This week, I’m delighted to be able to bring you a guest blog from Butterfly Conservation’s Survey Manager, Richard Fox. I know that many Nature’s Home readers have enjoyed Patrick Barkham’s feature on butterflies in the current issue – thanks for all your brilliant photos so far. Please keep them coming.
Are there peacocks in your garden? I don’t mean the huge, strutting ornamental birds that roam the grounds of stately homes, but the real, eyed beauty of our islands, the peacock butterfly.
Although a widespread and familiar sight, the fortunes of the peacock butterfly have waxed and waned over the years. Over the long-term, it is one of the minority of UK butterflies that has done fairly well, spreading northward, in response to climate change, to colonise much of northern Scotland. However, in recent years, peacock numbers have been disappointing, falling below the long-term average in eight of the 10 years up to 2012.
Peacock close up by Peter Eeles
But, last year may have marked a turning point. Peacock numbers soared in the summer heatwave of 2013, resulting in some of the biggest counts on record. The butterfly was the third most abundant species recorded in last year’s Big Butterfly Count, the highest placing it has ever achieved and an increase of over 30 times the number seen during the 2012 Count!
What will this year’s Big Butterfly Count, which runs from Saturday 19th July to Sunday 10th August, show for the beloved peacock? The signs are promising. Not only did the butterfly do well in 2013, but the numbers emerging from hibernating earlier this year were impressive. What’s more, velvet-black peacock caterpillars, the offspring of these hardy, overwintering insects, have been much in evidence on nettle beds across the UK in recent weeks.
All this bodes well for a massive emergence of new Peacock butterflies right now, just in time for the Big Butterfly Count. And other butterflies may do well too, benefiting from the (relatively) good summer last year and mild conditions so far in 2014. I’d also tip the small tortoiseshell and brimstone to be among the winners this summer.
We’ll only know how butterflies are faring this year, of course, if you go out and take part in the Big Butterfly Count. It’s quick, easy and fun to do and all the information gained is used to help conserve butterflies. Just spend 15 minutes counting butterflies in any sunny place and submit your sightings via www.bigbutterflycount.org or the free Big Butterfly Count smartphone app.
With Nature's Home July issue at the printers yesterday and my job done (on that issue at least!), I treated myself to a day off and headed to Fermyn Woods in Northants.
Butterfly enthusiasts will know that the first week of July is the time when people from all over the country make the pilgrimage to the woods to seek out arguably the UK's most spectacular butterfly: the purple emperor. Here's a shot from my visit last year. Bear in mind that the shots below were taken on my iphone, so you can be sure of getting some incredible shots with a camera!
Pick the right day in the emperor's July peak and you can enjoy views like this (Mark Ward)
It's a big, bold butterfly of southern woods and can be very difficult to get a good view of because they spend much of their lives in the treetops. However, males do descend to the many tracks in the woods to take up nutrients from the tracks - and I'm afraid poo, as can be seen from these shots
It was an amazing day yesterday and I hit the emergence absolutely bang on. I walked for mile upon mile, carefully checking all the rides and from 10 o'clock onwards, the males started to come down, with the first nearly landing on me.
I can't match Nature's Home magazine's star-studded array of photographs, but not a bad effort for a low-spec camera phone (Mark Ward)
Between 8 o'clock and 3 when I left, I'd seen 81 different purple emperors, which was a monster total, but a great sign that butterfly populations are bouncing back this summer. The "double purple" shot with the purple sheen showing on both wings (above) is the one everyone wants.
In a couple of weeks time, you'll have the chance to read Patrick Barkham's superb feature on the UK's butterflies in Nature's Home and there will be more butterfly-themed blogs here on Nature's Home uncovered so do check in. Meanwhile, here's a couple of shots of yours truly getting up close and personal with our most spectacular butterfly to perhaps inspire you to get out and enjoy our brilliant butterflies.
Here's me getting up close and personal with a purple emperor (Mark Ward)
Meanwhile, if you can get to Fermyn over the next week, go for it. The emperors soon finish their time as adult butterflies and the show will be over quickly.
Emperors will even take salt from your skin - this one snacked away for a good while (Mark Ward)