Sunday, 2 August 2015

Doesn't come butter than this...

After the drabness of yesterday's moths, here's an explosion of colour for you - the result of a happy day spent truanting among the butterflies. Much as I love moths, who can deny the glorious beauty of their daytime relations? I marvelled so much at the Common Blue above that I almost neglected to take its photograph while its wings were still obligingly spread.

Likewise this second or third generation Brimstone. What an exquisite creature! It is impossible not to gush about the loveliness of these insects. But there was a serious side to my little project.

I had lunch on Friday with a group of eminent Oxford gents whom I meet occasionally and when I told them that my bike ride down the canal towpath had been ablaze with butterflies, they replied in unison: "But didn't you hear the item on the Today programme?" Oh gawd. Yet again, the summertime media has come up with a butterfly-doom story. To my mind, it's cobblers.

I didn't have to go hunting for any of the butterflies shown in this post. They were simply there; quite a few of them, as you can see, on our buddleia. Not for nothing is this lovely, easy-to-grow, honey-scented plant known as the 'butterfly bush'.  As well as the Red Admiral and Peacock shown above, it played host all day to troupes of Commas - particularly numerous this year, Small Tortoiseshells and the immigrant Painted Lady.

The first of the Painted Ladies which I spotted, shown above, had clearly been around a bit, but later in the day, half a dozen specimens in excellent condition were flying powerfully around. I was pleased to get this picture, below, of the tatty Painted Lady with a hoverfly or bee. There are plenty of the latter around too, getting drunk on the nectar wafting from wild as well as garden plants.

Here's one of the many Commas, next, showing its dramatically serrated wing shape, like the peninsulars of south-west Ireland or the fjords of Norway.

And here's another, just to show its fine, fritillary-like, russet topwings:

And here's the last of the common 'Vanessids', the brightly-coloured stars of the UK's butterfly summer, a Small Tortoiseshell, seen from below which gives only a hint of its glorious upper wings. Sorry.

I didn't hang around for a different shot because I was keen to get hunting with camera in the field next door which has a well-planted rim of trees on most of its circumference along with dense hawthorn and blackthorn hedges. A little earlier in the year, Marbled Whites are common here, fluttering around like a mixture of chess and Quidditch. I thought I was too late for them, but there on a grass stalk was one waiting for me.

Just before I left, I clocked up the three 'cabbage whites', the Small White on our spinach,

the Large White on our rhubarb, 

and the Green-veined White - comfortably the commonest of the three in my experience - on some brambles. Cabbage whites are derided and understandably disliked by vegetable growers, but they are delicately patterned when you look at them closely. The soft greys of the 'Green'-veined White's underwing are a delight as well as a lesson in the way the human eye interprets colour.

I knew that on the field edge I would find Hedge Browns and Meadow Browns and both were abundant, the former especially. Here are two on that noble plant, ragwort, obligingly showing their upper and lower wings.

Here's one of the Meadow Browns:

Speckled Woods fluttered around the shadier parts of the paths, many intent on courtship

and here's a bonus which I'd hoped for but wasn't certain of finding; a Ringlet, prettily-eyed and prettily-named. There were quite of few of these about as well.

Skippers jinked around the thistles and other flowers and there may have been more than one type on the wing. I think these are both Large Skippers but I hope to back again today to have a longer look and take less blurry pics.

I have also seen Common Blues on the field edge in previous years and, with that sense of excitement which luckily hasn't left me since schooldays, I was really hoping that they would show up. All at once, I saw the tell-tale flash of colour, and just as quickly, it vanished as the butterfly skipped away. After a tense and stealthy quartering of the immediate area, I spotted it, below. A very worn male, but enough to add to my ever-growing tally.

I needn't have worried. As I rounded a corner into a more sheltered spot - for it was quite windy yesterday and also cloudy for much of the time; not ideal conditions for sun-worshipping butterflies - I came across at least half-a-dozen more. One posed for the picture at the top of the blog which is by far my favourite of today's; a second pottered around like a bar-hopping drinker on a series of flowers.

Then I had my final bit of lucky on a lucky day. A perfect female Common Blue had also spread her wings to enjoy the sun, a much rarer form of resting than the folded wings shown in the photo two above. I turned on the camera and - eek - up came the 'bettery empty' sign. I turned it off, slid out the battery, warmed it in my hands and tried again. Nothing. Muttering prayers and invocations, I repeated this, giving the little terminals a vigorous rubbing. All the while, the little butterfly sat patiently on her grass stem. Click! I took a final photo before the camera died completely. Then she flew away. Second update: Whoops! This is actually a Brown Argus, and thus the 20th species seen over the long weekend (including Monday). See more in next post. I'm as bad at butterflies as I am at moths. :(

Nothing is perfect, of course, and I failed to get pictures of my last two species, a Small Copper and a Wall, which bring the tally for the day to 17.  Update: Famously or notoriously, I cannot count, and the total is actually 18. However, I've been reading up on the Wall and it sounds an extremely unlikely visitor here, so let's subtract that and get nicely back to 17 again. The skippers may also be Essex Skippers and I need to check them out more thoroughly. Back to the camera and the field... To that, because no episode of these long, long saga is truly complete without a moth, I can add this humble dayflyer, the Shaded Broad-bar. Yes, it doesn't really compare in terms of physical charms. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Oh, and here's one of two different hawker dragonflies which were also zipping about both the garden and the field. I just need to find a Holly Blue today to complete my line-up of regulars. Butterfly doom? Bah.

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