Monday, 17 August 2009

Butterflies Flutterby

There is something very cheering about a butterfly fluttering past me in the garden. It’s such a simple thing - such a transitory thing – yet I instantly feel better. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they arrive with the sunshine.

They are not about too early in the day, nor too late in the afternoon. Like dragonflies, they need the warmth of the sun before they become active. Sheltered spaces are what they like best and they’re particularly attracted to some garden plants. Buddleias are not known as ”the butterfly bush” for nothing, whilst herbs such as marjoram and lots of perennials such as Sedum spectabile can attract every butterfly in the place.

Today, turning around after hanging up a bed sheet on the washing line I was amazed to see a large black butterfly had settled on it. I was surprised, firstly because I would have thought it would have chosen a background to match its colour and, secondly, because it opened its wings to reveal that it was in fact a beautifully coloured Peacock.

Butterflies have all round vision and yet I could stand quite close to this one and it didn’t move. It also very obligingly stayed put for long enough for me to get my camera. The beautifully crimped edges of its wings could be really appreciated when they were folded because they stood out against the white of the sheet like the profiled silhouette of a cameo.

Oddly enough, we’re warned that as many species of butterfly are at risk as ever, and yet there seems to be more butterflies in the garden this year. I suspect that it has something to do with the profusion of blossom that I’ve already written about.

In April there were lots of Orange-tips in those areas of the garden with meadow grass, especially around the pond. But they were not about long. Apparently they only have one generation because once their meadow flower food source no longer blooms their pantry is bare.

At the time the butter yellow Brimstone kept it company. Although they do have a second generation which hatches in July and August so they are still about now. Following them were a mass of Browns. I should like to think that some of them were rare Heath fritillaries but I find it almost impossible to identify the profusion of little Browns, they're so quick to make off.

I’m OK at telling the difference between the showier garden species – the Red Admiral, Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock - but many others are a mystery to me. The Whites are similarly confusing, with the exception perhaps of the Cabbage white because we have so many of those. And I have exactly the same trouble with the Blues.

Was that a Common blue or a Holly blue? A Short-tailed or a Long-tailed blue? The trick is obviously to know all about their habitat but that needs quite a bit of study. Many blues do like a chalky habitat and as my garden is on clay I tend to have more browns.

The only brown butterflies I have time to identify are those poor insects that die in my conservatory. The floor is littered with their corpses. I only hope I’ve left enough weeds and wildflowers out there for them to lay their eggs on. That may salve my conscious. And I shall make sure I leave their caterpillars a larder for next year. I really look forward to butterflies fluttering by.

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