Country Diary: Butterflies flit about in the autumn sun

Red admiral butterfly

Which side of a duck has the most feathers? The outside. What do you call a dancing sheep? A baaa-la-rina.

Just a couple of questions posed at Filey’s Bird Garden and Animal Farm, recently visited. In this busy world, we must find time to stop and stimulate our senses. What an uplifting and educational couple of hours we spent there.

On the roadside verge we admired the silvery grey leaves of sea buckthorn, adorned with bright orange berries. Although autumn has arrived, and most plants have seeded, several gardens still display amazing colour in herbaceous borders.

Beside Seamer Road mere, elder bushes were laden in fruit, with the weight of the blackberries bending down the red stalks. On the railway side of the mere near a lay-by, we viewed once more a favourite spindle tree. Its earlier clusters of greenish white, four-petalled flowers seen in June had now fruited. Their handsome coral-pink capsules now revealed orange, fleshy fruit inside.

The mere itself was quiet, but the jetty showed it was the seasonal moult. Thousands of feathers from ducks, gulls, and geese, were white as snow.

Having enjoyed our blackberry feasts in many forms, our attention turned to wind-fallen Victoria plums on a grassed verge. Usually one can watch red admiral butterflies sipping the juices of any rotting fruit, but this year we missed them. However, we’ve observed many red admirals frequenting buddleia bushes, sedum spectabile, and even ragwort.

A walk to the viewpoint up Scarborough’s Castle Hill, revealed not only fabulous extensive views over the harbour and far beyond the horizon, but a colourful array of berries, with rosehips at their finest. During the 1940s, rosehips were collected so that their vitamin C content could be exploited. The vitamin-rich syrup was distributed free of charge to babies and young children. How we loved rose-hip syrup on milk pudding.

Ascending the steep steps to the castle wall, we stopped to observe red admirals, along with a small tortoiseshell and speckled wood butterfly flitting amongst sunlit patches of red valerian. The flowers, in dense clusters, were most common on 
rocks.

The roots bury deep into holes and crevices. Butterflies and other long-tongued insects, suck the nectar from the base of flower tubes. In so doing, flowers are pollinated and the seeds have small, hairy parachutes which bear them away on the wind.

Thorny shrubs of blackthorn dominate the hill. The white, cherry-like flowers that smothered bare twigs in March, are now bluish-black berries called sloes. The sloe is the ancestor of all our cultivated plums. Yet the sloe is the most tart, acid berry you’ll ever taste. Surprising it makes a clear, sprightly jelly, and that most most popular of liquers, sloe gin.

Departing, I inhaled the perfume of marjoram – the symbol of happiness, known as mountain joy.

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