Posts tagged ‘Red Admiral’

October 31, 2013

Ivy flowers attract wildlife

31 October 2013

I’ve extolled the virtues of ivy as a wildlife plant elsewhere in this blog, and it was good to see a confirmation of it’s value the other day. Despite the gales and rain of the night of 27/28 October, the next day the sun shone, and up the top of the garden, on ivy flowers in the sunshine, I was amazed to see six Red Admirals.

Two Red Admirals on ivy flowers

Red Admirals on ivy flowers

I could only get two at any one time in the photo, but here’s a close-up of one of them – isn’t he gorgeous!

Red Admiral on ivy flower.

Red Admiral on ivy flower.

There were also numerous flies and what I think were small wasps (difficult to tell, as they were constantly on the move) enjoying the nectar. Once the flowers finish, the berries will develop, turning black when ripe, and attracting various birds to eat them: I’ve particularly noticed blackbirds and pigeons eating them. Yet another reason for leaving the garden be now – better to clip the ivy back where necessary after the berries have gone, than deprive wildlife of a good source of food.

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October 22, 2013

October Butterflies – 2

22 October 2013

Well, the weather seems to have turned. It’s still very mild, but a lot of rain and fairly windy, so the only butterfly around now is a Red Admiral, who appears when I disturb him as I walk round the garden. So let’s go back and look at some more of the species I saw on 5th and 6th of this month to brighten us up.

Small Tortoiseshell on Aster Frikartii 'Monch', with Comma in the background.

Small Tortoiseshell on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’, with Comma in the background.

I’ve now got five clumps of this aster round the garden – it’s one of my favourite plants, and the butterflies and other insects seem to like it too.

Meadow Brown on Aster Frikartii 'Monch'.

Meadow Brown on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’.

It’s unusual to see a Meadow Brown as late as October, and this one has obviously been out for a while, given the tattered state of his hindwing.

Comma on Rudbekia 'Goldsturm'.

Comma on Rudbekia ‘Goldsturm’.

I like this shot – if you see a Comma with its wings closed like this, usually all you see is a very dark background with the while “comma”; here, the sun is shining through the wings, so you can pick up more of the colouring, and it did pose itself beautifully on the rudbekia.

Red Admirals on pink Michaelmas Daisy

Red Admirals on pink Michaelmas Daisy


This shot shows four Red Admirals – in fact, there were ten, but it wasn’t possible to get them all in the same shot. It was interesting that they seemed to stay faithful to this bright pink Michaelmas Daisy, even when it got quite shady, although there were other butterflies on other plants elsewhere in the garden. I suppose they had found a good nectar source and were happy to stick with it, rather than waste energy flying around in search of alternative supplies. They all looked to be in quite good condition, so it is possible they were on a reverse migration: that is, they had been born here, but with winter approaching, were heading south – how sensible!

September 23, 2013

Late wildlife in the garden

23 September 2013

We’re enjoying a late spell of sunshine at the moment, with the sun still very warm. Today it was cloudy until early afternoon, and there were virtually no butterflies to be seen, but when the sun came out, all of a sudden they appeared. Not only butterflies, but various bees, flies, hoverflies, ladybirds and dragonflies – nothing rare, but a wonderful late season reminder of the wildlife that a lot more people in the UK should be seeing, if only we weren’t mucking up this planet at such a scary rate, and if only people would be a little more wildlife friendly in their gardens. I’m going to dedicate this blog to photos of what I saw today, so you can enjoy them with me. If your garden could have this wildlife, but hasn’t, ask yourself why and see if you can do anything about it.

Comma on scabious

Comma on deep red Scabious. I like this shot because it shows both the under-wing white mark which gives the Comma its name, and its white legs, which amuse me: it looks like they haven’t got tanned yet! All the Commas in the garden today looked very fresh.

Red Admiral on buddleia.

Red Admiral on buddleia ‘Autumn Beauty’ (also called ‘Beijing’). In contrast to the Commas, this butterfly looks rather worm, so I’m guessing that it and the other four I saw are migrants, not locally bred. Five Red Admirals is the most I have seen all year, so maybe we are getting a bit of a late migration.

Brimstone on buddleia

Male Brimstone on magenta-coloured buddleia: this is one of the recently-bred buddleias which do not grow as large as most. I like the way the butterfly is backlit in this photo, so you can see the shape of the body underneath.

Speckled Wood on buddleia.

Speckled Wood on buddleia ‘Autumn Beauty’. It is quite unusual to see this butterfly nectaring: the books say it often uses honeydew in trees (which is a sugary excretion from insects which suck plant-sap, such as aphids.) I saw a Speckled Wood feeding on verbena bonariensis the other day, so maybe honeydew is in short supply this year.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (I think) on Michaelmas Daisy.

Buff-tailed Bumblebee (I think) on Michaelmas Daisy.

Male Southern Hawker dragonfly.

Male Southern Hawker dragonfly. Not the best shot, but it was very lively: it may be around again tomorrow, so I’ll have another go.

My final butterfly count was:

Whites – about 7, definitely including Large and Small Whites.

Brimstone – 1

Red Admirals – 5

Comma – 4

Small Tortoiseshell – 3

Speckled Wood – 1

Not bad for late September.

April 6, 2013

How to identify your butterfly – size

6 April 2013

When people tell me they’ve just seen a Common Blue, or a Small Copper, the one thing they always say in a surprised tone of voice is “it was really small” – which is true for these species and others. I think this is one of the things that is not immediately obvious in many of the butterfly identification guides: they usually state the size of the butterfly by giving its wingspan, but that doesn’t have the instant impact of seeing, say, a Common Blue next to a Red Admiral.

This shows a Red Admiral with a Common Blue superimposed on it to show their relative sizes.

This shows a Red Admiral with a Common Blue superimposed on it to show their relative sizes.

Swallowtail with Small Blue superimposed

Swallowtail with Small Blue superimposed

Our smallest butterfly in the UK is the Small Blue, whose wingspan may be as little as 20mm, which is about the size a 1p piece is across – think about it! The largest is the Swallowtail at 85mm – which is nearly 5 x 1p pieces side by side. You are, however, unlikely to see either of these butterflies unless you know where to go looking for them. Species you are more likely to see vary from the Common Blue, Holly Blue and Small Copper (all around 35mm) to the Red Admiral at 70mm. If you see a blue butterfly in your garden it is almost certainly the Common or Holly Blue – the others need rather specialist habitats.

You do not generally get very different sizes of the same butterfly: a Silver-studded Blue is always small and a Red Admiral is always large – though there will always be exceptions, as this is the natural world, not something machine-produced. An adult butterfly – the one with wings – stays the same size from when it emerges from its chrysalis to when it dies. All the growing is done in the caterpillar stage, when the insect needs the sort of nutritious food that helps you grow, which is to be found in leaves, stems etc. The adult drinks nectar for energy to fly and mate, but does not need food for growing – imagine that, a lifetime of eating nothing but the equivalent of chocolate! Unfortunately, it’s also a very short life in this stage.

One of the books which does help you understand the relative sizes of adult butterflies is “Philip’s guide to the butterflies of Britain and Northern Ireland”, published in 2007. The photos on the main pages are sized to fit the space, but at the beginning there are drawings of all the members of the various butterfly families shown at their relative sizes. The other publication which does this is the FSC fold-out laminated guide. Both of these publications are sold by the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation on its sales stall – go to the website to find out where the stall is to be: it appears at many events throughout the County.