Tag Archives: recording

Count butterflies in a field full of buddleias

Buddlia flowers with three Red Admiral butterflies on them
Red admirals on buddleia

Two of our Dorset Branch members, Peter and Judy Westgate, have set up a buddleia collection covering two-thirds of an acre, which is now becoming well established and is a stunning sight when in full bloom.

The point of the collection is to assess which buddleias butterflies like best, so someone has to go and watch to find out – and this could be you. It’s not too onerous: choose a nice sunny day, take a deckchair and a cold drink and move from bush to bush counting butterflies! There are no special arrangements, just turn up and count. Continue reading

Are Essex Skippers really starting to decline in Dorset?

Bill Shreeves, Records Officer, writes:

Since the Dorset Butterfly Atlas of 1985-89 ,when the first Essex Skipper was recorded in Dorset, the numbers of kilometre squares where they have been seen steadily increased for each 5-year atlas up to 131 in 2005-09. However, so far, for the new 2010-14 atlas only 72 kms have been recorded. We need to know whether this is a real decline or whether it is a falling off in recording.

Essex skipper

Essex Skipper, showing black tips to antennae. Photo: Gordon Cryer

It would be understandable if the latter were the case as Essex Skippers are very similar to Small Skippers & it takes some patience to look for the little black blobs on the ends of the antennae, shown in this recent photo of a freshly emerged Essex in Motcombe Meadows local reserve by Gordon Cryer.

Most of the sightings of Essex Skippers have occurred in North & East Dorset but they have arrived in Purbeck & Portland. Indeed proof has just come from this photo of the caterpillar swept out of grasses west of the Pulpit Inn by Ken Dolbear. Fortunately the caterpillar’s brown & white head stripes make it much easier to distinguish from the Small Skipper than the actual butterfly!

Essex skipper caterpillar

Essex Skipper caterpillar. Photo: Ken Dolbear

We would be very grateful to receive records of Essex Skipper from anywhere in Dorset but especially from the West where very few have been seen so far.

However please be sure that you have noticed the very clear black tips to the antennae. These tips are very abrupt and not gradually graded from the rest of the antenna. They look as if they have been pressed into a black ink pad or a little like the black ends of the old safety matches. They are most easily seen from the side or from slightly below the front of the butterfly. If these have not been observed the identification cannot be certain.

When you send in records to our website please be sure to add comments in the notes so that we can be re-assured that the identification is reliable. Essex Skippers are out now until the end of August and should be searched for on road verges or any grassland which has been allowed to grow fairly tall.

New record for Weymouth Relief Road

Dingy Skippers have been recorded for the first time on the wildflower banks lining the bridle path of the Weymouth Relief Road. This was an exciting discovery for the guided walk on 17 May. Common Blue was seen in abundance and at least 3 separate colonies of Small Blue.

Dingy skipper on kidney vetch

Dingy skipper on kidney vetch. Photo: Allan Neilson

The branch has been monitoring this site since its creation in 2011. The cutting is now a delight with horseshoe vetch in full bloom creating a carpet of golden yellow. There has been a year-on-year increase of butterfly species seen. Who knows? – maybe the next will be the Chalkhill Blue.

If you would like to help with our survey please just walk the bridle path from the Ridgeway down to the Bincombe turning. We are also recording the banks alongside both of the lay-bys. Please let Georgie Laing know you would like to help so she can send you a recording form, using our Contact Form.

To get to the main walk along the bridleway, park at the truncated end of the Broadmayne road. The bridleway goes along the side of the hill. Map: SY674859

Urgent: Please look for butterflies at Maiden Castle (near Dorchester)

The records we have received since 2010 suggest several butterfly species known to have been present at Maiden Castle previously have disappeared. We hope it is a lack of recording rather than a lack of butterflies, but we urgently need you to go there and tell us what butterflies you see. The species not recorded recently are:

  • Grizzled Skipper (out in Dorset now – April)
  • Green Hairstreak (out in Dorset now – April)
  • Brimstone (a common butterfly seen throughout the year – it is most odd that no records have been received for this very easily identified species).
  • Small Blue (usually out in May/June)
  • Brown Argus. This was last recorded with just a single sighting in the 2005-09 period. (May be seen at times between May and September).
  • Chalkhill Blue. This was also last recorded with just a single sighting in the 2005-09 period. (Usually out July-Aug-Sep).
  • Dark Green Fritillary (normally on the wing late June thorough to August)
  • Marsh Fritillary (late May-June-early July)

The total number of species at Maiden Castle previously compared to now are:

  • The area covered by map ref SY 66/88: 30 down to 23 species
  • The area covered by map ref SY 67/88: 26 down to 20.

We record butterflies in five-year cycles, so we are comparing the four years of the current cycle (2010-2015) with the 1995-2009 records. The need for records in 2015 is urgent because we are in the last year of the recording cycle.

One bit of good news is that Adonis Blue and Dingy Skipper both seem to be OK.

When you send any records in, if you looked for any particular species but were unable to find them at the right time and in good weather, please add a note – we need to know you have looked.

The map grid reference for the area is SY 6688 and SY 6788.

Astonishing number of March Butterflies

We’ve just done the maths and are astonished at how many butterflies have been reported to us in March:

  • Number of records received = 244 (a record is a report of butterflies at one time in one place)
  • Number of butterflies = 712

This compares to 2013 figures of 17 records containing 20 butterflies.

The 712 butterflies were:

  • Brimstone 233
  • Comma 40
  • Holly Blue 2
  • Painted Lady 1
  • Peacock 96
  • Red Admiral 8
  • Small Copper 1
  • Small Tortoiseshells 309
  • Small White 12
  • Speckled Wood 10

Remember – if you want to keep up with which species are out, we have a First Sightings page.

Please keep the records coming in: we would like to report a huge number in April as well.

The search for the White-letter Hairstreak

White-letter Hairstreaks have been very under-recorded in the current five-year recording cycle, and as 2014 is the last year of it, we need to go looking for them this summer.

Google Earth map

Google Earth map

The red markers on the map above show the seven records which have been received since 2010. The yellow markers show those gathered between 1995 and 2009, during which time the White-letter Hairstreak was recorded in 47 locations. We do not think the butterfly has declined this drastically, but that there has been a lack of recording. Click here for a spreadsheet listing all the squares involved. To see much more detail, open this link to Google Earth (you will need to have the free Google Earth software on your computer for this to work) which allows you to zoom right in to understand the position of the relevant kilometre squares.

White-letter Hairsteaks breed on elm trees, and were very badly hit in the 1960s and 1970s when Dutch elm disease wiped out two-thirds of the country’s elm trees. They prefer wych elm, but may also use English elm and smooth elm.

They are not easy butterflies to spot, and it has been suggested that the problem is that recorders are searching at the wrong time. The best time to look is the last week of June and first week of July on, or very near, elm trees, when the males will be flying around in the tops of the trees. There cannot be any confusion with the Purple Hairstreak as, although that butterfly flies in a similar fashion, it is not out this early in the year. In July you may find the butterflies lower down, nectaring on flowers such as creeping thistle, bramble, ragwort, marjoram and hemp agrimony.

White-letter Hairstreak

White-letter Hairstreak. Photo: Rob

White-letter Hairstreak

White-letter Hairstreak. Photo: Mark Pike

White-letter Hairstreak

White-letter Hairstreak. Photo: Mark Pike

You might actually have more luck spotting the caterpillar. When it is at its biggest in June, it is 15-16mm long, and though it is very well camouflaged, it is sometimes posible to stand under the tree and look up when the sun is shining on the leaves and see the dark shape of the caterpillar in silhouette. You may also be able to spot where the leaves have been damaged by the caterpillars eating them, but there are also around five species of moth caterpillar which may be doing this – however, it might at least help you to narrow down where to look more carefully.

If you do find any White-letter Hairstreaks, please let us know. You can use the sightings form on this website, or tell us what you have seen via our Contact Form, and we’ll get back to you. If you can send us a photograph, that would be even better.

Weymouth Relief Road is a hit with butterflies

Georgie Laing has pulled together the information gathered in 2013 on how the sides of the Weymouth Relief Road, built in 2012 for the Olympics, are doing.

This area was deliberately not grassed, but seeded with butterfly-attracting wild flowers, which certainly seem to be doing their job.

A riot of colour now greets travelers when the yellow blanket of kidney vetch blooms on the cuttings and bridleway on the ridgeway. This is important as the caterpillar food plant of the Small Blue.

Kidney vetch on bridleway

Kidney vetch on the Bridleway, 2013. Photo: John Elliott

For the last two years Butterfly conservation volunteers have been monitoring the site to record the species of butterflies.

2013 proved to be a good year:

  • 25 visits were made
  • 20 species recorded
  • 621 individual records
  • 8 new species were recorded:
    • Large Skipper
    • Clouded Yellow
    • Brimstone
    • Green-veined White
    • Orange-tip
    • Adonis Blue
    • Peacock

3 species showed large increases from last year

  • Small White (144 recorded)
  • Common Blue (213 recorded)
  • Small Tortoiseshell (79 recorded)
Small Blue

Small Blue. Photo: John Elliott

Species list for 2013

  • Large Skipper (new 2013)
  • Clouded yellow (new 2013)
  • Brimstone (new 2013)
  • Large White
  • Small White
  • Green-veined White (new 2013)
  • Orange-tip (new 2013)
  • Small Copper (new 2013)
  • Small Blue
  • Brown Argus
  • Common Blue
  • Adonis Blue (new 2013)
  • Red Admiral
  • Painted lady
  • Small Tortoiseshell
  • Peacock (new 2013)
  • Wall
  • Marbled White
  • Gatekeeper
  • Meadow Brown
  • Ringlet (2012 only)

We would like to continue the monitoring in 2014 and are hoping to design a formal butterfly monitoring (transect) walk. More volunteers are needed.

If you would like to help or would like a more detailed report of the records please contact Georgie Laing  via our Contact Form.

Lankham Bottom camp and mothing session August 9/10 2013

Over 35 people attended the Open Day and moth trapping session at Lankham Bottom Butterfly Reserve on August 9th and 10th – ranging in age from five to… well, shall we say over 50?

It was a cool clear night for the BBQ (with a great view of the International Space Station going over) and the moth numbers were reasonable – well over 500 moths of 80 different species, with plenty of large colourful macros to satisfy everyone.

Grateful thanks to Jack Oughton and Vince Giavarini for his help with the identification of the tricky micros.

Pebble Hook-tip moth

Pebble Hook-tip moth. Photo: Lyn Pullen

Read the full list of moths trapped.

The highlights of the guided walk were the discovery of very good numbers of Marsh Fritillary larval webs on the eastern slopes of the reserve, and a view of a Redstart presumably moving through on its southward migration.