Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Jekyll and Hyde

Flying under a cobalt blue roof, a single female Peacock describes an arc before delicately dropping onto the custard coloured petals of a buttercup, wings tightly shut so as not to allow the colours to run. The Peacock's dark underside acting as Hyde to the lighter fancy of the Jekyllian upperside.

How she satisfies her senses as she sits; assimilating the nearby sands, the metre high glaucous grasses swaying to the beat of gently lapping waves, the rolling dunes with surface grains aquiver, serenely inching away from the shore like syrup over sponge.

How she notices the impressively straight, human-carved paths that bisect the natural curves of the dune system, paths she uses reguarly as a compass to locate nectar sources.

And how she notices her own facade, electric blue tears slipping gleefully from enourmous, ebullient eyes on an overpainted face with whispers of a resemblance to Matisse's Asia if an eye is stretched.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Hummingbirds and Bees

In order to appear less myopic, this blog entry includes three photos that are ostensibly unrelated to butterflies, although an admission must be made that they were captured during field trips whose primary motive was to seduce and snap members of the Lepidotera family, the last example being a bitterly unsuccessful attempt to catalogue the rare High Brown Fritillary.

One of the peculiarities of nature is that it often unearths devious shortcuts to the orginal blueprints of evolution. The bumblebee pictured has a short tongue poorly evolved for the fruits of this labiate. The trick lies in lateral thinking and this individual has chosen to skip the lure of a pretty purple petal and take nectar from the side door. Cunning!

With an unquenchable haste the Hummingbird Hawk Moth (pictured left) jets feverishly from flower to flower like the White Rabbit, flashing its bumblebee sized blood red body and wings of glass to a horticulturally inclined and, disappointingly, largely apathetic audience.

This weekend, the orbits of family, good food and laughter all drew perfect alignment and an air of inevitability rose to the surface when the slopes of Brampton Bryan Park were climbed in pursuit of one of Britain's rarest butterfly species, the aforementioned High Brown Fritillary. A short lived affair this air of inevitability as temperatures struggled to shake off their teenage figures and hopes were finally dashed when the habitat required for this species failed to enter the foreground. The high brown needs a combination of violets, coppicing, bracken and grassland in order to survive and today we seemed to be missing the coppiced trees!

The common lizard pictured involuntarily re-aligned the orbit to round off a wonderful weekend.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Clouded Yellow and Marbled White

The last butterfly survey of the holiday was completed under formidable heat and for three consecutive days I had seen Clouded Yellows but never managed to photograph one; so vexing their behaviour of whistling passed the spectator at speed, as Whites are apt to do, in lines at head height before turning back on themselves and repeating the exercise in the other direction. This can continue for minutes before one eventually takes the decision to refuel on a nearby flower; the pitstop quicker than anything seen in Formula 1 and lasting no more than a few seconds whereupon it then powerfully addresses the heavens and takes to the wing with majesterial grace. This behaviour, and another of never opening its wings during feeding, can prove rather irksome to the voyeur, balanced only by the eye's greedy absorbtion of every breathtaking bright tangerine wing beat against a powder blue sky. An Entomologist's delirium.

Two hours had been lost in the pursuit of the perfect photo and the raison d'etre was updated, or downgraded to achieve simply one clear photo of the Clouded Yellow. Perspiration wound its way towards sharp angles, nose tips, elbows and aching knees. Reflective thoughts turned back to a supine, sunbathing wife, who read under a playful sun. A Marbled White joined in (Photo above). She wore an apple bright skirt complimenting a bright white vest, glasses assumed and sandals proudly deposited by the waist. The back of one hand wistfully pressed against her forehead with the other holding up a book on modern feminist theory. How patiently she lay, how patient she was of my butterfly obsession and here I stood. The helpless Naturalist with as many blurred images as she had pages.

And then Nature flicked her switch and I came out of a rose-tinted reverie. A refuelling Clouded Yellow reduced its speed and alighted briefly on red clover, subsequently followed by an olympic dive to the ground, adjusting of a lense, intake and suspension of breath and finally a deluge of shutter clicks. Success.

Monday, 18 July 2011

True Blue

Adonis Blue
All began with ardour and merriment under azure rods from a handsome sun. Light paved the way up precipitous limestone grassland, where knee met chin and every step was to the key of a crunch, as wild thyme, profuse on the slopes, released the only scent of home on difficult foreign terrain that promised sightings of the Large Blue, which feed exclusively on the herb.

Large Blue on Thyme

Large Blue underwing
An Adonis Blue drew the eye from the offing, careering acrobatically over angelic alpines before landing on a nearby trefoil where subtle shades of sensational pastel blue evidenced themselves much to the delight of the dear heart, which missed five beats and sank, with teenage lust to the bottom of a breakfast-laden stomach, returning only after a portfolio of thankful snaps from every angle known to Pythagoras.

Blue after blue was scrutinised for over ninety minutes, without success, before a flash of black on dark blue came bobbing over. The species is rare in the U.K., with locations of populations protected, so a glimpse and some welcome 'field time' with this highly sought after blue created delirium on a, suddenly bearable, Pyrennean slope.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Southern, White and Admirable

Two pronged pine needles wistfully spiralled groundward from a sparse canopy and fell with damp clicks onto the ground besides a dozen or so tables at a cafe; the smell of french-blended coffee twinned with distant irises gently flushed the noses of the caffeine-bound.

Following the eye, from the level of the consumer, one sequentially ingests a broken landscape, compartmentalised by order of natural merit. In the man-made foreground a carpet of dimpled asphalt embraces the generosity of the midday sun whilst a lateral belt of cross-hatched fencing, punctuated with overhanging trays of multi-coloured perennials and shrubs accepts the mid-ground; the flowers were a trade boosting idea conjured up by the cafe owner one evening when business was oppressively slow. Sharp, angular elbows sank onto the bar, palm bases propped up cheek bones and frowning occurred over the sadness of a half eaten meal. An artistic attempt created by the owner when forlorn lettuce leaves were raised to met the lines posed by the fence.

As the eye constructs the backdrop out of columns of tightly packed, olivaceous pines and a swimming pool sky (high up on the order of natural merit), a lone butterfly of the Nymphalidae family may noiselessly interrupt the gaze, flickering in front of the sky, then bobbing down to pine level, fence and then asphalt before alighting her blueberry and cream sprinkled wings on an unknown fleshy shrub, planted with passion last year, much to the revived glee of the onlooking cafe owner.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Where's Wally?

Rain heralded its presence in the distance, whilst a luminous patchwork of willow-patterned sky patiently hung around above to enjoy a spot of  butterfly catching at Arnside. Without even a bead of persp. I had Graylings busying themselves in front of me; circling around like an ill-timed hula hoop and then flopping to the ground to be lost against the perfectly synchronised stone backdrop.

Photo 1 shows the Grayling in the same spot as Photo 2. Sensational camouflage! Depending on the angle of light and position of the observer, a none-too-funny version of Where's Wally can ensue for the pursuer as the stoney landscape is scanned for a glimmer of a clue or a shimmer of dew on an otherwise mottled underwing. Best just to stomp forth and force an invertebrate uprising of Wally.

The second recorded species of the day was the Dark Green Fritillary. A classroom of males zig-zagged like X-wings in a canyon, inches from the ground in pursuit of a ground bound female, locating her by scent and regularly pausing for bramble juice and a breath catch. The photo shown is of a male (top), preparing to enchant the female with his stunningly patterned fiery fleece. This semblance of visual perfection was roused to submission when the female failed to stoop to the exchange, and took her noticably clipped wings to pastures pleasant in hope of a better suitor.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Mona Lisa

There remains a duality of feeling towards the Ringlet. Its interminable reluctance to open a wing on alighting is simply bothersome to the voyeur; permanently clothed and obstinate in undress (who wants to see half a Mona Lisa?) Then there is the unspeakable lack of colour which sighs towards the eye with apparent regret (summer does not do mocha). And the flight! Complicated and tiresome, peripatetic and distastefully territorial.

Oh, but a most delectable contrast is offered to those who care to look, for the Ringlet is a species of subtle sublimity.

A flash of lucidity that halos bring
when on the wing.
A pattern that nature implies
an enemies eye, or several. So beware!
Taking breath, where breath has been.
Golden arcs, momentarily seen.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Owls and Butterflies

The slopes of the dunes were unbearable, especially on an empty stomach; and what ought have been a floral survey quickly turned into a litany of life at eye level, excluding anything that failed to grow above the height of a knee.

So butterflies were on the menu again today and within minutes I had located the familar bounce and flutter of the Meadow Brown, which at rest resembles an owl, on account of its curved wings and eye spots. The Browns have an egregious, evolutionary trait that renders them permanently twitchy. Bounding over grass like notes on a stave, they momentarily stop for breath before bouncing off again, leaving camera-laden Ecologists perpetually frustrated, and invariably, with a series of blurred images to mull over at a later date.

On this occasion however, I caught an off-guard female sunning herself on bramble. A school girl error on her part! Bramble, of all plants; like finding a Brit on a Spanish beach! My delight was ineffable and ephemeral, as she soon heard the rumble of my vacuous stomach and fluttered her way to another, less conspicuous, sun trap.

The second photo is of a Small Heath. Populations have declined over 50% in 30 years and the species is included on many local Biodiveristy Action Plans to protect them. Difficult to pick out when resting the Small Heath is easy to distinguish from other butterflies by its drunken flight, bobbing and flopping inches from the ground.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Summer Skippers

On a sun-raked patch of neutral grassland, small skippers weaved effortlessly through grass stems, ambled on bramble and generally returned the solar favour with a golden show of their own.

A hirsute male demonstrates an indicative skipper pose in this photo with forewing and hindwing resting at an angle. Also worthy of note is the black, linear strip on the right forewing which, on a golden whim, releases female-inducing pheromones.

Within metres of one another, large skippers frequently knock on the doors of small skippers.

Flowers are sought; bloom sleuths of the natural world.

Large skippers playfully flash their marbled masterpieces in a glamorous display of butterfly bliss which contrasts from the uniform, but no less appealing, palette of the smalls.

This photo shows only a snapshot of the intricate courtship that can occur between butterflies (here the large skippers). The female in this instance, rhythmicallly flicked her head and antennae in alternate directions whilst the male looked on with passionate intrigue.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Nature's Catwalk

This weekend nature finally left her inhibitions on Friday's doorstep, when invertebrate fashionistas came to the same conclusion as this year's fashion designers in deciding that bold colours are what ought to be worn this summer.

A Small Tortoiseshell, experimenting with her terracotta forewing against the yellow petals of a Cat's Ear, stole the rainbow show but was run close by a female Common Blue whose pixilated shades of the sea dazzled under a Saturday sun.

Later in the day she was caught with an unknown male, drunk on sap, mesmerically whirling in a near vertical column recreating a Lepidopteran version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Not to be overshadowed by the faunal frisson, Opium Poppies drove skywards, slowly and noiselessly. Colour and symmetry synergistically combining to lure in passing hoverflies.