Old friends…

On a warm day with strong sunshine and few periods of persistent cloud, we took the sunken footpath up from Shoreham station. The ancient byway was flanked by veteran beech trees with smooth, silver grey trunks above exposed roots that twisted out of the ground. On White Hill, the fragrant, man, pryamidal and common spotted orchids were in full flow amongst the ox-eye daisies, quaking grass and fading yellow rattle. The three worts: yellow-wort, milkwort and squinancywort were out or coming out. The last the most understated; mean bunches of tiny, white crosses. But it was the butterflies that drew most attention; within a few moments, a dark green fritillary, probably a male, hurtled by with characteristic, careering flight, then returned as rapidly as it had departed, settled to sunbathe and then away again. The whitebeam and guelder rose was spent but the privet was in flower with a heady scent and attracted, three, or was it four, small tortoiseshells and a comma. The abstract patterns of the undersides of marbled whites were glued to the handful of greater knapweed flowers.

On the down at Fackenden, small numbers of female small blues were found at the bottom of the slope. We tried to turn a large skipper into an Essex skipper until our blind attention to the dark-ended antennae was undone by a passer-by pointing out the neatly patterned wing; after that we reckoned we could only find small skippers but never felt totally convinced. There were ringlets, meadow browns and speckled woods, a couple of vivid common blues, small heath of course and a flash of a small copper, but no green hairstreak on the edge of the scrub. A hairstreak of sorts, we surmised, was bounding around back at White Hill but high in the trees and did not stop.

Perhaps best of all, one of us identified a burnet companion moth as a burnet companion moth. The lepidopterans were, throughout, close to the top of their game.

One evening a couple of days later, the clouds are a stormy grey and the light bright. The dark green fritillaries are on the privet including one with incompletely expanded wings; it still flies pretty well. The downland explodes with grasshoppers and day flying moths as well as the butterflies. The thin sliver of downland lit by oxe-eye daisies has a Mediterranean feel as the summer drought has left the ground parched and the grass sward diminished.

Published by Steve Parr

Professional ecologist and amateur photographer. Love to travel and explore.

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