Fritillaries & Blues
Since my last post I've been out a number of times looking for butterflies and the good run of luck I've been on has continued, much to my delight. After the brilliant time I had with the Pearl-bordered Fritiallaries last time out I just had to go back for more and since then I've also been spending quite a bit of time on Rodborough Common with some great butterflies seen and photographed on most visits, which I'll cover in this post.
Starting with the Pearl-bordered Fritillary colony in Cirencester Park, I had a morning off work a few weeks ago and the weather forecast was supposed to be overcast but relatively still. Perfect conditions for looking for and hopefully finding roosting butterflies. As I've said before these are my preferred conditions for photography for a number of reasons:
Unfortunately, the forecast was, typically, wrong. I woke up to a cloudless sky and the breeze felt a lot stronger than expected. Nevertheless, I had nothing else to do so made my way over to Oakley Wood, arriving at bang on 8am when the park opens to the public. I made my way into the favoured compartment and using the knowledge acquired during my last visit, found three roosting fritillaries almost immediately in the same area. One was very low down, almost on the ground, with the two others on young beech tree. One was perched very nicely on a bud and was at a convenient height.
I later found one resting on a fern frond. Lighting by now was a bit of a struggle with lots of shadows to contend with but a passing cloud helped soften things somewhat.
It wasn't long before the butterflies were feeling the heat and actively moving around the compartment. Shooting these confident fliers would be a lot harder now so I made the most of the time and tried to count as many as possible. I couldn't confidently give a number but they were without doubt into double figures, with groups of three or four often seen wrestling over patches of bugle. What was impressive was just how quickly they disappeared when the sun was obscured. During one such moment I found one resting on a piece of bracken. I opted for something a bit different and went for a back-lit shot, hoping the fritillary would stay still until the sun re-emerged as the background was dense foliage meaning a potentially pure black background. The image I had in mind came to fruition.
By now it was time to head home for work. No bad thing as I was getting very warm and had enjoyed a fine few hours in a wonderful woodland setting. I was already hoping the forecast for the weekend would be favourable as I find Pearl-bordered Fritillaries really addictive and wanted even more! Thankfully the Saturday morning was just as I'd hoped and I began my search full of confidence. As is often the case I was brought back down to earth with a bump and after 40 minutes of searching with not a butterfly in sight I was beginning to worry. The sun then broke through and immediately three fritillaries were seen gliding about. The more I explored the more I saw and I again easily hit double figures. I noticed a thick looking bank of cloud rolling towards me and was both pleased as it would put the butterflies down but also concerned as it looked quite threatening. As soon as it arrived the butterflies did their usual disappearing trick. I had however seen a couple go to roost and spent some time photographing these in amongst a few light rain showers, with the bluebell ones some of my favourites so far this year.
A stunning butterfly species which will always be one I can't wait to find each year. These may be the last I see this year as they're now well into their season and I'm planning on focussing my attention towards a few species I've yet to photograph properly - the Adonis Blue and the Small Blue - both of which have colonies very close to home
This brings me onto the second part of this post, which covers numerous visits to Rodborough Common. This super place is only about 5 minutes by car from where I live so is super convenient and also home to a range of butterfly species. A few recent visits have resulted in me seeing Common, Small and Adonis Blues, Brown Argus, along with a single Painted Lady, plenty of Small Heaths and Dingy Skippers. Sadly no Dukes seen over the last week or so but I've not looked too hard for these. The main areas that I've found to be best are slopes which are circled below:
I went for a recon walk on Friday evening with Dad to see if we could get an idea for the best spots for Adonis Blue. It didn't take us too long to start finding them but with the sun still high and conditions very warm, they were very flighty but unmistakable when on the wing. Such stunningly blue wings! I thought one of the butterflies found roosting looked a bit dark but before I could get close enough it zoomed off. An intriguing one for sure and something I would keep my eyes on. I went back again on Saturday evening, again for recon as the forecast for Sunday looked superb for an early morning with very little wind - a bit of a rarity for the common which can be very exposed! Disappointingly I found very few butterflies, perhaps due to the strength of the wind earlier in the day but the one I did find was something a bit special. I'm pretty sure it was the oddity I briefly saw the night before and on closer inspection it appeared to be a female Adonis Blue aberration. I just hoped it would be in the same place in the morning!!
A 5am alarm call didn't happen. No - I didn't sleep in - I was actually wide awake before! The dawn chorus has woken me at 4:30am and it seemed to be extra loud today. I decided to get out of bed whilst I was still so awake and after an extra large coffee and some faffing about I made the short drive to the common and headed straight for the location of the aberration. It was still there. Thank goodness!! I wasted no time in getting some shots before leaving it be looking for other subjects. It really was a cracking little thing and a nice treat.
I soon stumbled upon and nearly stood on, a Small Blue. This is a butterfly I've struggled to get photos of in the past so I was again thankful that the early morning had paid dividends as this tiny little thing stayed completely still as I set-up and took some photos.
I found quite a few Common Blues and more Brown Argus's over the next hour or so but they were quite low in the grasses so I left them be and continued my search for a roosting Adonis. It wasn't to be and by now the sun had started to come out with the temperature lifting rather quickly. From a good 40 yards or so I could see something blue in the distance and before I found it in my bins I knew what it was - a gem of a male Adonis. I dropped my kit, other than my camera and made my way over to it. Once close I was extremely careful not to get between the sun and the butterfly as my shadow would mean curtains for any shots. I tried a few different angles, trying to get as much of the butterfly as possible in focus and got some pleasing results. The blue really is something else and really stands out. A cracking butterfly!
Having had a seriously good few hours it was time for some much deserved breakfast and more coffee. By 10am I was back home with a memory card full of images to sort. Always a great feeling to have with a whole day ahead. I'll be back up for more of the same many more times before the butterfly season is done but my attention is now very much turning back to birds as I'm off to Iceland for the first week in June and absolutely cannot wait. I might even do a post or two about it when I get back...
Keywords: Adonis Blue, Butterflies, Butterfly Photography, Cirencester Park, Gloucestershire, Macro, Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Rodborough Common