- field notes by Adrian Hoskins
my earliest sightings
of each brood are highlighted in bold type
January - March
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.