After some strong painkillers and a decent night’s sleep, I woke this morning feeling pretty well, and decided to take an early trip up to Trench Wood, in search of the Purple Hairstreaks which have been sighted there over the past couple of weeks.
This is actually the commonest hairstreak butterfly in the UK, especially in England and Wales, yet it’s quite likely that most people will never ever see one. This is because they live, feed and breed in oak trees – often high up in the canopy – and have no real need to come to ground level at all. Adult butterflies mainly eat honeydew, though they will sometimes take nectar – especially, it’s said, during spells of hot, dry weather. The females lay their eggs at the base of a plump oak bud, where they stay until the following spring. On hatching the larvae burrow into the bud, and remain in it until after their first moult; they then move out of the bud, but continue to feed on it, camouflaged by a silk cocoon which they spin over themselves. They may come to ground to pupate in leaf litter, or may do this in a crevice in their tree. Pupation takes about four weeks, with the adults emerging in late June to begin the cycle over again.
I had seen Purple Hairstreaks on my previous two trips to Trench Wood – but only as tiny distant specks, flying around the tops of some of the oak trees. Today, working on information I’d picked up in the Butterfly Conservation group on Facebook, I made straight for the pond in the middle of the site. There are a couple of large oaks very close by, which were busy with butterflies, and within a couple of minutes I’d spotted two at ground level; over the next half hour that number increased to around a dozen, alternately basking and squabbling around the low vegetation. They seemed quite unfazed by the presence of a large human – especially this individual, which allowed me to get in very close with the macro lens and record the pretty iridescence on its underwing, and its spectacularly hairy eyes.
If you’re wondering what it is about this butterfly that caused it to be called a Purple Anything, I’ve posted a selection of other shots, some of which show the overwing colouring, to my Facebook page.
And now I’m off out to sing some Rossini – I hope that you’re all having as good a day as I am!