Satyrium w-album 20th June 2009. Lincolnshire Limewoods. This very fresh, dark example had just emerged when I was lucky enough to find and photograph it on a small group of Elms. I had already found eggs on these particular trees during the winter, and followed the development of several larvae to the pupal stage, so I already knew roughly where to look to find the adults. I had put the hours in! The "luck" was turning up on the precise day that this one happened to emerge, and to find it, close to its pupa, before it took its first flight and disappeared out of sight into the top of the canopy. I have spent quite a bit of time over the years hunting for eggs and larvae of White-letter Hairstreaks. They are by no means common in Lincolnshire, but neither are they quite as rare as many people believe, and I have located a number of small colonies through the centre of the county. Unfortunately, quite a few of these tend to be short-lived, as the Elms die from Dutch Elm Disease. However, the butterfly does seem pretty proficient at seeking out new territory where healthy Elm persists.
Argynnis paphia 19th June 2012. Lincolnshire Limewoods. Over the past decade, this large and dramatic butterfly has been spreading north and east in range in England, and has recolonised Lincolnshire very effectively. It is now a common sight once again in most larger woods in the county. A powerful flyer, bright orange on the wing, it is a most welcome sight during the summer months. This is a very fresh male, resting up on a thistle head during slightly overcast weather, allowing the camera to get up close.
Pararge aegeria 19th April 2017. Central Lincolnshire. This is another species that has become much more widespread over recent decades. When I first moved to Lincolnshire in the late 1970's, it was strictly confined to woodland habitats, but has since spread out into the wider countryside, and into villages and towns. It is a common sight in my village garden,where it breeds every year. Pretty much a constant companion during walks in the countryside, from early spring right through to autumn in a series of broods, numbers often reach their best in September. Watching the males spiralling around fighting over territories in dappled sunlight is a perennial pleasure!
Lycaena phlaeas 27th August 2014. Lincolnshire Limewoods. This is probably the British butterfly that I miss the most these days. It was once common pretty much everywhere, along farm tracks, on bits of rough grassland and brownfield sites (so-called "wasteland"), and even an occasional garden visitor. In recent years it has become very much scarcer, and I see very few around nowadays, other than in one or two nature reserves, or on the coast. Ocasional individuals still turn up elsewhere every now and then. I hope that this small, dazzling, aggressive little beauty makes a comeback one day soon and returns to its former abundance.
Favonius quercus 22nd June 2009. Lincolnshire Limewoods. This female must have been one of the first to emerge in Lincolnshire back in 2009. I found her late in June, just sat warming herself in the mid-morning sunshine. A very fresh individual, showing off her glorious purple patches. This is an incredibly common butterfly in woods across much of the UK, but is overlooked by many visitors to our woodlands, as it spends much of its time up in the canopy. My favourite time to watch Purple Hairstreaks is around 7.30pm on warm bright summer evenings, when they are often highly active around the tops ot the Oaks. Dozens of males can be seen spiralling around and fighting over territories as they perch, awaiting a female to pair with. In good years, smaller numbers can even be found on single Oak trees along country lanes. One of my favourite British butterflies.
Aglais io 24th August 2012. Lincolnshire Limewoods. One of my earliest memories is of seeing my first ever Peacock butterfly on Brading Down on the Isle of Wight in the early 1970s. I was on holiday with my parents, and my mother and father had spotted a spectacular butterfly sat on the ground in front of them. They were trying to point it out to me, but at first I couldn't see it. Then I spotted it, and to this day I can remember the completely overwhelming impression that it made on my senses as my young eyes drew it into focus. I simply couldn't believe that anything could be so beautiful and so amazingly coloured and patterned. It totally blew my mind. Of course, I thought, it must be incredibly rare! As one of our commonest butterflies I do wonder if we become desensitized to just how amazing the colours are on a fresh Peacock butterfly's wings. If they really were a rare species, people would surely travel hundreds of miles to see one. Sometimes it is good to try and look at something through the eyes of a child and recapture the magic of that first ever sighting...
Apatura iris 9th July 2015. Lincolnshire Limewoods. And so we come to the "big game" of the British butterfly world - His Imperial Majesty - the Purple Emperor. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I used to take summer holidays down in Wiltshire, and make an annual mid-July pilgrimage to Bentley Wood to see this species. Nowadays, four decades later, I have it just fifteen minutes down the road from me in central Lincolnshire. A combination of a re-introduction project and natural range expansion means that the Emperor and his Empress may now be found in several Lincolnshire woods. The thrill of seeing this powerful, majestic beast on the wing never fades, and the excitement and tachycardia of finding one down on the ground endures! Unbeatable!
Apatura iris 16th July 2019. Lincolnshire Limewoods. Perched up in an Ash tree, this is a more typical distant view of this species. See previous image for commentary.
Euphydryas aurinia 18th May 2017. Lincolnshire Limewoods. Having died out in Lincolnshire some time around the middle of the 1900s, this species re-appeared in central Lincolnshire in the early 1990s as a result of a re-introduction. The introduction was one of the most successful ever re-establishment projects involving a British butterfly. A lot of innaccurate information circulates regarding the circumstances of the re-introduction and why the butterfly has been so successful here. It is a gorgeous species that has undergone a population explosion in recent years, to the extent that several thousand adults have been seen over an area of just a few hectares. A very variable species in terms of markings and colouration, this individual is pretty typical of those found here.
Anthocharis cardamines 19th April 2017. Central Lincolnshire. This is one of my favourite images. A mating pair of Orange Tips, photographed in the wilderness of my back garden, low down on the edge of my wildflower mini-meadow. Many butterfly enthusiasts comment on how the Orange Tip is the butterfly that is most symbolic of the arrival of springtime, and that certainly resonates with me. The sight of the first male of the year is indeed a heart-warming moment, after the long winter months spent with an absence of warm sunshine and winged beasts. The undersides are as attractive in their own right as the uppersides, particularly as seen here. Whilst writing this I have noticed that there is some variance in the English name of this butterfly, with some authors using "Orange-tip" and others using "Orange Tip". Common across most of the UK, and remarkably stable in numbers from year to year, at least in my part of Lincolnshire.
Celastrina argiolus 1st August 2019. Central Lincolnshire. The Holly Blue is a butterfly that fluctuates enormously in abundance from year to year. In some years it is almost completely unseen, whereas in others it is a common sight. This is the species of blue that the non-butterfly enthusiast is most likely to notice, as it is much more common in towns and villages than out in the countryside. Parks, gardens and churchyards are good places to find it. It is a lively insect, often seen on the move and flying quite quickly up and over shrubs and trees. The females have a particularly attractive uperside, with a broad black forewing edge to the bright blue colour.
Pieris napi 26th August 2020. Lincolnshire Limewoods. This is one of our commonest butterflies, and tends to get overlooked, even by butterfly enthusiasts. Which is a shame. And to add insult to injury, it is also often mistaken by gardeners as a pest of cabbages and other brassicas, but unike its relatives, it does not lay on cultivated species. I have included this image because I like the way the soft focus on the far upperwing tends to draw your eye to the sharper focus of the underwing pattern and the butterfly's complex eye. That green-veining on the underside is an optical illusion. There is no green on the wings. The "green" effect is achieved by the close juxtaposition of the tiny black and yellow wing-scales.
Dark Green Fritillary
Speyeria aglaja 14th June 2020. South Lincolnshire. This is the most widespread of the fritillary species to be found in the UK, but is nevertheless quite local over much of its range. In Lincolnshire it has established itself in the far south of the county, close to the county border, where this photograph was taken. The origin of occasional records elsewhere in Lincolnshire are unclear, but it seems to be another species that has been attempting a range expansion over recent years. It is a powerful flyer, and an avid feeder at nectar sources, preferring purple flowers such as thistles and knapweeds.
Callophrys rubi 8th May 2015. Lincolnshire coast. Unlike the other four species of Hairstreak found in the UK, the Green Hairstreak does not spend most of its time up in the tree canopy out of sight. This should make it easier to find and photograph, and to some extent it does. It is a butterfly associated with scrubby habitats, be they on the coast, on downland, moorland, or along woodland edges. These beasts are very lively when on the wing, and can be difficult to follow in flight, but they also spend quite a bit of time sat still, and are very well camouflaged when at rest. They vary considerably in terms of how much of a white "hairstreak" mark they have on their underside. This example is at one extreme of the spectrum, having just a tiny vestigial white mark. It is, however, very freshly emerged and shows off its almost iridescent green colouration spendidly! The Lincolnshire coast supports some strong colonies of this beauty. Elsewhere in the county there are a handful of scattered populations, mainly in the south-west.
Erynnis tages 2nd May 2020. Lincolnshire Limewoods. The Dingy Skipper does often take after its name. It can be a rather drab butterfly to behold once it has been on the wing for a week or two, as it becomes faded and damaged, but when fresh it is quite a stunner. And they don't come much fresher than this female, photographed on my birthday (I'll take presents such as this over socks and bottles of wine anytime!) It is a very local species, largely confined to the south-west of Lincolnshire, with an isolated relic population in the central Limewoods. It flies low to the ground in typical skipper fashion, and can be quite hard to follow as it skips over the vegetation.
Thecla betulae 11th August 2012. Lincolnshire Limewoods. I seem to have spent almost half my life studying the Brown Hairstreak in the Lincolnshire Limewoods, mainly during winter months, searching for the hibernating eggs on blackthorn. It is a fascinating species to study, and despite having found and mapped many thousands of eggs over the years, I stil get a bit of a buzz when I find one. The adult butterfly is hundreds of times harder to find than the overwintering egg, but thanks to a combination of habitat management and creation, genetic enhancement, and climatic changes, Brown Hairstreaks have become increasingly widespread and numerous in central Lincolnshire over the past two decades, and sights such as this gorgeously fresh female are more common than they were forty years ago. This butterfly really needs a new name. "Brown" hairstreak doesn't do it justice at all! Instantly recognisable in flight due to the golden flashes given off by the underwings, this insect is a real crowd-puller towards the end of the summer, with many entomologists visiting the Limewoods specifically to see it.
Thecla betulae 28th August 2015. Lincolnshire Limewoods. See previous image for commentary.
Satyrium pruni 20th June 2005. Lincolnshire Limewoods. This lovely fresh female Black Hairstreak was photographed at nectar during the early afternoon, in mild but overcast conditions. They are very approachable butterflies when at nectar, not at all shy, and not usually easily spooked. I had formerly seen them at a couple of sites further south in the UK, in Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, but in the early 2000s they were introduced into Chambers Farm Wood in Lincolnshire, where they have remained ever since, and have actually spread out to other nearby sites.
Aphantopus hyperantus 5th July 2020. Lincolnshire Limewoods. The Ringlet is a very common butterfly in Lincolnshire, particularly in damp woodland rides. It would be easy to overlook this species as "just another brown butterfly", but when freshly emerged it is a gorgeous creature with velvety, dark chocolate brown uppersides fringed with white, and a lovely underside, shown here in its full glory. This particular individual had recently emerged from the pupa, and is photographed here sat on a log in a freshly cleared piece of woodland after its maiden flight.
Little Scrubbs Meadow
Lincolnshire Limewoods Home to Marsh Fritillary, Purple Emperor etc.
Lincolnshire Limewoods Home to Brown Hairstreak, Orange Tip etc.