THERE'S a special place not too far from where I live which must remain secret, but which supports something very special and exciting - marsh fritillary butterflies. These are dazzling little insects, with a wonderful chequered colouring.
The lack of grazing on this small site gives rise to long, lush grasses dominated by upright brome. However the absence of such management is not great news for many of the limestone loving flower species which get choked out. Only where the foot traffic is heavy are the grasses are kept in check; it still has a good population of commoner orchids, vetches and knapweeds etc..
Devil's-bit scabious is quite common here; the reason why this is significant is that this is the food plant of this butterfly's larval stage (i.e. when it is a caterpillar). I knew that there was a colony of marsh fritillaries, but had not managed to see them before. The individuals that I saw this evening (05/05/11) were fresh and bright, and I suspect have appeared quite early this year.
The coolness of the evening made the female adults much easier to approach and hence I even managed to get some to perch on my hand.
The tapering shape of their abdomens suggests that the individuals that I saw were all females. This once locally common butterfly species has declined rapidly where it is dependant on fast disappearing wet grasslands which support devil's-bit scabious. However it has managed to adapt to live on dry limestone or chalk grasslands where this larval food species also exists. This colony is however very isolated, so is probably very vulnerable to extinction should the site be managed differently.
There were also a number of common blue butterflies chasing one another, or in the case of the couple below, simply resting for the night.
Recently I seem to be coming across a lot of reptiles. I had already found small a slowworm under a piece of discarded chipboard. I very nearly stood on this one (shown below) as I made my way back to the car; it was a case of just stopping my foot coming down on it at the last second. Fortunately it remained absolutely still whilst I lay down on the ground ("slowworm eye level") to take its picture...(note to self - must get a macro lens!).
Finally I went hunting for a little owl which I have seen in the local area, but to no avail. However I did spot these two male pheasants having a "barny".