It was a sunny morning when I left Exeter yesterday to go to Dartmoor but as the afternoon progressed it clouded over and eventually broke into heavy rain. I was therefore quite lucky to find what I went to Dartmoor to see.
A Marsh Fritillary sunning itself as the sun broke through the clouds momentarily
In total I saw 6 Marsh Fritillaries in the rhos pastures at Challacombe
If you look carefully individual butterflies are all subtly different in their markings
Marsh Fritillaries are now a very rare species but do flourish in a few selected locations on Dartmoor (and elsewhere)
I also found a couple of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries – another rare and declining species for which Dartmoor is another stronghold
Just before the heavy rain arrived I found this individual
Amazing details and colours in the wings
Here is a shot of a Pearl-bordered Fritillary I photographed a few years ago at Hembury Woods
It’s raining outside and there were only two moths in my trap overnight ….
So instead here is a lovely Red Admiral I photographed a couple of weeks ago when it was sunny
Orange tips have emerged – beautiful butterflies but ones that can be hard to photograph – I got lucky.
A male orange tip feeding on the nectar of stitchwort and bluebells
There were several speckled wood butterflies in my garden yesterday. They were still chasing each other around in the autumn sunshine and then occasionally basking on the vegetation.
Reflecting on the year – I think it has been a terrible year for butterflies – I’ve hardly seen any small tortoiseshells, only a couple of red admirals and a handful of painted ladies.
Butterfly Conservation is blaming a cool spring and a slow start to the summer for the low numbers of small tortoiseshell – a species that has already plummeted 73% since the 1970s. To me, a decline of that order can’t solely be explained by poor weather ….
When I was at the Seaton Wetlands Reserve last weekend I photographed this nettle. It was covered with peacock butterfly caterpillars.
If you want to see the beautiful Peacock butterfly – let some nettles survive and flourish!
One thing leads to another
The first gatekeepers of the year have emerged in my garden. Gatekeepers are also known as hedge browns.
Attractive summer butterflies which can be identified by their bright orange brown colours and the black spot on the forewing which contains two white dots. The similar looking meadow brown is duller and only has one white spot in the black dot.
The underside of the wings which again show the black spot with the two white dots.
This is a species of butterfly which is doing pretty well – it is also spreading northwards into Cumbria and Yorkshire – as a result of climate change it won’t be long before it gets to Scotland.
Finding a marsh fritillary butterfly on Dartmoor has proven to be a very long and drawn out process. Over the past couple of years I have tried on six separate occasions on specific trips and numerous other speculative occasions. Today I was finally successful.
I managed to see four different individuals in the Challacombe / Widecombe area but only managed to photograph this one individual. I think it is a female – what a stunning animal.
Marsh fritillaries have declined considerably over the past few decades – the red squares indicate extant colonies since 2000 whilst the yellow squares represent those that have been lost. Colonies are rarely large and often exist in an area of around a couple of hectares. (Map courtesy of the National Biodiversity Network).
On Dartmoor they live largely in Rhos Pastures (see here). They are a matrix of wet meadows, bogs, heaths, woodland and scrub on the lower enclosed lands of Dartmoor. Without the care and attention of the Dartmoor farmers assisted by the agri-environment grant schemes these places would have been lost.
The species rich grasslands remind me of the fen meadows of Wicken Fen where I used to work.
This is the bog bean – a species which is very uncommon but is common in the Rhos Pastures and is a nectar source for the marsh fritillaries.
After much effort I have now managed to see and photograph all seven species of Dartmoor fritillary butterflies: pearl bordered, small pearl bordered, dark green, silver washed, high brown, marsh and heath. Happy days.