(aka Bike, est. 2007)
Copyright© 2017 Angharad
This is a work of fiction any mention of real people, places or institutions is purely coincidental and does not imply that they are as suggested in the story.
I finished my meeting and discovered that I had nothing further to attend to that afternoon. I was going to play truant. I went off to do a walk in the woodland and the fields surrounding it and took my camera and binoculars with me. Having told Diane I was doing a butterfly transect, I set off for the wood.
To do a butterfly transect, you walk along a usually pre arranged route and note any butterflies you see for five metres ahead or above and two and half metres each side, so a bit like walking in a five metre cube. If you’re doing it properly, then you note the time, the wind speed and direction, approximate temperature and the time you finish. Then off you go.
I changed into my walking boots, entered the temperature the car told me was the air temperature, grabbed my rucky and my camera and set off, adjusting my binoculars as I went.
The temperature was pretty warm, 25°C according to the car and as I strolled along the woodland edge, it felt as if it was even warmer in the lee of the wind. A couple of speckled wood male butterflies sparred in a shaft of sunlight which came through the trees and I watched for a few moments as they spiralled in their dogfight, one conceding and the other flitting off to find its own patch of sunlight to guard in the hope of meeting a mate.
Some men I’ve known would love to be male butterflies, scrapping with other males, mating with any females you can find and fuelling it all on nectar, sort of insect rocket fuel. The downside is possibly, even something the size of a blue tit can catch and eat you—but nothing is perfect—oh and for most of them, life is quite short, a few weeks once in adult guise.
I noted the two rivals on my form and plodded on, my back feeling warm against the rucksack. A common blue flitted past me and from the woodland came the distinctive drumming of a great spotted woodpecker while a pair of buzzards mewed as they circled overhead on the thermals, soaring almost out of sight.
It felt necessary to visit this wood again, to banish the ghosts of last week. I still shuddered a little when I thought how it very nearly came off for the perpetrators and I might be being laid beneath the cold cold earth instead of enjoying the sunshine.
From the field a skylark began to rise and as I listened to its song it reminded me of Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ piece The Lark Ascending which the listeners to Classic fm voted as their favourite tune for the fourth or fifth year in succession. It is delightful, as is the songster that inspired it although I prefer his Variations on a Theme by Thomas Tallis which is total bliss, musically.
The edge of the meadow, which is unimproved pastureland, that means it has had no fertiliser spread on it, the cowslips had given way to red campion and several umbellifers, members of the carrot family, which produce an inflorescence rather than single flowers but which are popular with many insects including butterflies. It was on one such flower I saw to my delight, a Duke of Burgundy butterfly. It used to be called a fritillary once upon a time but it’s now placed in a family called the Metal marks, of which in Britain it is the sole member. It’s quite scarce generally and I was really pleased to see it though it shot off before I could get close enough with the camera.
A couple of white butterflies flitted across which I determined were probably small whites, though some can be larger than a large white—it makes sense to lepidopterists, or more correctly, rhopalocerists. Lepidoptera means scale winged and relates to butterflies and moths, the rhopalcera, meaning club-horned, are the butterflies. Next time you see a butterfly look at its antennae, they end in little knobs and are seen as club ended. Moths have all sorts of weird structures on their antennae but are not club ended.
I watched a beautifully coloured butterfly alight on some grass and then walk down the stem. It was instantly recognisable as a marsh fritillary and although one of the smaller members of that family of mainly orange coloured insects, it is probably the most glorious and has more than once been described as a flying stained glass window. I entered it on my recording sheet but once again it was off before I could get the camera on it. It was too warm for photographs, the butterflies were too active in the heat. It made counting them easier, when it’s windier or overcast they sometimes just hide in the bushes or down amongst the grass and it’s easy to miss them.
Walking on a little further I saw something attached to the petal of a violet and finally found something to photograph that wouldn’t fly away—not for a day or two at least. I’d found the pupa or chrysalis of a butterfly which I was pretty sure was that of a marsh fritillary, and that was colourful too.
Footsteps approached and I saw an older lady also enjoying the sunshine and nature. She stopped to enquire what I was trying to photograph and then held the leaf while I took my picture. She was pleased to have seen it, as was I. I don’t know how many transects I’ve done in the past and not seen anything like that before, the odd burnet moth pupal case and also one or two red admiral or small tortoiseshell cases attached to nettles—they have a silver or gold bit on them, hence the word chrysalis. The admirals, red and white have nothing to do with the sea or navy, they were originally called red or white admirable, which I think is quaint but nicer, however, no one ever asks for my opinion.
A red admiral flew across ahead of me and much lower down a yellowish, small butterfly flew to refuel from the campion. This was a male large skipper, a yellowish moth like butterfly, which some think are more primitive than some of the larger more garish ones. I think they’re lovely.
A brown argus and a grizzled skipper were the only new species I added to my report though I did see several more of previously seen species and I caught site of the great spotted woodpecker with its undulating flight along the edge of the wood. Somewhere in the distance a green woodpecker called, its laughing voice carrying some distance in the light breeze.
Noticing the time, I had to hurry back to the car and change back to my working clothes so Sherlock Watts wouldn’t notice I’d been out enjoying myself, although even university professors need to play at times and the data I’d collected would be submitted to the butterfly recorder for the county, so it was play with a purpose.
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