You don’t always have to wander very far in order to find joy in beautiful things. Place your feet outside your front door and simply walk, and who knows what you’ll discover?
There is a lane leading away from the village where I live. At this time of year it doesn’t look very interesting at a first glance, even on a sunny, blue-skied day. Here it is – it’s just an old bridleway, lined by hedges, trees and fields. A single splash of gorse invites you in.
But, of course, peer a bit closer and there are many, many things to see. A Seven-spot ladybird was scurrying across the ground. Nearby a hoverfly perched on a leaf, basking in the warm sunshine. I saw my first Speckled Wood butterfly of the year – two of them in fact, guarding their territorial boundaries fiercely. They were spiralling across my path, both on the way out and the way back. I love these feisty butterflies, determined as they are to see off all-comers, from other Speckled Woods to humans. Common Dog-violets were poking out of the grass and Lesser Celandine flowers were cheerfully opening out to the sun. Both Gorse and Red Campion were out, but is there a season when they’re not?
I also spotted what I at first thought was Yellow Archangel, a plant of ancient woodland, but then noticed it had variegated leaves, making it a garden variety – sometimes known as Aluminium Archangel – which is invasive so nothing like as welcome in the wild as our native species. You can see the variegation pattern on the leaves in the photograph. Find out more about the problems it can cause here.
The flowers are just like the native species, however – they manage to be both lovely and rather weird. Look at the photo and you’ll see the round yellow blobs – these are actually the flower buds. When open, each flower has a ‘hood’ and a lower ‘lip’, the latter of which has brown stripy markings. These have a purpose – just as markings and lights on an airport runway guide planes into land, so the Archangel flower’s markings guide honeybees into the nectar at their centre, collecting pollen along the way.
Neither the wild nor garden forms of Archangel are supposed (according to my flower key) to bloom until May, but it is very warm and this is Cornwall…
Next time I spot Yellow Archangel, I hope it’s our British species. In the meantime, here’s a combative Speckled Wood glaring sidelong at my camera.
When your mind turns to butterflies on a summer’s day, it is usually the Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, Silver-washed Fritillaries and Peacocks that flutter across the imagination. I, however, have a soft spot for a more subtle, unassuming bunch – the Browns. This group of, well, let’s face it, brown butterflies might be less showy, but their modest colouring belies a delicate charm. They also have some unexpected talents, and I’m going to sing the praises of five of the Browns.
The clever egg hider
My garden is currently home to a small population (I’ve counted up to 11) of Ringlets (Aphantopus hyperantus). As I sit watching their bobbing, tentative flight, with their deep velvety-brown wings and the fluttering and side-stepping as males and females encounter and greet each other, it’s hard to believe I once dismissed them as yet another boring Brown. They like my garden because the adults enjoy nectaring on bramble, and the females lay their eggs in long coarse grasses such as Cock’s-foot: these plants are plentiful in my rather wild spaces.
The Ringlet’s talent is the ability of the females to carefully hide their eggs by behaving seemingly carelessly: the females scatter fertilised eggs willy-nilly into the grasses. They’re not being careless of course: this method means the eggs drop to the warm undergrowth singly, and are difficult for predators to find and eat.
The ‘now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t’ butterfly
Can you see the butterfly in this photo?
Here’s a closer photo of the same butterfly, to the right of the cropped image – it’s a bit more obvious here.
It is, of course, the Grayling (Hipparchia semele). This is a butterfly that has perfected the art of canny disguise. In flight it is a large butterfly but, on the ground with its wings closed, the lower wings tucked behind its upper wings, the mottled colouring of the underwings makes it hard to spot. At rest it angles its wings in such a way that it barely casts a shadow, completing the disguise. They remain very still when basking – I wish I had the same patience!
The feisty butterfly
The Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) is possibly the most distinguished of the Browns in terms of patterning, with its yellow markings and eyespots. Its dappled colouring ensures it is at home in equally dappled woodland habitats. The males are very territorial, swooping at intruders from their perch in the vegetation. They’re not easy to intimidate – I’ve been swooped at many a time by a Speckled Wood.
The cool butterfly
The Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) must be fed up at being the only one of the Browns with ‘Brown’ in its name (unless you count the alternative name for the Gatekeeper of Hedge Brown). One of our most widespread and abundant butterflies, it can occur in large numbers at some sites. It has a cool talent (one it shares with the Ringlet). Its dark colouring absorbs and retains warmth efficiently, meaning it can stay active when clouds are covering the sun and other butterflies are forced to rest.
It is possible to confuse the Meadow Brown with my next butterfly – the Gatekeeper (Pironia tithonus), but it is both browner and larger than the latter.
The guardian butterfly
This talent may be a bit fanciful on my part, suggested by the habit of this orange-brown butterfly to linger in hedgerows and gateways, along the margins of fields in the height of summer. It’s always a lovely surprise to recognise a Gatekeeper. From a distance you imagine it to be a Meadow Brown, but get closer and its brighter more fiery markings and open wings give the game away. A Gatekeeper it is is, the gentle guardian of mid-summer.
So, I encourage you all to pay attention to Brown butterflies. Not that I don’t like to see a Red Admiral or Painted Lady, and fritillaries are always a delight, but the Browns have their place as well, reminding us of the benefits and surprises of a quieter approach to life.
Find out more about the Browns, and butterflies in general, on the following websites:
The weather has been so beautiful recently, and at long last the wildflowers are in full bloom along the Cornish coast, giving us a spectacular display. On Sunday, I decided to head off for Coverack on the east coast of The Lizard, and made my way from there along the South West Coast Path up to Lowland Point.
Coverack itself is of course a lovely coastal village and working harbour, with a very active community – see their website here for lots of information and details of events. However, this time I didn’t linger there, although after parking the car, fairly early with just me and two or three dog walkers about, I did spend a moment or two simply enjoying the salty, seaweedy smell and the sounds of the sea.
As you set off east out of the village, first of all along a narrow lane through houses and then a gravel track, the path is gently wooded. There is a bench fairly early on, generously provided by a nearby house owner: I didn’t need to rest, but walkers who have put more miles in must love to sit and relish the sea view ! It was good to see butterflies flitting about, warming their wings in the early sunlight: I spotted this Speckled Wood, and also saw a Wall butterfly and a few Common Blues and Green-veined Whites.
The South West Coast Path then turns right down a descending rocky path. This had very much an ‘edge of the wood’ feel to it: Beech and Ivy arch overhead creating a woven ceiling to the path, a Woodpigeon gazed at me before diving into the trees, a stream chattered away to the right…but glimpses of the sea and the constant rush of waves beneath the woodland birdsong were a reminder that the coast was very near.
And then the wood ends and the view opens out.
The way to Lowland Point is about 1.5 miles long from Coverack: it is straight and clear, beginning along higher cliffs but ending much lower, first passing alongside low sandy crumbly cliffs (a raised beach in geological terms) and finally dropping down to the same level as the pebbly beach, before rising slightly again at Lowland Point – it is easy to see how this headland gets its name. The landscape round here, as well as being lovely in the ‘here and now’, is also full of history, with archaeological sites from the prehistoric era, the remains of mediaeval field systems, and some Romano-British saltworks (Trebarveth) right at the edge of the cliffs. I failed to find the latter – very frustratingly as I must have walked right past it – and I’ll have to go back for another look!
But the real stars of the day were the flowers. Milkwort, Thrift, Kidney Vetch, Foxgloves finally out, together with Sea Campion, Red Campion, Yellow Irises just starting to bloom alongside Cuckooflower and Ragged Robin in the boggier patches, Bluebells, Tormentil…I could go on and on and on…Instead, I’ve added a species list of what I found at the end of this post (which is probably only a small proportion of what was there…).
One of my favourite places was a beautiful wildflower meadow, to the left of the path approximately midway between Coverack and Lowland Point. I carefully walked through it: many of the plants were up to waist height and more. This was the first place and time this year I had seen Foxgloves properly out, looking fresh and pink.
A lovely walk, beautiful scenery, sea, cliffs, geology, archaeology, rich flora, insects and other fauna – what a wonderful way to spend a Sunday morning! Mine was a ‘there and back again’ walk as I was loathe to leave the cliff top flowers and sea view, but there are circular walks in the area – see this one for example.
PLANT SPECIES LIST:
Common Dog Violet
Sweet Vernal Grass
Discover Cornwalls best trails. With over 250 miles of continuous coast path, areas of outstanding natural beauty, prehistoric burial sites and abandoned mine trails, Cornwall is a great place to go trail running, hiking or walking. Get out there and enjoy the experience!