First Ground Frost of Autumn

We had our first ground frost of Autumn a couple of nights ago. Our two courgette plants were the first casualties: we found them collapsed in a heap of bent stalks and damp grey leaves. I managed to salvage a couple of the remaining courgettes that were not frost-damaged and they are now marinating in olive oil and lemon juice (with a little crushed garlic and chopped parsley), ready to be seared in the griddle pan for supper. A last taste of summer, or one of them: the tomato plants, closer to the shelter of the house, are still holding out.

We’ve had a few sunny days since the official start of Autumn on the 22nd, and there’ve been butterflies about – at least in the shelter of the valley here, not so much up on the plain. It’s been a mixture of freshly emerged hopefuls and others that are reaching the end of the road. They still have a kind of tattered beauty about them though.

Below, a tired-looking Speckled Wood, a Large White on an almost over Valerian flower, and what must be pretty close to the last of the Meadow Browns.

Below, some of the freshly emerged hopefuls included a Green Veined White on Viburnum, in pretty good condition

a Large White, head buried deep in late-flowering clover

And a speckled Wood, enjoying the Autumn Sun.

There have been plenty of Red Admirals and Commas about, and a few Small Coppers, though they’ve only ever landed when there’s been no camera to hand. But still quite a lot happening. Took a few shots of a Large White on the remaining daisies. Against the shadows of the long grass in the background they have an almost studio look to them.

Hummingbird Hawk-moths were visiting the garden up until about a week ago. Most of their favourite Valerian and  Buddleia are over, so they’re been having to make do with what they can find. The Lobelia proved popular. Didn’t get any pictures of them but here’s one I came across on Tilshead Down a couple of weeks ago, taking a rest on a bed of soft moss. The first I’d seen at rest.

And here’s another from a couple of years ago, sipping nectar from Campanula flowers at the front of the house. I see from the date the picture was taken that they were still around on October 7th in 2018.

The sun just came out, as I was sitting here at my desk, so I thought I’d wander off up the garden with my camera to see what was about. There were one or two whites and several fresh-looking Speckled Woods, one of which I took a picture of as it rested on an ivy leaf (below). Muted colours but a beautiful butterfly. It’s been a good year for Speckled Woods.

It’s been a good year for quite a few species. Not a great year for Common Blues though, or Painted Ladies. Despite having seen my first one arriving a week or so earlier than last year I haven’t seen another. Just goes to show: one Painted Lady does not a Painted Lady summer make.

Friends, Old and New

Our first Painted Lady arrived on June 14th, six days earlier than last year. No problems with travel restrictions when you’re a migrating butterfly – if the instinct for international travel grabs you, off you go.

Like last year, our early arrival was a little worn after its journey from Africa, and thirsty, and gorged itself on Valerian nectar for quite a while, proboscis probing one tiny flower after another. Which allowed me, like last year, to take too many pictures. 

Once they’re revitalised with all that sugary fuel, they don’t hang around in one spot for long and they become a lot less tolerant of human beings with cameras. The newly hatched second brood in August-September time will be more brightly coloured and in pristine condition, but it’s still great to see these early arrivals again.

I also managed, on the same day, to take a couple of pictures of a Ringlet. I’d seen one a couple of days previously, but had only managed a smudged shot as the butterfly took off just as I pressed the shutter.

It flew off and disappeared over the horizon. Which was frustrating as I hadn’t managed to get a single shot of one last year.

I fancied another try and thought I might as well go to the same spot I’d seen the one a couple of days before. So that was where the dogs were walked. There were a few false alarms on the way: I saw what turned out to be (through the lens) a few male Meadow Browns that were all over some highly scented wild privet. But in the mile or so to the site, I didn’t see any Ringlets. When we got there I wasn’t too optimistic either. The one from a couple of days before had flown so far away, and so quickly, that it seemed as if it was just passing through rather than in its own territory.

But then there it was. Only a few yards from the previous sighting.

Simple colouring and markings, but a beautiful butterfly none the less, and with a lovely velvet finish to its wings – which probably isn’t apparent in the picture above. 

As soon as I’d taken my shot, the butterfly was up and away again, and soon out of sight. And I didn’t see any others on the rest of the walk – as had happened previously.

On our way back though, I did manage a shot of a Dark Green Fritillary that had landed – and stayed landed for more than a few seconds – on some Knapweed which is now beginning to come out everywhere. 

Butterflies love it, as can be seen with these four Marlbled Whites who lined up very neatly for the camera.

Sometimes butterflies just realise there’s a photo opportunity and produce the goods.