A Butterfly Diary (September)


Keeping a Butterfly Diary this year has essentially been an enjoyable pastime; the waiting and watching, running for my camera, clambering through the rockery in unsuitable footwear, or thumbing through my butterfly guide while lying in the grass on a warm summer’s day…


But it has also been very educational. I knew very little beforehand, and was unable to name many of the visitors to my garden. And reading up on certain butterflies meant I learned about their foodplants, migratory habits, number of broods in a year, overwintering etc etc. Overall it has been a lovely activity, and I hope to repeat it next year. This will probably be the last butterfly post this season, with numbers already dwindling as the nights get colder and days shorter. We often get very foggy or misty days in autumn too, which prevent the sun from warming up the garden enough for most butterflies.


So let’s celebrate these last visitors and in planning our future plant or bulb purchases, spare a thought for the butterflies’ favourite flowers!

Early September was warm but damp, humid in fact. The only butterflies I saw were the cabbage whites, red admirals that have been around most of the summer, and still the Hummingbird Hawk-moths (Macroglossum stellatarum, Taubenschwänzchen). These creatures are fascinating to watch! Here is one I observed in the middle of September. They are pretty fast – longer stops would mean their wing muscles would cool down too much…

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They return to the same plants at the same times every day – especially on warm and sunny days.

For more pictures take a look here, and for tips on attracting them to your garden look here.


A single Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus, Hauhechel-Bläuling) turned up in the middle of the rockery mid-month, also on the Centranthus ruber. Can you spot it?


I can’t stress enough just how valuable this plant is in my garden. Not only does it flower all summer, it attracts so many butterflies and insects too! You may have noticed that many of the  butterflies I have shown over the past few months have been on the Centranthus.


So, for a change, a different plant is the background here for the European Peacocks (Aglais io/Inachis io, Tagpfauenauge), which always turn up reliably to relish on the Sedums and Michaelmas Daisies (see the photo I posted yesterday).


Those colours are exquisite – I wonder if they have any idea just how beautiful they are! These markings are actually supposed to make predators afraid of them… see this lovely video here for an example.


They are our most long-lived butterflies too, surviving for up to a year if a mild overwintering place is found.


Then we had a Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera, Mauerfuchs) visit the Sedum too. The Wall Browns like to bask in the sun with their wings open, especially on rocks or (surprise!) walls. They are typical for stony or rocky hillsides like those around us, with various grasses as their foodplant.



I also saw the first Comma since spring (Polygonia c-album/Nymphalis c-album, C-Falter). I don’t know why I didn’t see any in the summer…


It has a very intricate outline and such rich colouring on the upper wings, but the underside of the wings resembles dead leaves – perfect camouflage.

Can you see the comma mark on the closed lower wing in the photo below?


The Comma hibernates, and can usually be seen flying from April to November.


Sometimes the German names are prettier than the English, sometimes the reverse: in this case the English name wins hands down: the Queen of Spain Fritillary  (Issoria lathonia, Kleine Perlmutterfalter)!


This was one of the rare occasions I have actually seen butterflies on my Verbena bonariensis, despite what a butterfly magnet everyone says it is. The silvery edges to this fritillary’s wings may have contributed to it being given such a regal name.


One of its larval foodplants is the wild field pansy. They fly in three or even four generations in Central Europe, overwintering here in the caterpillar form, but they may also be one of the btterflies (like the Red Admiral or the Hummingbird Hawk-moths) that migrate from warmer climates over the Alps in the spring. Amazing to think of such tiny creatures soaring to heights over 2500 metres in order to cross the mountains…


That was it for September. If I see any different ones in October I will be sure to post about them.

In the meantime I have been looking back at my photos for the year and trying to decided which butterfly I love best: probably the Peacock – simply because it is familiar, colourful, and a reliable visitor in autumn – my favourite time of year.

I’d love you to tell me what your favourite butterfly is, and whether you have seen it this summer?

Some nice links:

48 thoughts on “A Butterfly Diary (September)

  1. Gorgeous pics, how brilliant to have captured all those beautiful butterflies. We have lots in the garden but I’m totally ignorant about the types – you’re inspiring me to learn more about them.

  2. I have really enjoyed your butterfly diary and will look forward to reading it again next year. And who knows, maybe the butterflies will surprise you this month. Like you, my favorite is the most common, as well as the South Carolina state butterfly–the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

    • I think all swallowtails are simply magical, and with them being common in your region you are very lucky! I didn’t see a single swallowtail this year (our native one is the Old World Swallowtail). Yes, perhaps I will see a few more yet as the weather is still mild and sunny and the asters and sedum are attracting them. 🙂

  3. I’m definitely going to be planting some centranthus in the garden after reading your post! As for favourite butterflies – it’s so hard to pick just one – can I have brimstones and orange tips in spring, small tortoiseshells and commas in summer, and red admirals in autumn?

    • Oh yes, I love orange tips too! And the silver-washed fritillaries seem to float and sail so nicely as they swoop over the garden… Ask me tomorrow and I expect I’d have a different favourite!

  4. How wonderful that you so carefully document all of this! It’s an inspiration! That Peacock is a beauty! I have centranthus, but it doesn’t attract so many butterflies. It also doesn’t bloom all summer for me, though, mostly in the spring and a minor flush in the fall. Monarchs, when we get them, love the zinnias and cosmos, and I see a lot of cabbage whites on many different flowers. We get the Hummingbird Moths here, too–the cats try to catch them, but rarely succeed. I found a Black Swallowtail caterpillar on a fennel plant at the farm market this summer, bought the plant just for the caterpillar, and then finished raising it in a small terrarium at the house. There’s an entry about it on my site if you want to read it. http://cosmosandcleome.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/a-dollar-well-spent/

    • I am very meticulous about deadheading the Centranthus to keep it going for the insects. There are just a few flowers left, but haven’t seen any hawk moths for a week or so. I grew zinnias for the first time this year and didn’t see a single butterfly on them! Strange how it varies form place to place. Your post on your caterpillar is fantastic! I found a swallowtail caterpillar on my fennel too, but he disappeared within a few hours and my chance was lost. Perhaps I’ll see him next year in his/her new clothes…

  5. When I as young, I loved Red Admirals most. Meanwhile, I love the butterfly which comes into my view. This late summer we had many Whites, Red Admirals and Peacocks. I also became more interested in moths and their behavious. At last, as my mother´s dahlias where eaten by caterpillars at night. I am still looking for another hostplant for these guys. As you said, with growing interest one starts to learn more.

    • I have found lots of cabbage white caterpillars while emptying summer pots of flowers and herbs. There were so many whites again this year, but later than normal, so I did get some salad in spring before they moved in!

  6. I think your butterfly diary is a wonderful idea, one of these years I will do something similar. I’ve still not seen any fritillaries in the garden, or commas, but I have been heartened by his many other butterflies I’ve seen this year. Fab photos!

    • It’s lovely to have a record for comparison in future years. And by keeping a diary I have become more aware of them too. Good to hear you have had a lot this summer too as some people have barely seen any.

  7. Beautiful photos! Centranthus ruber (Red Valerian) grows all over the place down here in South Devon but I don’t see many insects on it, perhaps there are other plants that are preferred?

    • Yes, perhaps. I wonder what makes it vary from place to place. I live on the edge of a nature reserve, which may be one reason for having more flying visitors. I also deadhead it to keep it attractive to insects later in the year.

  8. Lovely photographs! I do love the Hummingbird Hawk Moths but for butterflies it must be the little blue ones that are fluttering around at the moment as their colours are jewel like in the sunshine and I think the pale blue bodies are incredible. Amelia

    • Most of our blues are seen early summer, but if it’s nice and warm they fly until late October. I haven’t seen many recently here. They are a magical sight.

    • Both of those are stunning creatures which we don’t have here – our swallowtail is slightly different. I live on the edge of a small village near a nature reserve, so we get a lot of the “meadow” butterflies too.

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed just how colorful the peacock is, and then I discovered it’s not found in N America, so I’m going to use that as my excuse 🙂
    Your pictures always amaze me, the clarity and focus on a moving target really is quite an accomplishment…. and I had to laugh when I pictured you chasing a photo up the slope wearing inappropriate footwear!

    • I have taken a tumble or two as well! Not watching my feet and with a camera in hand is pretty hazardous in the rockery, but the landing is generally soft – a clump of lavender or Centranthus! LOL!

  10. My butterflies in September are just the same as yours. Three rare visitors in my garden are “Kleiner Feuerfalter”(Lycaena phlaeas), “Nierenfleck-Zipfelfalter”(Thekla betulae) and “Hufeisenklee-Gelbling”(Colias alfacariensis). I love all my butterflies, my favourites this autumn are the peacock and “Kleiner Fuchs”. The peacock looks so very beautiful as the painting of an artist.

    • I looked those up, and the Kleiner Fuchs – Small Tortoiseshell – has been on my asters too. I haven’t seen the others though. Have a nice Sunday Elisabeth!

  11. Your photos are great as usual, Cathy, how masterly your pictures of the “Taubenschwänzchen” – and I like your lovely header! Happy sunny autumn weekend for all of you…

  12. Oh, what a wonderful idea to keep a butterfly diary! Gorgeous images, Cathy. I find “Fette Henne” and lavender to be the greatest butterflyattractions in our garden, even more than the Buddleja.
    Wishing you a happy weekend,
    Dina & co

    • Thanks Dina. The butterflies are loving the asters most of all at the moment. but lavender is a great magnet for them in summer too. Have a lovely Sunday!

  13. I am hoping because of really not having much bright and colorful annuals this year and gardens left on their own it is the reason for so few here. Next year the yard will be a blaze of color with Cosmos, Zinnia, Bee Balm etc.

    Been thinking of you and you area with this nasty Ebola mess going on hope you are all OK over there HUGS

    • Hope you get some butterflies and colour next summer Eunice. You’ll have to settle for the autumn leaf colour for now! Hugs to you, and enjoy your October! 🙂

      • Just so delightful now with Apples and Pumpkins galore 🙂 Leaves of amazing color enjoy your Autumn as well Cathy 🙂

  14. Oh I’ve enjoyed your butterfly diaries Cathy and look forward to their return next year. I liked the slideshow of the hummingbird moth. I’ve never come across one here but have seen them in the south of the country and also in France. I think that my favourite butterfly is also the peacock which seems to have been quite prevalent this year 🙂 Have made a note to add centranthus to the garden. Have never seen it for sale at a nursery or garden centre so may have to sow from seed.

    • I saw my first ever hummingbird hawk moth on a beach in North Norfolk about 35 years ago (!) but then hardly another one until I moved here. I think the fascination began then though. I hope you manage to find some Centranthus and that it attracts some insects and butterflies for you.

  15. So many lovely butterflies and I love the Centranthus too but it did not bloom lots this year and my butterflies prefer monarda and phlox. Of course now the only ones I see are my favorite monarchs that are all over the asters and helianthus in my garden. I see them every day but they will be gone soon.

    • What I love about the peacocks is that they are around for so long, since they overwinter here. I think each butterfly has its own favourite – the skippers just adored my oregano!

  16. Your photographs of the hummingbird hawk moth are amazing, I can see the value of the camera you have with those shots. Strange that you don’t see so many butterflies on your Verbena bonariensis, they are a magnet to many kings of butterfly in my garden. My favourite butterflies are the various blues and the Swallowtails, they are so beautiful and have nice caterpillars as well. What you say about the peacocks living a long time explains why so often they look rather ragged and worse for wear.

    • I’m beginning to wonder if different nationality butterflies have different tastes – like the people do! LOL! Several people have told me their Centranthus doesn’t attract many insects, which I find hard to believe because the rockery is just alive with them here when the Centranthus flowers. Lucky you seeing swallowtails. They are so magical… maybe I’ll see one next year. Always the optimist! 🙂

  17. I love how an interest in plants leads to an interest in butterflies and soon we begin to see the complete picture. I’m so glad you have showcased these amazing insects. I like the hummingbird one the best and now I’m on the lookout. Beautiful work!

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