Butterflies

Peacock

Wherever possible my walk posts include a picture of a butterfly and between April and September (the main butterfly season) I often take walks with the primary objective of seeing butterflies. The development of this fascination with butterflies has been one of the unexpected effects of getting interested in walking.

A friend of mine who is a keen birder asked me last year how many species I had seen out of the 59 generally held to be possible to see in Britain. I didn't know. He explained that it was normal in birding circles to keep a "life list" and that any self-respecting birder would be able to answer that question precisely. On reflection, I found it surprising, given my personality traits, that I hadn't already begun to keep such a list - and started straightaway.

 The butterflies you will see when out on a walk or spotting expedition are influenced by two factors: the time of year and the habitat. Time of year is a major factor since there are only nine butterflies that you can expect to see at any time of the butterfly season (and often outside as well). They are:  Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Brimstone, Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma (but not in June), Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood. The other 50 have defined flight periods, sometimes quite brief ones.

 Brimstone

Only 13 of the other 50 are really widespread during their flight periods:  Orange Tip, Marbled White, Painted Lady (more so in some years than others), Holly Blue, Common Blue, Small Copper, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Small Heath, Ringlet, Wall Brown, Small Skipper and Large Skipper. 

The combined list of 22 butterflies includes all those which feature in the Big Butterfly Count

 Small Tortoiseshell
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I have seen 40 species out of 59. In 2015 I started keeping track of which species I saw and when I first saw them. This yielded a total of 33.


Small Copper

The conclusions from this brief review are as follows:
  • If you are new to butterfly spotting, get to know the 22 you are most likely to see before worrying about the others. Butterfly books unfortunately don't make this easy, frequently describing the rare before the common.
  • If you want to get even 40 on your life list it will take some effort: you need to plan trips to the best places at the right time of year. Fortunately, David Newland's wonderful book Where to see butterflies in Britain is there to help you.
  • If you want to emulate Patrick Barkham (The butterfly isles) and see them all you need to plan a lot of trips, including ones to distant parts, at the right time of year, and be lucky with the weather. Ideally, as he did, you need to know some local experts.
Just for interest, these are the 19 I haven't manged to see with some notes which largely explain why not. I don't expect to see them all in 2015, but I am certainly going to try harder!

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Common name
Comments
Black Hairstreak
A few colonies in the East Midlands.
Brown Hairstreak
Very elusive. Sticks mainly to tree canopy.
Chequered Skipper
West Scotland.
Essex Skipper
Probably have seen, but hard to distinguish from Small Skipper
Glanville Fritillary
Isle of Wight
Heath Fritillary
Scattered colonies.
High Brown Fritillary
Scattered colonies in the West
Large Blue
Selected locations mainly in Somerset.
Large Heath
Scotland.
Lulworth Skipper
No excuse. Need to pay attention when I am nest in that part of Dorset.
Marsh Fritillary
Scattered locations from Dorset west.
Mountain Ringlet
Scottish Highlands and Lake District.
Northern Brown Argus
Scattered colonies in Northern England and Scotland
Purple Emperor
Notoriously elusive.
Purple Hairstreak
Oak woods, but sticks mainly to the canopy.
Scotch Argus
Scotland.
Silver studded Blue
No excuse. Heathland in Southern Britain.
Swallowtail
Norfolk Broads/. Seen in France.
Wood White
Scattered locations in southern and western England. Seen in France.
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