Bishop Wood

Bishop Wood just north of Selby has always been an important ancient woodland site. Named after Cardinal Wolsey the archbishop’s palace stood at nearby Cawood At just under 1000 acres it is easy to lose your whereabouts when walking. Owned by the Forestry Commision and operated largely commercially it is the largest wooded area in the Humberhead Levels. There are still extensive tracts of Oak, Poplar, Ash and Sycamore but commercial fir trees blocks dominate the northern half.

It is a great place to see the great british woodland spectacle of spring with an abundance of bluebells, anemones and stichwort. The wood is a favourite place for Comma and Brimstones but also many other common species.There are a small number of ex coppice Wych elms and White Letter Hairstreak is seen. Brown Argus is found on its alternative host plant Dove’s Foot Cranesbill. There is a small colony of Dingy Skipper along the railway which cuts the western edge. This railway service road on the east side of the track is a particularly good area to observe many species of butterfly and is a mass of primroses, in March then with wild strawberry and violets in April.

There is free parking at Dutchmans Car Park at SE 5605 3322 nearby Postcode YO8 3RD. The main tracks are wide and flat. Some of the paths can be muddy but otherwise it is gentle terrain for disabled people or those wanting a relaxing walk. The forest is bisected east/west by Scalm Lane. Marked in orange on the map is a walk route taking in some of the main floral and butterfly interests (about 3km or 1 hour) Red marks where you are most likely to Silver-washed Fritillary and Argent and Sable.

Local site Champions: Nick Hall email

What might you see and when? see Transect results 2019

Interest Article: Some Butterflies species of Bishop Wood

Purple hairstreak: Neozephyrus Quercus

Birth of Venus: Botticelli
Female by Per-Olof Wickman

The Latin Neozephyrus Quercus means ‘Little wind in the oaks’ and comes from Botticelli’s most famous picture ‘The Birth of Venus’ It depicts Zephyr God of the warm west wind that brings summer blowing Venus to land. Zephyr is depicted in his purple cloak like the ‘shoulder’ colouration on the butterflies forewing

Purple Hairstreak Courtship ‘kiss’ Nick Hall

Some of the many stands of oak are home to the purple hairstreak. In 2018 they occured in large numbers. They have a reputation for being difficult to spot around the tree tops but sometimes come lower to feed on their favourite honeydew or in search of moisture. Observing; like other Lycaenids; they grind their hind wings at rest, even with wings closed, keeping those flight muscles warm and ready for a bird strike. I have found them in number low down early in morning and observed and filmed their courtship.The male and female push each other head to head till they lift each other up like wrestlers .

Later in the day the pairs can take to flight and sometimes groups will spiral upwards through the canopy. Between 6-8pm is the best time to go hairstreak spotting. Look for large trees in the open is a favourite. 2018 was a very goood year and observers saw the sprally groups join into a large'ball' that ascended to twice the height of the trees. Then the ball of hundreds of insects would explosively disperse... a remarkable site The county is short of records of purple hairstreak and it is believed to be underestimated, so take a evening walk and search your local oaks in July into August and send your records

Silver Washed Fritillary: Argynnis Paphia

It was something I had never expected to see in my lifetime but walking in Bishopwood on June 30 2018 there had been a hatch of Commas but something larger caught my eye and there on the pathway was a very fresh male Silver Washed Fritillary. The colour was more vivid than I remember and I hurried to post the picture on facebook. Was this a lone wanderer? One had been reported in 2017.

This was answered a week later as more appeared and spread through the forest along with several females possibly a dozen insects in total. Often 3-4 were in view at the same time centred around the original location marked in red on the map.. Was this a breeding colony or was it introduced? It is a hundred years since the insect bred here in Yorkshire. If natural where was the source? I guessed they had come from the south so I searched some of the ancient woods south past Doncaster but all were negative as their canopies had closed over the rides so were too dark to be suitable. Subsequently I was informed that a number had been seen in Bramham Park Woods just 8 miles to the west.

Later in the July when escorting a lost dog walker around firemen dousing a forest fire we emerged in a glade new to me. Seeing six adults together here convinced me we had blundered on the centre of the colony. I kept asking why are they here in such numbers? It must be violets of course!!

I set about mapping where in the wood the the violets grow compared to where the insect was seen. It will be no surprise to you but just 3 metres away from this centre was the highest concentration of violets; near 50% of floor cover and the largest patch in the forest. It is then I realised that the insects were only interested in flying sunny glades with violets within a few meters and almost completely ignoring the rest of the wood. Adults are also highly mobile moving over the top of the canopy to reach the other violet rides. You would often see the same insect a few minutes apart in a different ride.

Male by Adam Gor

Argynnis Paphia comes from greek mythology and appropriately love featuring strongly again! Argynnis was the mortal lover of Agamemnon but he drowned so the god honoured him with a tomb to Aphrodite (God of love). Paphia was a sanctuary to Aphrodite in her home Paphos, on Cyprus

The grace of this stunning golden orange butterfly is one of the most glorious and memorable sights of high summer in our woodlands. Males are constantly active zig-zag searching and chasing anything orange returning often to their favourite patch of knapweed or bramble in a sunny glade. Females are more sedate less orange with larger markings and often found in shadier areas. They are the largest of our Fritillaries although variable in size with females over 80mm makes it our third largest UK butterfly. Females can be larger than a male purple emperor. The underside is equally beautiful being a pinkish metallic green with broken silver flash and feint green eye marks. Its other european name is Silver Stripe referring to this lightning bolt flash reminiscent of David Bowie’s iconic orange haired ’Aladdin Sane’! The stripe is similar to those of the other ‘forest dwellers’; the Purple Emperor and White Admiral. It is an adaption to break up the insects’ silhouette like military camouflage and give some protection against bird predation particularly in the dappled shade these species prefer

Form: Valezina

Female form Valezina by Andrew Cooper

My most vivid butterfly memory was a few years ago in a Wiltshire wood one blazing hot mid July day. I had never seen so many fritillaries; every bramble blossom had one but then my first sighting of a huge blue female; it was the form Valezina. They composed about a third of the females. Over its European range nearly 50% of females are Valezina while in the UK it occurs in larger colonies at 15-30%, or more in a hot year. Science has shown this polymorphism is a dominant gene but males are little interested in these ‘strangers’. The origin of Valezina is thought to be from the latin for ‘a green/blue glaze’ which seems very appropriate as it covers the body and wings as if sprayed on. I have rarely seen documented that valezina is blue, more grey to dark metallic green, but googling shows this blue form exists. Our most famous butterfly student Mr Frohawk was fascinated with this aberration and named his daughter Valezina. Trying to sleep that sweltering hot July night my head was a wash with swooping blue and golden wings. I dont think ill ever forget.

Courtship : The Dance of Love

If you can take time you will be rewarded with seeing the courtship display which I witnesses on several occasions in 2018. The male has four very visible broad sex brands with scent scales on his forewing. The dance begins with him flying above her and just in front in order to shower her with his scent. He then loops in front and underneath her until flying above her again; and the dance repeats. As far as i can tell this has never been filmed... a chance for budding Attenborough’s! This may account for its very love connected latin name. Frankly it is difficult not to fall in love with them and I don’t think any summer will now be complete without seeing one. They are the ‘ginger giants’ invading from the south! 2019 may well be a great opportunity for readers to visit their local woodland in mid July and see if they have been ‘Tango’d’ and please report to your local recorder. We can report now in 2020 that the prediction was correct and the spectacle and grace of the Silver Washed Fritillary can be seen in any suitable woodland throughout Yorkshire.