Saturday 8 August 2009

An Aurelian Writes...

At Bookham station yesterday, I stood on the footbridge and watched a pair of Silverwashed Fritillaries enjoying a buddleia bush. I was on my way back home, having seized the opportunity of the first proper sun in a week and more to head for butterfly country, settling on Bookham Common. This, like Ashtead (but with fewer veteran oaks and less open space) is one of those fine Surrey commons that are mostly oakwood, with hazel coppices or the remnants thereof, hornbeam, ash, birch etc, with broad rides as well as lovely narrow twisting paths through the woods. It was a disappointing day at first - little to be seen but those unregarded beauties the Speckled Woods(how highly we'd value them if they were scarcer) - but before long I found myself on the edge of a sunny ride with a full half dozen Silverwashed Fritillaries simultaneously in view, the bright males swooping and bombing, the more subdued females (as in the picture)quietly going about their business. In the course of my walk, I was able to observe several of these subtly coloured, sometimes slightly worn and tattered, females very close up, as they methodically drank the nectar from whatever was on offer. Later I had the pleasure of getting even closer to feeding Common Blues - so close that I was able to minutely compare the markings on their dotted lapidary underwings with the illustrations in my field guide. If only all blues were so obliging... On my way back to the station, I found a small meadow, or rather grassy patch, that was alive with blues and skippers and browns - and this year's speciality, the Painted Lady - just as I remember from similar sites in my boyhood, before the depredations of intensive agriculture had made their full impact. Auden, knowing nothing of either, imaged a faultless love and the life to come as a limestone landscape and the murmur of underground streams. For myself, I think of a sunny meadow alive with butterflies, and the murmur of pollinating bees.

1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, Nige. I think mine is an empty, driftwood-strewn beach at dusk and a slowly retreating tide.

    (A friend of mine once went into a long, somewhat inebriated ramble about his fantasy of burrowing himself a network of tunnels in a private wood. I wondered what he was on about at the time but it might have been along these lines.)