UNORTHODOX BUTTERFLY NOTEBOOKS NO 2: 1996-8

 

31st May 1996: Banstead Downs, Sutton, Surrey

1 pm to 3pm. Dingy Skippers and Green Hairstreaks. Two caterpillars on hawthorn; windy, intermittent sunshine. The Brimstone wings which I first saw on one of the paths through the Downs two weeks ago were still there. Day flying moths flying at high speed across the Downs – maybe Lappet. Saw Common Heaths which initially I mistook for Dingy Skippers.

 

5th June 1996: Banstead Downs (again)

12 30 to 4 30: 28 degrees of burning sun. Grizzled Skipper on buttercups mostly dried flower heads and gorse. The Dingy Skippers were much scarcer and hardly battered. Brown Argus, Common Blue, Small Heath & Small Copper. The Speckled Woods had taken to shady woodland unlike last week when they were to be found in the lanes by the side of the Downs. Buttercups appear to grow in greater numbers alongside trodden paths. The Grizzled Skipper seems to prefer the less well trodden paths.

 

14th June 1996: Ranmore Common, Dorking, Surrey

Saw a dead Adonis Blue plus a Clouded Yellow. 13 00 to 2 30. SW breeze.

 

29th June 1996: Gait Barrows, North Lancashire

Saw Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Duke of Burgundy, Speckled Wood between Gait Barrows and Silverdale Moss. Masses of Painted Lady caterpillars on thistles on Silverdale Moss where I collected some Painted Lady eggs.

 

15th July 1996: East Blean Woods, Kent

Heath Fritillary. Seemed to prefer small coppices and shunned the larger ones. (Masses of Meadow Browns, maybe forty on a bramble bush etc.) Fritillaries sucking up nitrates on bare ground near road. Many nectaring on a thistle patch just by the roadside. They didn't appear to cross the road.

 

26th July 1996: Ben Rhyddying, Ilkley, West Yorks

Scoured quarries below the Cow and Calf rocks for Ringlets. Eventually found them at the gravel pits beside the River Wharfe on Otley Road. Then went in search of White Letter Hairstreak on Northcliffe allotments near Shipley.

 

27th July 1996: Gait Barrows, Morecambe Bay, North Lancashire

Overcast day with some sunshine. High Brown Fritillary was on the wing feeding on knapweed in particular. Graylings on the limestone pavement. A battered Northern Brown Argus.

 

28th July 1996: Ben Rhydding gravel pits, West Yorks.

Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Cinnabar. Drenching rain with a few minutes of sunshine. 2 30 to 4 30: humid and overcast.

 

3rd of August 1996: Ashstead Common, Surrey

Saw a possible Pale Clouded Yellow or maybe Ab: helice. A Purple Hairstreak on the footpath to the Common. Purple Emperors around top oaks. Felt good though hung-over after a good night partying. Day rounded off by five girls on the train from Chessington talking about Job Seekers Allowance, pensions and strikes etc.

 

4th August 1996: Box Hill, Surrey,

Silver Washed Fritillary in Juniper Valley between 1 and 5 pm.

 

12th August: Thorne Wastes, South Yorks.

Brimstone, Hedge Brown, Small Copper on tansy. Ringlet on path from Moorend's pit village to Thorne Wastes. Maybe a Ringlet on shale tip near Thorne pit.

 

14th August: Thorne Wastes again.

A whitish under wing variety of Meadow Brown (See photos fronting Dialectical Butterflies web). It was adjacent to the sports field at Moorend's. Ringlet on path from Thorne North. Took photos of the wastes.

 

16th August 1996: Arnside Knott. South Cumbria

Brown Argus, High Brown Fritillary. Scotch Argus and Northern Brown Argus on exposed corner near Shilloe. A Scotch Argus landed on two visitors to the Knott. The Scotch Argus could be scuffed into flight when the sky was overcast; generally settling low down on short grass stalks. They would open their wings obligingly just as the sun started to poke through the clouds. Once the sun was out they were quite difficult to photograph and rather jumpy. As usual the battered specimens were easiest and four out of five Scotch Argus were damaged in some way.

 

26th August 1996: Banstead Downs, Surrey

Jumpy Chalk Hill Blues probably reacting to the thundery weather. Male Chalkhills often would feed on knapweed, scabious, etc then fly off to rest on grass opening their wings almost as if they were females laying eggs. Also a Brown Argus.

 

1st September 1996: Ranmore Common, Dorking, Surrey.

A warm day. Loads of Adonis Blue, positively teeming in places. Battered Chalkhills. Also Brown Argus and one Clouded Yellow. A dwarf Meadow Brown and a dwarf Adonis Blue female on Denbies Hillside.

 

9th April 1997: Scrubs Lane, West London

The Speckled Wood has spread from the meagre wood running parallel with the road to the larger wood flanking the channel tunnel engine sheds. We counted at least four of them and photographed them, one with a damaged under wing. Two were to be seen in courtship flight. Also saw two cross the grass separating wooded path to the newly coppiced wood on to Scrubs Common. I had never previously noted Speckled Woods here.

Saw the first (male) Brimstone by side of wood adjacent to channel tunnel sheds. Time will tell if the Brimstone is breeding there. The Orange Tips were more dispersed than ever before flying almost to the petrol station on Scrubs Road. Unable to get any photos because, as usual, they weren't settling. The weather was very warm for the time of year; hardly a breeze even. Ground very parched and the grass has an unusual late summer aspect to it.

 

30th April 1997: Banstead Downs, Surrey

 Orange Tip on the approaching footpath. It appeared to be an aberration and flightless. One of its antennae was probably missing. Eventually found the Grizzled Skipper in the sheltered lanes; probably attracted there by dandelions and buttercups which, apart from one or two were not to be found on open, parched terrain – certainly not by the footpaths as last year. However, altogether the Grizzled Skipper was far more abundant then last year. Also several Dingy Skippers and roughly in the same areas as the Grizzled Skippers.

Eventually found a lone Green Hairstreak. A gal on a bike stopped to ask what I was doing. She seemed nice and for a moment I felt the terrible distance I was experiencing begin to evaporate. Photographed a Grizzled Skipper on horse dung feeding off nitrates presumably. The aberrant Orange Tip had gone by the time we returned to the bus stand.

A very warm day in the low 70s Fahrenheit with hardly any breeze.

 

May 14th 1997: Little Kimble, the Chilterns, Herts.

Actually Beacon Hill in the Chilterns: A warm, sunny day, slightly windy with some cloud. First sighting of the Duke of Burgundy on a sunny dell on a hillside carpeted with cowslips. Eventually found an east facing slope sheltered from the wind where a few Dukes flew. Also a few Adonis Blue, Small Heath, Dingy Skippers (possibly a lighter shade than Banstead Downs) Grizzled Skipper, Brown Argus, Brimstone. The remarkable camouflage of the Duke of Burgundy when settling on mossy mounds – similar in fact to the Grizzled Skipper.

Met a somewhat aloof walker with his dog. Told us about the introduction of the red kite close by and how they hover above the motorways on the thermal draughts. This was in Chequers Field which was farmed by tenant farmers. The whole area had a Capability Brown feel to it of dead nature – clumps of trees etc – no wild life corridors. How much more appealing was Beacon Hill which had a greater wildness to it, more Celtic and more attractive to wild life. David remarked how Capability Brown landscaping was in fact an anticipation of large-scale farming particularly the tearing up of hedgerows leaving the occasional clump of trees amidst a featureless, rolling landscape.

An escarpment of box trees and a tunnel cut into box creating a canopy interspersed with elder; a lovely clump of box trees in a field close to Beacon Hill; cows like magnificent, huge stone statues outlined on hill tops. Dozens of Common Blues in a valley bottom several sunning themselves on dead woody plants from last year. More Common Blues than I have ever seen together. Rival architecture of blackened wood and a collection of barns converted into a house. Little Kimble station converted into a pebble dashed house. Large park 'n' ride facilities at Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield – larger than anything I've seen in Surrey – and all jammed packed with cars. High Wycombe – domination of supermarkets, abandoned factories. A person on High Wycombe platform was wearing a pullover on which was the slogan "Bodger's Hovel".

The Chiltern Adonis Blues appear to be less brilliant than those on the North Downs. Also the black dashes cutting across the white strip at the edges of the wing are far less marked being little more than a dot. The Dingy Skipper also appeared to be paler. I did not experience the lift on seeing the Duke of Burgundy I did when I first saw Marbled White, Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Heath Fritillary and Scotch Argus. But it was still a memorable day. What factors cause that lift, that unforgetableness? It is not just the newness: I shall never forget my first sighting of the Ben Rhydding Ringlets on a warm damp, overcast day, restricted to an area of wooded grassland not more than thirty yards on the banks of the Wharfe – they seemed to have something spectral about them. And they were smaller, more delicate, and lighter in colour than the Ringlets I had observed in the south. I believe the photos I took brought out this marginal, spectral quality.

 

26th May, 1997: Wharton Crag, Carnforth, Morecambe Bay, Lancashire

Clear blue day. Hot with cooling breeze from the sea. Clambered over fields taking the coast route but the path from Millhead was by far the easiest. First Pearl Bordered Fritillary was near the limestone pavement and feeding on bird's foot trefoil. Several were to be found flying near the top of the crag. Early purple orchids, dwarf yew on rock, purging buckthorn. Saw Green Hairstreak then espied an area that seemed perfect. It was. This was the "Butterfly Garden". Many bluebells, ramson's etc. Many Pearl Bordered Fritillary and some Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary. One nectared for some time on ramson. Most Pearl Bordered Fritillary were either sunning themselves or seeking egg laying sites. Many settled on dead bracken strands. (Seemed a perfect site for High Brown Fritillary). Two Brimstones – male and female and somewhat smaller than in the south. Also slightly smaller specimens of Speckled Wood as if they had been dusted with flour. Exceptionally fine goat willow trees and also possibly Lancashire white beam.

Met an alcoholic brickie on Bradford Forster Square station. He quoted Rudyard Kipling on the building trade – its unchangeability. He had walked off the Forster Square revamped building site after one month. After clocking on at 8 in the morning he was still waiting for his muck and mortar at 9 30. As he was on a price he jacked it. The foreman was ex-army and had laid out a labourer and then fired by management. The brickie was from Keighley but was now living in Undercliffe though wanted to rent a caravan trailer on Baildon Moor.

The clear blue day lifted my spirits and I almost felt I was there inside my body. Alas, the effect was to disappear the next day on Ilkley Moor.

 

28th May 1997: Gait Barrows, North Lancashire.

Lots of bird's eye primrose on shores of Hawes Water. Saw first Duke of Burgundy on path up to hut on top of the grikes. An unusual spot according to Warden, Petley Jones who went in search of "the little blighter". There were some Grizzled Skippers – probably an introduction – around the hut. Petley Jones had seen three. A Wood White also may have been introduced. Four Duke of Burgundy's – the last on the margins of the big field.

The friendliness of naturalists: there is always an exchange of views. A man with his daughter photographing butterflies. He objected to introductions of Grizzled Skipper and the guy who did it should have told the warden. Our 'man' had also taken a day off work. One felt there was a hidden radicalism there. Perhaps a possible discussion of modes of production wasn't that far off. Had all the naturalists on the reserve assembled at the Station Hotel at Carnforth – what an evening that might have turned out to be? The friendliness to be found amongst naturalists is a kind of expression – a picket against forces that wish to destroy nature even more. And not far behind it the future of humanity that is at stake.

The releasing of butterflies is an unofficial movement. The appropriate authorities are not consulted. Maybe it is a biology teacher who breeds say Grizzled Skippers in the classroom purchasing livestock from butterfly farms. Once emerged rather than kill and set them the teacher knows that to open the window of the classroom will be a release into an inhospitable environment which will lead to their rapid demise. So they take them to the nearest promising habitat knowing full well permission to release them may well be refused.

 

29th May 1997: Ripponden, West Yorks

Ripponden woods. Partial assessment of the size of a Green Hairstreak colony. Most abundant on the moor bottom thinning out somewhat the higher we climbed. One was to be seen flying along an old stone wall which may have acted as a corridor. At a rough guess I would estimate there are around five hundred Green Hairstreak adults but could be as high as one or even two thousand. Some remained on perches for up to ten minutes. One that I observed turned to sun the other side of its wings - or at least appeared to do so. It may however have merely changed sides to keep cool. The oak appeared to afford the most favourable perch followed by the silver birch. David reported seeing two Holly Blues.

 

30th May 1997: Otley Chevin, West Yorks

Plenty of Green Hairstreaks on the Chevin. Found an unusual area – Caley Craggs near Caley Gate or more precisely, Caley Deer Park. Went onto a gap next to Stag Wood which itself was next to Chippendale Ride and then on to the top near Forest Gate. A Green Hairstreak was resting - and what must be the limit of its habitat range on a patch of bilberry in front of a field of meadow grass. This was some 250 yards from the very top of Surprise View.

We found no Green Hairstreak on Surprise View itself but this may have been much to do with it being very late afternoon. Were winds a major factor in the dispersal of the Green Hairstreak? Or is the patchy corridor of bilberry running a long the top of the Chevin the major vector? Green Hairstreaks do soar to the top of birches and a female could easily be carried further afield by a strong thermal draught. A tree had been cut down close to the main Hairstreak site leaving half the trunk standing. Someone had carved a sculpture – a wretched off-putting piece of wood junk. I would have preferred a burnt out car or a pile of litter to this. Apparently the first to go in for this sculpting; to encourage it was the Norbury Estate adjacent to Box Hill, Surrey!

 

2nd June 1997: Hell's Coppice and Burnwood Forest, Oxfordshire

A very windy day indeed but with occasional sun. The Wood Whites had emerged but were loathe to fly in the wind. Most were to be found around Hell's Coppice. In spite of making a wide detour through the forest we did not see any. A couple though in Hell's Coppice engaged in a mating display. One - most likely the male – moved its proboscis from one side to the other side of the female's head. It then flew away only to return a couple of minutes later engaging again in a similar display. They then parted once more and the male never returned. We must only have seen about twelve Wood White throughout the day.

The surrounding houses were somewhat dissimilar to the usual Chiltern stock. They were made of stone and vernacular housing was beginning to resemble the type to be found in the Cotswolds. Preferred Oxford to Canterbury. It was somehow more real. Fewer cars seemed to be on the roads in the rural areas than in Surrey. They were also a lot more wary of pedestrians and slowed down.

Why was Hell's Coppice named as such? Witches? The land is obviously barren permitting a greater degree of biodiversity on the calcareous soil. Maybe it was named because it was so hard to farm rather than any association with witches.

 

4th June 1997: Hadleigh Great Wood and Hockley Woods, South Essex

Large coppiced area in entrance to Hadleigh Wood. Much cow wheat but were unable to find the Heath Fritillary. Most of the coppicing is of recent origin and superficially it appeared an act of mammoth vandalism. Someone had written on the signpost of Hadleigh Great Wood "It was". Eventually though we were to find the Heath Fritillary in Hockley Woods around five in the evening with the sun beginning to cast long shadows. The coppiced habitat had however become well established and completely grassed over though with flowers and cow wheat still able to compete. They were flying in good numbers and probably might have even teemed if we had found the site earlier on in the day. To call it "the butterfly that follows the woodman's axe" can create a false impression. They do not do so immediately – at least not until the coppicing is well and truly over and new saplings have reached a height of six foot or more. It is possible it may have been less true when coppicing was traditionally part of woodland management and the forest floor greener with grasses and flowers. Heath Fritillaries may have then colonised areas more rapidly than today.

The aim behind the bare, coppiced clearances is long term say maybe ten to fifteen years when tens of thousands of butterflies could be on the wing. Their future looks secure though overall the ecological crises will have deepened and two years of severe drought would easily wipe out the projected increase in numbers; "Even the last butterflies will be thirsty" (Rimbaud).

 

8th June 1997: Banstead Downs, Sutton, Surrey

Attended a meeting of Butterfly Conservation. David Dronovitch led it. Rather posh. Complained about the incessant hum of the traffic on the downs and yet he was a car owner. He appeared to know every inch of Banstead even describing what looked to be a mass of kidney vetch as only "three plants". He was particularly concerned that horseshoe vetch thrived – for the sake of the Chalk Hill Blue. Observing a couple of mating Brimstones he said "well it shows you are never too old" because the butterflies had been on the wing since last August. Was chary about admitting the existence of Heath Fritillaries in Hadleigh Great Wood or he genuinely did not know.

 

17th June 1997: Isle of Wight

Visit to Compton Chine. It was the end of the season so there were very few Glanville Fritillary on the wing. Most looked dished. They seem to favour fairly well established cover on the under cliffs with much grass and plantain etc. Also the butterfly is very much a sun lover and would disappear instantly once the sun went in. Yellow rattle and common rest harrow. Also saw a stonechat.

Found the Isle of Wight extra-ordinarily beautiful and geologically astounding with chalk cliffs suddenly interrupted by red sandstone and clay slippages with a very diverse plant life. Rural architecture: a number of thatched houses including an amazing thatched church. The whole place appeared to be car illiterate: parking on corners, double yellow lines, not taking due care when pulling out and also seemed to have a good bus service – more so than comparable country areas.

 

10th July 1997: Ashstead Common, Surrey

Several Purple Emperors around the top oaks but they did not come down to puddle. Talked to a park ranger – a youth in his twenties on a six month contract. He was hoping to do an MSC but needed site experience or at least thought it preferable. He had an ecology degree from Birmingham University. He seemed to think staff employed by English Nature had a hard time of it and much of their work was bureaucratic having to justify their existence to the cheque signers of Whitehall. Because Natural England is a conservation body it is difficult to itemise their expenses unlike the Countryside Commission which is about access, constructing paths etc. and hence can more easily show what the money has been spent on. As always there was an undercurrent of hostility to capitalism – bad publicity and hitting firms in their pockets. He previously had worked for Greenpeace.

Was opposed to aspects of the mechanisation of agriculture preferring the hand mowing of meadows for instance to help the yellow ant. Mechanical mowing would level the ant hills – and similarly with the strip mining of peat. He wanted to introduce cropping animals onto Ashstead Common because formerly it would have been woodland pasture. He noted that career advancement within the conservation movements depended on experience and qualifications. Come a certain point this would act as a break on his radical potential even though he is at the moment sympathetic to direct action. He carried a walkie-talkie and was constantly in touch with HQ. He also had a map and showed me the best spots for the Purple Emperors especially the Emperor Gate area - an area the Corporation of the City of London (who owned the area) had allowed to grow wild. He mentioned he was obliged to say something in the name of the Corporation and in that sense he was no independent but a 'corporation' man.

 

9th July 1997: Hutchinson's Bank, Addingham, near Croydon, Surrey

Towards 4 30 in the afternoon the Dark Green Fritillaries finally came down to earth to nectar – mainly on knapweed. Initially this lasted for only three seconds increasing to around ten seconds towards 6 pm. They were to be seen flying over the green sward towards Selsdon but the majority were on the bank itself. There were more Marbled Whites collected here than I have ever seen. Indeed, several mating pairs were to be seen flying. Others would fly high up in the trees when disturbed alighting on a branch. They were easily spooked and just approaching them caused the insects to take flight. I even saw one (male?) feeding on knapweed whilst mating. The female remained passive underneath.

The presence of kids riding tracking bikes was exceedingly irritating but they stuck to the paths making an incredible din as they opened the throttle. In fact, loathe as I am to admit it, we probably did more damage to the environment running over the terrain and carelessly trampling on flowers in our haste to photograph insects. In one of the lay-bys at the bottom of Hutchinson's Bank there were a couple of burnt out cars. We both preferred the area to Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk because the area was still used by local people for recreational purposes etc and different to lining up to take photographs of endangered species.

Coming back I mentioned that I had not seen Lime Hawk caterpillars for sometime. A second later I spotted a Lime Hawk moth on a tree where the old Metro club (in Notting Hill) used to be. A passing copper asked if it was real. It did look like a cardboard cut-out pinned to a tree and it was still there a day later! I was reminded of a similar coincidence mentioned by L. H. Newman – an actualisation of a dream etc.

 

14th July 1997: Ashstead Common, Surrey

Eventually found the main Purple Emperor colony. Observed them at rest on the oak leaves with one eventually coming down alighting briefly on a bracken frond. They definitely prefer the top oaks choosing the most majestic trees. They definitely have grandeur about them no other British butterfly possesses. They seem to need a sensation of space and won't be hemmed in; nor do they have a function scarcely ever alighting on flowers drinking aphid dew instead. They are the most enigmatic of British butterflies.

There was a pair of mating Meadow browns close to the main Purple Emperor colony. And there were mating Ringlets close to the Leatherhead Road at emperor Gate. Also Silver Washed Fritillaries and Dark Green Fritillaries plus White Admiral. Most were dished. Saw several Large Skippers (7) licking up nitrates from a puddle. Also a brood of Small Tortoiseshells on nettles – they appeared to flick their foreparts in unison. Also found a dead grass snake. Many Large and Small Whites, probably around one hundred.

 

17th July 1997: Thorne Wastes, South Yorkshire.

The day was very overcast when we first arrived but the morning had had spells of sunshine. Scuffed up a couple of Large Heaths which quickly settled half way down a stem of heather allowing us to photograph them. But that was it for the day until early evening when the sun revealed itself again. Then we saw a number of Large Heaths but this time they proved exceptionally difficult to photograph flying all over rough, boggy terrain. One could easily have found oneself up to the neck in brackish, bog water. Once disturbed the butterflies seemed to retreat to the safety of the bog resting in marsh grasses. One alighted for a short while on a young birch sapling. In fact dead birch leaves amongst the heather, or clinging to marsh grasses in the boggy grounds closely resembled the Large Heath.

The butterflies do not fly on overcast days but it is much easier photographing the Large Heath after a period of sunshine just prior to settling down deep in the grass. We need to come back to determine the range of the butterfly on Thorne Wastes. The fauna in the area belonged to that found in limestone regions though the limestone had been imported in the 19th century to create "tramways" (as they are locally called) through the bog where people could walk. There's yellow rattle and marsh orchids – in abundance. All this is in contrast to the sterile roadways constructed by Levingtons extraction company. There was a Little Ringed Plover in the pit yard – making us think Thorne must be the most nature conscious colliery of all.

 

19th July 1997: Thorne Wastes (again)

A brilliantly hot day but one that was unsuitable for the Large Heath! Perhaps they found it too hot spending hours probably clinging to fronds of crossed leaved heath – and they are easily disturbed flying off at the slightest approach. Their flight is somewhat similar to that of the Meadow Brown but they do actually rest from time to time. They seem to favour a habitat of cotton grass, cross leaved heath and heather with peaty bog interspersed with low silver birches. Once the latter became too tall the habitat becomes unsuitable for the Large Heath.

Certainly I did not find them on the old peat workings next to the scorched-earth peat workings of Levingtons. Last year I had thought that was a suitable habitat. However, they do fly over the higher birches growing alongside the "tramways" between the main areas. Once the sun cooled there were more to be seen on the wing. Then the wind dropped and the temperature climbed once more which did not suit the Large Heath. Found a mating pair which was easier to photograph before they flew off into the bog. At one point I even took my shoes and socks off, rolled up my trousers and pursued a Large Heath in the bog. It alighted a couple of times on crossed leaved heath before perching on a frond of bracken.

Met a party of three naturalists from Chesterfield. The unofficial leader could easily have been a headmaster or biology teacher. He was immediately competitive with us and started to show off his knowledge of natural history. A hobby flew up and by its markings he could tell it was only a year old. He must have said so before to the others but repeated it to show off. We asked him about the status of the site, the stripping of its triple SSSI status. But he instantly went on the defensive saying it was scare mongering and that the part of Thorne Wastes we were now on was safe from encroachment by Levingtons (which, it transpired had taken over from Fisons). According to him, the warden in charge of Thorne Moor was sick and tired of being approached by journalists. He further mentioned that Levingtons only left an inch of peat after the mechanical extraction but then quickly changed back to showing off his knowledge of nature – not wanting to be dragged into radical dialogue. He most definitely was not a class struggle naturalist.

Found many Oak Eggars. There was an exhausted female which then proceeded to lay some eggs in a jam jar before it was then released some one and a half hours later. Also found a male Oak Eggar on some yellow rattle. And the Little Ringed Plover was still in the pit yard! Then found what appeared to be a large colony of Purple Hairstreak along the railway line from Thorne to Doncaster.

 

20th July 1997: Farnham Gravel pits near Knaresborough, North Yorkshire.

The site is owned by extraction company Tilcom. It was recently reported that Northern Brown Argus had been see here but we never found any. There were Ringlets aplenty and wildfowl. Farnham is essentially a water sports park with notices warning drivers to be considerate of other drivers when leaving Farnham gravel pits. There was a coot nesting on a hay bail covered in black polythene which had been rolled into the lake. The majority of people walking around the first lake were from the nearby council housing estate and it may well have been the youths from this estate that rioted in this area in the nationwide uprising of 1981. Much effing and blinding.

A Park 'n' Ride scheme is in operation in Knaresborough during weekends and holidays. The services were signposted as you entered the town.

 

27th July 1997: Ashstead Common, Surrey

A Purple Emperor briefly floated over our heads to alight a few seconds later on a small oak, sufficient to take some photos. We spread crushed fruit on the ground and unfurled a bleached, white sheet. We thought neither was going to work until; just as we were leaving to go David disturbed a Purple Emperor which had alighted on the sheet.

I was exhausted so I fell asleep on the grass. Termazipan for a cold had taken the edge of the usual mental pain and on awakening I was in a state of relaxed, almost joyous communication with nature which took me back to my years as a teenager when I was yet to know pain. David had been awake all the while watching the Purple Emperors fluttering around the oaks. He had gone behind a very old, now stunted oak probably over 600 years old which was only just to say clinging to life and with a bramble bush growing out of its truncated bowl when suddenly he noticed a Purple Emperor some ten feet off the ground on the bark. It was drinking sap from a bleed. Soon it was joined by another then another and even flies were drawn to the bleed. Was this old oak exuding the champagne of saps? Uplifted this rare chance encounter had something dream-like to it almost like that previously mentioned L.H. Newman anecdote of a predicted dream becoming reality the next day. Newman is one of the few natural history writers to mention such phenomena in an unembarrassed fashion.

We had met earlier on a couple of wardens. David had pointedly sought to broaden the usual remarks into a critique of urbanism mentioning how the deluge of a couple of weeks ago had transformed the dull suburban landscape of Selsdon. It was not taken up but maybe the hierarchical relationship which existed between the two wardens prevented that; the younger one moderating his former out spoken-ness.

 

14th August 1997: Lulworth Cove, Dorset

First sighting on the under cliff at Lulworth of the Lulworth Skipper. Then saw another rather battered specimen on a thistle on the cliff adjacent to Binden Hill. Two or three were to be seen fluttering around thistles on the path up to Binden Hill. Moving on it became apparent we had found a big colony. Contrary to Thomas & Lewington the butterflies had a preference for fleabane. In fact the fading flowers of fleabane resembled the Lulworth Skipper and must have afforded it some kind of protection. I also saw them feeding off ragwort though they also nectared on knapweed........ Suddenly a sea mist came in and it was impossible to find out if the uppermost part of Binden Hill was home also to the Lulworth Skipper. Immediately the skippers ceased nectaring and rested on tor grass, dead twigs etc they would fly for short distances when scuffed up from the grass.

In comparison to the photograph in E.B. Ford's book "Butterflies" the cove now resembled a marina. However, there was beneath the tourism an unexpected air of poverty. The only supermarket for miles around is a Spa in Wool. We travelled to the cove with a pensioner who twice a week would make a trip to the supermarket. She said to the driver of the taxi-cum-bus she would be glad when the tourist season ended because she could then be sure of a seat on the Garrison taxi/bus service.

The café on the sea front proclaimed it was a chip free zone. There was also a new-ageist decorating sea shells on the front for a living. He seemed singularly dedicated never raising his head for a moment to look around him. There was also a country wine shop but the wines were extraordinarily expensive retailing around £6 50p a bottle. A large field formed a car park at Lulworth Cove straddling the pathway to Durdle Dor where the Lulworth Skipper was first noted in 1832. I wondered if Runswick Bay in North Yorkshire had undergone a similar transformation.

 

25th August 1997: Bronte Falls near Haworth, West Yorks

Walked down the valley which had been cut through by the stream with Samia and David. We had noticed a number of Small Coppers adjacent to the pathway which encouraged David to explore along the valley bottom. It is a real ecological niche – alder, sallow, birch, larch and Samia described it as "having forty shades of green". There were immigrant hawker dragonflies and Small Coppers in abundance – the first genuine Small Copper colony I had seen as it is a much dispersed butterfly. Resting and nectaring on the heather it was an unusual sight. I also saw a Meadow Brown sunning itself on a stone in the river – rather like a Grayling – in fact I had to check it wasn't! Also, a Large White possibly taking a drink from the mineral-rich water. Saw what was almost certainly a caterpillar of the Browntail moth on sorrel at the start of the path to Bronte Falls.

 

26th August 1997: Brackenbury Park, Gt Horton, Bradford, West Yorks.

Caught an ab: alba tutt albino form of the Small Copper in Brackenbury Park. I assume it was a female as it was hotly pursued by normal forms of the Small Copper. Photographed it in a loft alongside a normal form of the butterfly. It began to feed instantly. By Friday morning it appeared weak as we took it back down to Brackenbury Park but rapidly recovered after nectaring on ragwort able to fly away after a short while even though the day was windy.

 

Ist September 1997: Hells Coppice, Oxfordshire

Photographed a dishevelled female Brown Hairstreak. It was on a blackthorn, a little high up and David bent the branch down so I could photograph it. It was surprisingly tame or bashed. However, it was very definitely the end of the season for the Brown Hairstreak. Searched for eggs on the blackthorn but were unable to find any. Maybe it really is easier in winter!

 

3rd September 1997: Ranmore Common, Dorking, Surrey

It really is the last of the season. All the Adonis Blues were dished in spite of intensive search. They were the most frequent near the old coach road at the bottom of Denbies Hillside. There were a surprising number of Meadow Browns which tended to behave more like Grayling alighting on the path to sun themselves and drawing down their forewings behind their lower wings hiding the eye-spot. I noticed they did the same at Bronte Falls. Found a pair of mating Large White resting on bramble and looking very inconspicuous.

 

19th May 1998: Banstead Downs, Sutton, Surrey

One or two Dingy Skippers. Three Grizzled Skippers and three Small Blues and a possible Marbled White. The Green Hairstreaks were in comparison with other years few in numbers. The main colony appeared to be in the centre of the down's low shrubs, gorse and a few young trees. A sycamore a little higher than the rest on a gentle south facing slope appeared to be the most favoured perch, its sprays of branches starting some five feet from the ground unlike the other sycamores which started around eight foot. Oaks were the second favourite perching tree. We managed to capture some twelve specimens some with the aid of a fishing net. It took rather longer than expected and a tour around Banstead failed to yield a colony of a comparable size. We went straight to Scrubs Lane where we released them around seven in the evening. I took photos of them on lupin and nettle - most unusual resting places in the wild. I only hope we caught them in sufficient numbers to establish a colony. If it fails I won't be trying again

 

8th May 1998: Ripponden, West Yorks

A Green Hairstreak exploration. One rather battered specimen on the old railway line above Ripponden. I took four photos. From what I can remember evidently not the Ab: caecus variety to be met with farther down the abandoned railway towards Halifax. I may have seen another but it could have been a silver birch leaf torn off a tree by the wind which caused me to think the Green Hairstreak may emulate the flying leaf affording the butterfly some protection.

We then moved on to Rishworth north of Ripponden on the Oldham Road. There was a steep bankside where Godley Lane branched off covered in birch, oak and bilberry. I saw what was almost certainly a Green Hairstreak but could not follow it because of the steepness of the slope. The bilberry gave out quite quickly and I would reckon it was in fact a small colony of some twenty adults.

We then headed back and crossed to the other side of the River Ryburn past the converted Rishworth Mill occupied by the sort of people whom wouldn't give you a nod in a desert. We climbed the road to Spread Eagle Cottage surrounded by bilberry slopes. There was also a line leading to a pit which was banked on either side by bilberry. This led on to a steep bank – classic Green Hairstreak territory. Late though the day was I did see one around 4 30 resting on the bilberry. It must have been a good one hundred foot higher than the colony on Godley Lane and may mark the limit of the Green Hairstreaks range as regards elevation.

 

26th May 1998: Greetland to Marsden, West Yorks

A bitterly cold, overcast day for the time of year prospecting for Green Hairstreak territory. It would appear there are none at all in Greetland and Stainland and the misnamed Bilberry Hall. We took the bus to Marsden passing a patch of bilberry between Milnsbridge and Linthwaite amidst the ribbon development at the side of the road. In Marsden village there were many patches of bilberry, low scrub and heather – perfect Green Hairstreak territory. Catching the train back to Huddersfield the green patches glimpsed from the road proved to be immature bracken fronds. Nevertheless patches of heather could be found in the railway cuttings unaccompanied by bilberry which very definitely seems not to favour built-up areas.

 

31st May 1998: Scrubs Lane, West London

Walked around the area. Noticed a pair of Speckled Woods behaving very strangely on a bramble leaf. I took it to be a mating ritual but now have my doubts. One closed its wings eventually keeling over and feigning death while the other acted aggressively squaring up its front legs as if poised to spring or even throw a punch. Eventually the latter flew off while the former lay motionless on its side. I thought it might be dead but at my approach the butterfly quickly righted itself and flew off. As far as I know this unusual behaviour has not been noted.

 

28th June 1998: Marsden near Huddersfield, West Yorks

In spite of a lengthy search we failed to see any Green Hairstreak. The bad weather must have killed off any remaining stragglers. Or are no Green Hairstreaks on the site which would surprise and in need of explanation. Saw a number of Large Skippers in particular a little colony centered on a bramble bush quite high on the moor on a sheltered lane. Also found an Angle Shades on bilberry. Also saw a Wall butterfly.

 

29th June 1998: Lawkland / Austwick Moss, Cravendale, High Pennines, North Yorks

A damp, cold, rainy day: I was for turning back at Giggleswick but pressed on arriving at the gate to Lawkland Moss some one and a half hours later. Fate had played us a great hand because no sooner had we crossed to the far side of a marshy clearing than I noticed a Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary. It was resting on a head of yorkshire fog, its wings open absorbing the very faint rays of the sun. We quickly noticed several more some settling on tufted vetch closing their wings during showers but rarely moving to the bottom of grasses for shelter. This spot was several degrees warmer than the surrounding countryside sheltered on all sides by sallows and alders. This was the only place we found the fritillary as Lawkland Moss though on a fine day they must have surely visited other areas. However, this area was particularly distinctive, the yorkshire fog rarely rising more than two foot and certainly not covering the entire area to the exclusion of all other vegetation as occurred in other areas. In parts there was a covering of marsh pennywort plus other clumps of grass. Tufted vetch was also to be seen as well as ragged robin, marsh thistle and marsh valerian. They seemed to prefer tufted vetch and ragged robin to thistle though the fritillaries went on the marsh thistle on Austwick Moss.

There were also numerous chimney sweeps and it was noticeable the chimney sweeps were less in number where there weren't any fritillaries. There were many Large Skippers too. We crossed to Austwick Moss and found what was almost certainly a secret location of the Large Heath though none were on the wing. Crossing the abandoned peat workings we eventually came to an open area with a clear view of Ingleborough. Fritillaries were flying here and feeding on the marsh thistles but they were impossible to photograph because of the boggy, uneven terrain and the wind. But on a hot, still summer's day it may be possible to photograph them with Ingleborough in the background. Austwick Moss is a more managed environment than Lawkland and the birches and alders that had overgrown the peat workings had been felled though the young saplings of birch could only be two or three years old. The Large Heath likes immature birches as perches and for protection.

Maybe it would be possible to manage Lawkland Moss benefiting the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary by scything the grass allowing a greater diversity of plant life. Really irritated by the short stretch of motorway. I was buzzed twice for daring to be a pedestrian. It was the most amazing turn around of all butterfly days. (Also saw a heath spotted orchid). It was amazing to find the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary with its wings open as if sunning itself on a damp cold mid summer's day. One would certainly not expect this at Gait Barrows and maybe there are slight genetic differences between the two colonies. In this respect the day was an eye opener. They also appeared to be incredibly tame because David was able to lift a couple on to his hand though whether they fed from his sweat glands as did a Scotch Argus at Arnside Knott a couple of years ago is another matter as it was probably too cold.

There is a striking contrast though between Lawkland Moss and Gait Barrows, yet the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary is at home in both seeming to prefer the drier, rides and limestone outcrops of Gait Barrows to the damp, grasslands at the foot of the escarpment. Had I first seen the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary at Lawkland it would never have occurred to me to venture up Gait Barrows in search of them? I may be wrong but superficially the Lawkland Moss fritillaries seem to be smaller than those of Gait Barrows. Possibly also there has been some genetic adjustment to the damper, cooler environment in the High Pennines. But it would not be easy to prove this.

 

1st July 1998: Grassington in Wharfedale, North Yorks

At Grassington there were Common Blues on the old railway line from Skipton to Threshfield, a line similar to that from Middlesbrough to Loftus in so far as it is maintained by an extraction company, Tilcom.

Grass Wood was undergoing a process of woodland management particularly the chopping down of conifers on the higher slopes. I think we found the area where the Scotch Argus flew in Barford Wood – a beautiful limestone pavement area quite breathtaking covered in rock rose, clumps of grass and overall similar to Arnside Knott. I disliked Grassington. People seemed to visit the village simply to window shop and/or visit the posh café and then drive home. To me a day out in the country for them is simply an extension of the new high street of craft shops and boutiques. And yet just a hundred and twenty years ago Grassington was a mining village. If the miners could ever return what would they think. Perhaps in one hundred years time it will be a village of mutants. It must however have been the most splendid locality ever for the Scotch Argus particularly since it was such a beautiful dark specimen of the butterfly with the wonderful vista of upper Wharefdale opening out at the very top of Grass Wood. It has a touch of utopia about it.

 

14th July 1998: Hell's Coppice, Oxfordshire

Drivers in this part of Oxfordshire are somewhat less aggressive than in Yorkshire and often surprisingly friendly to walkers. Maybe the presence of Oxford University naturalists has altered the behaviour of both over decades and the trespasser they pitch-forked off their fields turned out to be an eminent biologist and an honoured friend of the local squire and parson. Even so the footpaths are often well marked though they are signposted. When photographing a Marbled White on scabious on the roadside verge a car hooted at me aggressively. I could only feel raging anger against the car and all it implies: more motorways, sky TV, packaged sports, mobiles etc as a substitute for communication – the dead life of technological innovation. So I went to bed exhausted and depressed unable to phone Joan and have a drink. The glimpse of a red kite above the motorway did nothing to lift my mood.

At one point we walked through fields of ripened corn along the bare tracks left by a tractor just to escape the rush of the traffic on a country road. To the accompaniment of the sound of cars whizzing by on pointless journeys, all around was this vast green and dead monoculture of corn with scarcely a weed to be seen anywhere. I commented on how the corn cockle was now a rare plant; herbicides and modern tillage having increasingly destroyed the diversity of life in the countryside.

 

18th July 1998: Scrubs Lane, West London

Several Hedge Brown. The butterfly is very definitely extending its range. I first noted it about five years ago. There was also one Small Copper.

 

19th July 1998: Ashstead Common, Surrey

The Silver Washed Fritillary has extended its range to Rushett Lane. They are not uncommon now in the forest. Generally they are to be found side by side White Admiral feeding on bramble in the sun. I also found it flying along the path skirting the wood even though the sun was behind the clouds. I had never observed it do this before. However, the day was too overcast and cool even though it was one of the best days this summer to attract the Purple Emperors down from their tree top retreat. The sap bleed on the old oak seems to have dried up.

 

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