We share a private and unmade drive with our neighbour who lives at the bottom of the drive, while our house is half way down the drive. It is not a long drive, about forty metres but has a large high holly hedge and copious ivy which is good for Holly Blues and there is a border of sorts that runs along part of one side of the drive. Our neighbour planted several Buddleias in the border a couple of years ago to provide some attractive foliage during the Spring and Summer.
The Buddleais, which are cut back each year to keep them manageable, are in flower now and are of several colours, white, the traditional mauve and a deep wine red and all, without fail, are proving irresistible to butterflies which unerringly home in on them to feed.
The Buddleias cover no more than twenty metres but today at lunchtime as I walked down the drive in warm sunshine I was escorted by at least half a dozen Red Admirals and a Painted Lady. These are large butterflies with a powerful flight and they swooped and glided around me, just above head height, as they took alarm at my passing close to where they were feeding on the Buddleias.
The Red Admiral is slightly larger than the Painted Lady but the latter has just as powerful a flight, hurtling around at high speed on a veering, crazed and ever changing course to sometimes come back to resume feeding on the Buddleias or at other times flying off at speed and not returning for some time.
Occasionally both the Red Admirals and the Painted Lady would settle on the dry stone wall at the back of the border where the stones were warmed by the sun and with open wings would bask in the sun absorbing the heat from the wall into their bodies.
There were other butterflies present, also come to share the bounty. Commas, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Large Whites and even a Holly Blue all visited during the time I spent watching.
|Pristine Red Admirals|
These faded and torn examples were probably earlier migrants while the pristine individuals were doubtless the result of a later breeding generation and could even be, if I was being fanciful, the progeny of the worn individuals but I doubt it.
|Faded and torn Red Admirals|
Painted Ladies undertake an even more phenomenal migration than Red Admirals, coming to us from North, West and sub Saharan Africa and arriving in influxes from April onwards. They are unable to survive anywhere in Europe through the winter and on arriving in Europe including Britain they immediately begin to breed and typically three generations breed in northern Europe before the adults and progeny from the final generation to breed here migrate back to Africa where they breed again for another two or three generations.
When I was in Morocco in November a couple of years ago, where it was hot and sunny, I saw many Painted Ladies feeding on flowers in a vast expanse of saltmarsh and possibly these were migrants that had returned from northern Europe to breed.
It is, with the knowledge of their extraordinary life cycle, that I look upon any visit from a Painted Lady to our garden with a mixture of delight and awe. Undoubtedly the individual I saw today on the Buddleias was from a migrant parent that bred here earlier in the year. It was pristine and perfectly formed and obviously had not been subject to the ravages of a long migration, likely being hatched only a few days ago. It was a joy to observe it.
The numbers of Painted Ladies that reach our shores each year vary tremendously but in certain exceptional years they can reach almost plague proportions. As recently as the year 2009 there was a major influx, as eleven million arrived here in late May and I can clearly recall walking down a lane for a mile or so near to my home, in late May of that year, and counting in excess of two hundred. It was estimated that in the following autumn when the progeny of successive generations that had bred in Britain migrated back to Africa, no less than twenty six million departed our shores
The Painted Lady is less boldly marked than the Red Admiral, being a warm tawny orange colour on all four upper surfaces of its wings, with large black tips and white markings to its upper forewings and a chequering of black markings across all four upper wing surfaces. In flight it appears quite pale.
Both butterflies show an intricate and subtle patterning to the undersides of their wings to render them inconspicuous to predators. I have always subscribed to the opinion that the undersides of butterflies wings are much more attractive, with their many shades of colour and complicated markings, than the upper surfaces of their wings.
|Red Admiral underwing-upper two images|
|Painted Lady underwing - upper three images|
Butterflies, from the supreme Purple Emperor to the lowly Ringlet are beautiful insects made all the more appealing by the fact that they have such amazing lives which are concluded in a matter of weeks if not days. Every year I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with them as they bring me such great pleasure