Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A Week's Butterflies

Simon Barnes, writing his column Into the Wild in The Times of 27th July, started with the words, "Butterflies frighten the hell out of me."  His fear wasn't, of course, the sort he would have felt in bumping into a tiger, but because, "British butterflies are in a state of catastrophic decline.  And that means that the British countryside is, ditto." Butterflies, we are told, are the victims of human progress, of pesticides, agricultural change, and global warming.  Mr Barnes quoted Sir David Attenborough as saying, "Future generations may not be lucky enough to see butterflies in the same numbers we will experience this summer."

The catastrophe that's going on was brought sharply into focus when we took a two-hour walk across some quite beautiful Suffolk countryside earlier this year, which included watermeadows which were an RSPB reserves - and saw only three 'cabbage whites'.  Mr Attenborough may be wrong - the decline in some places is so advanced that our grandchildren, walking with us, are already deprived.

This brought the Ardnamurchan butterfly population into sharp focus, particularly as this is the height of the butterfly season here.  While there still seems to be a good variety of species, their numbers seem to be down, even though the weather recently has been good.  The seven butterflies shown in this post, all pictured in the last seven days, don't include the whites that are around in good numbers, particularly on our cabbages, nor any of the smaller species such as the blues.

The first three were all seen in one of the Ormsaigbeg croft meadows just inside the common grazings fence.  The top one is a scotch argus, the second a meadow brown, and this one.... well, we think he's a wall and, if he is, it's the first time we've identified this species on Ardnamurchan.  Whoever he is, he was great fun, as he was obviously defending a metre-square slab of very ordinary, lichen-encrusted but sunny rock against a competitor - who had lots of other bits of rock to choose from but wanted this one.

One reason why there are so many butterflies at present is that the buddleia is in flower.  It attracts the bees, wasps and hover flies, but also the tortoiseshell butterflies and...

....the red admirals.  Both the butterflies shown here were feeding on a big buddleia we have beside our house - but they were the only two butterflies on it, where one would have expected ten or twenty, and there was no sign of the peacocks who love buddleia.

Walking down our narrow lane to the shop is another way of seeing butterflies as they cross the road.  This beauty is a speckled wood, and this....

.... is a grayling, another butterfly we've seen for the first time here, but progress of another sort had caught up with him - he was dead, lying on the tarmac, the victim of a passing car, so we arranged him on a patch of moss for his final photograph.


  1. Hello Jon,
    Enjoyed your butterfly photos. The top one is also a Grayling- the Wall has a series of concentric spots on the underwing. Grayling almost never show their upperwings, unless dead as in the one you found-they stay camouflaged against rocks or lichen most of the time. Grayling is not a common butterfly (neither is Wall) but does seem to favour coastal areas.
    Thanks for your nice blog- it often brings back good memories of holidays in Kilchoan.
    Michael. (North Norfolk).

  2. Hi Michael - Many thanks for sorting out the species for me, and for your kind words about the blog. I thought it was a bit too much to hope for, seeing two new species within a week. I need now to keep my eye open for more graylings. Jon

  3. Hello, I also came to say that the third photo down is a Grayling :) Lovely blog, I've been reading since our holiday in Kilchoan last month. Another butterfly we saw locally was Dark Green Fritillary (I've posted a photo here, along with pics of various other Ardnamurchan wildlife: http://mazzaswildside.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/ardnamurchan.html).