Thursday, 2 October 2014

Clouded Yellows and Not-So-Yellows!

Before I finish the post about Titchwell, I wanted to write a quick post about something I saw recently. I was able to visit two of my favourite Kentish nature reserves again (I used to live in Kent), RSPB Dungeness and Elmley Marshes. I will write about both these reserves and how much I love them and why in future posts, I expect.

At Dungeness I was happy to see a couple of Clouded Yellows, the butterfly I put in my favourite butterflies list and said was hard to see in some years and easier in others. But the next day when I visited Elmley, I was seeing them flying across the path every few metres! I don't think I've ever seen so many. Is this a Clouded Yellow year? I would predict yes!

What's more, they weren't all the bright yellow I described in the butterflies post. I saw at least two that were very washed out and pale looking, with a greenish tinge. Seeing butterflies of any species that are pale coloured isn't that unusual as they fade as they get older, and when I saw the first one that's what I assumed it was. But when I saw the second one it seemed really unusual to see two that were faded in exactly the same way, so I looked it up and found out that there's a form of female Clouded Yellow called f. helice that is pale like this, so it seemed very likely that that's what I saw. As far as I can tell f. helice isn't a subspecies but a colour variant, something that's hard to understand for someone who mainly knows about birds like myself, as very few birds in Britain have anything like this (Cuckoos are the only ones I can think of, where rarely a female will be rust brown instead of grey). About 5-10% of female Clouded Yellows will be f. helice, which isn't all that much so I was very pleased to see them, and to see something new, as well as just seeing so many Clouded Yellows! I love them so much. It made me inspired to make some artwork about them, so hopefully that will actually happen, watch this space!

There's still a few weeks in the Clouded Yellow's flight period, and the weather is still decent, so keep an eye out for these wonderfully brightly coloured butterflies and their not-so-colourful but fascinating sisters! If there are any butterfly fans reading this, I'd love to know if you have been seeing Clouded Yellows too this year.