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High Flyers

2nd of September 2009

At last, a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon! Today as we sat outside the Wendy House having tea there were dragonflies flying over the ponds. They have been few and far between this year and we have missed them. There were plenty of butterflies on the buddleias too. It has been a funny year for them as well; huge numbers of Painted Ladies arrived on southerly winds in June, then in the wet July we hardly saw any, but now in early August the garden is full of them. Painted Ladies do not hibernate and cannot survive our winters so all of the early arrivals came from North Africa. Every few years the winds are just right and large numbers of them arrive all at once. They lay their eggs on thistles, these soon become caterpillars that munch their way through the leaves, and then become chrysalises which hatch in early August – and so the ones in the garden now will be “home grown”.
At the end of July we took Ted, our Labrador, for a walk in Whippendell Woods. Back in the spring we were delighted by the numbers of wild flowers there. Carpets of ajugar, primroses and dog violets lined the wide, sunny track and pathways. I wondered if it might be home to some of the more unusual woodland butterflies but the information board only mentioned the common ones – Speckled Woods, Brimstons and Commas. This time the clumps of bramble bushes were in bloom and fluttering about among them were some large butterflies. A bit bigger than a Peacock, and a rich orangey colour with black dots and lines, a bit like a Comma, but bigger with a smooth outline to the wings. I knew they were Fritillarys, but I had to look them up at home to find that they were Silver-Washed Fritillarys. They have 4 silver streaks on the undersides of their wings, but we only saw them with their wings open. Their caterpillars feed on dog violets whilst the adults love brambles in sunny woodland glades. We saw about 30 altogether in 3 different groups. They are more common in the West Country and Wales and I had never seen any in this area before. We were delighted!
Two days ago I was coming up from the vegetable garden when a large butterfly whizzed past me. It settled on a bramble flower near the shed. I quickly called my husband David to see it. Were my eyes playing tricks? No we both saw it …… a Silver-Washed Fritillary. I was over the moon!
Wendy Bathurst

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