I’m still trying to get straight in my own head how I ended up standing with a pair of binoculars in a wood in Londonderry, watching 5 Purple Hairstreaks chase each other around a beech tree.

Which is why it’s taken me all afternoon to write this post.

But the basic outcome of all the emails that have flown back and forth between me and Ian Rippey in the past few weeks was that a) I saw the Wall Brown at Sheepland on Wednesday 17 August, and b) my mum and dad took me to Ness Wood on Saturday 20 August, to join the BCNI outing (led by Ian) looking for the Purple Hairstreak.

Ness Wood is one of three mixed woodlands that make up Ness Country Park in County Londonderry, and it is the only place in that county where the Purple Hairstreak is known to be present. To most people who see it, this butterfly appears as a tiny silvery insect, flying high up in an oak tree, and hence the need for binoculars. The silvery colour comes from its underside; the uppersides are iridescent purple in the male, and brown with a blue patch in the female.

When our family first arrived (on time for once), a few butterfly enthusiasts were already there, and our number grew until our cars had half-filled the car park. It took a while to get organised, which was unavoidable but not ideal – the Purple Hairstreak is active in the morning then settles down during the afternoon before re-emerging at 5:00 in the evening. To cut a long story short, we had lunch at Ness Wood (and I saw my first Dipper – my 99th British bird),  spent the afternoon at Killaloo Wood (where we discovered the Silver-washed Fritillary – a new site for this species), and returned to Ness at 5:00 – and that’s when the fun began.

Several people had left the event, and when they see the trip report they’ll probably wish they hadn’t. Standing near the waterfall, I spotted one, then two, tiny silvery butterflies high up in the oak trees, flashing in the evening sunlight. Gradually everybody got their eye in, as two became four and we were able to watch the Purple Hairstreaks through the binoculars as they flitted about, occasionally landing to reveal their purple wings.

By taking different vantage points, we were able to tot up 5 Purple Hairstreaks just above the waterfall, after which we joined others of our group a bit further down the river and watched another 5 flying around a sunlit beech tree – magic!

Gradually we bowed to the necessity of going home, as it was getting late, but I wasn’t going to leave without getting a photo. No sir. I held my camera up to the binoculars and…

20AUG11 Purple Hairstreak (sitting on a leaf in the centre of the photo)

… can you see it… kind of… centre of the photo… little purple sillouette on a leaf… butterfly shaped… and I think you can just about make out the antennae.

Not much of a photo, I know.


Thanks to Ian for a great trip!



Unless I’m lucky enough to see a Clouded Yellow this autumn,

my British butterfly species count for 2011 standeth at 25, including:


in Nothern Ireland, and


in Scotland with the Dark Green Fritillary being the one I saw in both places.

(What’s more, I saw


in America, including the Red Admiral and Small White, which I also saw here.

So, 23 + 3 – 1 + 13 – 2 =


species in total.)

Confused? Good.

So now I just have to look forward to GCSE Results Day, Doctor Who, the Sixth Form, and Autumnwatch.

Ahhh. Happy is me.

(PS. I’m hoping to post pictures of Wilson’s Phalarope, an Emperor Moth caterpillar, and the two Buff Ermine caterpillars that I’m currently rearing. When I find the motivation to do so, I’ll do so.)