Towards the end of July I had a fantastic walk around Cleeve Hill, specifically the Bill Smyllie/Prestbury Hill Reserve and the adjacent Masts Reserve, which accommodates the unmissable radio masts which can be seen from miles away. I'd gone in search of Dark Green Fritillaries though was a little worried I'd missed the main showing. I was right and had no sightings but was fortunate to see my first Chalkhill Blues of the year. These are one of latest butterflies to emerge in the UK and can often be found in huge numbers. That wasn't the case for me but I found several very fresh males during a fairly breezy morning and with it being cool and overcast, they were very approachable and I came home with plenty of photos, with a few below.
The most popular area for these delightful blues was the lower part of the Masts Reserve and they were relatively easy to spot when roosting up thanks to their relatively light appearance and tendency to roost a foot or so off the ground. Despite a thorough search though I was unable to find a female but given their much darker brown colouring they would be a lot harder to spot so perhaps I just didn't look hard enough. I had my fill of males though and decided I'd come back again to look for females.
My return visit was a week later on one of the stillest mornings I've experienced on Cleeve Hill. For those familiar with the place, it is more often than not being buffeted by winds even on what should be a still day, making macro photography a frustrating experience! I was determined to make the most of the kind weather and with thin cloud overhead the light was pretty good too so it was just a case of finding some butterflies. I'd arrived at just gone 6am, heading straight for the lower slopes of the Masts Reserve and for the first time had our dog with me. I was a little worried she'd be keen to go off sniffing here, there and everywhere but I was immediately proven wrong when I found my first Chalkhill Blue to photograph. I set up my tripod and she simply looked up at me, sat down and watched as I began shooting. This was the them for the rest of the morning and it was great to have some company for a change.
As was the case during my previous visit, it was the males that were found in numbers, with a lot more found with minimal effort. All of them were again pristine and having seen a Common Blue on arrival, it struck home that the Chalkhills are a lot bigger in comparison. Not huge, by any means, but certainly more sizeable and not something I'd noticed before.
After a good amount of searching I finally found a stunning female roosting up on a Knapweed flowerhead and soon had some very pleasings results on my memory card. Such a contrast to the male as can be seen in the photo below, which I think is my favourite Chalkhill Blue shot from this year:
The sun soon started to breakthrough and looking across the long grasses and flowerheads that covered the area, I could see a number of light blue shapes, clearly male butterflies beginning to bask and warm-up. I found a very obliging male close-by and watched him adjust his body position and wings to optimise the amount of sunlight hitting him. Such precise movements.
An unexpected but very welcome bonus find during the morning was my first Small Copper of the year. I always struggle to see more than a handful of these little crackers each year so when they do turn up it feels like a bit of a treat. I wasted no time in taking a few shots before my quarry made a hasty exit. I needn't have rushed though as it seemed more than content to just sit and enjoy the view, though it was continually adjusting its position when the sun threatened to break through.
A great couple of sessions and I couldn't help but wonder if these were my final butterfly hunting hours of the year. It turns out they weren't as I had a couple of flying visits to Daneway Banks in the middle of the month though butterflies were very low in numbers. A few second brood Common Blues were outnumbered by Brown Argus and beaten up looking Meadow Browns and Small Skippers. This obliging Brown Argus was shot just before sunset.
An exciting development in August was the arrival of a new camera body. With autumn and winter just around the corner I decided it was time for a new tool to help with my bird photography. Given the glowing reviews of the Nikon D500 and it being a DX (cropped sensor) body, I couldn't resist. The D800 won't be going anywhere but the D500 will give me 1.5x more reach along with another 6 frames per second to play with. Add in good low light performance at high ISO, I'm looking forward to seeing what it can do. I say that as if I haven't been out with it yet, when in fact I have....so watch this space as another blog post will be coming in the next week or so!
Keywords: Butterflies, Butterfly, Butterfly Photography, Chalkhill Blue, Cleeve Hill, Macro, Masts Reserve, Prestbury Hill Reserve
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