Country diary: a tale of two fritillaries

Country diary: a tale of two fritillaries

Mabie Forest, Dumfries and Galloway: The two butterflies are hard to tell apart, but one clue is the month each arrives in the forest

On the horizon, the pines are black – dappled emerald when the clouds allow. I am down on the forest track, wet-kneed. Around me, the dew lies heavy in the shade of the morning, jewelling the sapling oaks, the unfurling ferns, and the leaves of a newly blooming northern marsh orchid – a two-inch-high shock of purple.

Nowhere is this late spring catching up so visibly as this forest. I was here three weeks ago for the pearl-bordered fritillary, a rare butterfly that I found was coming to visit the sparse scatterings of bugle. Then, the bugle and bluebell were the only flowers, next to oaks whose leaves had only half emerged. Now they are among many.

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