Thursday 25th April 2013

First butterflies that do not hibernate as adults

Yesterday I saw the first butterfly of the year that does not pass the winter as an adult: Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus. Following the long cold spell we have been enduring throughout the month of March and the first half of April, the temperature has suddenly risen dramatically, and butterflies are making up for lost time. The Holly Blue of yesterday was rapidly followed by another today, fluttering around and settling photogenically with its wings open. I tried to photograph it using my mobile phone, but whenever it perched, a pedestrian, a cyclist or a dog-walker would come along and disturb it.

Later I also observed a Small White, Pieris rapae, flying around and settling in a front garden close to the university in Nijmegen. It is unusual to see Small White before Green-veined White, but this individual left me in no doubt as to its identity.

Butterfly list as of 25th April: 6 species

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Monday 15th April 2013

The Spring has sprung – finally

Osnabrück, N Germany

After many weeks of exceptionally cold weather, yesterday the temperature finally climbed above 15 degrees Centigrade, and immediately, almost as if they could wait no longer, butterflies began to appear. The first was a male Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, which flew through the garden even before the sun had properly come out. I went to see at least five Brimstones, both in Osnabrück and at the Dümmersee, a reed-fringed lake to the North-east of the city. Several Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae, were also enjoying the late afternoon sunshine here.

Having returned to the Netherlands late yesterday evening, today I did my usual round through the polders of Flevoland, enjoying the arrival of many summer birds, and was able to observe around five Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae, and one Peacock, Inachis io.

Butterfly list as of 15th April: 4 species

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Monday 11th March 2013

Butterfly list soars to 3 species!

Despite the howling wind and snow outside, my 2013 butterfly list increased over this weekend to three species. The two additions were Peacock, Inachis io, and Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae. Both of these had been hibernating indoors and the mild temperatures and outside woke them from their winter slumber, and they rather sleepily flapped around the garden before disappearing in the afternoon sunshine.

I can only hope that they will have found a sheltered spot to spend that night, as we are now back in what feels like deep mid-winter, with temperatures well below zero, snow and a biting wind.

In addition to these two live butterflies, there were several dead Small Tortoiseshells on the windowsills in the house. They had obviously tried to escape when the weather was really mild last week, but as nobody was at home to open the windows, they battered themselves to death. I always find this a sad beginning to the butterfly calendar, seeing all these desiccated butterflies that make it all the way through the winter, only to succumb against the glass, unable to get out.

Observing these Vanessid butterflies, all of which hibernate as adults, reminds me of an incident that has rankled with me since around 1975, when I was a rather shy twelve-year-old. It occurred in a Biology class at Hazelwood School, Limpsfield, Surrey. We were studying the life-cycle of the butterfly, a subject about which I knew more than any other boys in the class, being a keen rearer of caterpillars, and coming from a highly entomological family! The teacher asked if anyone knew what stage butterflies passed the winter as, egg, caterpillar, chrysalis or adult. I immediately stuck up my hand, and answered (correctly) that it depended on the species, some passing the winter as eggs, some as caterpillars, others as chrysalises and even some as adults. “Wrong”, said the Biology teacher, whose name was Mr Ian Wren, so one might have expected him to know a little about wildlife than he did, “They all pass the winter as eggs.”

To my regret ever since, I did not protest and correct him. How I wish I had!

A Peacock butterfly hibernating near the boiler – a comfortable place to spend the winter

Butterfly list as of 11th March: 3 species