We’re all of a flutter!
It feels like it’s been both summer and winter these last few weeks, with blazing temperatures on one day and relentless rain the next - not to mention the thunderstorms and rather astonishing displays of lightning! But one thing we have noticed is that after the clouds have cleared and the raindrops have settled, the wildlife always comes back in full force to remind us that the summer months are not quite so far away as they seem.
One species that really does come into its own during sunny weather is the butterfly, and with so many of our wildflowers blooming we’re on the lookout for our winged friends. We've had our Flutterby with Butterflies Trail on this week (until 3 June), and although the weather hasn't been great we have spotted some rather lovely butterflies out in our wildflower meadow near the front of the visitor centre. If you have a good camera you may be able to photograph them from afar, but if you’re using a mobile or iPad you may need to master the art of being super sneaky and super quiet – chances are they’ll fly away before you can get too close!
So which butterflies can you expect to see at RSPB Sandwell Valley in the coming weeks?
1. Orange Tip
The orange tip butterfly is one of the first to appear during the spring months. The males are quite easy to spot with the fiery orange tips on their fore-wings (hence the name), whereas the females have black tips. You can usually spot orange tips in hedgerows and by river banks so the path along the Tame River might be just the perfect spot! They also love lady’s smock (also known as the cuckoo flower) and garlic mustard.
We had our first reports of the comma butterfly about a month ago. This butterfly has beautiful rich red and brown wings, and an intrinsically scalloped edge. You can often find commas in woodland clearings, or on thistles – the nectar of which they’re particularly fond of. When they are caterpillars, they'll feed on nettles, as well as elms and willows. Commas also love to sunbathe so if you’re attempting some butterfly photography all you have to do is wait for a super sunny day. Our volunteer Sue took this beautiful photo a few weeks back.
Brimstone butterflies are perhaps one of the easiest butterflies to spot with their large yellowy-green wings that look a little like a cabbage leaf. (If you've heard the brimstone referred to as a cabbage butterfly that may be true in appearance, but the cabbage white is in fact a completely different butterfly!) Brimstone butterflies hibernate during the winter, most likely in holly and bramble bushes, and then, like most butterflies, will emerge when the weather is warm again. The male butterfly has bright yellow wings, whereas the female's are much paler and creamier.
4. Speckled Wood
The likeliest place to spot a speckled wood butterfly, as you might expect from the name, is in a woodland area - particularly in shady spots that has sunlight filtering through the leaved canopies. They also like gardens and hedgerows. If you're taking a stroll down to the Hide or along our bridle path you might spot one resting on a sun-bathed leaf. Speckled wood butterflies have brown wings with creamy yellow spots, and an orangey-brown pattern on the under wing. They'll be around from March through to October, so if you don't see one this month, don't worry; they'll be here for a few more months yet.
It could be argued that the peacock butterfly is one of the prettiest of all British butterflies. Their brightly coloured wings and luminescent purple eyes are an instant give-away when searching amongst the green foliage. Peacock butterflies are particularly fond of gardens, meadows, log piles and hedgerows. Although the best times to see them are from March - May and July - September, you can still spot the caterpillars from around mid-May - July. The caterpillars can often be found feeding on nettles, and our wildflower meadow will be perfect for adult butterflies when they're out and about.
Did you know we also run sessions for schools that can help children find out more about butterflies and other land minibeasts?
Check out our schools on reserve activities to find out more: https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-teachers/school-trips/sandwell-valley/
Photo credits: Tom Marshall (rspb-images.com), Sue Fox, Andy Purcell, Emily White
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