2017 Butterfly observations in Eccleshall
sent by reader Thomas W. W. Knowles of Eccleshall
2017 has been a significant improvement on 2016 but remains one of the poorest years since we arrived in Eccleshall during April 2005.
There are some specific local reasons for this, not least being a 144 Bovis Homes building site east of Badgers Croft whilst at the other end of the town a further substantial development is taking place. Add to this several infill projects and several habitats have been lost. The worst affected butterflies are the “field” species that are on the wing from late June – Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Skipper and Gate Keeper all of which give cause for concern.
The number of species seen this year was one down on 2016 and once again no Small Coppers, Brown Argus or Clouded Yellows were noted. This year I never saw a Brimstone in the area covered.
This year the first butterfly identified was a Comma (two actually) on 13th March whilst the last observation was very late being the 20th November when two Red Admirals were seen.
After the a very dismal showing of butterflies in 2016, I am pleased to say that there was a definite improvement during 2017. The poor 2016 is thought, by many to have been caused by the very long cold spring but in 2017 the weather allowed a more normal development of the butterflies to take place.
The one area of great concern, however, has been the catastrophic decline in what I call the field butterflies in the areas close to the developments of new housing estates that are taking place. Unfortunately, this seems to have affected butterflies in the wider area and Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Speckled Woods and Small Skippers were all scarce and Ringlets too, although the latter were more plentiful than in 2016, the numbers seen were well below those noted prior to the building works.
Red Admiral did particularly well in 2017. This butterfly is largely an immigrant but is also capable of hibernating and I saw an example in our garden as early as mid-April and I saw a couple of very late Red Admirals on 20th November. Other butterflies familiar in our summer gardens were perhaps rather disappointing especially the Peacock and the Small Tortoiseshell which seems to be in decline nationwide. However, the Comma held its own although as usual numbers were low. There were a few Painted Ladys around and the Large White had an average year, both species being immigrants although the latter can overwinter in chrysalis form.
Apart from the unexceptional showing of other whites, the only other butterflies noted this year were the Holly Blue, which seems stable, and a couple of sightings of the Common Blue which pleased me as I thought their main known (by me) local habitat was destroyed by building works that are taking place in so many sites within Eccleshall.
I never saw a Brimstone this year but I believe some were seen by other people and the Small Copper seems to have disappeared from Eccleshall with my not having seen one since 2015.
NOTE: For the first time since we came to Eccleshall I neither saw or heard a Grasshopper in the area.
Thomas W. W. Knowles
A few comments below relate to each species noted.
Comma. The first butterfly seen then nothing until late June. July was the best month but no more than 5 were seen on the same day. Overall an average year but well improved on 2016.
Peacock. Better than 2016 but virtually nothing in the Spring with a summer best of 18 seen in one day whilst the best seen in the garden was 5. Bearing in mind that our garden has several buddleias why were they not attracted to them? In 2013 42 were seen in the garden on the best day and 74 were noted on the best day with good figures on the years prior to that. Is Peacock in severe decline locally?
Small Tortoiseshell. There seems to be national concern about the decline of this butterfly which used to be so prolific. For certain there was a better showing than 2016 but that was such a bad year. Apart from 2016 one has to go back to 2011 to find such a poor showing.
Orange Tip. I was away for most of the week after the best showing of just 7 butterflies (7th May) and never saw any more on my return. A very early finish for Orange Tip being on the wing. Probably one has to go back to 2007 to find a worse year. Very disappointing but the building works will have disturbed the species.
Holly Blue. Having had some poor years at the start of this decade I did feel that Holly Blue is stable locally although numbers remain fairly low. The best day of the year saw 4 of which one was in our garden. This is fairly consistent with the last two years although 2014, a fairly good year for butterflies was awful for Holly Blue.
Small White. Because from a distance it is hard to distinguish between a Small White, a Green Veined White and in the Spring, a female Orange Tip I decided from late July to discontinue recording Unidentified Whites of which there were quite a lot. Of Small Whites identified there was an enormous improvement on 2016 with a similar showing as 2015 and 2014. However, the sightings were insignificant compared with the very good year of 2013.
Red Admiral. 2017 was a really good year for this species bearing in mind that some autumns have seen prolific numbers on bee ivy on trees in the fields to the east of Badgers Croft which have now either been felled or are inaccessible. The first sighting was clearly a Red Admiral that had hibernated and was noted in our garden on 16th April. The highest numbers seen were 16 (22nd July), 18 (7th August), 10 twice in mid-September and 14 (12th October) showing the long period of flight. Two were seen on 20th November which was exceptionally late.
Speckled Wood. Oh dear! This is a species that has almost disappeared no doubt in part because of local building works. The most seen in a day was just 2. Even in the bad year of 2016 the best seen in a day was 8. This has been by far the worst year since we arrived in Eccleshall in 2005.
Common Blue. The main habitat has gone and sightings are rare; two single observations were made in 2017. However there have been odd years when I have never seen a Common Blue and most others have been in line with the 2017 sightings, so I suppose there is no cause for concern.
Green Veined White. The appearances of GVW vary greatly from year to year and 2017 was unexciting with the species being on the wing from early May to mid- September. The most seen on one day was only16 but that was slightly better than 2016 although one day in 2011 96 were seen!!
Large White. I felt that this was quite a good year for Large White with a best day’s sighting of 28 but this was slightly down on 2016, it was better than both 2014 and 2015. As an immigrant, although some do overwinter here in chrysalis form, numbers are likely to be inconsistent and some years have been awful whilst in 2005, 2009 and 2013 there was at least one day when over 50 Large Whites were observed.
Painted Lady. The first observations in late May were earlier than usual and I hoped for a good year. Unfortunately, this was not to be and I never saw more than 3 in one day although nearly every fine day in late July/early August I saw at least one. The last sighting was in mid-September. 2017 was no worse than 2016 or 2015 and the species was almost non-existent in 2014. 2013 was poor and none were seen in 2012or 2011. However if one goes back to 2009, 23 were seen in a day. This I believe demonstrates the variability of immigrant butterflies.
Meadow Brown. This species has suffered badly in recent years not helped by the building works removing suitable habitat. I never saw more than 6 in a day in 2017 and 2016 was as bad. Going back to the few years before the building works started the following best days were noted: 2015 (24); 2014 (19); 2013 (17); 2012 (20) at which point I expressed concern for the robust survival of the species. Going back earlier, 2009 produced a best of 86, 2008 44 and 2007 60 and 2006 115. The maximum number of 6 against these figures is a worry.
Ringlet. When I came to Eccleshall in 2005, Ringlet had not been reported. However, in 2006 I noted small numbers and after a couple more poor years the species then flourished with 20 being seen one day in 2009 and then 61 in 2012. Clearly Ringlet had become established although the next three years were not quite as good. Then came the building works east of Badgers Croft. What a decline. In 2015 the most seen in a day was 5 and this year although better at 17 is a pale shadow of the situation prior to habitat changes.
Small Skipper. The “field” butterflies are the ones that have suffered most from the disruption to their habitat especially the Bovis estate. Only 2 were seen on any one day in 2017, one worse than 2016. In the last year prior to the building 17 were seen on the same day which had been the best since 2006.
Gate Keeper. I find it hard to decide whether this species is the one worst hit since the building works east of Badgers Croft when compared with the previous three species considered. This year I never saw more than 3 on any one day which was awful. 2015 produced 20 on the best day, 2014 (17), 2013 (22) and 2012 (35). It is really worrying for these “field” species.