A Butterfly Diary: May


Best-known for his carol “Hark the herald angels sing”, Reginald Heber was also a poet. His poem “The Harebell” is absolutely perfect for the view I had the day I photographed this beautiful butterfly…

 With drooping bells of clearest blue
Thou didst attract my childish view,
Almost resembling
The azure butterflies that flew
Where on the heath thy blossoms grew
So lightly trembling.


 Green-Underside Blue (Glaucopsyche alexis or Alexis-Bläuling in German)

AlexisBläuling(Click on the photos for a closer look)

They are one of the gossamer-winged butterflies, flying from May to June, and in good weather again in July and August. The meadow where I found this one in early May (and there were several flying around me) is the perfect habitat, with plenty of nectar-rich wild flowers such as vetch, clover and harebells.

The wingspan of this one was just about 2cm. We have a few blue butterflies here, but I have never seen such a pretty one before.


The more common one here is the Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus, Hauhechel-Bläuling)


Its wingspan is only about 2.5cm, and it has beautiful orange and brown markings on the outer wings. The male is more distinctive than the female, and they can be seen all through the summer. They have been in the garden since early May this year. The Common Blue likes all sorts of vetch and clover, but I love the fact that a favourite of theirs is the Ononis spinosa (Spiny Restharrow/Hauhechel), which is one of the only thorny plants I gladly grow!


Around the 10th of May I spotted this Fritillary and decided it must be a Weaver’s Fritillary (Boloria dia, Magerrasen-Perlmuttfalter)


(The photo was taken on a green mat, it’s not the lawn!)

I know very little about this butterfly although we often see it, but according to Wikipedia the larvae feed on Prunella and Violets, so again I have some good plants for these in my garden. The wingspan of this one is perhaps 3 or 4cm. The orange colour varies – some of them look much browner, but with the same markings.


In the middle of the month this brown butterfly made a brief appearance and I haven’t seen it since: a Woodland Ringlet (Erebia medusa, Rundaugen-Mohrenfalter)


The wings were very silky and the wingspan about 4 cm. I have looked it up and they fly from May to July, while their habitat is the edges of woodland, dry and chalky hillsides and in mountain meadows.


The last one I could photograph towards the end of the month was the Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae, Kleiner Fuchs).


The Centranthus is opening and these fairly large butterflies (3-4cm) are attracted to its red flowers. They will be in the garden all year – the first are in March on the spring flowers, and the last love to visit the Sedum and Asters in autumn.


Other butterflies spotted were the Brimstones and Orange Tips as well as the Green-Veined White. I also briefly saw the first Hummingbird Hawk-Moths in a warm spell, just as the Centranthus was opening – they will be back and I hope to get some photos of them.

A few other flying vistors made an appearance too. Firstly this Large Red Damselfly…


then this tiny dragonfly…


And finally this amazing creature!


It liked my metal butterfly decoration! I found out that it is a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa, Plattbauch) and is one of the most common dragonflies in Europe. This is a young male, with a blue tinge to the abdomen, and yellow patches which can also be seen clearly. It is pretty big – about 7 cm long and the abdomen as thick as my little finger. The Wikipedia page has lots of information on this dragonfly – perhaps you see it too?

That’s it for May – not bad, as The June Gap usually makes itself felt at the end of May and early June, when the spring generation fades away and the new summer generations are yet to emerge. (See Sarah’s post from last year on The June Gap at The Garden Deli).


Finally, some words from the late poet and human rights activist, Maya Angelou:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”


Have you seen many butterflies so far this spring? What is the most common one near you at this time of year? Please share!


The June Gap

Big Butterfly Count (UK)

Identifying Butterflies etc (UK)

The Guardian – Dragonfly Gallery

46 thoughts on “A Butterfly Diary: May

  1. A lovely post Cathy. I love your butterflies and gorgeous red Damsel fly. I am impressed that you were able to get such good shots. I don’ t have much success with catching them on camera but we have had more Orange Tips than usual this spring. The Weaver’ s Fritillary is superb.
    I love your header.

    • Thank you Chloris! A lot of butterflies have been very considerate and rested a while this year, so I have managed to catch a few off guard! We also had far more orange tips than usual, but fewer peacocks early spring.

  2. All your photos are lovely, but the first one is especially striking. I’ve been told we have just two blue butterflies in Yorkshire, the common blue and holly blue. There have been a some blues (not sure which one) this spring, but the cool, damp and windy weather over the last week or so has meant very few butterflies. Thanks for the link… I’d forgotten about that post.

    • Hi Sarah. Despite the showery spring we’ve had there have been more butterflies than last year so far, so I’m putting it down to the mild winter. I don’t know if we have the Holly Blue, but there are so many similar ones it’s difficult to tell!

  3. Cathy, your photographs are stunning! The blue is the most amazing color. You really do a fabulous job. I’m not very good at photographing butterflies; writing is more what my blog is about…but I do hope to improve my photography in time.

    • Thanks! I’m looking forward to seeing the various Hawk-Moths soon – they really are amazing. I bet there are a lot of them where you live….

  4. Oh Cathy, what a cool post, all of your pictures are great. I especially love the first picture of your Green-Underside Blue butterfly. I have never seen this one before, after researching, looks like it is only found in Europe. You should have your first picture printed large and framed, it’s really good! 🙂

    Have a great weekend.

    • Thanks for your generous comment Michael! That first one is definitely my favourite butterfly so far! 🙂 Do let us know what kind fly around your area some time.

    • They are amazing little creatures – resilient and beautiful at the same time. Yes, magical. I bet there are some beautiful ones in your region.

  5. Butterflies are slowly showing up as the gardens are all behind schedule due to our extra cold winter. I get a few butterflies similar to these blue ones but they’re so tiny and quick I’d never manage a photo, unfortunately. Beautiful photos!

    • There are quite a few more than I could post about as, like you say, they are just too quick to be identified, let alone photographed! But seeing them and appreciating them even without a photo is still wonderful. 😉

  6. Beautiful photos Cathy. Never knew there was such a thing as a red Damselfly. And, the Green-Underside Blue looks lovely against the harebell. Deep sigh.

    • The meadow with the harebells has been mown 😦 so I hope the butterflies have found new feeding ground. We do have plenty of other wild fields in the vicinity though. I am learning too… I had never seen the red damselfly before but it posed on that leaf for ages!

  7. How wonderful to see these butterflies…I have been absent from my garden so only the non-native Cabbage white has been seen so far….hopefully others will show soon or perhaps I missed them.

    • After your long winter there may be fewer of the earlier ones around, but now it’s June (!) already I’m sure they’ll turn up, especially when your meadow starts flowering. 😀

  8. This is a really lovely post Cathy, the first photograph is fantastic too, I still do not feel as if there have been very many Butterflies here yet and I have not seen any damsel or dragonflies so far. We do however have more many more bees, which is encouraging.

    • That’s a good sign Julie. We have also had far more bees than usual, and such a variety too. It’s good to note which plants they visit, as these will get priority in my future planting. All the insects absolutely adore the Centranthus ruber, which acts like a magnet! Thanks for your kind comment Julie!

    • Hi Bridget, and thank you! Yes, that’s right – Valerian. And another common name is Jupiter’s beard, which I think so appropriate as the seeds are fluffy! Do you grow it too? The butterflies and bees adore it!

    • I was surprised how many for May Marian, and hope there will be some more exotic ones soon. A friend in our village has already seen a Swallowtail, which is a special sight here. I bet you get lots of well-camouflaged moths in your garden… some of them can also be quite pretty if spotted!

  9. So lovely photos and poesy, Cathy! Love best the first picture…
    Some special butterflies I´ve seen in our May garden are “Mauerfuchs” (Lasiommata megara), and “Waldbrettspiel” (Pararge aegeria), as well “Woodland Ringlet” for the first time and “Himmelblauer Bläuling” (Polyommatus bellargus). Haven´t seen any dragonflies so far and no “Hummingbird Hawk-Moths”. “Large Red Damselfly” is a beautiful rarity, I think…?

    • Thank you Elisabeth! I think I saw a Waldbrettspiel (Speckled Wood) in April, but it was just too fast! I find it hard to differentiate between the Blues, and after looking on the internet I found not only are the female and male different, but also the first and second generation! Very tricky!

      • Yes, very tricky indeed! I didn´t know that the first and the second generation are different. So I hope, it was a “Himmelblauer B.”, such a lovely creature with shining light-blue wings. I also have problems to identify correctly the kinds of “Perlmuttfalter”.

  10. Oh both those blue butterflies are so exquisite in their colouring Cathy. Just add the shade of that campanula and a perfect colour for a summery scarf or a dress comes to mind. So far this spring I’ve seen mostly peacocks and cabbage whites but as it gets warmer I hope to see more varieties on the wing. I’ve enjoyed your photos, prose and poetry 🙂

  11. Liebe Cathy, du zeigst eine schöne Vielfalt an “Winged-species”. Ich kannte nicht den Alexis-Bläuling. Wir haben auch eine große Bandbreite an Schmetterlingen und Libellen, die ich irgendwann, mit mehr Zeit, zeigen werde. I did see a Papilo machaon in May!

    • How lucky you are Uta! I just love the way the Swallowtails rise and fall as they float past. Such elegant fliers. Ich freue mich auf deine Bilder auch! 😀

  12. There seem to have been less butterflies so far this year but maybe that’s because it has been cooler. Usually the Swallowtails are our most common butterfly during summer and blues later in summer.

  13. That is a wonderful collection of visitors. My Nepeta is covered with Meadow Browns but not much else apart from the Hummingbird Hawk Moth, apart from the bees that is. It is strange to have so many of one type of butterfly and none of the others. Amelia

    • I have seen a couple of hummingbird hawk-moths, but too quick to focus on even without the camera! I’m growing Nepeta for the first time, but haven’t seen any butterflies on it yet…plenty of bees though!

  14. Your opening photograph is so beautiful, it should be on a greetings card. Butterflies are one of the great wonders of the world, I love them. Thanks for sharing.D.

  15. Pingback: A Butterfly Diary: June | Words and Herbs

  16. Pingback: A Butterfly Diary (July) | Words and Herbs

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