I had a day off and the weather was okay so I headed out for a visit to Broughton Down, a real gem of a reserve, a steep chalk down with a surprising variety of habitat, even the grazed down varies in character as you move around the site. I started at the furthest end of the reserve where the turf is short and covered in an abundance of fragrant orchids.
These come in various shades from quite dark to almost white.
Although the fragrant orchids were the most abundant there were patches of common spotted orchid, especially in the shade or where the soil was probably a bit deeper or less dry.
There are other species on site but the only other orchid I was were a few pyramidal.
The other thing that immediately struck me was the super abundance of dark green fritillary, there must have been hundreds, they far outstripped all other species present and I have never seen so many anywhere before.
dark green fritillary
Downland is not just about orchids, there are lots of other plants to enjoy, such as greater knapweed, fairy flax, thyme and squinacywort.
The grassland has a good few anthills and the difference in the flora on these is very obvious, they tend to have thyme and often speedwell too, no doubt they benefit from the deeper soil and good drainage.
Thyme is a great nectar source an dis visited by lots of bees and a real favourite for a lot of butterflies too. It can be a good plant to grow if you have a very sunny dry area in the garden and of course it is a culinary herb.
The grassland on an unimproved down is the richest in terms of species that you can find anywhere in the UK and I could fill several blogs with flowers from this one visit. Even the plantains, usually a rather drab group of plants, look better on downland.
The tall white stems of common valerian stand out well above the generally short vegetation.
One of the shortest of all the plants is milkwort, common on downland, but also found in lots of other short grasslands, there are several species and forms found in different habitats.
All these flowers feed lots of insects, including lots of butterflies apart from the fritillaries, one of the other common species was marbled white.
A question I am sometime asked is what is the difference between butterflies and moths and the answer is that there is no clear answer! Butterflies fly in the daytime, but so do some moths. Although we recognise the general shape of a butterfly, there are moths with the same overall appearance. In fact what we conventionally call butterflies are actually just six of the families of Lepidoptera that we have chose to call butterflies, the rest we call moths.
I did see a few day-flying moths as well as butterflies, the best was a six-belted clearwing a moth that looks like a wasp.
Lots of insects can feed lots of insect predators, some of them also insects, like this robberfly, a chalk downland species in S. England, but with an odd distribution nationally and elsewhere in quite different habitats.
Leptarthrus brevirostris with prey
On the way home we stopped to look at a field of poppies and looking at the hedgerow I spotted several tiny soldierflies walking about on the hazel leaves. I decided to try and get some pictures, not easy as they were very small and constantly on the move, but here are my best efforts.
Both are common species, but very easily overlooked!