Saturday, 21 May 2016

The Duke

Its that time of year again when I make the annual pilgrimage to Denge Woods near Canterbury, it's the only place I know where you have half a chance of seeing the lovely little Butterfly, the Duke of Burgundy, and if it doesn't show, there's always the wild orchids.

My first attempt to search for this butterfly was back in May 2014, only one specimen was found, the significance of which will become clear later.

Last year 2015 none seen at all, that's not to say that they were not there , just that I could not find them.

This year was different in many ways, I now know exactly how to find the 'Bonsai Bank', my first attempt  back in 2014 found me hopelessly lost in the wilderness of Denge. My first circuit of the area in question, the Bonsai Bank, did not bode too well and I thought it was going to be a no show again.

As I walked along the bottom of the bank I came across a small Wood Ant nest, probably about eighteen inches across, relatively small, but it was the first one I have come across so I spent a few minutes watching the Ant activity.
 These Ant nests are suppose to be an indication of a healthy woodland, the southern wood ant (Formica rufa) or horse ant is found mostly in the south of England, there are several other variety of wood Ants,  hopefully this is the right identification

 I must admit to not giving these little creatures much attention in the past, but these looked interesting. I kept my distance, as I was sure in the back of my mind, that they can fire off jets of 'formic acid' to defend their nest when necessary, not a problem with one individual but a whole nest, better safe than sorry.

Southern Wood Ant nest
Wood Ant - "Organised chaos"
Southern Wood Ant
As I turned away from the nest site, a small Butterfly flew up in front of me and landed on the grass a few feet away, and there it was the Duke of Burgundy, no bigger than the Common Blue Butterfly, and quite tolerant to approach for a change.

Duke of Burgundy

This was the first of several individuals seen as I moved along the lower reaches of the bank, I did not realise at the time but my arrival at the Bonsai bank was timed for the optimum chance of seeing this Butterfly, the males are most active in the mornings when the sun is shining, while the females spend more of their time crawling around in the grass and vegetation.

As I  made my way up towards the upper reaches of the Bank, and moved along the trail passing many Lady Orchids and Early Purple Orchids, several other observers had arrived and were lying prone in the grass with cameras pointing in several directions, a closer look revealed Duke of Burgundy Butterflies everywhere, the most I have ever seen, I have read that this Butterfly lives in small colonies but there must have been at least ten, probably more as they were difficult to count.

You'll notice that there seems to be a lot  Primrose's where the Butterflies were seen. the females lay there eggs on these and the caterpillar uses them as a food source.

I could not believe my luck, so many Butterflies, and all allowing a reasonably close approach, I overhead one of the other observers complaining that they all seemed to be males, and I must admit that, if there was a female there, I would not have been able to tell the difference, unless it was blatantly obvious.

Some research later revealed that its not blatantly obvious, there are subtle differences, but the most obvious is the number of legs strangely, the males have four legs, which can be seen in most of the photographs, the female of the species has six, the front two being quite small. And this is where the significance of my 2014 photograph comes into play, curiosity caused me to recheck the photograph of the butterfly seen .

Female Duke Of Burgundy
You can clearly see the two shorter front legs of the female, as I recollect, the individual seen at the time was clambering around the grass, as opposed to the males seen today who were much more flighty.

Female Duke of Burgundy

A Look at the upper side of the wings does not reveal to me any obvious differences.

upper view of female Duke of burgundy

A successful day with good views of the target species, a few other Butterflies were seen , Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Brimstone, and Red Admiral.

As for the orchids, there were good numbers of Lady Orchids and Early Purple, but it appears to early for the Greater Butterfly, and Common Spotted. the only other Orchid seen was the common Twayblade.

Lady Orchid
Early Purple Orchid
Common Twayblade

Excellent day which probably requires another visit to look at the Orchids still to come. this is also a good site to see the Green Tiger Beetle, another little creature that has eluded me.


  1. You've got a better camera than me, and a better eye! We don't get Dukes up here, too far North. Nearly died when I found bee orchids in the park two years ago.

    1. Very old, very basic D3100 with the standard lens.
      Haven't seen Bee orchid for years.