A report on Butterfly activity throughout 2018 by Gazette reader Thomas W. W. Knowles from Eccleshall
Dear Gazette Readers
After a slight improvement in 2017 over the previous year, 2018 was a very strange year for butterflies in Eccleshall in that with the long coldish late winter/early Spring, butterflies were very scarce until mid-April then in the Autumn, perhaps because of the declining numbers of the garden coloured butterflies, the last sighting made was earlier than usual on October 22nd.
In between these seasons we had an enormously hot summer which itself was not all good news. However, the perception was that there were a lot of butterflies this year. To a point this was true until sightings were analysed because it was the Large White, the Small White and to a lesser extent the Green Veined White that had a good summer – all very visible butterflies thereby giving the impression of abundance.
In fact, the hot weather did not suit every species and the Small Tortoiseshells massed in numbers (54 were counted in Eccleshall’s Holy Trinity Church Tower) in July in what is known as “aestivation” where, because of the extreme heat they take up hibernation mode and are not seen on the wing.
A further problem with the hot summer was that good butterfly attracting plants like buddleias were short of nectar whilst because of the dryness, caterpillar foodstuffs were drying out thus damaging the butterfly life cycle. Some experts say this will have a detrimental affect on next year’s broods for some species.
However, the Whites were not the only butterflies to do well, Small butterflies such as Common Blue did well and after not seeing them for a few years, Small Copper and Brown Argus were spotted. The Holly Blue was to be seen widely in small numbers.
The biggest excitement of the year was the appearance of a Silver Washed Fritillary in a garden in the middle of July breaking new ground for Eccleshall.
After a good year in 2017, Red Admirals were rather scarce along with Small Tortoiseshells on the wing, there were a few Peacocks but nothing like the numbers of a decade ago and the other over-wintering butterfly, Comma, was to be seen regularly but only in small numbers and in fact was the only variety seen in March.
In May there was a reasonable showing of Orange Tip and the first Speckled Woods appeared. The latter species had suffered from the Building of Sancerre Grange but this year seemed to have stabilised. However other field butterflies that had their habitats disrupted by new building in Eccleshall, continued to do badly with Meadow Brown, Gate Keeper, Ringlet and Small Skipper – the latter only just clinging on – all giving cause for concern.
The only other butterflies to be seen were Brimstone which I have never seen many of in the area I cover and Painted Lady which is an immigrant and sightings vary from zero some years to abundance on other occasions. This year was at best modest!
Thomas W. W. Knowles, Eccleshall