August is the month of the gatekeepers, small, unremarkable but, to me, delightful butterflies, which appear in large numbers and live just a few weeks. It seems a little uncertain why they are called gatekeepers, except they are creatures of hedgerows, where there used to be many more gates than there are now, feeding on ragwort and brambleflowers, which would have grown around the gates. I find the name is part of their charm, giving them a benign and slightly totemic character, which 'wall brown', their other common name, does not.
The ballet of the gatekeepers on the marjoram has always been one of the events of late summer I look forward to, an acutely seasonal and ephemeral thing. Their appearance coincides with the flowering of the herb, which they love to luxuriate in.
This year, however, they seem to be as drawn to the flowers of a new perennial wallflower in the bed opposite, and for some reason, they are more inclined to open their wings when feeding here than on the marjoram.
In a short time they will be gone, already as with the one below, their wings are beginning to fray and fade. It seems odd that one never sees a dead one, it is as though they simply crumble and dissolve into the August dust, to be resurrected out of it again next year.
Last year the summer was so awful that for the first time there were no gatekeepers, perhaps because the grasses the caterpillars feed on were just too waterlogged, and this year I would say their numbers are down, and those I see seem smaller than usual. But it's good to see them back.