The gorgeous Gatekeeper may well be the last butterfly species to be added to my local list this year, unless I get particularly lucky and manage to spot something unusual. But what a fabulous finale!
This striking little Gatekeeper caught my eye during a recent walk. Instead of the vibrant orange hue usually seen in their wings (normal male colouring shown below), this little fellow’s colouring was a pale cream. Looking at the known variations for these butterflies on the UK Butterflies website, this appears to be the aberration subalbida.
Though second-brood butterflies are still looking pristine, many of the others are now well past their best, as life is tough for such fragile creatures. Some butterflies are so battered that I’m amazed they’re able to fly at all, yet this Gatekeeper and Ringlet were still moving from plant to plant.
Birds looking for an easy snack often attack butterflies and it’s easy to see the tell-tale signs of bird pecks on butterflies’ wings, like those on these: a Ringlet, Comma, Small copper and Peacock, and another Gatekeeper.
Is it the blazing sun that has caused this Essex skipper’s orange to fade so dramatically or has it lost most of its wing scales?
I’m 99% sure this is the same Brown argus, seen first on 1 August and again on 10 August. It already had some bird pecks when I first saw it but, nine days later, it was looking rather faded and more than a little ragged around the edges.
This Painted lady is looking battered, bird-pecked, faded and jaded, perhaps the affects of a long migration journey, or simply a tough life well survived.
On Wednesday I ventured on to public transport for the first time in four months – suitably masked, of course – for a visit to Slade Wood, near Rogiet. This was a site where I’d seen Silver-washed fritillaries and White admiral butterflies last summer so I was hoping for more of those but, unfortunately, huge areas of the woodland have been felled over the winter months, which has destroyed a lot of the butterflies’ habitat.
I did still see a lot of butterflies on the Buddleja bushes – in fact, probably more Peacocks than I’ve seen in one day before, and I got some pics of a pair of Gatekeepers mating – but only spotted one Silver-washed fritillary (and didn’t manage a photo) and no White admirals. There was also a butterfly consolation prize in the form of a Brown argus, a butterfly that’s not common locally, which was in Minnett’s Field, a nearby meadow managed by Gwent Wildlife Trust.
Though the butterflies were a little disappointing, the birds were a huge bonus as I managed to find a family of Spotted flycatchers, with two adults and a couple of juveniles (below left), which I’d not seen before.
And the flycatchers were joined at their watering hole, a couple of muddy puddles, by two beautiful bright Siskin.
I may not have seen what I was expecting and I was saddened to see how many trees had been felled but I still had a wonderful day out. The sense of freedom was exhilarating, and Nature certainly didn’t disappoint!
It’s a week since I spotted my first Gatekeepers of the year and, in the past seven days, I’ve seen them in several of my local walking places, though so far only males .
They grab the wandering eye, as their bright orange pops from the vibrant green of the hedgerows and woodland rides, and in the long grass of fence lines and the gates that divide them.
I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past couple of weeks staring at Hemp agrimony flowers. I’ve not yet found what I’ve been searching for – you’ll be the first to know when/if I do – but, in the meantime, here are just a few of the lovely creatures I’ve spotted nectaring on these pretty flowers: a Dingy footman moth, a Six-spot burnet moth and a Gatekeeper, a Painted lady, a Red admiral, a Ringlet, a Speckled wood and what might be a Willow beauty moth, but the jury’s still out on that one.
On the hottest July day on record, yesterday, three mad gents and a Kiwi woman went butterflying in the noon day sun!
Our destination was the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust’s Lower Woods Nature Reserve, which, according to their website, is ‘one of the largest ancient woodlands in the south-west of England’. I can believe it!
We walked most of the Horton Great Trench, one of the long grassy roads that have been in existence since Medieval times, as well as detouring in through the woods on one of the many tracks, and it was beautiful – extremely hot, but beautiful! Towering old trees edged the ancient trackway, with clearings widening out to wildflower meadows in many places along the way.
The trench was perfect for butterflies. I have never seen so many Silver-washed fritillaries before, and there was also an abundance of Peacocks, flashing their brilliant colours on the bramble flowers. We spotted several Purple hairstreaks up high in the ancient oaks and then had the delight of watching one come down to the grass to drink from the overnight dew – fabulous!
Our list for the site came to 17 species: Silver-washed fritillary, Purple hairstreak, Peacock, Red admiral, Comma, Large and Small and Marbled whites, Brimstone, Small skipper, Common blue and Brown argus, Speckled wood, Meadow brown, Ringlet and Gatekeeper, and two gorgeous Small coppers.
We didn’t actually find our target species, the White admiral, at Lower Woods but a detour to Slade Wood on the way home produced one individual, bringing our top-spotter car-driver his 50th butterfly species of the year. Congratulations, Gareth!
The orange-and-brown Gatekeepers have been brightening my local wanderings for a couple of weeks now, eclipsing the now-fading Meadow browns and Ringlets with their newly emerged vibrancy, but I’m struggling to tell which are the males and which the females.
It’s easy when they sit with their wings open, as the males have dark streaks of colour through the centre of their upper wings. So, that’s a male posing perfectly in the photograph above and a female being not quite as co-operative in the image below.
For some reason though – and I have spent several hours lately observing them – I don’t see females sitting open-winged very often. As butterfly observers in other parts of south Wales tell me they frequently see females perched open-winged in their areas, I’m wondering why there’s a difference locally. Is there an imbalance in the local population, with many more males than females? Are the males more aggressive here, so the females prefer not to advertise their presence? I don’t know the answers so if someone does, I’d love to know.
In the meantime, I’ve been trying to spot which are male and female when their wings are closed. The females should be lighter in colour, I believe, but lightness and darkness are so subjective and very changeable, depending on the prevailing weather conditions and the habitat. Females are also a little larger but, again, it’s difficult to make that comparison unless you see the two sexes sitting side by side. Take the three butterflies above – I know the one of the left is a female as I saw her upper wings, and I would guess that the individual on the right is a male as it does look quite dark, but the one in the middle?
I’ll keep trying to improve my observation skills but, in a couple of weeks, the Gatekeepers will be looking as faded as the Meadow browns and Ringlets are now – like the female above, photographed in mid August – and then my queries will have to wait until the cycle begins again next year.
I saw my first Gatekeeper of the year on Saturday and was curious about its name. The consensus seems to be that the common name comes from this butterfly’s tendency to frequent those areas of rough grassland adjacent to hedgerows and field edges, like, for example, the areas around farm gates. Makes sense.
Its scientific name, Pyronia tithonus, is a little less obvious. Pyronia is derived from the Greek πυρ (pyr) meaning fire, presumably a reference to the bright blazing orange on the butterfly’s wings, but the epithet is odd. Tithonus was a figure in Greek mythology, a member of the Trojan royal family who was kidnapped and loved by Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Wanting to keep her lover with her always, Eos asked Zeus to grant him immortality but forgot to ask for eternal youth, so Tithonus was doomed to grow old and remain old forever. Perhaps this tale held some special meaning for Hubner, the man who classified this genus, but I haven’t been able to discover what that was.
It’s Monday. I’ve had a meeting about a forthcoming fungi presentation, followed by a busy morning on the computer and feel I need a blast of fresh air so decide to do one of my local walk circuits, taking in one side of Cardiff Bay and Penarth Marina. And I’m so glad I do ’cause the air is alive with butterflies and moths. They are common enough species but I am amazed and delighted to see such a variety and so many in just a 2-hour walk.
There are Comma (Polygonia c-album), Common blue (Polyommatus icarus), Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), Large skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus), Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina), Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus), Six-spot burnet (Zygaena filipendulae), Small skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris), Small white (Pieris rapae), and Speckled wood (Pararge aegeri). This is my idea of heaven!