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Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Long-tailed Blues

I've got quite a bit of catching up to do!  Since my last post I've seen quite a few birds, not seen even more birds, and enjoyed a couple of really productive moth nights.  All of that must wait though, because the contents of this blog post, quite simply, deserve its own post...

Late afternoon on Saturday 24th, news broke on Twitter of at least two Long-tailed Blue butterflies at Axmouth Harbour, from Lloyd Evans. Here is the very tweet...

What a tweet!

All this came as quite a shock.  I was stuck at work, but Kevin quickly followed it up and saw two an hour later. They were feeding & egg laying on a small patch of pea plant just to the east of the river mouth.  

Frustratingly the following day didn't allow me any chances to see them, but three were present and well reported on social media, pulling in visitors from far and wide.  Then Monday came around, and thankfully - finally - I managed to spend my lunch hour with them.  What a treat...

Female Long-tailed Blue

What wonderful little butterflies, clearly smaller than Holly Blues, and I found them really hard to keep up with thanks to their distinctively jerky and rapid flight.  They were oddly sporadic in their appearances too, with one period of 20+ minutes of nothing, and then a flurry of sightings right up until I left.  This one spent a lot of time underneath the flowers, so often the views were like this...

Easily to overlook - but once seen so distinctive

This female showed by far the best, resting on flowers and egg laying on the nearest patch of pea to where I was stood...

It actually has long-tails!

As can be seen in the above pic though, she has a deformity on her right wing. Also viewable in this pic...

A cracking underwing pattern - but what's with the wing...

This is a defect caused when the wings are being pumped up during emergency, which begs the question, was this butterfly born and bred here!?  Well personally I think not.  Despite this damage it was flying around just fine, and considering there has been a national influx of this species within the last week or so, I think the chances are it arrived as part of this influx.    

Not easy to see the upperwing - just about managed a shot of it here

As you can see, this conclusively sexes this insect as a female - but when flying around on two occasions I heard others announce it as a male due to how blue it appeared.  When comparing it to the second Long-tailed Blue that was flying around however, this was understandable. The second individual was a really drab, brown and tatty female - presumably the one pictured by others in previous days lacking any tails.  I did see a third insect in flight on two occasions, and this one really did look proper blue, sadly never saw it settled though.

There is a previous patch record of Long-tailed Blue, I know of at least one recorded on Goat Island (where there is lots of pea plant - so there could be a load out there now!) but it's great to have some 'gettable' ones!  Whilst at the harbour I also saw Common Blue, Painted Lady, Silver-washed Fritillary and a couple of smart male Clouded Yellows.

As I said earlier there has been something of an influx of Long-tailed Blues into the UK - in fact it's looking likely to prove the biggest influx ever!  For more details have a read of this excellent BirdGuides article; https://www.birdguides.com/news/look-out-for-long-tailed-blues/

And I will finish by ending on a similar note to the article-linked above.  Go out and search your local pea plants, you may not find an adult but there's every chance you could discover some eggs. And if you do then keep coming back and you never know you may just witness a UK bred Long-tailed Blue emerge or take its maiden flight. Something I hope to do in about a month's time...


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