White Letter Hairstreak Butterflies in Kelso

July 14, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Saturday 13th July, 2019

The weather forecast had looked promising all week - cloudy with sunny spells, dry - almost perfect for butterfly hunting. However, it was not meant to be. A last minute change in the weather (damn you met office!) meant I woke up to steady rainfall which was set to stay around for the day. Should I still head to Kelso to join the Butterfly Conservation's walk in Kelso looking for the White Letter Hairstreak Butterfly (WLHB)? It was raining in Melrose but it could be fine in Kelso.... Maybe the forecast is wrong...? I decided to go anyway. It was a chance to meet some lovely people and to check out some sites that I could revisit later if needs be. It's always great to be surrounded by people who know what they are doing and where to look for things! Going out to photograph animals of any sort is great fun, and part of that fun is in tracking them down, but it does help if you have a rough idea where to look! I could have spent ages wandering around Kelso, staring up into trees for this elusive butterfly and would probably have seen nothing. However, thanks to Ian Cowe I now know that a) they are mainly found around the top of Elm trees and b) that only a few Elm trees in Kelso are used by them.

Anyway, at 10.30am a group of around 35 people met in a rather wet carpark next to the Mayfield Garden Centre. The plan was to walk along the River Teviot to Springwood Park, where White Letter Hairstreaks are known to be breeding, and then walk further along the river towards Roxburgh Castle. You could tell Ian was panicking. As the walk leader I'm sure he was feeling responsible for any success we may or, more likely, may not have.

We set off in a steady drizzle along the river. The first tree wasn't far from the car park and there we stood, all 35 of us, staring up into the branches. The rain was easing off and, my god, was that actually blue sky appearing!? We saw nothing and so continued on our walk when one of the group suddenly shouted 'there's one!'. We all stopped and stared, transfixed, into the tree..... Was it actually a White Letter Hairstreak butterfly? Had we actually spotted one so close to the beginning of the walk? I don't know. I couldn't see a thing and had no idea where the guy was pointing. Nothing else was seen and so we carried on towards Springwood Park.

As we reached the park we spotted two people staring into a tree. I guessed that must be where we were heading. As we approached we were told that they had spotted the WLHB buttefly. We hang around for a while, staring up, waiting, watching. Alas, nothing. The rain had started again and so we decided to head onwards with the plan to return to the site on the way back.

As we walked the rain grew heavier, turning from a light rain into a downpour. Even so, the walk by the river didn't disappoint. The great thing about these walks is that you are always guaranteed to see something. It may not be what you went to find but there is always something there... A young Grey Heron stood guard on the riverbank, waiting for his lunch. Plenty of moths - Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba), Shaded Broad Bar (Scotopteryx chenopodiata) to name a few - but the top of the list for me was a gorgeous Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), a stunning insect belonging to the damselfly family. There were several of these beautiful creatures flying around, males and females. Unfortunately no photos though.... As the rain grew heavier the group sheltered under a large tree to try and keep dry (a bit of a waste of time by this point) and grab a bit of lunch. By this point some of the group had turned back and the rest of us considered our next move - continue on or turn back. As the rain showed no sign of easing we decided to cut our losses and head back.

Walking back towards Springwood Park our luck started to change.... The rain was finally easing and more blue sky was appearing. Maybe, just maybe we'd be lucky. We picked up pace and hightailed it back to that lovely Elm Tree in Springwood Park. Nothing. We stood. We waited. Again. I ended up wandering off to see some Forest Bugs (Pentatoma rufipes) that were settled on a leaf a bit further on. Suddenly, a shout went out! "There's one!, no three... flying about at the top! Look!" The annoying thing about this butterfly is that they hang around right at the top of the tree, aren't that big and when they stop flying about then they are very difficult to see. A ripple went through what was left of our group. "I see it.", "There it is" "Wow".

I couldn't spot it. Do I lie and say "Ah yes" or do I admit defeat and tell the truth? Lots of shouting of 'top branch... on the third leaf in.....1 o'clock' etc followed and then finally, there it was. I saw it. The Holy Grail. A rather small, brown butterfly sitting on a leaf. A butterfly that could so easily have been missed to anyone who didn't know it was there.

For those who don't know, this is a very important sighting. The White Letter Hairstreak Butterfly is a new species for the Scottish Borders and very little is known about it's breeding habits, range etc in the area. It was first sighted in the borders in August 2017 and since then a group of very dedicated enthusiasts have been busy investigating this lovely little butterfly. For those who are interested then more information can be found here.

The excitement had grown within the group now. The weather had improved and for those of us who had stuck it out until the end we were rewarded with several more sighting of this elusive butterfly. I only managed one or two, not very good, photos but that doesn't matter. That's the thing about wildlife photography... you need endless amounts of patience, local knowledge and decent waterproofs and sometimes you just need to put the camera down and enjoy the moment. 

My first ever White Letter Hairstreak Butterfly - the first of many I hope!!

Butterfly_White_Letter_Hairstreak-8270White Letter Hairstreak Butterfly




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