Season's Greetings

How has BH been affected by last "summer"?

So, fellow streakers,

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...

Ryton Egg Update

Its that time of year again! Ive only managed a couple of egging trips so far this month but things are looking positive for the Brown Hairstreak at Ryton Pools Country Park which adjoins Warwickshire's Butterfly Conservation reserve, Ryton Wood Meadows. So far, we have found over 80 eggs in the park itself, and another 5 on an adjoining lane. This beats the total found there last season! However, i wont be happy until i find at least another 65 eggs in the vicinity (i drive a hard bargain!). Plans are in progress for additional blackthorn planting at the park and ongoing management to increase blackthorn suitability for eggs.

Check out our Ryton Wood Meadows reserve page on the excellent new Butterfly Conservation website :)

More streaking in Worcs

Today's Thursday streak saw us head back to Morton Stanley Park in Redditch where we had recorded eggs for the first time last winter.  The main aim of the visit was to undertake a blackthorn survey of the park and feed in management recommendations to the site owners Redditch Council but, of course, we couldn't resist searching for eggs at the same time.  The park contains considerable amounts of blackthorn but much of it has not been managed for many years and is now generally too over-mature to be ideal for egglaying.  So really a place with considerable potential which could benefit hugely from rotational management of the blackthorn scrub.  Redditch Council, I am pleased to report, are very enthusiastic about the fact that Brown Hairstreaks have started to move in to town and have already agreed to modify their roadside verge management in another area where we have found eggs. 

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.

23 eggs on a single sucker

A pleasant morning out egging in the sunshine today lead to a find of 23 eggs on a single small blackthorn sucker at College Wood in Lincolnshire. I am sure many fellow "eggers" will be familiar with this phenomenon - you search an area of apparently suitable habitat, maybe finding a few eggs here and there, then suddenly you find a tiny bit of blackthorn that has been favoured above all others by a mass egg-lay! This particular sucker was growing in a typical sunny, sheltered situation alongside a ride junction, and was about a metre in height. Of the 23 eggs, 12 were laid as "doublets" - ie 2 eggs side by side in the same fork.
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!

More on Ash Dieback

Another very interesting article about Ash Dieback disease from Patrick Barkham in The Guardian yesterday, plus a statement from The National Trust.

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.

New Lincolnshire colony confirmed

Sunshine was streaming through my bedroom window as I woke this morning, so I decided it was definitely a good day for a trip out to the Lincolnshire Limewoods for a spot of egging. Our most exciting find last winter was the discovery of BH eggs at College Wood - a new site from which we had no former records. I was keen to see if the apparent colonisation last year was indeed establishing here. With a fair bit of foliage still on the blackthorns, I was delighted to find 68 eggs in a couple of hours along the SE wood edge, where last year we found a total of 52 eggs over the whole winter on this section. The butterfly has clearly had a succesful breeding season at this new colony, despite the poor summer. Good signs that our Lincolnshire streaks continue to go from strength to strength!

Ash Dieback Disease

Some very worrying news about the spread of the Ash Dieback disease in East Anglia today. Some excerpts from the article, plus additional links below.

++  ASHTAG app launched to prevent spread of devastating tree disease.
++  Deadly disease threatens to devastate ancient woodland.

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.

Streaking in France

Well around about now I would usually be commencing the annual winter egg search in the Lincolnshire Limewoods, but this year for a change my first egging session took place in South Brittany during a long weekend visit to my father's house some 20 minutes north of Vannes (19th-23rd October 2012). The habitat here is a mosaic of copses, tree lines and fields, with occasional larger woods. Bracken and Gorse is common, as is heather - it has a distinctly heathy feel - and blackthorn is not particularly common, although there are scattered plants here and there. Not ideal Brown Hairstreak country in my experience, and yet a quick look on a blackthorn in my father's front garden revealed 10 eggs of betulae - most unexpected!! The area is good for Purple Emperor, Large Tortoiseshell, Map Butterfly, Sooty Copper, and a few Fritillary species, so it was nice to be able to add Brown Hairstreak to the list. Clearly French BHs have a different habitat requirement to Lincolnshire ones! Once the rain stops I will be out to begin mapping our local hairstreak eggs, but in the meantime I would be interested if anyone else has experience of BH abroad, particularly with reference to them breeding in areas of relatively low blackthorn density!

Thursday Streakers Club

At 10am yesterday, Mike Williams, Hugh Glennie and I met at Grafton Church car park to mark the start of the TSC for 2012/2013. It had been decided to conduct this first search of the season in the vicinity of a well known assembly tree near the hamlet of Cowsden in Worcs.

This tree was discovered 5 summers ago and has consistently been one of the most reliable trees known for the Worcs colony. However.....the extensive blackthorn on the lane it sits on, and in most of the surrounding fields, has always been heavily flailed so finding winter eggs has always been a bit of a struggle. In addition, summer 2011 also yielded very few adult sightings in the tree. Nevertheless, a reasonably large group of us went there in January, earlier this year, to conduct a thorough egg search of the surrounding area and turned up.....a rather worrying total of only 3 or 4 eggs. Our general view was that after both the low 2011 adult, and then subsequent egg, count then that would probably spell the end of this tree's assembly status. However, Mike Williams visited the tree a few weeks ago during this year's flight period and was very surprised to see two males in it, and it was this sighting that prompted yesterday's visit.

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.

Let The Egging Commence!

Egg searching in Warwickshire has now officially started! After confirming the presence of a master tree bordering Ryton Wood Meadows (RWM) and Ryton Pools Country Park (RPCP) during this years flight period, i was dying to start searching the blackthorn in the immediate area. The SE facing blackthorn in RPCP was first on the list yesterday and after Simon Primrose and I conducted a thorough search of a small area of young/semi-mature blackthorn, we found 18 eggs, including 1 on the NW facing side. Only 6 eggs in this area last year so this is great news. In fact, i was so pleased, i even performed my happy dance when i was sure no one was looking. We also made a point of pulling down some branches with heights over 3 metres as an experiment to see how high the females might have laid. It turns out that 8 of these eggs were laid at over 2 metres high, including a record breaker for Warwickshire - 2.54m! Does anyone know of any eggs that have been laid higher than this?

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's not all over 'til the fat lady sings

Still hanging on in Worcs as well with at least two different females seen on Sat at Grafton Wood. By the condition of them it may not be the last sighting either but still a long way to go to beat our previous record of 22nd October set in 2008.

Thanks to Dave Williams for the photo.


Spurred on by the successes of the previous week: Gill, Geoff and I returned to the Redditch area on Wednesday last week in an attempt to find more eggs that would add new grid squares to the Brown Hairstreak distribution, as well as finding eggs over the Worcs border into Warks.

We began by searching an area of extensive blackthorn within Redditch town, close to where the adult female had been reported in August, later making our way down to Studley Common NR in Warks.

Redditch appears quite unique for a large town in that a high number of ‘green open spaces’ remain within the town itself, most of them seemingly containing large amounts of rarely cut blackthorn. Equally, the Common, and more especially the fields immediately surrounding it, support some of the most fantastic young, vigorous and apparently un-touched, blackthorn we’ve ever seen. However….after much searching, and a drenching from a passing cloudburst, no eggs were forthcoming.

Our perception, here in Worcs/Warks, is that egg searching this autumn (while the leaves are still present) is proving very much more difficult than at the same time last year. In 2011 some of our most successful hunts, in terms of locating new areas of distribution for the BH, occurred in Sept and Oct before many of the key hedges had been flailed. Our thinking is that this year, due to the cool wet summer, leaf growth has been much more vigorous and sustained than usual making searching, especially on the lower parts of tall suckers, extremely tricky. (Would be interested in others’ observations on this topic from around the country?).

After drawing a blank at Studley Common we moved camp, down to an area of Warks closer to where we’d found eggs the previous week (on the Worcs side of the county boundary beside the A441), to the southwest of Rough Hill Wood. More great blackthorn, (AND more passing cloudbursts!!), but after about an hours’ squelching and unsuccessful searching, we decided to call it a day.

I then also stopped off in Redditch the next day, while passing through, and briefly searched another  area of the town with great blackthorn – Morton Stanley park – where eggs had been recorded for the first time last winter. The same suckers that the eggs had been found on in the late winter have since put on some amazing growth. Again though, no eggs were found but I’m hoping this is simply due to the searching difficulties and that once the leaves have fallen we will start finding eggs, in all of these locations.

Hanging On

Brown Hairstreaks are still hanging on in West Sussex, with recent sightings of females on 4th October at RSPB Pulborough Brooks (Andrew House) and on 6th October at Henfield (Richard Roebuck).

Rachel Goes To Prison!

As Gillian has worked so hard to create this wonderful resource, I thought it was about time I shared my first brown hairstreak egg hunting experience!

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:


Noticed this in the Daily Mail today about importing diseased ash trees from the continent. A few excerpts from the article:
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.

Eggs Found on Worcs/Warks Border

It has been known for some time now that the Brown Hairstreak are gradually spreading east from Worcestershire into Warwickshire. Unfortunately, the expansion isn't expanding as fast as we'd like it to. The county boundary runs along a busy road and is bordered by dense woodland and built up areas in parts. Last season, we found quite a few eggs close to the border in Worcestershire but only a few actually inside Warwickshire. Our main breakthrough was finding 19 eggs just inside Warwickshire near a place called Cookhill. However, i estimate around 8397589178975894 deer are in residence there and much of the blackthorn with eggs on was browsed. Visits to some promising looking ash trees during the flight period unfortunately yielded no sightings what so ever but we all know how elusive those Brownies are! I continue to live in hope.

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!

Welsh populations

Pembrokeshire is out on a bit of a limb and is often largely overlooked, but it has to be remembered that this part of the UK is one of the three principal strongholds for the Brown Hairstreak.

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.


Hello All

Well I am new to this blog but have been interested in Brown Hairstreaks since seeing my first one at Noar Hill six years ago. Hampshire is not overly blessed with large numbers of sites and the two keys ones are at the extreme east and west boundaries of the county. However there have been intriguing reports in the Hants BC annual reports from one or two other locations. I have seen good numbers Shipton Bellinger in the west where they do seem to be spread over a fairly large area. The other site in the east is of course Noar Hill - the numbers here seem to fluctuate but are generally quite low and seemingly restricted to a small area - the reserve itself. I have searched for eggs at NH over the last three winters finding none one year and a max of 23. This is similarly reflected in sightings of adults - some years I have seen none and others I have seen five in a day. I paid a visit yesterday and encountered one very tatty female which is my latest ever for this site. During the coming winter I aim to take up the challenge of seeing if I can find the overspill from Sussex and I have already identified a few likely areas - I will let you know how I get on. Mark

Brown Hairstreak ebulletin

For those interested in a more detailed account of Brown Hairstreaks in Worcs (and now W. Warks) a regular email is distributed in my capacity as Brown Hairstreak Species Champion for West Midlands Butterfly Conservation.  Past copies can be accessed via the branch website or if you contact me direct I can add you to the mailing list.  The series goes back to January 2005 so plenty of historic data available and we have just published number 96 earlier this month.  The current issue provides an account of the Brown Hairstreak open day at Grafton Wood last month, news of this year's Big Ash Bash and dates of our forthcoming egg hunt days this coming winter.  The latter are open to one and all and any fellow bloggers would be very welcome.  The dates arranged so far are as follows: Sat 24th November, Sun 30th December (mincepie special!) and Sun 12th January and in each case we meet outside Grafton Flyford church for 10 am..  Let me know if anyone is planning to come from further afield of if more detailed directions are required.

9 Brown Hairstreak at Grafton on the 15th

I met up with Simon Primrose at 0930 on Saturday at the Church at Grafton Flyford for another Brown Hairstreak search. The weather was just about ideal: blue sky with only a few fluffy white clouds, and not much breeze. As we walked down though the fields towards the wood we checked one potential Ash on the way. There was something there, either a very tatty male BH or a Purple Hairstreak. It was so frayed that it was impossible to tell for certain, so we decided to move on. We went and checked another potential Master Tree on the southeast edge of the wood. Although there was a fresh Red Admiral, Comma, and Speckled wood taking it in turns to bask on its leaves we didn't see any BH. Reasoning that if there were any BH males there then they would have seen off the interlopers we moved on again, heading towards the Orchard area.

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 1 taken at 1228.

Individual 2 taken at 1232.

Individual 3 taken at 1237.

Individual 3 taken at 1239.
(Notice that within the space of 2 minutes further damage to the top left wing has occurred).

Individual 4 taken at 1312.

Two of four eggs laid very close together.

Magic Day Saturday

Today was a golden BrH day despite failed sightings going back eight days at known sites.

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?

Brown Hairstreaks in captivity

Attached photo of captive BrH pair in cop. I had bred them through from the egg stage and was amazed to find them one morning as a mating pair. My interest is the bahaviours of butterflies, BrH in particular. In my view there is very little authorative information available in the literature - e.g. egg- laying cycle; pupal preferences; adult feeding (honeydew on ash?!) and lots more.

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?

Brown Hairstreak larva image

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.

Vince Massimo

Mapping The Brown Hairstreak In Sussex

Here's a link to an excellent article by Michael Blencowe, reproduced from ‘The Sussex Butterfly Report 2010 (Issue 3, Spring 2011)’. Well worth a read. Click on 'Read More' to activate the link.

Brown Hairstreak at Shurnock

I met up with Simon Primrose at 1115 today (13th) at Shurnock for my first ever Ash Bash. I've never seen or attempted to see the Brown Hairstreak before, so wasn't building my hopes up too much beforehand. There is a very fine line between standing in a field staring up at a tree looking for butterflies, and just standing in a field staring up at a tree! Well, thanks to Simon's expertise by 1200 it was standing in a field staring up at my first ever Brown Hairstreak. I even managed a few fuzzy long distance photos. Simon got it lined up in his monocular where we could see that it was a faded but not too damaged male. It stayed more or less in the same position for over 30 minutes; long enough for Gillian and Geoff Thompson to be contacted and join us to view it. He could be seen probing some Ash buds with his proboscis and didn't seem bothered to move out into the strong sunlight. I examined some Ash buds lower down and they looked and felt completely dry, so I don't know what he was managing to get at with his proboscis.

At about 1230 we moved further up the field edge to some fresh saplings of Blackthorn, about a couple of feet high, where Geoff showed us 2 eggs. Another first for me. The farmer, who had been adding to the countryside ambiance with a bit of muck spreading, came over for a chat and was interested to see the eggs and hear about the BH that we had just seen. After Gillian and Geoff left us Simon got some great close-up photos of an egg.

We then moved on to the next field and another Ash, sun still blazing, blue sky and a curious cloud formation over-head that resembled the honeycomb pattern of the eggs we had just seen. By 1355 Simon had spotted another BH, this time a crisp bright female that looked as though it had only hatched out in the last couple of days. It flew over the top of the tree, and after losing sight of it for a while Simon was again able to locate it and get the monocular lined up on it. When we finally left at about 1530 she was still in the same spot having only flown twice by a distance of no more than 20cm or so before alighting in the same spot. There was no need to even move the monocular. We observed the same activity as with the male, appearing to probe the Ash buds with her proboscis. She did flex her wings open for a couple of minutes and we could see the beautiful gold markings on her upper wings. She was even higher up than the male so my photos are even fuzzier, but I was still able to get another 'record' shot. It made us wonder how many other BH were lounging about in the treetops that we couldn't see.

Thanks to everyone for such a successful trip. Male, female and eggs in different locations and able to observe some key behavioural activity. Very happy!

Brown Hairstreaks in Redditch and elsewhere

In recent years, the Brown Hairstreak has been steadily moving eastwards in Worcs and for the first time last winter we found eggs within the town of Redditch.  This year, we thought we would have a crack at enlisting the support of the public at large in trying to find adults and produced a press release and poster asking members of the public to keep a look out for the butterfly.  The idea clearly caught the eye of at least two local papers who picked up on the story and did a write-up including photos of the upperside of the butterfly.  Within a few hours of publication, we now have our first definite report of a sighting within the town which is great news and a whole new area to search for eggs this coming winter! 

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. 

Sussex Still Going Strong

Although the female Brown Hairstreaks are now appearing later in the day (12.30 pm rather than 11.15 am), I was left in doubt that the betulae season is still going strong when I visited Steyning Rifle Range today. Of the 7 females I saw, 3 were in mint condition and didn't appear ready to lay eggs yet, making only brief sorties from the master trees to relieve the boredom that this species must suffer spectacularly. As always the action petered out rapidly soon after 2.00 pm and at 2.30 pm, despite warm and sunny conditions, I watched a female go to bed in an ash tree, finding a secure perch on the top of a shaded bud before bringing her antennae parallel and entering the Land of Nod. This butterfly is shockingly lazy.

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.

Bits and Bobs

First of all, let me start off by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has signed up to contribute to the blog so far, and also to everyone who has emailed me with positive feedback. Things have gotten off to a great start and will hopefully continue with more updates, even though the emergence is now past its peak. In the Midlands area, most males are looking fairly sorry for themselves but there are still some fresh females around. Let the onslaught of egg-laying begin!

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 ( 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?

Eggs at Shurnock, Worcestershire

Following the failings of 12 successive site visits over the past three weeks to get a close up sighting of a Brownie, Monday 10th September saw the 13th attempt which was also to end in failure. Many of these trips did take place in the afternoon which seems to prove the point that adults are most likely to be seen in the morning, although some sightings at the top of Ash trees have been made in the late afternoon/early evening around 5pm.

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:

  1. 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?
  2. Does the female mate more than once and how many eggs roughly does she lay after she has mated?

Big Ash Bash 2012

Went out early yesterday morning despite the cool, breezy conditions (and also despite having had only 4 1/2 hours sleep after watching the tennis!).

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.

Glory Days

Being presented last night with a free ticket for a visit to the Olympic Park today placed me in a dilemna this morning. Should I join the mass sporting fraternity in their hour of need or maximise another beautiful sunny day in adding to my tally of Betula with no medals in prospect. Of course I did the latter! This weekend resulted in two very contrasting BrH days. Betula seemed very active at the three sites I visited on Saturday. I managed to confirm five individuals, four atop the ashes and one glorious female at ground level. Another beautiful morning today Sunday gave me high expectations of further sightings but alas it was not to be. All seemed quiet on the Betula front despite visiting three further regular BrH haunts.

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.

A Good Couple of Hours at Grafton

Having just returned from a week in Dorset and with 1500+ photos to sort through I couldn’t help but notice that Brown Hairstreaks had been showing well during the past few days at Grafton Wood. With the weather set to stay good over the weekend, I mentioned it to my son Chris, and as he had the day off his work today (Saturday) we decided to bimble over for a look.Grafton Wood is only about 45 minutes drive from our house in Solihull and so we left just after 10.30am in glorious sunshine. Nearing Grafton, it steadily got cloudier and foggier and we looked at each other as if to say ‘where’s this come from?’ As we parked up by the church however, the sun had started to break through and we could feel it getting warmer. We had heard that the best time to see Brown Hairstreaks was for about an hour or so each side of midday, depending on the weather, so we decided to have a walk through the wood to have a look around before heading for the ‘orchard’ area which is the most reliable area.I had seen a couple of Brown Hairstreaks on the other side of the wood in 2010 so we headed for this area first which is a sort of clearing with good Blackthorn growth around the edges. After seeing a few ‘whites’, Speckled Woods, Red Admirals and Silver Y moths, I caught sight of something orangey, it was a definite Brown Hairstreak. We watched it for a while as it flew around about 15 feet up before losing sight of it behind a large Oak. Circling back around to the Orchard we found a few other people there and we all started checking the Blackthorn.At around 1.00pm the first female was sighted low down where she stayed obligingly for twenty minutes or so during which time a second female joined her so that we had two together within 10 feet or so. A few more sightings were made during the next hour but it is impossible to say how many were the same ones being seen again, although going by slight differences in wear and damage, I have photographed at least 3 different individual females.

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.

Shurnock Success

There was plenty of activity yesterday morning at a brand new Brown Hairstreak site discovered just last year near Shurnock in Worcestershire. Despite arriving at the known master tree at around 9:30am, it was still quite chilly and the sun was rather hazy. No doubt all the Brownies were hiding at the top of the ash, trying to warm up! I was there for a good 45 minutes before I saw the first one take flight. Between 10:15am – 11:30am, I estimate I saw between 4-5 individuals (most likely males), with 10+ sightings. As soon as the sun started warming up at around 11am, the males were literally buzzing around the top of the ash. Amusingly, 1 male spiralled quite low down to bask for a few minutes before deciding to have a little fly at head height along the treeline. He then changed his mind, flew way out into the field, skipped over my head and zoomed back into an apple tree just below the favoured ash. Strangely enough, 1 male and 1 female Brown Hairstreak have been observed in this apple tree previously (by Simon Primrose on 28th August), and 2-3 males were also seen in an alder tree which is situated right next to another master ash, roughly 50m from the favourite. I had 2 Brownies in this 2nd ash yesterday, plus 1 male in the very same alder tree. It was clearly turning its nose up at the attractive ash next door, preferring to explore the alder top to bottom instead. I must also mention that most of the sightings yesterday were of quite worn/faded looking specimens.

At 11:45am, I moved on to the field next door which has some excellent blackthorn and even better looking ash trees. An excellent number of eggs were counted there last winter, including some laid directly under the main ash tree so I figured it required a bit of a stake out. Simon Primrose had already visited this tree on 28th August and 3rd September and seen 1 male each time, but what we really needed to confirm was the presence of a female. By the time I arrived at the tree, the sun was so hazy (almost completely overcast) and the wind had started blowing a gale. Not the most ideal conditions! However, I managed to confirm the presence of 2 hairstreaks, 1 definite male Brownie and im still unsure about the other one. They were both skipping around the top of the ash for a good 30 minutes. I finally hit the jackpot at 12:40pm when a beautifully fresh female Brownie appeared out of nowhere as soon as the cloud cleared off. She sat and basked half way up the tree for a couple of minutes before darting off. In the photograph to the left, I am demonstrating the correct procedure for ash bashing :)

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?

Ash Brownie Debut

Ever since i first laid eyes upon the brilliance that is The Purple Empire, I'd thought about creating something similar for the Brown Hairstreak. Regular Hairstreakers are usually kept busy throughout the entire year, whether it be egg searching, caterpillar hunting or trying to spot those elusive adults in the blackthorn and ash trees. With so much activity going on, i thought that documenting sightings, observations, photographs and trip reports from around the country in one place would be an excellent way to keep up to date with all the latest Brownie goings on.

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 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 :)