Monday, 25 July 2016

And the Hairstreaks Just Keep On Coming...

I apologise for returning so soon to the subject of Hairstreaks - though perhaps I shouldn't, as my White-Letter post is attracting surprisingly high numbers. Have I flushed out a hitherto unsuspected Hairstreak cult? Could it be those Norwegians?
 Be that as it may, I must report that today I had another Hairstreak encounter. This time it was the oak-loving Purple Hairstreak, and the encounter was hard-won, unlike the glorious surprise of that White-Letter Hairstreak last week. I was on Mitcham Common, where the extensive 'rough' of the golf course has become something of a butterfly haven. This afternoon - which was not very sunny or warm - the rough was alive with Small Coppers (of which I'd seen very few this year) and Small/Essex Skippers, and a few Marbled Whites were flying, as well as my first Brown Argus of the year (last year I'd seen dozens by this stage). The usual Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and Ringlets were everywhere too, and the whole area was a butterfly lover's delight.
 While not enjoying these grassland beauties, I was scanning every oak tree - they are dotted and clumped all over Mitcham Common - in the hope of spotting a Purple Hairstreak. This is rarely easy: though the Purple Hairstreak isn't quite as elusive as the White-Letter, it does prefer to spend most of its time in the treetops, making only occasional short flights and seldom descending to ground level or even eye level. It's been several years since I saw one.
 After much oak-scanning I thought I'd spotted one in flight about two-thirds of the way up a tree, but it disappeared too soon for me to have a chance of positively identifying it. Some while later, while peering into a rather larger oak, I caught sight of something silvery flying out of the neighbouring (or rather contiguous) lime tree and settling on a spray of oak about eight feet from the ground. Squinting up through the leaves, I found it. It had settled, wings folded, on the stem of a leaf, and there was no mistaking that hairstreaked underwing - this was the Purple cousin of my heart-stopping White-Letter and the Greens of the spring. It seemed to have settled down for a rest in its sheltered position, and clearly had no intention of opening its wings - so I never found out whether it was male or female. But I had found my Purple Hairstreak, and after a while I went on my way rejoicing.
 It seems this is after all going to be my Year of the Hairstreak. Though I'm not likely to make it to the Oxfordshire stronghold of the very rare Black Hairstreak, I am in with a chance of seeing all four of my Surrey hairstreaks. If, that is, I can find a Brown this year. Watch this space later in the summer.

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