Butterfly Update – Ray Collier – Wildlife in the North

peacock butterflyThis has been a very strange year as far as wildlife and the weather are concerned and this has been echoed by many readers who have E-mailed me with their comments.   For example some birds have not done very well and one has been the house  martin that failed to nest on some houses  where, in the past they have been common and brought  off more than one brood each year.  There have been reports of house martins visiting these sites for just an hour or so late in the season.  These would have been either birds that did  not  breed this year or nested elsewhere and were just looking at old sites  before migrating south.  To a certain extent swifts have been the same and one indication of this was that I saw very, very few wheeling over houses in Inverness this year.

All this non activity co-incided with a cold wet spring that seemed to go on and on and when we expected the first of the butterflies to appear there were none at all.   I can remember a   time when the small tortoiseshells that had hibernated as adults would be on the wing early and in some numbers.     For many years they were the only ones hibernating as adults this far  north but then after the famous invasion of September 2002 peacocks poured in from Scandinavia (see photograph).  Since then, in some years, they have been commoner than  the small tortoiseshells.   This year in my garden I only saw one small tortoiseshell and one peacock and many other gardens were the same in most parts in and around Inverness.

At least there would be late Summer and Autumn butterflies to look forward to but there were already  signs that this would not be the case.  To start with the weather did not improve and one or two days of sunshine and raised temperatures  were soon dashed as the rain and cold re-appeared.    Then there were the nectar sources in the garden such  as Buddleias and Sedums and they just stopped and would not come into flower.  Chives just about came into flower as  did the Scabious but apart from one small tortoiseshell  there were just no butterflies to be seen.   Readers reported a few small speckled woods in gardens which is a measure of the success, in recent years, of this butterfly.  It has been spreading north for some years and is now found in many parts of the Highlands and still increasing in range and numbers.   Perhaps they  managed to fly this year as it is essentially a woodland butterfly so  they are used to light and shade!   The caterpillars feed on a variety of grasses so they do not have to be too particular.

Now is the time for the roadside  verge butterflies to come into their own and I should be seeing  a range of them as I drive into Inverness.  Most of the days, however, have been dull and overcast or raining with comparitively low temperatures for this time of the year.   Meadow browns and Scotch argus should now be along the  verges but on the ones I have seen, even when the sun has been shining, there have been no butterflies apart from the occasional green veined white.   At the time of writing the  Sedums have not even come in bud and whilst the Buddleias have started to flower where are the butterflies?