Various butterfly (and moth) related items are below

A recent note for Butterfly Conservation's Cambs & Essex Branch is here.

HOW I WROTE THIS BOOK is here

A recent letter to the Times about Small Tortoiseshells is here. The published version is here

DISCOVER BUTTERFLIES PHOTOS AT THE SCIENCE MUSEUM are here

MY FAVOURITE BUTTERFLY SITES: an article for Butterfly Conservation's magazine Butterfly describes some of my favourite butterfly sites.

CHEQUERED SKIPPERS will be on the wing in May. My report on observations of them in 2010 is in an article in April 2011's British Wildlife

An article on SCOTCH ARGUS in the Western Highlands is in the Summer 2012 edition of Atropos.

 From late 2012, my observations are now on Twitter


NATIONAL MOTHNIGHT 2012 was from Thursday 21 June to Saturday 23 June. One of the key species looked for was the Four-spotted Moth. Here are some pictures taken in South Cambridgeshire on 23 June 2012. The moth is nectaring on a flower of field bindweed, which is its caterpillars' foodplant.

 

 

The Four-spotted is one of our rarest day-flying moths. It will be one of over 100 day-flying species to be covered in a new WildGuides book devoted to Britain's Day-flying Moths (publication date: mid-2013).

AND NOW HERE ARE SOME OTHER RECENT SIGHTINGS

13.08.11  Just returned from a trip to Ardnamurchan and Rannoch Moor to see Scotch Argus. They were out in huge numbers all over north-west Scotland. En route, we stayed at Brownber Hall B&B which is very close to Smardale Gill. Here Scotch Argus are confined to a much smaller area but there were still a good number here. However, for the sheer number of one species of butterfly on the wing, Rannoch Moor must be the top site in Britain (provided of course that the sun shines). You can get there by train. The Mallaig section of the Caledonian sleeper, which starts from London, has several stops at stations on or very close to the moor.

21.07.11  A stay at the Abbey House, Glastonbury, for a CARM (Creative Arts Retreat Movement) retreat provided the opportunity for visits to Collard Hill and Green Down, two excellent sites for Large Blues. But the Large Blue season began 3 weeks early this year, and was well finished by the third week of July.  Common Blues were surprisingly sparse (I saw only 3 during 3 hours at Green Down, and none at Collard Hill).  I did see a second generation Dingy Skipper at Green Down. Although the Great Butterfly Count has not recorded as many Peacocks as last year, they were easy to find along the public footpath that skirts Green Down.  

12.07.11  After a few good, sunny days, the weather has again deteriorated. But yesterday was fine enough for our garden butterflies to include Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Small, Large and Green-veined Whites, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown and Ringlet. Surprisingly we have not seen any Common Blues here yet. A mass emergence of Six-spot Burnets has occurred and they are settling against a background of yellow lady's bedstraw which has grown profusely throughout south Cambridgeshire. Also various damselflies have been about, including this female Common Blue Damselfly. I am not sure what it is doing.

 

 

2-3.07.11  Made a second visit to Arnside Knott and Gait Barrows on a fine weekend. The hot, sunny weather kept butterflies incessantly moving, but by 6:30 they were calming down before roosting. High Brown and Dark Green Fritillaries were both now about in good numbers and photography became possible as they refuelled on bramble blossom. Here is a male High Brown taken in the early evening sunshine.

 

26.06.11  I have just visited Whixall Moss, Prees Heath, Honister and sites around Arnside Knott.  The weather was quite a problem with very cold conditions (15C maximum) and not much sunshine. There had been good reports of Mountain Ringlet sightings but when I went up conditions were diabolical and I saw only 3. But I did meet Ken Parker for whom Mountain Ringlets were his final missing species. He had bought the book in 2006 and become a keen butterflier as a result. Also at Arnside Knott I met Paul Brock and his sister Helen who were with George Else. He was looking particularly at the bee population. Paul had obtained some really excellent Mountain Ringlet shots. None of us saw any High Brown Fritillaries although we spent quite a time looking. While at Whixall, I did see a couple of White-faced Darters.

 

 

 

 

 

3.06.11  No Grizzled Skippers were seen during two hours at Langdon Country Park today. Probably they have finished early this year. There were numerous Burnet Companion moths on the wing and I came across one Five-Spot Burnet moth (earlier in the season than usual).

 

 

13.05.11  The banks of the drainage cut-off channel at Stoke Ferry in West Norfolk are a great place for butterflies and host a colony of Grizzled Skippers. These are at the Wretton end of the north bank. I visited for the first time today. Although the weather was not ideal, with only intermittent sunshine, there was enough sun to bring out a good number of Grizzlies, as well as several Brown Argus, Small Coppers and Common Blues. Treble Bar and Cinnabar moths were also on the wing.

9.05.11  A good afternoon at Langdon Country Park near Basildon to look for Grizzled Skippers. There are a high proportion of aberrants here, including ab intermedia and the spectacular ab taras. Here are 3 shots of ab taras.

 

  

 

24.04.11  Another brilliant spring day for Easter Sunday. In the afternoon visited Therfield Heath near Royston to see Pasqueflowers, which were slightly disappointing this year. There were lots of Pyrausta nigrata, a pretty little micromoth continuously on the go near the Pasqueflowers. They are minute, about half the size of a Grizzled Skipper.

 

 

23.04.11  Went to Chiddingfold for the Tour de Tildy charity cycle ride and just had time for a quick look at Oaken Wood. I stumbled across a Grizzled Skipper within sight of the entrance board, and then numerous Wood Whites as I ventured further into the reserve. There was no time for photography. As later I cycled past the Botany Bay entrance (see the book's entry for Oaken Wood), a Wood White had ventured out of the reserve onto the roadside. They seemed to be mainly or completely males, continuously on patrol for absent females, and rarely stopping for rest or refreshment.

19.04.11  I visited Devil's Dyke, Cambs on a hot, sunny afternoon (24C). There were no Green Hairstreaks or Dingy Skippers, but Brimstones, Orange Tips and Green-veined Whites were all about. Common Heath moths were everywhere at the bottom of the Dyke and there were also lots of Bee-flies on the wing, including this mating pair.

 

 

 

 17.04.11 London Marathon day. Sensational Butterflies on view at Piccadilly Underground station while one of the charities, WPF therapy, has an interesting creature as its logo. Is it a moth or a butterfly?

 

 

10.04.11 The weather this weekend has been sunny all day and very warm for the season. Yesterday we had Orange Tip, Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell on the wing, but no Holly Blues. But the warm Saturday brought a mass emergence of Holly Blues this morning. They were in the garden by mid-day and a large holly bush in the churchyard was soon hosting an active colony. These were continuously on the move all day long, migrating to the top of the tree as evening approached and the lower branches fell into shadow. 

 

 

 

 

 

06.04.11  The warmest day of the year so far, with the temperature near Cambridge reaching 23C. Brimstones were out in force at the Gog Magog Down. Also a single Red Admiral was on the wing there, and Brimstones, and one each Peacock, Comma and Orange Tip were seen in our garden.

 

 

 

 

 

01.04.11  Mild, breezy with intermittent sunshine here for the 1st April. A Peacock warmed itself on a patch of bare ground in the garden.

24.03.11  We have had two more good days, with a fair amount of sunshine and temperatures up to about 16C, although with a cool breeze. Brimstones and Peacocks have been seen in the garden several times but a Bee-fly Bombylius major offered the best target for photography. It was resting on a wall after feeding on aubretia.

22.03.11  Ten days before the weather was again sufficiently enticing for two Brimstones (one female, one male) and a Comma to appear in our garden. But only for a short time as the sunshine soon disappeared again. Temperatures fell from their peak of 16C and butterflies returned to their shelter.

12.03.11  On the first warm, sunny Saturday in South Cambridgeshire for some time, we saw male Brimstones 10 times but only one female Brimstone. This spent a lot of time out of sight, sheltering in hedges and bushes, but was quite willing to crawl onto my finger and pose for photographs. None of the males noticed her. There were also 3 Peacocks about. In spite of the hard winter, all the butterflies we saw were in good condition.

24.02.11  The first warm day this year and the warmest since early November. By midday, temperatures in South Cambridgeshire reached 14-15C and brought out a fresh Peacock in Ickleton (my first butterfly of the year) and the report of a Brimstone in nearby Hinxton.

11.02.11 Today a group of us from the European Interest Group of Butterfly Conservation visited the Natural History Museum in London. The butterfly and moth conservators showed us how the full collection of 9 million insects is stored and some of the key exhibits. This innocuous butterfly is one of only three butterflies brought back by Charles Darwin from his famous voyage on HMS Beagle.

Darwin's books in the Museum's collection 

Darwin's butterfly 

15.09.10 We have returned today from visiting a friend in The Hague. There was just time for two butterfly excursions. The first was to Castricum aan See on the coast of North Holland, not far from Amsterdam. Queen of Spain Fritillaries were easy to find in sheltered hollows on the leeward side of the dunes wherever field pansies (Viola tricolor) were in flower. I still find it surprising that this species has not been able to obtain a permanent foothold in southern England. For a few years there was thought to be a breeding colony on the Suffolk coast but this came to nothing, and the excitement last autumn in Sussex when several were found eventually led to disappointment. The Dutch dunes seemed as if they would be just as cold and windswept in the winter as our English sites. 

Our second excursion was to the inland dunes at Kootwijk in the Veluwe region of central Holland. Graylings were still much in evidence here on the banks of heather and basking on dry ground. I was told that the rare Tree Grayling (H. statilinus) had also been seen a few days before we went. This is the only place in Holland where Tree Graylings may still be found and they are here in very small numbers. I may have seen a couple (they are slightly darker and smaller than our Grayling) but did not succeed in taking any pictures of them! That's one of the frustrations as well as one of the joys of butterflying - success is never guaranteed.

 

 

 

 

Dunes at Castricum aan See, September 2010

Queen of Spain Fritillary at Castricum aan See 

Kootwijk sand dunes, September 2010 

Grayling (H. semele) at Kootwijk 

19.07.10 Just had a few days in Norfolk. Holt Country Park was good for White Admirals, Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Whites and a fresh looking Brown Argus. Near the Washington Hide at Holkham, White-Letters Hairstreaks were descending to bramble on 18.07.10 and I found a Purple Hairstreak nectaring on Hemp Agrimony. At Gun Hill, near Burnham Overy Staithe, I only had half-an-hour in windy conditions, but saw a couple of Graylings and a Dark Green Fritillary. 

 

  

  

  

  

09.07.10 Made what may become my final visit this year to Fermyn Woods today. It was very warm with fairly continuous sunshine and there were still a good number of male Purple Emperors coming to ground. Last weekend I also visited Bookham Common, Botany Bay at Chiddingfold, and Alice Holt Forest. At Bookham Common we had a male on the ground at 6:30 pm on Saturday 3rd July; there were reports of quite a few grounded at Botany Bay the next day; but Alice Holt was a disappointment in the Straits Inclosure, probably because the sallows along the main ride have been cut down to widen the ride. Here are a few photos of Purple Emperors (all male) on a car, on my trouser leg, on a conifer tree, and sharing some shrimp paste with a comma. The Purple Hairstreak was at Alice Holt Forest - I can't make out why it has the white spot on its forewing.

 

 

 

 

 

30.06.10 Today was fine and warm in the Midlands and I went to see whether Purple Emperors were on the wing at Fermyn Woods. In spite of a reported late start at some of the southern sites, there were a good number of male Purple Emperors coming down to the roadways in the woods. I was there between about 10:30 and 13:00 and bumped into Andy Wyldes and David Irven. Together we saw at least a dozen fresh specimens on the paths, on one occasion with 5 down within the 100 metre stretch that we could see along. There were also a lot of good looking White Admirals nectaring on bramble, and Purple and White-letter (probably) Hairstreaks at canopy level. Yesterday I had a brief visit to the gazebo look-out at Sheringham Park in Norfolk to find no Purple Hairstreaks where previously I have seen many. I presume that they will emerge here later, but intend to check on this when I go again in July.

15.06.10  During the last 3 weeks we have been to Glasdrum Wood NNR, Glen Loy and Loch Arkaig BC reserve to see Chequered Skippers, to Murlough and Peatlands Park NNRs and Craigavon in Northern Ireland to see Real's Wood Whites, Marsh Fritillaries and Large Heaths, and to Irton Fell, Gait Barrows NNR, Meathop Moss SAC and Latterbarrow to see Mountain Ringlets, Small Pearl-bordered and Dark Green Fritillaries, Large Heaths and Northern Brown Argus. I shall be adding details of the new sites in the Updates section. I had not seen Real's Wood Whites before. Although they look indistinguishable from Wood Whites as we know them in England and Wales, they frequent a much more open habitat and move with a more determined and less fluttery flight. You can't help noticing these differences - they are quite obvious.

 

 

 

 

Real's Wood White (m), Craigavon, Co. Armagh, 5 June 2010

Habitat frequented by Real's Wood Whites, Murlough NNR, Co. Down 6 June 2010

23.05.10  We had an outing to Ketton Quarry, Rutland on a very hot (28.5C), sunny afternoon. This time there were a good number of Dingy and Grizzled Skippers about at both ends of the reserve (see the Updates section for Ketton Quarry).

Dingy Skipper (male) at Ketton Quarry, 23 May 2010

 

06.05.10  This afternoon I visited Barnack Hills and Holes NNR (TF 076047) in Cambridgeshire and then the Wildlife Trust reserve at Ketton Quarry (SK 977053) in Rutland. It was sunny and warmer than recently but still only about 15C in the open, although warmer in the hollows and sheltered quarry areas. At Barnack there were plenty of Green Hairstreaks to be seen (about 30 in 2 hours), mostly on budding hawthorn bushes along the western pathway, but also on some flowering cherry trees. I didn't get to Ketton Quarry until after 5pm, but still saw about 10 Grizzled Skippers on the quarry slope at the beginning of the Geology Trail. Although I have been told that Dingy Skippers can usually be seen here, I didn't see any today.

 

 

Green Hairstreak on cherry blossom at Barnack Hills and Holes, 6 May 2010 

Grizzled Skippers, male (above) and female at Ketton Quarry, 6 May 2010 

 28.04.10 Up early (as the weather forecast promised a fine morning) to search for Grizzled Skippers waking up at Woodwalton Marsh. With Rosalyn Payne and Phil Bromley (Cambs & Essex BC members) also arriving early, and their help, we found 3 roosting, all perched on the top of tall grass stalks. Although the day remained slightly overcast with only hazy sun, when the weak sunshine reached them they soon disappeared. Here is one opening its wings.

 

23.04.10 St George's Day and a fine, sunny one with the temperature rising towards 15C by 10:30. I took the morning off to go to Devil's Dyke and see Green Hairstreaks. Where the Burwell cutting (from the long-disused railway) crosses Devil's Dyke, there is a hot spot for Green Hairstreaks. Although this was still early in the season there were half a dozen about in the little spinney here. They regularly perched on a low bush on the edge of the bank nearby (Go through the gate at the top of the bank on the Reach side of the cutting. The bush, probably in the berberis family, is immediately on your left.)

18.04.10  Saw my first Orange Tip of the season at Feckenham, Worcs, today, and my first Speckled Wood on the Pembrokeshire coast near St Non's Bay on 13.04.10. On 16.04.10 I had a fleeting glimpse of a Clouded Yellow at St David's Head. No chance for a photograph, but I am 90% certain it was a Clouded Yellow. Where had it come from?

I was at St Non's for a CARM poetry retreat. One of the participants, Joy  Tobler, composed this lovely Haiku verse with the title; Use?

a butterfly's use? dancing beauty for God's eyes, delighting his heart

Nadia Kingsley, who is in the Shropshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation, is compiling a book of butterfly art and poetry, to be published in 2011. If you are interested, she can be contacted at fairacrepress@btinternet.com

9.04.10 At last we have some warm spring weather. On a visit to Norfolk yesterday, I saw 3 good looking Peacocks. Today a Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock were nectaring in our garden.

5.04.10 Easter Monday. Some fleeting sunshine brought out a faded Small Tortoiseshell in our garden in South Cambridgeshire - the first butterfly I have seen since a Brimstone in Little Shelford on 30.03.10.

 28.03.10  I have just returned from Butterfly Conservation's 6th International Conference at Reading University. Some 400 attendees made this the largest butterfly conference ever held. The emphasis was on conservation and habitat management, all over the world. The Society's President Sir David Attenborough opened the conference and Dr Martin Warren, Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation, concluded by summarising the proceedings with 10 questions.

 

1. How do we reform agricultural policy to foster sustainable production and reverse the loss of biodiversity?

2. How do we ensure sustainable management for woodlands?

3. How do we manage the landscape matrix between semi-natural areas?

4. How do we ensure habitat management on a landscape scale?

5. How can we mitigate climate change?

6. How do we achieve a robust planning system that protects our best sites and fosters wildlife conservation within urban areas?

 7. How do we set up a comprehensive system for recording and monitoring lepidoptera?

8. How can we obtain long-term funding for nature conservation?

9. How do we make wildlife matter to politicians?

10. How do we make wildlife matter to people?

24.03.10 Another fresh male Brimstone in our garden today where the mid-day temperature reached 17.5 C, the hottest this year. Rod Newbery  saw a Comma in his garden in Chesterton, Cambridge, which is slightly unusual for this time of year. Usually Commas keep near established woodland in the spring.

21.03.10 This has been the first warm weekend of the year. A pristine male Brimstone marked the beginning of my butterfly season by fluttering around our garden in South Cambridgeshire this morning. It was the second butterfly of the year for me, as a faded Small Tortoiseshell came to life in the bell chamber in Duxford Church yesterday afternoon. It appeared during a quarter peal attempt and probably distracted us enough for the ringing to fire out shortly afterwards. And we were only two leads from completing the quarter. That, in bell-ringing jargon, means we had nearly finished the 45 minutes of ringing we had started, but did not succeed in completing. Today's Brimstone sighting was by no means the earliest in this area, as Stephen Gilbert reported one at Fanum's Hall, Hertfordshire, on March 2nd.

 13.09.09  Since my entry on 18.08.09 (below), I have visited downland near Beachy Head, at Friston Gallops and Lullington Heath, both near Alfriston, at Malling Down, near Lewes, Mill Hill, near Shoreham-by-Sea and at Steyning, all in Sussex, as well as at Denbies Hillside near Dorking. Contrary to what I had found at Old Winchester Hill and Beacon Hill, there were a lot of Silver-spotted Skippers on the wing and quite a lot of Adonis Blues. Although I didn't look for Brown Hairstreaks again, I have been hearing about them from an unlikely source: the Archers on BBC Radio 4. The soap's scriptwriters have acted on a suggestion made in February by the Secretary of Butterfly Conservation's West Midlands Branch that Brown Hairstreaks could become a conservation topic in the daily story of country folk. And they have - well done Lynda Snell who spotted a Brown Hairstreak in a "species-rich" hedge at Ambridge!

 18.08.09 After visiting Old Winchester Hill yesterday, I tried Beacon Hill, on the other side of the Meon Valley but in sight of OWH. Jeremy Thomas has written that it took 9 years for a Silver-spotted Skipper to cross from Beacon Hill to OWH after the latter was made suitable for them some years after it first became a National Nature Reserve. With the help of two local butterfly seekers, it took us half-an-hour to find one Silver-spotted Skipper each in an area where usually there are hundreds at this time of year. We were surprised about this because I know that Silver-spotted Skippers are out in good numbers at sites in Sussex.

17.08.09  While in the Hampshire area, I made a return visit to Old Winchester Hill. I did not see any Silver-spotted Skippers or Adonis Blues. There were reports that one or two Silver-spotted Skippers had been seen earlier today but no Adonis Blues were reported. However I did have the pleasure of bumping into a group of four Monarch's Way walkers, led by the originator of the 651 mile Monarch's Way walk, Trevor Antill. This marathon walk, whose route is now shown on OS maps, follows the path of Charles II when escaping from Cromwell after the battle of Worcester. It passes over Old Winchester Hill. Here is a picture of the group on the summit of Old Winchester Hill.

 

16.08.09  Following an enthusiastic report by Matthew Oates on BC's Hants and IoW Branch website, I went to Shipton Bellinger on the edge of Salisbury Plain to look for Brown Hairstreaks. There were a good number of them active on the ash tree identified by Matthew. Over a two-hour period from 11:30 to 13:30 about half-a-dozen females were seen either egg-laying or prospecting for egg-laying. None (male or female) came down to nectar while I was there, but, in comparison with Whitecross Green Wood last year, there was very little in flower to encourge them to do so. The highlight was when a female Brown Hairstreak explored Martin King's finger.

 

19.07.09 We were staying near Malton close to the North York Moors and visited Fen Bog, at the northern end of Newtondale. This is halfway between Whitby and Pickering. It turned out to be too late for Large Heaths (which fly here and had been seen in June) but there were quite a lot of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and some fresh looking Dark Green Fritillaries on the wing. Next day, we went on via Grassington (no Northern Brown Argus seen) to Ravenstonedale on the eastern edge of the Lake District. The objective was Smardale Gill NNR. We had arranged to stay 3 nights and it rained steadily for the whole of the two full days we were there. On the morning of the fourth day, before leaving to drive home, I met a Lancaster University research team studying Northern Brown Argus who told me that these had finished for the season and that it was probably too early for Scotch Argus. However, in between some heavy showers, I did find a colony of very fresh Scotch Argus and managed a few photos before the rain returned and I had to scarper. The weather was disappointing, but Smardale Gill is exceptional and strongly recommended if you are ever near.The old viaduct is a marvel of Victorian engineering.


17.07.09 We visited Spurn Head today. This is a thin spit of land that pokes out nearly 4 miles into the River Humber opposite Grimsby. It has had a remarkable history. Spurn Point is now a base for pilot tenders for Associated British Ports and a lifeboat is on permanent standby here. But the rest of the isthmus is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve.The interest for butterfly seekers is the migrant species that crop up here and this morning an influx of Small Whites had appeared. When we arrived there were Small Whites everywhere. Unfortunately a thunderstorm soon caused them to disperse, or at least disappear, but here is a photo of one sheltering in the grass.


14.06.09  Today was a fine Sunday which was also an open day at the RSPB reserve at Strumpshaw Fen. I had been twice last week, both rather late in the afternoon and with rather uncertain weather, sunny spells between heavy showers. On those occasions no Swallowtails were to be seen and people who had been at the reserve all day reported only the occasional sighting. But, by mid-morning today, the weather conditions were perfect, hot and sunny and with very little breeze. Swallowtails were about in good numbers and most people will have been able to obtain good photographs. There are more details and some photos here.

8.06.09 We visited Old Winchester Hill, Hampshire, after attending a ruby wedding party in Salisbury. There was intermittent sunshine while we were there but it was cold (13.5 C) and conditions were not promising. But the footpaths are excellent and there is a huge amount to see. I shall hope to come back in August to find out how Silver-spotted Skippers are faring. According to the 2008 transect report for Old Winchester Hill, they were quite numerous in the second half of August last year. The site is also good for Small Heaths with the end of June their peak period and there were several about despite the cold conditions. This species seems to have a good tolerance for cold weather because I have seen them at high level in the Lake District when even Mountain Ringlets want to keep sheltered down low in the grass.

5.06.09  This diary has fallen behind because I have been too busy butterflying! The most important event has been the mass arrival of Painted Ladies, probably mostly from N Africa. A steady stream came through my garden in South Cambridgeshire on Sunday, 24 May. They were passing through at the rate of 2 or 3 every minute for about 5 hours in the middle of a hot, sunny day. I estimated that 400 must have passed, all flying pretty well due north. They were hedge-hopping, flying between 1 and 2 metres above the ground. By timing them across the garden, I found that their speed was about 20 mph. I only saw one stop for about 2 seconds to refuel on the way. The next day there were several nctaring in the garden (also on a fine day) and ever since we have seen them regularly wherever we have been.

On 30.05.09 we went to Salcey Forest on a very hot and sunny day. The tree-top walk there is excellent, but the number of Wood Whites disappointing. I saw only about 8 fluttering along the edges of the rides in the eastern part of the forest. Two butterfliers from St Albans told me they had walked round half the forest and not seen any. On consulting Doug Goddard, the butterfly recorder for Northants, he told me that numbers this year were better than in the last two or three and that the days of hundreds, as happened in the 1980s, are long gone. I am sorry about this. I think part of the problem may be that the rides have been allowed to get too overgrown. They need to be wider to allow more sunshine through. I only got one photo and had to use a long lens for that.

Earlier in May, we were in Cornwall and I spent some time at Penhale Sands looking for Grizzled Skippers. Unfortunately I didn't find any. Although I consulted the Cornwall experts and hopefully looked in the best places, there was nothing doing. They are difficult to spot, particularly if in low numbers, but I had no difficulty at Woodwalton Marsh which is much nearer home. That is a tiny site, just an acre or two, but the damp, low turf there seems to be very much to Grizzlies liking.

The other good place I went to is the Welcombe and Marsland Valleys between Bude and Bideford, on the Atlantic coast of Devon. That is a really good place and strongly recommended. Both Pearl-bordered and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries were flying on 10.05.09, the latter very fresh because they must have been newly emerged. This site is cared for by the Devon Wildlife Trust and I think their volunteers have done a marvellous job in helping to maintain the habitat for both these fritillaries in perfect condition.

A visit to Dunsdon NNR in Devon on 11.05.09 was good although it was too early for Marsh Fritillaries and there were no Wood Whites about. Although the Devon WT website says Wood Whites, I think this is wrong, as confirmed by the Devon Recorder. I did, however, find Marsh Fritillaries at Chambers Wood, near Lincoln (see the book) on 28.05.09 and there are now also Dingy Skippers there which have been introduced to L:ittle Scrubbs Meadow by the same local person who made the original introduction of Marsh Fritillarfies. 

15.04.09  Today I visited Devil's Dyke (one of the sites in the book) to look for Green Hairstreaks. It was about 21C but partly overcast and breezy except at the bottom of the dyke. I met Sharon Hearle of BC who was carrying out her transect but we had no definite sightings so evidently Green Hairstreaks have not started emerging here in any numbers. Green-veined Whites were plentiful, then Peacocks and Brimstones, and several Small Tortoiseshells but no Holly Blues and no Orange Tips were about here today.

19.03.09  I took my first butterfly pictures of the year. A perfect Peacock appeared in our garden in Cambridgeshire and posed helpfully for pictures on our patio.

 

 14.09.08 Two reports on BC's Cambridgeshire and Essex Branch website yesterday evening described a plentiful supply of Small Tortoiseshells at Peterborough and Sawtry. So today I spent a couple of hours at Tort Hill (an appropriate name!), next to All Saints' Church, Sawtry, from about 12-2pm. The weather was mainly sunny and warm (19C) with only a light breeze. And there were a huge number of Small Tortoiseshells about. There must have been several hundred of them in the three fields: more butterflies of one species that I have seen in one place for ages, and almost all in mint condition. Here are two pictures, taken near the motorway noise barrier that is alongside the A1(M), where there is a large self-set buddleia bush. 

13.09.08 Today started cooler, but the weather in Cambridgeshire improved throughout the day, with good sunny periods after midday. In my garden at Ickleton there was considerable butterfly activity with Large and Small Whites, Red Admirals and Commas all about in numbers. On one occasion we counted 15 Commas, which is by far the most I have ever seen here. They were favouring late-flowering buddleia, ivy and sedum spectabile.

 

 

30.08.08 This Saturday was one of the few fine, sunny days this August. I visited Denbies Hillside, one of my "top 10" butterfly sites. There were Chalkhill, Adonis and Common Blues about in plenty, although not many female Adonis Blues. In 3 hours, I had only 2 definite sightings. One was a specimen sprinkled with blue scales that you are more likely to see in the spring generation. I also saw two aberrant Chalkhill Blues, one I think ab obsoleta and the other possibly ab postobsoleta. Just down the hill from the main entrance I saw a couple of Silver-spotted Skippers, the first time I have seen them at Denbies Hillside.

                                    Chalkhill Blue (f) ab obsoleta

Chalkhill Blue (f) ab postobsoleta (?)

                         Silver-spotted Skipper (m) 

10.08.08 There was a Butterfly Conservation Upper Thames Branch visit to Whitecross Green Wood today. The car park was full by 9:30 and we saw a Silver-washed Fritillary and a male Brown Hairstreak before we had even started to walk round this excellent reserve. During the course of a full morning, our group saw at least 15 Brown Hairstreaks. In the afternoon, I called at Aston Rowant on the way home. By now it was raining, but fortunately there was a brief spell of sunshine in mid-afternoon. On the Shirburn Hill area I saw about 10 Silver-spotted Skippers nectaring on dwarf thistle and ragwort. 

29.07.08 Today I stumbled across a recently emerged female Brown Hairstreak sunning itself on a leaf at Whitecross Green Wood. I was looking for males nectaring at low level. The first in the area had been reported on 26th (two) and 27th (one), and females do not usually appear for a week to ten days after the males. On examing my photographs, I found that it was an unusually rare form ab uncilinea with a broken stripe (see photo below) 

During July, I was also fortunate to find a colony of Mountain Ringlets near Grey Knotts in Cumbria (on 01.07.08), as well as seeing Lulworth Skippers on the Isle of Portland and Silver-studded Blues at Portland and East Budleigh Common later in the month. Towards the end of July, I focussed on Purple Hairstreaks from the gazebo in Sheringham Park, Norfolk. This was a more frustrating experience because it was impossible to get close enough for good photographs. I did, however, photograph a mating pair from about 3-4 metres. Their period of courtship was extremely brief, only a matter of seconds so far as I could see. This is an article on my conclusions about Purple Hairstreak behaviour at Sheringham Park.

19.06.08  I spent this afternoon at Glapthorn and two days ago an afternoon at Brampton Wood, looking for Black Hairstreaks. Conditions were similar: mixed sunshine and cloud with the temperature about 20C. So far this year, the recorders at both reserves have noted reduced numbers. My impression is that there were more butterflies on the wing at Brampton Wood, but the fewer numbers at Glapthorn were coming lower because there is more early-flowering bramble to attract them down. Typical sightings were about 8 an hour at the best site at Brampton Wood and 4 an hour at the best site at Glapthorn. The photo below is a fresh-looking male at Glapthorn.

24.05.08  The improved weather continued to this weekend, so on Saturday I went to Totternhoe Knolls and Quarry near Dunstable. This is at the northern end of Dunstable Downs and the old chalk quarry is well-known locally as a place to find the Duke of Burgundy. It was quite windy and with intermittent sunshine, so we had to look hard (eventually there were 5 people looking together) but we eventually saw about half-a-dozen Dukes over a half hour period. They were all close to the floor of the quarry which was the most sheltered area. We also looked for Small Blues and there were a few on the wing within the quarry environs. However the reliable site under the high chalk escarpment near the NT car park allowed us to find quite a lot more including a mating pair and several basking males, even though the temperature was falling and rain imminent. 

22.05.08  At last another fine day after a long period of cooler and damp May days. I spent the afternoon at Twywell Hills and Dales, near Kettering. In the Whitestones area there were plenty of Dingy Skippers with some Green Hairstreaks, Small Heaths and a few Common Blues on the wing. In the Gullet I saw just one Grizzled Skipper nectaring on wild strawberry, but I did not have time to stay long enough to see more and we had only intermittent sunshine at this point. A visit is well recommended for butterfliers who live in this area.

10.05.08  The last few days have been warm and sunny. Today has been very warm but partly overcast. I visited the Devil's Dyke, near Newmarket, where Green Hairstreaks and Dingy Skippers were busy flying swiftly at low level over short grass on the south-facing bank.

26.04.08  The first really warm, sunny Saturday of 2008 brought many sightings in South Cambridgeshire. Several freshly-emerged Holly Blues appeared in my garden and Peacocks and Brimstones were prominent. This photo of a Peacock basking on a carpet of fallen petals was taken before 9am.

22.04.08  I was delighted to see a Small Tortoiseshell at Elmdon, Essex this afternoon. It was in good condition after the winter and hopefully will breed successfully. In some parts of the country Small Tortoiseshells have been badly hit by a parasitic wasp, but there have already been quite a lot of other sightings in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Hertfordshire this year.

9.2.08  I saw my first butterfly of 2008 today. A fresh, male Brimstone was fluttering along an ivy-covered hedge in Ickleton, Cambs, in bright sunshine. It was an unseasonably warm, sunny day. And the next day, not far away at Elmdon, near Saffron Walden, this experience was repeated. Two Brimstones in successive days in February!

 
31.8.07 The last day of summer 2007 has been cool and cloudy where I am in Cambridgeshire. But yesterday there was still a good selection of species on the wing with Peacocks and Red Admirals prominent and Small and Green-veined Whites along the Icknield Way which passes nearby.

 
12.8.07 The exceptional weather of spring and early summer gave way to long periods with overcast skies. I was fortunate to spend a week in La Brenne (south of the Loire valley) and a week in the French Pyrenees. La Brenne in late June was also overcast much of the time (and two days in  Normandy were a butterfly washout!) but the Pyrenees in early July was good. The highlight there was finding two colonies of Gavarnie Blues (one of the rarest blue species). Also Large Blues were on the wing in the Pyrenees and at La Brenne. Our Mountain Ringlets are quite common in the Pyrenees, although they are difficult to separate on the wing from several other species of Mountain Ringlet.
 

 
Back in Britain, it has been good in my part of Cambridgeshire for Gatekeepers and for second generation Holly Blues. All the Whites, Red Admirals, Peacocks, Commas, Brimstones and the occasional Small Tortoiseshell have been in our garden. Stephen Gilbert got some good photos of a White-letter Hairstreak at Fanham's Hall in Hertfordshire, but it has not been a good butterfly summer. My impression is that numbers are down compared with last year.

 
The appearance of a number of Large Tortoiseshells along the south coast, and particularly in the Sidmouth area during July, is surprising. Are they immigrants or could they have bred here naturally? Or have they been intentionally released by a private breeder? The picture below was taken in Provence in 2006 - I have never seen a Large Tortoiseshell on the wing in this country. It would be marvellous if they were able to re-establish themselves here.

10.6.07  The overcast weather that has dogged the Norfolk Broads on and off for the last week continued today. The temperature fell to as low as 16 deg C in the early afternoon. Not surprisingly this has turned the Swallowtail into a rarer species than usual at this time of year. However they are about, and Stephen Gilbert gave me this beautiful image that he got last Tuesday, 5.6.07, near the keeper's cottage at Strumpshaw Fen.
 
Geoff Jones has emailed to report on good sightings of Glanville Fritillaries at Hurst Point (which is south of Lymington), near the ferry landing. This is about the closest point of the mainland to the Isle of Wight. There is only about a mile of water between them.
 

 
26.5.07 The May Bank Holiday weekend looks like being a very disappointing one for butterfly spotters. Cool and overcast in Cambridgeshire today, the forecast for Sunday and Monday is worse. Since our glorious April, we have not heard much this month about global warming! My own sightings recently have been confined to a few Holly Blues and a variety of Whites. Hopefully, Swallowtails will be on the wing in numbers next weekend, 2-3 June. I am recommending Catfield, How Hill and Wheatfen, with David Nobbs, the resident warden at Wheatfen a very good person from whom to seek advice if you go there.
 
13.5.07 The Met office announced that April was the hottest we have had since records began. That may be the case, but May is certainly not following the same pattern. It has been cold and wet all day in Cambridgeshire today, and Geoff Jones emailed that a local BC visit to Magdalen Hill Down, Hampshire, was a big disappointment yesterday, with very few butterflies seen. Stephen Gilbert told me that Fanham's Hall, Hertfordshire and Sawston Hall, Cambridgeshire were both very good for Orange Tips at the beginning of May, but that activity is now much reduced.
 
29.4.07 This has been the best butterfly weekend of 2007 so far. The good weather continued and the Holly Blues that had been making regular appearances for the last two weeks agreed to stop for a photograph. In my garden in Cambridgeshire we saw at least one each of Brimstone, Orange Tip, Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Peacock, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Holly Blue. Butterfly Conservation's First Sightings page has the astonishing news that a Lulworth Skipper was seen (by Martin Warren) on 28 April. This is over two months ahead of schedule! BC say they will be issuing a press release shortly about this.

28.4.07 Today is hot and sunny as we come to the end of the hottest April for many years. By 23 April, St George's Day, Butterfly Conservation's first-sightings page showed that 29 of our 58 British species had already been seen. Although Small Tortoiseshells have been in short supply, last weekend Stephen Gilbert saw about 30 of them in a field at Fen Ditton near Cambridge. Also he saw a lot of Orange Tips at Sawston Hall and here is his photo of a roosting Orange Tip.

 
13.4.07 Today was initially misty and overcast, but brightened up by 2pm. A Brimstone was on patrol, and I was pleased to see two fresh Speckled Woods sunning themselves on a line of conifer trees in our garden in Ickleton. We do not always see them, and I think there were none in 2006.

 
6.4.07 The good weather has continued, with regular sightings of Brimstones, Peacocks and Commas, but so far no Holly Blues reported in Cambridgeshire. Geoff Jones spent the day at Titchfield Haven, Hants, and saw his first Speckled Woods, Orange Tips and one Holly Blue. He also saw another Holly Blue nearer home. Geoff saw one Small Tortoiseshell at Titchfield Haven and Stephen Gilbert saw another at Sawston Hall, Cambridgeshire, also today.
 
1.4.07 After another cold, wet and windy week, the weather improved tremendously this weekend. Today was a day of unbroken sunshine in this area of Cambridgeshire, although it was quite breezy. There were several Brimstones (only males identified at close range) and several Peacocks seen locally. Although there was a reported sighting in Hampshire on 7.3.07 (see the home page), so far no Holly Blues have been spotted in their regular known haunts here yet.
 
26.3.07 The past week has been very cold and damp, a complete change from the preceding two weeks of unseasonable warmth and sunshine. The only butterfly sighting I have been told about was a Brimstone apparently disturbed from a bamboo plant by gardeners at Fanham's Hall, Herts.
 
19.3.07 I saw Stephen Gilbert today. He and his son, who looks after the large gardens at Sawston Hall, Cambs, long disused but now being restored, had an astonishing day there last Monday, 12.3.07. It was warm and sunny, and they counted 46 Brimstones on the wing in a 4-hour period during the middle of the day. The butterflies were diving into dense ivy undergowth towards the end of the period and hopfully will survive there during the anticipated coming cold spell. Stephen also saw 5 Small Tortoiseshells, as well as Peacocks, Red Admirals and Commas, and a single Small White.
 
14.3.07 Yesterday I saw my first butterfly of 2007. A male Brimstone was one rapid patrol, passing though our garden. Today I saw the same or another one, and also a Peacock, which took nectar from some flowering primulas. And this evening I saw a Small Tortoiseshell in good condition flying in Duxford Church, Cambs.

 
13.3.07 The Times carried an article today quoting Tim Sparks of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology saying "I tend to think of hawthorn being in leaf as a sign of spring and once I've seen a Holly Blue butterfly I know it's really here." Today Geoff Jones emailed to say that a Holly Blue had been seen in a garden in Hampshire last weekend, 10-11.3.07. So spring is already here! A Small White has also been seen in Hampshire at the weekend.
 
12.3.07 There have been several reports of Brimstones about last week, including at least 6 together in a field near the River Cam north of Cambridge, and several at Sawston Hall. Stephen Gilbert and his son were again the reporters.
 
2.3.07 On a mild, sunny day today at Fanham's Hall, Stephen saw 3 Red Admirals (nectaring on mahonia), 2 Commas, a Peacock and a male Brimstone and he got photographic proof of them all. Here are Stephen's photos of the Peacock and one of the Commas.

 
15.2.07 More Red Admirals have been seen, the most recent one I have heard of was today at Diss in Norfolk.
 
2.2.07 Stephen Gilbert took this photo of a Red Admiral at Fanham's Hall, Hertfordshire on Candlemas Day. He saw it nectaring on a winter-flowering viburnum.
 

 
21.1.07 Another sunny and relatively warm day and, sure enough, Bernie Breton spotted a Red Admiral flying past his conservatory in Great Shelford at about 1 pm.
 
20.1.07 Yesterday, Saturday,was also a sunny but cold day, following two very windy days on Thursday and Friday with widespread gale damage. I have not yet had any reports of butterflies since the winds, but Stephen Gilbert has told me of repeated Red Admiral sightings before then. Stephen and his son saw no less than 6 Red Admirals on the wing at Sawston Hall, Cambridgeshire, on New Year's Day, at about 1pm. They have also seen several more and a Comma on different days between 1.1.07 and 16.1.07 at Sawston Hall, Fanham's Hall and in the Wandlebury Nature Reserve south of Cambridge. Since writing the above, I have had an email from Geoff Jones that a Brimstone was seen flying in mid-Hampshire on 14.1.07. So the adult hibernators Brimstone, Peacock, Painted Lady, Comma and Red Admiral have now all been seen on the wing this year.
 
BC's website also reports that a Speckled Wood was seen in Cornwall on 16.1.07. This is unusual because Speckled Woods are thought to spend the winter either as caterpillars or chrysalises, and their chrysalises usually remain dormant until April.
 
3.1.07 In his column Nature Notes in today's Times, Derwent May comments on the survival rate of overwintering Red Admirals. He speculates that those on the wing now may not find it easy to go back into hibernation and are unlikely to survive the winter. It would be interesting to collect evidence on this. Can anyone provide any?
 
1.1.07 So far I have received three reports of Red Admiral sightings on New Year's Day. Bernie Breton saw one outside his conservatory in Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire, at about 12 noon and Geoff Jones has passed on sightings at two different places in the New Forest at about 1 pm.
 
Also on New Year's Day, Butterfly Conservation's website records that a Peacock was seen in Berkshire and several Painted Ladies in different counties. Curiously, no Red Admiral is listed as having been seen.
 
22.12.06 The last sightings of 2006 that I have heard about are a Peacock and Red Admirals at Titchfield Haven NNR (also reported to me by Geoff Jones).
 
18.12.06 Geoff emailed from Lee on the Solent that he had seen a Red Admiral on the wing on the 18th December.
 
17.12.06 The last sighting of 2006 in my area is by Stephen Gilbert, who saw 4 Red Admirals on the wing at Sawston Hall, Cambridgeshire, on a cold, sunny day, about 1pm. The same butterflies were also seen basking, and two were watched tumbling together, but none was seen to take nectar, although this was available. Stephen also saw two Red Admirals in my garden at Ickleton, Cambs. in similar weather conditions the previous day, 16.12.06.
 
6.12.06 Earlier in December, in bright sunshine, Stephen saw two Red Admirals, both slightly worn, nectaring on Viburnum davidii at Fanham's Hall, Hertfordshire.
 
2.12.06 In my region, I had expected that the last sighting this year would have been a Red Admiral seen in a garden in Great Shelford, Cambridgeshire. Bernie Breton, the computer expert who set up this website for me, was the observer.
My own last sighting for 2006 was the faded Red Admiral that I saw in winter sunshine in a courtyard garden at Marshfield, near Bath, at about 1 pm on 26.11.06. I was staying there following the AGM of Butterfly Conservation at Bristol on 25.11.06.