Thursday, 10 August 2017

In search of Dukes and Black Adders

Back in May, I met up with some good friends; Peter and Alison in Hampshire for a day out of wildlife watching in their new local patches. After failed trips the previous year, we were keen to watch some Duke of Burgundy butterflies on this trip. They are a local specialty on the chalk grasslands of the south Downs and also something of a bogey butterfly for me.

After poor weather scrapping attempts to see the species on previous trips, the weather conditions finally came together this time. With Peter and Alison knowing the chalk grassland reserves of the area in great detail, it was quite impressive that within a few minutes of arriving on site at Buster Hill we were watching our first beautiful male Duke of Burgundy. As the sun began to creep out further and we made our way along the scrubby edge of the reserve we found several others that were fairly active and clearly defending territories. I learnt from Peter that the ideal habitat for a male duke would encompass a variety of small niches; including a few prominent but very limited patches of scrub, some  short height grass, some longer tussocky grass, some bare ground and of course good flower diversity. Clearly maintaining the ideal conditions for the species requires very careful and constant management to create a messy yet planned mixture of grassland structure.

(Duke of Burgundy)

In the opener areas of grassland we also encountered a beautiful green hairstreak that proved very difficult to keep up with and photograph. 5 spot burnet and grizzled skippers were also ever present and we came across a few other interesting day flying moths and birds included lesser whitethroat and yellowhammer.

(Green hairstreak)

(Grizzled skipper)

(Wild Rock Rock)

Moving down to a gulley in the middle of the reserve, we found many more dukes including one of the highlights of the day; a mating pair.

(Mating Dukes)

After lunch we made the excellent decision to go in search of reptiles at a local heathland reserve just as the heavens opened and downpours started. As it begun raining very heavily, it looked as though it would be game over for any reptile watching. However we actually decided that the earlier heat of the day and current wet weather might actually produce some good results under the refugia on the site.

Our target was the site's black adders and as we begun our walk, I was fairly shocked when I spotted one of these almost mythical serpents just by my feet almost soon into the walk, but unfortunately it disappeared almost immediately before we could get a good look.

Luckily, we struck gold under one of the first refugia's we looked under, finding 3 adders including a stunning black (melanistic) individual. We could actually see the zig-zag pattern through the black pigment though.
(Black adder)

Later we moved to another sheet of corrugated iron and Peter, exclaimed " this one's a good en!" You have to be into reptiles to be able to such say nice things about sheets of unwanted corrugated iron lying around in the countryside. But he was right, this sheet of corrugated was the second best, I have ever lifted. On top of it we had 2 adders, while underneath was another adder, a grass snake and 2 slow worms. 6 reptiles of three species in one meter. Result!

(Male adder)


  1. It was a cracking day wasn't it! Thanks for the write up (and the big up!). I had not got around to blogging this day's activity yet - I might just put a link to your Blog under the date on mine ;)

  2. Thanks Peter. It was a really fun day and looking forward to some more like it again.