I love counting things - any thing - it doesn't have to be birds, plants, moths or butterflies. It could be books, or albums, or photographs. It is a bit of an illness really, a Tourette's of adding things up. I find myself automatically doing so when driving, having a bath, or, like this morning, out walking...
07.15hrs saw me on Park Downs and not only was it already warm, there were at least three figures of butterflies flying above the flower-rich grassland. These I had to count! A zig-zagging route was embarked upon, with care taken to not recount sections of meadow. My final tally was a bit of a shock as I'd recorded just over 1,000 Marbled Whites. They really were a sight, flitting just above the sward, some spiralling up in combat and then veering off into nearby scrub. They were skittish and didn't settle that easily. Also on the wing were Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Skipper, Small Heath and 4 Dark Green Fritillary. It was barely 09.00hrs.
I now had the bit between my teeth, so decided to walk the length of Chipstead Bottom, from Fames Rough in the west to the Holly Lane meadows in the east. It was memorable, as the flower-rich meadows held thousands of butterflies, a constant shimmering presence above the vegetation. This time there were more Meadow Browns (2,270) although the Marbled White count was an impressive 1,760. These are very much conservative counts, the true tallies must be much higher. I didn't ignore the plants, with the Hither Field and Valley Meadows holding a minimum of 3,500 Pyramidal Orchids. The abundance of flower, mainly Cat's-ear, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Yellow-rattle, Rock Rose, Hairy St. John's-wort, Red Clover, White Clover, Wild Thyme and various trefoils was outstanding.
Some people may question the value of putting a number to a species that is clearly impossible to count with pin-point accuracy. However, I feel that this is preferable to purely suggesting that a species is 'abundant' or 'present in hundreds' or 'low thousands'. What does that mean? 300? 500? 2,000? 10,000? At least giving a firm figure allows future naturalists/researchers a baseline. If I repeat the process next year I have something to compare it to - and so do other people. Apart from that, it's fun doing so. What can be better than wandering flower-rich chalk downland surrounded by butterflies?