Sunday, 4 October 2015

Pretending it is summer with Druridge Bay's late butterflies

Autumn is not my favourite time of year. Where some people see a mellow, fruitful, contemplative landscape I just see it getting darker in the morning. Ruthless midwinter is just fine, the completed dark a stage set for lights and sparkle, but autumn is just grey and damp.

September however has been dramatically warm and sunny, the low rays casting each day into a silver and gold wonder. This speckled wood butterfly for instance, still out in good numbers and fresh specimens too, newly hatched and perky, flying up in battling pairs. Before 2008 speckled wood were a remarkable novelty in the north east but are now well established along the coast. They are one of the most reliable sights throughout the summer and multiple broods keep hatching so long as the warmth lasts. It is the expansion of butterfly and dragonfly ranges north into Northumberland that has me convinced that the climate is warming. These are sun loving species, not especially fussy about habitat: it is not some change to the landscape that had lured them from the warmer south Speckled wood, for example, are perfectly at home in gardens and parks. Along the Bay they do well at sites such as Hauxley with a mix of dappled hedge shade and open grass. Their caterpillars feed on common grasses, whilst the adults hold territories along the edges of paths and rises. This one is using the sun fuzzed seed pods of a willowherb as a launch pad to see off rivals

I do my best not to take them for granted. In 2008 I was startled to find on in Newcastle. In 2010 I broke my mobile phone, sitting on it in my haste to photograph one at Hauxley. Now speckled woods are a familiar, everyday companion. On the other hand I’ve not seen a wall brown for a couple of years and these more orangey cousins of the speckled wood look to be in trouble.

The butterflies briefly help pretend it is still June and July but the evening chill is creeping up on them. I know that the Bay is often at its best for bird watchers in Autumn but the colour is leaching away and the last flowers look scraggy and folorn.

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