Tag Archives: White-letter Hairstreak

When both laziness and labour pay off

On being lazy
This weekend was going to be about butterflies again. I started early on Saturday morning walking purposefully towards Wanstead Park in the hope of finally clinching White-letter Hairstreak.

Walking through ‘School Scrub’ and then up Evelyn’s Avenue towards Bush Wood, I glanced to my right at the pitches and saw a large number of Black-headed Gull loafing. Only recently back from their breeding territories, I had a quick scan through these early-ish returners. Out of 98 birds, I spotted a small handful of juvenile birds and so WhatsApped my patch-colleagues the news but walked on.

My mind was fixed on hairstreaks, not gulls, but Tony’s reply asking about juveniles made me turn back, just as a jogger and dog put many of the gulls in the air. Some flew and about 40 were left with seemingly no juveniles. I spotted one remaining right at the very back of the flock. As I walked towards it, I started to spook the closest gulls which seem less tolerant than they get later in the year, so I fired off a few shots and sent a back-of-camera shot to the guys.

Again I walked on. But, something niggled me. Here is how it played out on our WhatsApp group…

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Through my slapdash approach and my impatience to be somewhere else, I forgot to actually check if my juvenile Black-headed Gull was actually a Black-headed Gull at all. It wasn’t. It was a textbook juvenile Mediterranean Gull instead. Tony had not only prompted me to go and look at the juveniles, but he was also faster at concluding the identity of my bird. Without him, I wouldn’t have got this record shot of my first Med Gull for the year.

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Juvenile Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)

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Just to prove I do know what a juvenile Black-headed Gull looks like (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

On labouring hard
Walking around in the sweltering heat is hard work at the moment. I seem to have a perpetual ruck-sack-shaped sweat-patch on my back and shoulders (too much info?) and beads of sweat carry suncream into my eyes.

When I finally reached the elm trees in Wanstead Park where I fancied White-letter Hairstreak may show-up, I was already very hot, slightly de-hydrated, and rather worn out, but I had dragged Nick along to help me look for quarry.

Hairstreaks are hard! They are small, rather nondescript, some of them look very similar, and they flit about restlessly high up in trees. We watched hairstreak after hairstreak flit about and failed to get enough identification on the majority of them to discern between Purple and White-letter. Occasionally one would settle for long enough to ID as a Purple Hairstreak.

Eventually, after Nick’s patience was undoubtedly wearing thin (he has seen one before), we got enough on one of the elm-settled specimens to positively ID as my first patch White-letter Hairstreak. It may be ragged with some of orange and ‘W’ missing, but it is still my first photo of this patch-tick for me.

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White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album)

So, whilst I didn’t expect the weekend to be about birds, I got patch-year ticks in the form of Mediterranean Gull and Common Tern and also got a good summer record of five passage Lapwing (probably failed breeders).

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Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

And with the patch tick White-letter Hairstreak, following last week’s tick with the Silver-washed Fritillary, this hot spell in early July is being more productive than I could have hoped. Especially, when there are bonuses like this beauty…

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Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)

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Running after a frit

The patch butterfly list is a small, but well formed, thing. Only 29 species of butterfly have been found locally (half the UK total). There has been bad news over the years (the disappearance of Wall) and good news – namely in recent findings and growth in numbers of hairstreaks.

My personal patch list has a couple of omissions. Despite working hard to get White-letter Hairstreak, it is still missing, as is the migrant Clouded Yellow. However, my list did grow by one when I became only the second or third person to see Silver-washed Fritillary in Wanstead Park.

Christian M. found the first one ever for our local records just a few days ago and so I was a man on a mission yesterday. A local naturalist, Jack D., and I had tantalising glimpses of a fast flying fritillary whilst we lurked in likely areas. But, kindly, Jack came to call me back after I had moved on when he re-found it settled. I ran faster than I have for some time.

And there, flapping around some brambles and nettles, was the large, orange beauty. I did not have my camera ready and so only managed a distant shot with my iPhone which only barely counts as a record shot.

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Underside showing pale streaks of Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)

Luckily, while I was sprinting back (it probably looked more like laboured jogging to the observer, but it felt like a scene from Chariots of Fire to me) Jack had managed to capture some better photos with his camera. I duly stole some back-of-camera shots off him for my records and to remind me of the good, but brief, views we had of this graceful giant.

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My iPhone shot of photo courtesy of Jack Delabye

Considering the first ever Purple Hairstreak was only recorded for the site in the last few years, it is now doing extremely well and can be found in large numbers around the many oaks we have. Let’s hope S-W Frit and others soon follow its success.

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Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus)

Blitzing spiders and stringing butterflies

A weekend of wildlife began with a sunset.

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Heronry Pond, Wanstead Park (having been re-filled)

A crowd of people waited in the warmth (we are about to break June temperature records again in London with five consecutive days when the mercury has topped out over 30 degrees centigrade) and watched dark shapes scythe through the sky.

We had come to watch bats, but in the light cloudless skies of the evening, it was a huge flock of swifts at first that cut through smoke-like murmurations of midges rising up from the trees like Ashphodel souls.

The bats did come out later, also appearing silently from the trees, and were silhouetted against the sky or water like the bat-sign from comic legend. Silent, that is, apart from the fact that several of us were armed with bat detectors. Common Pipistrelle were picked out from their tiny shapes in the sky, but also from the fast-paced pricking at frequencies well out of range of human hearing. Also too high to hear unaided, but positively bass-like compared with their tiny cousins, were the abstract beats of the beefy Noctule bats punching and pulsing out of the speakers in a way that would have many hip-hop artists drooling with envy.

Friday night ended, not with multiple gin and tonics, as is my normal wont, but with the strangely hospital-like glare of moth traps drawing some moths, but tens of thousands of midges and other tiny flying creatures of the night.

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Moth (and midge!) trapping

All of this activity was for our local conservation group’s annual bio-blitz weekend. Check us out here: Wren Group.

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The wonderful, knowledgeable Tricia Moxley teaching us about introduced and wild plants

I started Saturday leading several of my neighbours (people I know and people I didn’t) on a walk around our local wood. I talked a lot about trees, but the highlights were the butterflies including a year-first Ringlet and a location (but not full patch) first with a Purple Hairstreak (a species that would get me in trouble the following day).

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Ringlet butterfly (Aphantopus hyperantus)


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A temporarily trapped Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) and a rather disinterested baby

Overall, it was a reasonable weekend for butterflies. I counted thirteen species in total (a little way off my record patch day total of 16 from last July).

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Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus)


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Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris)*

The number ’13’ is unlucky for some. Unlucky ever since that 13th disciple betrayed Christ for some silver. Well, I too felt mildly betrayed, or was it simply embarrassed, soon after I saw another hairstreak on the ground near some elm trees whilst I was trailing behind one of Tricia’s walks. Elms, as in the favoured tree of the White-letter Hairstreak

I peered down at the little lepid and started breathing a little faster when no large orange eye peered back at me from the hindwing. The hindwing was a little crumpled, not only obscuring the eye, but also rippling the hairstreak into a ‘W’ shape. The newly emerged butterfly was promptly, but gently scooped, into an inspection pot and whisked off to be held aloft triumphantly in front of the wondering eyes of my fellow Wren members. But, on closer inspection, it was, of course, simply another Purple Hairstreak despite my earlier innocent efforts to ‘string’ it into something more exciting.

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Purple Hairstreak again with the offending unfurling hindwings

So we may not have scored any super rare butterflies, but the far less excitable (than me), and far more expert, arachnologist, David Carr did find some great spiders.

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The maestro at work, David Carr

We believe that one of his finds of the weekend was the 19th specimen ever found in the UK, of Philodromus buxi:

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Philodromus buxi


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David and Araneus triguttatus

Across all the activities, we had about 300 participants. An opportunity for many people to find out a little more about the wildlife on our doorstep.

*All photos on here were taken with the iPhone 7. I really am very impressed with the quality of the camera on it.