Wednesday, 1 June 2016

26th May 2016- The day with different butterflies.

While the Marsh fritillaries always steal the show at Volehouse due to their numbers and comparative rarity, it's not a bad place for butterflies generally. As I walk down the track to the top meadow, there's generally a couple of Speckled wood keeping pace with me. Today, I have a more unusual chaperone- a Red Admiral (Vanessa Atalanta). It doesn't want to stop, though- after circling me a few times, and buzzing Rosie (which she hates, sneezing at it with great indignation) it flies vigorously off over the fence and across the meadow.

As Rosie pushes her way past me into the meadow, keen to investigate the new smells that have accumulated since our last visit, she flushes a small orange moth from the grass. It immediately drops down again, allowing closer inspection.

It's not a moth at all. It's the Small Heath butterfly (Coenonympha pamphilus), which, like so many of our native butterflies, is in steep decline. When I was growing up, most grassy meadows would reveal a dozen Small Heath within a few metres. Nowadays, this isn't the case. It's numbers have dropped by a disturbing 52% in the long term and I would now class it as an unusual sighting- something I would never have dreamed possible as a boy.

Small Heath butterfly (Coenonympha pamphilus)

I move on down the path that my visits are slowly forming through the lengthening grass towards the second meadow, spying Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines) and Small white (Pieris rapae) in the distance.

The male Marsh fritillaries are still chasing each other around the tussocks in the culm grassland field, but today Rosie and I are headed to the river, and we don't stop.

In the cool of the woodland, the dappled sunlight is perfect for a different selection of plants. There's a carpet of Pink purslane (Claytonia sibirica) covering the ground in one area, while only 20 yards away, there's none.

Pink purslane (Claytonia sibirica)

Instead, there's Alliara petiolata- garlic mustard (or, if you prefer, Jack-by-the-hedge) in profusion, with a white butterfly moving from flower to flower. I expect it to be a female Orange tip laying eggs, as the larvae feed principally on this plant, but a closer look reveals a Green-veined white (Pieris napi) nectaring from the tiny white flowers.

Green-veined white (Pieris napi) on garlic mustard

It floats ahead of us as we walk, and eventually settles long enough to get a good view of the underwings that give rise to its common name.

Green-veined white

As we push out of the woods, back into the sunlight, we startle a roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) which bolts away showing us its white rump patch- there are deer in reasonable numbers on Volehouse, but they only show themselves every so often.

Further up the field, a buzzard (Buteo buteo) drops like a stone out of the sky and lands on something in the next field. There's a lot of squawking and honking, but since buzzard don't take large birds, I assume that it's an alarm call from some of the local pheasants.

Rosie is intrigued by the commotion but is gently persuaded not to investigate further. I notice that while I've been rolling on the ground trying to photograph the green-veined white, she's been rolling in something too. Something left by a fox, judging by the smell coming off her.

I drive home with the windows open.

Rosie is delighted to find evidence of fox

No comments:

Post a Comment