The exceptionally mild weather of the last few days (this is being written on 26 February) has taken our sightings-so-far-this-year to an incredible level. Continue reading
Bob Ford describes this amazing sighting:
Impossible to count how many, but on one scan across a single field I counted 100 individuals in flight and settled. And there were two more fields like this! All were feeding on knapweed, not dispersing. All were fresh-looking. No helice females were seen at all.
If you see a Clouded Yellow on the wing, they are very distinctive – a mustard yellow, quite different from the bright lemon yellow of the Brimstone.
[Update to the article below: as of 5 July we have had six separate reports of Continental Swallowtails in Purbeck, all around the St Alban’s Head area. There seem to be certainly two and probably three individual butterflies. The Continental Swallowtail is different to our native species, which is now only found breeding in Norfolk, where habitat is managed to provide the foodplant needed by its caterpillar, which is Milk Parsley.]
We had several reports of Swallowtail butterflies in Dorset last year, including one of caterpillars on carrot leaves in a garden in Wimborne, suggesting they might be breeding. You might also have seen on Springwatch that the Continental Swallowtail definitely bred in Sussex last year.
We have been waiting to see what would happen this year, and two separate reports of Swallowtails have just come in from St Alban’s Head (also called St Aldhelm’s) in Purbeck. On 28th June a group running orienteering relays saw one pitched on the path and on 29th June a watchkeeper for the National Coastwatch Institution at St Alban’s Head saw two circling around; she had recently seen them in Switzerland and was very confident of the identification.
We do not know if these are migrants, have bred locally or are releases, deliberate or accidental, but we would like to know of any other sightings, with a photo if possible. Please send your sighting to email@example.com
It seems reports that Small Tortoiseshells were exhibiting courtship behaviour in late February and early March were correct: Andrew Cooper has now photographed one laying eggs on 15 March at Pamphill.
This is a month earlier than we would normally expect, which is presumably a reflection of the mild winter and the good weather we are having now. Let’s hope this means we are going to see lots of this butterfly later in the year!
We have had two reports of pairs of Small Tortoiseshells showing what may be mating behaviour amazingly early in the year.
Mike Ridge described two as “pairing” on 24 February in Lyme Regis, while Mark Spencer reported he saw:
2 Small Tortoiseshells today [28 Feb] courting each other high up in the sun at 12.15 p.m. in a garden half way up Glenferness Avenue in Bournemouth
Lyn Pullen also saw two showing interest in each other on 9 March.
Dorset Branch Records Officer, Bill Shreeves said:
Small Tortoiseshells don’t usually mate until late in the afternoon. Once the male has found a possible mate he has to follow her all day through thick and thin in order to mate, but it may be if it is cold the process can be speeded up. Small Tortoiseshells flying high might be males jousting with each other rather than courtship.
Whatever they were doing, let’s hope we see lots of them this year!
Darryl Green was visiting the Chickerell Down Woodland Trust site, near Weymouth, in the Spring of 2013 when he saw Orange Tip butterflies laying on on a plant he didn’t immediately recognise.
Subsequent research suggested it was dittander (Lepidium latifolium), which is a rare plant in Dorset.
Returning to the site a few weeks later, Darryl was able to find 2 large caterpillars (full size, nearly ready to pupate), plus 3 smaller (less than 20mm), so the plant was obviously well suited to these butterflies.
Dittander is a plant that it is native on some coasts in east and south England, as well as being naturalised at some sites inland like the Grand Union Canal in London.
In past days it was a standard herbal treatment for leprous sores, as well as being used as a food flavouring before horse radish – Darryl can confirm the latter (not the former!) because he tried it and says it has a hot, peppery taste.
Robin Walls, Dorset Plant Recording Officer, comments that that though the plant is rare in Dorset, Chickerell Downs could be a possible site.
It will have to wait until next year to check the identification: there are other plants of the pepperwort family present in Dorset with which it could be confused, especially if early grazing had damaged the growth of the plant.
Bill Shreeves, Records Officer for the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation said:
I have had a quick search through ancient & modern Butterfly literature and can find no mention of dittander as a food-plant for the Orange Tip, though it belongs to the crucifer group as do the butterfly’s other food plants. It is possible that the counties on the east and south coast, where the plant is thought to be native & grows on shingle, might have recorded it as an Orange Tip food-plant.
The certain identification of the plant will have to wait until it comes up again in 2014, but if you have any knowledge of it as an Orange Tip food plant, please let us know.
Well done to Darryl for his sharp observation, and thanks to him for letting us know about it.
We have had an astonishing 101 butterflies recorded on this website between 1 November and 21 November 2014, no doubt largely due to the unusually mild weather and helped by the number of butterflies that were brought about by the good summer.
- 73 Red Admiral (latest 19 Nov)
- 8 Clouded Yellow (latest 10 Nov)
- 8 Small Tortoiseshell (latest 15 Nov)
- 3 Peacock (latest 10 Nov)
- 3 Small Copper (latest 4 Nov)
- 2 Painted Lady (latest 13 Nov)
- 2 Brimstone (latest 10 Nov)
- 1 Speckled Wood (latest 10 Nov)
- 1 Holly Blue (latest 7 Nov)
If you want to see the full details, go to our Sightings Archive.
It seems doubtful this will continue, now we are experiencing weather that is cold in the day and frosty by night, but if you do see any butterfly, please do report it via our sightings form – we’d also be interested to know, if you saw it nectaring, what flowers were being used.
After the recent storm [late October], you might think there would be no butterflies, but not so. We had three reports the next day:
Report One, from Brian Arnold:
I was quite surprised to see butterflies in my garden at Harman’s Cross today.Survivors of the storm – two Red Admirals and a Speckled Wood were flying aroundmy lawnclose to a huge branch from an oak tree that is lying on the ground after being blown down during the storm on Sunday night.
Report Two, from Bobby Knowles in Canford Magna:
After the gales and torrential deluge on Sunday night, it was a relief to wake up to a blue sky and sunshine yesterday morning. We were even more pleased to have two sightings of a Red Admiral during the day in our walled garden at Canford Magna (where we moved only two months ago.) Lacking Phil Grey’s acute observation skill, we cannot say whether this was the same butterfly coming to the late flowers twice, or two different butterflies. Some of you may remember that Phil could sometimes tell individual butterflies apart. Whichever it was, it is a tribute to a butterfly’s powers of endurance.
Report Three, from Lyn Pullen in Winfrith Newburgh:
The day after the storm we enjoyed quite a long spell of sunshine – and so did the Red Admirals. There were six in my garden, all nectaring on ivy flowers”, together with various flies and wasps. If you would like to see a photo, go to my blog: www.butterfliesandgardens.wordpress.com.
Cath Walker writes (on her Flickr Page – reproduced with permission):
The Curious Incident of the Unfamiliar Butterfly In the Kitchen
This morning I was slaving over a hot tax return form when Liz called me from the kitchen: “Do you want to see a butterfly?” Any sentence with “butterfly” in it gets me running, and so I ran to the kitchen to find this butterfly on a window pane. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Oh, the excitement!! I rushed (lots of fast exercise here) to get the camera and a glass jam jar to put the butterfly in so I could take its portrait before releasing it into the wild. Once released into the wild, ie the garden, it flew quickly away, so I only have indoor pictures to show.
Cath contacted our Records Officer, Bill Shreeves, who replied:
You are completely correct in your identification as a male Long -Tailed Blue & in your comment on Flickr that it is very rare. With global warming we are hopeful that in time it might become a regular inhabitant – it does after all occur commonly all over southern Europe & Asia, Africa & even Australia.
Our problem is that none of its stages seem to be able to get through the British winter. One of the first ever recorded in Britain was back in 1859 in Christchurch. After that it was seen fairly regularly but only in big numbers in 1945 & 1990.
It is a very bold migrant & in Asia steadily climbs the foothills of the Himalayas reaching Nepal at as high as 3,650 metres & reverse migrating to the lowlands!
In Dorset at least one has been reported yearly since 2005 except for 2006 & 2008. Yours is the only one so far for 2013.
Many of the records are in September but in 2007 there was one around the same time as yours – 14th October in that case – also found indoors. This makes me wonder whether the caterpillar or chrysalis might somehow have been brought inside.
The caterpillar feeds inside the pods of leguminous plants like everlasting peas, lentils & Bladder-senna. A famous example was in 1999 when butterflies found indoors were shown to have emerged from batches of mange-tout peas brought all the way from Kenya!
Not long ago I was invited to verify a Long Tailed Blue which suddenly appeared in a pantry. The householders had bought legumes some while back in an outdoor market and we hypothesised that they had contained a caterpillar or chrysalis.
If you can remember anything similar which might account for how yours came to be on a window pane in your kitchen please let me know!
It seems most likely that the long-tailed blue must have entered our kitchen as a caterpillar or chrysalis in something, although I can’t think what, as most of the vegetables we buy are in shrink-wrapped supermarket packets and kept in the fridge. Home-grown vegetables enter the house accompanied by various insects – but then how would the caterpillar have got into them in the first place, if it’s a migrant from warmer climes? In the hot weather we have the kitchen door open all day, but even at the butterfly peak, only about one managed to fly into the kitchen. So in all, it’s a bit of a mystery how the long-tailed blue got here!