Painted Lady migration recorded at Eakring Spring and Autumn 2009
  Early Spring 2009 saw massive numbers of Painted Ladies move through northern Africa and Europe, before eventually arriving in southern areas of the UK in the third week of May.

It was widely estimated that between 10 and 50 million Painted Ladies were involved in this migration and the whole of Nottinghamshire featured in the event. However, by the time word had got round, most had completely missed out on what was a truly remarkable period of migration.

European and UK Painted Lady movements

The event had been largely predicted earlier in the year, with huge counts of Painted Lady pupae noted in fields around the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Comments were made on the Migrant Recorders Network Yahoo Discussion Group at the time and in early April, large numbers of Painted Ladies started to move through southern Spain.

Painted Ladies (mostly singles and twos) began to be seen in the UK during late April and early May. More substantial movement was noted through Cornwall during the second week of May and along the southern UK coast on May 21st. Corresponding with this, was a single Painted Lady at Eakring Flash on May 22nd, which was actually the earliest ever recorded at Eakring, but there was no coverage possible at Eakring on May 24th/25th, during which millions of Painted Ladies arrived. We did note them passing through wooded glades in Sherwood Forest, but had no idea of the scale of the event at the time.

Movement over the next few days was limited through unsettled and windy weather, but began again when warm, sunny weather returned. We were once more in Sherwood Forest when a constant stream of Painted Ladies were noted moving north on May 28th, following every contour of the trees and ground. Purposely moving to the open farmland of Red Hill at Eakring, we began to systematically count Painted Ladies as they moved over a cornfield. Counts were made during the afternoons of three consecutive days and the results are shown in the graphs below, along with written accounts made at the time.

Movement in the south of the UK was also still strong on May 28th, but decreased dramatically the day after and there were no large counts reported from southern areas after May 28th. It was interesting to see that the main wave of Painted Ladies was obviously continuing to move north through the country and observers in Yorkshire and Lancashire were to see their highest numbers on May 29th and 30th.

Summary May 28-30th 2009

A total of 1,414 Painted Ladies moved north through Eakring on the afternoon of May 28th. We watched across a 100m stretch of open field between 15:20 and 17:20h, completing counts every five minutes.

There were three five minute periods when three figure counts occurred, with a maximum of 140 Painted Ladies through between 15:50 and 15:55h.

There was some evidence that numbers were higher when it was sunny. Even given the Cumulus nature of the cloud on this afternoon, periods of cloudiness were brief, but movement was significantly lowered and several Painted Ladies were noted being tempted to halt their movement by dropping into the cornfield.

Painted Lady butterflies continued to move through Eakring on the afternoon of May 29th, although in much reduced numbers than the previous afternoon. Movements on this day were generally straight WNW, but there appeared to be a definite south-easterly movement into the wind, something that was not noted yesterday. A total of 728 Painted Ladies were recorded.

We again made counts of five minute periods from 14:25-15:50h. There was also a distinct decline in movement throughout the watch. Numbers peaked between 60-70 per five minute periodss, between 14:35 and 15:05h, dropping to between 38-45 from 14:55 and 15:30h. The last four five minute counts produced counts between 12 and 21, so there was a clear drop in movement.

Painted Ladies still continued to move through Eakring on the afternoon of May 30th. A one hour sample count, again divided into five minute periods, produced a maximum of 24 through between 16:05 and 16:10h.

The majority of butterflies were heading more or less into the wind today and going north-east, but there were smaller numbers which continued to fly west. 191 through in an hour, would still represent an amazing Spring count for the whole of any Spring, away from 2009.

Autumn Painted Lady migration and results

The last time a notable southerly return migration event involving Painted Lady butterflies took place, was back in 2003 and followed on from a much less spectacular Spring arrival than in 2009. It was widely believed that there would be much larger numbers during the Autumn, than there were in Spring, so August and September were eagerly anticipated, with a return Painted Lady migration that was expected to break all modern records.

  It eventually turned out not to be the case, but some Painted Lady movement was evident in early August and perhaps much earlier than would have been expected. In fact, it was in line with the larger southerly movement of 2003, although circumstances were different that year, as there had been no massive Spring influx.

Early August 2009 saw the start of a southerly Painted Lady movement, which in the end never really got going. At Eakring, the first movers were noted on August 6th when three went south. This was followed on August 8th by a further 12 south, but movement proper, seems to have commenced on August 9th and also featured several other species.

Totals for a two hour count on the 9th included 93 Painted Lady, 109 Large White, 47 Peacock, five Small White and three Red Admiral all heading south-west across open fields. Movement for all species was direct. Peacock is not a species known for it's migratory tendencies, but was seen in numbers, during similar movements in August 2003.

Painted Lady migration in Autumn 2003
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