Monday 17 August 2009

A Day Well Spent

There's not a breath of autumn in the air yet, but it's the time of year when the days of high summer already seem numbered. As a result, I have the walking mania - accompanied, when the capricious sun deigns to shine, with the butterfly mania. This morning's sunshine sent me out on another walk on the Surrey hills, climbing up from Gomshall to join the North Down Ways, which I more or less followed as it winds eastward to Westhumble. The sun proved inconstant, but happily it came out at the right moments, notably when I emerged from the steep woods onto well-flowered downland (wild marjoram more than anything, with scabious, bellflowers, knapweed and thistles, St John's wort, hawkweed, viper's bugloss, selfheal, rockrose, birdsfoot trefoil, scarlet pimpernel, etc, etc). On one stretch of down, with wide views over the valley to the wooded hills beyond, there were stocky black-and-white saddleback cattle grazing (not something you often see), as well as rabbits keeping the paths close-cropped. In this classic downland, with the sun out, I was, of course, in butterfly heaven, my face no doubt wreathed in daft smiles as I wandered along - here were beautiful common blues galore, and silvery pale chalkhill blues, also the odd Adonis blue, the most intensely coloured and jewel-like of them all, as well as gatekeepers and meadow browns, a few small heaths and the lovely little brown argus, with delicate orange eyes bordering its chocolate brown wings. Disappointingly, I didn't spot any marbled whites (and, oddly, not a comma all day) - but there was compensation. As I was following the path along the edge of beechwoods (with, every now and then, abandoned brick wartime pillboxes), I took a detour down onto a grassy bank, fringed with woodland and carpeted with flowers - and there, darting about close to the ground, but pausing obligingly to enable a definite identification, were silver-spotted skippers. Nationally this is a rare butterfly, but the Surrey hills are one of the areas where it hangs on, even thrives - and it is a little beauty, as can be seen from the picture above. Then, as I was admiring the skippers, out from the edge of the woods flew a showy male silver-washed fritillary... But we've had enough of those for one summer's blogging.
I also saw a couple of late-flyling ringlets.
'Black Erebia butterflies ('Ringlets' as the old English aurelians used to call them), with a special gentle awkwardness peculiar to their kind, danced among the firs.' That's Nabokov in Speak Memory, quoted as an epigraph to The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and Their Collectors, a handsome book published by the University of California Press (and much remaindered, so available at an amazingly low price). It's in the pile by my bedside, and I'm sure it will do much to help me through the coming months of no butterflies.


  1. It already feels like autumn here but thank you. You are a constant source of goodness in a generally unpleasant world. There are not enough butterflies in my life.

  2. thank you nige, that was a wonderful read. I too have always liked Skippers - compared to the glacial beauty of some of the larger and more fragile butterflies, their stocky bodies and warm fuzzy appearance seems very amiable