Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Lulworth Skipper - Completing the Set!

Regular readers will know that I've been closing in on the complete set of resident British butterflies. This year I've been knocking off the last few with Swallowtail, Mountain Ringlet and Heath Fritillary all in the bag and indeed all that was left now was the enigmatic Lulworth Skipper. This little Skipper is right at the northern end of its range in the UK and can be found in a few coastal locations from Swanage through to Weymouth on the Dorest coast. I'd been talking with the rest of the family about a trip to the south coast this summer as they were keep to visit Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door but in the end we ran out of time so with August fast disappearing I decided that I'd have to go this week if I could find a window of opportunity with the weather and with my work.

Such a window duly presented itself on Tuesday morning with a forecast for hot sunny weather with just a moderate breeze and with a clear diary on the work-front. We'd been out all the previous day with a gathering of the clan for my side of the family and I'd been feeling rather tired so had no intention initially of making another trip the next day but in the end by 10 a.m. I was bored at home so decided to have a go anyway. On a full day out I normally like to set off much earlier in order to have more time on site but I reasoned that I should have plenty of time as long as there wasn't too much traffic. Famous last words! I have not in a long time experienced such a troublesome journey on that front: several times on the A34 we ground to a half due just to the sheer volume of traffic then there was an accident on the M3 which closed one lane and which took ages to get past. I foolishly took the Sat Nav at her word and followed her route around Bournemouth which, given the sunny weather was a bad idea so that was very stop-start. Finally I was past the worst and heading towards Swanage and Corfe Castle - not an area that I'm personally familiar with though my VLW regales us all with tales of these places from her childhood. Relieved I finally pulled up in the car park some four hours after setting off!

The weather was as hot as forecast so I sun-creamed up thoroughly, got tooled up and headed off to the visitor centre to ask for some advice on the best spots to look for Lulworth Skipper. There I met up with the resident warden who told me that it was rather late in the season now (boo!) but that there were a few still about (yay!). She told me that the Cliff Trail (which funnily enough runs along the cliff top) and the slopes above the lighthouse as well as the Wildlife Trail were all good areas. Armed with this knowledge I duly set off along the Cliff Trail keeping my eyes peeled for butterflies. The sea was a dazzling blue and dotted with yachts and other small boats and all looking very picturesque in the sunlight. On the butterfly front however there was little to be seen. I spotted a couple of Meadow Browns, a Gatekeeper and a male Blue of some description but that was about it.

The grassy slopes - full of wild flowers

I soon found myself out on a grassy south-facing slopes on the opposite side of a valley from the lighthouse. This looked very promising and what's more there were lots more butterflies about so I started to scour more carefully. There were reasonable numbers of Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers and the odd Small Heath and I even spotted a Clouded Yellow but nothing else. I spent some time working carefully over the area but all to no avail so I started to head on up the slope to the Wildlife Trail. There there were lots more plants including Wild Carrot, Greater and Common Knapweed, Birds-foot Trefoil, Wild Basil, Red Bartsia, various Sow-thistles and loads more. Most of it had more or less gone over now so it was looking rather tired but nevertheless it was great to wander around through it all. I kept my eyes peeled for butterflies but to be honest apart from the odd Meadow Brown this area was rather barren.

The Wild Basil had long gone over though the seed head was still rather striking
I'm more used to Lesser Knapweed locally but this is Greater Knapweed which tends to inhabit more coastal areas

I was just wandering off the beaten track through a taller patch of grass when a small almost chocolate brown insect fluttered across my path. It was so tiny and fluttery that at first glance you'd think it was a moth but I instinctively knew that it was my quarry and sure enough I homed in on a couple of females fluttering away in the tall grass (presumably Tor Grass as that's their main plant). One was on view though partially obscured so I hastily took a record shot before it flew off and I couldn't re-find it.

At last! A rather battered female Lulworth Skipper
Encouraged I renewed my search, concentrating now more on the longer grassy areas though it was still rather tough going. There were other insects to distract me though and I found several male Adonis Blues, their wing colour looking amazing in the strong light though it was so hot that they wouldn't settle with their wings fully open.

Male Adonis Blue

Common Darter
The area is of course well known for its mining - this is one of the old mines

There were lots of immigrant Silver-Y moths about
Eventually I spotted another small fluttering insect that had to be a Lulworth and sure enough it was. This time I was able to get a bit of a better record shot though it's amazing how quickly they can just disappear from view again.

Lulworth Skipper
So with now a total of three sightings in the bag and aware that I didn't have that much time (I'd more or less promised to be back by late afternoon and it was getting on for four o'clock already!) I headed back to the visitor centre for a quick cup of tea and some cake before firing up the Gnome mobile and hitting the road again.

I was kind of hoping for a more uneventful journey back but I still managed to get bogged down in traffic around Bournemouth (Doh! you'd have thought that I'd have learnt by now to go a different route). Then on the A31 there must have been a severe accident going the other way as the whole of the opposite carriageway was completely shut and the traffic there was backing up for miles and miles - I pitied the poor people coming the other way. Even the A34 wasn't immune with further hold-ups and yet another accident on the other carriageway meaning that part of that route too was completely closed. In the end it took a little over three hours to get back which wasn't so bad considering but I'd spent a total of over seven hours driving for just two hours butterflying so it wasn't a very efficient trip in that respect. I didn't really mind though - after a bit of work I'd seen my last British butterfly and got to know a great new site that I'd love to visit again.

I'm not sure how much more insecting I'm going to do this year. I'm done on the butterfly front but there's still Willow Emerald to have another go at as they last well into September and I'd like to go on another Moorland Hawker expedition as well. We shall see.

Field Scabious


Steve Gale said...

Congratulations Gnome!!!

JHM said...

Well done, I've still got Glanville Frit to see, and keeping Swallowtail for the last one......

Adam Hartley (Gnome) said...

Thanks guys!