Butterfly Conservation - saving butterflies, moths and the environment
Butterfly Conservation
40 years of saving butterflies, moths and our environment
   Cambridgeshire and Essex Branch


Anglesey Abbey - Sunday 10th August 2008

Not strictly a Field Trip - but a garden party held for all Branch members to celebrate Butterfly Conservation's 40th anniversary!

Despite the very windy conditions, it was fairly sunny and guests enjoyed several butterfly walks through the meadows in front of the house led by committee members Richard Bigg, Val Perrin and Louise Bacon.

The actual party was held on the side lawn of Anglesey Abbey and about 100 members attended. Two of the founder members (Mike Gill and Iris Newbery) were also present and Mike gave a few words of thanks and congratulated the branch on all its successes and fantastic growth in membership since the early days.

In addition, Branch chairman Carl Blamire kindly gave a review of the history of the branch and its achievements.

The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008 - Richard Bigg The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008 - Richard Bigg
The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008
© photo: Richard Bigg
The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008
© photo: Richard Bigg

The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008 - Richard Bigg The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008 - Richard Bigg
The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008
© photo: Richard Bigg
The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008
© photo: Richard Bigg

The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008 - Val Perrin The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008 - Val Perrin
The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008
© photo: Val Perrin
The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008
© photo: Val Perrin

The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008 - Val Perrin
The C&E Branch Garden Party 10th August 2008
© photo: Val Perrin

Thrift Wood - Sunday 22nd June 2008

Following a weather forecast earlier in the week for Sunday 22nd predicting heavy rain, then amended to light rain and finally to showers, the day dawned bright and sunny with no sign of rain. There was, however a strong south-west wind. The temperature was 19deg. Rising to 20deg.

A party of twelve (including the Warden and myself) assembled in the car park. One couple were from Northumberland having come down for a few days holiday specifically to attend this trip and see the Heath Fritillaries. There were also a couple from North London, non-members of BC, who had seen the posting on the website and decided to come along.

A Red Admiral, Meadow Brown and a Speckled Wood were spotted on brambles before we moved off into the central open area. The first fritillary was seen within a few minutes. We walked slowly towards the western end of the glade where I had seen the majority of HF earlier in the week. A few were spotted on the way, along with Meadow Browns and Ringlets but the wind was catching this area so we made our way slowly up to the northern end where it was more sheltered. The group were shown the area cleared by the Branch working party last November (report here) which is now covered in Cow Wheat. Fritillaries were flying in all areas, along with Meadow Browns and Ringlets. One small Skipper, a Speckled Wood and a Silver Y moth were also seen.

As we were moving slowly, and the HF were flying, it was not possible to put a figure on the numbers precisely, but certainly upwards of 20 were seen. Numerous photographs were taken.

Out and about in Thrift Wood - Vince Lea Heath Fritillary at Thrift Wood - Vince Lea
Branch Field Trip to Thrift Wood
© photo: Vince Lea
Heath Fritillary
© photo: Vince Lea

The Warden then led us round to the pond and explained the clearing operations which were being carried out by Wildlife Trust volunteers. Dragon flies, a basking newt, a grass snake and a swarm of bees high in an oak tree were observed.
Finally we circled round the North-West perimeter of the wood back to the car park. This whole area has been coppiced professionally over the past two years and it was noted how rapidly chestnut in particular had re-established itself. All in the party expressed their enjoyment at having come along on the trip and were pleased to have seen so many of the fritillaries.
Authored by Richard Bigg - Trip Leader

Brampton Wood - Sunday 15th June 2008

Brampton Wood’s car park was filled to overflowing with 10 minutes to go before the scheduled 10:30 start. I didn’t count heads, but there must have been around 20 members and friends, including a number of visitors, one from as far away as Dorset. We arrived in sunshine, but as Robin began his introductory talk, the sun disappeared and most of the rest of the morning was overcast and slightly breezy, with only occasional sunny periods, although it was quite warm.
We walked up the entrance ride with Ringlets and Meadow Browns in good supply, made a short stop at the crossing with the main ride for late-comers to catch up, and then went straight to the first of several open clearings with good blackthorn scrub. This is the Wood’s designated area 1 for Black Hairstreaks, usually regarded as the second most likely place to find them. But not this morning. We didn’t dally long here because a better place is usually site 2, about 150 metres away. Here we set up camp with cameras and binoculars and various digiscopes, but alas there was nothing to focus on. Eventually some tentative high-level sightings were made, but in two hours there was only one low-level excursion when a butterfly made a short stop on a leaf at about 12:30. I think the successful spotter was the youngest member of our group. As it happened, I was standing near enough to capture a couple of passable images with a 200mm long lens.

Robin Field's Introductory talk - David Newland Many searching eyes at Site 2 - David Newland
Robin Field's Introductory talk
© photo: David Newland
Many searching eyes at Site 2
© photo: David Newland

Black Hairstreak excursion over blackthorn scrub - David Newland The only butterfly that settled at low level - David Newland
Black Hairstreak excursion over blackthorn scrub
© photo: David Newland
The only butterfly that settled at low level
© photo: David Newland

Many members of the group drifted away as 1 pm approached, deciding that the overcast windy conditions were against us. This was disappointing, particularly for those who had travelled a distance, because a strong population of Black Hairstreaks were definitely about. I returned a couple of days later, in sunny, calmer conditions and had regular low-level sightings, at least half a dozen an hour, several settling for some time and allowing good photographic opportunities. In comparison with Glapthorn, where I also went, there were more Black Hairstreaks about at Brampton this year. However, the density of flowering privet and early-flowering bramble at Glapthorn is significantly more than at Brampton, so this seems to attract the butterflies down for longer periods where they remain stationary and present themselves longer for Glapthorn’s photographers!

Unusually, it landed with its wings slightly open - David Newland An Emperor dragonfly provided a diversion - David Newland
Unusually, it landed with its wings slightly open
© photo: David Newland
An Emperor dragonfly provided a diversion
© photo: David Newland

Although this trip was frustrated by the weather, it was a good introduction to the Black Hairstreak’s habitat requirements, and these insects’ behaviour, and our leader did an excellent job of informing us about them. He was ably supported by Brampton’s Warden, who talked about management of the Wood and its wildlife, even recording a short impromptu question and answer session with a local school biology teacher.
Trip led by Robin Field

Authored by David Newland

Devil's Dyke - Sunday 11th May 2008

A glorious day saw 12 branch members gather at the racecourse car park for a 10.30 start. If we’d known how good the weather would be, we would have started an hour earlier! Hot sunshine and light winds meant the butterflies were extremely active, a great spectacle though frustrating for would-be photographers!

Before leaving the car park, a Holly Blue flew past, but very soon we were into the grassland habitat of the Dyke, and sorting out the various ‘little brown jobs’ that were whirring around.

First to be identified was Common Heath moth, an abundant day-flying species that comes in a range of confusing colours.

Soon we could confirm Green Hairstreak investigating the Horseshoe vetch plants but by now (5 minutes into the trip!) the group had split up and calls from further ahead told us that Dingy Skipper had also been found. Both ‘targets’ located!

Hazel photographing Dingy Skippers
 Hazel photographing Dingy Skippers
© photo: Vince Lea

Photographic attempts were made, but frustration generally resulted as the insects were very active. At the scrub-filled bottom of the Dyke, Orange Tips and Brimstones were seen passing by. We made our way slowly along the Dyke, regularly seeing both target species, along with other confusion species, the Mother Shipton and Burnet Companion moths. This was an excellent opportunity for the less experienced members of the group to get to grips with these species, particularly important for one of our party, Hilary, who hopes to conduct a research project on the Dingy Skipper for her degree course. Towards the end of the first section of the transect route (Cambridge Gap, 500m NW from the A1303) we saw our first Small Heath butterflies. We had tallied 24 Dingy Skippers by this point, including one mating pair which gave more of a chance for photographers, and Louise saw one ovipositing female, whose egg was expertly located by Hilary – an excellent find.

Dingy Skippers - Vince Lea Dingy Skipper egg on Horsehoe Vetch - Tony Moverley
Dingy Skippers
© photo: Vince Lea
Dingy Skipper egg on Horseshoe Vetch
© photo: Tony Moverley

Green Hairstreak had reached 16 by this point, though numbers of both were hard to estimate as individuals flew so widely that they could be under- or over-counted very easily.

Section 2 is only 200m long and half is dominated by large pine trees, but we had another 7 Dingies, including 2 mating pairs, and one Green Hairstreak.
John and Kathryn had to leave early so had shot ahead, to view section 3, where John had seen a Nut-tree Tussock moth at rest in the grass. We couldn’t relocate this specimen but Vince did find a female Emperor Moth, very worn and tatty but still somehow imperial in her presence.

Emperor (female) - Vince Lea
 Emperor (female) - 11th May 2008
© photo: Vince Lea

Another addition to the species list in this section was Small Tortoiseshell. Dingy Skipper was again the commonest species, with another 26 by the end of the 400m long section 3 (Well Gap) plus 6 more Green Hairstreaks.
A total of 57 Dingy Skippers may well be a site record, there certainly has not been a count in category D (30-99) since 1997 according to the branch’s database of sightings. Those who were left ate lunch in a welcome patch of shade, some then departed while the final four made a short trip to Reach, to explore the NW end of the Dyke.

Horseshoe Vetch at Burwell Cutting - Vince Lea

There had been reports of a Grizzled Skipper at the point where the railway cutting intersects the Dyke, something not seen on the site for many years, although it was recorded in the 1985-92 county survey period. On the approach to the cutting we passed more Green Hairstreaks, in total adding 10 more to the day count. Peacocks were also seen here, while in the cutting we met 2 branch members who had seen Brown Argus, Small Copper and Grizzled Skipper!

Unfortunately, we could not relocate the latter, despite intensive searching, but the other species plus one Common Blue were seen. Wall Brown ‘possibles’ had been seen at various points but these are notoriously thin on the ground and hyperactive at the best of times so we weren’t too disappointed not to have confirmed them on such a hot day.

Horseshoe Vetch at Burwell Cutting - 11th May 2008
© photo: Vince Lea

All in all a very successful trip and a Dingy Skipper count that the branch can be proud of helping to produce with our winter work parties!
Authored by Vince Lea

Langdon Hills - Sunday 4th May 2008

Hunting for Grizzled Skipper - Richard Bigg

A party of six members gathered to be led by Graham Bailey to look for the Grizzled Skipper target species.

The weather was overcast but warm and a hazy sun showed towards midday.

Langdon Hills field Trip May 2008
© photo: Richard Bigg

We were led via Great Lodge and Homefield to Knightsfield. Four male Orange Tip and a female egg laying on cuckoo flower (lady's smock) were spotted along with Speckled Wood (2), Green Veined White (2), Peacock (5) and three unidentified whites.

In Great Lodge, a Grizzled Skipper was found by Graham Bailey but was quickly lost in flight before any others could see it and another one was seen (in flight only) in Knightsfield. We also found a Latticed Heath moth.

In Homefield, we came across two adders. The first was 18in to 2ft in length but quickly hid itself away before anyone apart from the original finders could spy anything but a tail in a grassy clump! The second was smaller and was basking, curled up in the hazy sun. However, this snake gave good views to all before wriggling away, just as cameras were being drawn!

The return through Great Lodge yielded one Grizzled Skipper basking, which thankfully everyone was able to see before it flew off. This was clearly a different individual from the one found earlier which was identified as a taras aberrant form. We also found a Small Copper and a Small Yellow Underwing moth here.

By lunchtime, several had left and the remaining 4 survivors made our way to nearby One Tree Hill (part of the Langdon Country Park), a mile or two away from Willow Park, where Graham led us through larva infested woods to Johnson No 1 field.

Here we recorded Orange Tip (2), Peacock (3) and a Green Hairstreak which seemed to like being photographed, but always got behind a grass stem (isn’t it always the way!!).

Green Hairstreak - Richard Bigg
 Green Hairstreak - 4th May 2008
© photo: Richard Bigg

Despite having good Grizzled Skipper habitat, we unfortunately failed to add to our morning total of 3. However, Green-winged orchids in profusion more than made up for the lack of Grizzled Skippers.

Green-winged Orchid - Tony Moverley Green-winged Orchid - Tony Moverley
Green-winged Orchid
© photo: Tony Moverley
Green-winged Orchid (aberrant white form)
© photo: Tony Moverley

There were a number of small moths which Graham identified as Pyrausta aurata. The final members of the trip packed up for the journey home at about 3.15pm, leaving the leader to wander back through the meadow below the Ranger's house and then through part of the neighbouring Northlands Wood.
Graham added Comma and Large White (and another Small copper) to the day's list. He also noted about half a dozen of the pretty little day-flying Speckled Yellow moths that feed on the wood sage plant. These are very local in Essex, but Graham has recorded them from here for many years now, so it's good to know they are still surviving.

Many thanks to Graham Bailey for a thoroughly enjoyable day's butterfly hunting!!
Authored by Richard Bigg


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