‘… flowers that fly and all but sing’
~ from ‘Blue-butterfly Day’, a poem by Robert Frost
These are some of the ‘flowers’ that have been flying around me this week, causing my heart to sing.
I have a new favourite field, only discovered in recent months while I’ve been exploring new, less crowded, local footpaths for my exercise walks, and it’s exciting discovering, as the season progresses, what is living in this field. As I emerged from woodland into the field yesterday, a little burst of orange flashed across in front of my feet, and I knew immediately this was my first Large skipper of the year.
Despite their bright colouring, I find skippers are very good at disappearing in plain sight, so I took a couple of steps back, got my camera ready and waited. Less than 60 seconds had passed before the skipper bounced up from the long grass where it had been resting and flitted down on to the path again.
A second male then entered the territory of the first and they spiralled up into the air briefly, before separating and returning to their own patches, spat over.
I lingered a while to watch both butterflies, flying, perching, feeding, before I continued my walk. And to my delight, I found yet another male further along the track, so I assume ‘my’ field is home to a small but healthy colony of Large skippers. I’m already looking forward to seeing them again when next I walk that way.
The observant among you may have noticed silvery looking lines on the veins of the Silver-washed fritillary in yesterday’s post – those are its sex brands. In these particular frits, the males have four such brands, two on each top upper wing. The brands contain androconial scales, special scented scales that are used during courtship to attract females. As the Woodland Trust website explains, Silver-washed fritillary ‘courtship is an aerobatic spectacular: the female flies in a straight line while the male loops the loop around her, before showering her in a confetti of scent scales’.
Silver-washed fritillaries are not the only butterflies to have sex brands: they can also be found, for example, in Large and Small skippers (below left and right, respectively). The Learn about Butterflies website (which has a much more detailed explanation for those who are interested in the nitty gritty of butterfly anatomy) explains, the dark diagonal marks on the skippers’ wings
are composed of hundreds of androconial scales. These disseminate pheromones that can be detected by females during courtship. As the male ages the strength of his pheromones diminishes, thus by analysing the strength of the pheromones a female can assess the age and virility of a potential mate.
The more I find out about butterflies, the more fascinated I become.
I’ve had a lucky week with my Lepidoptera sightings – that’s moths and butterflies, for those who didn’t know – and the week’s not over yet. As well as the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth on Monday and the Burnet Companions on Tuesday, yesterday I found my first (three) Large Skipper butterflies for the year at Cosmeston.
And, today, my wander around Grangemoor Park was something of a Lep-fest, with the first (five) Mother Shipton moths I’ve seen in 2019.
And I spotted a nice Latticed Heath moth trying to hide in the grass.
And, then, just as I was about to head for home, I noticed something small flitting about along a side path, went to investigate and found two Brown Argus butterflies, which I have seen already this year but not in Wales. You can see why I named this blog ‘leptastic’!
I know I’ve already posted a lot of Large skipper (Lycaena dispar) butterfly photos over the past couple of months but I just can’t help myself.
They are so adorable, especially the males when they’re posing.
Of course, I do know they’re not actually posing – it’s more likely that they’re holding a territory and are trying to look intimidating to scare me off.
Or perhaps they’re just as curious about me as I am about them?
Well, here’s lookin’ at you back, Skippy!
On Wednesday I made my second visit to Aberbargoed Grasslands National Nature Reserve with my friend Sharon. Last time we dipped on seeing the Marsh fritillaries because it was too overcast; this time, we dipped again because the recent spell of hot dry weather has meant their season has finished for the year. Still, we have now walked most of the paths around the reserve so we’ll know exactly where to look next year. And, though we missed out the fritillaries, there were still plenty of other butterflies and moths to charm and delight us.
#30DaysWild, 30 Days Wild, British butterflies, British moths, butterflies, Common blue, Large skipper, Meadow Brown, moths, Pyrausta purpuralis, Ringlet, Six-spot burnet, Small skipper, Small white, Speckled wood
Day 25 of #30DaysWild was hot – the hottest day of the year so far in Wales! I’m not a huge fan of the heat or the burning sun – one of the reasons I moved to Britain was to escape them, but the climate is a’changing. The only good thing about sunshine is that it brings out the Lepidoptera, the butterflies and moths, though even they looked a bit frantic, as if the heat was making them crazy. Still, on my Penarth – Lavernock – Cosmeston – Penarth circuit, I did manage to see my first Small skipper for the year and a host of other fantastic Leps as well.
I had never seen any Fritillary butterflies until today, so, on day 22 of #30DaysWild, I’ve had a very exciting afternoon seeing my very first High Browns, Dark Greens and Small Pearl-bordereds. These butterflies were very fast fliers and didn’t settle long so I didn’t get many shots, and didn’t manage any of the High Browns. Below are three different Dark Green Fritillaries and one Small Pearl-bordered … plus a few other butterflies we saw.
I did manage to get reasonable images of some of the many lovely little Small heath butterflies, the one Six-spot burnet moth we saw, and, my favourite, this cute Large skipper. ‘Twas a grand day!
Today, on day 18 of #30DaysWild, I walked along the coastal path to Lavernock Nature Reserve, intending to do some sea-watching – and I did – I watched the sea for over an hour. I saw a couple of gulls and a lot of waves and a couple of large container ships heading up and down the channel. Of course, that was not what I was hoping to see. Over the past few days, there have been reports of large numbers of Manx shearwaters flying back and forth, as well as the occasional Storm petrel, Arctic skua, Gannets, Guillemots, Fulmars, etc. Today there were none – well, maybe 2 or 3 birds a long long long way out – but none that I could see with my bins.
Luckily for me, though, I bumped into Alan, a fellow birder, who’s also a fan of butterflies and dragonflies – many of us birders are – and he very kindly showed me a Ringlet butterfly he’d just spotted. It was the first I’d seen in 2018 and, once I’d finished staring at the sea, I wandered around Lavernock and found another – or, possibly, the same one – plus a few other butterflies. So, I may not have bagged a new bird for my year list but I did bag a new butterfly (metaphorically speaking, of course).
The supporting cast consisted of Large skippers, Common blues and a Small white.
#30DaysWild, 30 Days Wild, Blue-tailed damselfly, Broad-bodied Chaser, Common blue butterfly, Emperor dragonfly, Large Red damselfly, Large skipper, Lavernock Nature Reserve, Six-spot burnet, Small copper, Speckled wood
Day 12 of my #30DaysWild was spent wandering around the nature reserve at Lavernock. Though it’s not yet the riot of colour it will be in another month or so, many wildflowers are already blooming, including the Common spotted and Pyramidal orchids, and plenty of critters were feasting on nectar and pollen.
Today’s highlights included my first Six-spot burnet moth of the year, which was dazzling in the bright sunlight, and my second Small copper butterfly, a rather tatty looking specimen but still lovely to see. The Large skippers, Common blues and Speckled woods were abundant, and I also saw whites, a Brimstone and several Meadow brown butterflies.
The pond was alive with dragon- and damselfly action, with both a female Emperor and a female Broad-bodied chaser ovipositing. There were three male Broad-bodied chasers constantly squabbling over territory and a Four-spotted chaser trying to avoid them all. Damselflies included Large reds, Common blues, Azures and Blue-tailed. ’Twas a very lively place today!