It seems that the butterflies have all decided to give up hope of any welcoming, warm weather and are coming out to feed regardless. I was beginning to think they just weren’t around this year (other than the staple handful of speckled woods and orange tips) until this morning, under a brief spell of sun. Today I’ve counted numerous small skippers, red admirals, cabbage whites and this temporarily greenhouse-confined meadow brown.
2012 is undoubtedly going to be a bit of a disastrous year for British butterflies. But this does go hand in hand with an overly wet Spring and Summer, which in turn has had positive consequences for other ecological chains. The meadows, for example, have lasted much longer this year, enabling later wildflower species to develop and spread such as the knapweeds and wild carrots. In drier years these are usually only just getting going by the time it comes round to cutting, and subsequently have less of a chance to flower prolifically. Common knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa, is a huge favourite of bumble bees in the mid Summer, and is therefore an important plant to have flowering.
Actually getting round to cutting the meadows this year is another story. It’s a mammoth job and does rely on a decent stretch of dry weather, so I’m putting it on hold for a while..
As I walked past the house yesterday, through the alley between the logstore and the kitchen windows, a dark winged creature flew up haphazardly into the air and dropped over the fence and into the bottom meadow. Eager to identify it, and driven by a desire reawakened after months of restriction, I caught up with the insect and found to my surprise that it was a red admiral butterfly.
Although red admirals have a long adult stage in the life cycle, and can be seen through most of the summer months from around late June, a spotting in late February is a rare thing, certainly over the last few decades. June/July sightings are most commonly migrants, flying in for the summer. My admiral, therefore, must have successfully overwintered in the garden somewhere. It must have awoken in this mild late winter in the hope and haze of a Spring.
I hope it survived the night!