A Series Of Observations

 

Silver Studded Blue

Silver Studded Blue

Mating Silver Studded Blues on Fairmile Common. near Oxshott, South London, June 26th 2003. (The only extant 'London' colony of the Silver Studded Blue)
Fairmile Common has been well managed. gorse has been cleared and silver birch felled and the Cross leaved Heath encouraged to grow. However the shelter the gorse provides, though very invasive and which would have destroyed the colony if left to take over has been recognised. The Portsmouth road must have severely damaged the colony when it was constructed a number of years ago. At the other side of the road we only saw sporadic plants of Cross Leaved Heath - not enough to support a colony. Once the gorse is chopped down it grows by sending out a dense cushion of suckers before finally a wooded branch breaks through to resume a more typical growth pattern.The gorse was most unusual and its thick, mossy, shrub like appearance gave the heath an odd aspect like giant green pin cushions. 
Silver Studded Blue

It was a perfect day for viewing Silver Studded Blues, warm, slightly overcast, muffled sunshine. And we weren't disappointed.

I would estimate the colony has quadrupled since I last visited the place several years ago. At a rough guess at the height of the emergence there must be around 1000.

       This was the height of the emergence give or take a couple of days which was worrying since everything this year appears to have been fast forwarded. We even saw a couple of Hedge Browns and this was only June 27th. The full emergence of the Silver Studded Blue should be at least 10 days away.

      A few observations: When we arrived at the common, males easily predominated possibly in the ratio of six to one. They were flying low over the Cross Leaved Heath and were difficult to approach. The males later in the day tended  to roost or rest close to flowering stems of gorse that were already dying back displaying the greyish brown seed spots at the extremities.

 
    I noticed a mating pair a couple of foot off the ground. In fact it was the first of a number of mating pairs I thought the couple had chosen this slightly elevated position so as not to be molested In fact come 4.30pm many more males in particular would be joining the pair, settling or roosting ever higher up the gorse-so high up in fact I could not stretch up to take a photo. This gives an indication of the height. One even settled quite high up on a birch tree. This is possibly their typical roosting position. Meanwhile on the ground females seemed to predominate. It was interesting how they chose to rest on dead bracken stems or on the ground where, once their wings were closed, they were almost undetectable. Even when open the colour of their wings blends inn with the background of bare earth far better than the males. I did not get the impression at this time of the day they were egg laying.  
Silver Studded Blue
  
Silver Studded Blue

At a distance they can easily be mistaken for a Silver Studded Blue with its wings closed-or rather vice versa. I hoped to get a photo of three roosting insects close together. Closer examination revealed one was a pod. The gorse pod is covered in fine hairs and from a distance the texture is similar to the scaling of the wings and 'down' of the abdomen. In addition the pod is speckled all over with five larger dots breaking up the grey surface of the pod into adjacent dots like the silver studding of the Blue's wing. Noticeably the butterflies do not tend to rest further down the flowering branch because there the pods have fallen to the ground and only the shrivelled light brown former petals are left.

The butterfly likes plenty of sun and is most active in the sunshine. When the sky clouded over the butterfly liked to rest on the heather close to the sheltering banks of gorse. Often several, (mainly males), could be seen on one clump of heather. I was also surprised to find them resting on bramble leaves and nectaring on bramble flowers. In fact to the side of the helicopter landing pad they chose a bramble thicket in preference to the Cross Leaved Heath.

 
The above photo shows the sandy, arid landscape of Fairmile Common set in the rich Surrey suburbia. And below, finally, the beautiful creature with its wings open.  
Silver Studded Blue
  
There was an abundance of Wild Evening Primrose but I never saw one butterfly go anywhere near a single plant. I also on one occasion mistook a bramble flower for a Silver Studded Blue. The floret was in the shade and its petals had turned a bluish grey rather than brilliant white once it was not reflecting the sun's ray. The anthers or stamens (at least the tips) gave the flower a two dimensional appearance which for some moments I temporarily took for the underside of a Silver Studded Blue. In fact I had to move close to the flower to be sure. Thought once again that the wings of butterflies often are an abstract of specific background characteristics. This abstractness means it can move against several backgrounds and feel protected.  

 Opposite: A Spider has spun a web around an unfortunate Silver Studded Blue where they can often remain for quite a few hours until hunger finally overcomes the spider
Studded Blue Spider