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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

A brilliant master of disguise

The Orange Tip butterfly has a mottled-green underwing.

The Orange Tip butterfly has a mottled-green underwing.

The male Orange Tip butterfly is very distinctive. The female lacks the orange wing tips.

The male Orange Tip butterfly is very distinctive. The female lacks the orange wing tips.

Highbury Park invariably lays on a wonderful welcome, and yesterday was no exception. Just a handful of paces inside its green borders a tiny Holly Blue butterfly danced by, as delicate as a blossom petal on the breeze. As if to hammer home its size and fragility, a robust Large White fluttered alongside it momentarily.

The Nuthatch family I am watching seem to be doing well, with the parents whizzing in and out of the next with dizzying speed. Their chicks must be growing apace in their cosy nest, the entrance to which is, as is usual with this breed of bird, plastered with mud to make it exactly the right size for them. They are at the early end of their breeding time, so it is possible that this pair may manage to lay a second brood before the end of June, which would be fabulous news for Highbury (Nuthatch tend to stay within an area they are familiar with, rather than dispersing far and wide).

Two Magpies worked in unison across a patch of grass, checking it over, pecking away, moving as methodically as police doing a fingertip search. Above them a horse chestnut tree cast its vast shadow. The flowers that make up the horse chestnut’s ‘candles’ are mostly in full bloom now. Some of the flower’s pale yellow blobs have already turned reddish, indicating that they have been pollinated (see this month’s feature ‘Our Most Welcome Immigrant’ for more information).

As I sat by the stream, I noticed a male Orange Tip, patrolling up and down again, in search of a mate (as I mentioned in a previous blog, Orange Tips are fond of slightly damp areas). It kept flying tantalisingly close to me, bright orange wing tips glowing like fire in the sunshine, against their brilliant white background. Finally, the ever-moving male needed a rest and a spot of food to keep its energy up – and it landed right in front of me. I couldn’t believe my luck!

At first it held its wings together, showing me the mottled green underwing that makes such seemingly eye-catching butterfly a master of disguise. It was almost invisible on the sun-dappled leaf. The females have that mottled underwing too, and that’s what makes them easy to identify from the white butterflies, as Small and Large White don’t have that patterning (incidentally, I also saw a Marbled White, so called because of the strong black vein pattern on it’s white underwing). As I watched this male Orange Tip, it slowly began to open its wings, a little more, then a little more, until finally it showed itself off in its full magnificence.


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