravenscliffe Wood colony. Over the last twenty years there has been a massive explosion of this colony parallel to the increase in the incoming Ringlet population from the south and east.

Faced with a choice between Poggy Wood and Shipley Station we opted for the latter. We were relieved not to find Ringlets at Shipley Station and equally as glad not to find them in Brackenhill Park near Great Horton It means our theories are basically correct and just require modifying here and there.

 

12th July 2004: Buck Wood / Poggy Wood

A former waste disposal site along Ainsley Road contained a good number of Ringlets. One for sure was a partial arête. Prior to that we had seen one at the furthest perimeter toward Buck Wood at the disposal heap of excavated material from Thackley railway tunnel beneath. It was resting in a field cut short by grazing animals – an unusual place for a Ringlet to alight. Moved on down to the towpath at Esholt sewerage treatment plant. (Emmerdale Farm lies above it!) The weather was now clouding up making further research difficult. However, we were convinced of one thing: more Ringlets were to be found on the wooded side of the canal than on the banks of the River Aire. It was raining by the time we arrived at Shipley. However in between the showers we decided to take a look at the Catstones, a kind of spoil heap. In a field just before the railway bridge I scuffed up a Ringlet. It was a pale brown and a partial arête, which confirmed our point: that over the past few years there had been a massive expansion in the Woodhall Quarry population such that it was now in Shipley and maybe even around Shipley Station.

It is this population that is the most likely to get to the far side of Shipley and then onto Bingley and Keighley, if so it will be a variant population and different to the southern influx.

A note on varieties: When the Ringlet was pushed out of industrial districts did it settle on higher ground and above the worst of the smoke emissions? This would explain why the heart of the original pre-industrial colony might well have been Woodhall Quarry. It also would have been marginally warmer, sheltered from the prevailing winds and damp. Certainly the varieties seem to congregate around the quarry.

Did the varieties evolve in response to a cooler, more elevated environment than would normally be the case with Ringlets? Reduced spotting could easily turn out to be an invitation to successful predation. Instead of targeting an eyespot a bird would aim directly at the vital body parts. However, I did notice three years back that it was the normal forms that were surviving into the third week of July and it was the varieties that were the more tattered. This indicated different emerging times. The varieties would emerge earlier responding to a slight increase in temperature. They would then tend to mate earlier than the normal forms and hence there would be an increased number of varieties the following year. This would not be so much a case of genetic drift as caused by warming. A cooler year would then favour the normal form or at least tend to cancel out whatever advantage the variants may have had.

 

13th July 2004: Shipley, West Yorks

One Ringlet just off the Leeds Road. Unfortunately so cool and overcast nothing was flying. Followed the River Aire bank to the Cup & Ring pub but it was a complete waste of time. David however found several Ringlets on the steep slopes of Windhill above Shipley Station and most likely they were there last year.

 

14th July 2004: The Walk

Found the Ringlet in the Boars Well just as we expected. One was a partial ab: arête though David believed he found a very dished ab: caeca. This would comply with the theory of early emergence for the varieties; late emergence favouring normal forms. Anyway arrived at the Blue Pig pub. Susan was astonished we found the Ringlet in the Boars Well and asked how do we do it? Well, maybe we have begun to think like butterflies – we become them in some ways in accordance with Keats's "negative capability". The meeting concerned a dispute about Woodhall Quarry but no one turned up from the council least of all Peter Bowler, the 'radical' eco journalist poacher turned gamekeeper. But these nature bureaucrats are not on our side. They trade in the life of species with both sides in the business of making concessions. However it is wild life, which loses out every time.

 

26th July 2004: Ravensthorpe and Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, West Yorks

Nature will cheat those who try to predict her movements. I felt this when we set out for Ravensthorpe. After a search we came to the conclusion the Grayling was not there. But why not? The terrain did seem more or less perfect with plenty of bare earth on the Dentex landfill site. But the sky was overcast and though other butterflies like the Hedge Brown could be seen flying, the Grayling likes that extra bit of sunshine, in order to be scuffed-up. So we left for Forge Lane. Nothing here either but we half expected that. However, neither of us was properly prepared for it. I knew that hence it was important to see it in the two locations where we knew it to be. Storrs Hill proved disappointing. I only saw one where last year I saw three or four in quick succession. So we moved on to the marshalling yards following the path around the perimeter on the Ossett side. No luck here either and it was only when we crossed to the Horbury side that we began to see them and they were in abundance. We took the elevated path into the yard and the Grayling would fly up the grassy bank sides and settle on the path. We noticed a mating pair and within the next hour several more. Clearly they had just emerged – well over two weeks later than last year. We need to closely observe their habitat in these new industrial locations. Do the sites have to be really derelict before they come in? They certainly tailed-off in number the nearer we got to the site of the old Horbury railway where the station formerly was and on which there is now some kind of wagon repair shop. Still they could be found close to a fence separating a relatively new housing estate from the railway.

One thing I didn't recall after renewing my acquaintance with them and that is they come and go. They seem to suddenly collectivise and concentrate like four to six can suddenly be seen at one time and then, inexplicably they disappear and shoot off low over the railway lines. I passed through just such a small congregation on my way to Horbury Station thinking they weren't there. But on returning I suddenly surprised several. I now think they could be at Ravensthorpe. The point is to remember how to look for them. This was the trouble at Forge Lane – it was rather a matter of personal conviction than the butterfly not being there. If I were to go back I would surely find them. It is as if we were tracking – hunting the Grayling on industrial sites because invariably it involves trespassing. Fuckheads haven't helped with their mindless vandalism and indiscriminate assaults.

 

27th July 2004: Woolley Colliery railway side

Once more our expectations have been frustrated: perfect territory but not one Grayling to be seen. So maybe we must now revise our notion that they use railways as a guide and an aid to dispersal. It was an arduous and disappointing day. Nature did not behave as intended but as always one must turn dashed hopes into a more profound searching after the facts. Nature would soon lose its interest if this were not the case.

By default we made a thorough search of Woolley spoil heap finding discreet pockets of birds foot trefoil. Once the plant must have covered the spoil heap and the Dingy Skipper also. The colliery heap was fenced off with barbed wire particularly the large areas which have been reclaimed as farming land and as they were only hay meadows it seemed an utterly pointless thing to do. Even access to the Dearne Way – a public right of way – had been fenced off with barbed wire. This was fencing for fencing sake, a paranoid preoccupation with private property that reflected the rich farming land that surrounded the former colliery plus the filthy rich villages like Woolley itself with its air of landed gentrydom.

 

28th July 2004: The Soapstone, Wakefield, West Yorks

Another fruitless search. However we did find several patches of trefoil, which could mean there are Dingy Skippers. There are certainly no Grayling at the Soapstone – even though it is a perfect environment and none at Forge Lane, which suggests the colony, is fairly new – perhaps four years old at the most. But during that time it has grown to at least 500 at the height of the emergence. How long will it take to get to Forge Lane and from there to the Soapstone? And is it likely to spread to other favourable locations like Ravensthorpe for example? Maybe it was even put into Storrs Hill and Worsborough quarry near Barnsley. Why did it not alight at Woolley, which seems to be another perfect environment? Altogether it is a mystery and maybe we have to wait on other discoveries in order to build up a better picture. But meanwhile it is like looking for a needle in a haystack and we can only guess at how it arrived in Healey Mills Marshalling Yards.

 

30th July 2004: Skelton Grange, Leeds, West Yorks

No Grayling. Wandered desolately and alone across the waste looking for something that would spark my interest. The Gatekeeper easily outnumbered the Meadow Brown. Photographed an ab: occelata on some tarmac. Found a patch of evening primrose growing on coal! Dug up a few plants but they flagged once planted out. Seems to be no water uptake. Why?

 

30th July 2004: Baildon Moor, West Yorks

The Gatekeeper colony has hardly expanded remaining more or less confined to the bracken. Why does it not fly on grassy stretch just above the cattle grid? The Gatekeeper is obviously still in the process of colonising West Yorks. Photographed a number of micro moths. Watched a wren take a dust bath. Many Small Heaths – more than I have ever seen before. A brilliant hot beautiful day, which raised my spirits a little.

 

1st August 2004: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, West Yorks

For the past forty-eight hours I have baulked at the thought of going back to the yards. The indecision was making me depressed, all that equipment to carry and threat of a £1000 fine for trespassing. It was dull and overcast and by the time I reached Storrs Hill it was little different. No sign of Grayling. So I went down Storrs Hill Road and into the bare land on the Ossett side and there I lay for three quarters of an hour before deciding to cross the yards in full view of the signal cabin and the bridges. By the time I reached the abandoned hut with its locker doors ripped off the mist had started to burn off and I saw a Grayling. There is a slight depression by the side of the hut and it was here the Grayling were congregating – probably because it was that bit warmer. We need to observe them thoroughly in this new environment. They like resting on sparsely grassed over ground just like their country cousins. However, they also show a liking for abandoned sleepers and ballast. And especially they like to bask out of the sun in the shadow of railway lines. Grayling rarely opt to stay in the sun quickly finding the shade where they will quietly stay for a considerable length of time. They love reflected heat and the heat retentive power of railway lines and sleepers, particularly the cradles holding the track in place suits them perfectly. But to remain in the sun in such a situation on a hot day like today is to risk been scorched - hence their preference for the shade. Even on bare ground they would scuttle beneath bramble suckers and leaves rather than stay fully exposed in the sun. Often the Grayling appeared to be absent from different places as I criss-crossed the yard. However I would flush one up and of a sudden there would be several. Once one takes flight others immediately take wing to investigate. They also liked the presence of buddleia bushes but they would alight on the blossoms for a brief second only insufficient even to capture it on a video. But then I caught one actually nectaring on buddleia. I noticed when they do this the top wing is always raised. Compare this for example with the shot of a Grayling on dead thistle heads. Here the top wing is completely hidden behind the lower wing.

In the centre of the yards a Grayling took a liking to me. It flew about me and around me and for one moment I thought it was about to settle on my trouser leg. However it did settle between my boots eventually probing my walking stick handle with its tongue; was it attracted to the salt content left behind by my sweating palm? It was extraordinarily tame and I was sorry when it flew off. By this time I had a splitting headache because of the constant tension combined with the weight of all the equipment I was lugging about. I managed to get three quarters of a way across the yard and still disturbing the odd Grayling. Whether or not they are on the far side I cannot say but the conditions look inviting. Except I think the Grayling likes to fly upward on to ballast tracks rather than fly upwards into a grassy bank side. Perhaps the female prefers to go down over to deposit eggs rather than up? As the line is operational here these bank sides must be sprayed with powerful herbicides every year. How close do females lay to rail tracks?

One thing I did notice and that is the Grayling once flying along a railway line would tend to follow an unswerving course as if carried forward by the undeviating lines themselves. This suggests that the butterfly once in railway sidings may well follow the railway lines to 'infinity'. It may be a factor in their dispersal from these highly unusual locations. When leaving the yard I stopped for a while to look out over the yard at the Horbury Green Estate. There I observed a Grayling follow the railway line for some way before shooting off up the banked-up bare earth of the building site where it became lost to view. I noticed the points on this siding are hand operated and essentially it is no different from when we were kids. I think it unlikely it will stay this way and rather than modernise it will be sold off as housing land.

 

6th August 2004: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, West Yorks

A day devoted to observation of the Grayling. They seem however to be past their best and the numbers are rapidly declining. Saw none on the approaches to the yards on the path from Horbury Green, this was around midday; nor did I see any on returning around 4 10pm. The task of observing them was made somewhat harder by the presence of Rail Track maintenance workers. I was constantly looking back over my shoulder and had a couple of narrow escapes. I gained the most from observing a couple of Graylings over on the marshalling yard exit where it joins the Kirkgate/Mirfield passenger line. In between there is a sunken stretch containing heather. Many Hedge Browns but surprisingly two Grayling would make a sortie into the heather to nectar on the blooms. When they do this the top under wing is always raised never tucked behind the lower wing when at rest.

I also noticed one of them puddling, its proboscis testing out the ground in front of it to insert its proboscis down a small crack between the hardened soil and a pebble embedded in the earth. There was a downpour last night and the ground was still damp. I was unable to find any on the passenger lines but presumably they must occasionally cross over the patch of heather and fly up the embankment onto the hardcore. If so I never got to witness it. I walked right down to Healey Mills (the actual buildings) and then turned back to walk alongside the passenger line. After a short while constantly dodging out of sight of the Rail Track offices I sat down on the concrete housing that covers the signalling cable to wait until a cloud passed. On getting up I suddenly noticed a Rail Track worker some 75 yards in front of me. I instantly dived for cover badly nettling myself. If I am not mistaken a posse had been sent out to look for me but I was better at playing mouse than they were cat. This aggravation with the constant threat of that darned £1000 fine hanging over me makes observation doubly difficult.

Though Graylings spend much of the day basking in the sun – if they can – when they do take off they tend to fly in large, irregular circles. The behaviour appears to be territorial. However, if I am not mistaken in the majority of instances it is the females that do this. Even on the wing the males appear much drabber and can briefly be mistaken for a Meadow Brown. I would have liked to have gotten a shot of the females egg laying but they never once went anywhere near the grass stalks. In fact one kept returning to the stunted herbage close to the railway track and which obviously had been sprayed with roundup. In fact it preferred this scorched earth to the lusher vegetation lower down the bank side. I tried to time how long on average the Grayling stayed in one spot. It can be as long as ten minutes but mostly it is between three and five minutes. However, it is possible my intrusive presence influenced their behaviour and had I just sat and observed they may well have stayed much longer in one spot. They did not always incline their wings at right angles to the sun's rays moving sometimes so their closed wings were in line with the sun's rays. Edge-on like this they were even more difficult to see.

 

7th August 2004: A walk along the Leeds/Liverpool canal

Discovered a colony of White Letter Hairstreaks at the aqueduct over the River Aire. Previously here the butterflies, which I initially mistook for Vapourer moths, probably were the White Letter Hairstreak. Look long enough (and I mean long enough – two or three hours) wherever there is elm, there's a good chance one will find the hairstreak. Presumably it must exist all along the canal from Shipley to Bingley given the abundance of elm.

 

BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS NO 11: May 2005 – JULY 2005

 

5th May 2005: Oats Royd, Queensbury, West Yorks

Overcast most of the day plus gale force winds. Rain later.

 

6th May 2005: Otley Chevin, West Yorks

Little sunshine and few Green Hairstreaks. No Common Heath moths. A couple of woodflies (St marks fly). Looked at vegetation closely. The bilberry at the top of 'the big field' has a fresh green tinge – no reddening of leaves. Perhaps this occurs where there is no shade. Bilberry flowers appear before their leaves. The plant then has a very maroonish tinge. A viridian carpet cover first and closely matches viridian colour of Green Hairstreaks. From the bell-shaped carpel a stamen protrudes. Later the maroon flower head forms. (Wrong! This viridian bell is what is left of the maroon flowers once it has faded making way for the bilberry).

 

7th May 2005: Brow Ghyll, Otley, West Yorks

Saw a Green Hairstreak as soon as I passed through the gate across the old railway resting on the grass. This was the warmest place to be but it was the only hairstreak I saw on this section of Brow Ghyll. Followed the sheep through the fence and climbed up to the top of the ghyll. I surprised a number of Green Hairstreaks and managed to film a couple.

 

9th May 2005: Shipley Glen, Bradford, West Yorks

Cool, showery day with intermittent sunshine (13 degrees C). Green Hairstreaks seem to prefer the short swards of bilberry.

 

10 May 2005: Holly Bank Bluff & Howcans Lane between Queensbury and Halifax

Since we last visited the site in 2001 the numbers of Green Hairstreak has multiplied tenfold. They are everywhere. Filmed them on a discarded signboard advertising windows. Every time the sun came out a Green Hairstreak would land on the hoarding. Hover flies would also bask on it. Interestingly some would tarry on the rusty underside though the surface was warmer to the touch. But it was also pitted and rusty and rough to the touch unlike the highly reflective notice board. A trailer with the sign board on it has been pushed down the bluff some years ago. The rusting chassis was a little further on down the bluff. Underneath a hawthorn tree there was a small mound of discarded tyres.

The Green Hairstreaks have moved much closer to the industrial ribbon development that flanks the road to Denholme. Where we only saw one Green Hairstreak in 2001 there were now many though on the original site the bilberry has been covered up in what looked to be the foundation for a further factory. Or it was spoil from an excavated plot – in which case it will be interesting to see how long it is before bilberry reclaims it.

There was a cool north westerly blowing and when the sun went in it became very cool. In 2001 when we last visited the site it was an exceptionally fine, warm day. Now the Green Hairstreaks were to found all down Howcans Lane. All we saw on the lane were past their prime. In two weeks all will be gone. This is surprising because it is the most exposed part of the site. However it is never in shadow. Nowhere does the bilberry grow in thick, bushy clumps. The relatively thin covering of bilberry may well suit the Green Hairstreak more than in places where the bilberry grows in thick profusion.

 

13th May 2005: Holly Bank Bluff (again)

Sharp wind, scudding clouds though warmish when the sun came out. The Green Hairstreaks had collected around the holly trees situated in the middle of the bank. In the main the males were using the bushes as perches and performed a merry dance when another male ventured onto their territory. Is Holly Bank the original name before the bluff was mined centuries ago when it was grazed by sheep the bilberry could not possibly have taken hold? The spoil heaps must have been reclaimed some time ago and converted into sheep pasture, maybe from the mid 19th century. Hence the dry stone wall sheep paddock at the top of Howcans Lane.

Close observation of the bilberry. Some plants, not necessarily those in the shade of trees, tend to produce more leaves than others which are rich in flowers and hence, later in the year, bilberries. Are these the plants that are most favoured by the females for laying? The plants that are less dense also sprout reddish leaves whilst the bushier varieties do not to anything like the same extent. Nutritional factors must be involved (i.e. decomposed leaf litter) but maybe there are a number of different varieties. Need to get many more close ups of the Green Hairstreak for a layering sequence.

 

15th May 2005: Shibden Head, West Yorks

Wasted several hours looking for the Green Hairstreak on the bank side where we first discovered the butterfly in 1998-9. Though the day was generally overcast it was warm and the sun would occasionally break through the cloud. Certainly it was warm enough to bring the butterfly up to the tops of the bilberry plant in any other place like the adjacent Holly Bank Bluff or the Chevin. We came to the conclusion it was the thick growth of bilberry that either was preventing the butterflies from taking wing in response to the warming up or it was off-putting to them. In fact there appeared to be little change in numbers from 1998-9.

So we moved off up the path to Bear Head Quarry on the top of Shibden Head. Almost immediately we began to find Green Hairstreaks even though the sky was overcast and still. The colony had obviously shifted up the bank side where the bilberry was less thick and bushy and where there was more exposed rock. A thick, unrelieved carpet of bilberry appears not to suit the Green Hairstreak. By now they may well be in the quarry and high up on the rocky escarpment fringing the quarry.

 

22nd May 2005: Prince of Wales Park, Eldwick, West Yorks

The Green Hairstreaks all looking very dished. I captured a long sequence of a mating pair. Both were rather dished which was unusual. Could it be that more females than males have emerged? A storm blew up while I was photographing the pair. Susan Stead put up an umbrella to protect them but I wanted to see how they would react to the storm so I asked her to remove it. Though it was not a heavy downpour, raindrops would occasionally strike the butterflies and they would flick their wings but that was all. Only when the sun came out did they move somewhat.

Managed to photograph a Green Hairstreak with its wings wide open. The result is very grainy. Susan remarked that a mating pair had settled on her and that one of the butterflies had briefly opened its wings.

 

23rd May 2005: Oats Royd & Holly Bank Bluff, West Yorks

Very windy but with lots of sunshine. However, a storm swept in when I was on Oats Royd and I didn't see one Green Hairstreak. Had an altercation with a stupid woman on a horse. She claimed it was a private road which was utter nonsense. A typically brutish, narrow minded, Bradford bourgeois whose only value in life is money and status. Because I was dressed like a tramp I was an obvious criminal. Even the expensive camera equipment meant nothing. She asked for ID and my name which I refused to give in no uncertain terms. This seemed to disturb her and she made off saying' "no need to get yourself in a tiz". She was easily faced down and feared intellect.

Oats Royd is very exposed to the wind and rains and as the trees have been insensitively planted at regular intervals they shade the bilberry and offer very little shelter from the buffeting winds as the Green Hairstreak prefers the more open areas where there is no protection at all. Moved on to Holly Bank Bluff where I filmed a Green Hairstreak on the billboard in unusual circumstances. Instead of flying off as the first spots of a heavy shower hit the billboard it stayed put. As the shower turned into a downpour the butterfly now unable to fly crawled across the wet surface with great effort its body leaving a crosswise trail in rivulets of rain. It was unable to reach the edge but meanwhile the sun had come out and it was able dry out before flying away. It did not return to the billboard as though it had been traumatised by the experience and henceforth would avoid landing on the abandoned billboard. The butterfly's wings appeared to become soaked if exposed to a rainstorm and their wings show signs of damp patches.

 

24th May 2005: Shibden Head, West Yorks

Overcast, rather cool. Took various views of Shibden Head.

 

25th May 2005: Holly Bank Bluff between Bradford and Halifax, West Yorks

Warm south westerly, often overcast with intermittent sunshine. Quite windy. Apart from around Holly Bank the Green Hairstreaks were on the sheltered part of Howcans. They appeared rather dished. The exceedingly bashed species were very, very jumpy even when the sun was behind the clouds. I was unable to get close to them. Having no power of flight left, they were easily picked up and thrown by the wind. They would cling on to grass stalks only to take to the air when I approached and then powerless to resist the gusts of wind like they were vainly flying from death which was not far off.

Around 4 15 noticed a maturing pair. Both were quite dished, one with a chunk out of its wing. In fact the costal margins were very ragged. As it was now cool and the sun had gone, I thought they might remain a couple overnight, lacking the strength to separate. But around 5 o clock they did separate. I thought they might stay in close proximity until after sunrise but after awhile both eventually flew off.

 

26th May 2005: Penistone Railway Junction, South Yorks

Horrible, horrible, horrible, the line side birds foot trefoil has been bombarded by roundup defoliant so not one plant remains!

Otherwise the colony of Dingy Skippers was not quite at the height of its emergence. But it will be destroyed within a few years. No one is going to permit the so-called eyesore that is Penistone station to last much longer. It has to go in the interest of the new real estate aesthetic. This industrial detritus; this unofficial landfill cannot long remain.

There were more Dingy Skippers on the tracks on the disused side of the railway line where the Woodhead line once ran.

 

27th May 2005: Shibden Dale, Queensbury, West Yorks

Cloudy and rather cool though it was the hottest day in May for forty years in the south of England. Even so found Green Hairstreaks on the top of the west bluff on Shibden Head. Here the sward was quite thin – far less bushy than down the bank. Some appeared to be newly emerged and the dominant form was undoubtedly the reduced punctata just as on Holly Bank Bluff on the other side of the Bradford / Halifax Road.

 

29th May 2005: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, Horbury, West Yorks

Quite cool and blustery to begin with though the day dawned clear. I had half a mind to change plans and go to Northowram but continued on to Ossett once we had reached Dewsbury. On the Ossett side of the yards we did not see any Dingy Skippers, crossing the yards we did not see them either despite the fact this area of the yard was carpeted with birds foot trefoil. Only when we came to the sunken area between the main railway line to Huddersfield and the much used line leading from the lines did we find them – and nowhere else. They appeared to be freshly emerged and the centre of the colony was located around a burnt out car. In fact they would fly up the bank side on top of which is the path leading from Horbury Bridge to Healey Mills – an unofficial right of way – the bylaw status which is disputed and Network Rail seems powerless to close off completely. However, the Dingies never flew on to the top of the path which was bordered with trefoil, marking the boundary of the colony. It will be interesting if in two weeks time there are Dingies on the path, which would suggest Healey Mills is made up of discreet colonies with little exchange between them.

In the sunken, elongated oval apart from the heather the ground is matted with trefoil. As a number of Dingies would land on the trefoil (which was not yet in bloom) this could be their laying ground. Suddenly David yelled out excitedly, "There's a Brown Argus" And it was, an almost perfect ab cramera and that looked to be newly emerged. One of its lunules was slightly rubbed out – so not quite as perfect as the Forge Lane example we had filmed. In this the first colony of the Brown Argus to be discovered in West Yorks – for it must be a colony? However, it was a good fifty yards from its likely foodplant, herb robert and this meant flying over an embankment or a bridge to reach it.

Again, I wondered if the caterpillars had changed their eating habits and were munching trefoil – though admittedly this seems most unlikely. Once it flew off we were unable to find it again. The elongated area is a remarkable butterfly haven and fortunately safe from further development. Apart from Dingies there were Orange Tips, Walls and an early emerged Small Heath. There were also Small Coppers. On top of which Grayling also fly here though it is not their preferred area in the yards. There also appeared to be a considerable diversity of other insects particularly flies and crane flies which should be photographed.

 

30th May 2005: Brow Lane, Shibden, West Yorks

One Green Hairstreak and two unpleasant yuppy-type people who tried to throw us off common land which they had illegally appropriated.

 

16th June 2005: Dodworth Colliery, South Yorks

Not a sausage re the Dingy Skipper. Either there was insufficient sunshine, the season over with on Dodworth, or the motorway has completely destroyed the colony. Fortunately the culvert has been left and runs parallel with the motorway which leads directly to the M1. So a return visit next year, not least because then I will have three years of filming which will show the cruel transformation that has taken place. And all to get around the level crossing which holds up traffic once every half an hour!

There were no Dingies to be seen on the spoil heap summit neither which leads me to think the Dingy season ended a couple of days ago – not unusual given the time of year (it is mid June) but surprising considering how late things are. There were a number of Small Heaths, Speckled Woods and a couple of Large Skippers. A Birse construction worker with a Labrador dog stopped to talk to me. I thought he was going to demand I stop filming. However, he was interested and so I was pleasantly surprised how different from those bourgeois pigs in Shibden and Queensbury whose only interest was in rising property prices.

A peewit circled me the whole time I was on the summit of the spoil heap. Saw a bullfinch and a wren landed on the railway station fencing close to me. It was very pleasant.

 

18th June 2005: Penistone Railway Station, South Yorks

Gone, all gone. A trifle disappointed but it probably means the colony is still clinging on at Dodworth. It also means they are less affected by bad weather unlike the Green Hairstreaks which suggests they are adjusted to the vagaries of the climate meaning they have been around for decades. Talked to a woman on Penistone station. I thought initially she was off her head but then the intelligence began to come through and I realised I could talk to her for hours.

Evidently there was a major casting factory at Penistone called David Brown's. It employed thousands of workers, around the clock working with buses coming in from Barnsley, morning, afternoon and night. The major part of the factory closed down over twenty years ago in the early 1980s though one small unit remains. The factory units constructed near the sidings are for warehousing. The way she mentioned warehousing suggested she had a certain contempt for it – i.e. on a lower level to manufacturing.

 

19th June 2005: Healey Mills Marshalling Yards, West Yorks

There by twelve but spent some two hours sheltering from the heat. I lay down in a small coppice of birch and goat willow constructing a sun shield out of my hat. There were Common Blues a plenty but the heat was such they rarely settled and only opened their wings if a cloud raced across the sun. I have never seen Common Blues so active. Eventually losing patience I moved to where I had seen the Dingy Skipper earlier this year. There to my surprise I noticed a Brown Argus. Over the next four hours I chased three Brown Argus in the hope of photographing them. I did manage to get some studies of under wings but I lost my chance to photograph a Brown Argus with its wings open. The weather was now thundery and the sky dark and though the Common Blues continued to fly if disturbed, the Brown Argus did not.

The one I photographed had frequently buzzed a Common Blue chasing it off, for all it was worth. That was a sure sign it was a male who did not welcome another butterfly patrolling is territory. I noticed they had a yen for resting on the flowering heads of grass stalks. Common Blues do too, but usually they chose to do so when roosting. They also would settle on birds foot trefoil flowers but not as frequently as the Common Blue, preferring to perch on grass stalks where they would be buffeted around by the wind. I did notice some plants of cut leaf cranesbikll as well as herb robert. This spot may well be the centre of the colony like it is of the Dingy Skipper.

I then wondered off to look at the rest of the yard as the sky was now dark and thunder was threatening. None of the blues I kicked up opened their wings. I guess it was still too hot or dark. However inspecting the ground I noticed there was plenty of herb robert and cut leaf cranesbill. So I am assuming the Brown Argus is also here – in fact anywhere where these plants are.

Came across three railway enthusiasts. However I initially thought they were birders.

 

Letter to Joan

"I was burnt to a cinder by the sun yesterday and had to seek shelter in a coppice of trees, constructing a sunshade out of the leaves and branches. I spent a couple of hours watching ants scurrying up and down twigs. They seemed to show signs of intelligence rarely going on the same leaf twice and when they did they would pop their head over the leaf margin from a different position. I also began to compare the green of each leaf as it was caught in the sunlight or reflected the sun's rays and came to the conclusion no two leaves were exactly the same shade of green. Necessity in this case was the mother of observation and it was quite an experience.

 

1st July 2005: Ashstead Common, Surrey

Went early on for the Purple Emperor. Unfortunately they were not out. However, the Silver Washed Fritillary is doing very well as is the White Admiral. Woodland management may have much to do with it for I certainly found them in places I had never previously seen them. The White Admiral only ever nectars on bramble, even though the bramble and honeysuckle are often closely intertwined. Though frequently overcast both butterflies were on the wing even when the sun was behind the clouds. However, it was warm and humid which probably compensated for the lack of sunshine.

The White Admiral would disappear into the dense woodland and the constant abrasion of leaves and twigs I'm sure leaves their wings ragged after only two or three days. I am convinced the White Admiral is an adaptation to its favourite nectar source: the bramble. The white marks may well break-up the wings but they do resemble the white of the bramble flower off-set against the deep shade of the undergrowth. High up on hazel trees with the wings open the butterfly must be very visible to birds and possibly this perching behaviour enabling the White Admiral to survey a sizable swathe of territory, is more typical of the males. The camouflage the bramble provides off-sets the numbers lost in the trees where they are very visible to birds. I also noticed them flying low over the bracken. They have a tendency to nectar more when the sun is out, than in. When the sky was overcast despite still being very active they would only occasionally stop to nectar. Maybe the best time to photograph them is in the morning when they appear to be less flighty and spend more time nectaring. Later on they have a predilection for the bramble that is well set back from the path and closer to the woodland margins.

The Purple Hairstreaks were out. They would also settle quite low down on the birch and sallow. Only the large oaks had populations of Purple Hairstreaks. The small oaks were shunned by them – maybe only later in the season will the Purple Hairstreak inhabit them. All the same they were still flying much closer to the ground than in the north of England. Disturbed one on the path as we left Ashstead, this would never happen in the north.

 

5th July 2005: Great Horton Country Park, Bradford, West Yorks

All the Ringlets –probably five in all – were variations –partial arêtes in fact. Noticed that the eye spots were not present on both upper and underside. Rather the upper wings were a blank with not a trace of a spot. This may explain why Butterworth (the mid 20th century Bradford entomologist) described the Ringlet in Low Moor in 1947 as "obsoleta". In fact it probably was a partial arête but he never inspected the underside.

 

7th July 2005: Nature Walk in Woodhall Quarries, Bradford, West Yorks

The varieties are down from a couple of years ago yet there seems to be a clear distinction between the northern and southern English form if only because the former are much lighter.

The day is the day the bombs exploded in London. No one on the walk was at all reactionary: all opposed the 2012 London Olympics which had just been awarded.

David claimed he saw a caeca in the quarry. There is a crying need to establish the percentage of varieties around Woodhall Quarry. Maybe this is the last year we can do this because next year the developers will move in. it is a wonderful quarry but people are afraid to go in there alone. The bikers were far friendlier than I have ever known them to be. However, this change of heart comes too late.

 

8th July 2005: Bingley and Shipley, West Yorks

One Ringlet was espied beside 't'mucky beck 'at Shipley station. However, there were none on the meadow that runs parallel to Shipley station. If they are there in any number they cling to the bank side of the beck rarely straying from it.

We moved off to follow the bank of the River Aire from Shipley to Saltaire. I had expected to see the Ringlet there and was surprised at not even seeing a Meadow Brown. Perhaps neither butterfly liked the expanse of mown grass that ran from the grassy bank to the roadway. We continued along from Saltaire to Hirst Lock leaving the tow path to inspect a large area of grassland outside the sports ground. It looked an ideal place for the White Letter Hairstreak but despite a number of Meadow Brown we did not find the Ringlet. We continued to 'the island' and from there to Bankfoot in Bingley via the path through Hirst Wood. It was here we eventually found the Ringlet – in a field next to the Aire. David had last been here in 2002 and the small colony could only have become established in the last three years. The photographs he took showed a nearly normal Ringlet on the under side but on the upper side no trace of any spotting could be seen. This was a most unusual variety.

We came to the conclusion the Ringlet had come from Windhill and hence from the original colony around Woodhall Quarry. This would explain the butterfly's unusual combination of features – in fact quite unlike anything I have ever seen. But here the colony appeared to peter out and it has yet to take complete possession of Bingley. The colony we found (we must have seen around seven) seemed to prefer the field to the water margin. They did however fly over the hedge over the footpath and down the river bank only however to return rapidly to the field, its 'natural' home as it were. This behaviour also reinforced our feeling that it had come from Windhill.

 

9th July 2005: Horton Country Park & Ben Rhydding Gravel Pits, West Yorks

Returning to the park around 9.30 on a hot morning with not a cloud in the sky was aghast to find the Ringlets absent. However, going down to the fringes of the pond where they had been released two years earlier, we began to find them. But we have yet to find one extreme variety, which is most unusual particularly since we have come to the conclusion the Ben Rhydding population has most likely only been slightly affected by the incoming migrants from the south. Most are to be found fluttering around the grass near trees occasionally diving into the trees which are never very thick. Saw a Humming Bird Hawk moth.

Arriving at Ben Rhydding around 1 o clock where we were alarmed initially to find an absence of variation. However come the end of the day (we left about 5.15) the number of varieties increased enormously. We came to the conclusion the percentage of variation was very high indeed – nearly 100% - at least 86% to 90%. However they are not as light in colour as some of the Woodhall specimens which are a tawny brown. By four in the afternoon the Ringlets begun to settle down and we managed to get photos of them resting in trees. After awhile they would take off from their sunny perches and we both think they do not roost in trees rather at the bottom of grass stalks. Given they do fly up into low trees this must be because females take shelter there during daylight hours. Meadow Browns also will fly up into trees but as frequently as the Ringlet does.

Travellers have been encamped on the gravel pits and had nine horses grazing there for a period of at least three weeks. It is possible that they have killed off much of the Ringlet population in this part of Ben Rhydding. Either that or the butterfly has migrated to the one spot the horses were unable to graze. Seeing the pupae are left unattached on the bottom of grass stalks it is unlikely the horses actually ate all the pupae. In any case they have cleared the ground of invasive herbage and the colony probably will spring back with renewed vigour though it could take a couple of years.

Talked to an angler. What a contrast to the middle class couple from Shibden Dale who cleared us away from a Green Hairstreak colony on public land they had illegally appropriated! He was genuinely interested and told me a great deal about the history of the place, the old bridge across the Wharfe at Ilkley was dumped in the gravel pits during the mid 1960s and where it was dumped is now a bare expanse with teasel, some orchids, a little grass and the Ringlet rarely flies on it. Still it is unusual and memorable.

 

10th July 2005: Keighley & Bingley, West Yorks

Returned to the sewage farm near Keighley after an interval of three years, last visiting in 2002. Almost immediately we saw a Ringlet and then another – but not another and another. As we penetrated deeper into the sewage works this disappeared completely suggesting the marginal Ringlet colonisation was of very recent origin. Retracing our steps we walked under the road and railway bridge where we did find numerous Ringlets. This colony could have been here for a number of years – maybe they were present in ones and twos when we last visited in 2002 for we most certainly did not then investigate the banks of the River Aire.

Rather than making discreet hops, skips and jumps of a few hundred yards every year, they could well make leaps of several hundred metres and when we claimed in 2003 they were backing up at Shipley as they had done at Otley in the late 1990s this has most likely turned out to be untrue. The Ringlet had obviously over-leaped Shipley only we had not found them. In any case the Ringlets were still sticking close to the banks of the Aire at Keighley and still barely moving beyond it. However, when we did climb up the side of the motorway by-pass and crossed the road bridge spanning the Aire we found two Ringlets on the motorway verge – which was very surprising indeed, I would have liked a video of them but they failed to perform for me second time round.

All the Ringlets we looked at were normal though I reckon there were a couple that were rather small – perhaps due in consequence of the cold weather earlier in the year. Took a bus to Keighley and walked along the Aire without seeing the Ringlet however. But they may well be in Stocksbridge Nature Reserve.

We then took a bus to Bingley and walked to Bingley South Bog along the tow path. A roadway bridge composed of several arches now divides the bog. I suppose the damage could have been worse. The Common Blue has returned though it only appears to feed on common garden trefoil and not on the marsh trefoil. Crossing through the arches David discovered three Ringlets all pretty dished. Susan Stead was delighted when she was informed the Ringlet is now in Bingley South Bog. The Nab Wood Ringlet colony is no distance and presumably this is the source of the Bingley South Bog colony.

 

13th July 2005: Trench Meadows & Bingley South Bog, Bradford, West Yorks

Though Susan rang to ascertain exactly where the Ringlet was on Bingley South Bog having failed to find them herself, she was right about the Ringlets not being in Trench Meadows. We moved off to the viaduct /aqueduct noting the large amount of young elms. At Dowley Gap Lock we found a couple of fields packed with thistles and on one side a number of young elms. This could well be the main nectar source for the White Letter Hairstreak.

Left for Bingley Bog. The areas that has been deliberately landscaped has had soil thrown over it and then sown with rye grass. This is a grass for all seasons. It covers and chokes and remains green, a nasty fluorescent green and is chosen by developers and landscapers because it is the grass archetype of greenery. To the side one could see ribbons of the original landscape, largely composed of shale, bare earth, sheeps fescue, rosebay willow herb but much more of an enticement to wildlife than the rye grass pastiche of greenery.

We were unable to find any Ringlets in the bog. It is near on impossible to pass from one side to the other and the constant roar of the traffic destroys the bog as an experience. It may be the case that little of value in the bog has been destroyed by routing the by-pass through it but whatever there was of splendour, of solitude and quietness has gone forever.

 

14th July 2005: Great Horton Country Park, Bradford, West Yorks

I would say the dominant form of the Ringlet is a reduced arête. We actually did find one arête and a number of caeca. Not one was of the dusky southern form; all were pale unlike at Woodhall Quarry. They are still in the process of colonising and I would estimate the numbers of the colony at around 600. The percentage of caeca I would put at around 5%. They seemed to occupy only two areas but this may well change as the years go by.

 

15th July 2005: Windhill, Boars Well, Bradford, West Yorks

Perhaps the quarry on Windhill (above Shipley) was not damp enough but there were no Ringlets to be seen. I did find however a whitish Meadow Brown, a mosaic of some kind.

Passed a man with a child who said this quarry is a bit better than watching a Disney film. He obviously wants his child to be brought up having some contact with nature.

The Boars Well makeover is an utter disaster. It would have been far better to have laid the cable this replaced and with it new pathway borders leaving it more or less as it was. As it is the path is now widened to at least four foot and has been compacted rather like tarmac. An 'alien' soil has been brought in, and though this has not been seeded and left to grow its own vegetation, it already contained seeds. So there is an abundance of charlock, horsetail and even knot grass. The birds foot trefoil has gone completely. The Ringlets here moved along the Boars Well closer into the city centre. The new colony begins pretty much where the insensitive landscaping ends and the old path has been retained.

Here I was delighted to find a fully-fledged arête which however proved impossible to photograph rarely settling and when it did only for a few brief seconds before it continued its restless flight. The Ringlets have shifted to the perimeter of the Boars Well and surprisingly close to Bolton Road – in fact practically on the road side verge. However, we did not find them on the drier areas of grassland adjacent to the Boars Well.

Again the dominant form was partial arête. However, the fact that I found an arête with all of the wing spots reduced proves to me the Boars Well colony has its origins in Woodhall Quarry. Though ragged, the upper side of the arête was devoid of any ring spots, further evidence that it originated in Woodhall.

 

16th July 2005: Wrynose Pass, Cumbria

I believe we did find the right spot on the Wrynose around Three Shire Stone but the Mountain Ringlet had departed, perhaps as long as seven days ago. I think we also found exactly the place on Red Screes where the Mountain Ringlet flew. Both places were high and boggy with a reasonable amount of tormentil, cross leaved heath, thyme etc and in both places there was a colony of Small Heath which behaved somewhat differently to those at a lower altitude. They flew for only short intervals before settling often on the warm surface of rocks and boulders surrounded by moorland grass.

It was a punishing walk back from the Wrynose. The easy bit was the descent from Three Shire Stone. The rest was pure misery though there was a footpath all the way from Colwith via Skelwith Bridge to Ambleside. I much prefer the relatively uncommodified desolation of the Yorkshire Badlands to the Lakes. My only consolation was that no member of Butterfly Conservation would have been capable of carrying out such a return journey weighed down with cameras as we were. At the age of 62 we still have the stamina for a route march. You can take your Lakes and shove it. Though Bill and Dot are hardly to blame for it.

 

17th July 2005: Heaton Woods & Northcliffe Woods, Bradford, West Yorks

Found the Ringlet quite quickly in Heaton Woods. It is obviously a denizen of the rides as well as lower down where a stream cuts through the bottom of the valley. All three specimens that I was able to observe closely were light with the typical reduced eye spots without actually being an arête.

Found them also in Northcliffe Woods both past the golfers' bridge and lower down where the toy train runs. However, I was unable to get a look at the undersides. Its favourite spot is a ditch that runs along by the side of the railway. Had I stayed long enough no doubt I would have been able to photograph the butterfly with the little train in the background.

Saw a couple of Purple Hairstreaks. One had swooped quite low just as they had done in Ashstead Forest a couple of weeks ago. There was a bank side of himalyan balsam and a stagnant pool close by, maybe it had been nectaring on the balsam. Photographed also a Common Heath in Heaton Woods. The Common Heath is obviously now double brooded in the north but this may well not be the case on the moors. The white and dark form may be restricted to woodland and moorland respectively.

 

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