At last we can declare that spring is here! Cold winds may still blast through, and we can have balmy sunshine, hail, snow or pouring rain – sometimes all in the same day – but the days are stretching out into beautiful evenings, and the flush of growth in our gardens, waysides, and woods, is thrilling to both us and the wildlife. Now is the time for breeding and blooming – from catkins to to returning migrants to frogspawn, its all kicking off!
One of the things that gets me really excited at this time of year, is seeing the first of the seasons butterflies. There are the four I always look out for in March, April and May.
Big and bright, Brimstones are one of the earliest butterflies we see in the spring. Hedgerows and gardens are the best place to look, when there’s a succession of mild sunny days in March. Look carefully at this butterfly if you find one perched and see how its wings are perfectly leaf shaped, helping it blend into the spring growth of the hedgerow. If you are planting a hedge in your garden, consider including Buckthorn or Alder Buckthorn in your shrub varieties as these are the food plants of the brimstone’s caterpillars.
A bold, bright, cheerful butterfly, Orange Tip males are instantly recognisable as they power up and down their territory. Often seen alongside country lanes or woodland edges where their food plants grow; look for patches of garlic mustard or lady’s smocks and you’ll be in the right place. Also often seen nectaring on early spring flowers in gardens, such as Aubretia on sunny walls and banks (see photo). It takes a little more practice to identify the females of this species, as they lack the distinctive orange wingtips, but look for the green mottling on the underside of the hind wing. .
One of the ‘blue’ species you’re most likely to see in gardens, the Holly Blue is also commonly found in churchyards, the edges of school playgrounds, parks and canal paths – in fact, anywhere where there are plenty of its favourite plants, holly and ivy. Holly Blues are small butterflies and appear silvery in flight. The wings are bright blue, edged in black in the females, and the underside of their wings have a few black marks but are otherwise fairly plain in pattern.
Red Admirals arrive in our country from Europe every spring and throughout summer, but some also hibernate through the winter as adults, tucked away in sheltered places such as tree cavities, behind ivy or in garden sheds. You will often see them early in the year when they are tempted out by warming days. They are large butterflies and their black wings are patterned with red stripes and white dots. Red Admirals are commonly seen basking in patches of sunshine on fences, walls and paths such as this one on my garden fence last summer.