Saturday 10 October 2009

Looking Back...

The cover story of the Autumn issue of the indispensable Butterfly magazine is, of course, the Summer of the Painted Lady. The numbers are still being crunched, but it seems likely that around a billion Painted Ladies swept across the UK, at the western end of a front some 850 miles long. They flew with such vigour and carried on so far north that some reached St Kilda - the first butterflies of any kind seen there in two years - and others flew on all the way to Iceland. The article poses an intriguing question: What happens now? As the weather cools, the butterflies can't survive, and the obvious thing for them to do would be to turn round and migrate south for the winter, as Red Admirals do. But Painted Ladies have rarely been observed flying south in autumn. Are they flying at high altitude, making use of faster winds? No one knows...
Naturally, reading this got me thinking back over my own butterfly summer, from
the first Holly Blues and Speckled Woods to the profusion of Orange Tips,that memorable encounter with a Green Hairstreak and those beautiful Dark Green Fritillaries. There were happy times among the
Silver-Washed Fritillaries and White Admirals - and more Silver-Washed Fritillaries; an indoor Peacock; those uncommonly beautiful Common Blues that treated me to so many close-up inspections - and there was one great day on the downs, the high point of the season. I glimpsed my first Gatekeeper of the season from a train, and, much later, a Clouded Yellow from Bryan's car - then more Clouded Yellows in the October sun in France... And that was the end of summer. Still, the sky is blue today, the sun is warm. There will be a few stragglers still flying.


  1. When I was seventeen
    It was a very good year
    It was a very good year for Fritillaries
    And Cloudy Yellows
    (Elusive fellows)
    With a net on the green
    When I was seventeen

    When I was twenty-one
    It was a very good year
    It was a very good year for Speckled Woods
    And Green Hairstreaks
    I chased them for weeks
    With a sawn-off shotgun
    When I was twenty-one

    When I was thirty-five
    It was a very good year
    It was a very good year for Orange Tips
    And Holly Blues
    I’d cook them stews
    And boil them alive
    When I was thirty-five

    But now the days grow short
    I’m in the autumn of the year
    And now I think of my life as oddly spent
    From one point of view:
    Murdering the Common Blue.
    Was it such a great crime
    Or just a complete waste of time?

    It was a mess of good years.

  2. hardly saw any butterflies at all throughout the entire summer (apart from an over abundance of cabbage whites)

    and only a boring little brown moth here and there

    In fact, for me it was my worst lepidopteral summer ever

  3. All joking aside, Nige, this has to be one of the most beautiful posts I've seen from the blogosphere in some time, not counting Brit's gorgeous daughter.

    Is truth beauty? Obviously not, but why not?

  4. Big question Peter - my intuition is that it might be truer the other way round, but I'm no philosopher... And thanks for your kind words - it isn't me, it's the butteflies.