Out for the Big Butterfly Count

Recently I wrote that there had been few butterflies in the garden this summer. And I had seen no Peacock butterflies. Happily, some have now appeared, as you can see from the top picture (where it shares the buddleia flower with a Red Admiral.)

There aren’t as many butterflies as in last year’s really warm summer, but it’s great to see some. A little bit of sunshine and the scent of the buddleias has brought them into the garden to feast and sun themselves – conveniently for the ‘Big Butterfly Count’, which finishes this weekend.

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell

The appearance of this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was well-timed for my second go at the butterfly count. It’s the only one I’ve seen so far this year. In fact, I’ve only seen it a few times in the garden. I was delighted that I had my camera ready, and even happier that it didn’t fly away. (Most of the pictures here have been cropped from much bigger images because I couldn’t get close without disturbing the butterfly.)

Below is a butterfly that I’ve not noticed in the garden before. It’s a Gatekeeper and there were two of them, often in the same area. (The dark, band-like markings on the forewings of this one show that it’s a male.) These are common in hedgerows, grassland and around the edges of wooded areas, so they may have come from the woodlands across the road from us. There are plenty of trees and shrubs in the gardens around here and wilder areas with long grass too, so there could soon be more of them.

Gatekeeper butterfly
Male Gatekeeper butterfly

After I had photographed the Gatekeeper, I thought to myself that it would be good if I could find a Comma to photograph too. They are common butterflies and sure enough, a couple of them turned up. In fact the first one surprised me by landing on the grass at my feet and then deciding to perch on my leg for a while. So I got a rather dodgy photograph of that one and then managed to get a better photograph of the Comma below.

The butterfly that we see most often here is the Red Admiral. There’s usually several of these around on a sunny day and they’re pretty reliable when it comes to being around for the Big Butterfly Count. Afterwards they entertained me by chasing each other around the garden. It was amazing to see them spinning wildly through the air in the last of the evening sunshine.

Comma butterfly
Comma butterfly

While I was taking part in the butterfly count, I noticed that many of the butterflies came to feed on the buddleia plant that you see in the photographs here. This was good, because I hadn’t seen many on it before and I wondered if they preferred the paler purple varieties. This one is ‘Royal Red’. Here it looks more of a reddish purple but the colour changes a lot with the light and sometimes it’s a really lovely deep colour with more red in it. I’m glad to see that it does attract butterflies. I have several cuttings of it that are growing well, so I’ll plant them out in a sunny and sheltered area. Maybe they’ll bring in more butterflies for next year’s count.

There was a surprise while doing my first butterfly count for this year – a big hedgehog snoozing in the undergrowth! I haven’t seen one in this garden for a few years, so it’s good to know that they are around. It was worth having to restart that count just for the glimpse of him or her. (And don’t tell my cats, but I left out a bit of their food, which it ate pretty quickly.)

Red Admiral butterfly
Red Admiral on Buddleja davidii ‘Royal Red’

Hungry Critters 2: Butterflies

Recently I’ve been chasing around after butterflies to take part in the ‘Big Butterfly Count’. This is a UK survey where people from all over the country count the numbers of butterflies and some day-flying moths that they see in a 15-minute period.

(Actually counting the butterflies was quite tricky – some had to be ignored because they were too fast moving for me. A sudden flash of something brownish could be one of many butterflies. How frustrating!)

Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Small Tortoiseshell butterfly photographed in early summer.

Butterflies were being counted from the middle of July to the end of the first week in August. Anyone can take part in the butterfly count (the more the better) and from anywhere – gardens, parks, fields or forests.

The butterfly count was set up because butterflies are important as both pollinators and as part of the natural food chain, and because they react quickly to changes in their environment. A decline in butterfly numbers is a strong indication that other wildlife species are also struggling.

Comma butterfly
Comma butterfly on a blackberry

Unfortunately, because I was so busy with preparations for the fence being renewed, I only managed the one count right at the end of the survey. By then, there were only a few butterflies left in the garden – several Red Admirals, a couple of Commas and lots of Large Whites (which were probably taking advantage of the neighbours’ veggie patch).

Just a couple of weeks before I did my count, there had been around ten to a dozen Peacock butterflies sunning themselves on our brick path. I had hoped to be able to include them in my count but when the time came, they had all disappeared.

red admiral butterfly
A Red Admiral butterfly enjoying sedum flowers.

Nor were there any Painted Ladies or Essex Skippers, both of which I often see here. And I think that the Small Tortoiseshell that I photographed in May or June was part of an early brood. I haven’t seen any recently, so maybe there won’t be any from a later brood to overwinter here.

The variability of butterfly numbers here (and those that are scarce or just not seen in my garden) makes me feel that I need to do more to help. Like making sure I don’t weed out the food plants needed for caterpillars! (Nettles and other invasives may have to go in large tubs though.) And I need to do a bit of research to discover more plants that I can grow for butterflies. I hope that next year I’ll be able to count more butterflies in my garden.

Peacock butterfly
A Peacock butterfly suns itself on a brick path.