Sunday, 2 October 2011
Is it an Indian summer? Strictly not - indeed it's too early to qualify even as St Luke's Little Summer - but whatever it is, the heat continues, the skies are still blue and perfectly cloudless and the sun shines down on us here in the South of England. After the dismal summer it is more than welcome, and especially so to those of us who love our butterflies and thought we had probably seen our last of the year (bar the odd flushed hibernator) back in the grey cold of mid-September. Speckled Woods - which seem to thrive whatever the English summer throws at them - are still flying, and yesterday I saw (as well as Small and Large Whites) a bright Brimstone and a couple of passing Peacocks. But once again the stars of this Indian (or not) summer are the Red Admirals - and not tired, tattered, end-of-season specimens, but fine, fresh ones, full of energy. Yesterday on Ashtead Common, one was careering around an oak tree as if he were a Purple Emperor defending his tree. Then later, at the very point of my leaving the common to head home, right beside the gate, a fine Red Admiral suddenly flew up from the path and landed on my calf, perching on my trousering (beige cotton, since you ask) and unfurling his proboscis to taste a speck of something that seemed to be to his fancy. This beautiful close-up lasted for some minutes, until the Admiral tired of it, flew off in a small quick circuit, then landed back on the path at my feet, where I watched him for several minutes more. It was almost a replay of my Purple Emperor encounter, on the same common back in June, and it would have seemed fitting if this was my last butterfly of the season. But it wasn't - as I got off the train, there, charging around at speed, in and out of the station shop, was another beautiful indomitable bright Red Admiral.