Category Archives: Wildfowers

A reminder from a forgotten fritillary

Looking back through some of my South West Coast Path photos recently, I came across this shaky shot of a Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly, hidden amidst the thousands of photos (a colossal 8,323 in total) that I took during my time walking the trail.

Memory Card 7 469

I had forgotten about this particular encounter. Coming across the picture again, I flashed back in my mind. For a second or two, I went back in time, memories flowing back. An orange flash by the side of the path, lifting my gaze from my boots. The butterfly lifting too, sailing adrift, gliding ahead. To my right; the ever boundless sea. Salty air in my lungs, the sun high in the sky, the seabird choristers sounding out their waves against the background din of surf and spray. The butterfly eventually dropped from view, anchoring in the vegetation beside the path. I remember catching sight of it again as I continued on my way. Wings open, it glistened, golden in the sun. I took out my camera and snapped the shutter. And then, as if acknowledging my presence, it shot back into the air, sweeping away on the sea breeze.

I know at the time that I would have had no idea what species it was. It’s interesting, because if I were to see this same butterfly now I would react very differently – likely splurting out a muffled and excitable yelp, before instantly dropping into butterfly-observing stealth mode (something I am trying to perfect as almost all butterflies still catch on to my clumsy, blundering approaches). Nonetheless, I still reacted to what I saw, the butterfly capturing my attention and provoking my interest.

During those 61 days that I spent walking the trail, I had countless other encounters similar to those brief moments with the fritillary. The majority of the wildlife that I saw, I had never seen before (!) – or maybe more accurately, I had never paid attention to before. But now I was paying attention. Whether it was a Robin perched close in front of me while I took a quick break, a Kestrel hovering impressively above my head while I walked, an Adder curled up by the side of the path. I remember seeing a Fox with its latest catch in its mouth from the window of a hostel and tasting a type of wild garlic (Three-cornered Leek) for the first time after a fellow walker offered me some to try. All new experiences at the time, and all fascinating.

 

The pictures demonstrate me connecting with nature in a way I had never previously done before. They represent the very beginning of a spark, a flicker of appreciation. Over the course of the trail’s 630-miles I began to discover just how special the natural world really is; encountering it and enjoying it for the first time.

Finding the forgotten fritillary has served to remind me of just how much the South West Coast Path has changed my life…

A new season, a new beginning

Against an icy electric sky, a green finger pierces the ground. It emerges like clockwork – spring-operated. It marks the start of a deep reaction in the earth, putting in motion clogs of change.

The slumber is over. Hope is in the air!

As the clogs gain speed, the green finger lengthens and strengthens, rising up in rebellion with its companions. Soon enough, a drooping white lantern appears from its tip, defiant in its pure white brilliance.

As the clogs hit their rhythm, clusters of lanterns rise, forming a white army, a carpet of courage.

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The Snowdrop has arrived, heralding spring in its step. A new season, a new beginning.


ABOVE: Snowdrops at Lanhydrock, early 2014.

South West revisited – A frenzy of flowers

A collection of photos taken of wild flowers during my time in the South West…

In search of the Durham Brown Argus

Today I have been in search of the Durham Brown Argus butterfly! Not only is this butterfly on my top 3 list of species to see this year, it also plays an important role in my job working for the National Trust. The Trust carry out yearly surveys on a stretch of the Durham coast, to check on populations of this butterfly and to outline any immediate work, and long term management that may be needed to help protect it.

The Durham Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes salmacis) is a nationally scarce species of butterfly. It is actually a sub-species of the Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes) and is only found in northern England.

Areas of the Durham coast with south facing slopes where there is an abundance of the butterflies larval foodplant, Common Rock-rose, offer the best chance to catch a glimpse of this butterfly.

The Durham Brown Argus has a single brood and adults emerge in early June, peaking at the end of June – so the window to see them is reasonably small. Also, although populations have been recorded in the past, there have been recent dips in numbers and with the recent bad weather we were unsure whether we would see any at all.

However, after an initial scare, we managed to find one near Warren House Gill…

My first sighting of a Durham Brown Argus! Resting nicely on a Bloody Crane’s-bill.

A beautiful butterfly indeed. And much smaller than I imagined.

I took a video which is not the greatest (due to the fact that nothing much happens!) but it is still nice to watch and hear the surrounding sounds while the butterfly rests with its wings upright, showing off its underside…

 

 

There were also many Common Blue butterflies in the same location. I had never seen a blue butterfly before, so seeing some of them too was great. The male Common Blues are unmistakeable…

Male Common Blue

HOWEVER, the confusion begins with the female Common Blue, which happens to be very similar to the Durham Brown Argus! This can make identifying both species a challenge, as to make certain it is one or the other, it takes a good close look.

A female Common Blue

The best way to tell them apart is by looking at their undersides…

Durham Brown Argus underside

Its a case of looking at the spots! The forewing of the Durham Brown Argus has a collection of spots in the shape of a C, with one further spot in front of the C.

Female Common Blue on my finger, showing underside

On the forewing of the Common Blue however, there is again a C shape of spots, but with two spots in front!

There are other slight differences but I think this is the easiest way to tell these two species apart.

During the surveying we also came across a number of other species. We saw a number of Wall Brown butterflies basking in the sunshine, usually on bare patches of soil. I also saw my first Dingy Skipper butterfly…

Dingy Skipper

And my first Small Heath butterfly too, as well as one of my favourites, a Small Copper butterfly…

Small Copper

And yet another first for me, a tattered Painted Lady butterfly…

Painted Lady

The Painted Lady is one of only a few butterflies that migrates to the UK. Every year, it takes on a mammoth migration north, up from the desert fringes of North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia, to mainland Europe and on to Britain and Ireland. Amazing!

We also saw lots of day flying moths throughout the day. Two which we could identify were the butterfly-like Latticed Heath moth and the attractive black Chimney Sweeper moth, which led me on a long and unsuccessful chase up a steep bank to try and grab a photo of it.

Finally, I saw my first dragonfly of the year! A wonderful Broad-bodied Chaser

Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly