Tag Archives: sightings

Over 5 million records of butterflies in Dorset!

View of an orange and black butterfly with its wings open
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Photo: Brian Arnold.

We are working on bringing you the full 2020 Butterfly Report, which has sent us trawling through our database of butterfly records. The number of butterflies counted from the mid 1990s to May 2021 is 5,608,000, Continue reading

200+ Clouded Yellows at Langton Herring

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.

Clouded yellow

The sighting was on 22 September. Langton Herring is north-west of Weymouth. Photo: Bob Ford.

Swallowtails return to Dorset

[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.

Swallowtail butterfly

Swallowtail butterfly

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 protected]

Small Tortoiseshell egg laying in mid March

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.

Small Tortoiseshell laying eggs

Small Tortoiseshell laying eggs. Photo: Andrew Cooper

Small Tortoiseshell eggs on the underside of a nettle leaf

Small Tortoiseshell eggs on the underside of a nettle leaf. Photo: Andrew Cooper

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!

Small Tortoiseshells courting in February?

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.


Tortoiseshells. Photo: Lyn Pullen

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.

Orange Tip caterpillar on plant thought to be dittander

Orange Tip caterpillar on plant thought to be dittander. Photo: Daryl Green

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.

Flower of plant thought to be dittander

Flower of plant thought to be dittander. Photo: Darryl Green

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.

Butterflies galore in November

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.

Red Admiral on ivy

Red Admiral on ivy

  • 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.