Thursday, 20 January 2011

When butterflies swarm!

I'm still reading Patrick Barkham's excellent 'The Butterfly Isles' and mention has just been made of butterfly swarming. Apart from his own incredible experience with Heath Fritillary (1300+ at Blean Woods!), he mentions examples from the golden age of the Victorian gentleman lepidopterist, when clouds of butterflies blotted out the sun - really.

I too have been lucky enough to witness such spectacles:

9 August 1978, Beddington SF, Surrey
Thousands of Small and Essex Skippers emerged en masse across the heavily vegetated sludge lagoon banks, creating a golden orange haze at waist height.

24 July 1992, Middleton, West Sussex
As I drove alongside a large field (crop unknown) I was staggered to realise that the white mist hanging over it was in fact tens of thousands of 'white' butterflies. I reckoned that they were all Large and Small Whites and it was simply staggering.

28 July 1997, Bude, Cornwall
A walk along the cliff top heading north revealed thousands of Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns. I have made this same walk many years since but have yet to see such numbers here again.

28 August 1997, Cavenham Heath, Suffolk
1500 Small Tortoiseshell were shoe-horned into an area of gorse and heather no larger than a football pitch.

6 August 2006, Braunton Burrowes, Devon
A simply stunning day. There were butterflies everywhere, great clouds of mixed species being flushed as I wandered the southern section of this area of vegetated sand dunes. The standout count was of a minimum of 4,500 Common Blues, but four figure counts of several other species made the experience unforgettable.

1 comment:

Stewart said...

Steve I have never seen anything like that. It must have been fantastic. The book The Aurelian Legacy (?) quotes some notes from a lepidopterist in the late 1700's where from one spot, without moving, he caught over a hundred ( or something similar) hairstreaks on blackthorn. The best I've had was in the pyrenees where you can find dozens of species of butterfly in one roadside lay bye quite easily...