2015 British Butterflies – 19: Small Copper and Chalkhill Blue at Chiltern escarpment sites – 17th July

With high summer woodland species all now recorded my focus has switched back to the chalk grasslands of the Chilterns escarpment and south Oxon downs. In late July and August several downland butterflies already experienced in late spring produce new broods, and possibly my favourite amongst these is the Small Copper. Widely distributed but nowhere very numerous, this bright and lively little butterfly can turn up in almost any rough grassy place.

The most reliable local site I know for the species is Swyncombe Down near the village of Ewelme, Oxon. From a parking spot at SU666914 a path leads uphill through woods to an open access area. I have rarely walked through the gate at the woodland edge onto the hilltop without seeing Small Copper in a small hollow to the immediate right. Today I sat on an anthill at that location for just a few minutes and true to form one appeared.

Small Copper

Small Copper

Two or three Small Copper is a typical day list count at any chalk downland site, and today was no exception. Much field Scabious is in bloom at the moment and this is always an attractive perch on which to capture butterflies such as the Marbled White (below). And Gatekeeper are a common site everywhere currently.

The second half of July is also when chalk grasslands become blessed with the pastel beauty of flying Chalkhill Blue. This last blue butterfly of the season inhabits unimproved chalk and limestone downs across southern England. But my first site visited today is not notable for it and so I relocated to the banker that is Aston Rowant NNR (N). There I found several males around the hillside above the M40, but the blustery conditions made photography almost impossible most of the time. But with persistence and experimentation I gained results that compare with my best from previous seasons.

Chalkhill Blue

Chalkhill Blue

chalkhill blue_01.1504 aston rowan

This is what I meant in my last post by a communion with insects that is difficult to experience in a crowd. Many more Chalkhill Blue will be flying at this and other Chilterns escarpment and south Oxon downs locations very soon. Before leaving I trod the area of hillside where I find my first Silver-spotted Skipper in any season, but didn’t see that other site speciality today.


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