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!