RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Butterflies and sunshine all set to spring forth

Talking of holly blue butterflies (see this week’s walk at Graffham) here is a picture of what you could see there in another six weeks.

All right, I know this is a long way ahead, but don’t you become like a bear with a sore head, longing to burst out of hibernation into the fresh air?

Winter birds such as brent geese are wonderful, but so is sunshine and warmth, fresh leaves opening and the song of the nightingale.

In only ten days I shall start my weekly hunt for butterflies again as I have for the past 39 years, when I monitor them at Kingley Vale.

This is the country’s longest- running unbroken chain of butterfly records by the same person, so I am polishing up

my walking boots for the weekly five-mile transect yet again.

And one of the first butterflies I look for is the holly blue.

These are always at the entrance to the nature reserve, where the holly and the ivy grow together – both being an essential requirement for this delicate blue insect.

Whereas all the other blues – common, chalkhill, Adonis, argus, silver studded – have decorated underwings that look like rows of medals, the holly has only a certain shade of grey.

It is a perfect silver shade that is almost translucent, and seems to gleam in the sunlight, and it has a set of small black beauty spots to show it off. Topside is dusky blue.

These insects are in my garden too, living on the holly and the ivy in the hedge.

The butterfly will emerge in late April or early May from the ivy buds on which it has fed.

It has actually been known to fly in late March, so maybe I’m not too early with this article after all.

Anyway, I tried to find a caterpillar in the autumn, but was not successful.

They burrow into the ivy bud at night to feed, and look so exactly like the sooty fruit itself, that they are almost impossible to see.

There is so much goodness in the ivy bud and berry that they soon grow fat and strong, and then give up and go to sleep for the winter, attached as a larva to the underside of an ivy leaf.

See if you can find one on your local ivy. It will be hooked to the underside of a leaf in its silken girdle by its cremaster (tail hooks – like an anchor) and the length will be about one centimetre.

Colour is a sort of ochre, with a thin black line on the thorax. When that one hatches out it will if a female, lay its eggs on the flowers of the holly.

Hope you see the butterfly at least, even if the children are invisible.