"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

Monday, 27 July 2015

Butterflies at Oversley Wood

D and I spent Saturday afternoon looking for butterflies in Oversley Wood, South Warwickshire. The wood is a pocket of ancient woodland that was once part of the old Forest of Arden that covered large amounts of Warwickshire. The word Oversley is probably Saxon in origin meaning Ofe's settlement in a woodland clearing (ley). The wood is now owned and managed by the Forestry Commission but it was once owned by the Abbott of Bordesley,then Thomas Cromwell and for many years the Throckmortons from nearby Coughton Court.

There were four species of butterfly I was really hoping to see -White Admiral, Silver-washed Fritillary, Purple Hairstreak and Purple Emperor. We had been planning to visit during both of the previous weekends (both of which would have been better for the chance of seeing Purple Emperor) but for various reasons the visits had to be postponed.

As we walked along the ride towards the area known as "The Triangle" we soon spotted

White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) (female)

It wasn't long before we spotted Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia). In fact, this species accompanied us throughout the two and a half hour walk. Their flight is so graceful - they just seem to float and shimmer along the rides and over the flowers.

We spotted just one Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) on the walk

and just one Peacock (Aglais io0

We'd turned left at "The Triangle" and as we wandered along the path just before we reached the first bench D noticed a butterfly with Purple Emperor/White Admiral type markings and more importantly it looked larger than the White Admirals we had seen. The butterfly was flying in and out of sallow leaves behind an oak tree and it was impossible to get a decent view with binoculars as it just wouldn't keep still. From a distance, especially to someone like me who has never seen PE and has only seen White Admiral on a handful of occasions, the two species look similar. The butterfly managed to disappear from view and, although we waited 15 minutes and walked round the area, we couldn't find it. D, who had much better initial views of it than I did, said at one point - "I knew it was unusual because it had a purple sheen!" - he didn't actually realise that this is what male PE's have. Did we see one? I think quite probably we did in view of its large size and the "purple sheen" but sadly I won't be counting it as a definite sighting because I just didn't get a good enough view to be sure and to count a species as a "tick" I have to be 100% sure and preferably get a photo!

We passed the first bench and continued along the path and there were dozens of butterflies - Skippers (Large, Small and possibly Essex), Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Large, Small and Green-veined White,Comma, many more Silver-washed Fritillaries and several White Admiral.

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Skippers - first two are Small and the last is I think Large? Would have liked to try and distinguish the Small and Essex Skippers but have come to the conclusion that I need a stronger pair of reading glasses!

We were hoping to walk to the second bench which I had been told was the best place to see Purple Emperor but we spent that long watching and taking photos of the many butterflies that we never got that far! On the return journey we stopped off where we had seen a possible PE but there was no further sign.

We had several walks round the "Triangle" hoping yet again for PE when I spotted 3 small butterflies high in the oak canopy. Purple Hairstreak!!! I thought. I couldn't get a decent view through binoculars but D did manage to get a record shot with the zoom on the canon (photo below is very heavily cropped!!)

Then we had an unbelievable piece of luck - D suddenly spotted one that had come down to ground level!

Here's a record shot I took and thank goodness, enough detail can be seen to confirm it was indeed a Purple Hairstreak - Neozephyrus quercus - (a life tick for me!!)

Just after this we got talking to a really lovely gentleman who was also looking for Purple Emperors and was thrilled when we pointed out the hairstreaks to him. He pointed to some oak trees further down the path towards the car park where he had just seen a very worn Purple Emperor feeding high in an oak near a dead branch where sap was running down the trunk. Sadly, our luck had run out as we weren't exactly sure which oak he had meant and there were quite a few with dead branches so hopes of a PE sighting will have to wait now until next year!!

One of the rides in the wood followed

by photos of some of the beautiful wild flowers along the rides (sorry, not the best of photos - I had the 70-300 lens on the camera and it isn't the best lens to use for flower pictures).

I've included a few photos D took with the Canon SX50 - I thought it performed as well if not better than the Olympus dslr. The only thing I did notice was that some of the photos seem to have a bit of a "pink" tinge - not sure why as some of the colours look fine. He was using aperture priority mode.

Small Skipper



Silver-washed Fritillary

All in all it was a superb afternoon of "butterflying" and we were really pleased to see 3 out of the 4 target species.

I'm not overkeen on organised butterfly walks but I have signed up for one next month in Worcestershire mainly because there is a really good possibility of seeing Brown Hairstreak which would be another life tick for me and also because the farm is a Higher Level Stewardship Farm. It will be very interesting indeed to see a farm that does a lot for wildlife compared to so many of the sterile agricultural areas I see these days.


Countryside Tales said...

Fantastic! It certainly sounds like a PE from what you describe about where it was flying. White Ad is lovely, the P hairstreaks fab and all the others are lovely too. A great day out by all accounts. x

Margaret Adamson said...

Well your butterfly hunt turns out to be great. Lotsof butterflies adn lots of photos. Pity about the PE. but what else could it have been?

Ian Doyle said...

Great post, super shots.

Ragged Robin said...

Countryside Tales - Thanks very much - it was a rather special afternoon :) Yes, I am pretty sure it was a PE but still won't count it as I just didn't get a decent view. Always next year :)

Margaret Adamson - Thanks Margaret. Pretty sure it was PE although White Admiral very similar just wish it hadn't disappeared without trace before I could get a better look!

Ian Doyle - Thanks so much Ian :)

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

THat's a very late (or early!) brimstone. Peacocks have a bad time of it, second flighters only appeared on saturday here. As for frits, we just don't get them in Notts.

Lovely pictures!

Ragged Robin said...

Simon Douglas Thompson - Thanks very much Simon. I've seen very few Peacocks this year even buddleia flowers in the garden are failing to attract them :( I had to travel an hour for the Fritillaries - there are a lot of species we don't get in Warks either :( But I was heartened by the amount of butterflies at Oversley - I haven't seen that many butterflies in one place for years and years.

Deb said...

Lovely post and great photos.:-)

amanda peters said...

Well what a wonderful day, you got to see some lovely butterflies, sadly many I will never see round here, your photos are great.
It will be interesting to see how the organised walk on the farm goes.

Moth trap not been out for a week now due to the weather, hope August brings us some warm evenings.
Amanda xx

David Turner said...

What a rich variety of butterflies you enjoyed, I have to say I am rather envious. The White Admirals are lovely, the Fritillaries are simply stunning, whilst judging by your description I think you probably found a Purple Emperor, though like you I like to be a 100% sure before recording things. The Purple Hairstreak was a super added bonus too!

As regards the Essex & Small Skippers I too find it very hard to tell the two apart, though a large colony has recently been discovered on the North Yorkshire/Durham border and people are being asked to look for them in the rest of Yorkshire as they may have spread northwards throughout the county without anyone noticing, which I suppose goes to show just how easy they are to overlook!

All the best and kindest regards :-)

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks so much Amanda. It is frustrating when certain butterfly species don't occur locally - there are some I couldn't see in Warwickshire. I've been thinking next year I might try and get to Wyre Forest (B and I went years ago) as there are several Fritillary species there I wouldn't see in Warks.

I've wanted to see Brown Hairstreak for years and know of one place in Worcestershire where they can be found (Grafton Wood) but the butterfly walk I noticed advertised on Twitter and may offer the best opportunity of seeing one!

So sorry to hear you haven't been able to trap either - must be so frustrating for you. Hoping too that August will be dryer - there will still be loads of moths around.

David Turner - Thanks so much David. This particular wood seems a rather special place for butterflies. We were so lucky with the Purple Hairstreak - am still feeling really over the moon about the sighting! I don't think I would ever be able to count a PE unless one landed on the floor or on me and I got a photo!!! I think the peak weekend for them was probably 2 weeks before. Would be nice to go to one of the hotspots for them and I have considered a trip over to Northants and Fermyn Woods but its quite a trek and no guarantee I would go to the right part of the wood!

I seem to remember last year many people were surprised at the amount of Essex Skippers locally. I must remember to try and get better photos of the antennae but as you say its not easy telling the two species apart. One of the few advantages of climate change may be more butterfly and moth species moving further north and perhaps colonists from Europe. Although I suppose that could be balanced out by a few species we might lose.

With very best wishes Caroline.

Millymollymandy said...

Wow - well that was a worthwhile day out! Never mind not getting a 100% tick for the PE, if we got all of them at once we would have nothing to look forward to (that's what I tell myself!). You saw the Purple Hairstreak and that's wonderful, along with all sorts of other lovely butterflies (and yes that looks like Large Skipper to me). I'm envious because I haven't ever seen a White Admiral around here (have seen it on the other side of France), and I've never seen a Ringlet before even though they are supposed to be in this part of Brittany..... well so are White Admirals and even sometimes Southern Admirals. So I just think, one day, and am pleased there are still so many more butterflies to look forward to seeing - same thing with birds. :-)

As for the pink tinge, I am unfamiliar with that and just wondered if you have checked the colour settings? I can't tell you where exactly you will find that in the camera settings but you can set on various different ones like accentuate red, blue, green etc, so wondered if something might have got set wrongly by mistake somewhere along the way. Or failing that, check the white balance as that can make some freaky effects, though usually blue in my experience when you go and set it on something like tungsten by mistake!

Ragged Robin said...

Millymollymandy - Thanks so much for your lovely comment and wise words of wisdom :) I think the longer the wait the sweeter the eventual sighting!! :) Have spent 15 years at least trying to see a Glanville Fritillary on the Isle of Wight and if I eventually see one I shall feel as though I've won millions on the lottery!! There are quite a few species of butterflies that I know occur fairly locally and yet have somehow never seen them. Had a lovely afternoon watching butterflies in a local churchyard which has a wildlife area and the common species can I think give just as much pleasure :)

Thanks so much too for the help re: the Canon. I wondered if a setting had inadvertently been changed although some of the photos like the Peacock on the ground seemed fine. Have suggested to my son that we spend an hour a week going through the Canon manual and learning all the settings. I haven't used it for ages and have completely forgotten how it works! I could have done with it this afternoon at the churchyard as I had taken the Olympus and 14-42mm lens which is useless for butterfly close-ups unless you can get really close. Will make a point of checking white balance and colour settings on Canon this weekend. Thanks again.