I’m delighted to present a guest blog from butterfly expert Matthew Oates. You can read about Matthew’s new book, “In Pursuit of butterflies: a 50 year affair” in the current issue of Nature’s Home (pg 87) and I cannot recommend it enough! Here’s Matthew with a blog that I hope will have you heading out next time the sun shines...
Midsummer sees the butterfly season at its zenith. The pinnacle is reached in the southern forests, where the big three take to the high summer skies – white admiral, silver-washed fritillary and purple emperor. These have to be seen to be believed: the white admiral is grace personified, the giant silver-washed fritillary epitomises the joy of being alive, and the elusive purple emperor is simply the ultimate butterfly – possessing unrivalled power and majesty. There used to be a fourth cousin, but the high brown fritillary is now restricted to a few hillsides in the West Country, South Wales and along the Cumbria – Lancashire border. I am desperately found of all four, though unravelling the mysteries of the purple emperor is really my life’s work.
"His Majesty" feasting from an unsavoury deposit (photo by Mark Ward)
The heaths also come alive with butterflies during July. The tiny silver-studded blue bejewels many southern heaths then, basking communally on heathers in the evening sun, whilst cryptic graylings bemuse us by disappearing whilst settling on sandy paths.
In midsummer, the dark mountain ringlet rules the Lakeland high fells and the Grampian mountains, necessitating long and tiring journeys up north, weather permitting. The large heath, a grey denizen of northern bogs can be seen on this exhausting trip.
The downs then come into their own, hosting often huge populations of various blues. Theirs is the month of August, in heady marjoram-scented air. The chalkhill blue and, later, the tropical-looing adonis blue can occur in profusion, making the turf shimmer with electric blue hues as the males patrol the breeding grounds during the morning, seeking to have their will with newly emerged females. The shortest turf, where sheep’s fescue grass abounds, put on a different show, for the swift silver-spotted skipper dashes about there - the hotter the weather, the faster it flies. In hot summers, clouded yellow males patrol south-facing slopes, at pace, having colonised from the Mediterranean.
July is a great month for butterflies. Be quick and you'll catch the last of the purple emperors (photo by Mark Ward)
The brown hairstreak is the herald of autumn, living diffusely around blackthorn entanglements. It is active early in the morning, then lazes through late summer days, comatose in Ash trees. It winds the season down, which ends in our gardens, where familiar species like the small tortoiseshell and red admiral feed up communally prior to hibernation.
No two summers are truly alike, each revealing its own peculiar mix of butterfly winners and losers, highs and lows, and giving the patient observer new lessons and experiences. One learns so much, in terms of butterfly ecology and field craft skills that it is impossible to feel remotely bored when out in pursuit of butterflies.
2015 hints at being a painted lady summer... (photo by Chris Gomersall)
Do the Big Butterfly Count We’re also promoting our friends at Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count. I did my first count over the weekend in my local wood where I was pleased . It couldn’t be easier and I recommend the App as an easy and fun way to record your sightings and submit them to Butterfly Conservation.
Buy Mathew's bookAnd do buy Matthew's fantastic book and read all about his amazing life with the UK's butterflies.