29.06.14. Nature Notes #35
Butterflies and Moths
On Sunday June 29th, I decided to see how the umbellifers were doing at Frodsham Marsh and parked up at the old log, sitting in the sun and enjoying a Costa latte which I didn’t spill this time. It was around 16 c and sunny but windy. Hogweed was out in abundance and I had a quick look around the parking spot. The flower heads were alive! Hundreds of insects fed on the nectar. I spent the next hour on the track below the old log and came across some interesting things, as well as lots of butterflies. So, for now I will just cover the butterflies and a couple of moths, and leave the insects until next time. They still need some sorting out!
During my slow walk along the banks of the Weaver past the lovely Red-necked Grebe and around the ICI tank, I recorded over 330 butterflies of ten species, plus a couple of nice moths. Frank Duff had spotted the first ever Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus, for Frodsham Marsh on June 14th 2014, by coincidence, equaling the earliest Cheshire record. I decided to see if I could find one and headed for the ICI tank. It wasn’t long before one flew past, but my excitement turned into surprise as more and more appeared. In all I saw around twenty, most worn insects, but all still active.
Not knowing the status in Cheshire I contacted Barry Shaw, County Recorder for Butterflies. These were his comments: Ringlets Up until 10 years ago the only breeding sites in Cheshire were in the extreme south in the Wych Valley . Since then there has been a massive range extension – in 2013 they even bred on the Handforth fields, whilst my younger lad found a colony on the northern edge of the county near Risley. Your sightings at Frodsham are, however, the first for that site and as there is a reasonable coverage from there it does appear likely that the Ringlet has only recently arrived there – I think the nearest other site is at Mouldsworth. So, a good result.
Gatekeeper Pyronia hyperantus, male in fresh condition.
In contrast, Gatekeepers Pyronia tithonus were in a very fresh condition and the bright orange of their wings made them easy to pick out from the much commoner Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina.
Two species of skippers were obvious, the most numerous being Small Skipper Thymelicus flavus with around 120 being recorded.
Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus, male showing the distinctive sex brand, the black line on the wing.
Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus numbered around 25. I wondered whether there was an outside chance of Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola, and looked at quite a lot of small without success. The nearest colony is in Derbyshire (B.Shaw). However, the diagnostic orange underside to the tips of the antennae is quite obvious on a good view as opposed to the inky black underside on Essex. One of my photos actually shows dark tips on a Small but it isn’t black, so just a variant.
Small Skipper Thymelicus flavus male showing the sex brand and one individual with blackish tips underneath the tips of the antennae, rather than orange which is more usual.
As well as the butterflies, there were some beautiful day-flying moths about, namely Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnets Zygaena lonicerae. They were in pristine condition and the metallic bottle greens and blues of their wings and body contrasted with the poppy-red of the forewing spots and hind wings. Absolutely stunning insects.
Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Zygaena lonicerae, adult on Creeping Thistle.
And finally, more colour.
Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae had been active a few weeks ago and had laid their eggs on Ragwort. The black and yellow striped larvae of various sizes were dotted around on plants. They always make a good subject for the camera and I snapped away. I never realised that they had long grey hairs on their backs.
Cinnabar Moth larvae Tyria jacobaeae on Ragwort.
Written and images by Tony Broome