Photo: Neil Hulme

On Tuesday I drove from my home in east Northants to Manchester – via the South Downs at Heyshott. Not the most direct route, I know, but it was worth it.

I spent the morning with Neil Hulme who is Butterfly Conservation’s Fritillaries for the Future officer. I was snapping up the chance to be shown Duke of Burgundy butterflies (aka Duke of Burgundy Fritillary although they aren’t really fritillaries at all (but then they aren’t really Dukes either and they aren’t from Burgundy)).  The Duke of Burgundy belongs to the group of butterflies known as Metalmarks.  Readers of this blog with a good memory might remember that I have tried and failed to see Dukes in the UK on several occasions – I was at the right places, at the right times of year but in the wrong weather conditions eg here, here and here) and I’ve only ever seen this beautiful little butterfly on the continent.

But now I was with an expert, and as well as being an expert Neil is very good company. I like butterfly people – they are, it seems to me, rather nicer on average than birders – I wonder why that is?

Anyway, Neil was confidently promising me Dukes today and, not to make too much of a meal of this story, he delivered!  Not only did we have scores of sightings of this beautiful butterfly but I learned lots about it and about other butterflies, and I liked that.

Did you know that male Dukes have a sort of lekking system? Neither did I. They tend to gather together in warm hollows of their generally north-facing sites, and have sky-soaring battles in the air until a female arrives?

And did you know that unlike other chalk grassland butterflies, Dukes don’t want rabbit-grazed grass stretching away as far as the eye can see? They like scruffiness, and a slightly neglected-looking site with plenty of bushes suits them just fine; like the one pictured below.

And did you know, that although females Dukes (I guess Duchesses) have six legs, as one might expect, the males have only four: the front pair being reduced to vestigial structures? The females, like the one above, need a full complement of legs so that they can hang on tight to the upper surface of the leaves of Cowslips while bending their abdomen round to the under surface to lay an egg there. And that the egg is not laid on the leaf edge just in case a slug or snail starts grazing the leaf edge?

And did you know that the males rarely feed in their brief lives of just a few days?

And, and and… there’s lots more.

Over five years ago I wrote of Dukes as a species that is in real trouble in the UK (see here), and they still need a lot of our help, but on the South Downs at least (and let’s hope thanks to many of you supporting this crowd-funder, on the North York Moors too) they are doing well. Populations are increasing and the populations are spreading out to recolonise old sites.

We also saw Dingy Skipper, Green Hairstreak, Brimstone, Orange Tip, Peacock, Red Admiral, Large White, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood, Common Blue and Small Heath.  Quite a haul. And some rather smart orchids too.

The detour was well worth it!  And I’m glad that many times when I buy a train ticket or book a hotel I am donating through Give as You Live to Butterfly Conservation‘s excellent work.



Election comment 2 – the Corby constituency

Corby town

I live in the Corby constituency – a marginal constituency which tends to change party when the government does.

People who live in the top photo vote Labour  (or UKIP). People who live in the bottom photo vote Tory (or UKIP).  People who live in the small towns, that’s me, vote Tory or Labour or UKIP.

Since living here I have had the following MPs: William Powell, Phil Hope, Louise Mensch, Andy Sawford and Tom Pursglove.  This time around the recent incumbent, Mr Pursglove is facing Beth Miller and other candidates.

I don’t know much about Ms Miller, and the stack of leaflets I am expecting to arrive at home haven’t yet got to me. I wonder whether Jeremy Corbyn’s face will be on the leaflets (I’m guessing not). I wonder whether the environment will be mentioned (I’m guessing not).  I wonder whether the leaflet will inspire me (I guess not).  I wonder whether I will get the MP I want (I guess not).

But I am going to deliver leaflets and cast my vote because that’s what I can do. And people elsewhere in the world, and elsewhere in history, would die, and have died, for the chance to vote.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’ and whereas Mr Pursglove is not evil he is pretty much the type of pro-Brexit, climate change-complacent MP that I really don’t want to represent me because he doesn’t represent me. And so I’ll do my best to help get a Labour MP.

East Northants country


Have you ever had this experience?

Are you a birdwatcher? Has this ever happened to you…?

You are out birdwatching and you say to your companion something like ‘I’m surprised we haven’t seen an X by now’ and almost immediately an X sings, calls or flies past.

It even happens to me when I’m alone – I only have to think those words and it happens.

It happened to me last week on my BBS square. As I walked along that nice laid hedge I thought to myself ‘No Yellowhammers yet, there ought to be Yellowhammers’ and the next bird I saw was a Yellowhammer.  Spooky or what?!

Is it just me? If so, that’s even spookier.

I think there are two leading potential explanations. The first is important but dull – a form of confirmation bias.  Confirmation bias is when we remember better the things that confirm our beliefs than the things that contradict them.  It could just be that when this thing happens it so sticks in the mind that it overshadows all the dull times when it doesn’t happen. It’s quite likely to be the case.

I wonder though whether there might be something else going on. What if I had subconsciously heard (or even seen) a Yellowhammer, but not realised it consciously?  Was that idle thought, soon to be confirmed, the way my complex brain tells me that there is a Yellowhammer around if only I paid attention?

What do you think?

I can tell you something though. Thinking ‘It’s about time that a trip of Dotterel were running around in that field’ never works. It only seems to work with common birds. That’s a shame really.




Report of shot Hen Harrier near Leadhills

According to the Carluke Gazette:

About 5.15pm on May 4, Police Scotland received a report regarding a male who shot and killed a Hen Harrier, near to the B7040 from Leadhills to Elvanfoot.

Inspector Martin Speirs is reported to have said: ‘A number of witnesses have come forward, and significant enquiry is underway.  I urge anyone who witnessed the incident, or saw a male near the area on a quad bike at the time to come forward. I also ask that anyone who has CCTV in the area review their cameras. Wanton killing of wildlife in these circumstances is unacceptable.

Photo: Gordon Yates



Election comment 1

I wonder whether Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner have been on a media training course – if so, it’s certainly working.  Back on 20 April Barry gave Adam Bolton a trouncing on SKY news and he had a really good go at Nick Robinson on the Today programme last week. And then Emily Thornberry puts Michael Fallon firmly in his place over making up the views of the Labour party on the Marr show yesterday.  These two spokespeople are particularly good at media work, partly because they are calm and usually quite softly spoken – so when they get a bit narked it really looks as though it means something. And both of them have been doing a great job at not accepting the premise of the question (West Wing fans may remember this phrase) or in the case of Fallon insinuation or allegation. If these corrections are well done, then they are very effective and makes the speaker, and thus their party, look strong.  Or perhaps they haven’t been on a course at all, it’s just that the ructions within the Labour Party over the last few years have allowed real talent to float to the top.

The Greens have stepped aside in 31 seats in order to allow the non-Tory incumbent to stand a better chance of holding the seat or the non-Tory challengers a better chance of taking it.  This includes in half of the eight seats that the LibDems held in the last general election.  The LibDems have stood aside in Brighton Pavilion and the Labour Party has stood aside nowhere.

It would be a great shame if Caroline Lucas didn’t get back into parliament and my guess is that she will. She does a great job in parliament and this is her third general election contesting the seat whereas the Labour Party has fielded a different candidate in each of the last two elections and another new candidate (20-year old student Solomon Curtis) this time around.

In other news, a Frenchman was shockingly captured on camera surreptitiously kissing his own wife! Rumours have it that he was softening the blow that his first act as President would be to legislate that putting out les poubelles would now be regarded as le travail de la femme.