Great British Butterfly Hunt

black swallowtail

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

“The butterfly only visible at 1500 ft.” Now, there’s a headline to make a person sit up and say, “Huh?” This butterfly can only be seen from a spy satellite? A balloon? A plane? What goes up so high, anyway? But that isn’t what Michael McCarthy means. He means, you have to climb up a mountain to spot this creature. As he tells us in The Independent,

The mountain ringlet is our one true montane or Alpine butterfly, for it is restricted to mountainsides in the Lake District and in the Scottish Highlands…We were fortunate in that we had a series of precise grid references where mountain ringlets had been seen in the past, and we based our search on them.

Mountain ringlets are hard to find, because they pretty much blend in with the foliage, especially if the weather is overcast. No sun, no mountain ringlets. During their climb, McCarthy and his companions saw other kinds of butterflies, and some very nice birds.

Finally, there was one mountain ringlet, and then others. The butterfly’s brown wings are decorated with orange spots, so when the wings are in motion, there’s a blurring effect. McCarthy describes it as “a little whirring ball of black with an orange halo around it.” The team returned with the impression that these particular butterflies are doing pretty well, and are not in danger.

Not surprisingly, it’s all part of a larger mission: The Independent‘s Great British Butterfly Hunt. As a very specialized type of travel writer, McCarthy set out to track all the species of butterfly in Britain, of which there are 58, and clap eyes on each and every one of them, in the space of one summer. He’s been keeping readers posted with regular reports, like this one on the swallowtail, which is one of Britain’s rarest butterflies.

It was a similar butterfly, by strange coincidence, that set Kevin on the travel writing path. In “The Corsican Swallowtail: Corsica, France,” he says:

This was my first attempt at travel writing. It was originally published in Hobart magazine. Ever since writing it, I have kept an eye out for the Corsican Swallowtail whenever I’m in Corsica, but I have yet to see one (I think).

The picture on this page is of a Black Swallowtail. We’d love to see a picture of a Corsican Swallowtail. Any volunteers?

photo courtesy of tlindenbaum , used under this Creative Commons license

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