Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Downland butterflies

This morning I took a train from Sevenoaks to Shoreham, three stops up the line (ie Shoreham the Kent village, not Shoreham by the sea near Brighton or any other Shorehams I may not know about). I'd worked out that from here it wasn't too long a walk to a lovely and butterfly-rich nature reserve on the North Downs, and indeed it wasn't.

The slope faces west, so at this time of year doesn't get any sunshine until about 7am. Bit of a waste me turning up at 6am? Well, not really, as I did see some things that would have been more tricky to get close to in sunlight.

Common Blue and Small Heath, in the butterfly equivalent of their beds, waiting to warm up. It might seem odd that they should roost on prominent, elevated perches, but in the night I imagine they are safer from ground beetles, hedgehogs etc than they would be lower down.

Two Adders, one of each (the female is the browny one). This is a good spot for them, and they are not that quick first thing in the morning, so I made sure to watch my step.

Lots of Ox-eye Daisies here, and every so often I found one with something in it - a beetle, hoverfly, or in this case a crab spider, arms wide open to welcome its breakfast.

After the sun had spread across much of the slope and I was busily trying to stalk Grizzled and Dingy Skippers (both of which were present in profusion) a man with a clipboard arrived and we had a short chat, in which he mentioned another nature reserve, managed specifically for butterflies, that was just up the road. So I went there, but the sunshine had not yet reached it so I didn't see very much, though I did find a couple of attractive macro moths - a Cinnabar and a Burnet Companion. I went back to the first field and busied myself looking for photographable skippers and also Small Blues, which Clipboard Man had mentioned were present.

I eventually located a couple of Small Blues, predictably enough flitting about near a large clump of Kidney Vetch (their larval foodplant). The photos aren't great but they're my first of this species. Unsharpness aside, I love the way those apparently dull dark wings reflect subtle blues, violets, greens and golds in the second pic.

Nothing subtle about these colours. It was good to add Peacock to the daylist, although I only saw one. It was a little ragged, not surprising given that it's been an adult for probably at least eight months.

A Small Heath in a rare moment of sunlit repose.

I was surprised to see so many Grizzled Skippers. They first emerge in April and so should be nearly at the end of their flight period, though I suppose the awful weather will have kept them mostly inactive. This one is looking a little careworn, but still posing proudly. In fact this individual struck three different poses for me, each better than the last.

Dingy Skipper was the most numerous species. It emerges a little later than Grizzled, so many individuals were in good nick. I saw a pair courting (actually a male trying to court and a female saying 'get lost' with eloquent butterfly body language) but didn't manage to capture the moment.

Also today, lots of pretty micromoths and other inverts that I'll need to look up and try to identify. Very little birdlife of note - Whitethroat and Skylark the main singing species. I'd hoped for Lesser Whitethroat but there was not a rattle to be heard. I was disappointed to see no Green Hairstreaks but their season is close to over. I made a few additions to the butterfly list after the gear was packed away - Large White as I started to walk back, Holly Blue on the very handy path that runs parallel to the A225, and Brimstone while I was waiting at Shoreham station.


Warren Baker said...

Nice little train ride there Marianne :-) Not had Grizzled or dingy skipper on my patch, in fact never seen either of them ever!

ShySongbird said...

Lots of beauties here Marianne including those lovely Adders, it's a long time since I saw one. Well done with the Small Blue, I've never seen one! Lovely photos and an interesting read as always.

Christian said...

Superb Adder shots - especially the second, I think.

kirstallcreatures said...

Lovely pics of the Small Blue and Grizzled & Dingy Skipper, all 3 species that Ive never seen before.