Saturday 13th July 2013

New Northern Brown Argus site discovered on 85th birthday – not a bad present!

Today is my father’s 85th birthday, and in true Champion style, we spent the morning searching for butterflies. Yesterday, 12th July, following my success with the Large Heaths, Coenonympha tullia, near Dumfries the previous day, we prospected another potential locality for that species, not far from New Galloway, and were rewarded with sightings of at least six individuals, but none would sit conveniently for photography. Still, it was encouraging to see several, as this is not a species for which we know many sites and it can easily end up missing from the annual list.

Large Heat habitat, complete with Cotton Grass and Cross-leaved Heath

Despite the spell of outstandingly warm weather we are experiencing, butterflies are few and far between. I did manage to add Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, and Green-veined White, Pieris napi, but even these normally common species were not numerous.

A beautiful loch close to the Large Heath site

However, today has proved to be somewhat more productive. We set off after breakfast to an area of rocky coast not far from Gatehouse-of-Fleet in search of a diminutive but very attractive butterfly, one which we had not seen since our most favoured site had been blocked off to access some years ago. Almost as soon as we had left the car, a tiny, darkish butterfly with paler undersides was spotted, twirling in a battle of wits with a male Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus, eventually landing on a sprig of bramble flowers and settling down to feed. Binocular views confirmed, once we had clearly seen the white spots on the underside, that this was indeed our target species, the Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxerxes.

Following this initial sighting, we finally ended up seeing around 20 individuals. I tried to obtain satisfactory photographs, but the warm sunshine meant that the butterflies were extremely active, only sitting briefly, and flying off almost as soon as I approached. I did manage to obtain one reasonable picture of the upperside, with the characteristic white spot on the forewing, and one (as usual with a grass stem in front!) of a butterfly nectaring on Bird’s Foot Trefoil.

The upperside of the Northern Brown Argus, showing the distinctive white spots

A Northern Brown Argus nectaring on Bird’s Foot Trefoil – with a grass stem in front!

After the frustration of chasing these tiny butterflies, which were hard to follow in flight, and would not sit still for long, my luck changed. I found a mating pair of Northern Brown Arguses, which were much more reluctant to fly. These I managed to approach extremely closely, and photograph in flagrante!

Northern Brown Arguses caught in the act

The mating pair of Northern Brown Arguses

My father has just looked at his records, and finds that he had not seen a Northern Brown Argus for at least seven years, so these sightings, in a new locality for us, were not a bad 85th birthday present!

How could a Champion better spend his 85th birthday than prospecting a new site for butterflies?

2013 Butterfly List as of 13th July: 67 species

2013 Scottish Butterfly list: 7 species

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