2015 British butterflies – 5: Marsh Fritillary and much more at Cotley Hill, Wilts + Wall Brown – 13th May

The key species are coming in thick and fast now. When I read that Marsh Fritillary were flying at my site of choice there was only one place to go on this warm and sunny day. In my home area of Oxon, Bucks and Berks there is just one tiny and fragile cluster left. Not too far away in Wiltshire variable concentrations of the species can be found, and Cotley Hill (ST917427) near Warminster must take the title of Marsh Frit grand central. My visits here in 2011 and 2013 yielded large numbers of what is a declining and distinctly localised butterfly nationally, and today was a repeat experience.

From a lay-by at a roundabout on the A36 near Heytesbury, a footpath leads uphill into a long south-west facing slope covered by unimproved grassland. This site supports a rich flora and 29 breeding species of butterfly. Taking the first sheep track left at the foot of the hill I quickly began to see Marsh Fritillary, as on those previous visits. An observer walking back told me there were hundreds on the hillside above and indeed there were. This butterfly has a pleasing habit of sitting up and keeping still for the camera, and one after another did just that as I walked around.

Marsh Fritillary

Marsh Fritillary

DSC_0059

DSC_0135

Marsh Frit can be very variable, the smallest males being a fraction of the size of the largest females. Although the chequered pattern is constant the wing colours can also vary a lot. Underwing shots are more difficult to come by. This newly emerged female (below) was still drying in the sun while already rejecting the attentions of a male suitor.

DSC_0122

The supporting cast here was a check list of April and early May key species: Dingy and Grizzled Skipper, Green Hairstreak, Brown Argus, Small Heath and my year’s first Small Blue.

There was still time for a bonus butterfly so I walked up the main path and back to look for Wall Brown, having seen them here previously and at other Wiltshire sites. This species is virtually extinct in my home area. Back at the lay-by a Wilts man gave me directions to another location where he said they fly. About ¾ mile west of Avebury on the A4 is a lay-by on the south side of the road from where a footpath leads uphill through a Beech copse. On the eastern side of this, above some racing gallops is a worked out chalk pit with an exposed chalk bank. And here indeed I encountered this rather splendid Wall Brown (below).

Wall Brown

Wall Brown

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s