Monday 10 April 2023

Large Tortoiseshell Hunt.

 With Lisa over for the Easter weekend and a report of a Large Tortoiseshell at Beachy Head I was thinking of the possibility of taking her there to give her a reasonable chance of seeing this rare species that is still currently classed as extinct in the UK, but a status that is bound to change very soon which would mean she had no longer seen all the official Sussex butterfly species.

In the past couple of weeks a number of these special butterflies had been seen across the county as they came out of hibernation. Probably the largest number since the 1940s when it was still classed as a British butterfly.

Lisa knows that I have never really been that keen on twitching butterflies so she suggested that perhaps it would be more fun going elsewhere and finding our own Large Tortoiseshell. Well okay, with the small number being seen there was I guess a slightly better chance than usual, but it was still a very long shot of hunting one down, but regardless of this we decided to head off to Abbotts Wood where I had found one on March 31st 2021.

Of course, I had forgotten how muddy this woodland can be and following the very wet March we have recently experienced I really should have used better footwear as I was soon plastered with mud. With the sunshine warming us up though we were soon seeing lots of butterflies with many Brimstone, Comma, Peacock and my first Small White of the year. We also enjoyed seeing and hearing plenty of Chiffchaff and seeing lots of Dark-edged Bee-fly.

After a few hours of wandering about we decided to head back to the car and move onto another possible site. As we were strolling slowly along one of the rides Lisa spotted a Brimstone ahead and a couple of Comma. As she started heading towards the butterflies I spotted an orange coloured butterfly on the trunk of a tall tree. I quickly checked it through the binoculars and was amazed to see it was our target species. Fortunately Lisa stopped as soon as I saw it so it wasn't disturbed. My camera with the telephoto was in my rucksack so I missed the shot of it on the tree trunk as it had flown before I could get my gear sorted, but Lisa had at least managed a record shot in case it didn't return. However, it obviously liked this particular area as it returned and landed on a tree stump allowing a few shots from both of us until it was disturbed by a Wood Ant. However, even then it did return, this time landing on the ground at the top of a small bank. This gave us the chance to get some under-wing photos. Once again the butterfly took to the wing and this time unfortunately it flew over some trees and wasn't seen again. 

Whilst quietly waiting, hoping for it to return, we had a nice view of a Roe Deer that crossed the track only to be followed by a dog that didn't seem to have an owner anywhere near!!

Large Tortoiseshell cleaning its antenna.


Large Tortoiseshell.


Large Tortoiseshell showing a hint of the top-wing.

This was actually 3 years and 1 day after my first Large Tortoiseshell that I found very near my house during the first lockdown. Since then I had found one on my patch in the summer of 2020 followed by the March 31st 2021 specimen in Abbotts Wood. Not bad for a species that I had never expected to see in the UK.

On Friday evening we decided that our success deserved to be celebrated with a bottle of bubbles!!


  1. Well done Bob. I am pleased you managed to find a Large Tortoiseshell. I must pay more attention the next time I see a Small Tortoiseshell, just in case! Having said that I have only seen three Peacocks and a Large White so far this year. I think the cold, wet winter finished off a lot of butterflies and the spring hasn't been great here so far.

    1. Thanks Nick. It hasn't really been that great down here either. I think I saw more butterflies throughout Jan/Feb than in March. April has been a bit better thankfully.