Sunday, 10 September 2017

Ragged royalty

Barra for an American Redstart would have been a bridge too far this weekend: Brighton was a more practical destination to see a new species for me in Britain: a Queen of Spain Fritillary butterfly. It's difficult to believe that almost eleven years have passed since I saw my last new British butterfly. That was a Monarch, one of which was just around the corner from a Long-tailed Blue I found earlier in the day on the Isles of Scilly back in October 2006. A few days after that, a Queen of Spain Fritillary was also seen on the islands near the Trenoweth flower farm but despite much searching I was unable to find it.
Male Queen of Spain Fritillary - it looks like it survived a bird attack judging by the state of hind-wing on the right hand side
A slightly more flattering photograph of the fritillary showing the most intact hind-wing
Details of a sighting of three of these rare migrants at Halcombe Farm near Piddinghoe first emerged two weekends ago and was immediately of interest. Unfortunately, the news broke the day before the gloriously sunny Bank Holiday Monday - not the sort of day you want to be driving along the south coast, and I couldn't get away in any case. Last weekend was equally compromised, as being on call for emergencies meant that I was unable to leave Dorset.
The species is known for spending much of the time basking on the ground: this one was no exception
A brief bout of nectaring provided one of the few opportunities to get a shot of the bold silver spots on the underwing
Discussing the survival chances of the fritillaries with Phil Sterling during the week, he was pretty convinced that unless the weather turned really foul, they would still be present this weekend. So with one eye on the forecast, and the other on Butterfly Conservation's excellent Sussex branch website, I resolved to go on Saturday as full sunshine was promised throughout the morning. Internet updates suggested that two individuals were still present on Thursday, both looking more than a little worn, and that was enough to persuade me to make the effort of an early start to beat the traffic yesterday morning.
This Clouded Yellow was one of 15 butterfly species on view at Halcome Farm
I arrived at Halcombe Farm around 0900 and began combing the area around a bonfire which was being used as a lek site by the fritillaries - all three having been identified as males. As the morning warmed up, a Clouded Yellow landed nearby but there was no sign of the fritillaries. Other butterflies, and then another butterfly watcher, arrived. We split up and shortly before 1000 he gave me a shout to indicate he had found one.
A female Adonis Blue was lying low in the grass
A male Common Blue was easier to see
Queen of Spain Fritillary is reasonably common on the near continent but still very rare in the UK with just a few hundred records and a small number of unsuccessful attempts at colonising documented. So despite the slightly ragged appearance of the visiting royalty, I was very glad I got to see one of the trio before their inevitable demise, particularly as the famous bonfire is apparently scheduled to go up in smoke within a matter of days.
Small Copper
Small Heath
Well done and thanks to the diligent transect walker, Dave Harris, who first discovered them, to Neil Hulme for getting the news and directions out to the wider world, and to the landowner Colin Appleton for allowing access to the site which has provided a lot of pleasure to many visitors over the last fortnight.
Brown Argus
Painted Lady - another migrant at Halcombe Farm
The bonfire adopted by the Queen of Spain Fritillaries

1 comment:

  1. Intriguing post. BTW what's the significance of the bonfire?
    Good hunting