I've seen the best of Britain – and all but one of its butterflies
Saturday 05 September 2009
Of all the readers who accepted our challenge, Andy King, from Chorleywood in Hertfordshire, was the most successful, spotting 57 of the 58 species. Here he tells the story of his hunt
Looking for butterflies on a sunny spring day in a countryside beauty spot probably appeals to lots of people, not all of them wildlife experts. "Ticking" every single English species in one year, however, will seem a trifle obsessive to most.
But I'm a child of my times, I suppose, and what is this but a case of the dreaded target-setting?
Be that as it may, it does get you out of the house. I've visited some of the most beautiful parts of 15 counties on my searches and I've driven through umpteen others to get to them. As well as insects, I've also managed to meet many friendly and helpful humans on my travels. In fact, I couldn't have done it without a lot of their local knowledge and expertise.
How would you know where to go? Well, join Butterfly Conservation (£2.33 a month) and they have volunteer local experts who run field trips to show you.
This might strike you as a lot of trouble, just to see a bunch of butterflies. But, of course, there is a challenge involved. Everybody is pleased to see a swallowtail land beside them, but plain and obscure species, particularly if they are rare, have their own cachet.
My prize for the most obscure butterfly probably goes to the mountain ringlet. It's a smallish, brown butterfly which lives patchily on a handful of mountains in the Lake District and it displays unhelpful behaviour. I knew roughly where some were, but my maps weren't good enough and there are precious few landmarks. On my way down from the first mountain I jarred my leg and my knee started to hurt. After the second mountain there were still no sightings and my knee was really hurting, and it was threatening to rain; I'd started driving up from Hertfordshire at 4am and I still didn't have a place to stay. Things weren't looking so good!
The next day, I set off up mountain No 3, Irton Fell. The sun was shining, the air temperature was above 15C (they won't fly unless it is) and I limped uphill for three hours – no sign. I gave up, if I'm honest, and turned back, making very slow progress. And there they were. It seems they can't be bothered to fly until gone midday and I spotted a good dozen on the way down. What was I saying about it being a challenge?
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