Just interested to hear how you folks feel that this year's egg counts are comparing to recent years? Have just spent nearly 4 hours out at our main Lincolnshire stronghold today in ideal weather for egg-searching. Having visited a couple of areas where I would usually expect to find good numbers of eggs, I have to say that I am slightly disappointed with my findings...
Numbers do seem to be substantially down, perhaps not unexpectedly following one of the worst butterfly summers in recent years. Is anyone else experiencing reduced numbers this winter?
Be interested to hear from fellow egg-hunters across the land...
Check out our Ryton Wood Meadows reserve page on the excellent new Butterfly Conservation website :)
With the survey pretty well complete and with rainclouds gathering, we were on our way back to the car when a cry of "got one" pulled us up short. Sure enough, just a few metres north of the car park and adjacent to a park bench and kiddie's play area, one rather old leading shoot of blackthorn contained not one but three eggs. I often think that searching for Brown Hairstreak eggs is like waiting for buses, nothing for hours then three come at once! Anyway, result all round and hopefully the confirmation of breeding success in the park for the second successive year will encourage further the Council to begin to manage some of the stands of blackthorn with the butterfly in mind.
This coming Saturday, 24th November sees our first egg count of the hedges around Grafton Wood meeting at Grafton Flyford church for 10 am. This will be our 43rd year of egg counts at this location making it almost certainly the longest running monitoring survey undertaken in any UK butterfly. New faces are always welcome so if anyone fancies a trip up (or down) to Worcs this weekend they would be very welcome.
The Burren Conservation Volunteers are an inspiring group of volunteers actively working towards the sustainable management of the Burren. On Saturday 17 November I was invited to give a workshop to the group and talk on how the volunteers could contribute to the work of the National Biodiversity Data Centre where I work. I mainly spoke on recording and entering records online but also of a number of schemes that we run including the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. A few of the monitoring scheme volunteers were in the room and we wandered off the topic and started discussing scrub removal and the Brown Hairstreak.
None of us had ever searched for Brown Hairstreak eggs and were inspired to hurry outside and start searching! The workshop was set in a small village called Carran which is set smack bang in the middle of the Burren. The Burren is the hotspot in Ireland for butterflies as well as lots of other wildlife. Species abundant in this area include Wood White, Dingy Skipper, Small Blue, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary and Brown Hairstreak. Pearl-bordered Fritillary has been recorded at the back of the building we were in and Brown Hairstreaks were certain to be nearby. One group drove to the Burren National Park and the rest of us pottered out the back in some limestone pavement and scrub. It did feel like searching for a needle in a haystack and we quickly gave up after a number of hail showers had dwindled our enthusiasm!
The other group were more successful and came back with a photograph of what they believed to be an egg. It was in the right habitat, in a site well known for Brown Hairstreak, and looked like the photographs but we were still a little uncertain.
The next day I headed out despite heavy rain to another site well known for Brown Hairstreak. Jesmond Harding who wrote 'Discovering Irish Butterflies and their Habitats' had recommended this site to me. In full rain gear, I tramped through mud and cow dung along a 'green road' and investigated every blackthorn bush along the way. I was about to question my sanity when I spotted a 'sparkling' egg nestled in the fork of two branches. I was surprised at how obvious they are once you get your eye in. Some more searching and I found two eggs side by side. I was thrilled. I tried to take some photos with my iphone but it wasn't behaving. In fairness, the rain was pelting down and it would have been difficult to take a photograph with any camera. The results of my soggy efforts are some blurry photos!
At this stage the rain was coming in through my raingear and I decided it was time to get back to the car. As I drove southwards home and dried out a little, I decided to take a detour to Dromore Woods Nature Reserve which is another Brown Hairstreak hotspot. Jesmond had assured me that eggs were easily found on the 'castle walk'. I donned a new set of raingear and headed out into the rain again. Despite my efforts, I didn't find any eggs at this site. In better weather, though, I might have been a little more dedicated!
The outcome of the weekend trip is that a number of us are now on the search for eggs and know what to look for and where to look.
Several questions spring to mind - were all 23 eggs laid by the same female (If so, she has committed a significant percentage of her egg lay to just one plant)? What is it about this sucker that is particularly suitable for BH, if anything? Is it the location/aspect (there was plenty of similar growth in similar location with no eggs on)? Is there some kind of chemical messanger that attracts BH females to certain plants more strongly? Is it just a random phenomenon (I have doubts about that)? Are there occasions (eg after prolongued poor weather) when a female BH just has to lay many eggs in one go (my experience is that the females are rarely in any hurry to do anything at all - egg laying included!)
This afternoon I visited another of our "new" colonies. In 2010 I found eggs for the first time at Golsings Corner Wood reserve extension. This is an area of former farmland, acquired by the local wildlife trust a few years back, and planted up as woodland. It is situated to the south of an ancient woodland, from which blackthorn scrub is being allowed to develop. There is extensive blackthorn hedge surrounding the site, and blackthorn has also been planted within the new plantation. It has developed nicely into a great potential site for BH, and is close to our main stronghold at Chambers. I am delighted to report that I found eggs there today once again - the third year of confirmed occupancy!
Bring on the frost and wind - we need those remaining leaves to fall from the blackthorns!
Also, the ASHTAG app is now available for free, for both iPhone and Android phones, or you can submit photos of suspected Ash Dieback disease on the website.
Ministers have confirmed that 100,000 trees have been destroyed to try to prevent the spread of the deadly ash dieback disease. A ban on the import of ash trees came into force on Monday and an expert tree disease taskforce has been established.
The Chalara fraxinea fungus, which causes Chalara dieback - also known as ash dieback - has already killed 90% of ash trees in Denmark.
The disease was first spotted in the UK in February, at a nursery in Buckinghamshire, and was subsequently identified in other nurseries and newly planted areas.
But it has now been found in the wider countryside in East Anglia, sparking concerns the disease, which has the potential to devastate the UK's ash tree population, has spread to mature trees.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh accused the government of "dithering" over the summer. "Why did ministers sit back, cross their fingers and wait until the disease was found in the wild in June?" she asked. "After the forest sell-off fiasco, this incompetent government has been asleep on the job with ash dieback."
Experts say that if the disease becomes established, then ash dieback could have a similar impact on the landscape as Dutch elm disease had in the 1970s. This outbreak resulted in the death of most mature English elm by the 1980s. Elms have recovered to some extent but in some cases only through careful husbandry.
Visible symptoms of ash dieback include leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees and it can lead to tree death.
Experts are urging people to report suspected cases of dieback in order to prevent the spread of the disease to the wider environment becoming established.
An app, ASHTAG, has been launched to try and map the spread of the disease by allowing users to upload pictures and report possible sightings to a team who will pass any information to the Forestry Commission.
Well, much more encouragingly, yesterday we found 16 eggs in a relatively short space of time without really trying (as this was just a cursory look, whilst the leaves are still on etc.) including 7 in a 'hidden' meadow behind the tree that contains large amounts of some of the best looking young blackthorn I've ever seen. I strongly suspect that this meadow has been the main supporting habitat for the tree over the years - even though we didn't manage to find a single egg in it last winter. But, dare I say, it seems to be back in business now so hopefully things are on the up again!!
Afterwards, the three of us unsuccessfully attempted to find eggs in an adjacent 1Km grid square, that has resolutely refused to EVER give us a record of either egg or adult, even though its closest boundary is less than 1Km from the assembly tree. Lack of blackthorn in the hedgerows and apparent lack of suitable habitat structure - ie large and exposed field layouts - seems to be the problem here.
So, we're off to a good start! The problem we now face is that there isn't much blackthorn between the area searched yesterday and the next closest area. In which direction would the females have flown? This is usually the point at which us Eggheads start placing bets :)
I also must say a huge thank you to Ben Coleman, Craig Earl and the other rangers/volunteers at Ryton Pools Country Park for all their help, enthusiasm and cooperation over the past year or so. A blackthorn management plan for 2013 is being drawn up as we speak that should help improve future blackthorn distribution and suitablity for our favourite Hairstreak. Quite excited about next year already!
It was in January of this year that I joined a group at Bullingdon Prison led by David Redhead, having been inspired by Patrick Barkham's 'Butterfly Isles'. I found an awful lot of specks and white blobs before finally discovering my first egg. Is it any wonder when you consider that they are about the same size as the queen's nostril on a one pence coin?!
As always I got so engrossed in my photography that I soon got left behind! Fortunately, it was a very mild day, nothing like Patrick's, and a very rewarding one!
I plan to return in the new year, and hopefully next time I will know what I'm looking for!
If you don't know me and would like to look at more of my butterfly photos, I can be found at:
All ash trees are threatened by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea. It is marching through the continent, and the effect has been devastating. First reported in Poland in 1982, it has already wiped out 90 per cent of Denmarks ash trees.
Now, the fungus has crossed the Channel. It struck for the first time in February, when a shipment of diseased ashes from Holland were found in a Buckinghamshire nursery.
Then, in June, it killed another imported ash tree in Leicestershire. Nurseries across the country — and any other owners of ash trees — have been asked to check for giveaway blackened leaves on recently-bought trees.
Should the disease take root here, the loss to the British countryside would be incalculable. Some fear it could take an even greater toll on our trees than Dutch elm disease did in the late Sixties and Seventies.
After reports of a female Brown Hairstreak being seen in a brand new area, very close to the Warwickshire border in Redditch on 11th September, i met up with Simon Primrose on Wednesday to scout out potential blackthorn locations for winter egg searching. We decided to start at Dagtail End where we found over 20 eggs last year, the closest of which was about 200 metres from Warwickshire. Unfortunately, this area was flailed earlier in the year and so we didnt hold out much hope of finding anything there this winter. However, on our preliminary search on 26th (in the rain!), we found an excellent area of suckers with 7 eggs, including a triple! This was just a scouting trip so we will search this blackthorn more thoroughly when the leaves have fallen. This time, the closest egg was just 12 metres from the Warwickshire border! These females clearly enjoy teasing us. Further searching into Warwickshire gave us squat, including very little blackthorn which seems to be the norm these days. Along most of the key area, the excellent blackthorn in Worcestershire seems to stop as soon as the county boundary is reached and then doesn't start again until at least 250-300m into Warwickshire. How infuriating! Perhaps a mass blackthorn planting regime is in order.
Simon also found another 3 eggs a few days ago on a brief search close to the previously mentioned adult female sighting. Again, these are close to the border but i believe the nearby woodland could be acting as a rather nasty barrier for spread into Warwickshire.
The 2012/2013 preliminary egg searching has clearly got off to a good start here in the Midlands, with eggs also found at Grafton Wood.
THE AIM FOR THIS WINTER: to top last years 26 Warwickshire eggs found along the border!
Of course, unlike most other parts of the country, the weather is comparatively unreliable, but this can unearth observations that would otherwise not be recorded, such as the butterfly's cold tolerance levels.
The principal site in these parts is the coastal location at West Williamston, a lovely spot in itself even without the presence of one of the country's most precious insects.
The site is set within extensive salt marshes and as a result there are many unusual flora and fauna to be found here. Birdlife abounds whilst many plants found here are specialist species and will rarely be encountered elsewhere.
The site is obviously damp and salty but blackthorn thrives here and grows relatively unmolested by man's interference - no hedge-trimming here unless you have a vehicle with an outboard motor!
Last Saturday (22 September) I paid a visit in cool (albeit sunny) conditions and saw 4 adult females and 25 eggs. Even at 13 Celsius, Brown Hairstreaks were flying about, pottering amongst the shrubbery, looking for egg laying opportunities and taking time out to bask!
This image (taken at 12.30pm on Saturday 22nd September in sunny conditions with light to moderate wind and 13-14c temperatures) gives an idea of the habitat:
My last two visits to Steyning Rifle Range on 20th and 22nd September produced 6 and 7 female Brown Hairstreak respectively, bringing my 2012 total for the site to 52. To give some idea of how prolific the species is here, this is a lower count than in previous years; 2012 being a modest or even poor season in most areas.
One of the questions I'm regularly asked is "how do you know whether you are counting the same butterflies more than once?" Clearly it is useful to know whether we are recording sightings or different individuals, bearing in mind that the data will be useful in assessing the fortunes of the Brown Hairstreak from year to year, and the effectiveness of any management being conducted for the species.
Recognising different individuals is much more difficult early in the season, particularly when females are waiting for their eggs to ripen and are yet to begin their regular descent deep into the Prunus for the purpose of oviposition. Assuming that good images can be captured for each individual, a close examination will usually reveal subtle differences in pattern, particularly in the shape and extent of the orange wing flashes and the underside ‘streaking’. Also, unless the butterfly has emerged very recently, there will often be the odd telltale hairline scratch to the otherwise perfect topside.
Once the females start egg laying damage starts to occur very rapidly, which is unsurprising given their constant manoeuvring amongst the thorn. Aside from the scratches and loss of scales which are rapidly suffered, the Brown Hairstreak picks up a highly characteristic pattern of damage to the wing margins, unlike that seen in any other species. Semicircular notches are soon picked up as the wing margin folds and breaks against thorns and stems. These often develop further into deeper tears as the butterfly reverses up against Prunus stems while testing for suitable oviposition sites. Typical thorn damage can be seen in some of Andy Barker's images of 17th September. Later in the season this type of wear & tear allows easy differentiation of many individuals.
Along the track at the side of the area cleared of conifers we encountered a very fresh selection of butterflies. On Devil's-bit Scabious was a near perfect Brown Argus. We also saw Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Comma, and Silver Y. Later on we would see Small Copper and a selection of whites, so it is still well worth a visit to Grafton for all the other late lepidoptera.
At the Orchard we bumped into fellow enthusiast Ian and started a search for egg laying BH females. It was quiet until 1145 when it all kicked off. In a short window between 1145 and 1315 I identified 4 separate females. Simon saw another 2 independently. I think Ian said that he had seen 2 more in the wood, but I can't remember for sure. Lloyd joined us and confirmed that he had seen one further down the meadow area and 2 more in the next field. So that's at least 9 definite separate individuals plus whatever Ian saw. At 1315 it stopped as suddenly as it had begun with no further sightings.
During the hour and a half we watched as females would bask on a Blackthorn leaf then head down a young stem. As they descended they would appear to feel with the tip of their abdomen for a suitable spot to lay an egg. This would usually result in an egg being laid in the heal of an offshoot. In this way we were able to count 7 eggs. On one twig there were 3 eggs in very close proximity to each other, plus another near by. The lowest we found was only about 6 inches off the ground, with the others at about 18 inches.
I'm looking at the egg emergence time of around April, and being about 6 months away from the August September laying period it will have similar sunlight patterns. I wonder if the reason that the BH only seems to use the peak of the day now is to ensure that in 6 months time the emerging caterpillars are on the optimum spot for most exposure to sunlight and therefore most advanced Blackthorn leaf growth. Just a theory; what do others think?
Correction: ***In answer to my point above, just realised that it's not the 6 month gap that determines the similar day length. Rather, it would be that eggs are laid and hatch out a similar time period after and before the June 21st longest day.***
I managed to photograph each separate sighting of a BH and knew that I had seen at least 3 individuals at the time. When I sifted through photos at home I was able to identify a fourth. Here are the photos and time taken. It is worth comparing the condition of these taken on the 15th with the photos that Neil Freeman took the previous Saturday the 8th.
Individual 3 taken at 1239.
(Notice that within the space of 2 minutes further damage to the top left wing has occurred).
At outset today I had the forlorn hope of a maybe across a range of Bucks - Oxon border sites. However 10.30 am rang the ding-dong-BrH bell with a double-header male and female atop an ash and adjacent shade-bound elm right on the County boundary here in sunny Buckinghamshire - Oxon borders (one foot in each!). It was an estimated mere 15 degrees at the time.
Further forays to another three regular BrH sites delivered mixed fortunes topped by another glorious female Brh at 1.30 pm on a fence-post in the Piddington area and a couple of eggs located after a brief search at Piddington Woods at approx 3.30 pm.
More questions you guys and dolls: why are some days seemingly totally unsuitable to the BrH and others the opposite?
I have attempted to breed individuals initially from the egg stage with some success and subsequently through the complete cycle. It has been a steep learning curve but lacking rigour to some degree in terms of recording/logging detailed steps - but a 'wow' to observe!
Despite all that I have many questions but very few answers! Can you help?
This is really a test image, but shows a 3-day old first instar larva which was taken in April 2011 when I raised three Brown Hairstreaks from egg to adulthood. This process was photo-documented in diary form on UK Butterflies, but with Gillian's assistance I hope to produce a full report with observations and photos on Ash Brownies soon.
This is shaping up to be a very good but late year for adults in Worcs with continuing reports of Brown Hairstreaks at assembly trees and, increasingly, sightings of egg laying females. At least 12 individuals reported from Grafton Wood today which is the highest total of the season so far.
Steyning is an excellent site and even in this relatively poor season I've now seen nearly 40 females here. When time allows I'll write more about the Rifle Range and how we manage the habitat specifically for the Brownies.
Ive started working on the gallery which i think is going to be a reasonable size once its completely finished. Im looking in particular for photos of individuals/groups egg searching and ash bashing so please get in touch (email@example.com) if you'd like to contribute any.
Just a reminder for anyone thinking about joining the blog, you dont have to post on here regularly. Even if you just have 1 trip per year to seek out the Brownies, we want to hear from you! Please contact me at the above address as i will need to send you an email invite in order to get you signed up.
An update from John Woodruff today who visited Alners Gorse and Lydlinch Common in Dorset this morning - unfortunately, no Brown Hairstreak's seen at all, despite good weather. Does anyone know if the flight period is coming to a close now in southern England?
Following the latest disappointment, I resorted to egg searching at a site near Shurnock which last year produced a fantasatic result of around 300 being found. On Monday, I started at one of the Master Trees and worked along the main hedgerow for a distance of some 400 yards (I don't do metric). Surprisingly, no eggs were found near to the Master Tree but two were found on separate blackthorn suckers some 200 yards away. The remainder of that search failed to reveal any further eggs, but it is still very early.
Crossing over to the opposite hedgerow in an adjoning field which contains another Master Tree, two further eggs were found. These were on two separate and isolated blackthorn suckers, again well away from the Master Tree.
Questions that puzzle me:
- Will the female Brownie continue to egg lay in cool and cloudy conditions or will she remain buried in the hedgerow until the weather improves, assuming she does not fly back to the top of the Ash tree due to her body not being sufficiently warm enough to fly anyway?
- Does the female mate more than once and how many eggs roughly does she lay after she has mated?
Visited the potential new assembly tree on Blaze Lane, just to the SW of Redditch town, in which I had seen a definite female BH on Monday 3/9. Weather was 70% cloud, cool, breezy. Observed for about 30 mins - nothing seen, of any species.
Left there and drove to Naunton Fields NR (a Worcs Wildlife Trust reserve). A number of adult BHs had been seen there last year and a reasonable number of eggs had been found during the autumn/winter. Weather was still mixed and nothing was seen in the 'main bank' of trees that had supported the adults in 2011. Met Pete Seal whilst there but we then split up to search different areas. I searched the other group of Ash trees closer to where the main egg finds had been. Eventually I caught sight of an extremely faded and tattered male in the most easterly Ash of the group. It was reasonably active in the sunnier periods, flying to different parts of the tree but landing only on the most easterly parts, including once at eye level, but by the time I'd got camera out of bag........etc.etc.
About three weeks previously, Pete had sighted a possible BH in the next nearest Ash to this one, but had not had a clear view of it at rest.
This experience is not a first for me but an example of the many challenges put in the way of us mere human mortals by this most fascinating of butterfly species.
By 2.00pm it had quietened down a bit and we did not have any more sightings after this time. This led Chris to comment ‘My kind of butterfly, they get up at lunchtime for a bit then go back to bed’. Feeling very happy with our sightings and having got some photos we decided to leave shortly afterward and head home.
I also had a look at the other ash trees in the same field and managed to spot a definite hairstreak that descended out of an ash and landed high up in a hawthorn bush. However, I wasn’t able to confirm if this was a Purple or Brown Hairstreak. Still, it requires some further observation, as do other trees in the area that I have on my ever growing list.
Despite multiple searches of the main hedgerows, no females were to be seen anywhere.
So, at this point, we have 3 confirmed master trees bordering the same field. Ash 1 and 2 are roughly 50m apart, and ash 2 and 3 are roughly 300m apart. Considering the concentration of eggs that were found in these locations, all 3 trees are clearly within the main colony boundary. Does anyone know how many males can occupy a moderate-large sized ash before others start being used?
The aim is to have lots of contributors who will post their own entries on anything Brown Hairstreak related. If anyone would like to do so, please do not hesitate to email me (Gillian Thompson) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once ive added your email address to the contributors list, you will receive an email inviting you to join the blog. You need to have a Google account which you can easily sign up for by following the instructions provided in the email. Posting on the blog is a doddle but do let me know if anyone has any problems and i will help as best i can.
Heres to happy blogging :)