One hot sunny day in late spring last year I headed over to Ivinghoe Beacon in the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire because it’s renowned as a stronghold of the rare Duke of Burgundy fritillary butterfly. As I’d never seen one before and I love butterflies this ticked some boxes for me. I parked a mile or so away from the beacon and was greeted by a whitethroat perched on a tangle of power cables, it was a nice start to a nice outing.
It was a mile or so across fields and up the hill onto the beacon but it was well worth the walk. The views from the top are huge and it didn’t disappoint on the butterfly front either. The first one was a brown argus soaking up the sunlight on a grass stem
Brown argus, Aricia agestis
I think this one is a female from the prominence of the orange spots which are bigger and more pronounced in the female. The brown argus could be confused with a common blue female but the brown argus is smaller and the blue has a noticable blue hue at the wing roots.
The brown argus lives primarily on chalk grassland and feeds on various species of cranesbill:
Dovesfoot cranesbill – a food source for brown argus caterpillars
There were many species of butterfly patrolling the scrub and grassland on the beacon looking for plants to feed on and lay eggs on including this gorgeous brimstone caught probing for nectar in a cowslip. The male brimstones are more yellow than the females which are pale and more green so I think this one is a male.
Brimstone butterfly, Gonepteryx rhamni
The sulphurous brimstone is another buttefly that is happiest around scrubby grassland and is active through May and June, so with the fine weather I wasn’t surprised to see them on the Beacon.
Another species which was abundant was the green hairstreak. These butterflies are an amazing colour and quite unmistakable
Green hairstreak, Callophrys rubi
Even against a sumptuous green background the irridescent greenness of the hairstreak stands out at a distance. It’s a smallish buttefly with a wingspan of around 30mm or so but it’s not difficult to spot, and the adult is active from mid April into July. It’s not terribly fussy about the habitat it frequents or the soil type so I hope that will help to ensure its survival whilst many other butterfly species are in spiralling decline due to habitat destruction and climate change. Basically, because of us, people.
But the star of the show that I’d headed across country to see was the Duke of Burgundy. I didn’t have to wait very long and after seeing one there were lots of them. Mission accomplished.
The Duke isn’t a very large butterfly, also with a wingspan of approximatelty 30mm, but the colours are exquisite:
Duke of Burgundy, Hamearis lucina
Because of the prominent position to display I think this one is probably a male as the females are more elusive and spend a lot of time looking for suitable egg laying sites. The underside of the Duke is even more colourful than the upper:
The Duke of Burgundy, like so many of our native butterflies is in peril and only survives in a small number of locations in southern England and two in the north, one in the southern Lake District and the other on the North Yorkshire Moors. So even though I had to drive for an hour to see them it was a pretty special trip and it didn’t seem that far!