Cheshire Wildlife Trust summer activities (with audio)
PUBLISHED: 19:45 02 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:39 20 February 2013
Whether they're dingy, common or even an admiral, Cheshire's butterflies can brighten up even the dampest summer's day. Tom Marshall reports
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There were 35 different species of butterfly seen in Cheshire and the Wirral in 2009, and many of these stunningly delicate creatures can be easily spotted in our own back gardens.
With vibrant colours to rival anything seen in a tropical rainforest, and names like Camberwell beauty and silver-studded blue, these marvels of aeronautical engineering play a vital role in the ecosystem, helping to ensure that the millions of flowers which also add colour to a British summer can continue to flourish.
As swathes of yellow daffodils and cowslips herald the arrival of spring, it is perhaps fitting that one of the first butterflies to emerge from a winter slumber is the sulphur-yellow brimstone, often easily seen as it floats effortlessly along roadside verges and hedgerows. Hot on the heels of the brimstone are the white butterflies - those unfortunately not blessed with the evolutionary paintbrush, but species that many of us will be familiar with as the garden white, or cabbage white.
Easily overlooked in flight, the orange-tip is also a sure sign of spring, with the striking clementine-orange tips of the male, a treat for those lucky enough to see them when they rest on the pink petals of their favoured cuckoo flower.
Once these hardy characters have led the way, the real summer show-stoppers take to the air in the shape of peacock butterflies, which as their name suggests, have distinctive pale yellow and purple eyes on their deep claret wings. These are among our most easily recognisable butterflies, along with the smaller and ubiquitous tortoiseshell and the monochrome red admiral with its flash of pillar-box red.
As with so much British wildlife, the early naturalists left us with a legacy of extremely helpful nomenclature, with butterflies being no exception. This makes some species at least rather easier to be sure of, such as the speckled wood (yes, youve guessed it, speckled and to be found in woodlands) and the likes of the common blue and small copper, that usually dont require a desperate thumb through a field guide before they flutter away.
The haphazard nature of butterfly flight and their apparently random aerial forays belie the fact that these remarkable creatures are just as familiar with the epic journeys of migration as a swallow or cuckoo.
Indeed in America and Asia the monarch butterfly undertakes an astonishing annual migration of thousands of miles over land and sea. Back home our own red admirals and painted lady butterflies may travel as far as Southern Europe or even North Africa to escape the biting chill of a British winter.
In recent years however, our warming climate has meant increasing numbers of previously migratory butterflies have in fact chosen to hibernate on our own shores, although for a creature weighing less than a gram, the choice between sitting out a sub-zero winter or undertaking a perilous journey of hundreds of miles can hardly be an easy one.
Perhaps surprisingly, butterflies also possess the same full range of senses that we enjoy ourselves. Their use of sight and sound for example may be obvious, however their ability to taste with their feet is something we would no doubt find rather awkward in our own day-to-day lives. This rather unorthodox ability is surely invaluable though when you have to land feet-first on your lunch thousands of times a day.
Build a butterfly restaurant
The summer holidays are an ideal time to have a go at attracting butterflies to your own 'fly through' restaurant and give the family a better chance to discover these amazing insects.
Mix a sugar solution: four parts water to one part granulated sugar (boiled to dissolve, then allowed to cool) and place it in a shallow disc such as a jam jar lid.
Encourage children to design their own colourful flowers with waterproof paints or felt pens - the brighter the petals, the better!
Fit your 'designer' flowers around the sugar solution. The whole family can then sit back and see which flowers are the most popular, noting down the different species that pay a visit. You can also help Cheshire Wildlife Trust by sending in the list of butterflies you have seen - find out more at www.cheshirewildlifetrust.co.uk/recording.htm
These Cheshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves have a range of grassland and woodland butterflies, including many of the species described on these pages.
Detailed maps and directions are available online at www.cheshirewildlifetrust.co.uk/nature_reserve.html.
Dutton Park Farm - Just north of Northwich, The reserve can be reached by walking along the public footpath adjacent to the Weaver Navigation Canal from Acton Bridge.
Knutsford Heath - The heath lies next to the A5033 on the edge of Knutsford.
Warburton's Wood - A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the wood can be accessed by walking through Hunters Wood. Leave Kingsley via B5153 heading towards Frodsham.
And these two reserves may not be as suitable for small children, or may involve a longer walk.
Swettenham Meadows - Follow signs to Swettenham from the A535 (Chelford to Holmes Chapel) or the A34 (Alderley Edge to Congleton) or the A54 (Congleton to Holmes Chapel). Park in Swettenham village.
Red Rocks Marsh - This SSSI lies just above the high water mark, behind the Royal Liverpool Golf Course, north of West Kirby Parade, Hoylake, Wirral, and can be an excellent place to look out for the dingy skipper.