Sunday 25th August saw the most anticipated, exciting day of the year for Grafton Wood - the annual Brown Hairstreak Open Day!
As I looked out of my window first thing on Sunday morning, I groaned....breezy and heavily overcast. However, the forecast promised better weather for the afternoon so my spirits were reasonably high as I drove over to Worcestershire. And when I arrived at Grafton church hall car park, 45 minutes before the scheduled start, there was already a reasonable (and expectant) crowd assembled.
I decided to set off straight away for the wood in an effort to locate a brownie before the masses descended. No chance! - a quick tour of all the recently favoured spots, that had provided so many sightings over the previous two weeks, yielded nothing at all. Not just no Brownies, but no butterflies of any sort, aside from the very occasional Small White and Meadow Brown.
Soon after, large groups of people started arriving in the meadow to the west of the wood, including a party from Cheshire and Peak District BC led by David Tomlinson. This was going to be tricky....how would we keep around 60 people entertained on a butterfly trip when there were NO butterflies flying.
By about noon the skies had lightened a tiny bit and the temperature had risen by a few degrees, to the extent that at least some butterflies had now stirred. A Brown Argus had been spotted, along with some Common Blues, plus a couple of Silver Washed Fritillaries, and spirits were definitely raised by the sight of a Painted Lady. However, the butterfly everyone had come to see was still proving extremely elusive and, although there were a few claims to have seen one or two Brownies briefly flying along the top of the high hedgerow bordering the orchard, there were no confirmed sightings at the point lunch was served back at the church hall.
Despite the lack of success during the morning, lunch had a party atmosphere, out on the lawn beside the church hall. Colin Bowler kept us all amused as he tried to dodge the wasps, whilst supplying samples of, and taking orders for, his recently launched range of Butterfly Beers. But, unfortunately, the majority of the 60 odd attendees for the morning search left straight after lunch and missed out on what was to prove a spectacular afternoon. The plan after lunch had been to go on the inaugural walk of the six-mile 'Hairstreak Trail' that takes in both Grafton Wood and a large chunk of the immediate surrounding countryside, comprising core Brownie habitat and distribution. However, with rapidly brightening skies and the appearance of the sun, it was decided to shorten the walk and concentrate on the part closest to Grafton Wood. By the time the group of 14 on the walk had reached the wood, Brownie sightings were being reported thick and fast - three females had been seen together on the core hedgerow. One was still present as our walk reached the location, followed minutes later by another three along an adjoining hedge. One observer remarked that once the sun came out it was like a switch had been thrown and incredibly, after having spent 2 hours during the morning with no sightings at all, six female Brownies had now been seen in the space of five minutes!!
Everyone who'd stayed for the walk got to see at least four of these females, the latter three all engaged in egg laying, and also enjoyed plenty of photo opportunites. At least, until the cows arrived and showed rather too much interest in the proceedings, whereupon we continued the walk through the wood and back up to the church hall again.
No more brownies were spotted, but the remainder of the walk was very interesting and informative, and ended in brilliant, hot sunshine. Elsewhere however, a seventh female was seen on the core hedgerow by another group, and two more were witnessed in the car park by Colin and his wasp entourage. All in all, a challenging but ultimately fantastic day!!