This is a great time of year for the butterfly enthusiast. The weather has been kind, with two sunny Bank Holidays in a row (has that ever happened before?), the hedgerows are resplendent with campions and cow parsley and butterflies are on the move.
Each day seems to bring news of another butterfly species that has been sighted ‘on the wing’ for the first time in 2014. May has already yielded the first Adonis Blues and Marsh Fritillaries of the year, two stunning species to add to the 26 previously reported since the beginning of January. It’s all very exciting.
My own tally for the year so far is an unremarkable 10 butterfly species. I’m yet to see a Grizzled Skipper, marvel in the beauty of a Pearl-bordered Fritillary or be harassed by a Duke of Burgundy! But it is too early in ‘season’ to be despondent or to rue missed opportunities to see butterflies that won’t be around again until 2015. Instead this is the time of potential and possibility.
Simply knowing that all those butterflies are out there provides the feeling of anticipation and expectation that I always feel when spring starts to give way to summer. I start to wonder whether I can spare the time in the next few weeks to visit Wood Whites and where my first Green Hairstreak sighting will be this year; they always seem to pop up unexpectedly somewhere. But I’m also thinking ahead to the butterfly glory days of June, of High Brown Fritillaries, Swallowtails and Silver-studded Blues and, perhaps, a mass immigration of Painted Ladies.
My optimistic mood no doubt has its roots in the excellent post-hibernation numbers of Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone and Peacock that I, and other butterfly watchers, have seen this spring. All of these species had a very successful 2013, which coupled with the warm weather (the last five months all had average temperatures above the long-term mean) has led to impressive numbers earlier this year. These species are fading away now, but they’ll be back. Or at least their offspring will. I found two family groups of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars in a large nettle bed yesterday, which bodes well for an early and sizeable emergence of the new brood in early summer.
As the hibernators come to the end of their lives, their places are taken by the emergence of species that have spent the winter as pupae or caterpillars. A month or two ago, a country walk would have been dominated by Peacocks or Small Tortoiseshells, but now it is the sight of spiralling Speckled Woods, fighting over a sunny perch, of vigilantly patrolling Orange-tips and Holly Blues darting in the hedge tops. The latter two species struggled last year, as did the Small Copper, which is also flying now, so the fine weather this spring may help them to regain some ground.
Each passing day at this time of year feels like part of a countdown towards the moment when we encounter our favourite butterfly, whether common species or prized rarity, in the field once again. And inevitably, a warm, sunny spring raises all our hopes of a bumper butterfly year to come. Dare we dream of another summer heatwave?
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