Butterfly monitoring on Coombe Bissett Down nature reserve is carried out weekly from April 1st every year by teams of volunteers walking a set route and recording species and numbers present in twelve sections.

Covid 19 Lockdown started on March 23rd, with “Stay at Home” restrictions for us all, though not for the butterflies! Living in the village, we were able to visit on foot to carry on the survey, and also make many other visits as part of our “daily exercise.” We would like to share with you here some of the interesting and beautiful butterflies that were seen during this time until restrictions were eased in mid-May.

Early Birds

Overwintering as an adult the brimstone is a harbinger of Spring, the male bright yellow and the female creamy white in flight, large, flying high and very obvious.

At rest both have pale green underwings, blending with the foliage;

Brimstone at rest

Also hiding overwinter are the gorgeous peacock and small tortoiseshell, well known as garden butterflies. Sadly we saw few of the latter and are hoping for more from later broods;

Small tortoiseshell

Mid April

By now the orange tip had hatched, small with rapid uncertain flight, the male with flashy orange wing tips. The first of “the blues”, the holly blue, was seen in small numbers mostly in the hedge row near the car park. Bright blue upper wing, powder blue below with dark spots;

Holly blue

A couple of green veined whites were spotted; more may have been missed as their markings are difficult to identify on the wing;

Green veined white

Late April

A pleasant surprise was to find a green hairstreak on the western side of the valley;

Green hairstreak

These have previously been an occasional finding but we then saw several in various locations over the next few weeks. On the wing dark, but with a give-away flash of green; hard to pick out when settled.

Early May

This was initially cold and disappointing, but we had a big surprise when colourful fritillaries were seen in substantial numbers on the west facing lynchet slopes. A quick thumb through the guide suggested marsh fritillary, confirmed by the photos;

Last year a single pair of these was recorded here for the first time since 1997!

At the same time a good number of the more humble but rather disparagingly named dingy skipper were found, flying low and looking very moth like.

Dingy skippers

Mid May

By now the atmospheric “blues” were hatching on the west facing slopes, mostly the violet- blue common blue, with the white undivided upper wing margin;

and also a few of the deeper blue Adonis Blue, black veins dividing the white margin;

In both of these species the female has a brown upper wing, with its own more restrained beauty;

An even more elusive relative of the dingy skipper , The grizzled skipper , having been briefly seen on one occasion caused considerable stress in our attempts for a photo.

Eventually we achieved this, having been deceived on several occasions by the Mother Shipton moth;

Grizzled skipper

Mother Shipton moth

The small heath showed as an orange flash on the wing, but at rest always modestly folds these, looking quite workmanlike;

Small heath at rest

Love

Common blue were pairing up by the third week of May to continue the life cycle;

Common blue mating

Beauty does not last

Colours fade and wings crumble;

Orange tip

Brimstone

Peacock

Common blue

Marsh fritillary

We hope that this will encourage you to visit and look!

~ Mike and Sue Garlick

For a pocket-sized guide to identifying butterflies, see our field identification guide available from our shop.