A party of 20 met on a mild morning of
light cloud and hazy sunshine that was ideal for the main purpose of the day, which
was to see and enjoy the varied insect life of this small oasis set in the
middle of well-farmed fields. Within
minutes the group had fragmented into interest groups as various butterflies
and moths were being discovered. After a
dismal early start to the year, the last month has seen a great improvement in
not only the variety but also the numbers of butterflies, and none more so than
the “whites”. During the course of the two hour walk we saw hundreds of white
butterflies, the bulk of which were Small & Green-veined, then later some
Large Whites. Of especial interest to
most of the group were the Chalk-hill Blues where we saw both the showy males
and the more subtly camouflaged females. Other delights were the Common Blues,
Small Copper, and both Small and Essex Skippers. A very dilapidated and heavily worn
Dark-green Fritillary was admired despite its rather woebegone appearance, but
it is right at the end of the flight period for this species.
Moths were also in evidence with the
cryptically coloured Dusky Sallow nectaring on the heads of Knapweed, Field
Scabious or Woolly Thistle. Others
recorded were Six-spot Burnet, Shaded Broad Bar and many Silver Y. A
particularly colourful and pleasing micro moth called Pyrausta purpuralis was present in numbers on the Marjoram that
grows abundantly on the lower part of the slope. The depredations by the tiny Horse-chestnut
leaf miner micro moth were discussed, as the Horse-chestnut trees at the
entrance to the site were heavily infested.
Other forms of wildlife were not ignored as
Chiffchaff, Bullfinch and Nuthatch were heard, comment was made concerning the
parasitic nature of both Yellow Rattle and Red Bartsia, which are helping to
combat the spread of coarse grasses that are having a detrimental effect on the
traditional downland plant communities.
Dr Alan Rayner identified and expanded on the tiny fungus Bolbitius vitellinus, which is brilliant
yellow in its early stages, before the cap expands, and also pointed out the
very smart male Red-tailed Bumble bees with their yellow faces. One very small and very nervous Common Lizard
was seen on an old ant-hill but did not linger to allow more that two people to
By the end of the walk we had seen 16 species
of butterfly, 6 macro & 5 micro moth species, and a very pleasing variety
of other insect forms plus other wildlife.
Finally a bonus of a non natural history nature came when the old Plaister “pilgrims chapel was opened especially
to allow members to view it.