As mentioned in my last blog post, I've felt spoiled for choice over recent weeks with plenty off great wildlife on offer locally. With a day off on Friday, I had decided in advance to spend the morning looking for something that hasn't been seen so far this year in the county (at least to my knowledge) rather than go for something more 'guaranteed'. A bit of a gamble if you will.
So, after a very late night seeing the initial election results come in, it was a struggle to get up but I was feeling eager to make the most of my time and found myself walking in Cirencester Park at 8am. I had the place to myself but given the dull, overcast conditions this wasn't a surprise. I was here for the Pearl-bordered Fritillary - a declining species in the UK - that has a fairly good population in the park. They have been reported elsewhere in the country (including up north) so I was hopeful that their emergence would be soon. I spent a good 2 hours in two different locations and despite looking everywhere in these areas I was unsuccessful in finding any butterflies. Disappointing, but I was chancing my luck anyway and I would have regretted not looking.
Given the overcast conditions, I decided to head back towards the Cotswold Water Park and having found a Broad-bodied Chaser a few days ago thought I'd have a look for that, given their tendency to not venture far from their territory. Incredibly, after only 10 minutes, I located the chaser roosting on a dried stem. The cool conditions meant it was incredibly docile and I managed some pleasing shots, despite an annoying breeze.
Saturday dawned cloudy and fairly chilly again with a fair bit of breeze. I contemplated a visit to the local Hobbies but the sun was making a few intermittent appearances and felt very warm when the wind dropped so I opted for another return to Cirencester Park hopeful that the warmth of the sun might just be strong enough to trigger an emergence of Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. Walking down one of the rides, surrounded by bluebells and birdsong, with the sun out and feeling glorious, I had a real twinge of hope that today might just be the day.
I ventured off the main path into one of the clearings that I'd always had success in and nearly jumped with joy as an orange blur zipped low over the woodland floor just in front of me. I had found one! However, it wasn't hanging around and took some effort to track before it landed on some nearby bugle; the main food plant of these wonderful butterflies. I tried to get my macro lens out of my bag quickly to grab a record shot but in the few seconds I took my off the prize it moved on. Undeterred, I moved on excited that an emergence was underway and confident that further treasures lay ahead. It was another 15 minutes or so before a second PBF was seen, shooting up off some drying bracken almost under my feet. I'd disturbed it basking so focussed my efforts on the ground and immediately found another. Fantastic! In all, during a few hours on site, I saw around 5 or 6 individuals including a few roosting on pine buds. I later learnt that this was what they tended to do when cool and in need of a rest. A useful piece of knowledge, as you'll soon see. That aside, the star of the show was a fresh male resting on a fern shoot - the money shot I had been aiming for! I could not believe my luck. I was even able to set-up my tripod to get really go for a super sharp low ISO shot. The results below will be hard to beat and I'm incredibly proud to have these images in my portfolio. The fact that I found this butterfly myself and a site so close to home really did round off a perfect moment.
After another sunny spell, this stunning butterfly ascended from its perch and disappeared low into another more distant pocket of cleared woodland. I'd hit the jackpot and hadn't felt such a buzz for a very long time.
The following day, Dad and I returned for more of the same. The weather, however, had other ideas. Thick cloud and a stiff breeze ruled out seeing any butterflies on the wing and after a very long search over a good few hours we only managed to find one PBF roosting on a pine sapling. I wouldn't have found this one had I not picked up on the pine-bud roosting tip from the day before. This find was great but after the day I'd had before felt a little disappointing as I was hoping we'd find a few more. A while later though, our fortunes changed and I managed more shots which I'm really pleased with thanks to an immaculate PBF roosting low down on a rigid shoot.
Monday sadly saw me return to reality and work. Dad however had the day off and decided on a visit to the Strawberry Banks reserve. This is a stronghold of the beautiful Marsh Fritillary and with sightings already reported the chances of them being seen was good, especially with warm sunshine for much of the day. A phone call to Dad after work confirmed the fritillaries were indeed emerging so I made a mad dash over there via Frampton Mansell and some very windy, narrow roads; getting there with the sun still relatively high in the sky. Walking up through Three Groves Wood, the smell of wild garlic was a welcome tonic after a busy day. Even more welcome was the sight of 5 or 6 orange butterflies almost straight away after entering the main field. Closer inspection confirmed my expectations - my first Marsh Fritillary of the year was (figuratively) in the bag! I'd heard that 2015 could be a strong year for this butterfly and on the sightings so early on, this could be well founded. Huge praise must go to Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust for the management of this site as it is clearly working wonders! During the next hour or so I lost count of how many fritillaries I found, with many fresh individuals pumping their wings low in the grass. I had to keep a real eye on where I was standing so as to avoid causing any untimely and immature deaths. Getting nice clean photographs proved really tricky though as most of the butterflies were low in the grass though I did find one individual on a cleaner stem which stayed still long enough for a few shots.
Not an underwing shot that I was really hoping for I couldn't complain as I had the place to myself, surrounded by butterflies and it was bliss. The sun soon started dropping behind the surrounded wood, casting a deep and ever-growing shadow over the grassy slopes. This caused an obvious change in temperature and I kept my eyes peeled for some early roosters. Lots found in the grass but none in the open. I moved to a different area which was a lot more sheltered and my luck changed with a fritillary found resting on an Early Purple Orchid.
I left shortly afterwards with time pressing on and the light continuing to fade. All in all I'd had a fantastic couple of days. Time spent in the field last year felt frustrating at times from a photography perspective with not many images obtained that really pleased me however in hindsight that time has proved invaluable. I have a much better understanding of habitats, flight cycles, foodplants and roosting habits and this has allowed me to get a number of really satisfying images which I'm genuinely proud of. The season is still very young so I aim to add to my portfolio over the coming months with no doubt more blog posts of this nature to come. I must finally add that I have spent a lot more time this year looking at these butterflies through my own eyes rather than solely through the viewfinder of my camera - something that really must be done to appreciate the scale, intricacy and fragility of these short-lived winged wonders. They really are gems that I cannot get enough of!
Keywords: Broad-bodied Chaser, Butterfly, Cirencester Park, Cotswolds, D800, Fern, Macro, Marsh Fritillary, Orchid, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Strawberry Banks