Barrow butterflies shed during winter

After all the upheaval of the festive season and the acquisition of our new puppy Treacle, it was good to get out and about again to catch up with all that is happening in the wonderful world of wildlife.

I was doing a bit of tidying up in the garden and went to get the wheelbarrow, which has been standing in a corner of the shed unused since the autumn.

Once outside into the daylight, I immediately noticed three brown objects stuck to the inside, looking like dead leaves.

A closer look revealed that they were actually a trio of small tortoiseshell butterflies, sound asleep in mid-hibernation.

I retraced my steps into the shed, gently removed them and placed them in a dark corner where I hope they will be undisturbed until the warmth of spring brings them round.

They are one of the few butterfly species to overwinter in the adult stage.

Similarly, it is relatively rare in the world of moths for this to occur, but I heard from my moth mentor Malcolm (try saying that after a few shandies) that he had recently encountered such a phenomenon.

He was visiting a ruined Borders peel tower when he discovered a colony of sleeping herald moths, in an alcove in the dungeon.

Like the aforementioned butterflies, they seek out cool dark places where the temperature is likely to remain stable throughout the winter months.

At the start of last December, I wrote about an abortive visit to my local patch of river to see a rare glaucous gull, after a tip-off from a local birder.

Around New Year time, I got another phone call from him, but once again I drew a blank.

Last Sunday, I was out for a stroll down the riverside path in the middle of Selkirk, when I noticed a trio of gulls, which had been attracted by a dead fish.

The one eating it was undoubtedly a lesser black-backed gull and one of the watchers was a much smaller black-headed gull, but without its black head, as it was in winter plumage.

The third one was the same size as the fish eater, but totally lacking any black plumage and was speckled brown all over.

Could this possibly be the one?

I managed a couple of distant pictures from the footbridge and couldn’t wait to get home to look up the books.

Everything looked right, so I emailed a couple of the photos to some local bird experts for confirmation.

Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the result hasn’t come back, so you will have to wait until next week for the verdict.

This very rare Arctic visitor could certainly get my 2014 bird list off to a cracking start!

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