Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Wednesday Blues

This corner of Kent has some of the best chalk grassland in the country.

The reserve at Temple Ewell is a National Nature Reserve Managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust. It is ancient grassland and without management it would quickly scrub over, rather like most of the area of South Foreland Valley.

The views from the downs are spectacular, but today it was the unbelievable hoards of Chalkhill Blues that were mesmerising.

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As soon as the footpath from the car park got to the first field there were blue butterflies every where and today they were nearly all Chalkhill Blues. I did see a couple of Common Blues near the bottom of the hill, but there were Chalkhill Blues everywhere. I'd met someone a couple of days ago who'd told me that when he had visited the reserve a few days ago the Chalkhill Blue numbers were into four figures. I rather thought he might be exaggerating a bit, but this wasn't the case, they were very numerous. The caterpillar's food plant is Horseshoe Vetch, a common plant on the downs.

The females are normally brown with some blue suffusion near the base of the wings although occasional aberrant individuals are much bluer.

The fresh males are stunning and the pattern is quite variable. The males are much larger than the other blue butterflies in the area and the pale silvery blue is very distinctive. When the sun was shining they were very active and extremely attentive of the smaller females.

Another of the butterflies in the Blue family that specialised on chalk and limestone grasslands in the Brown Argus. It isn't blue but it's behaviour is much like the others in the family. The Caterpillar's food plant is Common Rockrose.

It was good to see a couple of striking fresh Small Tortoiseshells. Some people have been talking of a resurgence in numbers this year, and at the beginning of summer i was quite hopeful, but I've seen very few in the last few weeks. Perhaps they're on their way.

They males were perched up on virtually every Knapweed flower, and much as I was enjoying seeing then, they were not in fact my main quarry.

Neither was the Meadow Brown, and there were just a few of these around, my target was much smaller and much brighter.

I finally did see two small brown coloured butterflies flying quickly. Unlike the blues they were difficult to follow and it was some time before I found them again. I was noticeable that they often rested on dried cow pats or sheep droppings.

The bright gold markings on the browner back ground are more prominent on the females, but it is the underwing that gives the Silver-spotted Skipper it's name.

Each time one landed for an instant the underwing would be visible, but then they quickly adopted the Skipper position, unique to this family of butterflies.

A pair I watched a few hundred yards from the original find did get down amongst the grass together, giving me the chance to get a photo of the underside.

This sun loving butterfly is on the edge of it's range in southern England. The food plant for the caterpillars in Sheep's Fescue, a not uncommon grass on unimproved grasslands. However they are very particular about the egg laying site, preferring isolated tufts besides areas of bare ground, such as animal hoof-prints, in sunny positions. Altogether I say about 8-10 individuals. I don't know the total population there, but there seemed to be quite large areas with suitable habitat for them. This was the first time I'd seen them in Kent, so it wasn't really a case of the midweek blues.


Birdingben said...

Lovely set of photos,Tony, & very useful info.
Thank you!

Jill said...

How weird I nearly went to Lydden yesterday as I know the Chalkhill Blues are always good there but I've never seen the number you described! Will have to get there soon should be time soon for the second batch of Adonis Blues there too. Hope you are keeping well, Jill

Tanakwagu said...

you have good shot. i dream to have one on dslr some day. i love to memoriazed via taking picture