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.
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