It's that time of year once again when my attention gets uncontrollably drawn to the smaller winged wildlife of the UK - primarily butterflies and dragonflies. Whilst I've had some great moments with the latter already this year, this post is all about the former, and has a definite feel of deja-vu about it...
My first butterfly photographed this year is one I've struggled with in the past. They're normally seen when I'm driving or when I haven't got my camera with me so when I found a roosting male Orange-Tip after work when looking for dragonflies I was very pleased indeed. I was obviously fully expecting it to fly off as soon as I got set up but it obliged and remained perfectly still! It was a windy evening so I came home with a memory card full of slightly blurred shots however a handful were fine. Yay!
Early to mid-May traditionally sees the emergence of two of my favourite butterfly species, namely marsh and pearl-bordered fritillaries. I'm extremely fortunate to have established colonies of both species just a few miles from home so I've been making the most of my spare time and have spent many hours of the last few weeks spread across a handful of sites. After a few unsuccessful forays during the first two weeks of May, patience and perseverance came to fruition with good numbers of pearl-bordered fritillaries found during a warm and sunny Sunday morning. The weather however meant that it was extremely difficult to get close to these flighty butterflies and I ended up leaving with the camera not getting a workout. I wasn't disappointed though as it's always a relief when this threatened species emerges for another year. A week later I tried again and the weather was again fairly warm and bright and I saw four fritillaries almost immediately after entering their favoured compartment. There were plenty of these orange gems whizzing about and as they were last week, proved hard to get close to. I noticed one particular butterfly repeatedly dropping down into an area of long grass before moving off. On closer inspection, I found a very fresh looking specimen crawling up a stem and I presume this was a freshly emerged individual given how docile it was. After some time it flew weakly to a fern and settled in the open, allowing me to get some shots of both the top and underside of its wings before it again fluttered away.
A little while later I was joined by Dad who wanted to do some filming so we spent a while looking for basking individuals and after some success he noticed another fritillary very close by. Only it was two and they were mating - something I'd not seen before! I managed a couple of images before rain moved in. The heavens soon opened and we were forced to take cover, ending our session. Still, a great few hours!
I've had another couple of visits but on both occasions have spent my time with super-charged butterflies that clearly don't want to have their photo taken. Even early morning starts have proved unsuccessful as I haven't been able to find any roosters. Hopefully I'll have a few more chances over the next few weeks!
During this same period, the marsh fritillaries have emerged at Strawberry Banks and to me at least they seem to be even more numerous than they were last year! My first visit was on a cool evening and I found at least a dozen without even trying, including two roosting in very photogenic spots.
My next visit was a very early morning session and it took me a good while to find my first one. It had been relatively cold overnight so the fritillaries were unsurprisingly very low down in the grass making them very difficult to spot. I enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the site and soon the sun had burnt off the low cloud and mist and the fritillaries began to emerge from their slumber. Slowly but surely I spotted more and more, often in places I'd already looked. The sun was now pounding some serious warmth and this really woke things up with several butterflies taking to the air for the first time that day. However, thick cloud would intermittently block this and put the butterflies back down, making them easier to photograph. I waited for the sun to come back out to get my first decent open-wing shot of a resting fritillary and this tactic seemed to work well.
My most recent visit was late afternoon in hot (compared to normal!) sunshine and photography was a back-seat thought as I was really just hoping to see how abundant the marsh fritillaries were. I wasn't at all disappointed and over a couple of hours going into early evening I must've seen a good couple of hundred. They were extremely active with loads of twos and threes seen chasing each other, in turn putting up butterflies that were nectoring or basking. I even found three mating pairs (another first!) so it was definitely a worthwhile visit. By now the sun had started to disappear behind the trees and the lower slopes were now in deep shadow and starting to really cool down, meaning the marsh fritilliaries were now quite docile and therefore much easier to photograph.
A terrific couple of weeks and I haven't mentioned the Red-footed Falcon that's taken up residence in the Cotswold Water Park over the last fortnight. Thankfully I have managed to see it though it proved a hard-to-find bird and has not been easy to get on camera but it's a terrific looking adult female. A lifer for me and I hope I get to see it again before it moves on. It will no doubt have been taking advantage of the many dragonflies and damselflies that have emerged during the last month and I've seen plenty of species in good numbers and I'm planning on dedicating a post to those over the coming weeks. Plenty to see locally and keep me busy so hopefully lots more excitement to come!
Keywords: Butterflies, Butterfly, Butterfly photography, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire, Lepidotera, Macro, Marsh Fritillary, Nature, Orange-Tip, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Strawberry Banks, Wildlife
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