I thought we had completed the full set of British Fritillaries back in June when we finally nailed High Brown in the valleys near Dartmoor. But then reading my treasured copy of Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington's "The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland" I was reminded of the beautiful Queen of Spain.
This has always been an exceptionally rare insect in the UK. The nearest colonies are on the coastal dunes of mainland Europe. Many decades ago, Queen of Spain Fritillaries used to breed near Calais. It seems that individuals from this relatively adjacent colony would occasionally make it across the Channel, perhaps breeding for a generation in Southern counties if they could find the pansies that are their larval foodplant. Sadly, the Calais colony is long gone and sightings in England are now few and far between.
Nevertheless, the mention of coastal breeding colonies got me thinking. A spot of research soon threw up several promising sites in Holland. So on the back of another meeting in the Netherlands, very late in the season, an attempt was made to track down this elusive butterfly that just about makes it onto the British list.
I am delighted to say the expedition was a success. Her Majesty was finally located in some fine sand dunes located in a most dubious situation between a raucous dog pound and a roaring motor racing circuit! The sound track may need a spot of improvement, but the fritillaries themselves performed splendidly for the camera: nectaring, basking and even copulating.
It seems an age to wait for next Spring and the awakening of the Orange Tips that will herald a new season. Let's hope it is as good a one as 2009 has been. Perhaps we will be very lucky and see one final firework this year: with luck the Clouded Yellows may yet perform in October. Watch this space.