2015 British Butterflies – 15: Dark Green Fritillary and White-letter Hairstreak at Oxon sites – 3rd July

With commuting over for another week I welcomed time to start catching up with species that fly in July. Most of the Fritillaries featured so far in this series are only seen at certain sites or in particular habitats, but Dark Green is widely distributed on downs and rough grassland. In early July my home reserve Aston Rowant NNR (N) is a reliable site.

Today I observed seven individuals along a route from the car park, across the foot of the hillside above the reserve’s sunken way, and then into a gulley at the end of that trail. There are usually Dark Green Fritillary in season at the last spot and today there were two. I expect the males to be highly territorial, seeing off any other butterfly they come across, but these two seemed almost relaxed and intent upon striking nice poses for the camera. The exception was when they crossed each others’ paths upon which a high speed joust would commence. For the rest of the time other species seemed more intent upon challenging the two DGF that offered the best photo session I have ever enjoyed with this butterfly.

Dark Green Fritillary

Dark Green Fritillary

dark green fritillary_01.1508 aston rowan

It is now summer high-season for butterflies when at sites like this the ground teems with Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Marbled White. My favourite shots of the last named are always the ones on big Thistle heads such as abound at this wild flower-rich reserve. I also recorded my season’s first Small Skipper in good numbers here today and the profusion of Small Tortoiseshell, a species that has come back from the brink in recent years, was noticeable.

Moving on at around midday I headed south to Chazey Heath, a village on the A4074 just north-west of Reading, where there is a White-letter Hairstreak colony. This is one of the more difficult butterflies to find in any season since they are tree-top flyers that breed on disease-prone Elms. The first time I observed the species was on a Butterfly Conservation field meeting to a Berkshire wood in which the group leaders knew the location of its only two Elm trees. Since then I have mostly gone to Chazey Heath to see them, but failed to find any on three visits last year.

Today I quickly began to see Hairstreak-like shapes flying around the tree tops and eventually sitting still. On magnifying the images on my SLR I positively identified these as WLH. There were plenty of blooming brambles in the vicinity that the butterflies could have descended to, but that depends upon the aphid honeydew supply up in the trees. If the second option is OK then the pictures below are usually as good as it gets, but they show how WLH are often seen.

Tree-top flyer

Tree-top flyer

All doubt removed

All doubt removed

The spot is also good for Holly Blue that I had yet to photograph this season. This local butterfly can be a tricky one to capture since they often tend to settle in the tops of hedges. The female pictured below went against that norm.

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