Butterfly Bucket List – on Sharpenhoe Clappers

Anna who writes the lovely ‘Transmutational Garden‘ blog is hosting a new meme – Butterfly Bucket List, posting on the 4th Sunday of every month and kindly encouraging stragglers to add a link over the following week. Anna’s photographs and Butterflies in Texas are very beautiful. Please take a look and if you can, join in too.

On Sunday we took a different dog walk than usual and drove over to Sharpenhoe Clappers, a couple of villages south from us. The Clappers are now managed by the National Trust, its a small area of wildflower rich chalk grassland and an adjacent Beech wood, in years gone by we would drive there just to kick the leaves up. We had been told the Pyramidal Orchids were good, but we did not bank on a couple of lovely Butterflies and Moths too.

Six-spot Burnet Moth

Five-spot Burnet Moth – we think! Enjoying the Knapweed

The Five-spot Burnet Moth is a tricky moth to identify and can be confused with the Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, which has more pointed wings. The Butterfly Conservation folk who identify Moths too, say The Narrow Bordered caterpillars prefers Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil found on wetter ground, but there are two subspecies of the regular Five-Spot, one prefers Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil, one prefers Common Birdsfoot Trefoil found on chalk grassland. We were on chalk. Either way we are fairly sure its a Five-spot Burnet, not sure if a subspecies, unless someone can say otherwise.

Marbled White Butterfly

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) Butterfly on Knapweed

Far less tricky to identify, quite common and very striking is the White Marbled Butterfly, they are said to show a preference for purple flowers but we saw several enjoying other plants too.

IMG_2200

Marbled White Male Butterfly on Sharpenhoe Clappers

The Marbled White Caterpillars are mostly found on flowery grasslands but can stray into gardens too. The caterpillars prefer grasses as their food plant, particularly Red Fescue – Festuca rubra as well as Yorkshire Fog grass – Holcus lanatus and Tor grass – Brachypodium pinnatum. Adults can sometimes be found roosting half way up a tall grass stem, another good reason to leave the grass long at home.

The reason for our initial visit – the Pyramidal Orchids – they were abundant too!

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Pyramidal Orchid Anacamptis pyramidalis

Happy Butterfly watching!

The Wildlife Trusts and Fancott Meadows

Last Saturday we made our third visit to Fancott Meadows, a Coronation Meadow which is managed by the BCN Wildlife Trust. This time we went along with our local Wildlife Trust group led by Graham Bellamy. The forecast was rain and I had packed my camera into a waterproof bag, as we arrived in the carpark I realised I had left the bag and camera on the kitchen counter top at home.

Fancott Meadow

Fancott Meadows

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the photos I took on my phone were so appalling it meant we had to visit again late Tuesday afternoon, the sun shone and some of the Butterflies we had hoped to see on the grey overcast Saturday morning were now enjoying the sunshine and flitting through the meadows.

Common Blue

Common Blue

Fancott was bought by the Trust in 2007 from a local retiring farmer, horses had been grazing these fields, now Red Poll cattle and Hebridean Sheep are brought on at specific times to graze the meadows, we are told this is a more sympathetic way to manage the meadows both for plants and the wildlife. The old method of cutting the meadows would have removed the invertebrates habitat in one fell swoop.

Cuckoo Spit on Black Knapweed

Cuckoo Spit on Black Knapweed

But for our cool summer, the Black Knapweed would usually be in flower by now. Cuckoo spit is the secretion of Froghopper nymphs, nothing to do with the bird. The nymphs live inside the “spit” until ready to fledge as the Froghopper insect.

Yorkshire Fog

Holas lanatus Yorkshire Fog – the soft and very tactile flowers open and dance in the breeze

There were swathes of Yellow Rattle – Rhinanthus minor which produce tiny seeds that rattle around in the papery brown calyx, hence the common name. Its a hemiparasite, its roots grow into the roots of its neighbours, usually grasses taking their nutrients.

Yellow Rattle

Yellow Rattle

The meadows are divided into two, with wooden gates and traditional hedging forming the boundaries. The second is a flood plain meadow and supports Meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria, as its edging towards invasive the Trust are monitoring its spread, if allowed to take over, other plants of interest would be crowded out. In flower and en-masse its quite a sight, right now its a little drab. The plant was used as a flavouring in Mead, hence its common name.

Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet

There were Orchids, Heath, Common and a Frog Orchid, not a looker but a rarity.

Frog Orchid Coeloglossum viride

Frog Orchid Coeloglossum viride

Our native Marsh Thistle distinguished by their cluster heads were the tallest plants towering above the other meadow plants and can reach up to 200cms tall.

Marsh Thistle Cirsuim palustre

Marsh Thistle Cirsuim palustre

Ragged Robin is nectar rich we waited a while for one of the Bees to land, but they seemed to prefer the Marsh Thistle on Tuesday.

Ragged Robin Silene flos-cuculi

Ragged Robin Silene flos-cuculi

As we neared the end of our walk through the meadows we saw a small patch of Corn cleavers they have declined dramatically in the last 60 years, modern agricultural methods have done for it and this little plant is now very rare and classified as critically endangered.

Corn Cleavers Galium tricornutum

Corn Cleavers Galium tricornutum

The Wildlife Trusts are made up of 47 individual Trusts, collectively their mission is dedicated to protect and preserve wildlife and wild places. Lobbying the government to improve weak legislation and encouraging volunteers to be active and engage with our natural world. Our local Flitvale group are a lovely bunch of folk, sharing knowledge and their company, with some wonderful speakers and walk leaders, often for the cost of £1.00.

Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis

Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis

Last year we were to early to see Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis in flower, its a glorious sight. What a tragedy that so many of these wonderful meadows have been lost, once these would have been a common sight and now they are a rarity.