GREAT ORME, THE CONWY VALLEY, AND ANGLESEY, NORTH WALES, 24 - 27 June 2014
Tuesday 24 June
David and I arrived in Llandudno at noon and went straight to the old Toll Booth on the southern corner of Great Orme. Silver-studded Blues (Plebejus argus form caernensis) were immediately abundant, joined by a few Grayling (Hipparchia semele) on the path. The dark form of the female Silver-studded Blue is quite beautiful. A brisk westerly kept the temperature down but in sheltered spots the sun was quite hot. A late lunch was taken in the nearby Lilly's pub. The rest of the afternoon was spent back with the Blues where we were fully occupied in a small area of about 100 feet square! Neither of us had seen such concentrations of British butterflies before. Checked in to the Britannia Hotel/B&B at the eastern end of the prom (Craig-y-Don Parade) welcomed by James. At 6pm we went back - again - to see if the Blues had taken up communal roosts and we were not disappointed.
On recommendation we parked up on the front and located the Albert pub for dinner, for me steak, ale and mushroom pie plus a couple of pints. Later on we were joined by Milly from Liverpool who'd seen us at lunchtime, and very talkative she was, and a real character. Her husband, Mike, a near-retirement Prison Officer currently on stress leave, came to find her some 20 minutes later and the four of us had a really fun evening, great craic!
Wednesday 25 June
The morning started overcast for our scheduled 9.30 rendezvous with Ilija, BC North Wales Chair, at the old Toll site. He led us on a stroll north-westwards along the Great Orme for maybe half a mile or so amongst more Blues and Graylings (Hipparchia semele). Eventually we returned and he drove the four of us around to the north facing side of the headland and up over the top to show us the moth Cistus Forester (Adscita geryon), Horehound Plume moth - larva, pupa and adult on adjacent plants - plus the rare limestone crevice-growing Dark-red Helleborine (Epipactis atrorubens). Scenic views were good across to Snowdonia, though a bit hazy.
We snack-lunched at the Blue café at the end of the 'front' beyond Lilly's before setting off in two cars across the A55 down the Conwy valley, through Llanrwst and on to Nebo. A short distance south of the hamlet is the Nebo Bog, home to a colony of Large Heaths (Coenonympha tullia form polydama). During a two hour stay we kicked-up maybe 10 individuals but managed to photograph only 3 of them. In the absence of sun they were reluctant to fly and soon crashed into the fine grasses and mosses making photography very difficult. Latterly a fine misty rain began to fall causing us to depart around 4.15pm.
We reached the hotel by 5 and agreed to meet Ilija outside at 7pm to taxi us to his place for dinner - very hospitable. His house was perched on a hill top with great views and he and his wife Jean served up a lovely meal of Sea Bass lubricated by beer, white wine, and finally whisky. A most enjoyable evening! At 11'ish a proper taxi ferried us back to the Britannia and by 11.30 I hit the sack.
Thursday 26 June
Light un-forecast rain had started around 6.30am according to Sarah, our breakfast waitress, and during breakfast at 8 the sky was very cloudy. Our plan was to visit Newborough Warren at the southern tip of Anglesey in pursuit of Dark Green Fritillaries (Argynnis aglaja) but things weren't looking too good. Nevertheless we stuck to our plan and followed the A55 over the Britannia Bridge taking the next two left turns down to the warren. In a light breeze and no sun we followed the path south. Ringlets (Aphantopus hyperantus), Meadow Browns (Maniola jurtina), a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) and Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) were all predictable fayre but we did spot a Dark Green Fritillary on the path but lost it in flight. The Corsican Pine plantation was on our right and we took the first path into the forest as it was sheltered and looked promising. Horse flies were a real nuisance here. But some 200 yards along the track we came to a clearing in which the Fritillaries were flying, and landing, and permitting photos: the weather conditions were such that the absence of hot sun reduced the butterflies' exuberance encouraging them to bask to absorb whatever energy they could get. We even managed to engineer underside shots!
Thoroughly satisfied we called in at the pub in Brynsiencyn for a pint. Ilija had recommended the nearby Hooton's Homegrown Farm Shop and it was here that we had our asparagus soup and roll lunch. The afternoon would be spent back at the Nebo Bog so once across the bridge I took the A5 via Capel Curig, Betws-y-Coed, Pentrefoelas, and thence the sharp left to Nebo. A fair breeze was blowing uninterrupted across the bog, not a good omen we felt. But there was some patchy sun to encourage flight, and so it proved. Having crash landed it seemed that the butterflies preferred to remain in the lee and we were able to arrange a number of them in reasonably decent photographic positions. All in all, our expectations had been exceeded for the second time today! We got back to the hotel around 5.30 and at 6.50 met up again for a final visit to the Silver-studded Blue site for roosters, particularly as the weather was turning with rain forecast. The breeze had already shifted through 180°. To our surprise the quantity of butterflies seemed to be very low and we assumed that they'd all gone deep into the grass and bushes ahead of the rain.
Dinner was taken at the Asia, and Indian restaurant at the Great Orme end of town.
Friday 27 June
The rain forecast for today hadn't yet arrived as we departed for Prees Heath (a stop on the way home) around 9.15. An earlier car fire slowed us down just before Chester and we stopped for coffee at the excellent Applegate Farmshop café at Milton Green on the A41. The rain was still holding off despite heavy skies but just as we reached Prees Heath around 11am it began to fall, lightly. David and I explored this Butterfly Conservation reserve prior to the official opening of the renovated old RAF Control Tower, financed by Natural England, the Lottery etc. Stephen Lewis described the work to recover the Silver-studded Blue colony, the Control Tower history, and included a short account by the son of a Jew escaping Nazi Germany about his internment there during the war.
Eventually dragged ourselves away to commence the final leg of our journey by 3pm in steady rain.
All in all, a great trip, defying poor weather forecasts, and exceeding our lepidopteral expectations!