After a day dedicated to bees last week, this weekend it was time for the butterflies to entice me into the sunshine. It started when I noticed a painted lady fluttering around the bottom of the garden. These migrants are certainly some of the most flamboyant of butterflies – as beautiful on the underside as the upper side of their wings. They were enjoying the buddleia which they were sharing with several red admirals a couple of peacocks and a small tortoiseshell.
So after a quick detour via the front garden where a small skipper was enjoying the verbena bonariensis I went for a wander to a field that I’d seen my first brown argus in last year. In fact it was apparently the first time in many years that it had been recorded in Daventry.
The field is much more overgrown than last year with fewer plants, but it was alive with the sound of grasshoppers and crickets. I only walked a short way in when I saw arguably one of our most beautiful butterfly, the small copper. I have only ever seen it in this field and at the country park in Daventry. It may be small, but it is dazzling. My pictures today really don’t do it justice, but it was constantly hiding behind grasses when it had its wings open.
I wasn’t really expecting to see a brown argus again, but luck was on my side and I got really good views. It is an inconspicuous looking butterfly, and often confused with a female common blue, but the brown spots on its forewing and the lack of blue even near the body convinced me I had found my quarry.
Speaking of common blues – there were quite a few of them about – some of them having a bit of a quarrel and some not. The males are a beautiful blue whereas the females have varying amounts of blue on them, all the way through to almost completely brown.
Sadly all of these butterflies were in a field that they are planning to put old people housing on. So, this could be the last time I see brown argus and small coppers in Daventry.
Time for a confession. Before the start of this year I had never heard of a Brown Argus. I didn’t know that it was a butterfly. How bad is that. Moreover, I saw them in the results for the Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey, and assumed that they were a specialist that I would never see. I saw pictures on Facebook and then thought nothing much more about them. In fact I wasn’t sure I would recognise one if I saw it.
Yesterday I took my camera out for a walk – for once the weather was warm and not very breezy. I saw a lot of gatekeepers, a very lovely small copper – a butterfly that I had never seen in Daventry before. I also saw some common blues flitting about the field edges. Lots of photographs were taken as you can probably imagine.
Today I decided to upload them and sort out the fuzzy from the sharp as well as those that might not be the best, but could be useful for ID purposes. After I had sorted and tagged them it occurred to me that I had assumed that the small brown butterflies were common blue females (which have wings that vary from blue through to brown) because they had frequently been disturbed by blue males. But, for some reason I thought I would see what the difference was between a brown argus and a female common blue.
A brown argus has no blue on the upper side of its wings, whereas there may be some blue scales on the female common blue. It also has more orangey spots along the edge and often a dark brown spot in the middle of its brown wings. Not much help because my photos were all of the underside of the wings. So, for the undersides the description was related to two spots with that form a figure of eight on the hindwing and the absence of a spot on the forewing for the Brown Argus. This didn’t seem to be much help either – I was a bit non-plussed until I saw what they were talking about in pictures on the UK Butterflies website. Suddenly I knew what to look for and guess what? Yes, one of the butterflies I photographed was in fact my very first Brown Argus – colour me happy!
I’m not sure if this is a viable population as my Northamptonshire butterfly book states that their range has contracted a lot in the county and that their traditional food plant is rock rose and, where this is not available, they have moved onto crane’s bill. Unfortunately the only things I could see around the field edge were ragwort and a chamomile, along with lots of grass. I will have to have a look around there to see if I can find the requisite flowers!