I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time and now I have – and although it wasn’t a complete success, I’m glad I did.
The carefully crafted plan involved combining an evening visit to Cheltenham racecourse with an afternoon visit to the Bill Smylie reserve above the racecourse and Cheltenham to see some Duke of Burgundy butterflies.
As you can see, I found the nature reserve on a sunny afternoon after passing through a maze of Gloucestershire lanes heading ever upwards. It’s basically just a turn-off from one of my usual backdoor routes to the races. By the time I arrived I realised I had brought my Cheltenham badge but not my membership card and so I’d have to pay if I were to go to the races – grrr!
I also realised that although it was sunny, and I could feel the warmth of the sun whilst in the car, outside it was a bit nippy and really quite windy. Now I don’t know much about butterflies, but I do know that they are very picky about things like temperature and wind so this didn’t look too good. The lanes had not been full of Orange Tips, Brimstones or unidentified whites on my way up here so the omens weren’t too good.
But the view was spectacular and wasn’t diminished at all by the breeze in my face, whipping over the Cotswold escarpment.
So there I am, standing on a nature reserve, wanting to see some butterflies on a chilly, breezy April afternoon. Under these circumstances I think to myself ‘What would Martin Warren do?’ and decide that Martin would probably come on a better day but if he had to be here today he’d try to find somewhere a bit sunny and sheltered. So that’s what I did. I walked through a meadow of Cowslips and into a little gully that was a bit of a sun trap. I saw a moth fly past, which I took to be a good sign as it showed that lepidopteran activity was possible in these conditions.
It was a nice place to sit out of the wind and the butterflies ought to have thought so too. A Cuckoo flew past – aren’t birds easy! And a Willow Warbler was singing like mad on a hawthorn bush – birds really are easy. I heard and then saw my first Whitethroat of the year – birds, easy as anything!
There were flies, I noticed. And a few more moths but I looked carefully for the slope opposite to be shimmering with Dukes of Burgundy – but it wasn’t. It was a bit early in the year in what might well be a ‘late’ spring. And it was generally a bit on the chilly side. So no surprises.
Then a moth settled next to me except it wasn’t a moth – it was a Dingy Skipper. Rather cooperatively it sat next to me while I fumbled with my phone to look it up on the butterfly app to make sure it wasn’t a moth – and it wasn’t. I would prove it to you but then my iPhone battery suddenly went dead – does yours do that a lot?
Dingy Skipper is a good butterfly, except it looks like a moth, and, let’s be honest, if you had to choose between something known as a Duke and something known as Dingy then which would you choose? So it felt, just a little, like a consolation prize. Is that mean of me?
Nice nature reserve though with one of the best views from any nature reserve in England. I’ll be back and then the grassland will be alive with Dukes, no doubt.
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