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8th June 2023

Green hairstreak butterfly
Green hairstreak butterfly

Swallows swoop, the kestrel sits on steady air, buzzards and kites soar high above, and the jerky songflight of the whitethroat rings out from the mayflower as we make our way towards the sixth century hillfort which is Barbury Castle. The sun is shining, the sky is clear but there’s a chill in the air, until we move among the banks and ditches, where we are warmed in body and spirit by rock-roses, common milkwort, a heath spotted orchid, marsh fritilllaries enjoying the wild thyme, and scores of burnet moths working busily to produce the next generation. The hoary plantain, its purple stamens giving the flower-head a reddish appearance, and the highly edible salad burnet, harbour small copper and common blues and also on these chalk downs the Adonis blue, the beautiful brown argus on the sage and the tiny white flower of the fairy flax are all there to relish.

The skylarks sing, ascend and descend above the sheltered ditches and the silky silverweed, glorying under the growing sunlight, stretches along successive banks as the group share the pleasures of sighting small heath, dingy skipper, wave upon wave of whispering grass, saxifrage, green longhorn, the distant patterns of fields tamed and tended, yellow shell moth on stinging nettles, the red hues of campion and sorel, swifts and house martins and a thick-headed fly.

A pause at The Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest road, for tales of white horses, the broomrape and a spear thistle lace bug.

A green hairstreak butterfly resting on a plant
A green hairstreak butterfly

Two brimstones, a green hairstreak basking then suddenly flitting, and a solitary red admiral open our account on Fyfield Down. A rapidly repeated note, speeding up into a flourish and sounding like a bunch of jangling keys is heard from the bird on top of a fence post; this shared experience has the whole group spellbound. A corn bunting, casting his song over the downs. By the end of the afternoon this has become a familiar sight and sound, each bird flying off on completion of their song into what appears to be the infinite space that serves as their habitat.
A picture-winged fly on a spear thistle and a wall butterfly perching and patrolling both take a while to identify but once they settle, the eyespots of the latter and the patterning on the wings of both are distinctive.
Fields bright with meadow buttercups take us back over the years as we make our return journey, in what is now searing heat, over Fyfield Down, the buttercups gleaming gold under a cloudless, azure sky. A sighting of a pair of speckled woods, flirting and fluttering and reports of a silver Y, a fluorescent yellow nursery web spider, lady’s bedstraw, field scabious and greater stitchwort are among the rich denouements of a rewarding day.

Philip Chambers