A Merry Dance

I had so much fun leading a family activity on Tuesday. The theme was butterflies, so I got to train some young children (the oldest couldn’t have been more than 7) in the art of identifying common butterflies. By the end, they were getting quite confident at their Gatekeepers, Speckled Woods and Meadow Browns. Future lepidopterists/naturalists in the making! I also challenged the families to become citizen scientists and do a butterfly count.

Mid-week and I was down at Chesil. I was out of the office and away from my computer much of the time, so naturally that’s when the kestrel chicks at Lorton decided to begin fledging! At least two chicks hopped out, and when I returned to Lorton the following day, I managed to get a photo of one in the nearby trees. On Saturday, the last one was seen leaving the nestbox! Though you can still hear them nearby, and they have occasionally popped back in.

I was dashing back to Chesil again soon enough, as Dr Martin Warren (the CEO of Butterfly Conservation) has been doing a 100-mile long Big Butterfly Hike (#ButterflyHike on Twitter) along the Jurassic Coast to raise money for butterflies (particularly Wood White, Duke of Burgundy and High Brown Fritillary). He has asked if I was working there that day, which I wasn’t, but I went down after work to say hello. As well as generally chatting about butterflies, moths and the Jurassic Coast, I had to ask a couple of questions. It turns out that (a) he has seen all the British butterflies, and (b) his favourite is Red Admiral as it was the species that got him interested in butterflies as a child. You can read back on his hiking blog on the BC website.

Upon bidding farewell to Martin, I had a small ponder. It was early evening, sunny with plenty of hours left. Do I go to look for wildlife or head back and prepare dinner? Well, there’s no real choice and so I was soon at Tout Quarries Nature Reserve, wandering about with my camera. I wasn’t expecting to see much, the wind was a touch chilly. But I decided to try and look for suitable Grayling butterfly (Hipparchia semele) spots. I didn’t really know where they preferred, but I figured a slope in the sunshine and out of the wind would be a good start.

Now I should say here, that the Grayling is my “bogey” species. I.e. it’s one that I have gone looking for a number of times, and never found it! Hence the title of this blog post – this butterfly has led me on a merry dance! Imagine my joy (and yes, I exclaimed out loud) when I saw one. And then triple it, because there were actually three of them fluttering about! Then increase it again as one of them landed on me, and again when two begun their courtship (see video below). I felt like I was going to burst from the happiness.

To give you an idea of how brilliant the camouflage of this species is amongst the quarries, I took the photo below. Taken without a zoom, so that you can see exactly what I was seeing! Can you spot the Grayling butterfly?

On my first day off in a while, I gave myself the luxury of a lie-in before heading out to watch wildlife, only to be texted by a friend (at the reserve I was heading to) saying that he had achieved the hairstreak hat-trick there. Time to get up and out there! So I drove on up to Alners Gorse Butterfly Reserve, one that I had been meaning to visit for ages. I hear and see a lot about this reserve, not least on Twitter from the aforementioned Martin Warren. What better way to spend a sunny day off than exploring somewhere new and (hopefully) seeing some new butterfly species! And indeed, it was a stupendously fantastic afternoon!

I didn’t get the hairstreak hat-trick (brown, purple and white-letter), but I did see 17 species of butterfly in one afternoon, so that’s not bad if I do say so myself. Highlights were: Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae), Purple Hairstreak (Favonius quercus) – both new species to me!, Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia), Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) and Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni, my first ones in ages!).

I just had to include lots of photo of the Brown Hairstreak (above) as it is such a gorgeous species, don’t you think? Although I am likely to say that about all butterflies/moths/wildlife in general! A few more butterfly photos from Alners Gorse:

At one point, I sat in the lush grass of a woodland ride, content to look about and allow myself to notice the wildlife around me. When sitting in such a way, you gradually become aware of creatures, their behaviours and sounds that you might otherwise pass by.

I watched as a male Silver-washed Fritillary patrolled his territory, dive-bombing and chasing off any intruders – be they the same species or not! He even chased off a dragonfly, and I believe he attempted to chase me off, flying in close to me. Luckily I’m made of stern stuff! Or something like that. A grasshopper crawled onto my backpack to investigate it. Nothing of interest apparently as it wandered off again. I could hear rustling in the bushes, most likely a blackbird foraging for food. They are surprisingly noisy on dry leaves. I was taken by surprise after 10 minutes of sitting there, when I suddenly realised that a dragonfly was resting motionless in a bush nearby – I just hadn’t spotted it until then!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

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6 thoughts on “A Merry Dance

  1. on the subject of camouflage, there is a species of grasshopper here where we are on holiday that almost perfectly matches the local stone – you only see it when you almost disturb it and it flies away (for only a very short distance) with a flash of vivid red wings

  2. Lovely post 🙂 I’m envious of your butterfly skills! Still to find time to do the butterfly count but I have a couple of afternoons free this week so I will definitely be taking part. Also, I can’t wait to get my first car insured next month – it sounds paradoxical in a way but driving seems to give you so much freedom in exploring the natural world!

    • Aw thanks. Mind you, I had tips from other people for where to find them and lucky to live in Dorset which has loads of butterflies to see.
      And I know what you mean. I would really struggle to do half my adventures as many nature reserves are in the middle of nowhere and awkward to get to on public transport. Lucky in Weymouth and Portland to have so many fab places

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