Friday, 9 September 2011

Throw of the dice

Look, it's a Leeds moth! A Green Carpet. Last night I lit the trap for the first time since 19 August, thanks to holidays, a family wedding and - since we settled back - wind and rain. Here's another one; a Black Rustic. We're back to the good old dour and pastel English shades...

But I'm not done with France, and today features the solitary member I found in the Dordogne of that noble family, the Fritillaries. I have a personal history with these going back to 12, when I caught my rarest butterfly, the Charlotta version of the Dark Green Fritillary, at exactly the spot above Kynance Cove in Cornwall where Prof E B Ford chased and caught one of the few Monarch butterflies seen in the UK. You can read more, if so inclined, on an ancient blogpost; and here is the actual butterfly with its beautiful silver underwing lozenges, below a standard DGF.

This is by way of introduction to my French Fritillary, the Knapweed, which lived in my clover-field hunting ground. It's as lovely as all its kind, with plenty of the glowing (and dark) spots which led to its name, from the Latin Fritillus, for dice box. It shares this, for the same reason, with the plant family which includes the beautiful Snakeshead Fritillary, now gradually colonising our garden.

The Knapweed isn't found in the UK but is very like the Glanville Fritillary, a rarity named after Eleanor Glanville, whose knowledgable hunting for butterflies in the late 17th and early 18th century led her son to dispute her will on the grounds that she was mad. Unfortunately, he won. Sorry the pic of the Knapweed's topwings is a bit blurred; I was over-excited, I think. Here's the underwing, with slightly better focus.


sarah meredith said...

Hey Martin - the sun finally came out here so I took a break from painting and went for a walk and as I walked along I was thinking about you roaming the fields of Beynac (a place Greg and I found and loved on early trips to France in the late 70's) taking pictures of butterflies. And I have two ,thoughts: A: you really have to dial down your focus to even see butterflies with your naked eye. I am usually looking large when I walk - shapes and values in the landscapes but it took effort to hone in on the tiny shapes flitting around the fields. When I did, however, I saw some lovely ones - nothing blue, but yellows with flashes of pale green, pale yellow with bits of violet, deep tomato-orange red with black, several monarchs and these things I thought were black and white butterflies, but turned out to be flying grasshoppers!
And B: how do you EVER manage to take pictures of them! I didn't have my camera with me today, but if I had, the only successful picture might have been a group of the yellow and green ones - wings closed up tight - sitting near a puddle at the side of the road. So bravo your spotting and your shooting!!
xx to both

MartinWainwright said...

Sarah, Hi there!

What a lovely long comment. P and I will email you back as well. I'm so glad you both know those lovely twists of the Dordogne where we faced it off with les Francais before finally realising that invasion by elite corps of pensioners buying gites was the answer.

Did you go to Josephine Baker's chateau where she raised her 'rainbow family', just across the valley from Beynac? we didn't go inside this time, but she was clearly an excellent person. Veritably a human moth.

Digital cameras have revolutionised wildlife photography (except for the very skilful owners of very expensive super-cameras). They've also revolutionised butterfly and moth study and made killing only necessary for the real expert entomologists who need to carry out such grisly tasks as identifying what my friend calls the insects' 'wedding tackle' which are often the only way you can tell variations and some different species apart.

So I don't do anything clever; and my ability to hold a camera steady is questionable, as the blog makes clear! One thing you learn on that score, though, is that you don't have to zoom in, which exaggerates every scrap of hand-tremble. You can do that later on the computer, provided you matched focus and distance, which my Canon Ixus usually does for me with a little outline box - green for focussed, yellow not. It's far from a perfect system, but not bad.

The other, highly enjoyable, thing you need is a love of hunting, and this may be sinfully male. I get exactly the same sensation when I've photographed a butterfly or moth as I used to after netting one (oh shame...) and I love the stalking and waiting, especially in somewhere such as the Dordogne!

More in email soon

xx from both

M and P