Right now in the first couple of weeks of July, garden butterfly numbers tend to rocket. The summer emergence of Peacocks, Commas, Brimstones, together with Meadow Browns and Speckled Woods, plus a surge in the number of 'cabbage white' butterflies, mean that there is a flitting and fluttering going on in a way not seen until this point in the year. The only problem is that it can all be very distracting when you're meant to be gardening.
You can see the population boom in this graph, which shows the number of butterflies in my garden each week during 2017.
The tallest bar is Week 29, which is19th-25th July, so you can see how numbers build from a June lull up to their summer peak in the next 2-3 weeks, tailing off again once we get into August. (Last year I also had a bit of an early autumn 'second-coming' when Red Admirals had a great final brood.)
That is not to say that everywhere in the country will be exactly the same as my graph, but it won't be far off the same basic pattern - butterflies are such reliable timekeepers in terms of the annual calendar. You can predict butterflies' birthdays almost to the day!
My butterfly of the moment whose numbers help create this boom in my garden is this one:
It is the Gatekeeper, which when I was a lad used to be called the Hedge Brown. Certainly you see more along hedges than you do opening gates.
It is very similar to the slightly larger and very common Meadow Brown, but even in its wings-closed position, the giveaway is the tiny white dots on the hindwing in brown circles.
Also, the black eye-spot on underside of the forewing has two white spots, whereas the Meadow Brown tends to have one (except in Scotland where the Gatekeeper sadly isn't found). Sadly, this is not a butterfly of Northern Ireland, either, although with climate change we could see it expand ever further northwards.
Here is the Gatekeeper, wings open.
This is the male, with a black smudge through the bright orange panel on the forewing.
Females lack this:
...and Meadow Browns don't have the orange panel on the rear upperwing. In the female Meadow Brown, there is just an orange panel on the upper forewing:
And in the male Meadow Brown there is barely any orange on the upperwing at all:
So here's a chance to put your Gatekeeper and Meadow Brown skills to the test. What do we have here?
Both species have caterpillars that eat wild grasses. This is where a lawn just won't do - mown bowling greens of Rye-grass aren't to their taste. However, if you can create a patch of wildflower meadow, either in your lawn or along the sunny side of a hedge, you may help provide a home for the next generation. Then your garden can celebrate ever more butterfly birthdays.
Oh, and our mystery photo? It was Gatekeeper above and Meadow Brown below - the white dots in the black eyes gave it away.
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