Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Heath Fritillaries on Exmoor

On Monday morning the 'optimistic four' set off for Exmoor in rain and mist hoping to see Heath Fritillaries. We were (sort of) confident that the forecast would be right and sunny weather would follow in the afternoon. The big question was, what time in the afternoon? We made a quick stop on the way to look at a scarce plant which only grows on two Exmoor sites here in the South West but is apparently quite widespread in lowland Scotland, Pyrenean Valerian.
 My photos of it didn't turn out all that well as it was raining and I didn't take my time. Both the sites in which it grows are next to busy roads, so taking photos is quite a dangerous business!

When we arrived on site we had our lunch while we waited for the skies to clear. We waited....and waited....and waited. Mind you, the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and I can definitely think of worse places to wait. Eventually though, about an hour later than forecast ( which is quite impressively accurate for a change) the cloud began to break up and at the very first glimpse of the sun a couple of Heath Fritillaries took to the wing. As the weather warmed up, more and more appeared and began making the most of the first sunny and warm weather for a couple of days.
 Prime Heath Fritillary country.
 The most picturesque* place I've ever been to look at butterflies. The only way to improve this view would be to have a butterfly in it....
...Like so!
Heath Fritillary can be extremely variable as these three examples show.
 This nice front on view is especially for anyone like my daughter who thinks butterflies are lovely as long as she doesn't have to see their 'buggy face'.
This underneath view is for no reason whatsoever...I just wondered what it would look like...erm ...different!
As the afternoon got warmer the butterflies got on with  the sort of things butterflies get on with.
 Not long after we arrived, while it was still cold and damp Dave somehow spotted this Heath Fritillary resting on a Heath Spotted Orchid. It had been cold and damp all morning and all of the previous day too. Therefore this butterfly had been sitting here in this position for well over 40 hours!
 This is the same butterfly two hours later and warm enough at last to open up its wings.
Heath Spotted Orchid: A spectacular specimen.

Yesterday I went for a walk on Axe Cliff to Culverhole to check on the Small Blue situation. I was surprised how few butterflies were about considering the sunny weather. I did see a couple of rather jaded looking Small Blues, three Common Blues and only two Dingy Skippers. That was it, apart from the always present Speckled Wood and a nice fresh Small Tortoiseshell, which sadly seem to be in very low numbers this year. I was also surprised to find some Pyramidal Orchids in flower already and a Bee Orchid, which like the ones I found at Branscombe last year appears to be an aberration but not a named form.

 Pyramidal Orchid with resident spider.
Aberrant Bee Orchid, with very little patterning on the lip.
Beautifully fresh flower with the pollinia still intact.

In the undercliff woods I was treated to my first ever views of this beast.

 Lesser Stag Beetle.

 This is a female, unlike in Stag Beetle the female and male have the same sized jaws, but you can tell the female because she has two little bumps in the centre of her head. If you can't see them clearly in this photo, try this....
What a beast! 
Nowhere near as big as a (greater) Stag Beetle which apparently is more often seen (where it occurs) I've yet to see one though... It's bound to happen one day. I'm really looking forward to it too!

* I used to work for a man who pronounced this pictureskew! Although I'd cringe every time he said it I never gave in to the urge to correct him.

1 comment:

Eleanor Blyth said...

How do you get such wonderful pictures? Your information of the Heath Fritillary was invaluable to my biology case study.