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.

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.