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.
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.