2015 British Butterflies – 21: Silver-spotted Skipper at Aston Rowant NNR, Oxon and Purple Hairstreak – 21st-28th July

The last downland butterfly of the season to emerge is the dainty and rather charming Silver-spotted Skipper that is confined to warm southern sites. After Black and Brown Hairstreaks this species attracts the next most visitors to Oxfordshire, being present at several Chilterns escarpment locations. Here it can be fairly numerous through late July and August darting about in the flowery sward or basking on rough chalk scree.

As common is the sight of genuine butterfly enthusiasts searching the noisy hillside above the M40 at Aston Rowant NNR (N). That is where I look for this butterfly first each year, though it also occurs at more sites running south: Linkey Down, Bald, Shirburn and Watlington Hills, and Swyncombe Down. In each of the last two seasons I was the first BC UTB observer to record the species, my 12th July sighting in 2014 being the earliest in recent history.

This year SSS was first seen on 17th, while I found just one of them in the usual spot four days later then three on 23rd. They require warmer conditions than any other British butterfly, not usually being active in temperatures below 20° while even on hot days spending time basking on patches of scree. Today (28th) in equally cool, windy and grey conditions to those previous two visits I finally captured a SSS basking in the open. The hindwing damage so early in the flight season could perhaps be due to the battering inflicted by current weather conditions.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper

silver spotted skipper_01.1502 aston rowan

Here are some other photographs of high summer insects taken on these visits:

Also on the wing through late July and August is the Purple Hairstreak. This commonest British Hairstreak is easily overlooked because it spends most of its time in the canopy of Oak woods. Like other tree dwelling hairstreaks, getting close to them depends on whether there is a shortage of honey dew in the tree tops. Last year along the visitor trail at Otmoor RSPB reserve, Oxon I came across some PH nectaring on brambles below isolated Oaks. Those individuals allowed a point blank approach and macro lens photography. But more usually these pictures (below) taken this season at the Forestry Commission Bernwood Forest site are how the species is seen.

Purple Hairstreak

Purple Hairstreak

Purple Hairstreak

I have made two recent searches of likely spots on Otmoor without success. Numbers of butterflies at a particular location can vary greatly from one season to the next, though colonies rarely stray far from the tree in which they breed. The archive picture (below left) is what I was looking for. During one of these searches I captured the only local butterfly that had not featured previously in this series, the migrant Painted Lady.


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