Saturday, 14 July 2012

Big Sussex Butterfly Count

Butterfly hunting expedition in Sussex pastures,
Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian.
I am on the left
Yesterday morning I joined some of the craziest people in butterfly circles for a day long hunt for butterflies in Sussex. The event was designed to promote the start of the annual Big Butterfly Count which Sir David Attenborough, president of The Butterfly Conservation Organization, kicked off on Thursday.
some of Team Purple Emperor: Dan Danahar, Neil Hulme, Trevor Beattie,
Richard Bradford, Colin Knight  Martin Warren, Patrick Barkham
We were divided into two teams – my Team Purple Emperor scoured West Sussex and Team Silver-spotted Skippers searched East Sussex. We all started at the Liz Williams butterfly haven on the grounds of Dorothy Stringer School in Brighton. Following filming and photos we jumped into two Land Rovers and roared off.  The objective was to count the maximum number of butterfly species within our half of Sussex. This required good planning, knowledge of the sites visited and the butterflies we were targeting  at each location, luck with the weather and a good driver. Good video here:
The two teams
Team Purple Emperor had some of the country’s top butterfly people: Dr. Martin Warren (CEO of Butterfly  Conservation),  our team leader Nick Baker (nature broadcaster, author and conservation specialist),  Neil Hulme (Sussex BC Conservation adviser), Dr Dan Danahar (Environmental Science teacher at Dorothy Stringer School and Biodiversity Officer for Sussex BC), Patrick Barkham (Guardian journalist on Environmental issues and author of The Butterfly Isles) plus Richard Bradford (Headteacher at Dorothy Stringer School), Jan Knowlson (Ranger with the South Downs National Park and our wonderful driver) and myself. The weather was really kind to us. Team Silver-spotted Skippers were headed by Sussex Wildlife Trust CEO Tony Whitbread.
Roe Deer in Southwater Woods
Gatekeeper, Pyronia tithonus
Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
Purple Hairstreak in flight (bottom of gap between trees)
We got off to a great start during the traffic crawl out of Brighton when Neil cried ‘Skipper’ then jumped out and returned with our first sighting, an Essex Skipper. Our first stop was at Southwater Woods where we searched in vain for a Purple Emperor, craning our necks hoping to see one flying above the canopy of a master oak. White Admiral, Green-veined White, Comma and Ringlet soon followed. In the meadow we crossed off Marbled White, Meadow Brown and Purple Hairstreak and Large Skipper to give us 11 species. We then crossed the road to a Small Skipper site which boosted our count to 12. We then visited Botany Bay on the Surrey border hoping for Wood Whites which did not materialise. We did add a Dingy Skipper larva expertly found by Martin, plus Gatekeeper, Dark Green Fritillary, Common Blue and Red Admiral. Eagle-eyed Martin also spotted a stunning Elephant Hawk-moth resting in the grass. Our next call at Iping Common brought us an expected Silver-studded Blue then we found our rivals had exceeded our total so things got desperate. Both teams were tweeting their results and our competitive nature ensured that we got focused very quickly. At one point Team Silver-spotted Skippers tweeted a picture and claimed it was a Silver-spotted Skipper. Our eagle-eyed experts quickly declared it to be a Large Skipper and wondered what other errors our rivals had made.  What made it worse was that they had the Silver-spotted Skipper expert in their team! Much gloating at that.
Dan Danahar photographs Elephant Hawk-moth
Dingy Skipper larva, Erynnis tages
Elephant Hawk-moth, Deilephila elpenor
Elephant Hawk-moth is the centre of attention
photo by Dan Danahar. left to right:
Neil Hulme, Colin Knight,  Richard Bradford, Martin Warrren, Jan Knowlson
Martin finds a Dingy Skipper caterpillar
photo by Neil Hulme. left to right:
Patrick Barkham, Richard Bradford, Colin Knight, Nick Baker, Martin Warrren, Jan Knowlson, Dan Danahar
Nick Baker and Martin Wareen with Dingy Skipper larva at Tugley Wood
Nick Baker photographs Small Skippers mating
Nick Baker, Neil Hulme, Trevor Beattie & Richard Bradford watch Dan Danahar photograph Small Skippers mating.
Patrick Barkham searches Mill Hill slopes
Small Skippers mating
On the way to Mill Hill we toured Arundel, checking buddleia bushes for a Large or Small Whites which were strangely missing from our list. Mill Hill gave us Small Heath and Small White, then we returned to Brighton. At Bevendean Down Patrick spotted a Chalkhill Blue and we then stopped at Hollingbury Park where I had seen a White-letter Hairstreak two days before.  No sooner had Neil said ‘check the thistle flowers' than Patrick exclaimed ‘there’s one’ pointing to a beautiful specimen nectaring on a thistle flower. This brought us to 22 species, one ahead of our rivals with 30 minutes to go. We returned to the Dorothy Stringer Butterfly. Haven where we bagged our final butterfly, a Peacock. The final  result was 23-21, with much jubilation on our part. Not that it was ever competitive ... Team Silver-spotted Skippers had 3 species that we were missing so the total Sussex count for the day was 26.
The teams discuss their results
photo by Dan Danahar
Winning team leader Nick Baker crowned "King of Butterflies"
Jan and Nick display winning butterflies (circled on poster)
Team Silver-spotted Skippers
Team Purple Emperor's winning tally: Chalkhill Blue, Common Blue, Comma, Dark Green Fritillary, Dingy Skipper, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper,  Green-veined White, Large Skipper,  Marbled White,  Meadow Brown, Peacock, Purple Hairstreak, Red Admiral,  Ringlet, Silver-studded Blue, Silver-washed Fritillary,  Small Heath, Small Skipper, Small White, Speckled Wood,  White Admiral, White-letter Hairstreak.
Silver-spotted Skippers had these which we missed: Large White, Painted Lady, Small Copper.

Patrick Barkham was writing his article for the Guardian as we toured the countryside and the Guardian photographer joined us at Southwater Woods:

Neil Hulme’s account of the day:

SussexWildlife Trust account:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please select 'Name/URL' from 'Comment as' drop down box and add your name, thanks.