A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Isle of Wight mini-break - Glanville Fritillaries and Wall Lizards galore!

With beautiful weather forecast for the south coast at the beginning of June last summer, I made the snap decision to take us down to the Isle of Wight in an effort to track down one of our most localised British butterflies – the Glanville Fritillary. Traditionally restricted in distribution to the southern coastal headlands on the picturesque Isle of Wight, I’d never yet had the opportunity to track down this orange-clad winged wonder, and with a day off work on the Friday it was the perfect opportunity to make a long weekend of it.
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary
After a tedious drive down (suffering the constant delays that is now the M6) to our overnight stop in the New Forest where we spent enjoyable evening filled with churring Nightjars and a Chinese feast big enough to keep us well fed for at least a week, we were soon boarding the short 40 minute ferry to Yarmouth the next day ready for our mid-morning arrival on the Isle of Wight.
Isle of Wight
The view from the ferry
With the sun shining against a backdrop of clear, periwinkle blue skies, the beautiful rolling chalk cliffs of the southern coasts were truly a sight to behold, the English Channel stretching far into the distant horizon as the sunlight sparkled and danced across the crystal clear waves.
Isle of Wight
With our first site of The National Trust’s Hanover Point just a short drive from the ferry terminal, we were soon exploring the coastal paths on the edge of the cliffs for our target, quickly spotting two fellow Lepidopterists searching at the base of the path where we were heading. Noticing something small and orange near to where they were kneeling, sure enough, we soon had our first glimpse of the delicate Glanville Fritillary. 
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Much smaller and daintier than I had expected and feeding on one of the coastal flowers nestled beneath the cliffs, we had soon located a handful more of these charismatic beauties, bounding powerfully across the vegetation before settling to bask, wings spread wide on the parched earth. Following a tip off from our fellow Glanville hunters, we headed up in to a small sun trapped valley on the side of the cliffs over on a grassy path, where sure enough, a group of around 6 or 8 individuals were feeding and flitting around the lilac coloured thrift – a seemingly favourite nectar source.
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Over the course of the next three hours we spent an enjoyable afternoon tracking our orange-checked targets, taking advantage of some individuals’ tolerant nature to get an exceptionally close look, while getting thwarted by several others’ flighty tendencies! 
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Named after Lady Eleanor Glanville, a 17thC Lepidopterist who first discovered the species in Lincolnshire, Glanville Fritillaries are sadly now mostly confined to the Isle of Wight, restricted to the southern coastal headlands where they occur in good numbers. The population on the Isle of Wight fluctuates wildly year on year, with some seasons seeing very few individuals while other years enjoy a particular boom in numbers. Whether this is down to the weather conditions or due to a particular parasite is not clear, but numbers on the whole have declined substantially over the last 30 years and Glanville Fritiallaries are now seen as vulnerable in Britain. 
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Pleased with our close-up encounters and with our car park ticket due to expire any second, after fuelling up on ice cream we checked out a nearby site off the A3055 for Adonis and Small Blues, but with the wind now having picked up substantially there was very little butterfly activity on the slope, a lone Dingy Skipper and a battered Green Hairstreak the only indication of the many other butterfly treasures lurking out of sight.
Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight
After an overnight stop at the delightful Kenbury B&B in Shanklin on the eastern side of the island and a delicious meal of redcurrant duck and garlic buttered chicken just hitting the spot after a long day in the field, we had just enough time on the Sunday morning to visit Ventnor Botanic Garden on the hunt for the brightly coloured and quirky Wall Lizard. 
Ventnor Botanic Garden - Isle of Wight
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Wall Lizard!
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Thought to be the largest and oldest population in Britain after supposedly being introduced in Victorian times, these bottle green reptiles can be found in certain spots on the Isle of Wight, Ventnor Botanic Garden being a particular hotspot. Sure enough, in our half an hour search amongst the floral masterpieces in the garden, we located several individuals soaking up the sun and basking on the stone walls, including a handful of stunning males scurrying around the plants on the rugged walls surrounding the car park.
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Favouring areas that had spots of vegetation in to which the Wall Lizards could run in to cover, we were able to get great views as they basked (in-between instances when curious and intrigued fellow visitors to the garden got a little too close for comfort to them!)
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
Wall Lizard - Ventnor Botanic Garden
With our time on the Isle of Wight coming to a close and getting back to the mainland for lunch, we had just enough time to check out Soton Common (just outside Southampton) where a population of Dactylorhiza orchids hold several monochromatic individuals. Sadly on this occasion many of the plants had gone over (they appeared to be a hybrid mix of Common and Heath Spotted Orchids) and we at least couldn’t spot any of the full monochromatic flowers that have occurred here in previous years. We did however spot several that displayed some monochromatic traits (with a predominantly pink lip), while the Heath/Common Spotted Orchids that were still in flower were also nice to see.
Common Spotted Orchid - Soton Common, Hampshire
Partial monochromatic Common Spotted Orchid - note the darker colouration on the lips)
Common Spotted Orchid - Soton Common, Hampshire
Dactylorhizas - Soton Common, Hampshire
Dactylorhizas - Soton Common, Hampshire
Dactylorhizas - Soton Common, Hampshire
Dactylorhizas - Soton Common, Hampshire
Dactylorhizas - Soton Common, Hampshire
Dactylorhizas - Soton Common, Hampshire
After an enjoyable weekend packed full of birds, butterflies, lizards, orchids and sunshine coupled with the beautiful scenery and hospitality that the Isle of Wight offers, this was a great off the cuff trip for a species that, living in Cheshire, was always going to require a lengthy journey to see. Having well and truly succeeded on the Glanville Fritillary front (with Nightjars and Wall Lizards an added bonus to boot) the Isle of Wight made for a fantastic mini-break and one that I would highly recommend during the Glanville flight season! 
Glanville Fritillary - Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight

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