I think I shall nominate the weekend 8th – 10th April as my Butterfly Days of the Year! It started early. While I was checking the rain gauge in the front garden, my eye was caught by a primrose yellow shape flying purposefully across the lawn – my first brimstone butterfly of the year – actually my first for several years. It zipped over the hedge and was gone, but, in the back garden, I discovered a rather tattered comma – the medium-sized butterfly with scalloped wing-edges and a little white comma on the underside of each hind wing. It was warming itself on a laurel leaf getting ready for a busy day. A few moments later I spotted a handsome peacock butterfly also enjoying the sun’s warmth as it basked on a rockery stone. Three of our first pring butterflies in about ten minutes!
Encouraged, I spent the early afternoon visiting Middleton Woods. The flowers – carpets of white wood anemones, sheets of shining yellow celandine and the unfolding bluebells, were all so beautiful that I returned the next day. The bank edging the wood behind the Ilkley Lido is south-facing, sheltered and already full of sprouting brambles and nettles – both important butterfly plants. Not surprising, then, that the whole bank was alive with them- buzzing along looking for sex or spiralling up in courting pairs. Difficult to get a close look amid all this frenzied activity, but I managed to identify both peacock and small tortoiseshell. In the wood, a pristine male orange-tip cruised over the flowers. The male of this species is easy to name: even at a distance the neat tangerine tips to its forewings flicker brightly even in shady woodland. The female’s wings are tipped with sober grey.
None of the butterflies I have described is particularly rare, but, after a couple of really bad years, it was heartening to see them back in numbers – and such ideal conditions. I reported my sightings to our WNS Recorder. He, too, had had a good weekend. Over at Langbar, he’d seen twenty green hairstreaks. This pretty little butterfly is one of our local specialities: it likes our acid moorland, the abundance of bilberry and crowberry. If you’re walking on the moors and see a rather drab shape among the vegetation, pause, look again – its under-wings may be a glorious iridescent green!
Listen for the cuckoo, too – usually first heard on Ilkley Moor on 23rd April.