Butterfly Diary - field notes by Adrian Hoskins
my earliest sightings of each brood are highlighted in bold type
Sightings policy - details of certain sites where visitor pressure or trampling may pose a threat to butterflies or alienate landowners are excluded from these pages.
January - March
Jan | Feb | Mar | Apr | May | Jun | Jly | Aug | Sep | Oct | Nov | Dec
Saturday 31st March
I visited the east clearing at Bentley Wood this afternoon and saw 5 male Brimstones, either in flight or nectaring at dandelions. I also saw a Red Admiral nectaring at sallow catkins, 3 male Commas, and a Peacock. Later I visited a site in Wiltshire where I found about 100 Marsh Fritillary larvae. A few 3rd instar larvae were clustered in groups of up to 5, basking on grasses or mosses, but most were in the 4th instar, and seen singly, at rest on dry grass stems.
Sunday 25th March
The recent spell of cold weather has precluded butterfly activity - a 3 hour walk in Stansted Forest today produced only a single sighting - a male Brimstone which flew for a few minutes during a brief spell of afternoon sunshine. 
Saturday 17th March
At Whiteley Pastures this afternoon I saw a very worn Red Admiral in flight, and a male Brimstone at roost beneath a leaf of pendulous sedge. Moths are starting to appear now - an Early Grey coming to light at Bedhampton, and an Engrailed moth on a tree trunk at Stansted Forest. Also at Stansted were my first bee-fly of the year, several bees, and more evidence that spring is just around the corner in the form of coltsfoot, ground ivy, dandelions, primroses, daffodils, violets and sallow catkins. I've also had reports of Speckled Woods, Holly Blues and Small Whites, seen in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight - and Marsh Fritillary larval webs and Scarlet Tiger larvae from several sites in Dorset.
Sunday 11th March
Despite warm sunny weather the only butterfly seen yesterday in Stansted Forest was a single Red Admiral. It appears that only very low numbers have survived the winter. There is however some evidence of dispersal, with sightings in gardens in Havant and Emsworth today. Brimstones have also started to disperse from their over-wintering sites, with 2 males seen today flying north along roadsides near Petersfield. Reports from elsewhere in southern England indicate that Brimstones, Peacocks, Red Admirals and Commas are now active. The first Small Tortoiseshells of the year have also been reported, from sites in Surrey and Devon.

Saturday 3rd March

Sunny conditions at Stockbridge Down failed to produce any butterfly sightings this morning, but I was luckier at Crab Wood. Shortly before midday, I watched 5 male Brimstones actively investigating bramble bushes in a sunny glade. Initially I thought they were patrolling in search of females, but it soon became clear that they had detected an imminent change in the weather and were looking for roosting sites. One by one they settled under bramble leaves to roost, and a few minutes later the sunshine had gone, clouds had rolled in, and rain was beginning to fall. An hour later, the sun had re-appeared, but the Brimstones remained at roost. Red Admirals however took advantage of the returning sunshine, with 4 seen at various spots in the woodland.

Saturday 3rd February

After a frosty night, warm sunny conditions at Stansted Forest produced a minimum of 18 Red Admirals, all seen basking on tree trunks or on leaf litter. The hibernating Brimstone, last seen on 28th January, was no longer under it's bramble leaf, presumably having awoken and flown at some stage during the previous week. Today's sunshine also tempted a Comma ( my first of the year ) to put in an appearance, but it was quickly chased off by a territorial Red Admiral. An hour later, in Lady's Walk Wood, I saw 2 more Red Admirals, and another Comma.
Saturday 27th January
Despite warm, sunny conditions in Stansted Forest this morning, the number of Red Admirals seen was significantly lower than on recent visits. I saw only 14, compared to averages of 18 per day in October, 24 per day in November, and an amazing 33 seen on 14th January. All the Red Admirals seen today were very active, taking full advantage of the sunshine. The Brimstone that I've been monitoring since 16th December however remained in hibernation beneath it's bramble leaf.

Sunday 14th January

After several days of rain and wind the sunshine returned this morning, awakening large numbers of Red Admirals. Within 2 minutes of arriving at Stansted Forest I had seen 4, all basking on the trunks of larch trees. Later I saw 3 basking together at the base of an oak trunk, and over the course of the next 2 hours the total rose to 33 Red Admirals - an amazing figure for such an early date, particularly as it probably represents less than a quarter of the total flying at Stansted today. I also revisited the spot where I found a Brimstone on 1st January ( see below ), and found it still in hibernation. The warm sunshine was enough however to awaken a Peacock - my earliest ever record for this species.

Monday 1st January

I think I may have set some sort of record today, by recording 2 species of butterfly on the first day of the year ! On my walk around Stansted Forest I saw a Red Admiral flying at the edge of a clearing, and later revisited the spot where I saw a Brimstone settle to hibernate on 16th December last year.  The bush which has become it's home for the winter was in semi-shade, the butterfly still hibernating peacefully under it's bramble leaf.


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