"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Butterflies at Bishop's Hill

Small Blue

Common Blue

Every year I make a New Year's Resolution to try and see more butterfly species and this year I am determined to carry this through. To do this means travelling further from home and yesterday was such a beautiful, warm, sunny day, ideal for looking butterflies that I decided to drive to a reserve in South Warwickshire that I haven't visited before.

Bishop's Hill/Bishop's Bowl at Bishop's Itchington was once a limestone quarry with associated cement works. Lime waste from the cement factory has created a limestone grassland-scrub habitat which has made it an important regional area for insect species. In fact, as we were leaving I met 2 ecologists who were just about to start surveying insects on the site.

The Yellow Land Community Nature Reserve created in 2008 as a Heritage Project has transformed one acre of the area into a village nature reserve so people can connect with nature and see wildlife (much of it rare) on their doorstep.

There were four species I was hoping to see Small Blue, Dingy and Grizzled Skipper and Green Hairstreak. Two of these species would be life ticks for me if spotted.

Many times in the past I have visited nature reserves with a target species in mind only to be disappointed when, on arrival, its like looking for a needle in a haystack. But on this occasion the reserve exceeded all my expectations.

As we entered the reserve Orange Tip and Brimstone Butterflies were flitting around and within a few metres I had already spotted my first Small Blue butterfly - a life tick for me.

Small Blue (male) - you can just make out the hint of blue scales at the base of the wings.

This was the first Small Blue we'd seen and I was really cursing the fact that I'd put the 70-300mm telephoto lens on the camera as I couldn't get the autofocus to lock onto the butterfly. Actually D, who was with me, took this photo of the male using manual focus and did a better job than I could have done.

Small Blue (female)

Hindwings with little black dots (similar) to Holly Blue and different to hindwings of Common Blue which has spots of orange as can be seen a few photos down.

Two Small Blues about to mate

Common Blue (a male) - the first I have seen this year

Hindwings of Common Blue - the photo is a bit blurred but you can see the difference when compared to Small Blue

Small Blue butterflies are rare in Warwickshire. A few years ago there were only 3 colonies in the whole of the county. Thanks to conservation measures by various organisations there are now nearly 10 colonies - all in fairly close proximity to each other.

I had clambered over the fence to walk up the slope of Bishop's Hill itself thinking it might be better for butterflies when I noticed D gesticulating wildly in my direction from the reserve. It turned out he had seen not one but three of the skipper species I was hoping to see. I scrambled hastily and in an exceedingly undignified fashion back through the fence and there it was - my first Grizzled Skipper for many years.

Even better a few yards away was a Dingy Skipper - again a species I haven't seen for a long time

D also thought he had seen a Large Skipper but we weren't able to relocate this butterfly.

Speckled Wood

Damselfly - Common Blue? to be honest my id skills where damsel and dragonflies are concerned are not exactly good. So please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

There was an amazing variety of wildflowers at the site - sorry no photos as its difficult taking flower pictures with the lens I had on the camera. In fact, I stopped taking pictures and just soaked in the wonder of so many blue butterflies in such a small area.

I didn't see Green Hairstreak but I will definitely be returning to this reserve.

I'd persuaded (bribed) D to come with me with the promise of a pub lunch so we stopped off at the Butcher's Arms in the village - great food and service and excellent value - another reason to return :)

Blue Tit update

Sadly, 4 of the Blue Tit chicks died last Friday night. It was very upsetting especially as all the chicks looked so healthy and of a similar size with plentiful food being provided on the Friday. Usually you can tell when the smaller chicks are weakening.

A poor photo of the remaining four earlier this week.

There is now a huge difference in size with one huge nestling who looks as big as the adults, two medium-sized and one tiny one who is managing to hold his own and compete for food.

The Emperor moth caterpillars have already undergone their first moult and are growing. I'll post a photo soon. Its very quiet here moth-wise at the moment although I have had several new species for the year. Photos again to follow soon.

Finally, just after we moved into the house many years ago a Whitebeam tree self-seeded in the garden and this is probably my favourite garden tree. I have never seen so many flowers as it has produced this year - there'll certainly be a good crop of berries!

Many thanks to Neil for information concerning the location of Bishop's Hill.


Countryside Tales said...

Wonderful! We had a very similar day by the looks of it. The Blues are so incredibly beautiful aren't they? I could look at them all day. It sounds a fabulous place and how marvellous that the colonies are increasing.

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thanks :) Yes, Wednesday was a good day for butterflies :) Its great that all the conservation efforts for Small Blue are paying off!

Tricia Ryder said...

Fantastic sightings of flutters and great pics to go with them. Methinks you will be going back to the site :)

amanda peters said...

Wow what a lot of Butterflies, must get out and find my self some ' blue' Butterflies, not many round my area..
We have a lot of Whitebeam trees at the park and along the road side, I have never seen them so full of flower.
Amanda x

Ragged Robin said...

Tricia Ryder - Many thanks Tricia - will definitely be going back as you guessed :)

Amanda Peters - Many thanks Amanda. We only get Holly Blue and occasionally Common Blue in the garden and near where I live but it was travelling 45 minutes for the Small Blue.

I have finally found your blogs on Google + and circles. I'm off to visit them now!! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, I am so envious of your recent butterfly adventures RR and I hope you continue to see more new species in the summer ahead :-) I have never seen either a Small Blue or Grizzled Skipper so your excellent pics were fantastic to see :-)

We have a Swedish Whitebeam in our garden and this has had wonderful blossom this year too so perhaps it has been a good spring for all Whitebeam species. I also think you are right about the damselfly ID :-)

On a less welcome note it was sad to read about the Blue Tit chicks but I suppose such things are just part of nature unfortunately.

Ragged Robin said...

David Turner - Many thanks for your kind words David. Small Blue was new for me although to be honest years ago I never kept records of species I had seen and there were so many butterflies around then so I could have seen them aeons ago!

Thanks so much for confirming the damselfly id :) I love Whitebeams so good to hear its been a good Spring for them elsewhere. Birds love their berries too and there should be a good crop this year.

Its sad about the Blue Tits but, as you say, its part of nature. Most years there appear to be some mortalities and, of course, there is the dangerous period when they first fledge:(

Chris Rohrer said...

Your bug ID, in my opinion, is awesome. I do like them but for some reason, trying to ID them is more of a chore than fun for me. I'm glad that there are people like you out there doing these things. Congrats on the butterflies! It's great playing detective and finding the targets flutters:) As for the tits, I have a question....because this is one area that I do love!:) What do they do with the deceased babies? Do they kick them out of the nest like other birds? Only the strongest will survive and birds don't mess around:) No matter how cute they are.

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Thanks so much Chris. Like plants I struggle on with the bug id!! I do persevere with moths and butterflies and I am trying to get better with "dragons" but gosh flies and beetles etc - there are zillions of species. Just don't have the time to id all plus, although I've got book cases full of natural history books, I need more specialist id ones and they are just too expensive to buy :(

re: the Blue Tits and deceased babies. From watching via nestbox camera they certainly get rid of them when they die when tiny. But as they get bigger they can't manhandle them so well so the older the chicks the less likely they are to remove them in my experience. This year they did remove the four that died and they were quite big. In fact one got stuck in the entrance hole!! We were just about to intervene and help as they couldn't get in the nestbox to feed the others!, when they managed somehow to get it out.