Ashclyst Forest – 14th July 2011
(by Mike Lock)
The day dawned fairly sunny with only a few passing clouds. Eight of us gathered at Sprydon Beacon Car Park and were almost immediately greeted by a Silver-washed Fritillary that flitted round us and then alighted on some bramble flowers, giving the first photo opportunity of many for this beautiful species.
We began by heading northwest, away from the road and down to the edge of the forest where it abuts on open fields with scattered large oaks and grazing cattle. Speckled Woods were common, disputing patches of sunlight in long fluttering flight battles, with the winner returning to bask on a sun-drenched leaf.
Just inside the wood we came to a fine patch of flowering bramble. Here more Silver-washed Fritillaries sipped at the flowers, while Meadow Browns fluttered lazily from one flower to another. The first Gatekeepers – mostly males – were also in evidence. A single second-brood Holly Blue put in a brief appearance before disappearing into the treetops. A Red Admiral or two also found the bramble flowers irresistable.
A little futher on there were open glades at the track edge with plenty of Marsh Thistles which were attracting Peacocks. Among the tall grass Ringlets fluttered about, sometimes stopping for long enough to show their very dark undersides with neat little ring-like eye spots.
Whites gave us some identification problems but we eventually had a clear view of the underside of a Green-veined White and were able to see the dusting of greenish grey scales that outline each of the veins on the hindwings. An obliging Large White also sat for some time on a thistle head, and in the same area we were able to compare a Small White – smaller and purer white.
A Small Skipper obligingly sat for a long time on a head of Birds-foot Trefoil, allowing everyone to get a clear view and some nice photographs. Shortly afterwards a Large Skipper also appeared and was almost equally confiding so that people had a good chance to compare our commonest skipper species.
While we were watching the skippers, a large black and white butterfly appeared high up above the glade, flitting around the birch trees. A White Admiral - the first of several that we saw during the day; Ashclyst is certainly an excellent place to see them. Their food plant (Honeysuckle) is abundant, so that they can breed there commonly.
Thus we saw thirteen species of butterfly – our day’s total – in the first hour or two of our visit. Sadly Purple Hairstreaks eluded us although members of the party had seen them the previous week. Although both Commas and Small Tortoiseshells had been seen in many gardens, none was seen in the forest.
After lunch the party divided. Some headed across the road to a clearing under power lines – a site that has been good for Purple Hairstreaks in previous years. Sadly the bracken was very tall, there were few flowers, and butterflies were in very short supply.
The rest of us also headed for the clearing but missed the turning and ended up with a fairly extensive tour of the woodland! Several White Admirals were seen, and we were also able to watch a Marsh Tit feeding on Honeysuckle berries, and saw a large pile of wheat husks below a branch on an oak trunk were a squirrel had obviously been sitting eating the grain stolen from the neighbouring field!