Four butterfly moments

Number 1: I spent five minutes in the garden, looking at my ‘meadow’ and ended up looking at a Meadow Brown (so it must be a meadow, mustn’t it?). Aren’t butterflies lovely? But wouldn’t they look quite ugly if they didn’t have such amazing wings? Have you ever looked at a butterfly’s face and body?  Yuk!  Not the greatest beauties in the world, really, are they? It’s amazing what some large colourful wings can do for your image. Maybe I should try some.

Number 2: yesterday, I drove past a house in a village nearby and just had to stop to look at the butterflies in the lavender border. They were bouncing around in the air and I stopped to watch them for about 10 minutes. There were some Meadow Browns and a single Large Skipper but also c30 Small Tortoiseshells too.  That number of Small Torts would have been commonplace only a decade ago but is now unusual enough for me to stop and enjoy it.

And how about this? I was so pleased to see the butterflies, I wrote a little note on the back of a business card and popped it through the letterbox of the house. Imagine my surprise when this morning I got an email from the householder saying that she was pleased that I’d enjoyed the butterflies and saying that she knew who I was as her daughter had also once worked for the RSPB. What are the chances  of that, do you think? (my guess would be  it’s a 1 in 30,000 chance – rationale at end of this post, below the photograph).

Number 3: on the former airfield, where I look for migrant Wheatears in spring, there is a lot of grassland and I’ve been meaning to see whether there are any grassland butterflies there.  After my instant success described in the next ‘butterfly moment’ I felt I had the time, so I went for a stroll and saw several Marbled Whites and a Small Heath.  Marbled Whites about 2 miles from my house and I’d never realised. What else is there so close and as yet undiscovered? And what is on your doorstep which you might find if you go out and look?

Number 4: early July is Purple Emperor time in nearby Fermyn Woods. I almost always make it there at this time and I almost always see this most spectacular butterfly. It’s a local treat – and I deserve it!  Here’s an account from three years ago.

When I arrived (and I was only able to do so as a workman had let me down for the second week running in turning up) there were 21 cars parked at the entrance to the wood and as I walked down the ride between tall trees i could see four blokes with cameras lying on the track and all looking at the same spot.  This was very promising – but it might be a White Admiral rather than a Purple Emperor.

It was a Purple Emperor and I can prove it because it’s in the photo below – although so is a large amount of a Welshman too.


And that probability? There are about 60million people in the country.  Let’s guess they live in c30million households (actually, I checked – I was pretty close). While I worked at the RSPB, for 25 years, there must have been c6000 different employees? Maybe more? Let’s say 10,000.  Does that mean that if I had put my business card through a random letterbox that there would be around a 1 in 3000 chance that someone there had a reasonably close relative who worked for the RSPB? Roughly?  But what are the chances they would know who I was, and also bother to reply? One in 10, perhaps? So does that make it, very roughly, a one in 30,000 chance? That’s higher than I would have guessed but I may have ‘guestimated’ it wrongly. Still – it passed a couple of minutes and got my brain working. What do you think?


11 Replies to “Four butterfly moments”

  1. I’ve been lucky enough to see purple emperor, white admiral AND loads of silver washed fritillaries this year already.
    Right outside my current place of work… in the woods…

  2. Mark
    Was it deliberate or are you losing some sharpness of mind? It clearly was not a “random letterbox”. The owner was interested in wildlife gardening and lived in a part of the country that will have a disproportionately high percentage of RSPB members. Accordingly the probability of putting your card through the letter box of an RSPB household will be higher than the figure that you have estimated. Quite how much higher I don’t know and I am not sure the population of truly randomly selected households will want their doorsteps littered with your business card even if it is in the cause of science.
    Roger Buisson

    1. Roger – I may well be losing my mind but not in that way. I fully realise it wasn’t a random letterbox for the reasons you suggest, which is why I said ‘if’. But I thought that if I went into all of that, then the footnote would be considerably longer than the blog – which was about butterflies. I’m not sure I had the evidence that the owner was interested in wildlife gardening when I did put something through the letterbox but I do now. The point about it being in a part of the country (and to be fair, size of house) would make it a bit more likely than average to be a house under RSPB-friendly occupation I guess. How big an impact that would be, I’m not sure.

  3. Very slow ‘up the hill’ but buddleia out in Carlisle. My next plant will be inula both large [6ft] and small [2ft 6′] which is loved by all butterflies especially Comma which is a recent colonist up here. Still waiting for Speckled Wood which now breeds on the River Eden and no torts or Peacocks out yet. Looks like the rain is finally here so not sure how this back end will be for the rest of these beautiful things. All I know is the female Great Tit is sitting and waiting for a feast. One year it took over 100 Peacocks, torts Painted lady and Red Admiral so a buddleia is also a bird table!!

  4. I’ve been cycling to work this week and struggling to avoid running over Small Tortoiseshells basking in the sun on the path in front of me, they seem to be having a good year and to my shifting baselines warped mind they seem to be everywhere in profusion.

    Last summer I got in the car on a hot day outside my house, opened both windows, and a marbled white flew into the car, landed on my knee and then flew out again. Amazing!

  5. Forgot to add, buddleias doing well, first flowers out. Species list for the garden now up to three – collared dove, pied wagtail and house sparrow (yes!). Neighbours take some of the credit for the latter as their trailing clematis has spread over the fence. Nothing to match Mark’s meadow though.

  6. I am a bit late reading this post but I have to take issue with your suggestion that, sans ailes, butterflies are ugly! Could this be your most controversial post ever?! Take a look for example at the face of a Green Hairstreak – it’s wonderful! It is not for nothing it is called Callophrys (‘beautiful eyebrows’).
    Yuk? I nearly cancelled my subscription!

  7. John, did you know you can ruthlessly cut Buddleia in March April or even May to provide a succession of flowers from Summer into Autumn? If you have more than one . . .

  8. Mark – you aren’t seriously suggesting the face below (large white) is ugly are you?
    I’ve often thought humans are the ugliest creatures on the planet. (Apart from naked mole rats… obviously! )
    Naked, fleshy things. Often obscenely overweight and sluggish. With tufts of smelly hair sprouting from a few spots on their wrinkled bare bodies.
    I (of course) would make an exception in the case of moy woyf….

  9. What would you regard to be the ugliest animal (specifically)?
    And what about the best-looking?

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