Waterside Natural History Society visit Bentley Wood

[sc_embed_player_template1 fileurl=”https://www.fawleyonline.org.uk/audio/nature14/06_08_2014.mp3″]

Our excuse for visiting Bentley Wood was to see a Purple Emperor butterfly for which the wood is well renowned.

The programme is arranged some time in advance so the weather and many other factors can erode our chances of success.

Couple this with the fact that our recent attempt to see the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary at Holmesley had ended in spectacular failure we were somewhat less than confident this time.

Nevertheless the day turned out to be hot and sunny with quite high humidity so we had hopes of at least a good day walking through the woods.

We were also encouraged by the sight of banana skins draped over the car park sign.

These are meant to encourage the butterflies to visit the sign and possibly land on cars to save their occupants from too much exercise.

No butterflies were tempted by the bananas while we were in the car park so we had to venture further afield.

We had only gone a few paces when we met two men who had just seen a Purple Emperor and one offered to show us the exact location.

The access to the car park was by a long track through part of the woods and normally when setting out on a walk the temptation is to walk further into the trees.

Our guide however led us back down the track we had just driven along before walking through the hedge into an area of scrub and meadow.

The Purple Emperor was at the top of a small Alder tree resting on a leafy twig and remained there for some time giving us ample opportunity to marvel at this magnificent creature.

Purple Emperors feed on honeydew from aphids on trees so are often found around the tree canopy.

This particular specimen turned out to be a female, which are brown rather than purple, but with a size at least twice that of a Peacock butterfly and with bold markings it was still a spectacular sight.

We were very grateful to be shown exactly where the butterfly was located and try as we might we were unable to find another during our visit.

Looking at nature is often seen as a solitary hobby but fellow enthusiasts are often more than willing to pass on information and help beginners as well as experts.

The meadow area in which the Purple Emperor was seen had very little in the way of grass but between the scrub the ground was covered in rushes and bracken with flowers such as Wild Basil, Birds Foot Trefoil, Tormentil and Lesser Skullcap filling in the gaps.

Skullcap refers to the shape of the calyx or sepals that are left when the petals fall. At least six Peacock butterflies fed on one patch of Wild Basil and we saw many more during our visit.

Several Small Skippers and Meadow Brown butterflies were flying around the plants close to the ground.

Crickets jumped out of the way of our steps as we walked and flicked the stems of flowers as if by an unseen hand.

Bentley Wood has evolved into an ideal butterfly site because of the great mixture of habitats.

The trees are mixed deciduous of mature but not old age giving an open canopy at a medium height.

Rides between the trees are sufficiently broad to allow in plenty of light which encourages blackberry bushes and the taller plants such as Hemp Agrimony.

Trees are used by butterflies such as the Purple Emperor and the Purple Hairstreak but other butterflies fly between the canopy and the ground on a regular basis.

We noticed Silver Washed Fritillaries fly up to and land on the trunks of trees for some unknown reason.

Two Speckled Wood butterflies were seen sparring with each other as they circled each other just above our heads.

Conversely Holly Blue butterflies which normally fly at head height were seen on the gravel track no doubt in search of mineral supplements.

Our plan to walk up to the northern end of the woods where a picnic area was marked soon fell by the wayside due to our slow progress.

Fortunately there were plenty of wooden benches and even picnic tables scattered in glades around the woods so we were able to eat our lunch in some comfort and with a very pleasing view of the scenery.

There was even a small pond just off the main track which although devoid of water had Moorhens walking through the reeds and examples of the quite rare Greater Spearwort in flower.

Altogether an enjoyable and successful day was had by all.