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!
If there is one butterfly whose male makes a truly conspicuous effort to impress the female of the species, then it must surely be the Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines). Those vivid orange wing tips are hard to miss, even when the males are speeding past at a hundred miles an hour. Today, at last, I saw my first Orange-tip for 2020 – in fact, I spotted four of these handsome chaps and, after following a couple back and forth along their chosen territories, I finally managed a single photo of one as it was refuelling.
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.
Today’s fascinating information on the once common, now less so Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) is taken from Peter Eeles’s magnificent publication Life Cycles of British and Irish Butterflies (Pisces Publications, 2019). If you like butterflies and don’t have this book, you really should get it, as it’s jam-packed with amazing detail and fabulous photos.
In the section on the Small tortoiseshell, Eeles reports on the variety of names it has had over the centuries: the Lesser Tortoise-shell Butterfly (James Petiver, Musei Petiveriani, 1699); Small Tortoiseshell (Benjamin Wilkes, Twelve New Designs of English Butterflies, 1742); and Nettle tortoiseshell (William Lewin, Twelve Papilios of Great Britain, 1795).
Eeles also notes that, in Scotland, in the past, this lovely creature was called the Devil’s butterfly and the Witch’s butterfly, though he doesn’t explain how it got those unfortunate names.
This particular Small tortoiseshell was the highlight of yesterday’s exercise walk around Grangemoor Park (luckily, Cardiff’s parks are still open, though this is the only one in walking distance for me). It was a joy to see, as we don’t get a lot of these butterflies in my local area, and I was delighted when it settled in a couple of places so I could get some photos.