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Rutland Butterfly Atlas

Meadow Brown and Marbled White, Rutland

Yesterday I visited Bloody Oaks Quarry, which as usual proved a haven for butterflies including double figures of Silver-washed Fritillary. Amongst others, I also saw Brown Argus and Small Heath.

This Black-striped Longhorn Beetle was the second I have seen at this site – the other was in 2015.

Other notable butterflies seen locally over the past week have included White-letter Hairstreak and Holly Blue.

I’m unsure about the local status of Giant Woodwasp – this one in Oakham – can anyone advise? Note its size in relation to the brick!

Black-striped Longhorn, Bloody Oaks

Giant Woodwasp, Oakham

Updated distribution map including 2017 Rutland records 

Quite a lot has been written about the Purple Emperor, including most notably ‘Notes & Views of the Purple Emperor’ by Heslop, Hyde & Stockley (1964). A thorough grounding in the literature may well be helpful; what follows is based on my own experience.

In the East Midlands we are fortunate to have the famous Fermyn Woods site where Purple Emperors are easy to see, yet experience gained there may be slightly misleading. When I have seen them elsewhere, be it abroad in France or at home in Rutland, they have seldom come down to tracks but rather spend most of their time around the canopy. Once you have found the right habitat patience may be required – it is not unusual to wait an hour or more between sightings. Sightings at Fermyn are, however, a useful indication that they are likely to be on the wing in Rutland.

In Rutland the best habitat – a combination of oak and most importantly sallow – is found in the north-east, but other woods (e.g. Burley, Prior’s Coppice) have suitable areas so further spread is possible. 2017 is certainly a good year for Purple Emperor, so the increase in Rutland sites is likely to be genuine as well as a reflection of more skilled searching.

I have found that the most productive period is between mid-morning and early afternoon, on warm days (high teens or low twenties) with at least intermittent sunshine. It is important to concentrate the search around areas of sallow, where males fly quite regularly. They are quick on the wing, and there may be lengthy periods between sightings. It is not uncommon to see them only in flight, or settled high in the canopy of oak or ash close to sallows, so binoculars may be required for a good view. ‘Grounded’ males, and females, are seen much less frequently.

We now know that Purple Emperors are present in Addah, Clipsham Park, Pickworth Great and Stretton Woods. It does seem that they are increasing, but they may have been present at low density for some time without being recorded. The challenge is to track their spread as best we can.

A typical view of Purple Emperor, Rutland 

Clipsham Park Wood, Rutland

Between family visits I have managed to fit in some butterfly recording, especially of Purple Emperor (on which more will follow).

This year’s warm, dry June has resulted in flight periods for some species moving forward by two weeks or more. Sightings in new tetrads have been recorded for Silver-washed Fritillary, Marbled White and Small Heath as well as Purple Emperor. It seems to be a good year for Purple Hairstreak.

Heavy thunderstorms during the week do not seem to have had as much impact on local butterflies as I feared. For some species, including Purple Emperor, the main flight period this year may end soon so make the most of it!

Purple Hairstreak, Rutland

Rutland Butterfly Atlas

Rutland Butterfly Atlas

The Rutland Butterfly Atlas is now printing and should be available at the end of February or beginning of March. It will be available from the AWBC/Egleton Reserve, Rutland Museum, and Walkers Bookshop, Oakham and costs just £12.

The Atlas has 92 pages, and includes distribution maps and discussion for all 35 regularly recorded butterflies, over 90 colour photographs taken in Rutland, detailed information about scarce migrants and former Rutland butterflies, and a section on key sites as well as tips on where to find each species.

In his foreword, Adrian Russell describes it as ‘an invaluable insight into Rutland’s butterflies’.

RBA cover mock-up

RBA cover mock-up

Followers of progress with the the Rutland Butterfly Atlas will be pleased to hear that it is nearing completion and should be available in March unless there are unforeseen problems.

One purpose of the RBA is to stimulate more interest in and recording of butterflies, so I hope that many of you will use it and contribute additional records.

In the meantime, if you are interested in the wildlife of Shetland you might like to try: https://birdingontheedge.wordpress.com

Cape May Warbler, Cuba

Cape May Warbler, Cuba

This year I have chosen one highlight from spring, one from summer, and one from autumn.

The Cape May Warbler in Cuba at Easter was one of several colourful wood warblers which we saw. It epitomises how birds and other wildlife regulate their lives independently of the political and other ‘boundaries’ created by Homo sapiens.

The Purple Emperor in Rutland in July was one of the discoveries I made during fieldwork for the Rutland Butterfly Atlas. Although this species receives more than its fair share of attention, it is undeniably exciting to discover at new sites.

The Lanceolated Warbler on Fair Isle in September was an example of the quintessential autumn rarities which draw visitors to Shetland, and performed admirably for all present. It was a new bird for several experienced birders.

What will 2017 bring?

Purple Emperor, Rutland

Purple Emperor, Rutland

Lanceolated Warbler, Fair Isle

Lanceolated Warbler, Fair Isle

Speckled Wood, Rutland

Speckled Wood, Rutland

Thanks to all those who have contributed already!

During the coming weeks I shall be completing maps, text and images for the Rutland Butterfly Atlas, so any additional significant records will be very welcome.

I am hoping to publish the finished Atlas in spring 2017.