Since becoming interested in butterflies three years ago, there’s been one species in particular that I’ve been desperate to see – the Adonis Blue. The males are true sparkling jewels, the bluest of the blue butterflies found in Britain. Inhabitants of chalk grassland, they can be seen on my local patches of Croydon and Bromley but, until recently, had always eluded me.
After an especially warm couple of days, I woke up with a good feeling about spotting an Adonis. I’d seen on Twitter that many had been sighted in Kent and Dorset and although I hadn’t heard of any being seen near me, it just felt like the right day.
I headed off quite early with a site in mind where I knew they had been spotted in previous years, it’s in Biggin Hill not far from the airport. Parking the car in a layby, I walked up the narrow nettle-filled lane towards the meadows; it was a bit more overcast than I’d hoped but I still had everything crossed.
The biggest problem with trying to spot Adonis Blues is their close similarity to Common Blues – they fly in a similar way, have similar underwing patterns, the males of both species are blue and the females both brown. The way to tell them apart is by looking at their white wing fringes as only on the Adonis Blue are these intersected with black bands, but getting up close enough to see this is often easier said than done.
The meadow was bursting with large clumps of Bird’s-foot Trefoil and Horseshoe Vetch, the primary larval foodplants of the Common and Adonis Blues respectively. As the sun peeped from behind the clouds, sending wings aflutter, the hunt was on. I spent the next half on hour or so doggedly pursing every bluish and brownish butterfly I saw, but even when I did get a good look, plain white fringes were all that greeted me. There were plenty of other species to marvel at: fresh looking Grizzled Skippers, battered looking Dingy Skippers, skittish Green Hairstreaks, my first Large Skipper of the year and a rare Orange Conch moth. So I began to reason that even if I didn’t see an Adonis, at least I’d got my journey’s worth.
Then there she was. Pirouetting on her golden podium of Bird’s-foot Trefoil, a female Adonis Blue. Much prettier than I’d imagined, this one’s brown wings were well dusted with a sky-blue shimmer and the delicate spotted fringing reminded me of those tasseled robes from the 1920s. I was delighted to have found her but also zinging with the hope that I might now meet her lover and see for myself if his out-of-this-world blueness was true.
I continued along the path, scouring the meadow for any flicker of movement, still double checking every Common Blue I caught sight of. I spotted one perched on some Horseshoe Vetch with wings tightly shut so I squatted down to examine its fringes. As I did so, its wings started to part and I can only describe it as like the dawn breaking, the glittering, azure blue was breath-taking and, now that I saw it, unmistakeable. There he was. My Adonis. Totally worth the wait.
Quite docile, I think he may have just emerged, and the encounter got even more special when I managed to cajole him onto my finger. So we sat, eye to eye for about 20 minutes, me soaking up every bit of long-awaited butterfly joy and him soaking up salt from my sweaty finger – magical.