A smiling Holly Blue

More of an impish grin really. Unless of course she’s popping out an egg or two and it’s a grimace.

Not sure.

Holly seems like a tough food plant for such a delicate creature, but apparently the caterpillars prefer the flowers to the leaves which, judging by the number of buds on the holly right now, they won’t be short of.

Unusually for butterflies, Holly Blues lay their eggs on a different food plant, in their case ivy, for the second brood in the autumn. Conveniently, ivy flowers at that time of year so the caterpillars can nibble away on flowers in the autumn as well.

This particular Holly Blue female was flitting around a tall Holly Bush at the end of the garden and being pretty indecisive about where or when to land. When she eventually did, she was good enough to find a sunny spot which illuminated her against the shadows. Here’s another shot, this time face on.

You can see from the size of those holly leaves just how tiny these butterflies are.

Perhaps it wasn’t a Wall after all.

I was walking the dogs along a sheltered track a couple of days ago – mostly in shade, with pools of sunlight here and there – when I came across a succession of Speckled Woods, darting about and chasing each other at the edges of their territories. I was struck by how orangey their colouring was and how crisp and clear the markings were generally – compared, that is, to the individuals I’d seen and photographed last September. And I hadn’t previously noticed the wavy white fringe to their wings which gives them a neater, more defined appearance.

Speckled Wood, mid April
Speckled Wood, early September

It made me wonder if the butterfly I’d glimpsed briefly when it came to rest in the garden about a week ago, and which I’d thought was a Wall Brown at the time (no camera to hand for a more definite ID) was actually an orangey and freshly emerged Speckled Wood. The timing suggests it probably was: Speckled Woods can appear as early as late March, whereas the Wall Brown doesn’t normally emerge before May.

Wall, Mid August

I’d thought it was a Speckled Wood initially, as it flew past, and it was only when it landed at the back of a flower bed and I caught a glimpse of how orange it was that I thought it was a Wall. Their marking are superficially similar, and the sunlight can of course make everything appear more orange at times. And freshly emerged butterflies are always more vivid. So I’m pretty convinced now it was a Speckled Wood.

I won’t be adding the Wall to my geek list of species we’ve seen in the garden just yet.

Hungry Orange Tip

Looks like the tubular base of the Lungwort flower is just too long for this male Orange Tip to access its nectar without jamming his head inside. I noticed, when looking again at the picture, that his antennae are bent right back behind his head. Looks a touch uncomfortable, but maybe there’s something especially delicious about the Lungwort’s nectar. I know our dogs love its leaves. They have to have their daily fix and stand in the flower beds solemnly munching away for a good five minutes every morning.

Quite a few Orange Tips around at the moment. Looks like a good year for them, as it already has been for Peacocks, Commas and Brimstones – in this garden anyway. Feel lucky to have one right now.

Here are another couple of shots of Orange Tips, this time on more conventional Aubretia flowers where the nectar is easier to get at with a straight forward uncoiled proboscis.

So that’s it, first post of 2020. What a strange year it’s turning out to be. Posts and pictures on this site will be confined to the garden for the foreseeable. Though I might sneak in one or two from dog walks if I get lucky.

Curious Late Flowering

I noticed at the weekend that there were some unexpected plants still flowering up on the plain: small splashes of colour in amongst the old seed heads and the general brown of autumn. The sun was out the day before yesterday – now and again – so I thought I’d take the camera with me when I walked the dogs, to see what I could find.

These are the flower species I came across on an approximately three mile dog walk. Pretty much in order of appearance:

Red Clover, about ten flowers seen during the length of the walk. Some yellow flowers that look a bit like a small Dandelion – Cat’s Ear or Hawkbit? – maybe twenty of these along the way and none of them fully open. A single Dandelion, scrunched up and hiding in the grass. One clump of ragwort. Ten or more small Umbellifers (this is the family that has white, clustered-together flowers in the shape of an umbrella, which includes parsley, carrots, Ground Elder, Watercress [as I’ve just learned], and more than 3,500 other species around the world including the one here which I failed to identify).

I saw five or six Knapweed flowers, one or two on exposed ground as well as a couple in a sheltered spot. What were any of them doing in flower in the second half of November? The last time I remember seeing them was in mid or maybe late summer and they were covered in butterflies.

Then there was one single yellow Vetch of some kind, two tiny Harebells and a single Buttercup. A Buttercup in November?

The Oxe Eye Daisy was another surprise – just one of them seen. And then another type of Umbellifer – Yarrow, I think – two or three of these in a sheltered lane. And a couple of Scabius flowers, in the same sheltered lane – another flower popular with butterflies and normally seen from June to September.

It was a surprising variety to find on November 19th, I thought.

Why would any of these species be flowering so late in the year? There are no bees or butterflies around to pollinate them. There was a fly on the Scabius flower (above right) but it didn’t look like it would be much use.

Perhaps the late flowering is a kind of natural selection insurance policy against the possibility of a changing climate, one of the natural variations that might prove successful as the environment changes. But for the seasons to change that much the planet would probably have to shift on its axis. Maybe they’re just mutations, genetic mistakes that are unlikely to reproduce. Perhaps a bit of both. Whatever, if the amount each species was in flower over the season was represented by a bell curve, these late flowering examples would be at the flat-lining stage at the end: they have to be the very last flowers of the year.

It’s intriguing to see the different species still in flower, but their presence in the landscape doesn’t really raise the spirits and their generally stunted appearance doesn’t dampen them either. The main feeling is of being a bit mystified as to why, at this time of year, they’re flowering at all.

Another entrant for Hairiest Back of the Year Award

Who knew a Red Admiral could be that hirsute.

The first frosts have happened, the leaves are off the trees, the days are getting damper and drearier and it looks like the pictures I took of a Comma and Red Admiral on a beautifully sunny day in late October will be the last butterfly pics of the year for me. 

With its jagged wings this Comma looks like some kind of sinister valkyrie. I like it.

The butterflies were enjoying the blossom on the same bush that attracted the Holly Blues all the way back in early April.

Here is my very last butterfly image of the year. For some reason I like the image blurry (it’s the first time this year I’ve felt that way, and there’ve been quite a few blurry ones). For a last image of the season, it just works for me: Red Admiral, flying off into the sunset.