I love the peculiar habit Small coppers have of walking head first down the stems of grasses.
To celebrate – or, perhaps, to mourn – the last calendar day of summer, here’s a tribute to some of the beautiful butterflies I’ve seen in recent days, just because, when they’re gone, I’m really going to miss their magic.
A Comma doing what they do so well when their wings are closed – blending in.
Most of the white butterflies I’ve seen lately have been Small whites so this Green-veined white stood out from the crowd.
Here’s another that stood out – an aberrant Meadow brown. There always has to be one!
The heat wave a couple of weeks ago seems to have brought in a small influx of Painted ladies, though nothing like the numbers we had last year.
Have you ever noticed how much Red admirals like blackberries? And their colours blend in to this background rather well.
Small tortoiseshells have been having a good year locally, which has been a real treat. I even found two feeding on Red valerian right at the edge of one of the local beaches this morning.
A delightful surprise from Saturday’s walk at Cosmeston, a pristine Small copper.
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.
bonking neetles, British butterflies, British crickets, British grasshoppers, Common red soldier beetle, Green-veined white, Long winged cone-head, Meadow grasshopper, Nettle weevil, Small copper, weevil
Some snippets from the insect world around me:
A sure sign that it’s now high summer, Common red soldier beetles (Rhagonycha fulva) can be seen everywhere, especially on the flowers of umbellifers, demonstrating why they are often called bonking beetles.
Also caught copulating, these Green-veined white butterflies (Pieris napi) were being annoyed by a third of their kind, trying to get involved in the action.
On the subject of butterflies, the second brood of Small coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) is now on the wing. This stunning specimen was only the second Small copper I’d seen this year, so was a very welcome sighting.
There’s nothing cuter than a weevil. This one is, I think, a Nettle weevil (Phyllobius pomaceus).
I found this odd: a colony of ants, farming a horde of aphids on this ragwort plant, have extended their nest up the very stem of the plant.
To finish this post, first, a Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus) nymph and …
… another nymph, also often a meadow dweller, this time a cricket species, a Long winged cone-head (Conocephalus fuscus).
The highlight of yesterday’s walk to Lavernock Nature Reserve was seeing this little beauty, my first Small copper of the year.
They’re tiny butterflies but they punch well above their weight, fearlessly challenging any other butterflies that stray too close to their territory, as this one did today with a male Common blue.
This Small copper was in pristine condition so, presumably, had very recently emerged. The vibrancy and intensity of its copper colour was simply stunning.
Off we went again, our gallant gang of four, this time in search of the rare Brown hairstreak at Butterfly Conservation’s Alners Gorse reserve in Dorset.
This reserve is beautiful, the colourful swathes of wildflowers reminiscent of a painting by Monet or Van Gogh, the wide range of trees providing diverse habitats for local wildlife and welcome shade for butterfliers on yet another hot summer’s day.
Unfortunately, the Brown hairstreaks eluded us, and most of the other 20-odd people wandering around the reserve, staring intently, as we were, at bramble bushes, hedgerows and oak trees.
One person, on turning a corner in the path, had almost bumped into a Brown, but the butterfly immediately flew off and wasn’t seen again. A couple said they’d seen one high in a tree but much tree staring failed to produce another sighting.
Still, there were butterflies in abundance and my list for the day totalled a very respectable seventeen: Silver-washed fritillary, Purple hairstreak, Comma, Peacock, Red admiral, Painted lady, Essex skipper, Small skipper, Small white, Green-veined white, Common blue, Small copper, Brimstone, Meadow brown, Ringlet, Gatekeeper and Speckled wood. My companions also saw Marbled white, bringing the group total to eighteen – I was obviously staring at a tree at that time!
Alners Gorse is a well known site for Marsh fritillaries – now finished for this year, and we saw large numbers of other insects – hoverflies, bees, flies, crickets and grasshoppers, and several species of dragonfly, so it’s well worth a visit at any time of the year.
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!
Butterflies have a hard life. Having to weave their way through a maze of wildflowers and long grasses, squabbling with other butterflies, taking evasive manoeuvres to avoid being eaten, these all take their toll on creatures that are not very robust to begin with.
During today’s stroll around Cosmeston, I discovered a stunning, pristine Small copper, presumably newly emerged, one of their second brood for the year, but I also saw a very tatty looking Common blue, its wings frayed around the edges, its colour very faded, its life almost over. Yet it was battling on into a strong headwind, not giving up. There’s a lesson there, I think.