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NEWSLETTER No. 10 -  Winter 1983/84

WEST MIDLANDS BRANCH, BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION

 

Butterfly Round-Up

Nothing could better demonstrate the total unpredictability of the British weather than the Summer of 1983. After a miserable cold and wet Spring which lasted right through to the beginning of June, we went on to enjoy three months of exceptionally fine weather with good numbers of most species on the wing and, of course, a mass invasion of that spectacular migrant, the Clouded Yellow. Something that none of us could possibly have imagined as we shivered our way through April and May.

Breeding success of the earlier species must have been poor and this certainly seems to have been the case with the hibernating butterflies like Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock, all of which have been much less common than usual around the West Midlands this year. Small Coppers seemed almost nonexistent in their first brood and one of the few seen was one in Worcester by Bob Sim on 6th June. Some species, however, seem less affected by bad weather, and although Orange Tip adults were on the low side there seemed no shortage of eggs. Martyn Davis, a new member from Hereford reported seeing hundreds in one area. One can only hope that the same might apply to the Wood White which was very scarce, even in its Herefordshire strongholds, and apparently absent from both the Wyre Forest and Chaddesley Woods in Worcestershire. It was however reported for the first time at Bishops Itchington quarry on the Branch's field trip, making the seventh locality in Warwickshire for this butterfly since the early 70's.

A number of the earlier species were also very late in emerging. The first Pearl-bordered Fritillary, for example, in Worcestershire was not seen until 24th May, well over two weeks later than 1982 and butterflies like Grizzled Skipper and Green Hairstreak were similarly late. There were no April records for the latter as there had been for the previous two years, and Dave Smith reported a particularly disappointing season for this butterfly in Salop. What undoubtedly saved the season was the marked change in the weather in the first week of June. Suddenly a number of species which previously had been around only in ones and twos were around in considerable number. The weather obviously suited some of the region's more local species and it is pleasing to be able to report a good season for Small Blue, Duke of Burgundy and Marsh Fritillary. The latter were quite prolific at their only known site in Worcestershire, and on June 14th I counted an incredible 137 in a half hour walk. As a result of the collation of records through the Gloucestershire Trust it now appears that the county can boast over 20 locations for Duke of Burgundy.

The big news of the month, however, was the arrival of the Clouded Yellow in this country and this butterfly proceeded to grab the headlines for the rest of the Summer. The Williams' telephone was ringing for most of the month with sightings from throughout the region, so much so that I was beginning to think that everyone in the Branch had seen a Clouded Yellow apart from myself. In fact when Phil Parr from Rugby phoned for the second time I began to feel that the gods were conspiring against me!

News of other migrants was scarce in comparison: David Porter managed to find a Red Admiral while searching for Large Tortoiseshells in Worcestershire in early May, while Bob Sim recorded another in Worcester on 1st. June. Painted Ladies proved even more elusive and the earliest seen was on 12th June, again by David Porter, at a Wiltshire site, with another by Phil Parr on 15th at Rugby, followed by a third a week later, seen on Cleeve Common by Tony Hatton. Martyn Davies reported having seen three in one day in Herefordshire and none since. Another was spotted at Elmdon Airport on 14th August - perhaps it had just flown in! Interestingly, the London Branch newsletter contains a number of very early sightings of Red Admiral from March onwards, which does strongly suggest overwintering, as it is hard to believe that the weather conditions this Spring were conducive to early migration from the Continent. A very unusual sighting on 10th. June, and again a week later, was of a Camberwell Beauty by new member Dave Hatton in Stafford. Terry Green also heard of another Staffordshire sighting of this butterfly near Tamworth in late July.

By the end of June the butterfly season had become rather mixed up, with both Marbled White and Ringlet already around yet no sign of the first brood of Small Tortoiseshells, which would normally have been on the wing. High Brown Fritillaries were also a few days late and in rather poor numbers. It is very distressing to learn via Jack Green that a letter appeared in the Worcester evening paper stating that two people had been spotted collecting the butterfly in one of its local sites. Such behaviour is totally irresponsible and should serve as a reminder to all of us to be extremely careful to whom we pass on information concerning our rarer species. Also disappointing was the complete absence of Dark Green Fritillary from Warwickshire this year, despite 16 visits being made to its usual site during the butterfly's flight period. Rather more cheerful was the good showing of both Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral, which were in excellent numbers at their known sites and also showing encouraging signs of dispersal. There were a number of records for these species (and also Marbled White) from new sites and it will be interesting to see whether any such attempted colonisations succeed. A female Silver-washed Fritillary appeared in a garden at Ashorne in Warwickshire where a male, and a European Map(!) had been photographed the previous year. An old locality for Silver-washed - Oakley Wood - is nearby but looks very unsuitable, so these sightings are something of a mystery. In Warwickshire the White Admiral sustained its population explosion of the previous year and again appeared in a number of woods away from their traditional strongholds. The pattern in Worcestershire was similar with evidence of a northward extension to its range. I did record one in the Wyre Forest before the end of June but this was an almost certain introduction, although there were also a few later records which were probably genuine. In Herefordshire it was in reasonable numbers at its known site and Dave Smith reported that it had enjoyed its best ever season for many years in Shropshire. Dispersal in the Marbled White was even more marked, with odd specimens occurring in a number of places, including a first time ever record for the Wyre Forest. Dave Hatton was also able to record a Marbled White from a railway cutting in Stafford, the first report from the county since 1955.

Small Copper, Holly Blue, Wall Brown and Common Blue were all much stronger in their second broods and again there were partial second broods of Small Blue and Wood White in some sites. In Gloucestershire, Holly Blues were reported over a wide area, having been almost completely unrecorded in the last three years. Rather puzzling was the mid-July record of a fresh Green Hairstreak on the Malverns seen separately by both Ron Hatton and Bob Sim, also two equally fresh Grizzled Skippers near Droitwich on 13th July. Ray Butchart from Rutland also reported a few Dingy Skippers on the wing in his area around the same date. Whether this is some freak late emergence or a suggestion of a second brood in normally single-brooded species I am not sure.

One butterfly with which the Branch has a particular concern is the White-letter Hairstreak and, although late in emerging this year, it was seen in a number of different sites. Roger Smith recorded one at Haseley, near Warwick, on 16th. July and others were apparently seen at Lighthorne and on the outskirts of Coventry. Martyn Davies was able to report a flourishing colony in Haugh Wood, one of four known sites within Herefordshire. There were also a number of Worcestershire records and one was photographed in the Wyre Forest, the first for some years. Jack Green reported a reasonable colony on private land near Ironbridge in Shropshire where generally it was only in low numbers. There were, however, no confirmed sightings in Gloucestershire for yet another year.

Brown Argus also did well and were very strong n the Branch's Cotswold survey area. I was also pleased to be able to locate two colonies of this butterfly in Worcestershire, although one of the sites seems very threatened by encroaching scrub. There was also a possible sighting of this butterfly in the Wyre Forest which will require further investigation next year.

Searches for Shropshire colonies of Silver-studded Blue, Duke of Burgundy and Marsh Fritillary, mentioned in the last newsletter, all proved fruitless, and although it is easy to become despondent in these circumstances it is obviously important to check out all reports of the rarer species however remote the possibility. A number of new localities for various species have been found in this way, including the Silver-spotted Skipper in Gloucestershire, which was seen once again this year in very low numbers.

Apart from Clouded Yellow, the other butterfly which particularly stands out as enjoying an excellent season was the Purple Hairstreak. They we're seen in exceptional numbers and no doubt as a result of this were reported from a number of new sites, including the new WARNACT reserve at Hampton Wood and another three new localities within the county. Bob Sim, in fact, found one in his garden in Worcester, which also produced Silver-washed Fritillary and Marbled White at other times during the summer. Interestingly, although often identified in the literature with oak trees, Purple Hairstreaks are certainly in the West Midlands just as frequently associated with Ash. For several weeks I had the pleasure of seeing these butterflies almost daily low down on an ash tree adjacent to the Car Park at County Hall in Worcester. There were also a number of reports of the butterfly being seen feeding from tall thistles and in areas well away from woods.

The problem with good summers is that some species seem to go over rather quickly and certainly as far as woodland species were concerned by mid-August there was already a distinctly end of season feeling. The few Peacocks that were around went very quickly into hibernation and there were few Commas, Small Tortoiseshells or Red Admirals to brighten up September, which was probably just as well in view of the shortage of fruit (rotting or otherwise) this year on which they could feed. September is also the month when many members catch a dose of Brown Hairstreakitis and spend long hours scanning likely looking blackthorn bushes, or chase every small orange-brown insect that moves. Most of the latter in my experience turn out to be Vapourer moths which are renowned Hairstreak look-alikes, with a similar flight pattern, and are frequenters of woodland edge habitats (and often towns) throughout the region.

Once again Small Coppers had a partial third brood and a number of fresh specimens were around at the beginning of October as were a few Small Whites which lasted well this year. So, all in all, a very good year for most species - I wonder what 1984 will bring? I would be very pleased to receive any recording forms which members have not yet sent in. Once again my thanks to all those people who have already sent in reports.

Mike Williams.

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