2 August 2020

The sound of thunder

A Butterfly Mind

I find it hard to believe that it is August already.  On July 31st it was still July.....

We went to Ivinghoe Beacon to walk.  It was a beautiful day - warm and sunny, and summery, and just like July ought to be, though I have no recollection of any other July 31sts - my mind is a wasteland when I search for details of how it might have been.

Anyway, it was a beautiful July day and I was happy to be wandering through woods, with the sun streaming through the grasses,

and backlighting the still fresh leaves,

I have recently discovered an interest in butterflies.  I suppose that I have always been interested in them - I remember occasionally collecting some when I was a kid, etherising them then sticking a pin through the thorax.  But was that interest?  Or was it vile vandalism?  I cannot be sure.  But I stopped doing that some sixty odd years ago, and have not noticed a change in the spelling of signs (pace Ray Bradbury).....


It's a summery thing.  Last year (though on August 18th, and certainly not on July 31st) my buddleia was suddenly attacked by a plague of Painted Ladies, swarming like locusts on the purple flowers.  It won't happen again though, I am relieved to say, as I punished the buddleia by replacing it with a rose.

By the way, in case you needed to know, Linnaeus - the Swedish botanist otherwise known as Carl von LinnĂ© - named the butterfly-attracting plant after the English botanist and rector Reverend Adam Buddle (who died in 1715 at the age of 53). 

Anyway, I noticed that these winged creatures seem to prefer sunshine and warmth, and who, with the exception of the rapidly declining polar bear, can disagree that these two words make life almost worth living?

So I have been trying to photograph these curious flying things, and learning their names. I have even taken up membership  of Butterfly Conservation (saving butterflies, moths and our environment)

July 31st must have been a good day for all, as I found several varieties on our walk, including what I think is a Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) - though it could be a Dark Green Fritillary (Speyeria aglaja).....

By the way, if any of my identifications are incorrect, please do contact me......

Silver-washed Fritillary (female?)

I don't know that I have seen one of these before, certainly not on July 31st, and I marvel at its details.  This one may be old in butterfly years as it seems to be a bit chipped at the extremities, but it is active and agile and is enjoying the juice of the bramble, so I lower my gun, and travel on.

Now here's a pretty Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) from the Brown family.  This one also likes brambles, and is unusual in that its numbers have increased significantly in recent years - probably due to global warming. It's a bit like a Ringlet, in that it can be seen on dull and cloudy days..... though this one likes sitting in sunny spots.  I have learned that most butterflies like warmth and sunshine, but I haven't yet worked out how they spend their time in bad weather.....  Do they just doze under a leaf somewhere?  They must get awful hungry!


Next I chance upon another bramble lover, one of the Whites. This, I think, is a Large (Pieris brassicae), the one I think we used to call a Cabbage White, whose greenish caterpillars could destroy our vegetable patch in a matter of seconds.  I load my blunderbuss and aim, but he's too quick for me and darts off to hide amongst the prickles.....

Large White

Very soon I spot another White, this time, I think, it may be a Green-veined one (Pieris napi).  I think I used to think of white butterflies as uninteresting, but now I know there are several different ones it becomes more fun, and anyway, if you look close their markings are often individual. I also love their furry shoulders, and their trembling antennae.  This one looks as though someone has taken a couple of bites out of the left wing - surely not a political move?

Green-veined White (female)

Trouble with the Whites is that they are pretty similar, especially if you don't see them together. Here's one that could be a Small (Pieris rapae) as he appears roughly the same size as the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) next to him (they both have a wingspan of about 48mm, whereas the Large White can get up to 70mm, or in excess of the size of a widescreen picture like Ben Hur - but I digress.... NB I thought Ben Hur was shot in Cinemascope, but a younger brother of mine corrected me as it was in fact shot in MGM 65 Camera.... The Robe was shot in Cinemascope, and The Fall of the Roman Empire was shot in Ultra Panavision 70. As I say, you learn something new every July 31st!)

On the other hand he could well be the same one I shot before, thinking he was a Large White.  I should really give up.....

But there is one White which is unmistakable, which is this one. The Marbled White (Melanargia galathea).  The trouble, however, is that this one doesn't belong to the Whites and Yellow family, but to the Browns!  

You learn something new every July 31st.....

Marbled White

And in the Brown family there is also this very brown chap, the Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus - another name to conjure with!)


You can see here how those circles on the wings work.  It could almost be a weasel staring at you, or a cat of some kind.

Then, passing through the gate my friend was keeping, we emerge onto the chalk grasslands leading up to the Beacon, and here the flowers shimmer in the breeze and thistle down drifts across the airs. Little blue butterflies chase away from me, busily avoiding my shots, until I catch this one sucking hard at some Knapweed. I think he is a Chalk Hill Blue (Polyommatus coridon) but there is a possibility he is a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus - I love that hint of bravura in the name).  Look at his glorious fur!

Chalk Hill Blue?

As far as I can tell these two engaged in a bit of social proximation are Common Blues, but as a beginner my identification skills have yet to be honed.....

Common Blues

My last sighting before returning home is this wonderful Brimstone, whose scientific name (Gonepteryx rhamni) is not only a mouthful but also somehow reminds me of dinosaurs.  Here he delicately tips the floret towards him as if it is a flute of champagne.  

It is appropriate that I finish here, as the Brimstone may have given us the name Butterfly, as the buttery colour of the male's wings is said to have inspired someone to call it thus.  

And with that thought I gaze into the distance of the Vale of Aylesbury, stealing the thoughts  of the couple before me, thoughts that perhaps should have stayed in July, wondering where the sound of thunder is, and whether the clapping of a butterfly's wings really could have caused the chaos that flaps around us now.....

And now.....  

It is August!  

The Harvest's in and the summer is soon to be over.....

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