Friday 3 June 2016

Another Day, Another Quest

Yet another cool, grey, cloudy day, with the wind still in the North and no prospect of sun. No chance of seeing any butterflies either, so I thought I'd make a reconnaissance expedition to a local nature reserve I had heard of, known for its population of rare Small Blues, just to establish where it is and take a first look. It's another unlikely out-of-the-way site - this one not in suburban Croydon but off a busy roundabout where Cheam merges wearily into Ewell.
 It took a while to get to - I'd forgotten how long those residential roads that spread south from Cheam are, though I had trudged them often enough in my youth, at a time when I mingled with the jeunesse dorée of the neighbourhood. Most of their fathers, as I recall it, were geezers made good, with brassy wives and flash houses to suit their status, and some of their sons were involved in criminality to a quite startling extent, the apple not having fallen far from the tree. There was also a breathtakingly beautiful girl on whom I had a big (unreciprocated) crush, but that's another story... Suffice to say, trudging those endless roads again brought back enough memories to keep me entertained.
 Eventually I reached the fabled roundabout and took the unmarked path that led swiftly away from it. Almost immediately it forked and, in the absence of signage, I took the more promising-looking path. I'm sure I need hardly tell you that this proved to be a bad decision, and soon I was walking field margin after field margin in scenes painfully reminiscent of my recent quest for the Glanville Fritillary. Once again I bashed through a spinny in hope of better things - only to find myself on a wholly unexpected golf course, from which I retreated at the first opportunity, finding my path again and retracing my steps all the way back to that fork in the path.
 As a last throw of the dice, I set out again along the less promising-seeming way. When this path delivered me to a cricket field, I decided to give up my futile quest there and then and write the day off - but, taking a last look around, I glimpsed a line of fencing and a notice. Could this be it, the elusive reserve? Reader, it was; I had found it. By now, after all those field margins and spinnies, I was quite footsore and, since there was no prospect of butterflies, I decided to memorise the location and return when the sun was out. I turned and headed back, crossing a patch of level waste ground that looked as if it might once have been concreted over. Nature was fast reclaiming it, and I was pleased to find some Spotted Orchids growing out of the thin grass...
 And then it happened. As I walked along, something flew up in front of me and settled on a Dogwood leaf - a day moth? No, it was a Small Blue, tiny, dark and beautiful, and all the more so for being entirely unexpected. Seconds later, there was another, and while I was gazing at that one - another male - I noticed two more basking close by. Basking in what I don't know - there was still no hint of sun or warmth - but there they were, wings spread, quite still, not going anywhere. And there were two or three more, just yards away, as I made my way back to the path, marvelling. This was truly one of the great butterfly surprises of my life - and I hadn't even set foot in the reserve. But at least I'd found it. In the end.

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