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

FIELD TRIP REPORTS 2009


Kingston Old Railway LNR - Wednesday 19th August 2009

Well over 20 people, including a couple of childern, arrived at 10am with glorious weather for the moth & butterfly morning organised by Cambridgeshire County Council on this small LNR which they own and manage for grassland flora and the associated fauna.

Charlotte Lowry & Michelle Russell of the council with Louise Bacon from Butterfly Conservation started off with some moths. The intention had been to run a trap on site the night before, however, Louise decided on the easier option of trapping at home and bringing moths along pre-potted for ease of viewing by all. The ever popular Poplar hawkmoth was inevitably the star of the moths, sitting happily on hands and then parading as a living brooch before heading off into the sky after a suitable period of admiration.

As our interest in moths was waning, Iain Webb of the Wildlife Trust leapt off across the meadow with a call of Clouded Yellow and dutifully sweep-netted a pristine male for us all to admire at close quarters.

The rest of the morning was spent admiring the large numbers of common blues, along with all three species of whites, a few Speckled Woods and one or two rather tatty and end-of-season Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers.

I hope everyone who attended, mostly non-experts from the local villages, had an enjoyable morning experiencing common butterlfies of their local area. Most people who atttended did not know this open-access site exists, but many hoped to revisit through the year.

Authored by Louise Bacon

Devil's Dyke, Newmarket - Saturday 15th August 2009

After an unpromising start, with low cloud and a strong SW breeze, we set-off along the July Racecourse section of the Dyke.
Almost immediately, we saw a number of Chalkhill Blue (Polyommatus coridon) sheltering in the long-grass and basking on the bank in the brighter moments. Since, for Dave Matthews and Rob Smith who had both travelled-up from Essex, these were a first sighting of the species, it was nice to see a number of near-pristine specimens amongst the rather worn general population.

Walking along the lee of the Dyke, in the shelter, we had the opportunity to see more at close quarters, along with some Common Blue - an interesting side-by-side comparison. Other butterflies seen included the odd white, Brown Argus and a pair of Green Veined White. Another treat was the appearance of an impressive Musk Beetle - Aromia moscahata (thanks to Louise for the ID).

The lack of sun and the breeze contrived to keep butterflies from flying. Otherwise we would have been treated to hundreds of Chalkhill Blue on the wing - and numbers are down from their peak recorded by Sharon Hearle of over 1,100 in July.

In answer to questions on the lifecycle of the Chalkhill Blue, I will include a clearer summary. Eggs are laid in July and August on or near the larval foodplant, Horseshoe Vetch, where they overwinter. The larvae emerge in Spring, to coincide with the growth of Horseshoe Vetch. In the day they hide at the base of the plants and feed at night.
Like many blue butterflies, they are attended by ants, who are rewarded with sweet secretions from the caterpillar's body. Whether the ants take the caterpillars back to their nests, or bury their treasure nearby to pupate is not entirely clear; however, in about 4 weeks, the adults emerge from underground to start the cycle again.

Following reports of second-brood Dingy Skippers elsewhere in the UK, Rob and myself made a sweep of a couple of likely areas but none were sighted. A successful day never-the-less!

Authored by Nick Ballard
. . . and a PS from the website editor: Many thanks to Nick for leading the walk.

Anglesey Abbey (Save our Butterflies Week event)- Sunday 2nd August 2009

We were very lucky with the weather today and managed to keep to the schedule and undertake 4 butterfly walks, each 45 minutes or so in duration (with a little rush back to reception to meet the next group each time!).

The meadows (or to be technically correct South Park and Medieval Fishponds) contained a variety of fine grasses and wild flowers, including birdsfoot-trefoil, sorrel, dwarf thistle, lady's bedstraw and burnet saxifrage. We found 11 butterfly species: Small Skipper, Large, Green-veined and Small White, Common Blue, Brown Argus, Small Copper, Painted Lady, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, with a brief sighting of a Small Tortoiseshell. Moving past the house and onto the Herbaceous Garden we added Brimstone, Holly Blue, Peacock and Comma to our sightings, making a total of 15 species for the day.

We had intended to limit numbers on the walks to 20 at a time, but it was clear on the 2.15 event that it was going to be difficult so we invited everyone to come along on the last walk and by the end of the day over 100 of us had threaded through the meadows and gardens. Moth species seen: Silver Y, Latticed Heath, Straw Dot, Ear Moth and two species of grass moth.

Our thanks to the National Trust for letting us hold the event and to Richard (and Mrs) Bigg and Carl and Val Blamire for their support.

Authored by Kathryn and John Dawson

Brampton Wood - Saturday 20th June 2009

Black Hairstreak is (apparently) a fussy little beast in terms of habitat – it is restricted to mature blackthorn on heavy clay soils in the UK, and therefore a relatively narrow band of land between Oxford and Peterborough. Thus, Brampton Wood is towards the north-east end of its English range.

About nine of us Black Hairstreak Hunters, including a member of the Norfolk branch, congregated in the reserve car park at the designated hour (10:30) or shortly thereafter before venturing into the reserve itself.

Good numbers of the target species had been seen on the previous day by Roger Orbell, branch member and monitor of Black Hairstreak on the reserve, who claimed that the day of the field trip was potentially more suitable for seeing the species. It certainly wasn’t so hot and sunny that all we could expect was fly-overs. More a case of sunshine and cloud – and rather more of the latter than the former. The trip had been timed to coincide with peak numbers in a typical year, but (of course) this year was an early season . . .

Nevertheless, the trip started well with what was my first Red Admiral of the year. We visited three sites within the wood. First lep of the first ‘clearing’ was a Blood-vein that a couple of members spent some time photographing.
Anyway, we were not to be disappointed. Shortly after an apparently typical view of a dark lep flying close over the blackthorn, a tailless Black Hairstreak came and settled at about stomach height, allowing close views and photos.
This first site is rather small and we duly migrated to the second (larger) site. At this point the Wood’s warden, George Cottam and his two colleagues left us, but then we were joined by two latecomers, one who had come all the way from the West Midlands especially for this trip, one of whom had inadvertently picked up a Vapourer caterpillar en route! This second site eventually yielded a confiding entire (tailed) Black Hairstreak, but it seemed like a long wait!

Finally, we moved to recently opened blackthorn areas adjacent to the remaining conifer area. This was the patch on which the Branch worked in the winter, and Roger had seen Black Hairstreaks there in the week. No more hairstreaks for us, however, but Large Skipper and Small Tortoiseshell put in an appearance.

It was definitely a case of quality over quantity on this trip. The final butterfly list was dominated by browns – Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Speckled Wood – but we also had Comma. Diurnal or disturbed moths included Nettle-tap, Green Oak Tortrix, a ‘barred’ tortrix and Straw Dot. Other identified insects included Scorpion Fly and Blue-tailed Damsel, plus Soldier Beetle (Cantharis rustica), and Harlequin and Seven-spot Ladybird larvae.

All in all a successful day, at least for those of us for whom the target species was a ‘lifer’. I finally clocked at least eight sightings involving at least four individuals – and I’m sure others saw rather more!

Thanks to Vince for organising and leading the trip. Looking forward to the July version with potential for White Admiral and White-letter Hairstreak…

Authored by Guy Manners

Totternhoe Quarry - Saturday 30th May 2009

With Essex and Cambridgeshire being rather less well endowed with butterfly species than other neighbouring counties, seven brave members of the branch made their way across the border into Bedfordshire in the hope of seeing a few species that are no longer readily found on our home territory.

The weather was perfect with a cloudless sky and warm sun all day. Our main target species were Small Blue, Dingy Skipper and Duke of Burgundy. Louise had researched the site in advance and warned us before we started our walk that we would soon lose count of all the Small Blues we would see! We saw Orange-tips before we left the car park but the first butterfly that fluttered past us as we moved off was variously described by different members of the group as brown, blue and green ! Happily, subsequent sightings produced rather more consensus.

We had not gone far before we saw our first Small Blues - looking very fresh, as were most of the one hundred or more that we saw during the day. We found only two Dukes of Burgundy - very worn specimens at the bottom of a sheltered valley - but our two Dingy Skippers looked much more presentable.

We stopped for lunch above the valley and Vince took the opportunity to give us a quick botany lesson - showing us how to distinguish birdsfoot trefoil, horseshoe vetch and kidney vetch - all important foodplants for the caterpillars of the butterflies we were seeking.

Small Blue & Vince Lea
Totternhoe Field Trip
30th May 2009 © Tony Moverley
Man Orchid
Totternhoe Field Trip May 2009
30th May 2009 © Tony Moverley

Small Blue & Vince Lea
Totternhoe Field Trip
30th May 2009 © Tony Moverley

Man Orchid
Totternhoe Field Trip May 2009
30th May 2009 © Tony Moverley


Our final count of butterfly species was 13, including one each of Green Hairstreak, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoiseshell. A number of moths were seen, ranging from plentiful Burnet Companions to a single Agapeta hamana and a single Small Purple-barred. For birdwatchers it was a pleasure to hear and see Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers - species now rare in many parts of East Anglia.

Many thanks to Louise and Vince for leading this very successful walk.
Authored by Paul Husdon

Photos can be seen here: By Janet Edmunds and Vince Lea

Langdon Hills - Sunday 24th May 2009

Langdon Hills Field Trip May 2009
24th May 2009 © Richard Bigg

For the first of the season’s butterfly walks, Graham Bailey welcomed 8 enthusiasts at the Westley Heights car park in glorious sunshine which stayed with us for the whole of the day.

Langdon Hills Field Trip May 2009
24th May 2009 © Richard Bigg

We walked down to the meadows of Willow Park to begin exploring five meadows in total, firstly looking around Flax Field where it soon became apparent that a major influx of Painted Ladies was occurring as many were seen dashing past northwards with great urgency, some stopping for refreshment on clovers and trefoils. During the day, we must easily have noted 30 - 40 Painted Ladies and on our return that afternoon, it became apparent that much of Essex and Cambridgeshire had enjoyed a massive invasion of these wonderful butterflies.

As we entered Flax field, Graham got us inspecting small Sallow bushes in the hope of finding eggs of the Puss Moth, unfortunately to no avail. We quickly found a Small Copper and then our first Grizzled Skipper, the first of a total of 17 seen over the walk.
Our butterfly 'list' grew as we spotted Green Hairstreak, Small Heath & Common Blue (only males were seen during the whole day; a little too early for the females). Day-flying moths included Burnet Companion which turned out to be the most numerous insect seen by far, Mother Shipton, Straw Dot, Small Yellow Underwing, Latticed Heath, Silver-Y, Cinnabar, and two cocoons and a caterpillar of the Narrow bordered 5-spot Burnet moth (well done Graham identifying those!). And this was just the first field.
As we entered the next meadow, Great Lodge, it soon became apparent that we were in a similar feast of butterflies, and here we found our first ‘tarus’ aberrant forms of Grizzled Skipper, showing significantly more white on the forewing. We were also able to add Holly Blue to the day’s list.

Langdon Hills Field Trip May 2009
24th May 2009 © Richard Bigg
Langdon Hills Field Trip May 2009
24th May 2009 © Richard Bigg

Langdon Hills Field Trip May 2009
24th May 2009 © Richard Bigg

Langdon Hills Field Trip May 2009
24th May 2009 © Graham Bailey

After such a cracking start, the next field, Little Lodge, was a disappointment to say the least; full of scrub and with an almost total lack of flowers. Apparently, the Essex Wildlife Trust’s ‘flying flock’ of sheep are more partial to succulent herbage than scrub!
The habitat in Little Lodge was in stark contrast to the next field, known as Knights meadow, where a few rare breed Ronaldsay and Shetland sheep were now helping to maintain a much more varied mosaic of habitats, having eaten what was once almost total 2 metre high scrub. The habitat looked just fine and not surprisingly we were soon finding lots of butterflies and moths again. It certainly brought home the complexity of what one might have imagined to be a fairly simple procedure of animal grazing – when to put the animals in, how many, what breed, etc. etc. After a thorough search of Knights, several members of the group left for lunch and those remaining went on to Home field where once again we were treated to several Grizzled Skippers along with a host of other butterflies.

Green-winged Orchid
Willow Park, Langon Hills
24th May 2009 © Graham Bailey
Ragged Robin
Willow Park, Langdon Hills
24th May 2009 © Graham Bailey
Lackey Moth larva
Willow Park, Langdon Hills
24th May 2009 © Graham Bailey

Green-winged Orchid
Willow Park, Langon Hills
24th May 2009 © Graham Bailey

Ragged Robin
Willow Park, Langdon Hills
24th May 2009 © Graham Bailey

Lackey Moth larva
Willow Park, Langdon Hills
24th May 2009 © Graham Bailey

By mid afternoon, Graham and his friend Paul went on to some more meadows and were subsequently joined by Branch member Rob Smith who had spent a goiod part of the day touring around south Essex on a butterfly hunt. It is especially pleasing to hear that Graham and Paul were able to show Rob his first ever Grizzled Skipper. What a wonderful way to end a superb day’s butterfly watching.

Our thanks to Graham for leading such a successful and enjoyable trip.
Authored by Tony Moverley

More Photos can be seen here: By Janet Edmunds & By Graham Bailey

Species Seen

 FlaxGreat LodgeLittle LodgeKnightsHomeTotals
Grizzled Skipper56-2619
Green Hairstreak54-1-10
Holly Blue-112-4
Small Copper22--15
Common Blue29-2821
Small Heath3213312
Painted Lady5+5-3412
Peacock----11
Small White----11
Brimstone----22
Speckled Wood16-1-8
MOTHS:
Burnet Companion5> 100-6> 100> 100
Straw Dot1--1-2
Mother Shipton22--15
Small Yellow Underwing41-218
Latticed Heath13-116
Narrow-bordered 5-spot Burnet2 cocoons--2 cocoons1 larva5
Silver-Y11--13
Cinnabar24--17
Lackey-1 larva---1
Commophila aeneana---112



 
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