This weekend (which was lovely and sunny by the way) I went to three (three!) new places with my camera, and with my lovely pals Susan and Paula and Clive the schnauzer, to indulge Susan's new (and my old) passion for butterflies. I arrived at Richmond at about 2pm on the Saturday and we went for a walk over Wimbledon Common - not a stellar butterflying experience but plenty of nice things to see on this sprawling and very varied grassy, heathy, wooded and riverine area. We parked in Richmond Park and took a short walk through it to reach the common.
That was about it for Wimbledon. Disappointing lack of Wombles, and also of Sugar Gliders which (rumour has it) may have a small feral population somewhere on the common. Barbecue for dinner and a cheery evening of chat, then bedtime.
Paula and I went for a short run in Bushy Park early on Sunday. This was not really notable for wildlife (though wonderful to hear the Skylarks singing over the grassland) until we were almost back, when we were stopped in our tracks by a superb male Stag Beetle standing foursquare (or do I mean sixsquare?) in the middle of the path, its many-tined mandibles raised skywards. Despite its fearsome appearance it was in a precarious and squash-susceptible spot so I picked it up and moved it to safety. Amazing to hold this spectacular beast in my hand - it's a pity we were both out without our phones or there'd be a record shot of it here.
We had showers and breakfasts, then assembled a picnic and the four of us set off to Howell Hill, a small Surrey Wildlife Trust reserve near Epsom. We parked in what looked like featureless suburbia, but a tiny cut-through by a busy roundabout brought us into farmland.
From there it was a short walk to the reserve, a lovely area of rough grassland and scrub with lots and lots of flowers and butterflies. Quickly the species began to rack up - Small Heath, Common Blue, Small Blue.
We headed back soon after that, and hunkered down for the 40-min drive to Hutchinson's Bank. This site, another SWT reserve, is near Croydon and is home to a recently reintroduced population of Glanville Fritillaries. This butterfly is widespread on the continent, but in Britain is now only naturally found on the southern side of the Isle of Wight, hence its absence from my 'butterflies I've seen' list. However, it seems to be doing OK at Hutchinson's Bank and has been reintroduced at a couple of other sites too. We were close to the end of its flight period but I was still hopeful of finding it - and some other good species too with any luck.
After some satnav shenanigans we found the right spot to park (you want Farleigh Dean Crescent off Featherbed Lane, NOT the housing estate to which the postcode will send you!) and set out. The reserve is on a steep south-facing slope and the first bit of the walk passes some very bare steep scraped areas which (we discovered later) are for the benefit of the Glanvilles. We saw none though, but did find a battered-looking Dingy Skipper.
At a crossroads, Clive insisted we take the downhill branch. The sun came out properly as we descended the steep slope. I have to remark on the wonderful view from up here. Looking south all we could see was miles and miles of woodland, and no sign of human activity to see. You would never guess we were a stone's throw from Croydon. Unfortunately there was plenty of human activity to hear, with some kind of fete or carnival underway nearby and plenty of music and shouting to slightly dent the rural idyll experience.
Thanks very much to Susan and Paula for a lovely couple of days. Both of the SWT reserves impressed me hugely and I'm sure will be well worth a return visit later in June or in July, when the likes of Silver-washed Fritillary and Marbled White should be on the wing.