We've been doing a fair bit of work on the meadow reserves with the trust, and have been surrounded by all sorts of colourful insects. I remarked a few weeks back that I hadn't seen a lot of butterflies this year, but i now retract my statement, as i have now seen loads of them and they have really sparked up my interest again. On the 14th, we were working at Lambley reed pond, cutting thistles to attempt to lower their dominance on the site. It was that day that the butterflies really caught my attention, especially as i have got my 200-300mm macro lens working again! There were loads flitting about all over the place, but especially over near the pond itself, where the vegetation was thickest. Butterflies were busy drinking thirstily from knapweeds, willowherbs and thistles, while the bramble bushes were also alive with them. There were a good number of species but most dominant were Small Whites, Meadow Browns, Peacocks and a few Ringlets. I tried for a while to get some decent shots, but the best i came out with were of the Peacocks and Whites.
The next week we were at Brierley's Meadow near Besthorpe, a tiny meadow reserve but with a good diversity of plants, and with that, butterflies. We were once again clearing thistles, which is a bit of a shame as the insects love them, but there was plenty of knapweeds and other flowers to keep them going. Meadow Browns and gatekeepers reigned dominant here, but they were joined by a number of Ringlets, Small Coppers and a couple of Small Skippers. Later that day we indulged in a bit of Ragwort pulling but attempted to do it in a sympathetic manner as many of the florets were covered with the caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth, a species specialised to eat the usually toxic Ragwort which are a common sight at this time of year. We left plants which were covered with them and made sure we piled other plants nearby for them to eat.
I have since found a butterfly haven which i have visited twice already this summer, with plans to return. It is at one of my usual birding patches near clifton woods. The fields that are farmed nearby are often full of butterflies, but there are a few patches on the way to Barton-in-fabis that are left as set-aside. There are also a couple of ponds nearby, along with the woods themselves. As a result of this mosaic of habitats, the abundance and diversity of butterflies is pretty high.
In the woods and on its edges, it is not uncommon to find Brimstones flying up and down, especially in early spring. This time of year Red Admirals can be seen regularly, sunning themselves on bare ground where the sunlight breaks through gaps in the thick sycamore canopy. On the edges where the sun is shining, especially where there is thick, raised vegetation such as ivy or blackthorn, Comma butterflies can be seen waiting on a leaf, ready to attack any intruding males, or to attempt a coupling with any passing females. To see a pair of males scrapping mid-air, with the sun bringing out their vibrant colours, is a wonderful sight on a bright sunny day.
On the field edges and in the large meadow which has been set aside from farming, there is a different set of butterflies entirely. Thistles are a common plant here and at the moment are filling the skies with their feathery seeds, but where they are still in flower, many large butterflies such as Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells have been seen drinking from the purple flowerheads. It is impossible to walk a few metres without seeing a White butterfly, but i am not entirely confident of identifying species, especially on the wing, as they very rarely rest for long when you approach. Walking through the vegetation disturbs the species that sit low, such as Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are a little more conspicuous, with their brighter colouration and tendency to sit in the open, but meadow browns are more subdued in their colouring and are excellently camouflaged so that you won't see it until the last minute when it suddenly explodes into flight a few inches from your feet. I have found the latter species to be more abundant however, even though the gatekeepers at first seem more numerous. Other species do reside here, but are not seen as regularly, such as Ringlets and Small skippers, and i have not seen many blue butterflies, but i think as i survey the area more thoroughly more species will turn up.
I have only properly looked at a small area of the site too so i will be returning over the coming weeks to see what else there is to find. I'm also attempting to take some good photographs, which is difficult as they always seem to fly away or sit somewhere where some foreground vegetation blocks the cameras view, but i'll keep trying! Their ecology and natural history, as well as their breeding cycles are all very interesting too, as is learning about their conservation and the threats to our native populations. I have been reading an excellent book which describes each species in detail and gives a good account of all aspects of their lifestyle, along with brilliant paintings of each stage in their life cycle, The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington (ISBNI have the hardback, which cost me 25 quid, but it is well worth it as it is more than an ID guide but really delves into the world of our native species, with much passion and knowledge. Its not one for taking into the field though, so i must really get a smaller field guide at some point!
I'll post some pictures as soon as i have sorted through them all. that could take a while!