The butterfly effect. Going to sleep last night, the lasting vision, burned into my retinas, was that of a tiny butterfly, on the top of a flower, blowing gently in the breeze. Unfortunately, in the field, that vision is all too often accompanied by mild impatience and the taste of helplessness (please let this little creature stay put), with anticipation that said flower might finally come to rest, allowing the chance to take a shot. It may not be chaos theory but, capturing the moment is downright tricky, especially if a butterfly decides to flap its wings.
When it comes to photographing these lovely insects, I am a novice. It seems to involve a heck of a lot of patience and luck. I have been pursuing Orange-tips all spring, without success. This week, it was the Small Coppers that led me on a merry dance (quite literally) around Dellfield and Bovingdon Brickworks. I dread to think what I looked like to passing dog-walkers, as I ran around in circles, weaving this way and that, following tiny (invisible?!) flying objects! However, when you do come across a butterfly, or group of butterflies, which are inclined to settle in one spot, it is pure heaven. Such was my good fortune on Tuesday afternoon.
The main meadow at Bovingdon Brickworks (the one with the mound of earth in the centre) held at least 7 Common Blue butterflies, all in one small area. This meadow, and the one to the north-west of it, are covered in Bird’s-foot Trefoil, the favoured nectar plant of the adults and the primary foodplant for the larvae. Through the afternoon, the sun was hidden behind clouds, which meant the butterflies were less energetic. In what felt like the blink of an eye, I had whiled away an hour in the company of predominantly settled Common Blues. I had the opportunity to photograph both male and female and to gain upper and underwing shots.
Common Blues (almost a mating pair, female, left; male, right) on Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
| Male upperwing|| Female upperwing|
| Male underwing|| Female underwing|
[If you’d like to see higher resolution images of the Common Blues, they are in a set on Flickr, here]
The good weather carried on into Wednesday so I decided to return to the Brickworks. I’d seen a Small Copper the previous day and hoped to relocate it. However, before I even arrived at the meadow’s entrance gate, in an area of dappled shade, I came upon a duelling pair of male Speckled Woods. I watched them tussling in flight until the interloper eventually capitulated and flew off. The victor quickly took up his favoured, sunlit spot in the nettles to wait for passing females. As for the Small Copper, I did eventually find one at the Brickworks but only managed a record shot. In the afternoon, I thought I’d try my luck at Dellfield and when I’d finally given up and was heading home, I stumbled upon a settled Small Copper. It absolutely made my day.
| Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)|| Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)|
Butterflies weren’t the only insects on the wing this week. Whilst trying and failing with the Small Copper at Dellfield, I came across my first migrant moth, a Silver Y (Autographa gamma). The “Y” refers to the prominent creamy/white marking on each wing resembling a “Y” or the greek letter “gamma”. There were also a couple of Grass Rivulet moths (Perizoma albulata) and numerous Burnet Companions out around Dellfield (where there’s plenty of Red Clover (larval food plant)). There was also a Cinnabar moth and 2 or 3 Burnet Companions out at the Brickworks (the Bird’s-foot Trefoil being another preferred larval food plant for the Companion).
[Dellfield] Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma) [For a higher resolution, see Flickr image]
| [Brickworks] Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae)|| [Brickworks] Burnet Companion moth (Euclidia glyphica)|
A couple of other fun finds at the Brickworks were a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly and the aptly named Swollen-thighed Beetle. The Chaser took me completely by surprise (I was nowhere near a pond!) and I only managed 2 photographs, from a distance, with the wrong lens, before I lost it again. The Beetle was feasting on the buttercup pollen and it's the massive thighs which indicate gender.
| Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (female)|| Swollen-thighed Beetle (Oedemera nobilis) (male)|
Birds of note at the Brickworks on Wednesday morning were a singing male Cuckoo, a couple of Bullfinches (a male flew over my head) and a Nuthatch in the woods by Shantock Hall Lane. I also came across a ragged looking female Whitethroat, perhaps busy raising a brood. The Common Frog spawn seems to have disappeared from the flooded gully so I shall stop reporting on that.
Ben and the team ran the moth traps this week at the Brickworks and Gadespring. They attracted more than 100 species, staying up into the early hours of the morning! That’s what I call dedication! You can read the full report on Ben’s blog here.
If you’ve not had a chance yet to vote in the readership poll, in the previous post, there's still time. It would be much appreciated. Thank you.
Finally, this week’s Oak photograph. What a difference a few leaves makes!
Left, 23 January 2014; Right, 19 May 2014