Simple, Beautiful Fluttering Things...


When I was preparing a list for my Darting, Buzzing and Jumping blog,  I'd intended to include my butterfly sightings as well, thinking that I'd not seen that many this year, well I was wrong!  Whilst I have definitely seen lower numbers of the usual visitors to my local patch compared to previous years, there has certainly been no lack of variety in butterflies and moths.

 In the early part of the year, there were cold and mild spells of weather which continued well into June, some of the time it was exceedingly wet as well as being unseasonably cool.  Many of the usual plants and trees were in blossom out of season and in some cases, like brambles or thistles, bloomed late and in some cases 'finished' a lot faster than I recall for previous years.

The fallow field that I frequent is bordered by banks of brambles and woodland, there are patches of nettles and stands of Common Hogweed.  In the main part of the field, as well as the Hogweed, from May and June onwards, there was a riot of Common Meadow and Spotted Orchids, Buttercups, Common and Tufted Vetch, Lesser Stitchwort, St John's Wort and from mid July, assorted tall thistles, Ragwort and Willowherb, all this growing in amongst shorter and taller fine grasses.

Here is what I've seen, in order (although the images are from throughout - the better ones and all that!) through April to early September.

 I saw my first butterfly of the year back in April - a lone Small Tortoiseshell which was nectaring on some almost-open willow blossom, along with a few early like-minded Bees.  Usually these are plentiful and I am forever 'bumping into' them, however, throughout the summer months I have missed them from my walks - not even seeing wriggling clumps of their caterpillars amongst the stinging nettles.. During August a few more have appeared, however I think I must have seen less than a dozen this year, instead of the dozens of previous summers. 

Small Tortoiseshell, (open and closed) 

In the early part of May, I had my first sightings of three favourites as well as a surprise early sighting of another.

In the corner of the wheatfield, there is a bright sunny sheltered spot, full of brambles, surrounded by Field Maple and Oak trees.  It is often a 'first port of call' to see who might be about butterfly-wise, sure enough, one evening I was pleased to see three species of butterfly sharing the space.

 The first was my first Comma of the year - I often see 'regulars' at various points around my walk and this corner is no exception - there was a fresh looking Comma resting, wings open in the sunshine, on the Brambles; he (?) has been there for most of the season and if other butterflies approach, will see them off - clearly considering it to be his territory.  The last I saw of him, was a few weeks back, when he was starting to look a little 'tired', however, hopefully he and the others I have seen in the usual locations managed to meet enough Lady Commas...  Numbers wise?  well I believe there has been no change in comparison to other years, so possibly the changeable weather didn't affect them too much.

 Comma Butterfly 

For a few days around this time, I had been seeing tiny chrystal blue butterflies, fluttering around and through my garden; now last year was the first time I had seen Holly Blues, so I was delighted to be seeing them again.  Over the course of the summer, I have lost count of how many I have seen, either over the garden or fluttering furiously along the woodland margins.  The same evening as seeing the Comma, I was peering at the Field Maple, noticing it's blossom for the first time, when a Holly Blue settled to nectar.  In later months, I've been fortunate a couple of times in seeing them settle to do the same on bramble flowers.

Holly Blue Butterfly 

Low down in the grass, in the same corner, nectaring on Stitchwort, with a flutter of wings as it changed flower, was a Green Veined White butterfly - first one on the local patch, although I'd already encountered one at Wood Walton Fen a few weeks previously.  As with the Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks, in comparison to previous years, I have not seen many at all - they are usually quite common.

Green Veined White Butterfly 

And then came a surprise!  Usually I don't see any Speckled Wood butterflies until quite late on in the summer, however, a very fresh looking Speckled Wood came fluttering along the field edge and arriving in the corner, only to be persuaded to leave in turn by both the Comma, Green Veined White and the Holly Blue!  It was interesting behaviour to watch as all three in turn had decided that the corner was 'their spot' and the Speckled Wood needed to find another territory - eventually he settled amongst a nearby clump of brambles where I have seen them on lookout before.

Over the course of the summer, I have often stood and watched these beautiful feisty brown and gold butterflies either on lookout or in an aerial duel, twirling and tumbling in the air with another Speckled Wood, I think this is the first year that I have seen them in good numbers throughout the summer and they seem to be continuing into the autumn too.

Speckled Wood Butterfly 

A couple of days later, I was treated to a chance encounter with a smart male Orange Tip butterfly, I've seen a couple this year, however, they generally wouldn't oblige by settling - being far too busy in searching for females, however this one briefly did.

 In previous years, I have often confused the females with Small White butterflies, so I am not really certain if I have seen less this year - seeing one of the males has always been something of a rare treat!

Orange Tip Butterfly 

In late May I was out for a stroll on a warm evening, on the path along to the meadow, it was warm and sunny and quite breezy.  It is often a good spot, when whatever cereal crop is getting to a decent height, to spot roosting butterflies - they often fly up out of nowhere and then I'm standing there, watching them flutter up and down along the path before settling again.  This one evening, a tired looking Peacock flew up out of the crop and as I stood there, began to flutter around me, before suddenly landing on the back of my hand.  So delicate and so fragile, with tiny tickley feet as it turned.... with a slight breeze unsettling it, off the butterfly fluttered, settling on a more comfortable nearby leaf to bask in the evening sunshine.

 Often as I walk, I'm tripping over Peacocks as they bask on the path, however this year, as with the Small Tortoiseshells, sighting on my local patch have been few and far between; even around local gardens, where I have previously seen Buddlea bushes covered in them, they have not been about. In late July, I did see a few more - one very fresh looking one basking low down in the wheat field. 

Peacock Butterfly. 

Throughout June, I began to see a good variety of day flying moths, with an occasional butterfly too! In addition to the Commas, occasional Whites and Speckled Woods that I was seeing, I also saw a small butterfly that I've missed seeing for a few years, the Small Heath.  These like grassy habitats and I'd seen them in the meadow a few years back, roosting in the grasses and occasionally nectaring on the bramble banks.  One evening, on the far corner of the wheat field, something caught my eye - a small browny orange butterfly clinging to the stems.  I stopped and watched it for a while as it went between roosting and also nectaring - I think there may have heen a few others about, either that or I was watching the same butterfly for a few weeks!  I have earmarked the spot, to see what may appear there next year.

Small Heath Butterfly 

Surprisingly, Brimstone butterflies have been few and far between this year, I've only seen one, which settled all too briefly before meandering off.  Last year I saw around half a dozen or so.

Brimstone Butterfly 

By this time, the eastern end of the meadow was a riot of the wildflowers mentioned above and as is my wont, I tend to wander carefully along the rabbit and deer paths through the grasses and flowers to see what is about. Low down amongst the grass and flowers I began to see occasional day flying moths.

The first was a new one to me, a Mother Shipton, getting it's name from a witch shaped marking on it's wings - if you look carefully, you can see the hooky nose and chin of a witch!  It prefers grassy locations and the habitat in the meadow seemed ideal for it - I was to see a few of these over the summer months.

Mother Shipton moth. 

The next, which I saw more of than in previous years, were the Five Spot Burnet - a striking black and scarlet spotted moth, which I saw frequently nectaring on thistle heads and also on Common Vetch.

Five Spot Burnet moth. 

Another striking scarlet and black moth is the Cinnabar, I only found one of these and this is the first year that I have not (yet) seen any of their dayglo orange caterpillars feeding in the Ragwort, the area where I usually see them has just been cleared for a housing development, so I shall be interested (and saddened) by seeing the longer term effect of the clearance on all the creatures that I've seen on or near the site.

Cinnabar Moth 

Meanwhile back in the meadow, I also saw a Burnet Companion which I saw a couple of last year - this one was low down in the grasses,

Burnet Companion moth. 

as well as a couple of Silver Y moths, which seemed to frequent the same little patch of grasses - staying low down and unless I saw them in flight and then settle, they were rather difficult to see!

Silver Y moth 

During June and July, the grasses became full of small orange butterflies - the Skippers had emerged!  This year it seems to have been a bumper year for them - over a few weeks' walks, it seemed that almost evey stem or bloom had a Skipper resting or nectaring upon it.

 The Skippers which I see locally are the Large Skipper - a warm orange with dark markings and there are little 'hooks' on the dark ends of it's antennal clubs,

Large Skipper 

the Small Skipper - smaller and paler than the Large; the antennal clubs are an orangey brown colour and the butterfly also tends to bask with it's wings slightly raised, their undersides being a pale orange.

Small Skipper 

The other Skipper that I found, eventually after peering carefully - they are easily mistaken for the Small Skippers, is the Essex Skipper.  This is a bright orange / brown wings and is quite an eyecatcher, however the main difference between these and the Small Skipper is the antennal club, no hook, but is black both above and below.

Essex Skipper 

In the early part of July, the Skippers began to share the grasses in the meadow with the arrival of two more butterflies - Meadow Browns were the first to appear.  In my butterfly blog from last year, I described standing almost in a cloud of them, however this year - although apparently in good numbers, they were not as plentiful as last.

Meadow Brown butterfly 

As the Meadow Browns appeared, so too did the Ringlets - at first glance, these may look dull and brown, however, when the sun gets on them they really are beautiful.  As with the Meadow Browns, whilst in good numbers, there did not appear to be as many as last year - in the meadow they share the same areas, however, I could see no obvious change in the habitat.


At the end of July I began to see a good number of fresh looking Gatekeepers (also known as the Hedge Brown) begin to appear around banks of brambles - which they like to nectar on and also roosting amongst the grasses. 

Gatekeeper butterfly (open and closed) 

 Another butterfly, seen in very good numbers this year, has been the Red Admiral - I usually only see one or two if I am extremely lucky, however this year I have been seeing them throughout the summer.  They often perch on the trees at head height, surveying the area around, before flying off upon the approach of any perceived threat.  A few times though, I have encountered them whilst they are basking and so have had some rather good views.  They are a very striking butterfly, both with wings open and closed. 

Red Admiral butterfly (Wings closed and open) 

Of late, I have been seeing numerous Large and Small White butterflies, however, for most of the summer, three favourites have eluded me.  Last year, the small colonies of Brown Argus and Common Blue butterflies on my local patch had virtually disappeared - with only scarce numbers appearing in late August. This year has been even worse - with only one Brown Argus being seen - this was nectaring on Tufted Vetch, before if flew off to an inaccessible area of vegetation - I'm hoping there were some more out of sight - they tend to prefer staying low in the grasses.

Brown Argus butterfly 

During my lookout for these tiny butterflies, I also managed to briefly see two feisty Small Coppers butterflies who were chasing each other around a small patch of grass; both looked to be freshly emerged, however unlike last year, these were the only two that I have seen.

Small Copper butterfly. 

One evening, on the return leg of my walk I wandered into a field full of knee high fine grass, quite sheltered and sunny and had a bit of a look around.  Suddenly, a tiny flutter of Blue caught my eye.  It was a female Common Blue Butterfly getting ready to roost.  Initially she settled on a grass seedhead, taking in some sunshine, before moving off to nectar briefly on a thistle. 

Common Blue Butterfly (f) (wings closed and open) 

As I left her to settle for the evening, across the other side of the field, there was a further flutter of blue - a male, who was nectaring and also frequently on the wing as well.  A few weeks after seeing them, unfortunately the field has been mown, but I shall be watching hopefully for next year to see what emerges.

Common Blue (m) 

Whilst the weather stays warm, through the early autumn months, I'll be out and about, to see what emerges, I shall certainly be interested to see the results of the Big Butterfly survey - it cannot just be on my local patch that butterfly numbers are down - how have they fared where you are?


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