It’s been a bumper year for Painted Ladies, as reported in many places, with the Big Butterfly Count revealing the spectacularly super-flying migrant as the most prolific butterfly of 2019.
But if the count were carried out now, in September, the Red Admiral would surely win hands-down. Or wings down.
They’ve been blooming everywhere this month! Buddleias, at least, seem to be teeming with them. Including the large bush that overhangs our patio from next door. On one day there were about 10 Red Admirals at once on this particular buddleia.
We then also have the delight in watching them settle on the
fence or bird-table, wings open, catching the sun.
The Painted Lady bonanza hit the headlines because it only happens about every 10 years and because of the incredible 1000s of miles the species flies from Africa to British shores.
The Red Admiral fest may not be so newsworthy, but has been equally enjoyable, and worthy of logging here – for my own reference, at least.
Let’s keep enjoying the everyday as well as the unusual.
I’ve written before, in Life out of Death, about the wildlife habitat that is the ruins of the strikingly photogenic Old St Helen’s Church, one of the oldest buildings in Hastings. During last year’s hot summer it was a joy to see the old, disused graveyard teeming with butterflies.
This summer I’ve been longing for a chance to go back and
see the butterflies there again, take some more photos, and check on the prevalence
of the Common Blue that was so…common there last year. It’s been predicted
that this is going to be a bumper year for the brilliant blue, British
butterfly, yet I’ve seen very few so far this summer (although plenty of Holly
Today I managed to grab a few minutes to visit the site and was pleasantly relieved to see quite a number of Common Blues there again.
Even more excitingly, though, I spotted at least two Brown Argus (and took the photo below). Like other butterflies I’ve reported on in previous blog posts, this pretty, petite butterfly is a species I’d normally associate with the countryside, especially downland, so to see them populating this wild patch of urbanity is sheer delight.
Some time I intend to make an attempt at writing some reflections I’ve been pondering about the harmony of man and nature. But for now suffice to say that this little area, although abandoned in terms of its original use as a place of worship (but now conserved by Sussex Heritage Trust together with local community groups), is thriving with living colours of the Creator, giving rise to a different expression of worship.
About once a year, in the summer, I take a day off just for myself, away from work and family – some time alone to pray, walk and enjoy nature. A solitary retreat, to take stock, connect with God and nature, and enjoy what I love.
For this introvert/contemplative/Christian/nature-lover with a normally busy schedule, it’s a perfect combination. Today was no exception.
Actually, today I wasn’t alone – I took Gorka. And spent the first part of the day worrying that I was taking him out for too long in the heat!
We were out walking for 5 hours on the South Downs, from Wannock, over Butts Brow, through Jevington, to Lullington Heath, and back.
About 9 miles in all. But he was fine.
We took a few respite breaks in the shade, including a stop at the Eight Bells, just for Gorka’s sake of course….
But, mmm, that Harvey’s Best was DE-licious!
When I lived nearer the Downs many years ago, I didn’t take it for granted. But I sure appreciate it a whole lot more now. Its flowery meadows, inhabited by swirls of butterflies and filled with the sweet aroma of wild marjoram and the call of skylarks, are the kind of thing normally only talked about in hushed tones of fond nostalgia these days.
Here on the Downs those meadows, as you can see from the above photos, still exist!
I counted at least 16 species of butterfly in the small area I covered today, not to mention the incredible array of other flora and fauna, including wild orchids and a few interesting moths.
Today was the first day this year that I’ve seen Burnet moths. Their metallic sheen and their tendency to stay for some periods of time on thistles and other flowers made them a prime target for my camera….
…not that they were always all sitting ducks, and I quite like these in-flight shots, showing off the red hind wings:
Of some excitement to me, though, was seeing another member of the Burnet family for the first time ever: the Forester, of which there were quite a number at Butts Brow:
This Brown Argus butterfly was also a rare treat:
But perhaps the greatest delight of all was seeing and capturing on camera one of those butterflies seen only on chalk hills: the aptly named Chalkhill Blue, which seems, for me, to perfectly symbolise the rare beauty of the South Downs.
As a childhood lepidopterist I had a recurring dream of
seeing a Purple Emperor. (OK, confession time: I’ve had this dream as an adult
Three years ago, I chased the dream and saw my first Purple Emperors, in Ashdown Forest, high up in the trees; then, last July, took the 1.5-hour trip to the incredible ecological project that is Knepp Wildland, to photograph these rare butterflies.
“a 3,500 acre estate just south of Horsham, West Sussex. Since 2001, the land – once intensively farmed – has been devoted to a pioneering rewilding project. Using grazing animals as the drivers of habitat creation, and with the restoration of dynamic, natural water courses, the project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife. Extremely rare species like turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding here; and populations of more common species are rocketing.”
My visit to Knepp might be becoming an annual fixture. In
any case, I returned today, at the peak of Purple Emperor season, this time
with my wife, Janine, again in the hope of some decent pics.
As soon as we stepped out of the car on to the Knepp estate, we were treated to the sight of several Emperors flitting between the oak trees and the roofs of nearby houses. Purple Emperors tend to stay in the trees, often high up, feeding on sap, making decent pics a challenge. Elusive beggars that they are!
We enjoyed watching them in several sites, but as for
photos, these were the best I could do.
In fact, everything seemed to be on the move today, making it difficult to get a good snap of any bird or butterfly.
However, I love just being in that kind of environment, absorbing the richness of the habitat, the hum of nature all around. And we enjoyed plenty of other natural wonders, apart from the Purple Emperors.
…such as the deer that shot out from bushes at the beginning of our walk and ran across our path, causing us shock and delight in equal measure.
…such as these White Admirals: the first I’ve seen for a few years – almost as much of a treat as the Emperors:
…the Purple Hairstreaks that fluttered around many of the same oaks as the Purple Emperors.
…the ubiquitous Cinnabar moth caterpillars:
…the many Marbled Whites that adorned nearly every field and hedgerow.
…and these storks (yes, storks!), which are part of a fascinating project to reintroduce the species to the UK, which you can read about here.
My new dream now will of course be to achieve some better Purple Emperor pictures. But if that never happens, I’ll still be content with having fulfilled the original dream of simply enjoying watching this majestic butterfly.
One of the many things I love about Hastings is its large green spaces, with their surprisingly rich habitats.
I’m talking here about parks and woods that are part & parcel of actual urban Hastings & St Leonards, not Hastings Country Park or any of the other scenic surrounding areas.
This week, for the first time that I remember, I saw a Ringlet on the edge of Summerfields Woods (a 5-minute walk from the town centre): a butterfly I’d normally associate with the countryside. I don’t have a photo to show you as I didn’t have my camera with me…
But it prompted me to post a slightly nerdy list of the butterflies I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in urban Hastings & St Leonards over the last few years, interspersed with a few photos I’ve taken in these areas. I’ve left some of the rarer treats till the end of the list:
Speckled Wood (probably the most prolific butterfly in Summerfields Woods)
Small Copper (quite a few in and around Summerfields Woods and White Rock Gardens)
Comma (lots on bramble flowers especially)
Painted Lady (also around the brambles)
Peacock (I used to find their caterpillars as well, but haven’t done in recent years. I think this butterfly has declined here.)
All the usual Whites (Small, Large, Green-veined)
White-letter Hairstreak (a very special treat, last July)
Purple Hairstreak (just one at the end of the season a few years ago, again on the edge of Summerfields Woods)
Clouded Yellow (a few in White Rock Gardens, where I guess is a first stopping point after crossing the Channel)
White Admiral (just one fairly ragged specimen at end of season, in the woods at the top of Alexandra Park)
There may be one or two others that I’ve forgotten.
Hopefully there will be a few more to add to the list as time goes on.
In the meantime, it’s good to remember not only that Nature is unstoppable even in the face of humanity’s urbanisation, but also that humanity is in fact part of Nature.
We do well to acknowledge this oneness and thus rediscover our divinely-ordained harmony with all things.
I used this image as the cover photo for my book, Coming Home for Good.
The picture holds significance for me for a couple of reasons, as explained in the inside cover of the book:
“Taken in 2010 at the outer corner of a field where my car was parked,
at the very edge of Bath and West Showground,
where I was attending New Wine, a large Christian
the photo was one of the highlights of my week.
Probably the best butterfly picture I’ve ever snapped,
it’s often reminded me of how the beauty and dignity
of hidden treasures are to be found
on the edges rather than in the limelight of society, or indeed of any community.“
I’ve discovered it’s my introvert personality that often takes me away from the centre, towards the edges of conferences, parties or other events.
But there’s also something else, from the Spirit, that keeps
driving me to speak and act for those who find themselves on the edges of
society, marginalised by the few who hold the power.
Coming Home for Good describes the journey I’ve travelled, from choosing to live on the edges of society as a teenage itinerant, to my work now as a nurse managing a healthcare service for homeless and other marginalised people.
Things are hotting up for butterflies around Summerfields Woods in Hastings during this warm spell. Meadow Browns and Large Skippers are coming out in force.
And today was the first day this year that I’ve seen that famously marathon-flying migrant, the Painted Lady. There were a few of them there today, enjoying the blackberry flowers on the edge of the woods, near the ambulance station.
The area must be no more be no more than about 200 metres from the seafront as the crow (or butterfly) flies.
So my guess is that these specimens had just arrived from their ultra-long journey from the continent, perhaps even North Africa.
This was probably their first stopping point, replenishing their energy on that bramble nectar.
Watching these elegant and exotic visitors, knowing they were nourishing themselves at the end of such a mammoth trek, was quite a privilege.
When I was growing up, the stunning Small Tortoiseshell was one of the most frequently seen Spring butterflies, as they emerged from hibernation. In mid-summer, they’d be seen in significant numbers on buddleias, along with Peacocks and Red Admirals.
Now they seem to be sadly scarce, at least in my part of the world. This shiny specimen, that I managed to photograph on the edge of East Hill, Hastings, on 5th May, is in fact the only Small Tortoiseshell I’ve seen so far this year….
The butterflies I’ve seen most commonly this Spring have been the Speckled Wood (as usual)…
…and (more unusually) the Holly Blue.
The Holly Blue, with its delicate silver-blue underwings, has been conspicuously prolific round this neck of the woods this Spring. I don’t remember seeing this many in any previous year. Apparently, they’re renowned for fluctuating wildly in numbers, believed to be caused by parasitism from the wasp Listrodomus nycthemerus.
“This neck of the woods”, by the way, is mainly Summerfields Woods in Hastings, where I snapped this particular Holly Blue feeding on something in the brickwork of the Walled Garden, as well as the Speckled Wood above.
Always good to see a life or a species doing well, giving us a glimpse of beauty beyond.
You might also be interested in my book: Coming Home for Good(available on Amazon) is autobiographical, describing my journey out of spiritual, psychological and (chosen) physical homelessness into a spiritual, psychological and physical home and a career managing a homeless healthcare service.
Yesterday saw a taste of summer in Hastings Country Park, with a proliferation of insects including swarms of blackfly (ecologically important, but not so pleasant to walk through!), but also many more enjoyable sights, such as these….