RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Was it all an April fool’s joke?

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Can you remember back to the balmy days of March, when the sun shone and we thought summer had come a little early?

We men put on our shorts, ladies their sun dresses. And out came the butterflies to dance among the daffodils.

What fun it was to see the sun and peacocks enjoying 18 degrees C for a week. They had waited six months for that moment, tucked up in the ivy on the oaks or in your shed. The first orangetip, a real spring butterfly of the year left its cocoon on March 25, which was the day the Scottish temperature record was broken at 22.8C.

I thought of those Scottish Highlands and perhaps the first curlews and dotterels courting in the heather. But we were praying for rain all the time while probably hoping it wouldn’t. Then came the April Fool’s joke as God said: “Well you asked for it.”

That week of spring brought out other butterflies too, and I think they may have mated successfully. At Kingley Vale I saw this pair of dingy skippers getting not just their act but their eggs together before the cruel blast hit in what TS Elliot said was the cruellest month. Did they succeed in making a family for next year? I do hope so.

There were other sightings along the Downs in sheltered valleys where this uncommon little insect finds its home. I was very lucky to get close enough with my trusty digital as the pair stared at each other with love in their hearts. She is in foreground with her tiny wings spread wide showing her ziggy-zaggy central band of grey muslin.

There they sat for two seconds on the hot dry path at the top of the hill where the people walk around the valley admiring the Isle of Wight lying like a sphinx awaiting its own partner across the sea.

It is the first time I have ever been able to photograph this normally invisible shadow of the hills. Others have been far more successful but even so they lead you a pretty dance as they whirl about in the first spring sunshine.

He circled her and she waited his contact. Then they had gone, and I never saw them again. She will have laid her eggs on the leaves of bird’s foot trefoil, I hope, and the caterpillar that emerges will be fully grown by August.

The dingy skipper was so named in 1666 during that moment of the Restoration when England expanded again in science and art during the reign of Charles II.

This year saw also a good number of that extreme rarity, the Duke of Burgundy fritillary, the cowslip feeder whose young caterpillars are reared on cowslip leaves. A few female brimstones were seen as well, although most were males, which always come out of hibernation first.

Let us hope enough females found mates in time to set their eggs for the autumn emergence so that at least some will have done their bit before the winter set in again in April and May.