We’ve had much-needed rain and low-cloud gloom for the past two days but, earlier in the week, when the sun was warm and glorious and my walk took me along the coastal path, it felt like proper Spring. The bird song was almost deafening and – what clinched the Spring-ness for me – I counted 12 Speckled wood butterflies along the path, either perched sun-basking or patrolling their patch of scrub or – the males – engaged in spiralling dogfights over territory. Springtime magic!
Actually, that title should really be three Small whites and a single Speckled wood but it’s a bit long-winded for a blog title. Suffice to say, my butterfly list for the year has grown by these two new species in the past two days.
I think this Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) is a female – their markings are, apparently, larger and more distinct – but I’m not entirely sure. Working out details like this is something I’m aiming to improve this year.
The Small whites (Pieris rapae) here are two females and a male (below, right). The males only have one spot on their wings and, in this first brood of the year, the wing markings of both sexes are lighter than they will be in the later, summer broods.
I am dizzyingly delighted to be seeing more butterflies flying now. They bring me comfort and joy, something I’m sure we could all do with at the moment. I hope you are all managing to find small moments of comfort and joy in your daily lives as well.
These are just 3 of the 14 Speckled woods (Pararge aegeria) I encountered during a recent walk along my local coastal path, and just look at how different their faces are. They were all very obliging when it came to taking their portraits, or perhaps the way I was slowly moving my camera from side to side as I approached had momentarily mesmerised them.
My butterfly expert friend George says: ‘These fresh ones may be those which overwintered as larvae and are now just emerging, whereas those out earlier in the spring would have overwintered as pupae. It’s the only British butterfly which regularly overwinters in two different life history stages’. Thanks for the info, George.
Aglais io, Brimstone, British butterflies, British moth, butterflies, butterfly, Common blue, Cyclophora annularia, Dingy Skipper, Erynnis tages, Gonepteryx rhamni, moth, Pararge aegeria, Peacock, Polyommatus icarus, Speckled wood, The Mocha
Blue skies, warm temperatures, wildflowers in bloom – what more could a butterfly want? Not much it seems as they were out in force at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park and I spent several happy hours following them around, trying to get photographs but also just intrigued by their flight patterns, the food plants they were choosing and their general behaviour. The Whites, large and small, eluded my lens, as did several Orange-tips and one Red Admiral but I did manage to snap these six.
The first is a Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni), not to be confused with the moth of the same name. I saw two flying together, land together and then the male heading purposefully towards the female. Turns out though that her spreading her wings and raising her abdomen in the air was not a ‘come hither’ signal but rather the opposite. She was indicating that she had already mated and was rebuffing the male. I saw several Common blues (Polyommatus icarus), also easily confused with other very similar small blue butterflies. They are so vibrant! And seeing a Peacock (Aglais io) is always a treat, though this one was looking a little battered.
Speckled woods (Pararge aegeria) seem to be the butterflies I see most often wherever I go but I love their pretty dappling of brown and cream. The next was a new one for me and I saw two of them – it’s a Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages), a butterfly whose caterpillars feed on Bird’s-foot trefoil so it’s often found on the short impoverished grasslands of former coal tips, rubbish tips and quarries. I’ve just learnt that it’s called Dingy because ‘it loses scales alarmingly as it get older so looks, well, dingy’ (thanks, Steven). The last is not a butterfly but a moth and rather a special moth, The Mocha (Cyclophora annularia). This moth is nationally scarce but more frequent in the woodlands of southern Britain so I was well pleased with this sighting.
‘The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough,’ wrote Bengali Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore – perhaps a lesson for us all.
The first butterflies of spring-summer 2016 have now begun fluttering around me when I’m out walking. Like the bees and the hoverflies, I find they add an extra dimension to my wanderings, a whisper of magic, a hint of fairies …
The Small white (Pieris rapae) was the first butterfly I saw, a couple of weeks ago, during a walk around Cardiff Bay, but it eluded my attempts to photograph it. Both this and the Large white are known as the ‘Cabbage Whites’ for the damage their caterpillars do to the cabbage and other vegetable plants; I have childhood memories of my father regularly checking the undersides of his cabbage leaves and cursing those caterpillars! Though this butterfly has been known to fly as far as 100 miles in its lifetime, it couldn’t fly to New Zealand – in the days before strict agricultural border controls, it was accidentally introduced there, to Australia and to North America.
What a glorious creature the Peacock butterfly is and how lovely it looks on this blackthorn blossom, though this Peacock has seen better days; it’s a little faded and has parts of its wings missing. Aglais io gets its common name, obviously, from the unmistakable ‘eyes’ on its wings, so reminiscent of a peacock’s spectacular tail, but its underwings are quite the opposite, dark and easily mistaken for dead leaves in a woodland setting.
The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) is the butterfly I’ve seen most often in the past couple of weeks, in the woodlands of Cosmeston and Bute Park and also in tree-filled Cathays Cemetery, where the two shown together above charmed me with their delicate spiralling dance. Is it love or the love of the chase, I wonder?