Monday, 3 August 2015

Further reasons for butterfly cheer

I'm building up a backlog of moths at the moment because of my sudden interest in butterflies, but no matter; the butterfly news just gets better and better.

Further to my last post, I've now established that our skipper, or skippers, is/are the Small Skipper and/or the Essex Skipper. Thanks to advice from the eminent Wendy Campbell who runs the Upper Thames Butterfly Conservation butterfly sightings page, I have been on my hands and knees cooing to a variety of these jumpy little insects to stay still for a moment while I photograph them.

Two women out walking this morning found me thus occupied. We parted on merry terms and I asked them to look out for skippers with black ends to their antennae. This is the best way to distinguish the Essex from the Small, although it is no easy task. Nor am alone in my bafflement. The Essex Skipper was only established as a separate species in 1889 and was thus one of the last to be added to the definitive UK butterfly list.

Here are some pics, which took a lot of getting so far as crispish focus was concerned. I think the insect in question, which was astonishingly patient for a skipper, is an Essex. I have also included a sadly blurred pic of what I suspect of being a Small because in spite of the rubbish focus, it looks as though the ends of the anetannae are definitely brown, not black (above and left).

A bonus to the curious way of spending the morning was that I notched up TWO MORE local butterflies: a Small Copper (my previous weekend sighting of this species was on Port Meadow in Oxford) and the Brown Argus, which I discovered today by accident. It's actually the butterfly whose photographing I described yesterday at inordinate length, when I called it a female Common Blue. 

This morning, I photographed the tiny butterfly below and was full of glee, thinking that it was a Small Blue because of its minute size. But no; it is a female Common Blue. In the process of checking, I noticed the difference between the orange spots compared with yesterday's butterfly and - Bingo! - my sadness at 'losing' the Small Blue from my list turned to joy at the adding of the Brown Argus. 

I hope you managed to follow all that...

Update: I'd just posted this and gone outside with a cup of tea for Penny when, lo and behold, more good news. The one butterfly which eluded my camera over the weekend was the Holly Blue. I've posted pictures of our garden ones on the blog previously, and I had three good sightings on Sunday, but they are often extremely jump and also inclined to soar away above the trees. Today, thanks to Penny's activities, I had a lovely little poser. It was so busy sucking up the minerals from Penny's freshly distributed and very rich compost, that it didn't even notice me. Yippee, the full set.

All this has added to my general cheerfulness about the current state of UK butterflies, which is also borne out to a degree which surprised me by the very good website of Butterfly Conservation.

They note the 'distribution trend' for most species since 1970, and here are the percentages for those on my local list:

The winners:

Essex Skipper: Plus 46 percent
Comma: Plus 37 percent
Holly Blue: Plus 36 percent
Painted Lady: Plus 32 percent
Speckled Wood: Plus 31 percent
Red Admiral: Plus 25 percent
Peacock: Plus 17 percent
Ringlet: Plus 16 percent
Brown Argus: Plus 16 percent
Marbled White: Plus 11 percent
Small Skipper: Plus 4 percent

The losers:

Brimstone:  Minus 43 percent
Small Copper: Minus 16 percent
Common Blue: Minus 15 percent
Gatekeeper: Minus 12 percent
Small and Large White: Both minus 7 percent
Meadow Brown: Minus 4 percent
Small Tortoiseshell: Minus 3 percent
Green-veined White: Minus 1 percent

I'd comment on these figures (a) that the three Whites are doing brilliantly, considering that they are the subject of a permanent and understandable assault from vegetable gardeners; (b) the Brimstone, as Butterfly Conservation notes, has spread its range significantly in the last two decades; and (c) note how the Pluses are mostly a lot bigger than most of the Minuses.

Result: happiness.

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