With the first Pearl-bordered Fritillaries reported locally in Cirencester Park last week and a favourable forecast for the weekend, plans were made to go in search of one of my favourite UK butterfly species on Saturday morning. The forecast was for a slight breeze and overcast conditions. The former a pain but the latter ideal as it would hopefully mean the butterflies wouldn't be too active. In previous years I've always concentrated my efforts at a particular compartment in Hailey Wood although last year was extremely disappointing. This year access to that area is now much more restricted due to forestry work so I was making use of new intel and hoping things would be better in nearby Oakley Wood.
Saturday morning saw dad and me arrive on site under the forecast clouds with the breeze not too bad so we set off and were searching the main compartment within a few minutes. Initially I thought we must be in the wrong place as the scrub was fairly dense and there were very few patches of bugle, the main food plant of the fritillaries. The compartment slowly began to thin out a bit and I was scanning both low down in the grasses and scrub and higher up in the scattered trees. It must've been half an hour before I found the first fritillary roosting above head height in a young beech tree. I then found another in a nearby tree before we found a third in the same tree and how we hadn't seen it first time round I don't know as it really did look so obvious! These were all a little too high for photos - a step ladder would've been handy.
Then one of those really weird flukey moments happened. I'd put my tripod down to give my arm a rest and when I went to pick it up a fresh fritillary was sat on some grass right next to it. I'm not sure how I'd missed this one either. It was very docile so I popped it on a nearby bluebell and got a few shots before it took flight and did a mini circuit of the glade we were in.
It then settled on a dried stem and began climbing up it with its wings open. I quickly removed my camera from the tripod and took some hand held shots as it made it's way upwards. My favourite of these is below. The underwing of this species what I just cannot get enough of. Stunning things!
Once at the top of the stem it again took flight before landing on another stem of the same sort, repeating the routine but this time it closed its wings and seemed to settle down. I was able to get the tripod set-up and opted to use my shutter release cable and live view with a low ISO to minimise noise, whilst keeping an eye on the shutter speed to make sure any movement didn't result in a blurred image. In this situation I take a few shots, check the whole butterfly is in focus and make any positional adjustments as and when required. With an extremely narrow depth of field (to give a really creamy bokeh) it's very easy to find part of the butterfly out of focus which can spoil a shot and mean missing some detail. I'm probably too fussy with these things in all honesty! I was absolutely chuffed with the image below as it's really captured the details and colours of the butterfly whilst isolating it from the background.
With shots in the bag and the temperature rising, the butterflies became a little more active so we moved into another area of the compartment to see if we could find some more. The sun then started to break through and at that moment I found another pearl-bordered fritillary basking on a young beech tree with its wings open. The orange really stood out against the greens of the fresh leaves. This particular butterfly then took flight and as we watched it glide around we noticed more and more on the wing. We must've counted well into double figures but it was impossible to get an accurate count as they were quite literally all around us, often in twos and threes.
After a good few hours in Oakley Wood we headed back towards home via Rodborough Common as I wanted to show Dad where I'd been seeing the resident duke of burgundy colony. It didn't take long at all for us to find them, with three found almost immediately in the usual spot. We sat down for a coffee and some biscuits and watched three turn into at least six when the sun came out, with two seemingly sparring / displaying, spiralling high together before dropping back down. We snaked along the valley then up and along some more in the hope of other species and in amongst plenty of dingy skippers Dad spotted an awesome grounded Adonis Blue. It was an absolute gem but was soon off and at great speed in the wind so I decided to resist chasing it. A few metres further along the track we stumbled upon what can best be described as a butterfly royal rumble with a common blue, a dingy skipper and a duke of burgundy taking it in turns to see the others off then they invaded the others' personal space. Our final sighting was a female kestrel hovering and then dropping out of view before popping back up with a kill. A very nice way to finish a fantastic day, and all this within 10 miles of home.
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