Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Canterbury tales...

I've been itching to get back to Canterbury and photograph the butterflies, as I did around this time last year & yesterday it finally happened.

Our weather has been, well, changeable over these past few days and yesterday once again, it didn't feel like June. But, by midday it was warm enough, if a touch overcast and so armed with cameras and a packed lunch, myself and other half Lizzie with Herbie (the terrier) in-tow set off on the drive across the Kent countryside that would an hour or so later see us arrive at our destination of Blean

Blean Woods is a National Nature Reserve and is classified as semi-natural ancient woodland.
The woods have been heavily managed in the past as a source for sweet chestnut coppice. When the coppice is cut and conditions are more open, the ground is colonised by Common Cow-wheat.

It's this Cow-wheat that is the food plant for the caterpillar of the rare Heath Fritillary Butterfly.

In 1980 the species was considered to be "The most endangered U.K. species" after a nationwide survey found only 31 surviving colonies. 
Hence, it has now been given protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

I couldn't (and luckily, didn't have to) wait to get re-acquainted with these beautiful insects. We headed for the main entrance....

Remembering last year's visit and having read my 2010 diary notes before we left home, we recalled the area where the butterflies were to be found and took the path towards the coppiced area.

In no time at all we'd located not one but several of the little ones, some flitting around amongst the cow-wheat and others, wings wide open, sunning themselves on the chestnut leaves.

Still more were to be seen low down in the grass (a trait of this butterfly),here we were barely out of the car and already I was in fritillary heaven!

I knelt down and eased towards one of the insects and as it seemed unconcerned by my presence thought I'd get as close a shot as possible using the 100mm macro lens, this first photo is that shot.

The full glory of this wonderful butterfly was revealed to me as it came into focus. Wow! If we had to leave now, I would return home a happy man.

To think that this very same species of butterfly was on the brink of extinction in the late 1970s and here I was photographing not one but over the course of the next couple of hours, probably dozens.

I've read that it was the shock of the extinction of the Large Blue in the 1970s that provoked renewed efforts amongst entomologists in 1979 to conserve this butterfly.Plans to manage habitats were put into place that would ultimately  save it from extinction.

Those in south east England are found in woodland. Whatever the habitat, this species requires areas that are relatively-warm. This could be a patch of heathland that has recently been burned or a newly-coppiced clearing in a wood. The butterfly will readily colonise such areas, which resulted in it being given the name of "woodman's follower" as it colonises new clearings that have been created in a wood.

The Heath Fritillary

It shocks and saddens me that we could have allowed this beautiful insect to get so close to the edge that it almost became too late to do anything about it. What were we thinking? 
Perhaps we are so involved in our own, busy lives that we no longer care? After all, as people (who will remain nameless here) have often said to me "What good do they do?"

Anyhow, a couple of nice close-up shots for starters, what I now needed was a wings open photograph to show just how stunning they are viewed from above.

I'm as sure as I can be (and that's not 100%) that this will be a female. The females do seem to spend a lot of their time just lazing around, sunning themselves! (familiar)?

There is a huge variety of differing markings amongst this breed and although at first glance they appear to be identical, nothing could be further from the truth. They can differ in both pattern and colour.

A darker example
The butterfly pictured above doesn't just appear darker against the lighter daisies, it is so.


Of course a great deal of time is also spent on feeding. These little insects expend a lot of energy in their short lives and so need to take on sustenance at regular intervals.

Most will only be around for 5-10 days but it's a very busy time of feeding, mating, egg laying etc.

Amongst the daisies

As usual I took far too many photographs, carried away  in the moment. Probably around a couple of hundred in all. We spent a fair amount of time wandering around these fantastic woods and found quite a few other interesting insects and bugs that I wouldn't normally see at home. 

I haven't had a chance to check through them all yet but no doubt that'll make for a future blog entry.

I realise that this whole entry has been about the fritillaries of course but it's not everyday I get to photograph such rare insects and so thought it warranted the star billing on this occasion.

I'll leave you with a final shot of the beautiful, stained-glass like under-wings.

Until the next time then...


  1. I love the shot of the Heath Fritillary feasting on the daisy. :) They are neat little butterflies. :)

  2. the butterflies were amazing was a great day out

  3. Thanks Cathy. It was a real treat to photograph these.

    Yes Lizzie. It was a lovely day all round, the butterflies were a bonus.


Please feel free to comment on my blog. I am always grateful for any feedback, good or bad. Commenting should be fast and easy. Just enter your comment in the box, then click on the drop-down box beside 'Comment as'. You can use your Google ID if you have one, or just choose 'Name/URL and enter your name (URL is not needed). You can also just choose anonymous, if you would rather not be identified.

Regards 'JJ'.

If you do experience any difficulties, you can contact me directly from this blog and I will try to help.