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Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Dunstable Downs; Butterflies, Bees, Burnets and Poplars...

The temperatures throughout the day have been much more tolerable over the past few days. The searing heat seems to have receded into comfortably sunny days, shaken with a few immense storms and heavy showers. However, it has taken me a while to get around to sitting, sorting the photos and writing the blog, so we will have to cast our minds back to the days where by 9 am, wearing only a t-shirt and shorts was far too much (unless you can work the sodden arm-pit look).

Between shifts at Whipsnade, I decided to head over to Bison Hill, and have a little stroll through the chalk grassland meadows across the hillsides. It has been an absolutely incredible year for butterflies, and I had hoped to find the time to get out and spot some!

Orchid in the grassland

Remaining flowers of a Pyramidal Orchid

By the time I got out onto the grasslands, it was plenty warm enough for the butterflies to be extremely hyperactive. And in the slight breeze, there were swarms of them. As I strolled the pathway, chalk blues, probably in their hundreds across the site, lifted up from the grasses like turquoise gems with wings.

Chalk Blue

Female Chalk Blue; a really naff photo, but one that shows off the beautiful colours!
Phwoarrr! Mating Blues...

The colours are astounding. Peacocks, with their deep, rich red scales decorated with the blue, black and cream eye spots. Large and small whites, as their name suggests, are pure white with the very tips of their wings dipped in black, sometimes with small black spots. The bright orange little gatekeepers, rest on the ground before fluttering off at first sign of disturbance.

The little larger, and much darker, meadow brown makes a frequent appearance. Ringlets, a very dark brown, with black spots surrounded by a ring of white or yellowy cream.


Another white, this time with a green tinge and some dark and defined scales along the veins of its wings, giving the butterfly its rather imaginative name... green-veined white!

Green-veined White
Not to forget the skippers. A dusty orange brown, the male of both small and large skippers were aggressively defending their territory, whilst keeping their eyes peeled for any passing females they can mate with.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper

Small Skipper

And last, but definitely not least, the marbled white...

Marbled White
An absolutely stunning butterfly, and the first I have ever seen! Not only have I seen a species I have never seen before, but I got to see tens of them. Tens of them amongst hundreds of other butterflies. However, I did notice a parasite on one of the marbled whites; check out the red mite on the photo below. It does not look very nice for the butterfly, but, apparently, the mites do them no actual harm. 

Butterfly with parasite
Of course, being out on the downs there was plenty of other animalian activity!

Six-spot Burnet Moth
I came across what looked like the next entrance to a colony of red-tailed bumblebees. Outside of the nest entrance lay tens of deceased bees. I do wonder whether this was a natural part of the cycle of life for a bumblebee, maybe the worker bees have moved them outside of the nest, or maybe there was another cause for a mass of dead bees to accumulate by the hole in the ground??

Dead bees!

Within just a 40-minute walk, I found 11 species of butterfly, of various sizes, colours and shapes. Surely, evidence enough that you do not have to travel halfway around the world to find the exotic and tropical colours of the wild. Try a short drive up the road to a wildflower meadow in summer. Here in the UK, we have 59 resident breeding species to choose from. So keep your eyes peeled, whether its in your back garden, whilst taking your kids to the park, or on your next spot of birding down the local nature reserve, and see how many colours you can spot!

I will end this heavily insect based post with another insect. This time a moth, found at work, by the wonderful catering team next door who have made me their first port of call to come over to help rescue any moths that have ended up inside the cafe. I am extremely grateful they do... stunning animals!

Poplar Hawk-Moth

On the tree

Once again, thank ya'll for reading folks! I really do appreciate it. Next post will include my brief trip to Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk... Surely not more butterflies!?!


  1. What a lovely alliterative post title :)

    Some pretty nice photos too I guess! I rather like the gatekeeper preparing for take off. Marbled white on knapweed photo - stunning!

    My mum said she nearly trod on a poplar hawk moth at work because it looked like a leaf, then it fluttered and she realised it was one of these amazing creatures!

    Looking forward to your next Norfolk post :)

    1. Thank you Lou :) I had to end the alliteration when it came to the hawk-moth... I could not think of anything related to it beginning with a 'b' .

      It just seems to have been an amazing year for moths and butterflies this year, never seen so many amazing moths!

      That would have been one big squish!

  2. Hi Tom
    I love the first photo of the Chalk Blue with the pinks and whites of the flowers in the background-so soft and beautiful. Great photos all round and what a selection of butterflies. I feel like we are all having a butterfly bonanza. Those Blues are very colourful and it's lovely to see the male and female differences. I have never seen them or a Marbled White, but saw my first Skipper and Silver Washed Fritillary, it's always exciting.

    1. Hi Suzie,
      Thank you :) It has been such a fantastic year for butterflies - I just hope it helps inspire people to take a greater interest in our creepy crawlies!
      I have never seen a SW fritillary before! Good spot :)