Sunday, 9 August 2015

Butterflies at the edge of the Cotswolds

Last Monday (3 August) afternoon I was able to catch up with a couple of butterflies I've not seen for a few years - dark green fritillary and chalkhill blue.  They were both on the wing in small numbers at Butterfly Conservation's Prestbury Hill nature reserve, located on the scarp slope of the Cotswold hills and overlooking Cheltenham. 
view of Cheltenhan Racecourse from Prestbury Hill
First up was the dark green fritillary, generally fast flying and hard to keep track of, but eventually settled nicely in the flowery grassland.
dark green fritillary

Unlike the chalkhill blue, the dark green fritillary clings on in Banburyshire, but only at one site as far as I know - the Neal Trust reserve.  It's food plant is the common dog-violet.

The chalkhill blues were most in evidence on the steepest slopes of the limestone scarp, with very short turf and bare patches.  The experience of watching them took me back to childhood ramblings on the South Downs of Sussex where they are very numerous.  Surely they would have been widespread on the limestone grasslands west of Banbury in the past?  Maybe they will return one day, but at the moment there is insufficient habitat, and only small patches of their food plant - the horseshoe vetch.
chalkhill blue
chalkhill blue
Another treat was stumbling across a small colony of the tiny musk orchid, it the same habitat favoured by the chalk hills.  Again, a species I'd last seen in my teens.
musk orchid
clustered bellflower

carline thistle
This is a lovely nature reserve is well worth a visit, especially from May to August.  Another butterfly you can see here is the springtime-flying Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, one I have yet to see - hopefully I'll be able to make a return visit in May next year.

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