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Green Hairstreak - Callophrys rubi

Green Hairstreaks have been a bit of an epic tale for me, with a most unexpected twist in May 2021. It has always been one of those butterflies that was not uncommon, but just too far away from where I live to be practical to search for. Like so many species, seeing them and getting the right conditions to photograph them are not the same thing, and driving 40 or 50 miles to the nearest known sites is a battle.

Green Hairstreak - Callophrys rubi perched on Heather

The nearest site that I knew of was near Finzean - annoyingly just too far from work to visit in a lunch break, or after work, but I figured that if they were there, they might be closer by too, and I identified Pitdelphin Wood on the map as a possible location. On the 15th May 2019 I stopped off on the way home in glorious sunshine, and chased numerous common heath moths around thinking that one might just be the elusive butterfly - and as I was about to give up and go home, I found one!

I returned two days later and found several more. Sadly, the warm Spring in 2019 meant that by late May they were nearing the end of their adult life, and were looking pretty tatty. One of the most 'fighty' butterflies there is, males can typically be seen in never ending battle spirals, seeking rights to the best perches for posing for a passing female.

Tatty they may have been, but they were charming, tiny things, and I was so chuffed at finding a new site. I couldn't wait for April 2020 to find gleaming new ones, with their orange bordered emerald wings and ginger quiffs.

March 2020 arrived and I started watching the weather forecast for the first signs of Spring, but all that happened was the first signs of lockdown, then furlough, and I was no longer able to go anywhere near Pitdelphin Wood. I had the joy of seeing my friend Tony post pictures of them on facebook, and then discover another site in Banchory itself, only 5 minutes from my office - I could be photographing them in my lunch hour!

But March, April, May, June all came and went, then the redundancy letter arrived and that was that. Fortunately, new employment has been several million times better than the miserable old job, which goes a long way to countering the loss of working close to such a beautiful place.

So 2021 arrived, and another lockdown seemed like it was going to curtail Green Hairstreak hunting once again, but Spring decided to hang on for several extra weeks, and by late April, restrictions were eased and the sun briefly shone. We went back to Pitdelphin Wood, and saw what I had waited for 23 months for - smart looking Green Hairstreaks - and as an added bonus, Emperor Moths!

A little smarter than the 2019 version

A bucket list insect - a male Emperor Moth

It was as a result of the Emperor Moth luring that I got talking to my friend Stevie, who told me she had been alerted to the presence of Green Hairstreaks at Kinnaber - only a couple of miles from my house. She had been out to investigate and had indeed seen some.

The bizarre thing about this news is that during the 2020 lockdown I had searched Kinnaber for possible Green Hairstreak habitat, and had looked in the exact place she described to me, and discarded it because all the books say that Scottish Green Hairstreaks exclusively use Blaeberry as a larval food plant - despite the species elsewhere using all sorts of other plants. There is plenty of Gorse and Heather at Kinnaber, but no Blaeberry.

The first search was both a failure and a hilarious success. I was barely out of the car when I was surrounded by Emperor Moths. It seems that despite my care, the windy conditions had allowed the pheromone from the lure to get into my jeans, and my left leg was apparently quite a draw for the frisky males. At one stage I had five on my leg. Three years of wanting to see an Emperor Moth, and now I couldn't escape them!

One of the UKs most spectacular insects - the challenge is stopping them from doing 100mph!!

Stevie very kindly offered to show me where she had seen the Hairstreaks though, and we met up a few days later, in overcast and cold conditions, with fleeting glimpses of sunshine. We did, however, see four or five butterflies. 24 months after that first sighting, and now seeing them within walking distance of the house was special indeed.

The rubbish Spring had taken its toll though, and the butterflies were quite battle scarred - from fighting, but more so from the grim conditions I suspect. They will fight anything though - one challenged a passing Emperor Moth to a duel, but the moth was gone before it got a shot.

The woodland offers shelter from the Easterly wind

Not a Blaeberry plant in sight, just Gorse and Heather for miles

I popped back down a couple of days later, and as I arrived, the sunshine gave way to gloom and the gloom gave way to drizzle. I found one tatty butterfly and it sped off up a tree to shelter, and I turned to head home. But as I walked away I spotted a flash of green, and remarkably a stunning fresh specimen crawled from between the Gorse flowers. It's amazing how they can virtually disappear into the Gorse. Since the temperature had dropped, he was a very willing subject for photographs too, and finally I managed to get some close up shots showing their amazing colours.

Fascinating fact is that there is no green pigment on them, the latticework of their scales absorbs light from all of the colour spectrum except green, which it reflects. Depending on the intensity of the light they can look anything from lime green to turquoise.

Against the gorse, the colours are quite striking

The little ginger quiff is brilliant

This gives an idea of how tiny these little butterflies are.

Subsequently I have returned several times, and have now identified a second colony about quarter of a mile away, in an even more sheltered spot. Again, Gorse and Heather abound, and plantation trees provide the buffer from the Easterly winds.

A second colony found, even closer to home!

There is a butterfly in this mobile phone photo - finding them is no easy task, and searching Gorse in the sunshine leads to something akin to snow blindness!

So, now at the end of May 2021, I am back to square one - I cannot wait until late March 2022 to find more new and gleaming examples of these incredibly charming little butterflies. Exploring Kinnaber in more depth is also throwing up new surprises - not only the abundance of Emperor Moths, but now a surprise sighting of a Speckled Wood - a newcomer to this bit of the UK - and I'm pretty sure she knew how exclusive a sighting she was, because she was not game for having her photo taken, and scarpered over impenetrable Gorse before I could get a decent shot!

Speckled Wood - where no Speckled Wood ought to be

I think it's fair to assume that Green Hairstreaks are resident in a number of spots, at Kinnaber and likely Montrose Links too - now I know I don't have to look for Blaeberry! The vast swathes of Gorse and Heather will keep me busy for many Springs to come!

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