Tag Archive: Grayling

How to Catch a Grayling

Frollicking with one of Northern Ireland’s most entertaining butterflies, in good old Murlough NNR! Do turn the quality up (gear symbol on toolbar).

This is what happened when I decided to stand for two minutes on a Grayling butterfly’s territory. We had fun.


Where’s Wally?


I took a trip to Sheepland, on the coast near Ardglass, Co. Down, yesterday, and the butterflies were so brilliant that the only shot I got of the scenery was this fence – and even that was only to get the kestrel hovering behind it.

My main purpose for the trip was to see the Wall Brown, a sun-loving butterfly that gets its name from its habit of sunbathing on walls and other warm places. In Northern Ireland it is only found along the South Down Coast, particularly at Sheepland, and between Ardglass and St Patrick’s Well. There was also a record from Kilkeel last year. After some correspondence with Ian Rippey, the chairman of BCNI, I carped the next sunny diem and headed off to see the Wall in its second brood.

To cut a long story short, it was towards the end of my visit, at 3:25, that I assaulted a stile, descended into a sheltered cove and saw two pristine Wall Browns, a male and a female, fluttering about on a rock face.

I hope nobody was around to hear my ecstatic YES!!!! 

17AUG11 Wall Brown male

The pair didn’t stay together for long though, and certainly not long enough to get a decent photo – the male (above) took a sip of knapweed and then made off away from the rock face, leaving me with the diva, who made me, the paparazzi, work to get a photo of her. She stayed high up on the face. I had to climb to get near her, and she was quite skittish. It didn’t help that she was being harassed by a Small Copper; and the resident Peacock must have been getting jealous because he landed slap bang under my nose as I was stalking her with the camera. He insisted on having his photo taken, and threatened to beat me up if I didn’t. I diplomatically obliged.

17AUG11 Peacock

The Wall was basking quite a lot both on the rock and on the grass. After a look round the cove to see if there were any more (nada) I returned to the female and, after she’d landed on my trouser leg just to tease me, I finally got a close-up.

17AUG11 Wall Brown female


And the other butterflies were beautiful too – as well as the Wall Browns I saw:

2 Large White
6 Speckled Wood
3 Red Admiral
2 Peacock
4 Small White
4 Green-veined White
11 Small Copper
23 Meadow Brown
22 Grayling
1 Painted Lady
2 Small Tortoiseshell
2 Common Blue.

Thirteen species in a day – I think that equals my standing record.

The Painted Lady was the other highlight of the trip – it was so thirsty after its migration that it drank knapweed nectar for three hours straight (it was there when I arrived and there when I left). That allowed me to get a really decent photo for a change.

17AUG11 Painted Lady

Sheepland is also home to a thriving Grayling colony – to my amazement they were more common than Meadow Browns, my total coming to 22. There was quite a lot of boy-and-girl stuff going on – often I would see a female with her wings wide open, trying to dissuade an amorous male crawling through the grass after her. I took a good look at every one to check if it was a Wall, but of course when I actually saw Wally it was much smaller than both the Graylings and the Meadow Browns – more like Speckled Wood size (and you can see the resemblance between the two.) The Graylings here seemed to be a bit less camera-shy than the ones at Murlough.

17AUG11 Grayling

The Small Coppers were little gems as usual – I found one pair doing you-know-what while I was waiting for the sun to emerge at the beginning. My guess is the female is the exhausted-looking one on the bottom.

17AUG11 Small Copper pair

And lastly, a butterfly that in my opinion gets too much bad press and not enough compliments, as it really is quite neat and pretty, despite the fact that it’s invaded two continents and ravaged their brassicas.

17AUG11 Small White

I was going to say something poetic, but I’m not going to embarrass myself. It’s a photo of a Small White, take it or leave it.

          Ireland: 22

The Grayling

Butterfly hunting in Murlough with local recorders Ann McComb and Pauline McNulty last year taught me something about the character of lepidopterists, and in my experience it’s true: Every new or long-unseen butterfly becomes our favourite until the next new or long-unseen butterfly appears.

So here it is, my latest favourite butterfly.

12JUL11 Grayling

The 12th of July as I know it is the day when a large minority of Nornians deliberately drag their country through the mud. So it was nice to be as far away from it as possible, high on the sandy dunes of Murlough, stalking Hipparchia semele.

The Grayling is a butterfly worth writing about – it’s this big brown satyr that vigorously defends its territory against anything airborne: other males, other butterflies, and even swallows. It characteristically glides with its wings held in a V, unlike the more bouncy flight of the Meadow Brown. When at rest it basks with wings closed and forewings hidden – in this position its grey hindwings camouflage it against the rocks (if there are any – against the sand in Murlough it’s easier to see). I managed to catch one in my net (it requires slow, low movements – neither of which my knees appreciated), and after a lot of flapping (in which it revealed its lovely brown and orange upperwings for a blurry photo) it settled down and concentrated on angling its wings towards the sun, carefully adjusting ats position as I turned the container. At close range (and it shows on the photo above) you can see a blue sheen on the hindwings and a green sheen on the edge of the upper forewing. Finally I was able to get it onto my hand for the photo above before it took flight down the dune and away over the heath. Evidently (and I don’t blame it) it wanted to get as far away from me as possible!

Further north and east I discovered what seemed to be the main Grayling colony, on a row of large dunes where I counted 8. (Grid reference on request, for anyone who’s interested!)

So that’s the marvellous Grayling, number 22 of this year.

           Ireland: 20