Fringe Box



Birdwatcher’s Diary No.139

Published on: 6 Jul, 2017
Updated on: 6 Jul, 2017

By Malcolm Fincham

On the days leading up to the Summer Solstice temperatures began to soar in the southern regions of the UK. In Surrey, day time maximums hovered around the 30s, peaking at 34.5c at Heathrow Airport on Mid-summers Day.

Added to this, with a continued spell of dry weather, an early emergence of our summertime butterflies were noted. This included one of Britain’s most elusive butterflies.

A purple emperor was spotted at the National Trust’s Bookham Common on June 11. Its earliest appearance of one in more than 120 years! In 1893 one was caught on June 10. Purple emperors are Britain’s second-largest butterfly, mostly fly high in the tree tops of woodlands.

Purple emperor in its full blue-purple colour.

Occasionally the male will come down to the ground at the end of June to find minerals to feed on.

Purple emperor high in the canopy of its master tree.

Purple emperor high in the canopy of an oak tree.

Although many people were able to witness such an event in the last few weeks of the month, the best I did this year, was to watch them ”dog fighting” at the top of their ”master tree”. From time to time, settling to rest on its leaves.

Purple hairstreak butterfly.

Similar have been my views of purple hairstreaks so far this year. As we watched them buzz around the same trees as the ”emperors”.

Marbled white.

June 14 brought with it my first sighting of several marbled whites.

Meadow brown butterfly.

Our most common UK butterfly, the meadow brown, had also begun to emerge.

View from Denbies Hillside.

Braving the heat of the afternoon sun, with the addition of Bob and Dougal on June 17, we continued on the trail of butterflies with a visit to Denbies Hillside at Ranmore near Dorking.

Large skipper.

Although too early for the second brood of Adonis blue, we did get to see a few large skippers.

Green hairstreak at Denbies Hillside.

Also, surprisingly, a green hairstreak. Although now at the end of its season’s single brood, it was still in reasonable condition.

Burnet moth.

Marbled white butterflies had now started to emerge. As well as daytime flying cinnabar and burnt moths.

Pyramidal orchid.

The pyramidal orchid grows in chalk grassland and could easily be spotted growing along the hillside.

Bee orchid.

But it took the keen eyes of Bob, however, to spot the first of the bee orchids there.

An exhausting climb back up the hill was certainly ”character building” to the extent of concern I would be able to tell my tale!

Male silver-studded blue wings closed.

A brief return to Thursley Common on June 18 gave Dougal his first sightings of silver-studded blue butterflies. And with numbers now in excess of 30 seen during our short stay there.

Female silver-studded blue, wings closed.

This also gave me good opportunities of some photo-shots of both males and females.

Male silver-studded blue, wings open.

Even getting shots of them with their wings open, as they perched on the heather, absorbing the heat of the afternoon sun.

A noticeable lessening of bird song could be heard on my visits to various locations as we approached the middle of the month. This was evident on revisiting Oaken Wood, Chiddingfold, as nightingales there had now fallen silent.


Although a few garden warblers and blackcaps could be still heard in song.

Marsh tit.

As well as marsh tits, now feeding young, could be seen and making their ‘pitchoo’ call. Sounding a little reminiscent of a sneeze.

Making up for the sounds were the visual sights. Butterflies had taken over the woodland paths.

Silver-washed fritillary at Oaken Wood.

Siver-washed fritillaries quite distinctive in their fast but graceful ”swooping” flight. Though their liveliness can make them difficult to photo, I eventually caught a few shots as one settled on some bramble blossom.

Silver-washed fritillary.

White admiral butterfly.

White admirals can be just as difficult to photograph, so I was grateful for the surprise of one settling on the track we were walking. Another surprise was to see a lone wood white, now thought to be past its first brood, float past us, in its usual lazy flight.

My old friend Steve came down on a break from his wildlife tours in the Highlands of Scotland. He hoped to add a few species to his ”year list” he missed on his visit early in the year. Top of his wish-list was the chance to see a nightjar. A bird he hadn’t seen since his move to the Scotland over 15 years ago.

As these birds are summer visitors, whereas Steve had become a rare summer traveller back to his Guildford roots, ”who better to ask?” I confidently exclaimed.

Nightjar perched on a dead silver birch post.

As night began to descend on the heathland where I had seen the nightjars just a few weeks previous, and with the addition of Bob, we stood and waited. Just a little later than my last visit the churring began. Then, as night put on its ”purple cloak”, a shadowy image rose up from the heather, perching within view on a dead silver-birch stump.

Nightjar in flight showing white wing tips, suggests it’s a male.

Armed with my camera I took a few ”wishful” shots. To my surprise a few came out OK under such circumstances.

We were also able to record the a sighting of a glow worm. The first one I had seen there for nearly a decade.


As the month of June came to a close, newly fledged, local swallows could be viewed in flight with their parents.

Young swallows in their nest.

While others still in nests looked almost ready to fledge.

Juvenile peregrine.

Juvenile peregrine in flight.

I also saw a juvenile peregrine, in its early stages of learning to fly, though still dependant on its parents.

Dog fox.

While watching, an old dog fox ambled past me, with no concern of my presence.

White-letter hairstreak butterfly.

Returning to the theme of butterflies, on June 26, Dougal and I visited a private site near Dorking, once again getting our annual view of several white-letter hairstreaks as they settled on the highest leaves of an elm tree.

Marbled white on Pewley Down.

On July 1 we visited Pewley Down, not far from Guildford town centre. Marbled white butterflies were now in reasonable numbers and easy to view.

Looking to the south from Pewley Down.

Ringlet butterfly.

Ringlet butterflies were also out in force, wings darker than the meadow browns, so they could be picked out in flight.

Holly blue on Pewley Down.

We also managed to pick up on a few holly blue butterflies, freshly out on their second brood.

Comma on Pewley Down.

Adding to the colours, comma butterflies had also made fresh appearances.

Small skipper.

Although the large skippers were now few and far between there, some small skippers could be found.

Essex skippers.

And even one of our target species the Essex skipper, similar, but most notable by the black tips to their antenna.

Chalkhill blue butterfly (male) with wings open at Pewley Down.

Although still quite early in the month, luck was also on our side, eventually finding the second of our ”target species” – just a handful of chalk-hill blues, and all males.

Dark-green fritillary on Pewley Down.

A bonus for the day was a dark-green fritillary, sunning itself on one of the paths we walked.

Yellow hammer on Pewley Down.

Adding to the afternoon of glorious sunshine, was the sound of a yellow hammer singing as it perched in a tree below us, while a skylark sang overhead.

Notice board at Sheapleas.

I ended the week on a sunny, Sunday visit to Sheepleas July 2.

Dark-green fritillary at Sheepleas.

Dark-green fritillaries could now be seen mating there.

Small white butterfly.

I also managed my first picture this year of a small white.

Small tortoiseshell.

Other sightings included a small tortoiseshell and more Essex skippers.

Gatekeeper, once known as a hedge brown.

Adding to the ”year” list was a gate keeper, once known as a hedge brown, bringing my butterfly species sightings to a respectable 38 so far this year.

Common buzzard.

And finally at Sheepleas, a common buzzard, soaring over the trees in the blue sky.

Share This Post

Responses to Birdwatcher’s Diary No.139

  1. James Sellen Reply

    July 6, 2017 at 10:50 pm

    Great shots of the nightjar – not an easy bird to photograph.

  2. Harry Eve Reply

    July 8, 2017 at 8:21 am

    I agree with James Sellen’s comment and would add the white-letter hairstreak which requires a lot of patience.

    A couple of times they seem to have “fallen off” their leaf or flower just as I was focussing on them – almost as if they could not maintain their balance. Perhaps they had spent too long on the nectar.

  3. Lisa Wright Reply

    June 20, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    Malcolm, purple emperor at Broadstreet Common this morning, June 20th 2018. First one I’ve ever seen!


  4. Steve Simnett Reply

    July 19, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    Another superb diary entry Malcolm. Good stuff.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *