Last Of The Season?

While at Beeding Cement Works (near Shoreham) on Friday 27th September, along with a small crowd which had gathered to watch a Long-tailed Blue, Pete Varkala spotted a female Brown Hairstreak. With most eyes now watching out for rare, late season migrants, she might be the last seen in Sussex this year.

Noar Hill

Unfortunately I haven't seen BH this year but I thought I might get my last chance today. There have been reports of reasonable numbers from Noar Hill in Hampshire in the last couple of weeks and the forecast for this morning was not bad. I set off about nine thirty but during the course of my half hour journey the cloud came over ensuring that adults were off the menu.
So I decided an egg hunt was in order. 
In the last couple of years my success at Noar Hill has been variable including last year when I found none at all in two visits.
However this time was much better finding 42 in about two hours searching from all over the site plus five old egg shells from this years hatch. A good number 10+  were outside the reserve itself along the lane to the north but it was disappointing to to see the hedgerow severely flailed on both sides up to the reserve which must have destroyed numbers of eggs.
It will be good to return in the winter, after the leaves have dropped, which will make it easier to count the eggs.

Hairstreak Butterfly Trail

The Brown Hairstreak in Worcs now has its own waymarked trail thanks to a partnership between Worcestershire County Council's Countryside Service and West Midlands Butterfly Conservation.  The 6.5 mile walk starts at Grafton Flyford church, passes through Grafton Wood and takes in part of the long distance Wychavon Way before returning to Grafton Flyford via Earl's Common and Himbleton.  The route passes through some very attractive Worcestershire countryside with distant views of Bredon Hill and the Malvern Hills.  Much of the route passes through farmland where hedgerows are being especially managed for the benefit of the Brown Hairstreak. There is a pub in Himbleton approximately halfway which should appeal to real ale fans.
The route is fully waymarked with signs which feature the Butterfly Conservation and Wildlife Trust logos and can be walked in either direction.  I have already walked a short section of the route earlier this month and spotted a female Brown Hairstreak so, as a change from Grafton Wood and the opportunity to record Brown Hairstreaks in new areas, the trail is highly recommended.  Our Thurs Streakers group have already committed themselves to searching for eggs along the full length of the trail over the winter.  A leaflet providing a route map and further details will be available shortly and can be downloaded from
One final plea, however, and this also applies to visitors to Grafton Wood, is to please ensure you keep to public rights of way.  Straying from footpaths (which are clearly marked on the map above) can lead to problems with local landowners which we are keen to avoid.  As a butterfly of the wider countryside, much of our success in conserving the Brown Hairstreak is about working with local landowners and retaining their goodwill. 

Doings at Shipton Bellinger

Shipton Bellinger Roughs consists of a large area of mixed scrub, with a high sloe content, rough grazing and arable fields on chalk and Clay-with-Flints near Tidworth on the Hants / Wilts border.  It is MOD land, part of Salisbury Plain Training Area but outside the red flag area.  It is criss-crossed by rights of way and is well used by locals. 

There is a scatter of prominent ash trees along the scrub edge, and a 200m row of tall ash along an old lane between two rough grazing fields.  Both sexes gather on these ashes, especially the ash row.  I have seen mating pairs on the ash row (mid morning, no courtship, smash & grab, 45 mins duration).  The grid ref for this ash row is SU 222456.  Park in village hall car park at SU 228456 and walk up Burford Road byway. 

Brown Hairstreak was 'discovered' here in the 1984-85 winter, when I surveyed the Andover area for eggs.  Recently the site has become well known as a top BH area, and is well visited by Hants BC members.  A BH transect has been set up. 

I try to visit for a morning during the peak season period each year, to count BH around the ash trees.  Recent counts are:-

30 in 5 hours on 15/8/08
44 (record) in 4 hrs on 9/8/09
26 in 1 hr (only) on 18/8/09
30 in 4 hrs on 15/8/10
24 in 2hrs 30mins on 19/8/12

On Sun Sept 1st 2013 I saw a probable 26 individuals, including 8 females.  The males were very worn.  The morning started cool, and no butterflies appeared before 9.30 when the Speckled Woods started.  The first BH was seen at 9.45, sitting in an ash tree.  From 10.15-11.30 they were nicely active around the ash trees. 

I saw males flush females out of ash trees on three occasions, but the females must have been mated for they rejected the males.  Males quietened down around 11.30 and the females started to get into egg-laying mode. 

One thing that bugs me about BH is why do mated females visit ash trees infested by males in mid morning if they're not in need of male services?  They don't seem to be feeding - ash-budding - and just get pestered.  Are they merely keeping the males in situ in case they need a second mating?  NB Purple Emperor females do not behave like this. 

Note that both sexes descend from the ash row to sit on nettles and docks on the south side of the row in mid morning.  I've no idea why but it's a good place to photograph them.

Here's a couple of photos, starting with the ash row -

Here's a map.  Blue = ash, pink = scrub + sloe, orange = fields -

Butterfly Visit to Ireland 17th to 26th August 2013

Brown Hairstreak
Visits to a wide range of butterfly sites across the isle included four with specific Brown Hairstreak targets where success was achieved. The BrH stronghold is in the west - counties Clare, Galway and the most easterly location across the Shannon in Tipperary.
Dromore Nature Reserve and Gortlecka are two known BrH sites. Dromore NR  is a well-managed lakeside habitat of suitable blackthorn, ash and nectar sources on the edge of Dromore Wood. We were fortunate to locate one female briefly showing itself at ground level before disappearing into the hedgerow.
Gortlecka is typical Burren location on limestone pavement. The literature states that BrH behaviour here is not similar to their UK cousins in that sightings of males are more frequently seen on the ground. Our late visit, 5 to 6.30pm, didn't provide time to fully test this idea but our three sightings were indeed all at ground level including two males with none visible on the one or two ashes.
Carney Commons is the Tipperary easterly site and has regular BrH sightings. The management here is excellent providing many likely spots for Brown Hairstreak brethren. Soon after arrival we found an ash with at least three resident and highly active males competing for the territory. A joy to behold!
We returned to this area, Clare on the west coast, the following day despite less favourable weather with hopes of further BrH action. En route to Lake Bunny, a known BrH site, I was inspired to stop off at a side road I spied from the journeying car. It proved to hold magical Brown Hairstreak hedgerows accompanied by an initial half hour burst of warm sunshine. The resulting female sighting was quickly joined by a second some inches away. Disappearance of the sunshine enabled us to survey for suitable habitat for a mile or so down this quiet road before making a turn-about-heel (u-turn?). The Little People must have been our Guardian Angels for on return to our earlier sightings spot the sun broke out again highlighting a perfect female ovipositing in camera range on the blackthorn hedgerow, presumably one of the earlier individuals.
My visit to Ireland exceeded expectations in managing to see BrH on four sites leaving me feeling confident that this could be built on should I make further Brown Hairstreak visits to the Emerald Isle.
Should you wish to visit the Little People some recommendations:

Ireland's Butterflies - a review
Nash, Boyd and Hardiman

Discovering Irish Butterflies & their Habitats
Jesmond Harding

First Of The Month

Having seen a couple of Brown Hairstreak in perfect condition yesterday, I couldn't resist another bash at Steyning Rifle Range this morning (1st September). The weather was much better than forecast and I was surprised to have the place to myself, with the exception of
BC Sussex member Leigh Prevost. Two visitors from Rochester appeared later in the day, just in time for Leigh to locate a Brownie for them; their first ever! Of the 7 females I saw at close range, 4 were in very good condition, and 2 were completely unmarked - a great result for September!

Hairstreaks Making Hay

Visitor numbers are now decreasing at Steyning Rifle Range, but not the number of Brown Hairstreaks on view. Nine females were active this morning (31st August) in the warm harvest sunshine, including two which remained just above head-height. Both of these were in perfect condition and probably haven't started egg-laying yet. The others varied in condition, from battered to quite reasonable, with the specimen below being at the better end of the scale.