Thyme for Fritillaries

2 Jul

Once upon a time myself and the missus used to be “quite into” butterflies, and indeed my first venture into running a website was a site on “Butterflies of Scotland” which was moderately popular, however they’ve taken a bit of a back seat in terms of my interest for the last few years (I think largely because 10 years ago before digital cameras were affordable and sophisticated I got sick of having a reel of 24 photos processed to find one decent shot and 23 destined for the bin).

Today as a family we wanted a short walk along the coastal strip that promised sunshine and so we headed for Warkworth dunes for a stroll along to the northern pier at Amble harbour, with my mind half on getting good views of the terns and other birds that occupy the scrubby dunes.

Sandwich tern

This started off nicely with a common whitethroat perched obligingly on the top of a bush at the car park singing his socks off, but once we’d dropped down on to the path through the dunes it became clear that butterflies would steal the attention today.

I’ll admit that my ID skills need a good refresh but I knew that the smart dark brown butterfly dancing along the side of the path wasn’t a meadow brown and I was sure it wasn’t a female blue but I couldn’t remember – was it an argus or a ringlet? Eventually it perched nicely and showed the plain upperside with a couple of obvious eyes on the hindwing and fainter eyes on the forewing. Ringlet.


While we were comparing that with a meadow brown that crossed our path, Hannah decided that it was time to let youth lead the expedition and she headed off on a scramble up the nearest dune, disturbing a few small skipper from their perches as she went. As I followed her up the slope a large robust orange and black butterfly powered past me in a purposeful manner. “Fritillary” I shouted to Alison who was back down the path but she was too intent on confirming that she was looking at a meadow brown to look up. I really like fritillaries but have only seen them rarely so its always great to see one even if only a fleeting glimpse. Alison wasn’t so sure I hadn’t just mistaken it for a wall brown or something else but I was pretty sure.

Small Skipper

A few moments later we descended into a valley between dunes with an immaculate purple carpet of thyme and there ahead were two fritillaries on the deck drinking nectar from the mat of purple flowers. This time I had my camera ready and managed to get a distant shot fired off in case Hannah decided to charge ahead and disturb them. Luckily she was restrained enough to let me go first and get much closer for better views. A quick inspection and a mental check ruled out pearl border or its smaller cousin, and other smaller species or more southerly residents like silver-washed. My suspicions were either dark green or high brown fritillary but not really knowing the distributions in these parts I decided to settle on taking some record shots and checking them out when I got home when I was able to confirm them as dark green fritillary

Dark green fritillary

Common blues and small heaths were abundant around the long grass as well as lots of day flying moths that unfortunately I didn’t get a shot of.

Common blue

I’m really not up to speed with flora but there was an abundance of variety throughout the dunes showing just how important a habitat they provide. Amongst all the species I couldn’t identify were clusters of common spotted orchids.

Common spotted orchid

Sadly being colour blind I sometimes wander past things without seeing them while they scream “look at me” to people with a better count of rods and cones in their armoury, and this certainly applies in the case of a cluster of what I’m told are scarlet wax cap mushrooms:

Scarlet Wax Cap?

Thats not to say we didn’t have a good variety of birds as well including common and lesser whitethroat (the latter heard but not seen), bullfinch, linnet, stock dove, rock pipit, common tern, arctic tern and sandwich tern and possibly roseate tern but not with a good enough view to be sure.

Butterflies seen : common blue, small skipper, small heath, ringlet, dark green fritillary

Birds seen : bullfinch, common whitethroat, herring gull, black-headed gull, grey heron, mute swan, common tern, arctic tern, sandwich tern, jackdaw, crow, magpie, oystercatcher, eider, rock pipit, meadow pipit, goldfinch, cormorant, kestrel, stock dove


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