Doug Mackenzie Dodds - Images | A short-lived chance for YOU to see the "nascent west wind of the oaks".

A short-lived chance for YOU to see the "nascent west wind of the oaks".

July 15, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

A quick blog post today on a wee butterfly that RIGHT NOW is much more visible than it usually is. If you've not seen one before - THIS is your time.


I'm writing about the Purple Hairstreak butterfly - Neozephyrus quercus - a very small butterfly with grey/silver underwings and a dark copper top side to its wings - which spends almost all of its time, usually, dancing around the tops of oak canopies, feeding on honeydew.

I took the photo above last night, on a golf green. The Purple Hairstreak is (of course) on the right of the shot - and on the left is a flesh fly - this should demonstrate to you the small size of these wee butterflies - they are small!

This butterfly is named after the Greek God of the (gentle, fructifying) West wind (Zephyr), Zephyrus - and the oak tree (Quercus) where it spends pretty well all of its time. Neo (of course) means young, new or nascent.

Sure, if you look up to the tops of oaks on warm, sunny, summer evenings in July and August, you may see these very small butterflies engaged in their courtship dances around the tiny developing acorns - but you'll be seeing them from a (vertical) distance of course - and they ARE small!

Your best chance to get a really good look at these delightful wee things is to go to an oak woodland (or area of countryside with a lot of oaks) during a prolonged dry spell, like we are going through (at least in the SE of England) right now.

Then (and generally, ONLY then) these tiny butterflies are forced down to ground level, to any green patch of ground, in a desperate search for nectar or water.

Yesterday evening I played 9 holes of golf at a local golf course, (Billingbear Park, near Binfield in Berkshire) in a fair amount of heat still - and was surrounded by these butterflies on every green. I must have seen dozens and dozens.

Billingbear Park Golf Club is a little golf course parked right next to the M4 in East Berkshire, but has plenty of woodland (including oak woodland) around and on it. Right now, as in many golf courses, 2 months of pretty-well bone-dry, hot, sunny weather has turned the fairways and rough into parched, yellow areas of ground - but as the greens are watered (automatically with sprinklers) each night - the greens have remained … well.... green.

Your average Purple hairstreak butterfly then will come down from the oak canopies, desperately seeking moisture (in the form of water or nectar or similar) and be very attracted to these islands of green in a sea of dry yellow.

Yesterday evening (around 6pm) on each of the 9 greens I putted on, I was probably joined by half a dozen purple hairstreaks (and maybe the same number of flesh flies weirdly enough). 

I've seen a purple hairstreak before. Once. I was trimming our privet hedge in the sun once, a few years ago and as my hedge trimmers ran along the hedge, up jumped a purple hairstreak from a privet flower. But... I've never seen dozens before, like I did last night!

I would think that 2018 will go down as a good year for these sort of sightings of this butterfly - almost entirely due to the fact that we've basically had no appreciable rain since the first fortnight in May.

I would also assume that since 1975, there have only been five summers bringing about sights like I witnessed last night, in terms of sheer numbers of purple hairstreaks forced down from the oak canopies in July or August days - these being this year (2018), 2003, 1995, 1992 and 1976 (the most obvious "heatwavey" summers that I can certainly remember).

So, grapple fans.

This week (if you can) head to your nearest patch of oak trees (preferably with a body of water right by them) at around 6pm - and I'd put money on the fact that you'll see these wonderful small butterflies dance around your feet. Perhaps for the first... and perhaps for the last … time.






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