Butterflies and Bees on Burton Fell

After our wonderful week in Wales, we had a few days at home.

On one hot and sunny day we joined an RSBP children’s activity outing which was great fun (we took our own children along with us – it would have been a bit weird otherwise). Towards the end of the day we were sifting through the mud of the bay, seeking out coastal wildlife. Every overturned rock revealed a multitude of tiny crabs and each trowel-full of mud contained a number of miniscule shrimp-like crustaceans. Another member of the group found the shell of a sea potato, a kind of sea urchin.

The following day – if anything, hotter and sunnier than the last – we were joined by some friends for one of our favourite walks: around the shore to Arnside for ice-cream, then back along Black Dyke and through Eaves Wood. I don’t seem to have taken a single photo on either day.

Near the end of the week, with the sun shining once again, the kids and TBH, with some good friends of ours, were back on the bay. The children swam in one of the channels.

I chose to be anti-social and went for an afternoon stroll on Burton Fell instead.  Where is Burton Fell? Well, I’m a bit vague on it’s exact boundaries: it’s one region of the sprawling limestone hill, other parts of which are called Dalton Crags, Lancelot Clark Storth and Hutton Roof Crags. It’s close to home – we can see it from our kitchen windows.

Looking towards the Lakeland Fells

With limited time (well that’s my excuse), I cheated a little by parking in a relatively high spot on the Clawthorpe Fell Road.

As I set off, the views were superb, but, as is often the case, I was mostly busy scanning the immediate vicinity, looking for one thing in particular. I was on a mission, scouting for a distinguished member of our local flora.

I wasn’t having any luck however, but there were lots of butterflies compensating for that fact. In the open areas, it was meadow browns…

 Meadow Brown

Around the tall bracken there were lots of busy white’s, and in the trees a couple of red admirals.

Stripey snail-shell 

When I lost the rather sketchy path I was following, that tall bracken became a bit of a nuisance; I was relieved when it thinned and I found another tentative path heading uphill toward areas of limestone pavement.

Carline Thistle 

Carline Thistle

I still hadn’t found the flowers I was hoping to see, but there were more butterflies about. I chased around for a while in an effort to get a photo of this rather elusive grayling….

The grayling again 

This butterfly, the largest of our ‘browns’, is a master of disguise – although fairly conspicuous when in flight, it can mysteriously disappear as soon as it lands, perfectly camouflaged against a background of bare earth and stones, always resting with its wings closed. When it first lands, and when disturbed, the butterfly will raise its forewings for a second or so, revealing dark eye spots that stand out against a beautiful spectrum of browns.

from the fabulous UK Butterflies website

When I finally lost the grayling, I saw that I’d strayed further than I’d realised from the path I’d been following. I was on stony ground; aside from the carline thistles, flowers seemed to be in short supply, but nearby there was a small oasis, a purple patch of knapweed. And flying busily around the knapweed, about a dozen large, mostly orange butterflies…

Avid nectar feeder II

Dark green fritillaries.  (A slightly confusing name, since it seems to imply that there might be such a thing as a light green fritillary, but I don’t think there is.) The butterfly with which this could be confused is the high brown fritillary. (Again, I don’t think there is a low brown fritillary.)

 Dark Green Fritillary - underside of wings

The excellent UK Butterflies website has a very handy guide ( on this page) to distinguishing between them. The underside of the wings has a greenish hue in the dark green variety, and your high brown butterfly has an extra row of ocelli. Easy.

You don’t know what ocelli are? Well……err, follow the link to the handy guide then. It’s all beautifully explained there. With diagrams.

Dark green fritillary VI 

The fritillaries didn’t settle for long, but they didn’t seem to be at all phased by my presence, and they roamed around the isolated patch of knapweed. For a while I tried to follow them, but soon decided it would be better to find a reasonably comfortable spot to sit in and let them come to me. The whole area was maybe only one and a half yards square, so even on the far side of the patch, they weren’t too far away. But anyway, they weren’t that shy and I soon found myself using the camera’s macro setting.

Both sexes are avid nectar feeders and typically feed in early morning or late afternoon, when they will constantly fly from flower head to flower head staying at each flower for only a few seconds.

Avid nectar feeder III 

An avid nectar feeder.

Green hued 

I always think of butterflies resting with their wings slightly raised in a shallow v, but this was the typical pose of the fritillaries…

Avid nectar feeder IV 

..with their wings curving down around the flower heads.

The fritillaries weren’t the only ones taking advantage of the knapweed.

Common Blue

I’m not entirely sure what this is. It might be a common blue. But it could also be a brown argus. Or a northern brown argus. All three species are present in this area apparently, which is unusual, maybe even unique (I’m not sure), and the underside of their wings are very similar. There are distinguishing features, but I can’t pick them out on this photo. Frustratingly, the butterfly didn’t hang around for long, kept its distance from me and I never had a good view of the upper surface of its wings.

You can see from it’s size relative to the knapweed that it was tiny in comparison to the fritillaries. Later, a similar butterfly, or maybe the same one, tantalisingly returned, but although I got a slightly sharper photo, I still can’t decide which variety this is.

Common Blue? 

Another interloper, also much smaller than the fritillaries, stood out because of it’s remarkably sturdy looking body. At first, assuming that it was a butterfly, I thought it might be some sort of skipper, but the superzoom camera is much more observant then I am: it’s a moth, a silvery y…..

 Silvery Y moth 

You can see where the name comes from, on the wing, here…

 Silvery Y moth III 

…and perhaps even better here….

Silvery Y moth IV 

I’m familiar with this species because we had one as a house guest a while ago. It looks very different when it’s resting. (There’s a couple of photos of a relative, a golden y, on this post)

The whole little patch was very busy. Sometimes the fritillaries briefly shared a flower, although I never managed to catch them together in a photo. They didn’t seem too comfortable together.

Two dark green fritillaries 

It only seemed to be the close proximity of other fritillaries which caused a problem however. A neighbouring meadow brown was entirely tolerable…

Dark green fritillary and meadow brown 

And there is nectar enough for a butterfly and a bumble bee in this knapweed…

Bumble bee and dark green fritillary 

The flowers were even more busy with bees than with butterflies. The bees were incredibly diverse in size and colour, but sadly, even more restless than the fritillaries and so hard to capture. I got a few photos though.

Questing bumble bee 

I like the fact that you can even pick out flecks of pollen on the hairs of this bee…

Bumble bee II 

I was particularly pleased to get a photo of this large and gorgeously buttery yellow bee:

Buttery yellow bumble bee 

Tentatively identified as a male bombus lucorum, the small earth humble bee, or white-tailed bumble bee using the Natural History Museums bee identifier. The one above might be bombus hortorum, the small garden humble bee, or garden bumble bee. But it might well not be. And an ID for this very pale bee is eluding me altogether….

Pale bumble bee 

I’ve often tried in vain to photograph birds in flight. It’s never occurred to me to try the same thing with an insect: if I can’t get birds what hope with a bee, say?

Dark green fritillary with bumble bee in flight 

I didn’t even realise that the bee was in the photo until later when I downloaded it to our PC. It could be bombus lapidarius, which luxuriates in three English names: the stone humble-bee, the large red-tailed humble-bee or the red-tailed bumblebee.

I’m really not sure how long I spent sitting in the sun admiring the butterflies and bees. I took an awful lot of photos, and thinking back, the memory is so vivid still, that it could have been hours, except I know that it wasn’t. Nearer half an hour, I suspect. I needed to get home, we were packing to go away again, and so I decided to have one last scout around in an attempt to find my original objective.

I failed. But I did see another grayling….

Another grayling II 

So, what was I was looking for? Well, somewhere amongst these clints and grykes..

Limestone pavement with trees 

…grow dark red helleborine, a kind of orchid. I’d only seen them in photos on t’internet. I’ve still only seem them in photos on t’internet. Another time.

I strolled back to the car, in a little more of a hurry now, so obviously, ignoring distractions like colourful seedheads…


..or long-nosed micro moths…

A micro moth 

…or cranes flies catching the light in the bracken…

A crane fly 

I had one more hope for the helleborine. There’s a spot closer to home where, over the last couple of summer’s, I’ve seen plants which had finished flowering, but which seemed to fit the bill. What’s more, in a location not too far from the road. So I stopped to take a look.

Broad-leaved helleborine VI 

This time they were still flowering. It was a tad gloomy under the trees by now, so I struggled with photos.

Broad leaved helleborine III 

This, I’m pretty confident, is a helleborine, but the flowers are hardly dark red.

Broad leaved helleborine

The wildflower key says that broad-leaved helleborine isn’t found in this area, but I know from the excellent I Love Arnside and Silverdale blog, that it does grow here, and what’s more, that it hybridises with it’s dark red cousin. I think that this is broad leaved helleborine.

It’s a funny old game this blogging malarkey. A single post to cover a whole week’s holiday, followed by another, longer post to cover a two hour stroll. It was a special two hour stroll however. And I managed not to get carried away quoting the old testament like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.

Butterflies and Bees on Burton Fell

16 thoughts on “Butterflies and Bees on Burton Fell

  1. And you didn’t pull out a gun to blow some poor unfortunate bystander’s head off and nor did you threaten to execute every last ************* one them!

    Some stunning photos. I’m dead jealous. If only I had a decent DSLR, hmmmmmmmm

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I didn’t take these on a DSLR. I’ve ummed and arhed about whether I would upgrade if I could afford it, but I’m increasingly thinking that a high end compact might be the best bet. No carting about extra lenses, none of the weight or bulk of a DSLR.
      That way I’d still have room in my pack for an unfeasibly large handgun! Wasn’t the ‘execute every ************* one of you a different character? Quick search – yes, Honey Bunny as played by Amanda Plummer.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      You may well be right! I think that I’m always going to have difficulty with identifying bees. They seem to vary so much within any species. Thanks to you I use the National History Museum identifier now – so at least I can say – it might be a……..

  2. Fantastic photos there. I have a confession to make, however. Our Labrador chases butterflies and moths, and if she does happen to catch one (which is not often), she does actually eat it…..

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I have to confess that this made me chuckle. I’m not sure that’s an appropriate response, but there you go. Dogs really will eat anything. Does she seem to enjoy the experience or does she pull a yeugh face?

  3. I had no idea you got Dark green fritillaries as well over there. Mmm camera talk and SLR’s. A lot of pros are heading the other way and downsizing when it comes to lugging kit into the hills.

    I have been testing the Canon EOS M 18mp interchangeable compact system for a while now and despite plenty to moan about the image qual and ease of use is brill. You can also use L series lenses with an adapter too.

    Nice pics btw Mark.

    1. beatingthebounds says:

      I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how camera’s develop, in fact, this has only just occurred to me, but were I a younger man with the energy and brains to learn new skills and complicated stuff and what have you, I think camera design might be a fascinating area to work in. There seems to be a bewildering array of options out there – were I in the market for a camera (and I do a lot of online window-shopping) I wouldn’t know which way to turn. Good job I can’t afford it. My Olympus is starting to get a little worse for wear now, so a time will eventually come….

      We have dark green and high brown apparently. I haven’t ever knowingly seen the latter, but if I hang around on Hutton Roof enough at the right time of year, my time will surely come.

      1. beatingthebounds says:

        Hmmm – you’ve sorely tempted me David. I’ve looked online and I could have the camera with both lenses – the 18-55 and the 22 for £350. Seems like a bargain.

        1. I was looking into options for a compact system for landscape work to compliment my canon kit and wanted to test the water. The price was the thing that attracted me as well. There is plenty to moan about with regard to its limitations and it is worth reading some of the reviews. On the other hand it is cheap enough and will take Canon L series lenses with the adapter. All the pics I have submitted to agents have passed quality control, some even with the standard lens.

          I was told that an updated version is due out in 2014 but you know what rumours with Canon are like. There are arguably much better compacts out there but they are more exepensive. Not trying to convince you btw just a bit more info.

          1. beatingthebounds says:

            The extra input is really appreciated. The price of the other compacts is definitely a stumbling block!
            We spent a couple of weeks in the US, visiting relatives. I didn’t take my camera, which in retrospect was a really boneheaded decision, but as a result I borrowed compact cameras from the rest of the family, and really enjoyed having something which would fit in my pocket – I’m thinking that with the 22mm lens this would be almost as small but with better image quality, and with option to use other lenses of course. I am quite fond of the versatility of my superzoom however.

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