I’ve skipped a few butterfly firsts but all the species I see will get their turn over time. Today, I am simply too excited at seeing my first Holly blue of the year to choose anything else, as there’s just something extraordinary about a butterfly this colour.
This has been a strange spring, with frequent cool winds, a lack of rain that was restricting plant growth and cracking the ground, and now a couple of weeks of frequent rain that is saturating the land. This unseasonal weather has had a definite effect on wildlife, with some insects out and about early, but others emerging a week or more later than usual.
I would usually expect to see my first Common blue butterfly in mid May but this year’s first sighting came on Wednesday 19th and, somewhat surprisingly, it was high in the Welsh valleys, where the weather is often a few degrees cooler than my usual coastal patches. In fact, in between the sunny spells on Wednesday’s walk, I got hailed on. Go figure!
With clear blue skies and temps in the mid 20s, it was hot work chasing the Holly blue butterflies (Celastrina argiolus) around Lavernock last Monday. I think I saw five but they move so quickly along the scrub and up and over the trees that it was hard to be sure. Those fast fliers are mostly the males, I think, constantly sniffing for the female pheromones.
I know there were at least two Holly blues, as I managed to get a male and female together in one photo, and then was lucky enough to catch the female laying an egg on a Dogwood plant. Once she’d departed I carefully examined the plant but couldn’t find the egg. I think she must have tucked it well in amongst the flower buds, which I didn’t pry apart in case I damaged the newly laid egg. But I remember where it was so will try and go back in a week or so to check for a caterpillar.
Holly blues are the first of Britain’s blue-coloured butterflies to emerge each year, which is one way to distinguish them from the many other blue butterflies. Another is their flight pattern – the other blues usually fly close to the ground. And the Holly blues are the only ones with small black dots on the undersides of their wings though, unless you see one perched, you’ll need to be quick to spot those dots ’cause these little beauties are speedy.