Friday 11 September 2015


One of the pleasures of retirement is being able now and then to spend a sunny afternoon in a futile quest, and thoroughly enjoy it. Yesterday I went on such a quest, in the dubious hope of seeing, for the first time, the beautiful but notoriously elusive Brown Hairstreak butterfly. The males of this late-emerging species are almost never seen, and the females only when they descend to lay their eggs, delicately and singly, on blackthorn. I headed for a common where I knew Brown Hairstreaks were seen every year at around this time, and I made my way to that part of it where they were usually spotted, where the blackthorn grows in prickly abundance, at this time of year purple with ripening sloes.
 It was gloriously sunny, but I knew I had probably left it too late - a few days earlier I might have stood a better chance, and a little earlier in the day; these Brown Hairstreaks like to lay their eggs around lunchtime. As it turned out (sorry to break the white-knuckle suspense), I was right; despite spending much time staring at blackthorn thickets, I saw no Hairstreaks. But what the hey, it was a delightful afternoon stroll, and various of my butterfly friends turned up along the way: Speckled Woods and Holly Blues, still very full of beans; tired Meadow Browns; a bright fresh Small Copper and a couple of Small Heaths (I only saw my first of this usually quite common species the other day, which is odd); a basking Comma and, back at the railway station, a fine Red Admiral feasting on a late-flowering Buddleia bush. There were also frequent flypasts by dragonflies of various sizes and colours - every summer the dragonflies seem to get more abundant. Also, along the way, a mighty thorn went straight through the sole of my left boot and into the ball of my foot. Little blood was drawn. This was Nature's way of telling me to get a new pair of boots...
 So, for the second year running, I have drawn a blank on all the Hairstreaks - Green, White-Letter, Purple, the impossibly rare Black, and the elusive Brown. Which gives me an idea: maybe next year should be the Year of the Hairstreak, in which I finally track down all five? Talking of futile quests.


  1. If you can get there next year, may I suggest Bernwood Forest near Oxford at the height of the season? Full of purple hairstreaks this year and a very good chance of a purple emperor too. I can't speak for brown hairstreaks because I've only seen one on Otmoor, not far from Bernwood, though they are said to occur there.

  2. Thanks for the tip Mark - could come in handy next year!