As the world shuts down around us the uplifting role that wildlife plays in our lives becomes more vital than ever. So, for my own sanity as much as anything, I’m going to keep a daily diary of what I find around my garden. Photograph the wildlife you can see from your window or in your garden and post your pictures on the ‘Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table’ page.
A great poet, I think it might have been Wordsworth or Keats, once wrote:
“You can’t start a fire / You can’t start a fire without a spark”
I was thinking of those words this morning as I sat on the patio staring, numb and exhausted, into space. I’m still finding it hard to take this in. The pandemic situation is still changing hour by hour, and so is my mood. Sometimes I’m OK with the ‘new normal’. I’ve even been getting excited about remote working and videoconferencing. Other times the isolation and ‘not-knowing’ overwhelm me.
I was at one of these low points in my oscillating mood this morning at about 10:45 so I went and sat out on the patio with a drink. It was then, brothers and sisters, that I saw the light. I was sent a sign, an angelic vision, a burst of colour, a glowing promise of what lies ahead. The light at the end of my tunnel was an oncoming butterfly.
(Brimstone photo by Bob Eade)
On sculpted, vibrant yellow wings my first Brimstone butterfly of the year made his elegant entrance, gliding over the fence and performing some graceful laps around the pond.
The effect of this visitation on my mood was instant and extreme – as if I had just had 12,000 volts administered to me by a cattle prod. I spat out my Cup-a-Soup, leapt up out of the chair and started tearing after it ‘round the garden. The Brimstone paused momentarily on the Ivy and I stood watching it, my heart pounding, unable to control the smile on my face. And then it was off, back over the fence, to work its miracles elsewhere.
I’m always excited to see my first Brimstone each year – but in this current situation it was akin to some sort of religious epiphany. I usually see my first one in February but this year that pleasure had been delayed a month because, up until this week, the weather in 2020 has been awful. (Remember those days when all we had to moan about was the wind and rain?)
As thrilled as I am to see my first Brimstone of 2020 I just can’t count it as a ‘Sign of Spring’ because it doesn’t really represent the year’s new life. By the time Brimstones appear in February and March they are already on their last (six) legs. Brand-new Brimstone butterflies emerged from their chrysalises way back in July and August of 2019, so my Brimstone could be eight months old – and in butterfly years that’s ancient. Admittedly almost all of that time he’s been asleep in a hedge, sheltered from the autumn and winter storms, hibernating under Holly or Ivy. Yet despite the worst winter weather Brimstones always emerge immaculate. They must be made of Teflon.
(Hidden Brimstone beautifully photographed by Emily Coyte)
When Brimstones awake in the spring the (bright yellow) males search for a (pale yellow) mate. They mate, the females lay eggs and then they both die. Still, an adult life of over ten months earns them the title of our longest-lived butterfly. An insect OAP.
So, while I don’t class my first Brimstone sighting as my official ‘Herald of Spring’ (there’s another butterfly which holds this title) it’s certainly my sign that winter has ended. And right now, that’s good enough for me. Either way this big yellow butterfly is a welcome messenger of what’s to come – the leader of an oncoming parade of incredible wildlife that’s about to be appear and keep that smile on my face. The Brimstone is the first sulphurous spark to ignite the blaze. And “You can’t start a fire / You can’t start a fire without a spark”
Hey, I Just remembered the name of the poet who wrote that. It was this guy.
Brimstones are widespread and common across Sussex. They’re easy to identify – if you’ve seen a big yellow butterfly, you’ve seen a Brimstone. The weather is looking good for the next few days so hopefully you’ll be able to find the time to get out for your daily exercise and you’ll see one. There’s a Brimstone out there somewhere with your name on it, just waiting to put a smile on your face. Let me know in the comments below if you see one or share your sighting on the Sussex Wildlife Trust Nature Table.