Today was the day to head back to East Blean Wood near Canterbury and catch up with another of Britain’s rarest butterflies. And that makes it three of those in the last six days.
The Heath Fritillary became confined to Kent’s Blean Woods and a few upland valleys on Exmoor, but has been reintroduced to a few more woodland sites in Devon, Cornwall and Essex. These sun lovers favour locations where the vegetation has recently been cut, burned or cleared, and are therefore mobile limitedly from year to year within sites where they occur. I had seen them once before in 2013 on Exmoor’s Dunkery Beacon. There the wildness of the off piste location became etched in my memory, but I also recall a two hour wait for the sun to come out and not getting pictures of males or underwing shots. I had unfinished business with this species here today.
This visit was how butterfly watching should be. Within half an hour of my arrival bright sun replaced overcast conditions that had persisted throughout the journey. By 11am I reached a promising looking clearing and immediately began to see Heath Fritillary, then more and more. These butterflies can be very abundant if the habitat is right, and there were hundreds of them here today. Seeing so many flitting about, nectaring on bramble flowers, squabbling, courting and generally going about their business was indeed a charming sight.
I was interested to see whether there would be butterflies in other clearings I searched eight days previously. The answer was yes but in more modest numbers. I had indeed found Heath Frit grand central and other observers arriving later in the morning mostly seemed to know of the hot spot. There were also some flying in the car park when I left at 1pm. So it wasn’t me being dim on the earlier visit, not seeing any really had been down to the weather conditions since HF are said not to fly in temperatures below 18ºC.
Getting such an early and good result left the afternoon to be filled, so I revisited Westbere Marshes, less than three miles away to try for Scarce Chaser dragonfly. The male pictured below was in vegetation beside the Great Stour river where my reading between visits suggested the species was being seen. He only did arty poses, but no matter because I have good accurate pictures already. Along the path to that spot at least three Green-eyed or Norfolk Hawker were active in the flooded reed-edge ditches. I can’t really get enough of the latter, they are so beautiful.