Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Year of the Clouded Yellow . . .


1983 I think it was. It seems a lifetime ago now. Nearly 30 years. Yet it still seems like yesterday. I have no photographs to record what we saw, what we experienced. It is all "just" a memory. One which is unlikely to be repeated, so I shall share it with you. Illustrations? I have none. Go to Dartford Warbler's lovely blog, Where Beechmast Falls, and you will get an idea of the locale, as her photos were taken just a little way along the coast. Look up "Clouded Yellow butterfly" images on Google. Then you know what just ONE looks like. For what we saw that day, you will have you use your imagination.

The place? The beautiful coastline of the Purbecks near Encombe House, overlooking Chapman's Pool. The sea shimmered in a heat-haze, studded with diamonds of light reflecting the sun like a shattered prism. The grass was dry underfoot, for we were enjoying a wonderful summer. June had brought thunderstorms - huge hailstones the size of golfballs had pelted Weymouth, and there were reports of "pink" lightening. July shared the thunderstorms, but also temperatures up in the 90s as weather systems moved up from the Mediterranean. With the weather systems came the butterflies. It was a good year for the local ones - the Blues, the little brown Skippers peculiar to Dorset and this part of the south coast, the Commas, the Peacocks, the Tortoiseshells, the Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and a profusion of Fritillerys of various persuasions which flew too fast to identify and Hairstreaks which were fairly unco-operative about lingering for identification too. As we walked along the cliff path, clouds of butterflies flew up like someone shaking a silk shawl of a hundred different colours. They landed again on Knapweed and Mallow and Rest Harrow, fluttered where the Harebells danced and the Hawksbeard nodded, past Thistles and Plaintain and Yarrow and Toadflax and Trefoil, feeding on Thyme and Scabious and Bedstraw and Clover. Meadow Browns vied with Gatekeepers and Marbled Whites had hatched in epic numbers.

Then came the "foreigners" - the Clouded Yellows - and as we stood looking out to sea, shading our eyes against the glare of the sun-dimpled waves, we saw what looked like a small cloud on the horizon which, as it neared, showed movement and we realized that it was a host of butterflies helped coastwards by the warm winds of the south. Then then were on us, a swirling sulphur cloud of butterflies, flying beside us and beyond us. We walked on, and with every step a profusion of butterflies fluttered up and then returned to feeding, basking and resting. It was as if the hand of Midas had lingered and touched the landscape with a wand of gold. . . . .



Lady's Bedstraw.

Small Tree Mallow.

Scabious in "bud".


Small flowers of Bindweed.


Scabious again.


  1. Lovely post BB, with exquisite wild flower pictures. I have toadflax growing in my front garden wall - why is it that wild flowers always grow in such lovely places?

  2. Weaver - Toadflax, and indeed some of the other wild flowers shown here,used to grow around the edge of our garden where I grew up. They are great colonizers and put up with poor soil and conditions - even walls!

  3. Dorset has some wonderful wild flowers, wish I had the yellow toadflax in my garden - have the purple/pink one all over the place but no yellow. As for clouds of butterflies, the only place I've ever seen that is in the Carpathian Mountains of Roumania a few years ago. I didn't know there were that many butterflies in the world! It was incredible.

  4. How amazing that you were there to see a cloud of butterflies make land on the Dorset cliffs after flying the English Channel! I remember a picnic in the Durlston meadows, about twenty years ago, when we were surrounded by Red Admirals and Painted Ladies.

    Thank you for identifying Agrimony for me. There were swathes of this delicate yellow flower in the limestone meadows last week.

  5. What utterly beautiful wildflowers. It always amazes me that they are so robust to the elements, when they look so delicate, fine and silk paper thin.

  6. Lovely. I remember by my mom's house, bachelor button grew wild along the train tracks. I remember picking bunches of them, and also picking of bunches of ticks, too! I remember rock climbing once and having a 'raft' of baby spiders float by, it was awesome and I remember it 25 years later...