Author Ryan Greaves
Iíve had my fair share of special encounters with wildlife in my five years as Summer Warden at Woods Mill. The majority have happen by pure fluke: I was standing by the lake when an osprey dropped in two years ago, Iíve had a barn owl glide over my head and land on a fencepost next to me one rainy morning, Iíve turned over a log to find a great crested newt hiding underneath and Iíve uncovered a tiddly little harvest mouse collecting blackberries while I was retrieving litter from the reedbed!
But I like to think I know this site so well that I now have a sixth sense and internal calendar for what will appear and when. So last week I was out patrolling the reserve, on what was a fairly dull and overcast day. But as I walked from the large field back towards the lake the clouds parted and shed warm sunlight on the adjacent meadow. The cogs started turning...itís mid-August, the sun is shining on the meadow, the sloe berries are ripening...brown hairstreak butterflies?
So I put on a gentle sprint over to the beautiful blackthorn hedge separating the two meadows and began scanning. Speckled wood, nice but not nice enough, small copper, one of my favourites but still not enough, then a flash of bright orange. There she is! A beautiful fresh female brown hairstreak looking for the perfect sunny spot to lay her eggs. Snap.
Brown hairstreaks are the UKís largest hairstreak butterfly species. They are notoriously elusive since they spend much of their time resting and basking high up in tall shrubs and trees. The males are the more-elusive of the two sexes, congregating high on ash "master trees" positioned around the breeding area. But the females come to areas of young sun-lit blackthorn growth to lay their eggs. On the underside both sexes are not brown, but a stunning orange colour (hence the obscure Blackadder-referencing title), with the telltale white line streaking across them. But the females are particularly beautiful, once thought to be separate ďgolden hairstreakĒ species, with forewings that are brown but contain large orange patches.
This place will keep me coming back for many more years to come. Thank you to all the visitors who come to share it with me.