Summer Time, and the living is….well, a little easier….?

I guess it could be said that this year has probably been one of the most unusual in living history for many of us. The period of lock-down as a consequence of the Covid 19 pandemic meant that the Spring butterfly season was restricted to garden observations and occasional sightings on walks in the local area. Every year I look forward to the arrival of that harbinger of Spring, the Orange Tip. There were only a few in our garden this year and they took advantage of the brief (well, it was this year) flowering period of some clumps of Aubrieta before they succumbed to the intense heat.

As the restrictions were lifted slightly I did manage to get out to search for Green Hairstreak. Bittesby Wood near Lutterworth proved that the Natural World continued whilst we couldn’t, and although I counted fewer Green Hairstreak than I normally would, 5 individuals on a warm, breezy day was more than enough to quench my Lepidopteran thirst. I hoped for better times as Summer beckoned.

Dark Green Fritillary at Ketton Quarry. Photograph taken by Richard M. Jeffery

A further relaxation in Covid 19 restrictions coincided with a hot and sunny spell that also embraced the Summer Solstice. The fact that we were allowed to travel further afield, and the glorious Summer weather, prompted Win and I to venture forth into Rutland, and to visit both Bloody Oaks Quarry and Ketton Quarry; and what a day we had. First port of call was Bloody Oaks, and to say that I’d never seen so many Dark Green Fritillary in my life is not an understatement by any means. I stopped counting at 50 but I’m sure that there was easily double that number. Most of them were seen in clusters, in what could only be described as a mating frenzy, and many males were flying in patterns that resembled the dog fights that took place in the Battle of Britain over the south coast. Also taking advantage of the Summer sunshine were numerous Marbled White. I counted over 30 but, again, there were far more than this on the wing. Counting was difficult as they were all equally animated and rarely settled.

I was certainly not alone in experiencing this phenomena. Others visited over the next few days and recorded numbers far higher than mine. One declared counting over 250 Dark Green Fritillary on one afternoon. I would like to suggest that this has to be the best year for this species for decades, and I look forward to processing all the data later in the year when all recorders have submitted their forms. It will be interesting to compare our county results with others to see if they’ve experienced similar numbers.

Later in the afternoon we moved on to nearby Ketton Quarry where once again Marbled White proved to be out in good numbers. It looks like this year will be a good one for our grassland butterflies. Early indications show that Meadow Brown and Ringlet are also having a good start to the season. In a ‘normal’ year I usually encounter Silver-washed Fritillary in July, and that encounter is generally in the North-west of the county and at Cloud Wood specifically. Today, Ketton gifted me with my first of the season with 4 individuals on the wing around tall Oaks on the woodland edge. There are few things in life that better the first Fritillary ‘fix’ of the season, so walking back to the car I was more than satisfied with my days findings. I could go home happy. I was then stopped in my tracks by a ‘little brown job’ fluttering around my feet. Closer inspection revealed a slightly tattered Grizzled Skipper; a species that I thought I’d missed out on this year as it’s main flight period was during the lock-down period. The ‘cherry on the cake’? I would say so.

Alas the sunny spell soon came to an abrupt halt as a spell of wet and windy weather moved in. One could be forgiven for thinking that Autumn had put in an early appearance as temperatures dropped by more than 10 degrees and grey skies and strong westerly winds dominated. How would our stars of Summer cope under these difficult conditions? Would they be forced into hiding, or would they be brought to a premature demise? At the time of writing, I have heard nothing on how they’ve fared. Again, the butterfly transect forms and the end of season casual recording forms should reveal their fate.

Moving into July, we eagerly anticipate the Purple Emperor season. Sightings of His (and Her) Imperial Majesty in 2018 and 2019 have given us hope that the butterfly may have taken up residence in the Charnwood area and in the National Forest. The general consensus from those in the know believe that it is already resident in the area; we just need to focus our attention on finding the butterfly and suitable habitat. Areas with plentiful Sallow for breeding and tall Oak trees on higher ground for the males to declare their territory are definitely worth investigating. Charnwood Lodge, Beacon Hill and Bardon Hill are worth a visit to see if H.I.M. has decided to remain in last year’s locations.

It is early days yet, and hopefully this spell of wet and windy weather will end and Summer will return sooner rather than later. I will post an Update on the Purple Emperor as soon as sightings are reported. In the meantime, do get out and about and investigate for yourselves. Just remember to do so safely and to follow the current government guidelines; and please let me know if you see anything noteworthy.

Watch this space.

Richard M. Jeffery – VC55 Butterfly Recorder

The Garden Naturalist

Brimstone feeding on Dandelion. Photograph by Richard M. Jeffery

We are currently living in unique circumstances and uncharted waters. The spread of the Coronavirus and the subsequent restrictions we now find ourselves under has meant that most of us have had to radically change the way we lead our lives. Only being allowed to leave home to purchase essential supplies, collect medication and get our daily exercise has meant that we are no longer permitted to drive to our regular wildlife haunts.

With the butterfly season just beginning to take off, queen bumblebees feeding frantically whilst searching for suitable nest sites and birds gathering up suitable nesting materials prior to laying their first clutch of eggs, it would be easy to feel that we were missing out on this spring spectacular. One thing that the first week of confinement has taught me is that all of the above are actually taking place in our gardens. I guess in previous years I must have been so preoccupied in getting out and about that I paid little attention as to what was going on in our own little ‘nature reserve’ at home.

Fortunately the last seven days has given us a glorious spell of sunshine and gentle winds. Perfect conditions for our garden wildlife to set about preparing for the season ahead. Of the five butterfly species that overwinter in the UK as adults, I recorded four in three days. A solitary Comma was the first to put in an appearance; warmed up by the rays of the sun it was almost hyperactive only pausing briefly to feed. The following day produced my first sighting of the year of a Brimstone. A pristine male specimen that spent most of the morning venturing in and out of the garden. Where he went after that, I do not know as I have not seen him since. Day three brought a couple each of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, all of which spending most of the day trying to re-enact the Battle of Britain. Dog fights over our, and neighbouring gardens, persisted for most of the day. A repeat performance was given on days four and five.

With plenty of celandines, lungworts and primroses to provide nectar, as well as a couple of flowering cherry trees and a Pieris, there was an ample food source for foraging Bumblebee queens. Buff-tailed, White-tailed, Red-tailed and Tree Bumblebees were on the wing throughout the week. It was fascinating to watch a Buff-tailed Bumblebee hovering to and fro in the borders looking for a potential nest site. She disappeared into the base of a Lavender hedge and did not come out, so maybe a suitable home was found. A rather large Tree Bumblebee spent time basking in the late afternoon sunshine on the boundary wall before crawling into a large patch of Ivy, presumably to spend the night.

We have several nest boxes around the house and garden, and it would appear that this year we have two pairs of Blue Tits occupying a couple of them; one in the front garden and one in the back. Each pair clearly has its own territory. We took advantage of the spring sunshine to eat alfresco each day, and it was interesting watch the birds picking their moments to visit the feeders when they thought that we were not looking. We were treated to an impromptu aria given by a male Chaffinch from the top of a Silver Birch tree, although I suspect that a female in the neighbouring garden was the intended recipient. The highlight of the week, however, was a visit from a Coal Tit that perched in a Maple tree just feet from where sat, totally oblivious to our presence. We suspect that he/she may be interested in adopting a nest box that is partly covered in Ivy on the garden wall. That would certainly be a first for us if that was the case. Whilst on one of my local walks I heard my first Chiffchaff of the year. Always a welcome sound as that usually means spring has well and truly arrived.

We have no idea how long this period of self isolation and social restriction will go on for, but whilst it does then our gardens will be our refuge. Please take advantage of this opportunity to have a look at what is happening in your garden. I can assure you that no two days will be the same. Record what you see and submit the data. You’ll be taking part in real Backyard science. Butterfly Conservation have the online Garden Butterfly Survey to record your garden butterfly sightings and for everything else there is NatureSpot, an invaluable resource for all things flora and fauna in Leicestershire and Rutland. Please follow the links below.

Stay safe in these difficult times and enjoy your gardens.

Richard M. Jeffery – VC55 Butterfly Recorder

http://www.gardenbutterflysurvey.org/

https://www.naturespot.org.uk/

A Butterfly Lights Beside Us

“A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam

and for a brief moment its glory

and beauty belong to our world,

but then it flies on again, and although

we wish it could have stayed,

we are so thankful to have seen it at all.”

Author Unknown.

The 2020 butterfly season has somewhat stuttered and stumbled in its efforts to get going. In fact, as I write, the grand total of my butterfly sightings for the year is just ONE. A solitary Peacock butterfly that was prematurely woken from its winter slumbers on a deceptively warm and sunny day on the 24th of January, and abruptly stopped in its tracks as the day turned exceedingly chilly. I found it looking very lethargic and trying to get some warmth from the winter sunshine. The poor creature couldn’t muster the energy to climb up on my finger as I looked for a sheltered spot to put it back into winter dormancy. A timber summerhouse with a sloping roof over a verandah provided what I deemed to be a suitable resting place; in the tight angle of the roof edge, out of the reach of wind, rain and frost.

The only other butterfly sighting that I am aware of in the county was of another single Peacock in the Charnwood area on the 29th of January, as notified by Helen Newbold via Facebook. Given the lengthy wet and windy winter we have had to endure, no one can blame any butterflies for staying in their winter quarters. I guess if we didn’t have to go out, we would probably opt for the comfortable option and stay indoors.

How our butterflies will have coped with the ravages of this winter awaits to be seen, but previous history has shown that they are more resilient than they look. Meteorological spring begins on the 1st of March, although I prefer to wait for the vernal equinox to herald the season’s arrival, with it this year falling on the 20th of March, and along with it comes the hope that better weather will arrive and the prospect of our overwintering butterflies emerging. Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Brimstone and Red Admiral all overwinter as adult butterflies and should respond relatively quickly once the weather conditions improve. There could potentially be early sightings of Large or Small White butterflies, or even Holly Blue. The true harbinger of spring, the Orange Tip may well put in an appearance later in March as it usually times its emergence with the flowering of its larval food plant, the Cuckoo flower or Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis).

I’ll post further updates on sightings as and when they happen; assuming that this dreadful winter weather should come to an end soon. In the meantime, if anyone has any sightings information to share then please let me know and I’ll include it in the next Update.

Richard M. Jeffery – VC55 Butterfly Recorder

2019 Butterfly Transect Review

After the long, hot summer of 2018 you could be forgiven for wondering how our summer butterflies would have coped with the long period of drought. A parched landscape would not bode well for the larvae of grassland butterflies; or so you would think.

The results of the 2019 butterfly transect season show that not only did the butterflies survive but they positively thrived. The warm summer and autumn clearly encouraged a frenzy of breeding activity.

Overall 16 butterfly transects were carried out between the 1st of April and the 30th of September. With each survey being conducted on a weekly basis there was the potential of 26 sets of records for each site. Of course the British weather, volunteer holidays and other factors meant that the number of weeks surveyed on the transects ranged from 19 to 26 weeks. To give a fair comparison transects were assessed on an average number of butterflies per visit. The most prolific of all of the transects was the one carried out by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust at Brown’s Hay, Sandhills in the Charnwood district. An impressive 2592 butterflies were recorded at an average of 123.4 per visit. Equally as impressive was the new transect carried out at the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood near Ashby de la Zouch, with 2336 butterflies recorded, averaging out at 93.4 per visit. At the other end of the scale, Sarah’s Wood near Moira registered just 288 butterflies (ave. 13.1). These results are just as important as the aforementioned transects as different habitats will always produce different results.

The total number of butterflies recorded was 20,557 which showed a massive increase on 2018 which totalled 13,606. The grassland butterflies were the big winners this season, occupying the top 3 places overall in total numbers recorded over the season. The Top 4 was as follows:

Ringlet 4828

Meadow Brown 4799

Gatekeeper 3507

Speckled Wood 1279

There were many other impressive highlights that emerged too. Bardon Hill Quarry produced a remarkable 90 Wall Brown butterflies. When this transect was set up 2013 only 14 individuals of this Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species were recorded. Bardon Hill and the nearby Charnwood district appear to be the butterfly’s only remaining stonghold in the county.

Another BAP species that had a good summer was the Small Heath. The Charnwood Lodge Reservoir Transect recorded 185 individuals and the nearby Timberwood Hill Transect produced 119.

Another grassland butterfly that bounced back in 2019 was the Small Skipper. The transect at the Diamond Jubilee Wood noted an amazing 469 individuals. I know how active this species can be so I would imagine that there were many more that couldn’t positively be identified.

The ‘Blues’ family has suffered a bit of a decline in recent years so it was with great joy and relief that an impressive 133 Common Blue were recorded at Brock’s Hill Country Park.

Marbled Whites continued to thrive on the Croft Quarry Nature Trail with numbers reaching 85 in 2019. I am sure that this species will continue to expand its range in the county and expect it to continue to move into the North and West of the county.

We will soon have enough data from the transects to look at the trends that are beginning emerge.

My butterfly highlight in 2019 was a sighting of a Purple Emperor on the transect route at Bardon Hill Quarry. Other sightings of His Imperial Majesty were made at nearby Beacon Hill and in a garden in Whitwick. The general consensus of opinion among local and national butterfly experts is that the Purple Emperor may well have already taken up residence in the new National Forest. We will certainly be putting more effort into finding suitable sites within the National Forest in 2020.

The 2020 Butterfly Transect season starts on the 1st of April. We need more willing volunteers to join our recording teams to supplement those on existing transects and to help us set up new ones. There will be a FREE Butterfly Transect Training Day at Hicks Lodge on Tuesday 3rd March (10.00am – 12.00pm) for anyone who wishes to get involved in butterfly recording. To book a place please contact me (Richard) via my email address ( winrich168@btinternet.com ). Places are limited to a maximum of 25 persons.

Let’s hope we have another bumper butterfly season in 2020.

Richard M. Jeffery (VC55 Butterfly Recorder)

My First Blog Post

If nothing ever changed there would be no butterflies….

Hi. My name is Richard and I am the County Butterfly Recorder for Leicestershire and Rutland. This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more information on the butterflies, moths and other little gems in our counties. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates. Thank you.

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