Rooks and Orange Tips

Est. Reading: 2 minutes

As spring approaches and the weather improves there is more to encourage us to get out and about on the beautiful riverside. For the observant it is an opportunity to witness the progress of spring. It may be the sight of frogs’ spawn here and there in the ditches or a splash of rich yellow from the coltsfoot daisy or the sound of the returning chiffchaff. The rooks, being very early at nest have already returned to the Croft oak trees where they took up residence a couple of years ago after deciding that the Valley Trail site no longer met their requirements, possibly on account of work to nearby trees. The Croft’s nineteen nests in 2017 equated rather too closely to the previous year’s eighteen on the Valley Trail trees for it to be mere coincidence. They were the same birds. This year there are seventeen nests so the rookery remains stable.

Of the many joys that the riverside provides, for those who are receptive to nature’s bounty, are its butterflies. It is common knowledge that our butterflies are in serious decline as a result of loss of habitat and climate change so when we see butterflies they are all the more enchanting. Unless there is a return to colder winters populations will continue to decline for the five species that overwinter as adults as early emergence before nectar bearing plants are available condemns them to a few brief days of life and little opportunity to breed and lay eggs on host plants. From a management point of view, however, it is still important to provide suitable habitat which includes hibernation sites as well as host-plants for the caterpillars to feed on.

Butterflies can most truly be said to be one of the heralds of better and lengthening days. Although, certainly not the earliest on the wing by any means the orange tip butterfly is still one of the true heralds of spring. It times its appearance in April and May to coincide with the flowering of the various plants that its caterpillars feed on. Although a wide variety of plants belonging to the cabbage family is attractive to this species two in particular are still very common on the riverside. Cuckoo-flower and garlic-mustard, often referred to as ‘Jack-by-the-hedge’ on account of its appearance in those habitats, are still common. Sadly, the orange tip is not anywhere near as common as it used to be. The photograph shows both male and female and the butterfly’s name is clearly provided by the male. Of course, close inspection shows that the orange does not extend to the tips of the wings which are a dusty black so the name is somewhat inaccurate. However, when a male is seen in flight it is the orange part that is eye-catching and to see a male orange tip butterfly on wing on a bright spring day is truly a joy to behold. Enjoy them while you may.

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