The Society held its second weekend meet of the summer at the Forestry Commission’s Bucknell Wood near Silverstone on Saturday 30th June 2018. The heatwave of the past week showed no signs of abating and by the time we started at 10.30am it was already hot and humid. Leader Martin Kincaid welcomed everyone to the wood, hoping that it would live up to the success of the 2017 visit at least in terms of butterflies.
A walk along the first wide forest track from the car park was immediately rewarded with sightings of many butterflies including the common whites and browns as well as White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary. The woods around Silverstone are known for the rare silver-green colour form of the latter, known as Valezina. Last year we saw a number of these lovely insects but we were content to get good views of a single Valezinathis time as she visited bramble flowers. One of the target species was Wood White butterfly, which has been on the wing in Northants since the beginning of May. We could not be entirely sure if the butterflies we were seeing were the last of the spring brood or the first of the summer emergence although most of them looked rather fresh. Paul Lund’s outstanding photo of a wood white in flight last year has won him several photography awards – and he claims to have bettered it on this visit!
Butterflies and other insects were everywhere but with the intense heat they were very active and tended not to settle very often. Half way along the main track the cry of ‘Emperor’ went up. Eyes were raised to the oak canopy and indeed one – and then two – Purple Emperors were soaring. Our group of 17 stood stock still and before long a spectacular male Purple Emperor flew around us in tight circles. Martin tried the ancient art of emperor baiting – leaving some smelly anchovies at the edge of the track! Although these were not successful in tempting His Majesty down (at least while we were there) Joe Clinch was treated to an audience when the butterfly settled on his shirt and spent about a minute there. What an honour for Joe! Over the next two hours we must have seen at least 10 emperors, including one female, soaring overhead and landing on the tracks. However, although we caught glimpses of the purple sheen we didn’t get the classic view – much to the photographer’s frustration.
On the return leg to the car park, heat and thirst were beginning to affect us! However, most of us obtained good views of Purple Hairstreaks flying around oaks, more purple emperors and a wonderful display as six male fritillaries chased an unmated female. Julian found an immaculate White-letter Hairstreak on the ground and several more were seen flying around elm trees. Among the other insects seen were a Six-belted Clearwing moth (although they did not come to the pheromone lures as hoped), Scarlet Tigermoth, Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker and Emperor dragonflies and the long-horn beetle Rutpela maculata. We also saw the increasingly common Beautiful Demoiselle in shady areas of the wood. Birds seen or heard included Marsh Tit, Chiffchaff, Raven, Red Kite, Buzzard and a Spotted Flycatcher in an area of Spruce. Mary Sarre was listing the plants and among the highlights were Broad-leaved Helleborine and Zig-zag Clover. The jury is still out on False Fox Sedge.
We were all ready for a cold drink and a bit to eat by the time we finished at 1.40pm. But what a wood this is.
Text supplied by Martin Kincaid