A Butterfly Diary (September)

Butterfly1

Keeping a Butterfly Diary this year has essentially been an enjoyable pastime; the waiting and watching, running for my camera, clambering through the rockery in unsuitable footwear, or thumbing through my butterfly guide while lying in the grass on a warm summer’s day…

BroadBackedBeeHawkMoth

But it has also been very educational. I knew very little beforehand, and was unable to name many of the visitors to my garden. And reading up on certain butterflies meant I learned about their foodplants, migratory habits, number of broods in a year, overwintering etc etc. Overall it has been a lovely activity, and I hope to repeat it next year. This will probably be the last butterfly post this season, with numbers already dwindling as the nights get colder and days shorter. We often get very foggy or misty days in autumn too, which prevent the sun from warming up the garden enough for most butterflies.

Butterfly2012

So let’s celebrate these last visitors and in planning our future plant or bulb purchases, spare a thought for the butterflies’ favourite flowers!

Early September was warm but damp, humid in fact. The only butterflies I saw were the cabbage whites, red admirals that have been around most of the summer, and still the Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum, Taubenschwänzchen). These creatures are fascinating to watch! Here is one I observed in the middle of September. They are pretty fast – longer stops would mean their wing muscles would cool down too much…

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They return to the same plants at the same times every day – especially on warm and sunny days.

For more pictures take a look here, and for tips on attracting them to your garden look here.

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A single Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus, Hauhechel-Bläuling) turned up in the middle of the rockery mid-month, also on the Centranthus ruber. Can you spot it?

Blue

I can’t stress enough just how valuable this plant is in my garden. Not only does it flower all summer, it attracts so many butterflies and insects too! You may have noticed that many of the  butterflies I have shown over the past few months have been on the Centranthus.

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So, for a change, a different plant is the background here for the European Peacocks (Aglais io/Inachis io, Tagpfauenauge), which always turn up reliably to relish on the Sedums and Michaelmas Daisies (see the photo I posted yesterday).

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Those colours are exquisite – I wonder if they have any idea just how beautiful they are! These markings are actually supposed to make predators afraid of them… see this lovely video here for an example.

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They are our most long-lived butterflies too, surviving for up to a year if a mild overwintering place is found.

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Then we had a Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera, Mauerfuchs) visit the Sedum too. The Wall Browns like to bask in the sun with their wings open, especially on rocks or (surprise!) walls. They are typical for stony or rocky hillsides like those around us, with various grasses as their foodplant.

WallBrown

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I also saw the first Comma since spring (Polygonia c-album/Nymphalis c-album, C-Falter). I don’t know why I didn’t see any in the summer…

Comma2

It has a very intricate outline and such rich colouring on the upper wings, but the underside of the wings resembles dead leaves – perfect camouflage.

Can you see the comma mark on the closed lower wing in the photo below?

Comma1

The Comma hibernates, and can usually be seen flying from April to November.

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Sometimes the German names are prettier than the English, sometimes the reverse: in this case the English name wins hands down: the Queen of Spain Fritillary  (Issoria lathonia, Kleine Perlmutterfalter)!

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This was one of the rare occasions I have actually seen butterflies on my Verbena bonariensis, despite what a butterfly magnet everyone says it is. The silvery edges to this fritillary’s wings may have contributed to it being given such a regal name.

Fritillary2

One of its larval foodplants is the wild field pansy. They fly in three or even four generations in Central Europe, overwintering here in the caterpillar form, but they may also be one of the btterflies (like the Red Admiral or the Hummingbird Hawk-moths) that migrate from warmer climates over the Alps in the spring. Amazing to think of such tiny creatures soaring to heights over 2500 metres in order to cross the mountains…

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That was it for September. If I see any different ones in October I will be sure to post about them.

In the meantime I have been looking back at my photos for the year and trying to decided which butterfly I love best: probably the Peacock – simply because it is familiar, colourful, and a reliable visitor in autumn – my favourite time of year.

I’d love you to tell me what your favourite butterfly is, and whether you have seen it this summer?

Some nice links:

A Butterfly Diary (August)

Swallowtail 2012

Swallowtail 2012

“I dance above the tawny grass

In the sunny air,

So tantalized to have to pass

Love everywhere

O Earth, O Sky, you are mine to roam

In liberty.

I am the soul and I have no home,

Take care of me.”

From The Butterfly, by Alice Archer (Sewall) James

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Since March this year I have been carefully recording the butterflies, along with a few other beautiful winged creatures, that have visited my garden or the meadow just beyond my garden gate. This month I have again seen many regular visitors; Tortoiseshells, Meadow Browns, Common Brimstones, the occasional Blue, and of course the Small and Large Whites, which despite their profusion have been practically impossible to photograph due to their incessant fluttering!

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Last month I posted a photo of the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta, Admiral) with its wings closed. At the beginning of this month a couple were regular visitors to the garden again and rested with open wings for longer periods…

RedAdmiral2

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An unnamed Verbena (maybe someone out there knows which one it is!) attracted this Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene, Braunfleckige Perlmutterfalter)…

SmallPearlBorderedFritillary2

There are so many similar fritillaries, so if anyone spots I have made an error please let me know, but the Small Pearl Bordered is one of the most common ones in our region – actually fairly large with a wingspan of about 3-4cm. Like other fritillaries, the main foodplant is violets. The second generation caterpillars drop to the ground beneath their foodplant for protection in winter and remain hidden until spring, only then forming a chrysalis.

SmallPearlBorderedFritillary1

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Another Fritillary, perhaps a High Brown Fritillary? (Fabriciana/Argynnis adippe, Feurige Perlmutterfalter)

Fritillary

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The oregano and marjoram plants have been particularly favoured by the Meadow Browns featured last month, as well as this butterfly; the Map (Araschnia levana, Landkärtchen). The wings when closed explain the name it has been given, with a network of lines…

Map1

And the upper side of the wings (see below) does also remind me of the colours found on old maps. This one is a second generation one – the early spring ones, which I haven’t seen here, are more colourful with a lot more orange on the upper wing. Apparently the Map is only seen in central and eastern Europe, and not in the UK. Have you ever seen one?

Map2

The Map lays its eggs on nettles and prefers the edges of woodland as its habitat. There humidity is higher and there is some shade for the larvae/caterpillars, while the adults can then fly beyond the woods into sunny areas with nectar-rich flowers.

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The Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum, Taubenschwänzchen) have been visiting the Centranthus since it opened in May and although there have been phases with fewer numbers, I’d say I have never seen so many as in this summer. The early spring warmth must have suited them.

HummingbirdHawkMoth1

The early ones were small (only 3cm wingspan) and flew very fast, but as the year progressed they became larger and very slightly slower – acoording to Wikipedia 70 to 90 wingbeats per second! Other interesting facts: the proboscis is about 2cm long and they can fly backwards! As our climate has slowly got milder they now overwinter in most of central Europe, but many still migrate quite far north. Do let me know if you’ve seen one or even several this year. The ones visiting us may be both those that have overwintered and migratory ones. The second generation appears mid-August.

HummingbirdHawkMoth2

 They fascinate me with their tiny fat soft bodies and distinct faces and I love having them brush past me while working in the rockery.

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Apart from a very brief glimpse of a Bedstraw Hawk-Moth (Hyles gallii, Labkrautschwärmer) the only other hawk moth I have seen this year is the Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-moth, (Hemaris fuciformis, Hummelschwärmer)…

BroadBorderedBeeHawkMoth3

Beautiful creatures!

This one has a slightly larger body than the Hummingbird Hawk-moths, but the wingspan is about the same – around 4 to 5 cm. From the information on the German Wikipedia page (the English one is minimal!) I assume we have two generations here, and they overwinter here too. The foodplants include all Lonicera, as well as Galium, Deutzia, Knautia and – to my surprise – Cephalaria, which I recently put on my autumn planting list after seeing it in Janet’s garden (Plantaliscious). 🙂 They are found in open woodland and chalk hills with conifers and shrubby honeysuckles – precisely what our region offers.

BroadBorderedBeeHawkMoth1

Other hawk-moths I have seen in previous years were the Small Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila porcellus, Kleiner Weinschwärmer) and the Bedstraw Hawk-moth (Hyles gallii, Labkrautschwärmer), which I posted about in 2012 here.

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Mid-month my neighbour brought me a caterpillar to identify: a Pine Hawk-moth (Sphinx pinastri, Kiefernschwärmer). It was about 7cm long and very lively!

Kiefernschwaermer2

After looking it up I thought the actual moth looked familiar. In early June I took a photo of a large grey moth with black markings, then promptly forgot about it…. here it is: the Pine Hawk Moth…

Kiefernschwaermer3June

Not as impressive as the caterpillar, but still rather pretty markings. This one was about 10cm long, but I didn’t see its wings open. The adults lay the eggs on pine needles or other conifers, and are seen between May and June, and then again in August. I imagine our caterpillar will overwinter in its chrysalis then.

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While looking through old photos from June to find the Pine Hawk-moth, I also discovered this picture which I had totally forgotten about as well: a Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena trifolii, Sumpfhornklee-Widderchen). I shall include it here and add it to my June post too.

SixSpotBurnet

The wings are almost black, tinged blue, with those distinctive red spots. I have since learned that the foodplant is Bird’s-foot Trefoil – another excuse not to do the weeding!

😉

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 I glimpsed the elusive Swallowtail butterfly floating elegantly across the lawn, but the photo at the top of this post was taken 2 years ago. There’s still time yet, and a Swallowtail caterpillar on the fennel provides hope!

SwallowtailCaterpillar2

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There is still another butterfly month left – maybe even two – so I shall be keeping my eyes peeled and will report once again at the end of September.

🙂

What visited your garden in August? Any unusual guests?

A Butterfly Diary (July)

JulyTortoiseshell

Flutter by, butterfly,

Floating flower in the sky.

Kiss me with your petal wings—

Whisper secrets, tell of spring.

~

(Author Unknown)

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There have been butterflies in numbers, but not much variety this month. I am still waiting for the elusive Swallowtail to visit me… a friend in our small village has already seen one, but it hasn’t flown in my direction yet! I am also still waiting to see a Comma and more Hawk Moths, with only two different ones making an appearance so far… so I will include them in my August diary.

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The Cabbage Whites, Skippers, Common Blues and Brimstones are still very profuse, but the main visitor this month has been the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina, Großes Ochsenauge) with the characteristic orange and the eyespot on the upper wings…

MeadowBrown1

They have been feeding on the lavender, Marjoram and Oregano, and of course my prized Centranthus ruber. The larval foodplants are mainly grasses, oats etc. They are most commonly seen in this position with the wings closed, but I also managed to get one resting with open wings, and it suddenly seemed much larger – about a 4 or 5cm wingspan…

MeadowBrown2

This was a male – less colourful then the female.

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Next, the Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus, Faulbaum-Bläuling) – such a delightful sight! A small speck of blue light flashing past, and then when it stops a moment the closed wings are equally pretty, reminding me of the fans used by Japanese ladies in hot weather

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The air is like a butterfly
With frail blue wings.
The happy earth looks at the sky
And sings.

(The words of Joyce Kilmer)

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They are common here and are typically found in and around deciduous forests. The caterpillars feed on all sorts of hedgerow plants and shrubs such as Prunus, Dogwood, Buckthorn, Vetches, etc.

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The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta, Admiral) is still around. You can see a photo of its outstretched wings in my June post and this photo shows it with closed wings, which I think have such an interesting texture, as well as the beautiful markings of course.

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The Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia, Kaisermantel) has been a regular visitor and I just have to share another photo, although this already made an appearance in my  Butterfly Diary in June

Kaisermantel

Thou spark of life that wavest wings of gold,
Thou songless wanderer mid the songful birds,
With Nature’s secrets in thy tints unrolled
Through gorgeous cipher, past the reach of words,
Yet dear to every child
In glad pursuit beguiled,
Living his unspoiled days mid flowers and flocks and herds!

(from Ode to a Butterfly, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson)

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The Mint Moth ((Pyrausta purpuralis, Purpurrote Zünsler) featured in my April post has also been around again, very happy on the Marjoram, which has been flowering all month and has attracted so many bees and other insects…

MintMoth

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Another flying wonder (although not a butterfly but I’m using poetic licence here to include it!) was this dragonfly: the Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa, Plattbauch). I showed you the male back in May, and in July the female spent several days in the rockery…

PlattbauchFemale

Her colouring is completely different, with no sign of the blue of the male. She really shimmered like gold in the sunlight. Don’t we have some amazingly beautiful creatures passing through our gardens!

I have also seen many of those already featured in my past Butterfly Diary posts – Peacocks, Tortoiseshells, the Marbled White and lots of Skippers.

In the UK there was apparently a Butterfly Count last week…. if anyone hears about the result, please let me know as I might miss it! Thanks! 🙂

Please share with us the butterflies you have seen this month!

Links:

Beautiful North American Meadow Butterflies Video

Rare Blue Butterflies UK

A Butterfly Diary: June

ButterfliesJune2

Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi, Baum-Weißling)

There have been so many butterflies this month – I was quite surprised! The same ones that were around all spring can still be seen – Common Brimstone, Cabbage White, etc. The one above, however, is one I have never seen before, and despite its wings looking slightly damaged I thought it was simply beautiful. Just recently my dear blogging friend Uta at Uta’s Flow posted a fascinating video of this butterfly emerging from its chrysalis – take a look here, and there are more photos here.

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There have been so many Tortoiseshells this summer – all on the Centranthus and on some Lobelia I have in pots – which I was rather pleased about as I didn’t realize it attracted them. This is the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae, Kleiner Fuchs)

ButterfliesJune1

They lay their eggs on nettles (hence the name “… urticae), and the adult butterflies feed on nectar from hundreds of garden plants, so leave a few nettles standing somewhere if you can. Those that overwinter fly from March to April here, and there are then probably another two generations in a year.

Occasionally they pause on the lavender, which highlights the blue fringe on the wings.

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Another very frequent visitor this year is the Skipper – both small and large, although I’m not much good at telling the difference! I think this one is the Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus, Rostfarbiger Dickkopffalter), and I have often seen it on the Lavender and Vetch, as well as the Centranthus. (This photo is on a singed fern leaf though!)…

ButterfliesJune81Large

And this one on a white Sweet William might be the Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris, Braunkolbiger Braun-Dickkopffalter). Just look at that proboscis!

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Both Skippers are quite small, only a 2-3 cm wingspan, and the larvae feed on many types of grasses. There are several other similar ones, so if any expert out there spots a mistake, please let me know!

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 One of the loveliest and one of the largest butterflies we often see is the Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia, Kaisermantel)

ButterfliesJune92Kaiser

I read that the caterpillars like violet leaves, of which we have plenty so that is good to know! This one was about 6cm across, and posed beautifully for me on the Acer, and then on the Lavender too. There’s some nice information about the caterpillars on the Wikipedia page here

ButterfliesJune94Kaiser

(He was watching me carefully!)

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The next one is a rarer visitor to my garden, although not an uncommon butterfly in Germany: the Marbled White (Melanargia galathea, Schachbrettfalter). The German name “Schachbrett” means chess board, describing the pattern quite aptly.

ButterfliesJune99

This one was attracted to the crown vetch (Securigera varia). It is more common here in the south of Germany than in the north or west, and prefers areas with chalky ground. Only one generation flies in a year, so the caterpillars overwinter and the butterflies are seen from June to August.

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The Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta, Admiral) is one of the butterflies I remember seeing in abundance as a child on my Mum’s Buddleia. This smallish one (about 4-5 cm) looks as if he came through a storm.

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Finally, for today, a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus, Hauhechel Bläuling) which I also showed in last month’s Butterfly Diary.

ButterfliesJune3

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I have also seen Hawk-moths galore over the last two weeks, and will include them in a post soon!

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Update: 16th August 2014

I found this photo that I had forgotten to include of a Five-spot Burnet (Zygaena trifolii, Sumpfhornklee-Widderchen) and it will also be posted on my August 2014 Butterfly Diary.

SixSpotBurnet

It looks stunning on the lavender!

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As I read up on all the butterflies for my butterfly diary each month I am becoming much more aware of which flowers and grasses in and around my garden are important for the wildlife.

🙂

Take a look in your garden.

Do you see any of these butterflies I have shown today? What has been visiting your plants this month?

Links:

Fun facts about butterflies #1

Fun facts about butterflies #2

Fun facts about butterflies #3

A Butterfly Diary: May

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Best-known for his carol “Hark the herald angels sing”, Reginald Heber was also a poet. His poem “The Harebell” is absolutely perfect for the view I had the day I photographed this beautiful butterfly…

 With drooping bells of clearest blue
Thou didst attract my childish view,
Almost resembling
The azure butterflies that flew
Where on the heath thy blossoms grew
So lightly trembling.

~

 Green-Underside Blue (Glaucopsyche alexis or Alexis-Bläuling in German)

AlexisBläuling(Click on the photos for a closer look)

They are one of the gossamer-winged butterflies, flying from May to June, and in good weather again in July and August. The meadow where I found this one in early May (and there were several flying around me) is the perfect habitat, with plenty of nectar-rich wild flowers such as vetch, clover and harebells.

The wingspan of this one was just about 2cm. We have a few blue butterflies here, but I have never seen such a pretty one before.

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The more common one here is the Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus, Hauhechel-Bläuling)

Hauhechelbläuling

Its wingspan is only about 2.5cm, and it has beautiful orange and brown markings on the outer wings. The male is more distinctive than the female, and they can be seen all through the summer. They have been in the garden since early May this year. The Common Blue likes all sorts of vetch and clover, but I love the fact that a favourite of theirs is the Ononis spinosa (Spiny Restharrow/Hauhechel), which is one of the only thorny plants I gladly grow!

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Around the 10th of May I spotted this Fritillary and decided it must be a Weaver’s Fritillary (Boloria dia, Magerrasen-Perlmuttfalter)

WeaversFritillary

(The photo was taken on a green mat, it’s not the lawn!)

I know very little about this butterfly although we often see it, but according to Wikipedia the larvae feed on Prunella and Violets, so again I have some good plants for these in my garden. The wingspan of this one is perhaps 3 or 4cm. The orange colour varies – some of them look much browner, but with the same markings.

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In the middle of the month this brown butterfly made a brief appearance and I haven’t seen it since: a Woodland Ringlet (Erebia medusa, Rundaugen-Mohrenfalter)

WoodlandRinglet

The wings were very silky and the wingspan about 4 cm. I have looked it up and they fly from May to July, while their habitat is the edges of woodland, dry and chalky hillsides and in mountain meadows.

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The last one I could photograph towards the end of the month was the Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae, Kleiner Fuchs).

Tortoiseshell2

The Centranthus is opening and these fairly large butterflies (3-4cm) are attracted to its red flowers. They will be in the garden all year – the first are in March on the spring flowers, and the last love to visit the Sedum and Asters in autumn.

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Other butterflies spotted were the Brimstones and Orange Tips as well as the Green-Veined White. I also briefly saw the first Hummingbird Hawk-Moths in a warm spell, just as the Centranthus was opening – they will be back and I hope to get some photos of them.

A few other flying vistors made an appearance too. Firstly this Large Red Damselfly…

RedDamselfly

then this tiny dragonfly…

Libelle

And finally this amazing creature!

Plattbauch2

It liked my metal butterfly decoration! I found out that it is a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa, Plattbauch) and is one of the most common dragonflies in Europe. This is a young male, with a blue tinge to the abdomen, and yellow patches which can also be seen clearly. It is pretty big – about 7 cm long and the abdomen as thick as my little finger. The Wikipedia page has lots of information on this dragonfly – perhaps you see it too?

That’s it for May – not bad, as The June Gap usually makes itself felt at the end of May and early June, when the spring generation fades away and the new summer generations are yet to emerge. (See Sarah’s post from last year on The June Gap at The Garden Deli).

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Finally, some words from the late poet and human rights activist, Maya Angelou:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

~

Have you seen many butterflies so far this spring? What is the most common one near you at this time of year? Please share!

Links:

The June Gap

Big Butterfly Count (UK)

Identifying Butterflies etc (UK)

The Guardian – Dragonfly Gallery

A Butterfly Diary: April

Love is like a butterfly:  It goes wherever it pleases and pleases wherever it goes. 

(Click here for the song: “Love is like a butterfly”)

OrangeTip2

At the beginning of the month I saw many of the same butterflies as posted about in late March: Common Brimstones, Peacocks and Commas. A few additions appeared in April, but it is still rather early for most.

The first Orange Tips (Anthocharis cardamines, Aurorafalter) arrived on March 31st, and have been fluttering around since then. I am always happy to see these, as they provide an excellent excuse for not doing much weeding; they are attracted into my garden – to lay their eggs – by Honesty, Nettles and Garlic Mustard.  They do in fact contain mustard oil, making them taste horrible to birds… the orange wingtip is the warning: don’t eat me! They like Cuckoo flowers too (Cardamine pratensis).

OrangeTip3

I was amazed how much they seem to love the Aubretia, which has also been very popular with the bees. To me these butterflies symbolize Spring, as they are only seen flying in the months of April and May.

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The next one I saw was the Green-Veined White (Pieris napi, Grünader-Weißling). It is very similar to the Cabbage White – probably the most common butterfly of all in Europe.

GreenVeinedWhite2

When I recently read that they like Bugle, Buttercups and Vetches, I was very pleased to note another few areas of the garden I MUST NOT WEED! (Yes, we have them all within the garden…) These butterflies can be found in abundance on the edge of woodland and valleys with grassy meadows.

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Finally, I spotted an absolutely tiny butterfly, which turned out to actually be a moth… the Mint Moth (Pyrausta purpuralis, Purpurrote Zünsler ). It has a wingspan of only about 2 cm, and although a moth it often flies in the daytime too.

MintMoth

The caterpillars like mint, oregano and thyme, which grow wild in this area as well as in my garden. The moths are apparently common in dry and chalky grassland areas such as we have, although I have never noticed one before. Here the moth has landed on a Loosestrife leaf for a rest in the sun! It was very friendly and waited for me to fetch my camera – I only got one shot at it though and then it was off again.

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Thou winged blossom, liberated thing,
What secret tie binds thee to other flowers,
Still held within the garden’s fostering?

(from Ode to a Butterfly, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson)

I hope you are seeing lots of butterflies too – or at least soon will be! Even if you don’t get photos – incredibly difficult – please share what’s visiting your garden!

😀

Links:

A Butterfly Diary – Please Join In!

Change is what makes us better people – ask any butterfly and he’ll know what I mean…

SpringButterfly

Yes, a little out of focus I know, but after chasing him round the garden I was just glad to have got a shot of him! A Comma (Polygonia c-album or C-Falter in German) is a rare enough sight, let alone in mid-March! This was March 13th to be precise. Commas overwinter and this generation will fly until June or so. They are apparently quite common in Germany, but I hardly ever see them. They have beautifully shaped wings (and are sometimes called Angelwings), and when they are closed you can see the characteristic comma shape in white on the dark background. You can see it well in the photo below which I took a couple of summers ago…

Comma

Among other plants, the Comma caterpillars like to feed on hazel and pussy willow, both of which are in our garden.

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I also saw a Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni, Zitronenfalter) that day. It’s the yellow blur below on the left…

Brimstone

This butterfly has the longest life expectancy of all butterflies found in Germany – up to 12 months.

I will do my best to get a better photo this year!

Since then I have glimpsed a Peacock (Inachis io, Tagpfauenauge) and a Cabbage White (Pieris brassicae, Kohlweißling). The Peacock is one of our most common butterflies here – not to be confused with the American Peacocks. The photo below is from last autumn…

Butterfly

“Thou spark of life that wavest wings of gold,

Thou singless wanderer ‘mid the singful birds”

(from Ode to a Butterfly, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson)

I will be keeping a Butterfly Diary this year, and posting towards the end of each month – with or without photos and with some butterfly links. If anyone would like to join in please do! It would be so interesting to hear which butterflies visit your gardens around the world!

 Links:

European Butterflies

UK Butterfly Conservation Site