Tuesday, 23 May 2017

21st May - Magdalen Hill Down, Hampshire

Saturday had started with sunshine, but today it felt as if the sun would stay with us throughout the day, and that the chance of a shower dampening things was a long way off.  Sunshine, blue skies and a lot of white clouds become the perfect recipe for a walk on the downs, so Helen and I decided on a walk, or more like a stroll through Magdalen Hill Down just outside Winchester.

As we walked up the hill towards the entrance to the reserve House Martins swarmed above us and from the depths of the Birch trees on our right a pair of Bullfinches piped away.

The sightings board was hard to read, but one sighting stood out, that of a Marsh Fritillary earlier in the month, and the dismissive comment alongside it!  Clearly not considered a credible report.  As we walked along the path in the sunshine and shelter from the breeze we found the first butterfly of the day, a Common Blue.

There were patches of Ragged Robin in flower, and these were attracting the bees.

Another butterfly a little further along was the Small Blue.  I always seem to forget how small this delightful butterfly actually is, and how difficult to trace they become once they set out on the wing.  This one was happy to sit in the morning sunshine.

We crossed into the Chalk Pit, and looking to the south east there was a wonderful show out across the downs, and down towards the Manor House at Chilcomb.  The trees lining the driveway leading to the house provided a lovely composition with the colours in the trees and the shadows thrown on the ground, dividing the different greens in the fields.

The walk through the chalk pit surprisingly produced nothing, so we doubled back and went through the gate to head down towards the bottom of the down.  Brimstone butterflies flew past, these had been the dominant butterfly so far this morning.  I walked on, but Helen called me back and pointed to an orange butterfly sunning on the ground.

Having seen this butterfly last week at Martin Down I knew immediately what it was, a Marsh Fritillary.  Last week had been a first, and I did not expect to find one here, but there it was, so a photograph to confirm.

So the dismissive comments were not appropriate, here it was, still, but the next question has to be why is it here?

Later on we met the Warden who speculated that it may have escaped, but from where? And why here?  Regardless, it was time to enjoy this beautifully marked butterfly that was totally unexpected.

Leaving the Fritillary where we had found it we walked down the path and onto the down.  A male Brimstone took the chance to rest and nectar on a Dandelion flower.

Coming out of the scrub we had a wonderful view out across the valley looking across towards Deacon Hill, is there any better view than in the English downland in the spring sunshine?

we made our way down the paths created by the sheep, and at the bottom with the shelter of the hedge there were butterflies about.  More Common Blues taking in the flowers emerging on the bramble.

And at the same time getting buzzed by this green beetle

Then I found the butterfly I was looking for the Brown Argus.

Despite the name, the Brown Argus is in fact classified as a "blue".  However unlike like most other "blues", the Brown Argus has no blue scales on its upperside, both the male and female being primarily brown in colour as the name suggests, although the butterfly does show a blue sheen when at certain angles to the light. Both of the sexes also have the beautiful orange spots on the upperside of both forewings and hindwings.

This butterfly occurs in small, compact colonies, and is not a great wanderer, only traveling a couple of hundred metres, at most, from where it emerged.  Here the best place to find them is at the bottom of the hill, sheltered from any wind.

The male Common Blues are quite distinctive as they appear just above the grass, there were though a few female Common Blues about.  These are a much darker blue, nearly brown like the Brown Argus with orange spots on the hind wing, and much bigger than the Argus.

The blue butterflies have a very intricate pattern on the underwing of spots and dashes.

At the bottom of the hill there is a collection of low brambles growing, and it was from these small bushes that most of the butterflies emerged from.  I was searching for either a Grizzled or Dingy Skipper, but without any luck.  I did though disturb a Silver Y moth in amongst the bramble leaves.

The path then wound up the hill to the top, where it then follows the path alongside the fence.  Looking up across the hill, the sky was full of puffy white clouds.

And rising from the field were Skylarks in full song.

We left the boundary of the reserve and walked along the main path through the field.  Whiile the flowers are not yet in full bloom there were signs that they were not far away from turning this grass land into a wonderful flower meadow.

Looking down the path towards the chalk pit again the sky looked superb.

And I experimented with a full panorama of the sky above us.

It was now time to explore the scrub and wooded area off the top oof the path.  However along the path in the sunshine once again there were several Small Blues about.

The grassland area was full of Cowslips now past their best and going to seed, it must have been quite spectacular a few weeks ago.

As we strolled through the cowslips small moths were disturbed and they would fly a short distance before settling back down.  Most of the time they would settle under the leaves, but some would sit out in the open allowing identification.  This is a Silver Ground Carpet.

Another brown moth had me thinking it was possibly a skipper, but it turned out to be a Burnet Companium

Helen found a Green Hairstreak that refused to stick around, and several Common Blues were present on the ground, moving when the sun would appear from behind the clouds.  Getting down low provided another different aspect.

Then at the bottom of the hill I finally found a Dingy Skipper sitting on an old Cowslip.

A freshly emerged Dingy Skipper is quite a butterfly of beauty with subtle combination of greys and browns.  However over time it lives up to its name as the scales are lost over time and it then lives up to its name, with a lacklustre and drab appearance.  This individual is showing signs of this wear as they start to come to the end of their flying season.

A different view as it probes the head of a grass.

The most numerous butterfly of the walk was the Brimstone, both male and females being seen mostly on the wing.  For once though this male settled on the flower head of a Ragged Robin.

the path then took us back up to the reserve entrance where we were able to report the Marsh Fritillary sighting to the Warden, and prove it by showing the photographs.  It was then back to the car with the House Martins chattering away above our heads.  the season is now heading towards the doldrums time where the early butterflies fade away, and its not yet time for the emergence of summer species.  For the birds it is now all about breeding species and specialties, and for those it requires some travel.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Your Light Orange Underwing looks more like a Burnet Companion Moth. I saw several of these on MHD last week. Didn't see a Marsh Frit. there.



  2. Hi Chris,

    Your Light Orange Underwing looks more like a Burnet Companion Moth. I saw several of these on MHD last week. Didn't see a Marsh Frit. there.




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