Mon May 6th

Here's my diary entry for today.  Please note than on this day in 1990 I counted 96 Duke of Burgundies along the Noar Hill transect route (1 hr 15 mins), and only failed to get the century up because a butterfly photographer had displaced most of them from the best area (23 years on, and I'm still cross)...  The pit names will mean nothing to you - suffice it that they all have names, some of them two or three.

Mon May 6th              May Bank Holiday
Perfect!  Cloudless till some haze development late on.  Calm.  22C. 
Noar Hill, Selborne.  9.05-11.40.
I arrived to sound of the lark ascending, then left to the screaming of jays.  The first Duke of Burgundy Fritillary of the year was seen here by Tony James last Wed, the 1st.  This was also the first seen nationally.  I was surprised it began so early in this late spring (in the late spring of 1986 it didn’t start before May 16th, though the start of the month was poor).  Today, although I arrived a little early in the morning, it was apparent that the butterfly hasn’t got going here at all properly yet.  I struggled to see 10 males in a good search of the pits, all bar three of which had been out a day or more.  Tony began the transect at 11.30 and totalled only 6, though he reckoned he under-recorded due to disturbance by photographers.  Nights have probably been too cool for any significant emergence.
I saw my first at 9.25, in the Gooseberry Pit.  Then no more until one at the entrance to the Bromus Pit.  Then, remarkably, none in two visits to S10 / the Woodspurge Bank (and Tony recorded none there too), but I saw another male at the end of S12.  Also singletons in the Rubi Pit (todays), Willow Warbler Pit, Yellowhammer Pit, then 3 in KVP (S3) and one in the entrance Quarry Pit. 
The good news is that habitat conditions are great for this butterfly.  No rabbits and there’s just been some light winter sheep grazing in the Middle Pits.  It looks like a good cowslip year generally, certainly so here, with frequent flower heads over the whole reserve.  The turf height is currently perfect for Duke of Burgundy, 12-20cm on average, with plenty of moss and matted F. rubra tussocks etc.  That’s the good news. 
Butterflies were scarce generally, though I started a little too early.  Good to see a Holly Blue around one of the Rubi Pit hollies and glimpse a Dingy Skipper (Noar Hill’s first of the year) in the Bee Orchid Pit. 
I managed 5 Orange Tip males, including three together in the Quarry Pit, fighting.  Only 2 Green-veined White.  1 Small White in S12 and a lone Brimstone male in the Quarry Pit (Tony reckons all the buckthorn bushes have been cut down…).  Also 4 Peacock. 
Good to see Osmia bicolor in S10 and 2 Bombylius discolor.  Neither species occurred here in my era. 
Very much silent spring here, with not a single willow warbler.  The saving grace was common whitethroat – I heard 8, which isn’t bad.  Strangely, a trio of tree pipit – 1 in S8 and a pair above S12.  But whitethroats apart the place was rather silent…
Tony’s transect figures: 6 Duke of Burgundy, 4 Orange Tip, 3 Brimstone, 2 Comma (in S1, only I didn’t see them), 1 Peacock, 1 Green Hairstreak and 1 Small White. 

Rake Bottom, Butser Hill.  Hants.  12.15-1.15.
My first visit here for some time.  The northern end of the combe, where the slope is west-facing, has developed a sizeable Duke of Burgundy Fritillary population.  Dan Hoare counted 40 in this area on 24/5/2010.  There are several acres of steep slope here with frequent cowslips amongst 10-15cm matted F. rubra turf with frequent clumps of B. sylvaticum here, with patches of hawthorn scrub.  Hairy Violets are also pretty good, so Dark-green Fritillary may be quite reasonable here too.  Round the corner, after the combe twists, the southern half of the slope is as it was – very short turf with open air rabbit burrows and areas of bare chalk.  HCC has recently cleared areas of moderate to dense hawthorn-dominated scrub in the northern half, which should benefit Duke of Burgundy. 
I saw only 4 Duke of Burgundy here, all in the main area, 3 fresh males and a fresh female.  All had emerged today probably.  Looks like the season is even less advanced here than at Noar Hill. 
Also, great to see 8 Grizzled Skipper.  7 territorial males, one tussling with a Duke, and a fresh female – who blundered into a male territory and was instantly courted (I lost them).  Obviously, quite a reasonable population here, though it wasn’t obvious what it’s breeding on (I didn’t note and Wild Strawberry).  A fresh Dingy Skipper male too.  Also, 7 Peacock, 1 Small Tortoiseshell and 5 wandering Brimstone males.  Strangely, nothing in the lane leading up from Ramsdean.

I also spent 45 mins wandering along the north-facing slope of Ramsdean Down, but didn’t get anything like as far as Rakefield Hanger and Little Butser.  There are apparently small colonies of Duke of Burgundy dotted all along the slope bottoms here, right up to the cross dykes above Little Butser.  On my way out I met Mark Bridges who had just visited Little Butser and seen precious little, and no Duke of Burgundy.  Ramsdean also has a low rabbit population (Little Butser is still rabbit country) but there is much constipated rank F rubra turf with a lowish herb content.  Good cowslips etc, often amongst rather ruderals vegetation along the lower slopes.  I saw only the odd Peacock here. 

I finished the day with an hour or so in and around the delightful Bo Peep Copse, which I discovered back in 1976.  It has a wonderful flora, with much Solomon’s seal and patches of Herb Paris amongst the bluebells.  Also, moschatel, sanicle, yellow archangel and goldilocks, and some tall flowering cherries.  The western end was coppice ca 3-5 years back and is regrowing strongly.  The little pond is delightful still, with a healthy population of small rudd and evidently not too many carp.  Various Orange Tip, Green-veined White and Brimstone wandering around here. 


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Hi Matthew,
Thanks for the account. Sussex has finally kicked off, with reports of 4 and 7 at Heyshott Escarpment on 6th and 7th May. I opened my account today (7th) with a singleton at Rewell Wood.
Best Wishes, Neil

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