A Brown Letter Day!

Having never seen Brown Hairstreak before, and being inspired by reading the Ash Brownies Blog all summer, I (Paul Brewster) and my wife Carys decided that when news of emergence came through we would attempt to catch up with this enigmatic species. Once Gill had posted that emergence was underway at Grafton Wood, Worcestershire, we started to plan, but just at that time the good weather and our days off started to go out of sync. I emailed Gill whose response was fantastic, providing me with lots of info regarding where to park, access details and the best areas to search in Grafton Wood, and even sending maps with highlighted areas for parking, footpaths and prime locations.

Eventually one of our days off coincided with a warm, sunny day and our plan swung into action on 20th August to be precise! We headed down the M6 from mid-Cheshire, onto the M5 and then off towards Grafton Flyford as directed by Gill. The 98 mile journey flew by and we soon pulled up at the church, parked and took the path through the farm down over the fields towards Grafton Wood. As directed by Gill, our search began along the old orchard hedges, full of blackthorn bushes and bramble flowers, both a good sign. A short distance on we came across two other brownie hunters with their camera lenses stuck into the hedge – this had got to be a good sign. On approaching them, sure enough, they were watching an egg-laying female Brown Hairstreak; success, we had seen our lifer butterfly. For the next hour at least she gave us a fantastic show, egg-laying and then basking, allowing brilliant photographic opportunities for all, even for my digiscoping set-up

Gatekeepers and Small Coppers also showed in the same hedge but soon we decided to reluctantly leave them all to have our lunch. After lunch we returned to the wood to explore further. At the pond we found a nectaring female Brown Hairstreak on the hemp agrimony, our second brownie and our first self-found one. Nearby we saw the first of many Silver-washed Fritillaries whizzing around as is their wont with several vanessid and white species also present. On the pond margins was a smart male Ruddy Darter Dragonfly and nearby several Southern Hawkers, both ‘lions’ to the Brown Hairstreaks’ ‘gazelles’ in this miniature world of predator and prey. We carried on through the wood, impressed at how it is being managed for butterflies and ended the day by finding the scarce and unobtrusive violet helleborine tucked away on the woodland floor.

We reluctantly left Grafton Wood and headed home northwards to Cheshire, certain that we would be back many times in the future. Again, I would like to say a big thank-you to Gill for all her assistance and for helping us see our first ever Brown Hairstreaks, in the same year as we had seen our first Black Hairstreaks and coincidentally had also seen Green, Purple and White-letter Hairstreaks – 2013 what a great butterfly year it has been.

Only here for the beer

August Bank Holiday Monday saw the local Worcs Streakers manning an information stall at the Pershore Plum Fayre.  This was our second visit to this event which celebrates Pershore and the surrounding area's historical and cultural links with all things plummy.  We reckon the Brown Hairstreak qualifies because of its associations with various members of the Plum family and, in any event, it is a great opportunity to raise awareness of one of our plummiest butterflies with the wider community.  This year, we shared our stall with Colin and Graham of fromthenotebook who were launching the new Brown Hairstreak Ale.

Offering free samples of beer certainly helped to attract interest in our stall and we had an incredibly busy but productive day.  The improved weather this summer and generally more butterflies around seems to have made the public more butterfly conscious and we sold many ID leaflets together with lots of beer!  The Hairstreak Ale particularly was well received and we are hoping that we can now persuade a few of our local pubs and off licenses to stock it.  In the meantime, for Hairstreakers a little further afield, the beer can be ordered at www.fromthenotebook.co.uk  A donation from every bottle sold goes to Butterfly Conservation.



Hairstreak Peak

The Brown Hairstreak now appears to be at peak in Sussex, based on results at the well-watched Steyning Rifle Range site. Large numbers of hairstreak fans continue to visit and yesterday (28th August) saw about half a dozen females at work in the blackthorn, with nearly as many staying up high. Some of the females are still in surprisingly good condition. The butterfly was very obliging (unlike the previous day), so everyone went away with some pleasing images.

Sometimes it's nice to find peace and solitude while out butterflying, but Steyning provides the goods at the opposite end of the scale; there's often a real party atmosphere here as we celebrate the last few weeks of another season. When the scores on the doors are counted, this will prove to have been a rather average betulae season locally, and I believe some parts of the country have fared significantly better. If you want to see a Brownie in good condition this year, the coming weekend might be your last chance.

Grafton Wood Brown Hairstreak Open Day

Sunday 25th August saw the most anticipated, exciting day of the year for Grafton Wood  - the annual Brown Hairstreak Open Day!

As I looked out of my window first thing on Sunday morning, I groaned....breezy and heavily overcast. However, the forecast promised better weather for the afternoon so my spirits were reasonably high as I drove over to Worcestershire. And when I arrived at Grafton church hall car park, 45 minutes before the scheduled start, there was already a reasonable (and expectant) crowd assembled.

I decided to set off straight away for the wood in an effort to locate a brownie before the masses descended. No chance! - a quick tour of all the recently favoured spots, that had provided so many sightings over the previous two weeks, yielded nothing at all. Not just no Brownies, but no butterflies of any sort, aside from the very occasional Small White and Meadow Brown.

Soon after, large groups of people started arriving in the meadow to the west of the wood, including a party from Cheshire and Peak District BC led by David Tomlinson. This was going to be tricky....how would we keep around 60 people entertained on a butterfly trip when there were NO butterflies flying.

By about noon the skies had lightened a tiny bit and the temperature had risen by a few degrees, to the extent that at least some butterflies had now stirred. A Brown Argus had been spotted, along with some Common Blues, plus a couple of Silver Washed Fritillaries, and spirits were definitely raised by the sight of a Painted Lady. However, the butterfly everyone had come to see was still proving extremely elusive and, although there were a few claims to have seen one or two Brownies briefly flying along the top of the high hedgerow bordering the orchard, there were no confirmed sightings at the point lunch was served back at the church hall.

Despite the lack of success during the morning, lunch had a party atmosphere, out on the lawn beside the church hall. Colin Bowler kept us all amused as he tried to dodge the wasps, whilst supplying samples of, and taking orders for, his recently launched range of Butterfly Beers. But, unfortunately, the majority of the 60 odd attendees for the morning search left straight after lunch and missed out on what was to prove a spectacular afternoon. The plan after lunch had been to go on the inaugural walk of the six-mile 'Hairstreak Trail' that takes in both Grafton Wood and a large chunk of the immediate surrounding countryside, comprising core Brownie habitat and distribution. However, with rapidly brightening skies and the appearance of the sun, it was decided to shorten the walk and concentrate on the part closest to Grafton Wood. By the time the group of 14 on the walk had reached the wood, Brownie sightings were being reported thick and fast - three females had been seen together on the core hedgerow. One was still present as our walk reached the location, followed minutes later by another three along an adjoining hedge. One observer remarked that once the sun came out it was like a switch had been thrown and incredibly, after having spent 2 hours during the morning with no sightings at all, six female Brownies had now been seen in the space of five minutes!!

Everyone who'd stayed for the walk got to see at least four of these females, the latter three all engaged in egg laying, and also enjoyed plenty of photo opportunites. At least, until the cows arrived and showed rather too much interest in the proceedings, whereupon we continued the walk through the wood and back up to the church hall again.

No more brownies were spotted, but the remainder of the walk was very interesting and informative, and ended in brilliant, hot sunshine. Elsewhere however, a seventh female was seen on the core hedgerow by another group, and two more were witnessed in the car park by Colin and his wasp entourage. All in all, a challenging but ultimately fantastic day!!

More To Come

Steyning Rifle Range continues to draw more Hairstreak-hunters than Hairstreaks at the moment, with the now standard 'half dozen' females being recorded yesterday (23rd August). The better news is that there are still mint condition specimens to be found, although many of those which have been out egg laying are already accumulating nicks and scratches. A pristine female hung from a bunch of ash keys in the largest Master Tree, just above head height, refusing to drop any lower until her eggs have ripened. Another unblemished example was found in a shady area of blackthorn on the path up to the site, just above the allotments. The weather forecast needs to improve before my guided walk tomorrow (Sunday 25th August, see http://www.sussex-butterflies.org.uk/events.html) .

Recent Worcestershire Highlights

There has been a wealth (and diversity) of Brown Hairstreak sightings in Worcestershire over the last 2 weeks, in what seems to be an exceptional year for this butterfly.

I've attempted to summarise and diary everything I know about - as follows:

Sat 10th Aug - I saw 2 Bramble nectaring males and one freshly emerged female on the main hedgerow to the west of Grafton Wood. One of these males was extremely obliging and I managed to take 314 photos of it. This despite inadvertently knocking it off its perch at one point, whereupon it flew out across the adjacent
field, landed in the grass for a couple of minutes, and then flew back into virtually the same position in the
hedge it had been in before, although this time in an even better pose. Luck was definitely with me that day!

Mon 12th Aug - Gill and Geoff Thompson and I had 8 more sightings of a mix of male and female, nectaring, Brownies both in and around the western side of Grafton Wood.

Weds 14th Aug - After Tuesdays washout - with no Brownie sightings being reported from Grafton - Wednesday's forecast looked much more hopeful. However, sightings were slow throughout the day with only 4 or 5 separate ones being reported - a mix of males and females - despite the presence of a number of experienced observers: Gill and Geoff were there from late morning onwards; a fairly large group of volunteers, who were cutting down overgrown blackthorn within the wood, were there for most of the day; and I was there from early afternoon onwards.

Away from the Grafton area Hugh Glennie saw 4 separate Brownies flying in the known assembly tree at Rous Lench - 3 landed in view and were all males. He later saw 3 flying in (what is now) a new assembly Ash nearby, 2 of these settled in view and were both male.

Having visited the known hotspot around Shurnock Court and failed to see anything in the main assembly there, I headed off to Hollowfields Road to an area close to where a large number of eggs were found last winter. No Brownies seen in any of the trees there but I did briefly see a male in the nearby hedgerow nectaring on Bramble.

Thurs 15th Aug - (The best day yet for sightings) Gill had up to 20 separate sightings throughout the day in the Grafton Wood area, of males and females, considered to represent at least 10 separate individuals. The majority of these were seen around the pond towards the NW corner of the wood, with a 'quiet period' between 13:30 and 15:15, where nothing was seen, followed by a resumption of activity with the last one being recorded around 6pm. Again most of these were seen nectaring on either Bramble or Hemp Agrimony.

1 male was also seen by Hugh Glennie well outside the wood, to the NE, flying in an Ash tree. This tree was unknown to us before but is now being monitored for possible 'Assembly Tree' status.

Sat 17th Aug - Whilst the rest of the core Grafton Wood Brownhairstreakers group were 'sunning' themselves on a weekend-away to South Wales's West Williamston Brownie site.....Geoff saw a female at Shurnock Court, exhibiting possible egg laying behaviour amongst the blackthorn.

Tues 20th Aug - Hugh Glennie and Pete Seal saw at least 3 separate Brownies in the known assembly tree at Rous Lench; 3 more in the newly discovered tree in the same area; and 1 male in a small Ash on Hollowfields Road.

Mike Williams had also, earlier, seen 1 male in that same small Ash tree on Hollowfields Road, but in addition saw 4 to 5 separate Brownies (all male as far as he could tell) in a newly discovered Ash on Huddington Lane, again in the vicinity of an area where plenty of eggs had been found last winter.

Gill, Geoff and I had 7 more sightings at Grafton comprising two egg laying females,1 female flyby, 1 female nectaring and exhibiting egg-laying behaviour, and 3 males on hemp by the pond. Estimate at least 5 separate individuals - males now becoming a little bit tatty but all females seen were still in pristine condition. Another 2 sightings were made by Paul Brewster, and one other Brownie fan, of  males nectaring on hemp by the pond.

So, in conclusion, the breeding season so far seems to be panning out in a fairly predictable manner (pristine males seen first, followed about a week later by pristine females, males then starting to appear a bit tatty, females being observed laying eggs) - albeit this year with two notable differences:
1) There has been a huge increase in sightings of nectaring Brownies than in a normal year (especially in the Grafton area)
2) There have been many more sightings of adults than usual

Assume 'point 2' is (at least partly) as a direct consequence of 'point 1' although, even allowing for that, it does appear that this is turning out to be an exceptional year for the butterfly!

Brown Hairstreak Open Day

Attention everyone! Drop whatever you're planning to do on Sunday 25th August and come along to the annual Brown Hairstreak Open Day at Grafton Wood, Worcestershire!

I have now seen just shy of 40 adults over 4 days on my 2013 Brownie Pilgrimage to Grafton which, for anyone unfamiliar with the butterfly, is an absolutely mind-blowing figure! Never before have so many adults been seen and there have been some fantastic photo opportunities for everyone who has visited. The first egg-laying females were seen on Tuesday so there is a good chance of seeing them on Sunday also, plus the chance to see one of the beautiful pinhead-sized "sea urchin" eggs up close. If you own a hand lens with good magnification (10x or more advised), do bring it along and you wont be disappointed!

We will be meeting at the Three Parishes Village Hall, Grafton Flyford (next to the church) at 11am and there will be a guided walk onto the reserve including lunchtime refreshments.

There will be the opportunity to order and sample the fantastic new Brown Hairstreak beer. A donation will be made to Butterfly Conservation for every bottle sold so get those orders in!

There is also the brand new Hairstreak Butterfly Trail to be walked. It is 6 miles in length and takes about 4 hours to complete but feel free to walk as little or as much as you like. And of course, the walk is around prime Brown Hairstreak habitat so theres always the chance you'll see a Brownie along the way :) Amanda Hill will be leading the walk along the trail at 2pm, starting from Grafton Flyford church.

For more information on the event, please contact Mike Williams at mike@stagborough.fsnet.co.uk.

Hope to see you all there :)

Slow Going In Sussex

Brown Hairstreak numbers have been a little disappointing at Steyning Rifle Range this season, although I'm convinced the best is still to come, just in time for my guided walk on Sunday 25th August (see http://www.sussex-butterflies.org.uk/events.html). Only 5 were seen on Tuesday (20th August) and it took me until 2.45 pm yesterday to wring out 6 females, most of which had suffered significant damage despite their relative youth.

Doings in North Wilts

On Sun 18th I carried out my customary systematic search along some hedge lengths of the Wilts Wildlife Trust hay meadow reserve system near Minety, north west of Swindon.  I try to do this on a couple of early mornings in each flight season.  In effect it's a Brown Hairstreak transect, conducted in suitable weather as the butterfly is approaching peak season, with the males fully active.  Whether the data actually mean anything is, of course, another matter.  This Sunday the butterflies seemed to be in catch-up mode, after losing a day to poor weather on the Saturday. 

Last year my highest tally was eight, achieved on two separate occasions.  Only the most favoured ash trees (which I call primary trees) were occupied then. 

This Sunday my route totalled a record 23, including 3 females.  Nearly all the ash trees with a history of being used were occupied, both the primary and the secondary trees.  There was some overspill on to maple and elm.  I almost saw a pair join, at 10.35 (no courtship, just an attempted smash and grab raid) but they were separated by a sudden gust of wind.  By 11am the males had quietened right down, so I went Emperoring. 

This suggests that the butterfly has emerged in good numbers in this district, despite the cold late spring and a lot of poor weather during the larval growth period.  The previous highest tally here was 13. 

The butterfly began in the N Wilts area ca Aug 7th (I saw 2 at the Minety site early on the 9th).

The habitat consists of old hay meadows (mainly SSSI) with thick and quite tall hedges, containing much sloe and a fair scatter of ash and other trees, on Oxford Clay. 

Goings On In Upper Thames

Hi All

Are many of you like me suffering a first sports injury? It's 'Arboreal butterfly neck' and indeed goes with the territory following an amazing Purple Emperor flight season surpassed by a sumglorious if late start, to the Brown hairstreak ash-party.

My BrH recording had a wonderful kick-off on the 8th of August with my first sighting being a pair in cop high on a regularly visit ash assembly tree here in Bucks. A singleton male at site B was the prelude to a further pair in cop high on another annually visited assembly tree at site C, a 3 minute's drive away. B and C were just over the border in Oxfordshire.

Many Ash Brownies may be familiar with the excellent piece of work carried out my Andrew Middleton, Liz Goodyear et al on 'Territorial Activity of Brown Hairstreak, in particular its timing' in 2008. A recent reread inspired me to do an early morning visit to the sites above. Wednesday 14th August was the awaited day with blue skies and unbridled sunshine at 7am in hometown Aylesbury Ducks.

I quickly set off with friend and butterfly authority Alan Wingrove arriving on site at 8.25am to local dappled sunshine. Air temperature perhaps 16 deg C? First sighting was a female which flew to a nearby hawthorn where it alighted sunning itself for 10 minutes. It made several flights around this hawthorn before moving to the ash assembly tree nearby where a second BrH was located by us at 8.47 am. Until 8.55 the light dappled cloud continued to dominate then cleared to trigger near constant BrH activity on the assembly tree. Being careful never to over-count we recorded at least 3 males and one female participating in this activity. A 100% view of the tree would perhaps have evidenced significantly more?

A return to site B above by 9.20 am was a further joy - 3 BrH immediately apparent on assembly tree. A further male clearly identified to total 4 individuals. We felt there were probably more than 4 but we were unable to substantiate this. There were several clashes carried out by varied combinations of the 4 males - no females identified.

The penultimate sentence of Andrew and Liz's paper states: "It is hoped that this short note will encourage observers to start recording earlier in the morning". I have finally managed to put these word of wisdom into practice - at least for one early start being a night-owl!

Unusual Sightings

These Brown Hairstreaks certainly get around. It is often said that looking for Brown Hairstreaks is like waiting for a bus with nothing much happening for several hours then two turning up at once. Redditch Council has now gone one step further by providing the Brown Hairstreak with its own bus shelter (photo courtesy of Wayne Beard, Redditch Borough Council). This rather fetching mural has been provided for the bus travellers of Winyates Green on the outskirts of Redditch and was produced as part of the town's Britain in Bloom entry. The mural celebrates the Brown Hairstreak's arrival in north-east Worcestershire, a feat already chronicled on this site. So something to savour while waiting for the next bus to the town centre and hopefully something which will encourage local residents to keep a look out for Brown Hairstreaks in the area.

Meanwhile, down in Surrey we can report another possible first for the Brown Hairstreak with an appearance in a moth trap in Chessington. Jim Porter found a male in his 125W MVL Robinson trap on the night of 9/10 August. Apparently, eggs have been previously recorded about a mile from the house but the fact that it was a male and the slightly worn nature of Jim's photo perhaps suggests an assembly tree closer to home. Certainly, it appears, like Worcs, that the Brown Hairstreak is doing well in Surrey and expanding its range. Nevertheless, to turn up in a moth trap is highly unusual. I have certainly heard of Purple Hairstreaks being recorded at light especially when mothing within a wood but never before a Brown Hairstreak.

Emergence well underway at Grafton Wood

The last two days has seen a flurry of Brownie sightings at Grafton Wood in Worcestershire. These sightings are the first to be recorded since the initial one on Sunday 28th July.

Yesterday yielded a minimum of 4 separate adults/sightings, at least 3 of which were male with the sex of the 4th undetermined. Today I had 8 separate sightings at different places spread across the 4 hours that I was there. All the butterflies I was able to observe closely were male. However, I bumped into John Tilt - reserve manager - at one point, and he reported that 2 females had also been seen (by him) today - these being the first recorded females of the season.

One interesting, and potentially important, fact to come from these sightings is that out of the 12 - assumed male - butterflies observed over the two days, 6 of them were found nectaring on Bramble - all in the afternoon. (Of the other 6 - 1 was feeding on honeydew off a Field Maple leaf, 2 were flying high along the top of a hedge, and 3 were seen in trees, exhibiting typical (male) 'assembly tree behaviour').

There was a theory aired a few weeks ago, during the peak of the Purple Emperor flight period, that one reason for the apparent large number of grounded Emperor sightings this year was due to the absence of aphids, and hence aphid honeydew, up in the trees. At that point we had discussed, if this theory was correct, whether it would have the same impact on Brownies and whether it would lead to an increase in sightings this year, especially of male butterflies, as they were forced lower down into hedgerows in order to search out nectar sources. Maybe it's too early to tell, but the fact that 50% of male sightings here, over the last two days, have been of nectaring butterflies....who knows!!

Sussex Off The Mark

The Brown Hairstreak season is now underway in Sussex, with sightings of both male and female butterflies. Knepp Castle Estate produced the first, beating bookies' favourite Steyning Rifle Range to the off. The latter came back strongly, with good views of two fillies yesterday morning (4th August). One female was followed for more than 20 minutes, during which time there was no attempt at egging. I suspect she had just emerged. Even if she has already been mated, it might well be a week before she's ready to lay. Expect the Steyning Stampede to start this coming weekend.

Another Worcestershire Sighting

Following on from Sunday's report of an adult Brownie being seen at Grafton Wood, a second Worcs sighting was confirmed yesterday afternoon. This time it was in a village, a few miles to the north of Grafton Wood.

It was confirmed as a male and it was seen in a known and long-standing assembly tree. As this tree resides in the garden of a very keen (and very lucky) Brownhairstreaker, it is the most closely monitored of all assembly trees in Worcs and almost every year, naturally enough, gives rise to the first confirmed Brownie sighting in the county.