Sunday, 10 August 2014

Field Trip to Bannerdown Common, 6th. August 2014

This was planned as a combined trip with Bath Nats and the Somerset Branch of Butterfly Conservation, but on the day the only BC members who attended were also members of Bath Nats. Bannerdown Common is just in Somerset, but on the border of both Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, so perhaps a bit far for most Somerset BC members. I led this walk round the transect route on Bannerdown, with fellow transect walker, Geoff Hiscocks and we arrived in good time at 9.30 for a 10.00 start, to find we already had so many of our group already there that we were only just able to squeeze into the limited car parking space. The weather was overcast and it began to drizzle while we waited by the cars, so we were delighted that eventually 19 people attended this trip, including Mike Tabb, who chairs the Common’s management group. They were rewarded, as soon the sun came out, the temperature rose rapidly and the butterflies started flying. We ran this trip last year, but in the heatwave that was July 2013, so we expected some different species this year, nearly a month later in the summer. The walk starts with a group of Oak trees interspersed by Ash, around which we regularly see Purple Hairstreaks. In 2013 on the transects, we saw quite a few, but none have been seen on the transects this year, and sadly so it was today. Another change since last year is the fencing of the Common, which involved much clearing of undergrowth and some trees. This is to allow cattle to graze here, in the hope that they will keep the grass and vegetation down, so that the regular annual mowing can be reduced and if possible, ceased altogether. Only 6 cattle were placed here this year and they were removed a couple of weeks before our trip, but it was evident that they had made quite an impression on the vegetation.
Small Copper
Very soon we saw a number of Common Blue butterflies mixing in with the Meadow Browns, and then we saw the first of several Small Coppers. The group walked at a leisurely pace allowing many photographs to be taken and ample time for binoculars to be focused on, not only the butterflies, but the plants and flowers. For much of our walk, a pair of Buzzards wheeled over the Common, looking for prey.
The transect is divided into 5 stages, and the first and last of these are on the edge of the meadow part of the Common. Towards the end of stage 1, we saw our first Comma, a Red Admiral and then plenty of Gatekeepers. Stage 2 becomes more
Common Blue
enclosed, but we continued to see a number of Common Blues, together with a few Green-Veined Whites. The favourite nectaring plants seemed to be the white Old Man’s Beard, the mauve Marjoram and Hemp Agrimony and various yellow flowers, including Bird’s Foot Trefoil. We entered the woods and in the dappled sunlight, saw several Speckled Woods. Stage 3 is nicknamed the Butterfly Bank and we saw plenty of Common Blues there, and two Holly Blues were spotted plus several Brown Argus and a solitary rather worn Small Skipper. Earlier in the week, a Clouded yellow had been spotted, but alas it didn’t show today. We heard from Mike Tabb about plans to have this bank cut using brush cutters, at the end of September, in an attempt to keep down the various small trees that had seeded, including Hawthorne and Oak, and we discussed how this might affect the butterflies and larvae that would still be living there.
We climbed up out of stage 3 into the woods again and then out into the wider stretch of the 4th. stage
Painted Lady
where on a good spread of Marjoram we saw a number of Small Tortoiseshells and one very fine Painted Lady. This kept us busy for a while, but then, rather spread out, the group returned through the stage 5 meadow back to the cars, with people taking diversions into the side undergrowth to see what they could find on the many wild flowers and several Buddleia, which were still in flower. It was commented that this year, most Buddleia had finished flowering by now, whilst the butterflies that most frequent them in other years were only now on the wing.
Towards the end of this stage, Alan Rayner, Bath Nats’ chair, spotted a good example of Ergot growing on a grass seed head, and he described to the group the effects this fungal growth used to have on people who ate Rye infected with it, known in the Middle Ages as St. Anthony’s Fire, because of the burning sensation it caused in limbs, often leading to loss of the limb. He wisely declined to eat any in order to demonstrate this.
In all, 14 butterfly species were recorded as well as 4 species of day-flying moth.
Peter Shirley
Photos by Paul Wilkins        More photos by Geoff Hiscocks and Peter Shirley click link below.
                                                                      More Photos

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