Butterfly hunting in Murlough with local recorders Ann McComb and Pauline McNulty last year taught me something about the character of lepidopterists, and in my experience it’s true: Every new or long-unseen butterfly becomes our favourite until the next new or long-unseen butterfly appears.

So here it is, my latest favourite butterfly.

12JUL11 Grayling

The 12th of July as I know it is the day when a large minority of Nornians deliberately drag their country through the mud. So it was nice to be as far away from it as possible, high on the sandy dunes of Murlough, stalking Hipparchia semele.

The Grayling is a butterfly worth writing about – it’s this big brown satyr that vigorously defends its territory against anything airborne: other males, other butterflies, and even swallows. It characteristically glides with its wings held in a V, unlike the more bouncy flight of the Meadow Brown. When at rest it basks with wings closed and forewings hidden – in this position its grey hindwings camouflage it against the rocks (if there are any – against the sand in Murlough it’s easier to see). I managed to catch one in my net (it requires slow, low movements – neither of which my knees appreciated), and after a lot of flapping (in which it revealed its lovely brown and orange upperwings for a blurry photo) it settled down and concentrated on angling its wings towards the sun, carefully adjusting ats position as I turned the container. At close range (and it shows on the photo above) you can see a blue sheen on the hindwings and a green sheen on the edge of the upper forewing. Finally I was able to get it onto my hand for the photo above before it took flight down the dune and away over the heath. Evidently (and I don’t blame it) it wanted to get as far away from me as possible!

Further north and east I discovered what seemed to be the main Grayling colony, on a row of large dunes where I counted 8. (Grid reference on request, for anyone who’s interested!)

So that’s the marvellous Grayling, number 22 of this year.

2011 BRITISH BUTTERFLIES: 22
           Ireland: 20

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