Sunday 22 July 2018

Dorset and Wiltshire Butterflies

My original plan had been to visit Salisbury in Wiltshire for a few days away for my birthday so I could visit nearby Bentley Woods to look for purple emperors, a little late in the season in normal years but too late this year due to the amazing hot and dry weather we have been experiencing recently so curtailing the season early - hence my visit to Bentley Woods by train back in June.

And so on Wednesday 18th July we drove to Salisbury but with Bentley Woods no longer on the itinerary and on the drive there we stopped off at Athelhampton House and Gardens in Dorset for a visit. The house was very interesting and the gardens were lovely and I managed some interesting wildlife sightings.

Comma, holly blue, red admiral, large white, meadow brown, gatekeeper and small white were all seen along with a hummingbird hawkmoth, beautiful demoiselle, flyover siskin and a family party of spotted flycatchers moving through the trees.


Hummingbird Hawkmoth

Beautiful Demoiselle

Driving on to Salisbury and we stopped off in a layby on the A35 near Bere Regis where I wandered around the very dry vergeside vegetation looking for Essex skippers which are found here. I had a very brief view of a skipper before it dashed off, it had the black tips to the underside of its antenna indicative of an Essex skipper but despite searching I couldn't refind it.

Common blues were flying around and I watched one checking out what I thought was a female common blue but on closer inspection I realised it was a brown argus, appearing newly emerged and in beautiful condition.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus

Further searching in hot and humid conditions while the traffic thundered past along the carriageway was proving fruitless and just as I was about to give up and head back to the car I eventually found an Essex skipper which was quite flighty and a swine to observe but I managed to get a few photos of the black undersides of its antenna - I was very pleased to find one as it has been over 32 years since I last saw one back in Suffolk.

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper 

Essex Skipper 

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper

Essex Skipper

On to Salisbury and The Grasmere Hotel where we stayed for 3 nights was very nice, the room was cool and quiet and with no noisy herring gulls nearby so we actually slept very well. The hotel was on the river and with views of the cathedral and we had a very pleasent stay.

Thursday 19th July and it was hot and sunny and humid as usual and we headed out to Old Sarum for a visit, somewhere we have visited twice before in the winter but never in the summer. It was very interesting but for me the butterflies stole the show, they were everywhere - small white, brimstone, peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, ringlet, common blue, brown argus, large white, gatekeeper, meadow brown, marbled white, chalkhill blue, green veined white and clouded yellow - amazing!


 Large White

 Small Tortoiseshell

 Chalkhill Blue

Clouded Yellow

Also seen was a dusky sallow feeding on a thistle flower, a new moth for me, along with the usual silver y and 6 spot burnet, and yellowhammers were busily singing away.

Dusky Sallow

Onwards to nearby Woodhenge, a new place for us, and we followed a National Trust walking trail around the nearby area. A corn bunting and another spotted flycatcher family were the bird highlights with more brown argus and common blues being the butterfly highlights. I checked out all the skippers flitting about but all the ones I was able to identify were small and not Essex. The views on the walk were lovely across Salisbury Plain towards Stonehenge and the Barrows were interesting too but the traffic jams on the A303 didn't look much fun.

 Spotted Flycatcher 

 Brown Argus

Small Skipper - orange underside to the antenna tips

Small Skipper

Our last visit of the day was to Figsbury Ring, a National Trust managed Iron Age Fort and another site awash with butterflies - chalkhill blue, brown argus, large white, meadow brown, brimstone, small white, common blue, marbled white, holly blue and gatekeeper all flying with small heath and faded dark green fritillary also seen along with a Pyrausta nigrata.

 Dark Green Fritillary

 Small Heath

 Chalkhill Blue on Harebell

Chalkhill Blue 

Pyrausta nigrata

Friday 20th July and another hot and sunny day greeted us as we drove to Old Wardour Castle near Tisbury for a visit, a very peaceful and interesting place with a red kite flying over adding some avian interest.

Next stop was Heale Gardens near Salisbury where another family party of spotted flycatchers were seen in the trees, a hobby dashed past overhead and brimstones and green veined whites flitted about with a Pyrausta aurata.

 Spotted Flycatcher 

Spotted Flycatcher 

Pyrausta aurata

The final stop of the day was Woodhenge again where we had another wander around, seeing small heath, yellowhammers and a roe deer on a walk around the area.

Yellowhammer with House Sparrow

Saturday 21st July and our final day before heading back to Plymouth was spent looking around Salisbury and admiring the amazing architecture. A look along the river bank in the hotel garden before checking out revealed a few banded demoiselles resting on the vegetation along with a brief view of a green looking damselfly, probably an emerald damselfly.

We visited the cathedral and did a tour of the spire, something we did 20+years ago and which was a great experience then as now. I didn't manage a sighting of any peregrines which usually nest on the spire (but not this year) although I did hear a bird calling a few times.

Salisbury Cathedral

And so a great trip away, good weather, some interesting sight seeing and loads of butterflies - perfect!

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