Kingston Butterfly Diary 2005-2007
Last updated 9 July 2007
18 March 2005
The first butterfly of the year was seen on 16 March but was too far away to be positively identified. It was either a Red Admiral or a Peacock, probably the latter. The first identifiable butterfly was a male Brimstone, on 18 March.
Although there have been the odd warmer days, though sunny most of this year Kent has suffered from bitterly cold east winds and, from mid-February to 6th March, successive falls of heavy snow. Very sensibly all the butterflies decided to stay put and not venture out from hibernation. During the last 10 days it has become progressively warmer and seeing the first butterflies in the last two days has not come as a surprise.
30 April 2005
The April weather was very changeable, but in the warmer spells several butterflies were seen on the wing, notably Small Tortoiseshells, Brimstones and Commas and several Peacocks. In the last two weeks an increasing number of Orange Tips, both male and female, have dominated the scene, with a sprinkling of Commas, Speckled Woods and, most recently, a few Holly Blues.
8 June 2005
The month of May was extremely cold, with north-easterly winds much of the time and some late frosts. As a result, butterfly numbers generally were well below last year's figures, notably the Orange Tips that were around in some abundance during the equivalent period in 2004. Although a few warm days in the first week of June brought out a few new species, all spring butterflies seem to have suffered. As an indication of how dire things have been, this year it took until June before seeing a Small White, a butterfly normally around at the end of March and early April.
12 July 2005
The heat-wave in mid-June certainly brought out a large number of butterflies but numbers generally were well down throughout the month, not helped as the weather once more reverted to cold and wet for days on end. The main species to suffer were such as the Small Tortoiseshell, only a few of which were seen, never more than three or four at any one time. This should be compared with counts of over 200 on each of several days last year as they feasted on the bramble flowers. This year the flowers came and went with hardly a butterfly in sight.
The return of hot weather during the second weekend in July has meant that the summer butterflies are around in some profusion, though later than normal. A survey carried out on 12 July recorded 23 Marbled Whites, 12 Commas, 3 Red Admirals, 8 Small Whites, 6 Green-veined Whites, 7 Large Whites and 2 Large Skippers. The main species on the wing are Small Skippers, of which several hundreds were seen, far too many to count, Meadow Browns (also in the hundreds) and Gatekeepers. What have yet to be seen at all are any signs of Painted Lady, Common Blue and Ringlets.
The purchase of a new Robinson moth trap was rewarded on the first night by finding a Scarce Merveille du Jour in it. This rare moth is known in Kent from around Ham Street (over 20 miles away) but is believed it is the first sighting this area. Another first (for me) was a Pine Hawk-moth. The trap is averaging over a dozen Elephant Hawk-moths every time it is run, though the most commonly found is the Dot Moth. Comparisons with previous years show that moth numbers are well down, and less species being encountered.
Scarce Merveille du Jour
26 September 2005
The summer was notable for the greatly reduced numbers of butterflies to be seen, for example the Marbled Whites peaked at 53, less than two-thirds of last year's total. Even common species such as Meadow Browns were much less in evidence, though the Small Skippers did not seem to be affected to the same degree. Eventually a Painted Lady was sighted, but one of only three all summer; so were Common Blues and Essex Skippers, but not until mid-August, far later than normal.
The current scene is that there are quite a few Red Admirals and Commas around still, together with the occasional Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell.
For moths this has been an amazing summer since the new trap was brought into use. Comparison with previous records (prior to 2001), show that some species regularly seen then are no longer around. By contrast, a large number of species are being encountered for the first time. The Scarce Merveille du Jour on the first night heralded a steady procession of new species for the area, some of them in the list of Kent notables (rare moths). Among these were Pine Hawk-moth, Clouded Magpie, Gold Spot, Nutmeg, Large Thorn and L-album Wainscot. It is not certain whether all these new moths are because the trap is more efficient than those used previously, or whether there is a sea-change in the moths in the surrounding area. Most intriguing of all was a white Pebbled Hook-tip, the scotia variant normally found only in Scotland. This was clearly seen and checked at the time against reference books but unfortunately had vanished by the morning, so no photographic proof is available.
Faced with large numbers of moths, 200-300 on some nights and a peak of over 600 on one occasion, it was found necessary to take an instant digital photograph of moths not immediately identifiable before they flew away. From this began the Moth Gallery that has been added to the site and currently shows well over 100 different moths. Not all moths seen in Kingston are included, since some of them are notoriously difficult to photograph. Some very common moths, especially Dot Moths and Common Rustics, fall into this category as their instinct is to immediately dive for cover when disturbed and I have still not been able to get good quality photos of them. On the other hand, some moths are surprisingly docile and will sit still quite obligingly while I fuss around them with the camera.
15 November 2005
Butterflies continued to be scarce throughout the autumn, just the occasional Comma, Brimstone and Red Admiral. Of these the Red Admirals proved to be the most persistent, the most recent being seen on 4th November.
A series of very warm nights until 10th September meant very large moths were around in fairly large numbers, with a peak of 629 (though most nights averaged 150-250). The change in the weather thereafter brought a rapid decline, but after a cold night in early October, numbers built up again during the following week to a peak on 7th October and then dropped away completely by the end of the month.
The run of completely new moth sightings has continued, the latest being a December Moth (the only one in the trap that night). The most spectacular was the Convolvulus Hawkmoth on 7th October. Although others have seen these in the locality it was the first I had ever seen. When publication of this sighting was publicised in the local paper, three other sightings in East Kent around the same time were reported to me, so presumably more than one of this scarce migrant arrived.
26 May 2006
The last weeks of 2005 and first three months of 2006 were notable for a long series of night frosts and an extended period of cold dry weather. Despite this, a Red Admiral was seen on 18th January on what was probably the only warm and sunny day of the year up to that time. The next butterflies were not seen until 23 March, which was the next spell of warm weather. The weather during early April was variable, with low temperatures, but a few days of quite hot weather in the third week brought out many butterflies, among them Red Admirals, Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells, Speckled Woods, Holly Blue, Orange Tips and Commas. The Peacock seen on 26 March and Green-veined White on 22 April remain the only sightings of these species to date. Unfortunately, since then we have had several weeks of cold wet weather, with some torrential downpours (to go with our hosepipe ban and drought order!) and the butterfly population has suffered accordingly.
Moths also suffered. Compared with sightings records from 2000 numbers have been drastically reduced and some species common then have not been seen at all this year. Nevertheless some have been seen moths not recorded previously. A welcome return was the Eyed Hawkmoth on 14th May, only seen once before.
Eyed Hawkmoth, photographed on 14th May
8 July 2006
The arrival of June brought a dramatic change in the weather - as if a switch had been thrown the heavy rains and cold temperatures ceased and a new regime of very hot days and unremitting sunshine followed. Despite the occasional storms and heavy rain elsewhere in Britain, including some not too distant in Kent, Kingston has so far escaped, scarcely a drop falling in the five weeks since the abrupt change. Despite this, the butterfly population failed to recover and, by the time of the Kingston Open Garden event on the 24th and 25 th June, visitors kept remarking on how very few had been seen. By the end of the month this began to change, with the advent of the summer species, especially Meadow Browns, which appeared in great numbers. In the last few days Small Tortoiseshells have made a welcome return, looking resplendent in their newly emerged colours.
The week just prior to the Open Gardens was notable for the arrival of several Painted Lady butterflies, accompanied by other immigrants, Hummingbird Hawkmoths, seen on the red campion in my garden all week and some scarce species, among them the Bordered Straw.
Although butterfly numbers were slow in taking off, the same is not true for moths. By the end of May numbers daily totals for all species were around 25-30. After a somewhat shaky start (only 8 on 5 th June and 11 the following day), there was a rapid increase thereafter, to reach 85 by 12 th, 128 on 17 th, and 214 on 2nd July. With the hot spell likely to continue and night temperatures usually approaching 60oF (or more), July promises to be an exciting month.
25 July 2006
The first Clouded Yellow butterfly for quite a few years put in an appearance on Friday, 21 July and was quickly followed by several others - the highest individual count since then being 12. On the downside, very few Marbled White have been seen, the highest count to date being only eight, a figure which must be compared with the high of over 80 just two years ago.
15 September 2006
The Clouded Yellow butterflies were seen on most warm days right up to 12 September, but since the adjacent field of lucerne on which they had been feasting was harvested they have been completely absent. Generally speaking, most butterfly numbers have been down considerably this year, even the most common summer ones. Moths this year have included a large number of migrant species as well, resulting from the good weather on the continent.
8 July 2007
The unseasonably warm weather during February to April meant that all the butterflies and moths seen were two weeks or more earlier than last year, though it should be remembered that the corresponding months up to May 2006 were much colder than normal, with lots of heavy frosts at times, some almost continuously. As a result the numbers of both butterflies and moths seen this year were higher than normal and the appearance of a few migrant species seemed to bode well. Alas, this was not to be, May and June turning out to be the wettest since records began, with heavy torrential rain every day (or, at least, it seemed as if that was the case). Even butterflies such as Orange Tips, which normally cope with variable weather in May, were much lower than normal. Once July arrived there was an instant change, though the main beneficiaries sees to have been Small White butterflies, which are to be seen everywhere. However, butterflies such as the Large Skipper, Marbled White and Gatekeeper appeared right on cue, at more or less the same time as they were seen last year, so it appears that nature's time clock is reverting to normal. The biggest surprise of all was seeing a White Admiral on 7th July, the first ever seen by me in Kingston (and the first I had seen for many years anywhere). No photograph, unfortunately, but very exciting. Another, or possibly the same one, was seen the following day, so it might be there is a colony establishing itself in the vicinity.
A male Large Skipper, perched waiting to spy a passing female, an habitual mid-day activity.
A Bordered White moth, the first of its species ever seen by me, that appeared in April.