My work project in Suffolk having been completed, I am now back home to the high summer season when possibly the greatest numbers of butterflies and dragonflies are active in the English countryside. Prominent amongst the early July butterflies are the large woodland species Silver-washed Fritillary, White Admiral and Purple Emperor for which there are several prime sites to the north of Oxford. So today I headed to Bernwood Forest, just across the county boundary in Bucks, to try to add these “big three” to my 2015 series.
This large Forestry Commission property comprising the three merging woodlands of Oakley, York and Shabbington Woods, has been a fixture in my annual calendar since I started butterflying seriously in 2010. The location’s downside is its heavy use by dog walkers with little appreciation of wildlife, and that it also attracts numbers of “butterfly tourists”. By the latter I mean people with only a casual interest in butterflies who still want to see and photograph certain species: Black and Brown Hairstreak, Large Blue and Purple Emperor because these are rare and carry a perceived status. I say this because I love all butterflies, common or rare, colourful or nondescript.
When I arrived on site at around 9:30am the car park (SP612118) was already bulging. At this time of year the cheerful orange sight of flying Silver-washed Fritillary greets the observer on entering any suitable woodland, and today was no exception. While tooling up I noticed two of Britain’s biggest and surely most beautiful Fritillary (pictured below) nectaring on nearby brambles and went to photograph them before doing anything else. The species is relatively commonplace in most woods, large and small across much of southern England and Wales.
Ignoring the glances of loitering paparazzi around the car park and denying those people any opportunity to bore for Britain in my ears, I headed along Bernwood Forest’s main trail. The rest of the morning was spent checking out several spots that had been productive for the “big three” in previous seasons. SWF were always most numerous where there were flowering brambles, and In one such place I captured a mating pair for the first time ever. White Admiral were on the whole harder to locate though and more difficult to photograph when I did so. I didn’t come across any Purple Emperor today but when I got back to the car park someone just had to tell me a female had settled near my car whilst I was in the woods.
To match my best past pictures of all three species in one morning would have been a big ask, of course. Emperor Dragonfly (pictured above) are always welcome though, and to capture both a male and female here was an added bonus. There were also plenty of Brown Hawker on the wing but true to form these would fly out of cover before I saw them and elude the camera. Getting good pictures of the last-named will be one of this summer’s challenges.
Early July is also the time when hedgerows begin to teem with Common and Ruddy Darter dragonflies. Otmoor is one such site and yesterday I made a reconnoitre around part of the Oxon reserve to see what was about. It wasn’t difficult to work out where Black Hairstreak had been recently. This sort of attention from butterfly tourists (pictured below) is why I myself avoid scarcer Hairstreak sites once I have recorded those species each season. But the RSPB loves visitors of any kind. Hopefully these rarities will not have been harassed away from this newly revealed site or had their eggs stolen before next year.