Friday, 21 August 2015

A Hummer & the Ladies

Disappointment awaits those looking for hulking great SUVs draped with scantily clad dames (fortunately...or unfortunately, depending on your perspective). This is strictly Lepidoptera content, starting with the fab little Hummingbird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) that swooped in only seconds after I rocked up at the Buddleja.

Bovingdon (BMT): Thursday was dark and damp and I really didn’t think much would be flying at the Brickworks. But, it never ceases to amaze me just how critical, and yet how seemingly random, timing can be. At the entrance to the site, there’s a large Buddleja bush, and it’s always my first stop. Yesterday, I arrived and almost simultaneously, in came a Hummingbird Hawk-moth, totally transforming the stagnant gloom into vivid, buoyant, frenzied action. Darting, hovering and feeding before finally being chased off by a teeny, weeny fly; I enjoyed every second it was in sight. Had I arrived a minute later, I would have missed it. A few minutes earlier and I might have carried on, ignorant of its approach. I really did feel extremely fortunate to have seen it and although the photographs don’t do it justice (no chance of a fast shutter speed unfortunately), I was chuffed to get them. For more on Hummingbird Hawk-moths, this RSPB article is short but packed with great info.

Earlier in the week, there had been a big influx of passage Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and, in the sunshine, Red Admirals, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells, Commas, Common Blues, Small and Large Whites, Speckled Woods, a Holly Blue, a Small Copper and a few worn Meadow Browns and Gate Keepers kept me busy. There’s also been a steady passage of the migrant Painted Lady butterflies. Ostensibly, they seem to stay less than 24 hours. The one I found on Monday had gone when I next visited on Wednesday but another was in its place. That too had moved on and was replaced by a further 2 on Thursday. Today, another had arrived but Wednesday’s specimen had returned and one from the previous day had lingered but incurred some damage to the rear of its hindwings. All of this week’s Painted Ladies have turned up in the same small area, rich in flowering Buddleja. This species’ obvious tendency to wander does make me wonder just how many are actually passing through at the times I’m not on site?!

The best way I’ve found of keeping track of butterflies is using photography. No two Painted Ladies are the same, as far as I can work out. Variations in their mottled patterning and/or the presence of wear or damage makes it possible to recognise individuals. I’ve definitely seen at least 9 specimens so far this year at the Brickworks with a 10th likely (on 18th June) and an 11th on another visit when I was looking for something else and didn’t take much notice or photograph it. Below are the 9 certainties and their date stamps (including the 2 repeats from today). Collated like that, they look rather beautiful and I'm glad I've kept a record, although, how long I keep it up remains to be seen!

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