Aristocratic Quarry

Some while ago we spotted a guided butterfly walk around a local reserve, Totternhoe Quarry. The main quarry in the quarry would be the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) butterfly. Since neither quarry was familiar to us, we applied to join in. At the very least we’d learn our way around another useful local wildlife habitat. At best, we’d see a relatively scarce species of butterfly – it occurs in just two sites in Bedfordshire, I believe – in the company of a specialist, the Bedfordshire butterfly recorder, so identity would not be in question.

Having applied by email, I heard nothing for what seemed like a couple of weeks and, my memory being what it is, I forgot all about it. Finally, last week, I received a thumbs up email saying we could attend and, during an uncharacteristically cooperative gap in our continuing appalling weather pattern, today we joined 20+ other enthusiasts to swarm around the quarry searching for the Duke. [It used to be referred to as the “Duke of Burgundy Fritillary” but it isn’t, in fact, a true fritillary so that part of the name has been dropped, I believe.]

IMG_0114 Dingy SkipperOur first critter to be spotted was a Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages). The first did not pose favourably but there were several around and I eventually snagged a reasonable shot of one without its being obscured by blades of grass. At first, It was a little difficult trying to avoid our fellow enthusiasts to get a decent photographic angle with about 25 people all trying to do the same thing. Eventually, though, things settled down and all were able to get something of a turn at the front.

IMG_0120 Duke of BurgundyIMG_0111 Duke of Burgundy Oddly enough, since I have seen it described as “a restless insect flitting rapidly from plant to plant and rarely settling for long”, the subject that seemed to help the clamour for photos die down into a more orderly affair was our very first Duke of Burgundy, which sat for a long period sunning itself, albeit behind one shadow-casting blade of grass. That’s the one here partially showing the underside. Later, in the depths of the old quarry itself, we came across a couple more Dukes who this time posed very cooperatively in the open. Here’s a link to Butterfly Conservation’s fact sheet on the Duke of Burgundy.

IMG_0122 Green HairstreakTime was pressing so we had to leave the Dukes eventually. Just as we started walking a section which would be “unlikely to produce anything interesting”, we disturbed three Green Hairstreaks (Callophrys rubi) feeding on a flowering hawthorn bush. These uniquely green butterflies are always a delight with their white eye-liner.

Further on was an extensive broken chalk escarpment which is home to a healthy population of butterflies known variously as Small Blue/Little Blue (Cupido minimus) when in season. (My old Collins guide uses Little Blue but more recent publications seem to use Small Blue.) However, we were a little early and this year the season is decidedly late so  none were found, neither Small nor Little. This is Britain’s smallest/littlest  butterfly so we’ll have to go back for another look in more favourable conditions.

Nature continues to be a little perverse and to confound us. 😉

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