GOB 108 Butterflies Flutter By
This article first appeared in Birdwatching Magazine Autumn 2018
As I write this it is high summer and the birds are getting harder to find and all the fledglings defy my jizz radar. In a few weeks the non-breeding waders will be working their way south and we can look forward to the longer staying rarities of autumn, but here and now my country sojourns concentrate on the joy of being in nature with my focus on the non-avian.
Well, focus may be an inappropriate term as I struggle to find any co-operative insects to satisfied my inner lister.
Today’s ‘rollator* assisted’ walk in the woods was more frustrating than waiting for a warbler to show itself in a fog-bedecked bush, or for the skuas to dance closer to a wind-swept winter headland. I found it totally impossible to find a butterfly that didn’t just flutter by but would actually settle somewhere in full sight.
That probably wouldn’t phase any lepidopterist worth his salt or even the generic entomologist but short of buying a net to catch them I’ve no chance of solidly identifying them unless they settle on a leaf and spread their wings wide. Of course, I wouldn’t use a net as we cannot afford to damage our bereft breeding butterflies as there are fewer breeding colonies of many species than even the rarest of our birds. Experts can probably catch and release with alacrity doing no harm but I fear I’d shed too much wing-dust or otherwise harm those flying gems.
The irony of my butterfly quest was that the only ones I was certain I’d seen were the species that flit through my urban garden; Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns, Small Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals, Holly Blues and Large Whites. The one exception was in the vast majority of those that were about today… Ringlets. At least I think they were that species… despite having several fly within an inch or two of my eyeballs I really cannot be sure.
The Odonata were as annoying. I’ve seen some terrific macro photos of dragonflies at rest but I fail to get within binocular viewing distance of any that are stationary and just get buzzed by these animal fighter planes. The variations of colour and markings across just one dragonfly species makes identifying distant autumn waders seem like a doddle.
Throughout my walk we were accompanied by be-jewelled insects that hung motionless in the air but segued with extreme rapidity each time I lifted optics to eyeballs. I now believe in teleportation as it seems impossible for their translocation to have been anything other than instant. This too was immensely frustrating as I’ve been clocking up garden hoverflies as they wake up and smell my flowerpots. My garden list is in the high twenties and my life list is exactly the same number as outside of my tiny fenced domain none stand still sufficiently for me to take a photo, let alone whip out my fieldguide. Today’s little flying opals were the biggest species I’ve seen making the lack of ID all the more galling.
Many years ago, when twitching Scottish specialties, Hawkeye and I were at breakfast in the B&B and there were, at the next table a group of lads in dull-coloured clothing who were sporting binoculars. Leaning across I asked if they were fellow birders. “No” one replied “We’re buggers.” I thought, at the time, that this was a singularly appropriate term, but recent experience has led me into a deeper appreciation of how much harder bugging is than birding.
*A rollator is a sort of cross between a wheelchair and a Zimmer-frame… a wheeled device one pushes for stability with a seat to rest upon.