Saturday, 5 September 2009

More from Watlington Hill

Following my last post which featured the magnificent Red Kites at the very beautiful location of Watlington Hill (which I have seen described as a 'dreamscape') I thought I would share with you what else I saw there. I realise now that one visit to this lovely place does not do it justice at all, at the very least I should have devoted one visit to the Red Kite and another separate visit to butterflies. In actual fact this is a place of such interest that many visits are necessary to see just some of what it has to offer. We will definitely go back there many times in the future as I feel I have hardly 'touched the surface'.

'And autumn tells of joys that fly;
And summer's charms in languor die:
If ye would have all hope would bring,
Take the first morn of early spring!
If ye would warm your life-blood chill,
Go course on Watlington's fair hill!'

(Mary Russell Mitford)

Watlington Hill is a magnificent area of chalk downland. It is a wildlife site of national importance and home to a large collection of wild flowers, butterflies, birds, mosses, lichens and fungi, many of them rare or scarce. The short chalk, grassland turf was originally created by sheep grazing but is now maintained by rabbits. Ant-hills, some of which are quite ancient, lend additional interest and areas of woodland and scrub complete the scene. The whole area is a protected 'Site of Special Scientific Interest' and owned by the National Trust. Incidentally, on one of our days out recently we decided to join the National Trust but were slightly concerned that we might not make enough visits to their properties over the next twelve months to justify the annual charge. Well, this place has no charge but we both said the pleasure we obtained from Watlington Hill more than justified our membership fee.

So, the other reason, apart from seeing the magnificent Red Kites, I wanted to visit this special place was to see the butterflies of which there are an abundance, indeed the National Trust's butterfly expert Matthew Oates has 'butterflied' at Watlington Hill almost every year since 1967 and spotted his first ever Silver-spotted Skippers there. As I mentioned before we really needed a separate visit just to see them. Butterflies commonly seen there include the Green Hairstreak, Brown Argus, Marbled White, Small Blue and Brimstones. There have also been sightings of the Chalkhill Blue, Dark Green Fritillary, Grizzled Skipper and Dingy Skipper. There is also a large colony of the rare Silver-spotted Skipper. Also, Yellow Ants are a rare species to be found there. Due to the limited time we had to study the butterflies we only saw a few of what Watlington Hill has to offer. Given the amazing influx of the Painted Lady butterfly in the UK this year it was not surprising to see them there.

It has been heartening this year to see more of the Small Tortoiseshell which has been struggling to survive in recent years.

The next two are

Meadow Brown Butterfly

This is the lovely

Brimstone Butterfly

The next one is too, I did wonder if it was the Clouded Yellow at first but it is just the way the light is falling on a Brimstone, I do think it looks beautiful.

Now, the next ones I have a problem with. Where I live if I see a blue butterfly, which isn't very often, I can be pretty sure it is the Common Blue but in an area where other blues can be seen I find it very confusing to identify them. I am fairly sure all the following butterflies are, indeed, Common Blues, both male and female but if I am wrong I'm sure someone will be able to put me right.

EDIT: Thanks to the extremely knowledgeable Greenie I now know all the following butterflies are Common Blue other than where specified. Thank you very much for that Greenie and also for confirming the Meadow Browns and the second Brimstone.

Male (bottom) and female Common Blue

As you can see some are rather the worse for wear!

Brown Argus (female)

Brown Argus (female, top) Common Blue (bottom)

'I love not man the less,
but nature more.'

(Lord Byron)

(probably) Brown Argus

Common Blue (male)

'I love all beauteous things,
I seek and adore them.'

(Robert Bridges)

Common Blue (male)

Common Blue (female)

An interesting find of a different kind was this ancient sunken trackway which was recently restored by volunteers principally to relieve a path where the rare chalk-land grass habitat was being eroded. This restored trackway would once have been the main road!

'And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.'

(Oliver Wendell Holmes)

Apart from butterflies we saw this

Lesser? Treble-Bar Moth

and this

Marmalade Fly

Well, I still haven't shown you all we saw at Watlington Hill and I definitely haven't seen all there is to see at this beautiful place which is why I will be going back next year, there are rare flowers to see, Muntjac Deer and all sorts of other goodies but I will leave you with a butterfly which I was thrilled to see and which is very rare in the UK and restricted to chalk downland in southern England.

Silver-spotted Skipper

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of the delights of this beautiful place, it has been a pleasure to show them to you.


  1. I can see why you would want to return again and again to this lovely place--so much beauty to see! Butterflies have been scarce in our part of the U.S. this summer, and I don't know why. I'm thrilled to see any kind of butterfly these days, but I am really taken with the Common Blues you've shown here. If we do have these in the Midwest, I've never seen them. They are so beautiful!

  2. Wonderful photos, so many butterlies and such an invaluable place for wildlife!

    It looks like an amazing place to visit, no wonder you have fallen in love with it! :)

    I haven't seen any skippers here this year, last year I think I saw one... Shame, hopefully I can entice them next year with wild flowers...

  3. Beautiful photographs and description of what must be a fabulous place. I think a visit calls in the close future if only to see one of those marvellous Red Kites you photographed.

  4. Yes indeed, Jan. I have enjoyed seeing some of the creatures and scenery through your eyes /camera. Lovely shots and great flutter captures.
    The old sunken trackway gives the appearance of the entrance to a magic wood with the old trees shading the path.

  5. Wow Jan, what a delightful place to visit… something round every corner too :-D

    What wonderful views and a fantastic selection of butterfly species and photos… fav has to be the Brimstone with the sunlight flooding through its wings :-D

    Oh… but I do love the newly discovered sunken trackway. I am always fascinated to see paths reappear like this and instantly try to imagine who and what would have travelled along it in previous years when it was in use.

    Thanks for sharing more of your visit. Have a great weekend :-D

  6. ssb,

    these are fantastic photos of a wonderful place full of natural beauty.
    i agree with lord byron...wholeheartedly...
    "I love not man the less,
    but nature more."

    happy september

  7. Beautiful images and the discriptive writing really give a feel for Watlington Hill, must put it on my list to visit one day. Ithin the photo's of the Brimstone and the Sunken Tarckway did it for me. Many thanks for sharing.

  8. What a great place you visited, such an array of things to see! The butterflies are beautiful, i've only ever seen one Skipper before and that was a few years ago. Lovely photos.

  9. Thank you so much for taking us along with you to Watlington Hill. What an enchanting place. I am so glad there are people who appreciate the beauty of nature, and are doing what they can to help protect it. I think it is our duty! The delicate beauty of the butterflies is breathtaking...and the Marmalade Fly so colorful. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

  10. Hi Jan.....lovely to see so many beautiful is heartening to know these lovely creatures have places where they can reproduce. My daughter lives in a protected area....,and her house backs onto ancient woodland. When I visit her I see so many wonderful sights.....

    I love the Brimstone butterfly....often folk ignore this little beauty for the more obvious captured it just perfectly......
    I am fortunate to have had many butterflies in the garden this year.....including the blues, which I still have not been able to capture with my camera....

    A beautiful place Jan, I can see why you love it so......

  11. Great pictures and commentary.
    Definitely on my list of places to visit.

  12. You are so lucky that you have such a place you can visit. The pictures are wonderful. Looking forward to more photos of the area.

  13. Morning Jan,

    You have taken my breath away with this lovely place. It looks and feels through your words and Photographs a rather heavenly place.

    The list of Butterflies you saw on your visit is amazing. Great photos.

    Thank you for sharing this special place with us.


  14. Hi Songbird,
    A beautiful place indeed! You've found more butterflies than me this weekend.

    In answer to your question you left on my blog - I walk at a slow pace, sometimes stopping for just 3 -4 minutes if I come across a group of birds. I know where the birds will be alot of the time because I walk roughly the same route, thats the big secret! Know what to expect in a certain habitat, get out early, and be patient. Oh, and dont where bright clothes!

  15. Rose and Liz: Thank you.


    Thank you very much. We have been luckier this time I think, we had two very poor years for butterflies due to exceptionally wet Summers but this year (although not perfect) the weather generally in the UK has been more suited to them. The blues are beautiful, I don't see them much where I live so it is always a treat when I go somewhere where they are more common.


    Thank you very much. Yes I really did fall in love with the place, could you tell ;) As I said in my post there is so much more to see there so I eagerly look forward to going again next year.
    In all honesty I'm not sure I had ever seen a Skipper before so to see a rare one was such a thrill.

  16. The Watcher and Midmarsh John: Thank you.

    The Watcher,

    Thank you for your kind comments. It is an amazing place and I think anyone would love it, of course the Red Kites make it extra special!

    Midmarsh John,

    Thanks for your very kind comments John, I agree with you about the old sunken trackway but of course everything about the place seemed magical :) I am so looking forward to going back next year and looking for more unusual butterflies and other things we didn't have time to see this time.

  17. shirl and marmee: Thank you.


    Thank you very much for your very generous comments. Yes it really did seem like there was something to discover round every corner, and not enough time to find it all!
    I loved how the sun shone through the Brimstone too.
    I just knew, before you even commented, that the old sunken trackway would fascinate you ;) and, like you, I could virtually 'see' it as it was then with big old carts rumbling along it.
    Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week. Oh yes, many congratulations to your daughter on passing her driving test :)


    Thank you very much, it really is a wonderful place. Yes the Lord Byron quote definitely touched a chord in me :)
    Have a lovely week.

  18. Monts and Pam: Thank you.


    Thank you very much for your kind comments. I'm sure if you ever do get the chance to go there you won't be disappointed although of course you have so many very beautiful places where you live.
    The old sunken trackway was fascinating and the volunteers who have worked so hard on it have done a very good job.
    It was a pleasure to share it with you :)


    Thank you very much, It certainly was a beautiful and special place and I am so looking forward to going again to see what else it has to offer.
    To be honest I'm not sure I had ever seen a Skipper before so to see such a rare one was really thrilling!

  19. Another excellent post Jan. I have visited this general area a few times over the years but never seen so many different 'flutters' (I was probably looking up rather than down)! If you return early in the year (Feb) look out for displaying Goshawk. FAB

  20. Thanks for another delightful tour, Jan. You've photographed an amazing number of butterflies! They're so beautiful. So different from the ones we see here!

    Enjoyed seeing the moth and the Marmalade Fly. I've seen the last here too but I didn't know what it was called. Now I'm glad I do.

  21. Another very interest post Jan; what a wonderful selection of flutters you came across; the flowers must have been positively dancing with them!

    I shall be looking forward to your future visits; I wonder what it will look like in Autumn - pretty impressive I would think?

  22. Morning Glories in Round Rock and Cheryl: Thank you.

    Morning Glories,

    Thank you very much, I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing such a lovely place with you. It is wonderful that conservation has come more to the forefront in recent years and that knowledgeable people use their expertise so productively.
    Ah yes! Those butterflies were quite a sight and of course I know there were many others that we didn't see simply because we ran out of time. I am already looking forward to spending more time there next year ;)


    Thank you so much, I did indeed love it there and I'm glad that came across in my account. It sounds like your daughter lives in a lovely area!
    Yes, the Brimstone is such a delicate colour which could easily be overlooked but my goodness it did look lovely with the sun shining through it. We don't see blues in our garden but they are such pretty little things, rather difficult to identify the different ones though!
    Have a wonderful time in Florida Cheryl :)

  23. holdingmoments and oldcrow61: Thank you.


    Thank you very much, I know you would love it too. You would have great fun photographing those Red Kites!


    Thank you, yes I do feel privileged to have such a beautiful place within fairly easy reach. You can be sure there will be more photos to come next year.

  24. John,

    Thank you very much, it certainly took my breath away and I'm so glad I managed to convey that to you.
    Yes, as I said it really needs a visit devoted just to butterflies, I think the fact that the National Trust's butterfly expert has butterflied there almost every year for over 40 years speaks volumes!
    A heavenly place indeed John :)

  25. ShySongbird ,
    Re your Blues and others .
    I would agree with your 2 Meadow Browns , black spots showing on underwing , Gatekeeper shows white spots .
    Yes , 2 Brimstones , second could be a F. , much lighter than M.
    1st. 2 Blues , M&F Common Blues .
    Next shot , F. Brown Argus , orange spots go right to front of forewing .
    Next shot , same F. BA with male CB .
    Next shot , probable BA .
    Next 2 shots , 2 M. CB .
    Final shot , F. CB .
    Enjoyed another visit to that magical place .

  26. Warren,

    Thank you very much, there were so many lovely butterflies there. I hope to make several visits next year.

    I think the fact that it is usually not possible to get out early is the biggest problem and probably having the dog with me with a jingly collar doesn't help either!

  27. The Early Birder and Kanak Hagjer: Thank you.


    Thank you very much for your comments. I agree completely while you are looking up it is easy to miss what is going on at a lower level :) Which, of course, is why it is well worth a visit just for butterflies alone!
    Thank you very much for the tip on the Goshawks, I will remember that :)


    Thank you for your very kind comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the second part of my visit, the butterflies certainly were beautiful, I was enchanted by them. I was interested to read that you have the Marmalade Fly where you are too, it is nice to know we share some of the same creatures even though we are so far apart!

  28. Tricia,

    Thank you very much, yes the flowers were dancing with them :) Like the Red Kites the flutters really did seem to be everywhere and I know that had I had more time just to devote to them I would have seen others too.

    I think it will look stunning at any time of the year but we were lucky to go on a perfect day weather wise which made everything perfect.

  29. Greenie,

    Thank you so much for your help. I could kick myself now as I clearly remember while taking the photos saying 'I think that may be a Brown Argus' but, by the time I got home and started checking, I got so bogged down with the different male and female blues that I forgot my first instinct! Thanks again, your help was much appreciated :)

  30. Beautiful and Wonderful place and so many lovely shots !! I loved this place ..Thanks for sharing the beauty with us..Unseen Rajasthan

  31. Your butterfly pictures are wonderful! I've never seen any of these kinds before. I especially love the Common Blue ones - absolutely beautiful. And the Brimstone Butterfly and dotted Brown Argus also. They are all just lovely.
    Thank you so much for your kind comments on my post. I really miss visiting everyone and have only done a post here and there. But I'll be back soon and try to get into a routine again.
    I do miss all of the great posts and pictures that you do.

  32. I loved this post. The butterfly you call the common blue is very elegant. We have a tiny blue in our area but the color isn't as good.

    Did you say rabbits keep the grassy areas mowed? How many rabbits must that take;) That is a very interesting bit of information.

  33. Hi Jan.
    That is a very interesting blog. Love the Butterfly photo's. I can tell you had a very enjoyable day.

  34. Thank you so very much for posting the butterflies you photographed at Watlington Hill. I felt as if I was right with you. The Meadow Brown is very lovely as is the Brimstone. I have lots of Silver Spots in my backyard. I seldom take their photograph. After reading about how rare they are for you I will appriciate them more!
    I love studying different habitats This is an amazing one filled with so much bio-diversity.
    Thank you again for another wonderful post.

  35. Hi, I loved the sunken trackway! It looks such a magical place. We have had a lot of days out for me to take pictures, but I can’t wait to get out somewhere with some natural beauty. Autumn is always a lovely time of year to get out on a lovely walk with the camera. I never seem too see half the gorgeous wildlife as you do, maybe I need to look harder. Russ took the pictures of the pigs when we were in the forest, just in case they were not friendly, I told him I would be right behind him…so I stayed in the car! ;0)

    I could do with you coming with me on my walks, you might not cope with my talking though, but I would love it… and learn so much from you.

    Beautiful pictures as ever! I’m looking forward to my photography course.

    Thank you for asking how I am, I’m off to the doctors tomorrow to find out more, as I have not been that good the last couple of weeks. Not that you would know, not a lot keeps me in. my poor husband is worried all the time about me when we are out. I would say more but I don’t think blogging is the right place. Thanks again for asking it means a lot.

    I think I might have gone on a bit too mush…love from Poppy and Lou xxxx

  36. Truly this is a magnificent place with so much variety. Loved the virtual tour of the place. The colors and designs on the butterflies are amazing.

  37. Your posts are always so stunning!

  38. Unseen Rajasthan and RainGardener: Thank you.

    Unseen Rajasthan,

    Thank you for your very kind comments. It certainly is a wonderful place and we are looking forward to many more visits there. I'm so glad you enjoyed seeing it too.


    Thank you so much for finding the time to visit Linda, particularly during this difficult time for you.

    Yes the butterflies were beautiful and some of them I had never seen before either. The exciting thing is that I know if we had been able to spend more time there I would have seen other unusual ones too, so a return visit is definitely on the cards.

    You mustn't worry about not visiting or posting, everyone will understand that family matters must come first. Don't forget I will be thinking of you :)

  39. Roses and Lilacs and Ken Browne: Thank you.


    Thank you very much, yes I think the Common Blue is lovely too, it is actually a lot smaller than it looks in the photos. I think the name lets it down though, I don't think there is anything 'common' about it at all;)
    You had me laughing out loud with your comment about the Rabbits and the grass, it does sound like a grand idea but I'm afraid there is one very big snag. As I suspect you have probably guessed, not only would they 'mow' your grass, they would happily 'mow' all your lovely flowers and plants too. Hey ho! It was a jolly good idea while it lasted ;)


    Thank you very much for your kind comments. Yes it really was a great day and I'm glad that comes across to you :)

  40. You have shared so many beauteous flying critters. Wow, just stunning.

  41. Q and Lou: Thank you.


    Thank you so much for your kind comments. I'm so glad you enjoyed sharing my visit with me, it is such a beautiful place with so much of interest to see.
    You make a very good point about the Silver Spotted Skipper being somewhat overlooked in your garden because it is so common whereas it is rare here. I have found it is so easy to take the familiar for granted. In our garden the most commonly seen bird used to be the House Sparrow and it was all too easily overlooked but in recent years in some parts of the country it has been in sharp decline and I don't see many of them now. So when I do I look at them with a fresh eye and much more appreciation. I now try to remember that lesson with everything I see however 'insignificant'.
    Thank you Sherry, it is always a pleasure to have you visit :)


    Thank you so much for your lovely comments. Yes the old sunken trackway added even more magic to the place, it felt like we had gone back in time.
    I have always been happiest in the heart of the countryside and can only take small doses of towns and cities. I'm sure we would have great fun on a Nature walk together but I think we would both be far too busy chattering to notice anything ;)
    I am very impressed with you going back to college to study photography, I'm sure you will love it.
    You had me laughing about Russ and the pigs and you staying in the car:)
    I'm so sorry you are still not feeling well and really hope things will improve for you soon. Take care dear Lou.
    Lots of love and XXXX to you and Poppy.

  42. Rajesh and Re: Thank you.


    Thank you very much, I'm so glad you appreciated the beauty of the place. Yes the butterflies were lovely, it is amazing how much intricate detail there is on their wings when one really takes the trouble to stop and look.


    Thank you very much, you are very kind :)

  43. WOW what brilliant photos of some beautiful butterflies.A lovely read and it took twice as long to read all the lovely comments you deservedly received

  44. Outstanding Blog Images,loved every shot.
    Well done.

  45. i've read a few report of how bad it has been for small tortoiseshell but i've seen more this year than i've seen for ages

  46. These are lovely butterflies, and I also admire the quotes you include and your own words.
    Bravo from across the pond :)
    I love when butterflies and bees visit my garden; it shows my garden is healthy.
    Monarch butterflies spend the winter near my home, in huge clusters hanging down from trees.

  47. swatson and JRandSue: Thank you.


    Thank you very much for the generous comments, you are very kind :) I'm so glad you enjoyed seeing the butterflies.


    Thank you very much for your kind comments John, they are much appreciated :)

  48. Pete and Terra: Thank you.


    Thanks very much. Yes, according to experts the Small Tortoiseshell has declined dramatically since 1999 particularly in South East England which may suggest climate change is responsible although it is also suspected it may be due to the parasitic fly Sturmia bella.
    However, like you, I have been pleased to see a lot this year so perhaps things are improving for them again.


    Welcome thank you so much for visiting and for your very kind comments. I'm glad you enjoyed seeing some of the butterflies we have over here.
    I love your beautiful Monarch butterfly, we don't have that here and I have seen it on blogs a lot lately. I have been reading of their migratory habits as well, a truly amazing story! I am very envious that you actually see them overwintering near your home, what an incredible sight that must be!
    I do hope you visit again, you will be welcome any time :)

  49. Tammie Lee,

    First A huge apology for answering your comment out of sequence! I always try to answer comments in the order in which they come in and have just realised that although I had read yours I had not answered it before replying to the last four comments, I am so sorry!!

    Anyway, thank you so much for visiting and for your very kind comments, I'm so glad you enjoyed the post :)

  50. Oh my God .. what beauty. What joy to behold. How can I thank you for dropping in on me, to lead me back here .. to put my cares in a box, to enjoy these beautiful sights until the tears in my eyes dropped like rain. Oh how I love such beautiful things. God has indeed blessed me this morning. Thank you so very much ...

  51. Hello,
    Now worries about when you answer me! I just enjoyed a second glance at your post, so very lovely. Thank you also for your visit to mine. Wishing you a lovely week.

  52. BEautiful shots and the location is really fantastic !! Great post..Unseen Rajasthan

  53. Amias,

    Welcome! Thank you so much for visiting and for your exceptionally kind comments, I'm so glad you visited and enjoyed my post. You will be very welcome here any time!

    Have a wonderful weekend :)

  54. Tammie Lee,

    Hello again ;) and thank you so much for your understanding and very gracious comments.

    I hope you have a lovely weekend :)

  55. Unseen Rajasthan,

    Thank you for your very kind comments, have a great weekend :)


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