Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Butterfly Bank: third visit


It's almost three weeks since we last visited the sunny magnesian limestone railway embankment on the disused railway line between Garmondsway and Trimdon, and during that time the withering heatwave has had a major impact on the flora. Most of the species that were in their prime then are coming to the end of flowering and are run to seed, but new flowers have appeared in their place.



































The most notable newcomers are fragrant orchids, which are now present in large numbers. Fragrance is rare in orchids - they tend to rely on elaborate floral architecture and colour to attract pollinators - but this species has a powerful, sweet scent. It's individual flowers have a long spur filled with nectar that's only easily accessible to the long tongues of moths and butterflies - and on this visit there were plenty of butterflies along the bank, including .....


..... common blues ....




























...... meadow browns, in very large numbers in glades along wooded parts of the old railway line






































...... ringlets .....



































...... small heaths.....
























..... large skippers ....























... and a very fresh-looking small tortoiseshell that must have emerged recently, sunbathing on a limestone ledge, and .........



















.......... in glades along the wooded parts of the old railway line, speckled woods. These two are courting - notice how the male is touching the underside of the female's wings with his antenna, perhaps detecting scent scales there (?). The courtship didn't last long because another male arrived and .........



































....... a furious butterfly dogfight ensued, during which the female lost interest and flew away.

The newspapers and conservation organisations are quite rightly hailing this as a wonderful year for butterflies, during which their numbers have rebounded, but this seems to overlook the fact that most of those that are on the wing in early summer have actually hatched from eggs that were laid during last year's disastrous summer and have survived the longest, coldest winter in living memory as hibernating caterpillars, pupae or, in some cases adults. That surely says something about the resilience of butterflies to the annual vagaries of our weather and suggests that we need to be far more concerned about protecting habitats, like this wonderful butterfly bank, than the effects of annual weather extremes (not to be confused with long-term climate change, though) 





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