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…
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.
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…
They return to the same plants at the same times every day – especially on warm and sunny days.
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?
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.
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).
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.
They are our most long-lived butterflies too, surviving for up to a year if a mild overwintering place is found.
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.
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…
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?
The Comma hibernates, and can usually be seen flying from April to November.
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)!
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.
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…
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: