Hairstreak Tip-Off

Last Sunday I was tipped off by a neighbour that the Green Hairstreaks were out and about at our local SSSI. I didn’t manage to get a decent picture of one last year – just a couple of blurry shots of two of them messing about with some hawthorn flies. And actually I hadn’t even been too conscious of their existence as a species before then, so I was just excited that I’d seen them. Didn’t see any more, despite going back to the same area a couple of times, so I put the idea of photographing them again as a project for next year – now, this year.

It was a sunny day and the dogs needed walking, so  I went up onto the plain to see what I could find. The forecasters had predicted a change in the weather – to rain and cloud – from the next day, and there wouldn’t be many opportunities in the coming week.

I came across three or four Green Hairstreaks on the walk, but they only ever seemed to land between me and the sun. So instead of seeing their glorious metallic green scales glinting in the sunlight that I’d read about, all I saw was their tiny dark silhouettes – almost black against the bright blue sky.

Green Hairstreak Silhouette

The above picture was taken without any adjustments to the camera (or after, in post) and is pretty much what I saw with the naked eye.

I’ve since discovered from my Readers Digest butterfly field guide, that Green Hairstreaks always rest with their wings closed, and they orientate themselves at right angles to the sun (presumably to warm up more quickly). So when they are perched in bushes and their position is higher than your head height, it’s pretty much impossible – certainly in the middle of the day when the sun is high – to get a picture of their wings lit up by the sun. I did my best by going for the wing in shadow shot, upping the exposure compensation and then later, when processing the images on the computer, increasing the shadow levels. And the resultant pictures weren’t too bad. The colours of the sky and fresh foliage helped.

Here’s another that shows off the white eyeliner effect. It looks to me like the kind of butterfly Walt Disney would have invented: the Princess Butterfly.

Fast forward to yesterday at around about 4.30 PM. The sun was out and there were longish periods of blue sky for the first time in a week. The dogs needed a walk, again, so I thought it would be worth trying for the Hairstreaks. With the sun lower in the sky, I might have a better chance of finding one showing a sunlit wing at an angle where I could get a shot. There was a bit of a chilly breeze that was keeping down temperatures, but it was worth a try. 

Well, I think I saw one, which whizzed past very quickly on the other side of a barbed wire fence, so there was no chance of a picture.

But I did see four other species of butterfly which were the first of them I’d seen this year. So not a wasted trip. Good to see the Skippers and Small Heaths, and especially the picture of one with wings open, which I only realised I’d captured when I got home and saw the picture on the computer screen. And it’s always good to see the beautiful Marsh Fritillary. This one perched on a dandelion seed ball without collapsing it – that’s a delicate butterfly for you.

Hopefully at some stage next week there’ll be a bit more sun and the Green Hairstreaks will still be around and I’ll be able to get a picture of one that’s not a shadowy silhouette. We’ll see.

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