Gatekeeper butterflies

Posted: Wednesday 1 August 2012
by Richard Jones

I’ve just submitted my two online reports for this year’s Big Butterfly Count. I know, from the start, that this is going to be a good year for gatekeepers.

Gatekeeper butterfly, in grass

I’ve just submitted my two online reports for this year’s Big Butterfly Count. I know, from the start, that this is going to be a good year for gatekeepers. More than any other butterfly, the gatekeeper defines my garden. Speckled woods and meadow browns may fly through, I might catch sight of large whites over the fence, or a red admiral on the October ivy flowers. And holly blues flit fitfully in early spring and late autumn. But the gatekeepers make my garden their own.
They are only on the wing for about 8 weeks, but during July and August they are a constant presence. And they are in the garden rather than passing through. Gatekeepers, it may be, are more sedentary than many other butterflies.
Their July emergence from chrysalides may have helped them avoid the bad weather that marred so much of June and seems to have done for the meadow browns, which were on the wing two months ago, but which now seem to have vanished.
Last week we were awash with gatekeepers, but isn’t it just the way that when I decide to allocate my 15 minutes of watching, the sun goes in and everything becomes still. In the event, I was able to record one large white and three gatekeepers. Not a great tally, but every little counts, and it will be the sum of very many ‘small’ observations like this that combine to give the big results the organizers hope for.
Perhaps it’s just as well I was able to make another ‘count’ on Sunday. Devonshire Road Nature Reserve was the scene for an introduction to insects workshop I was giving and before the thunder storm I was able to count gatekeepers on the marjoram. I say count, but actually ‘guestimate’ was closer. The herb garden was only a couple of square metres, but trying to keep tabs on a cloud of flickering butterflies was quite a trial on the eyes. In the event I thought more than 15, but less than 20, so settled on 17, along with one speckled wood and one meadow brown.
According to several books, The butterflies of the London Area (C.W. Plant, 1987, London Natural History Society) and Butterflies of Surrey (G.A. Collins, 1995, Surrey Wildlife Trust) gatekeepers avoid most of urban and much of suburban London — including leafy East Dulwich. But a quick look at the Big Butterflies results map shows that gatekeepers are included in many of the reports posted close to me. Whoever was spotting at Greendale claims 100 gatekeepers behind Sainsbury’s.
According to a tweet from Butterfly Conservation’s Richard Fox the 9000th count was made shortly after mine (8769 and 8773) on Monday 30 July, but the project runs until the end of August. 34,300 counts were made in 2011, and the gatekeeper was top of the final results list. By my own reckoning, it will be top in 2012 too.

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dressmaker 13/08/2012 at 10:33

Yes gatekeepers in my garden too, never had them before.
Also had longtailed tits yesterday on fat balls.