To be perfectly honest, it was only recently that I had started to harbour a desire to see a valezina form Silver-washed Fritillary. The fires were stoked by the tales of Matthew Oates in the excellent book 'In Pursuit of Butterflies' where his searches for the forms of Purple Emperors and Silver-washed Fritillaries became tales of wonder. About the same time, whilst reading up on the life of local entomologist and artist FW Frowhawk, I discovered that the valezina butterfly was such a favourite of his that he had named his daughter after it - and then, together with Jon Dunn, we made a pilgrimage to the great man's grave at Headley, in Surrey. The time seemed ripe to find one.
Apparently, this form is not common in Surrey. I see the species without trouble in the wooded areas of Banstead, Reigate and Box Hill, but never of the desired form. Further west, in the woods of Dorset and Hampshire, the proportion of valezina females in large colonies can number between 5-15% (it is only females that have this form).
On Friday August 5th I visited Sheepleas (in west Surrey) to search for Narrow-lipped Helleborines. It was a sunny and warm day, and as the morning progressed so emerged good numbers of butterflies, including several Silver-washed Fritillaries, all standard 'old-gold and black'. In one particular meadow the butterfly numbers were high, so I stood still to take in the comings and goings of Peacocks, Red Admirals, Meadow Browns, Large Whites and Silver-washed Fritillaries - until, out of the corner of my eye, an unfamiliar butterfly came into view - strange of colour, seemingly out of place - just what was it? Then it clicked... this was what I had hoped for, a dusky-burnished-greeny-brass apparition that taunted me by flying past, but not stopping. I ran after it, desperate for it to alight. Thankfully it did, on a Buddleia, and I was able to feast my eyes upon a pristine valezina form Silver-washed Fritillary. I even managed a couple of photographs (below) before it flew off. I felt blessed, that's the only way to describe it. Humbled even.
|A subtle colour form...|
|Maybe one for the purist...|
|And a 'normal' coloured Silver-washed for comparison|