Wed 3rd June 8.30am we started the day although overcast heading for Bere Regis and Puddletown, our main objective being Cerne Abbas, not to see the giant, but a dainty rare charismatic butterfly; the previous Wednesday being wet and dull not the sort of day for butterfly hunting, even though today wasn’t looking much better we just had to go. If you are wondering why a Wednesday and not any other day, we just couldn’t due to my friend having other commitments. We eagerly made our way through traffic until reaching quieter roads passing picturesque thatched cottages, some still having what looked like outside privies, but now they are probably used for keeping the lawn mower and other gardening tools in, and on to the winding roads of the Dorset Downs. Cerne Abbas which lies midway between Sherborne and Dorchester in beautiful Dorsetshire countryside, I am told there is a farm at Cerne Abbas that was once a glove factory and is still known as The Glove. The sky was now looking less ominous, the grey clouds gone being replaced with blue sky and white cumulus clouds and sunshine, this is what we needed if we were to find our quarry. We eventually arrived at our destination, our journey taking less than an hour. We parked the car at Kettle Bridge picnic area then made our way to the hill passing over the river Cerne via Kettle Bridge, then up a steep flight of steps and onto a narrow path. From here on we searched Giants Hill for any movement of butterfly, even on the cowslips of which 90% had now finished flowering. In April/May this hill would have looked and smelled wonderful covered with thousands of these fragrant primulas. We searched this chalk landscape for an hour finding other species, i.e. Marsh Fritillary (Eurodryas aurinia), Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages), Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae), Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines), Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), Green Veined White (Pieris napi) and two moths, a Cinnabar (Tyria jacbaeae) and a Pale Tussock (Dasychira pudibunda). Very nice Lepidoptera but I came to see one (Hamearis lucina).
The Duke of Burgundy Fritillary which seemed to be avoiding us at the moment and we only have till the end June to see it and then we would have to wait until next year. But within two hours of searching we eventually found him, well we had found seven to be precise. This butterfly which is sadly under threat really is a gem it’s about the size of a Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) and a Silver Studded Blue (Plebejus argus) and it’s not really a fritillary it’s in a family of its own Nemeobiidae. For any persons interested in wild flowers there were several nice examples of dry chalk grassland loving plants growing here, the locally common sulphur yellow Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium). I remember seeing this pretty flower for the first time on Steeple Down on the Isle of Purbeck. Also Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) which smells of cucumber when crushed and a very nice “White form” of early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula). When we eventually left this wonderful site I felt very happy having seen the Duke flying free for the first time instead of being pinned in a collector’s cabinet.
Thurs 4th Dunyeats Hill, the morning being warm and sunny with 22 people including myself and my wife looked forward to recording new species, if any, to add to the list of flora and fauna which will be sent to DERC and put on record with other findings from previous years. After going through the usual safety procedures i.e. be careful where you tread of adders sunbathing and definitely do not pick one up, you may be thinking who in their right mind would pick up an Adder, but we do have a member who thinks nothing of doing this, also check yourself for ticks. Starting our survey at the small lily pond we found the usual Hemiptera; Water Boatman (Nonecta glauca), Pond Skaters (Gerris lacustris) and an immature Raft spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus). A mallard had once again decided to make her nest here being well concealed in the heather; last year she had successfully reared a brood of eight, this year she has a clutch of eleven eggs, then continuing our trek eastward several Coleoptera were found, three Green Tiger Beetles (Cicindela campestris) two Carrion (Nicrophorous investigator) and a beautiful metallic Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurea), a few Lepidoptera were also seen one Green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi). This butterfly is the earliest of the hairstreaks to appear, the caterpillar feeds on a variety of plants but here on the heath it would be gorse and a Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus), the earliest of the blues to be seen on the wing from March until September. There were several colour variations of the Common Heath moth (Ematurga atomaria atomaria) identified from white females to yellow brown and grey males. This day flying moth is easily disturbed while walking amongst the heather. One of the group found attached to the stem of a tall sedge the larval case of the micro moth (Psyche castra) which looks very much like a caddis fly larvae case made of tiny pieces of dead grass and a Rosy Footman (Miltochrista miniata). This is a macro moth with attractive pink forewings. We finally arrived at the second pond hoping to see the Brown China Mark moth (Elophila nymphaeata). This is my favourite little moth which spends its larval stage feeding on aquatic plants then later pupates in a silk cocoon attached to the stem of a water plant just below the surface then in June/July emerges from its waterproof bed, climbs to the surface and delights us with its delicate flight, this is truly a wonderful little moth. There is a dark brown form of the China Mark moth found in the bogs of the New Forest, but it is nowhere near as beautiful as my Dunyeats China Mark. There were several Damselfly on the wing a large Red (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), several Blue (Enallagma cynthigera) and a very nice Emerald (Lestes sponsa), but only two of the larger species of Odonata a Broad-bodied chaser (Libellul depressa) and an Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator). On the margin of this pond our Botanists found Bog Asphodel and the insectivorous Sundews Round and Oblong leaved that were not yet in flower. The only plants that were in flower being Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula), Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) and Heath milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia). What was disappointing we never saw any Dartford Warblers; if there were any they were being very quiet, perhaps incubating a second brood? Or maybe they had not nested here this year. We never found one Reptile apart from a Common Lizard, 95% of the Tins/Tiles had been moved by ARC, and also a large area of ground had been rotovated for Sand Lizards cutting through part of the only (Formica cunicularia) nest I have found on Dunyeats. The other heathland speciality (Formica sanguinia) were active. The bare ground where I had found (Tapinoma erraticum) nests being covered by heather, which is not good for this tiny sun loving ant. (Four new species were found) a micro moth (Psyche castra), macro moth Rosy Footman (Miltochrista miniata), Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurea), Gall Midge (Rhabdophaga salicis) found as a Gall on Goat Willow.