Blasted to Kingdom Come...

The Gloucestershire - Wiltshire border suffers from a foul and abusive climate...

The sun reappeared on Friday August 28th, after several days of wind and rain.  I went out streaking, of course, but struggled to see a single battered male before cloud billowed up around 10.30.  My guess is that the males have been blasted away here, though there certainly should be egging females lingering on.  

The North Wilts flight season seems to end early - the butterflies are usually gone by the end of the first week of September, after starting circa 26th July (25th July this year).  Males disappear around 20th August leaving a tail of females.  

The brevity of the flight season here may have something to do with habitual foul and abusive weather during August...

Had August been better I would have returned to Shipton Bellinger in pursuit of that elusive century...  As it is, I'm going to Knepp Wildlands in West Sussex for a few days this week.  Knepp also supports a strong population.  Watch this space...

Weather-beaten but undeterred

After a highly promising start to the season, Pembrokeshire Brownies have been battered by nine successive days of storms, wind and rain.

Saturday 29th August provided a short window for any remaining betulae to get down to business again, but in a four hour visit between 10am and 2pm, I only managed to find one solitary female doing so, although she did provide a fascinating 20 minute tutorial regarding behaviour.

Previously, I'd only ever seen females lay eggs in isolation, but this one laid two, one after the other, on the same fork of a blackthorn sucker.

The images below show this process taking place, with the two freshly laid eggs then photographed immediately after the butterfly had moved away. This individual had a deformed right hindwing which, whilst unfortunate for her (though it didn't seem to impair her flight), allowed the abdomen to be clearly seen during ovi-positing.

She was found at 1.33pm and remained in ovi-positing mode until 1.54pm when she flew out into the open field before veering back round towards the shrub line whereupon I lost sight of her.

This site really needs some fine weather over the next couple of weeks. The Hairstreaks are there (albeit in reduced numbers thanks to the storms), but they are largely imprisoned by the atrocious conditions, meaning that egg-laying is simply not on the agenda except for during rare and brief bright periods.

The big descent has started out west

15th August 2015
On day one of the Hairstreak Weekend at the West Williamston WTSWW Reserve in Pembrokeshire 27 Brown Hairstreaks were observed - a record for the site in one day - we see Matthew's 76 as a challenge for the 2016 event.
Our 27 were also mainly males spread across two sets of ashes and an isolated ash but 5 were low level females of which 3 were observed egg laying. After they had disappeared 15 bright white shiners were discovered including one triplet and one doublet.
One set of ashes were under surveillance from 07:30am and the first male flight was observed at 08:05am. For the next two hours things were pretty hectic with three dog fights observed when a pair of males spiralled high above the ashes. Things began to quieten down after 10am and the last male flight was observed at 10:40am. The first female descended just before midday but it was just over an hour before egg laying was observed. All went quite when clouds rolled over the sun about 2pm.

16th August 2015

Day 2 was a shadow of Day 1 - only 10 Brown Hairstreaks seen - all up in ashes and relatively lethargic and definitely no more egg laying. The weather on the two days was similar. Typical betulae behaviour - one day all guns blazing, the next spent in harbour refuelling.

17th August 2015
Another visitor reported a total lack of action at West Williamston but meanwhile they were putting on a show at the Teifi Marshes WTSWW reserve in north Pembrokeshire with four sightings. Three low level nectarers on hemp agrimony were seen by Maggie Sproule & Sarah Bebb. From Maggie's photos two were definitely males and the third almost certainly so (only underside seen). The fourth was heading for the hemp agrimony when the two incumbents decided to see it off.

Below is a non-nectaring female at West Williamston photographed by Jerry English on 15th August and a nectaring male at Teifi Marshes phtographed by Maggie Sproule on 17th August.

As far as I can ascertain Teifi Marshes is the only site in Wales where nectaring Brown Hairstreak are seen - can anybody please explain this to me?

11th August - Grafton Wood

Apologies for the lateness of this!

Had a successful day at Grafton Wood on 11th with Simon Primrose and Richard Smyth. 4 different Brown Hairstreak (3 male, 1 female), all in different areas of the wood (one of these seen by John Tilt). 3 Small Copper, Purple Hairstreak, Brimstone, Painted Lady, multiple Silver-washed Fritillary, Common Blue and the usual suspects - Peacock, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Small White, Large White, Green-veined White. Also found a poor White-letter Hairstreak that was in the process of being chomped by a crab spider.

A quick reminder to everyone visiting over the next few weeks - the orchard hedgerow is still out of bounds and should be avoided. It is NOT on a public footpath and is private land. The Brown Hairstreak is very widespread within the wood and can literally be seen anywhere! To aid new visitors, there are now signposts and maps up showing the best areas to find the Brown Hairstreak.

The Grafton Wood Open Day is on 30th August this year and is bound to be a great social occasion, combined with some good sightings of Brownies. Hope to see some of you there :)

Sussex Off, But Slow Start

The Brown Hairstreak season in Sussex is now fully underway, but we are still in the very early stages, as the butterfly calendar continues to run late.

The best Sussex sites have always been very poor at providing low-level males, although they make amends by producing such high numbers of obliging females. After getting a nice male at Cissbury Ring (8 August) I was even more pleased to get my best ever shot of a male at Steyning on Wednesday afternoon (12 August, top left), when the clouds suddenly cleared and the temperature increased rapidly. 'Pleased' turned to 'delighted' when I subsequently flushed a female from low in a bramble patch - but she didn't go far. 'Delighted' then gave way to excitement, as I noticed the irregular patterning on her hind wing (bottom left). This ab. uncilinea is apparently a first for Sussex!

Today (15 August) started well, as I returned to the same site at Steyning, which is about 1 Km from the famous Rifle Range. I found two females, one of which remained stationary for 45 minutes, despite the warm, sunny weather (top right).

I later moved on to the Range, where quite a few hopefuls were staring up at the Ash trees. Unfortunately, that's where the hairstreaks stayed. I saw ones and twos scattered around the site, including females, but the big descent to start egg laying is still (eagerly) awaited. None of the females I have found to date has shown any interest in ovipositing.

We are still in that period when the Brown Hairstreak is hard to locate, but they are all in mint condition and fairly inactive. A week from now they will be down in numbers, but fidgeting in and out of the thorn and rapidly collecting nicks and scratches.

The main course is yet to come.

Brother Betulae Erupts!

This morning I counted 76, repeat 76, Brown Hairstreaks in 2 hrs 15 mins, of which about 30 mins were too cloudy for flight, at Shipton Bellinger on the Hants - Wilts border.  I kicked off with 34 in 37 mins, but would have done better had I arrived 30 mins earlier (I got there at 8.50).  Nearly all were males, in varying condition but including a number that seemed freshly emerged.  I hit the last ball of my innings for 7 - the most I've ever seen together.  

This is a personal record.  In the past I've managed to get to 50 there, before the males conked out for the day.  

Two questions.  1) Has anyone ever bettered this tally? (Neil Hulme need not apply).  2) Is Brother Betulae having a good year? (I've been quite pleased by numbers in N Wilts, but that population is not a patch on the Shipton Bellinger one).  

The habitat at Shipton Bellinger is green lanes and hedges with abundant sloe on rough MOD-owned grazing land, on chalk, like this -

Another male nectaring at Grafton

It was a long wait, as the 2mph wind took four hours to bring in the first blue sky to Grafton Wood, on Aug 11th. Shortly afterwards, however, Gillian spotted a male nectaring, opposite the pond area, at around 3pm.
Like Mike, I've observed that WLH and PH seem to be coming down to nectar much more frequently than usual, this year, although I have no idea why. There were three other sightings of males nectaring at various locations around the wood, mainly on hemp agrimony, on the day. Hopefully, the next two days of rain will pass without too much damage, as next week should be good at Grafton.

Waiting no longer

The first Brown Hairstreaks were seen at Grafton Wood last Thursday: a male and more surprisingly an egg-laying female.  Saw both White-letter Hairstreak and Purple Hairstreak the same day all three nectaring on hemp agrimony and in the case of the male Brown Hairstreak bramble.  Wondered if this might suggest a shortage of aphid honeydew this year.  What has been the experience elsewhere?

Still waiting in Worcestershire

Although Brown Hairstreaks have already been reported further south we are still awaiting our first sighting in Worcs.  Made my first early morning visit to one of our known assembly trees yesterday but no success so did a Big Butterfly Count instead.  Over the last few years we have always seen our first Brown Hairstreak before the end of July but this year looks as if it is the exception.  It has been a decidedly odd season with a number of species on the late side and it is only now, for example, that Peacocks are beginning to be seen on a regular basis.  Anyway, hopefully not too much longer to wait!