Thursday, 1 August 2013

Butterflies (and butterfly watchers) looking up!

Our butterfly transect counts (done for Butterfly Conservation) got off to a late start this year. Our walk starts just up the road from our house in Llanfairfechan, and goes through woodland (3 sections), a small field (usually grazed by ponies) which is good for thistles, leading to a small car-park with brambles (1 section), then 3 sections leading up-hill past oaks and ashes (Purple Hairstreak territory, binoculars needed!) onto open sheep-grazed fields. On the way down we cover Section 8 along a narrow road with good nectar plants on each side.

Dark Green Fritillary on Creeping Thistle
Methodology suggests starting on the first warm day from April 1st (week 1) or even earlier if warm enough. This year we started on May 5 (week 5), when the temperature was 16 deg, and the butterfly count was 5 – three Green-veined Whites, a Comma and a Peacock. We have managed to do counts in all but one week since week 5, but numbers and diversity have mostly been very disappointing. By week 18 things were improving, with 8 species recorded, and today (temp 22 deg) has been outstanding – 9 species, total count 82, with a further 4 species in or near our garden.

The stars this afternoon were 2 Dark Green Fritillaries, 3 Purple Hairstreaks and a cloud of mud-puddling Green-veined Whites. The Fritillary is not uncommon in N Wales (easily seen at Newborough, for example) but we only get odd ones on our transects (not even annually) and I don’t know where they come from. The Purple Hairstreaks inhabit the canopy of oaks, where egg-laying takes place, but they will come lower down to seek out honey-dew on ashes, or occasionally to take nectar from brambles. The mud-puddlers are male G-v Whites, seeking out salts (sodium etc) to replace those lost during mating. I’ve never seen such a cloud of white butterflies in Britain before, although it is a common sight in warmer places.

Mud-puddling Green-veined Whites
Today’s list: seen on transects (in addition to species already mentioned): Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Large Skipper and Speckled Wood. Plus in/near our garden: Large White, Small White, Peacock and Red Admiral. Let’s hope those migrant Painted Ladies are heading our way! Anyone interested in starting weekly butterfly counts, or in submitting butterfly records to their local Recorder (who will be really delighted!), should go to the Butterfly Conservation web-site.