Thursday 19th June 2014 - Return to Prestbury Hill

Today I made a return visit to Prestbury Hill in Gloucestershire.  This time I had Bev with me for was her first visit to this wonderful butterfly reserve.  Needless to say she fell in love with the place.

As with my last visit we started at the Bill Smyllie reserve.  It had been just under a week since my last visit and already there had been a marked change in what was on the wing.  Numbers of Chimney Sweeper moth were considerably less and we only saw a couple of worn Burnett CompanionsCommon Blues were also in smaller numbers and we only saw a couple of Small Blues on the Bill Smyllie reserve.  That said,  Small Heaths were just as abundant.

Other species of butterfly had just started to emerge as we saw a couple of Marbled Whites and a single Dark Green Fritillary.  A single Red Admiral was also observed. A number of Five-spot Burnett moths were now on the wing.

Five-spot Burnett (Zygaena trifolii ssp. palustrella form minoides)

On the flora front a small number of Bee Orchids were now in bloom on the Bill Smyllie side of the reserve, as was a nice area of Fragrant Orchids.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia conopsea)

One of the highlights of today's visit was seeing a Grass Snake on one of the banks of the stretch know as Happy Valley.  This individual had milky blue colour eyes, a sign that it was about to slough (shed) it's skin.  This blue colour is caused by an oily secretion between the old and new skins as the new skin grows beneath the old prior to being sloughed.

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

Also of interest on this side of the reserve was a cracking female Drinker Moth that Bev found amongst the vegetation, I knew she would come in useful for something! (just hope she doesn't read this or I will be in a world of hurt). Bev also found a nice pair of Latticed Heath moths in copulation.

♀ Drinker Moth (Euthrix potatoria)

Latticed Heath (Chiasmia clathrata)

Whilst photographing the array of butterflies on offer I noticed a Common Blue butterfly that had been parasitized by Trombidium breei mites. These mites attach themselves to the thorax or legs of the butterfly and transfer from host to host when the butterflies alight to nectar at flowers.   They feed on the blood of the living butterfly and in small numbers do not pose a threat to the butterfly's life.

♂ Common Blue parasitized by Trombidium breei mites

On the Masts Field there were still many Small Blues present which was really pleasing for Bev as it was the first time she had seen this species.  Yet another great day at one of my favourite reserves...I will have to pop back again early August for the Chalkhill Blues.

Friday 13th June 2014 - Prestbury Hill, Gloucestershire

Today I decided to make the most of the good weather and visit the Butterfly Conservation reserves at Prestbury Hill near Cheltenham.  For this visit I had Tony 'Marmite' Smith with me.  Marmite I hear you ask? well Tony is a well known social irritant and general wind up merchant and people, especially in birding circles, either love him or hate him...Me, well I'm undecided ;-)
Anyway back to Prestbury, we spent the first part the visit mooching about on the Bill Smyllie  reserve.  Unfortunately we timed our visit a bit late for Duke of Burgundy this year but we still had 20+ Small Blue butterflies. The Small Blue is Britain's smallest resident butterfly and they are literally about the size of an adult's thumb nail, absolutely tiny!

There was also good numbers of Common Blue and Small Heath present.  We also had a rather stunning and fresh looking ♂ Brown Argus.

Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)


It was a good day for day-flying moths with treble figure counts of Chimney Sweeper and large numbers of Burnett Companion present.  Other species of moth noted included Brimstone Moth, Common Heath, Mother Shipton, Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnett, Silver-ground Carpet,  Six-spot Burnett, Small Yellow-underwing.

Silver-ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata)


All across the Bill Smyllie reserve there were impressive numbers of Common Spotted Orchid and Pyramidal Orchid in bloom.
After a spot of lunch Tony & I headed over to the Masts Field where on undertaking the walk I was absolutely blown away by the sheer number of Small Blue butterflies.  Just along the paths we walked they were in at least treble figures.  There must have been a heck of a lot more across the rest of the hill.  It was worth the drive down just to see these diminutive little blues en masse!

Small Blue (Cupido minimus)


It was also nice to see a Bee-orchid on this part of the reserve, although we did only see the one.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)