Score of admirals blotto in middle of the road

A red admiral.
A red admiral.

“NEVER seen so many red admirals,” the lady in the red and white hat said to me in the car park.

She was off to a wedding. “I love them. They’re so bright and happy looking.”

Was she also talking about the young couple? Probably. Freudian slip. She looked happy too.

Butterflies, weddings, bright autumn days. Enough to make anybody feel optimistic.

Yes, I agreed with her up to a point. There are a lot of red admirals about this autumn. But I have seen so many before.

Probably ten thousand times more. A mass hatching that I shall never see again and was lucky enough to witness at all in my life.

It was on the grand scale of that mass immigration of painted lady butterflies two years ago when a billion were said to have come into the south of England in July.

In 1975 red admirals darkened the sky. So an entomologist friend of mine said.

He had been standing on the Gower peninsula in Wales in September when the red admirals were migrating out to sea, presumably hoping to find landfall out there in the Atlantic Ocean.

There were just so many of them they had to go somewhere and going out west like American pioneers seemed as good an idea as any.

Some may well have reached Ireland and hibernated successfully. Red admirals are common around the south-western coasts of Ireland.

My own record of that year was to find a score of admirals completely blotto in the middle of the road on Hylters crossroads, Chilgrove, near Chichester.

There is an old deformed turkey oak there among a group of oak and yew. The turkey oak was wounded once upon a time and never got over it. The wound festered and ran a continual stream of sap, which fermented in the warm autumn air.

The admirals found it extremely tasty and spent their days on tap, and it turned them silly.

A hundred caroused at any one time like a garland of flowers hung round the tree.

It was a wonderful sight and I used to stop the Land Rover there each day just to watch the party in full swing.

I also used to pick the drunkards up off the Tarmac where they were lying in happy disregard for traffic.

Meanwhile, the sky around them was streaming with red admirals travelling westwards I suppose to the Gower.

This mass population explosion didn’t do them any good except to feed the fishes in the ocean perhaps.

Because in the next year, 1976, there were lots again, but nowhere near the previous year’s number, the numbers in 1977 were the lowest ever known in recent times.

I hope the wedding will be a success. At least the omens are good with such a big, bright, breezy, party-loving, strong, cheerful bed-mate-in-spirit as an admiral in full dress still with his boots on, as they say.

The omens, yes, and the owomens too, if you’ll forgive the awful pun, because red admiral male and female are identical.