So often at New Year there is no noticeable sense of change between the last hours of the old year and the first of the new – same weather, same feel, no sense of transition.  That’s a bad sign.  Good years, and in particular good summers, are not heralded like that; with them, a distinct aura of change kicks in over the new year period, you can feel a new power developing, even though it may subsequently sleep during the pall of January. 

This time there was a clear difference, mercifully.  As the year just past was so Vile that I refuse to name it, referring to it only as That Year, change was imperative.  Sure enough, as 2013 came in, scudding clouds suddenly dissipated to reveal a near-full moon and a host of stars, strangely visible for once as the orange glow of street light pollution seemed to be taking the night off, presumably to get plastered. 

Looking up and around from a hill top in the southern Cotswolds it was as if all the doom & gloom of That Year was being physically pushed away by some advancing brightness, a force of goodness.  Then the celebratory fireworks commenced down in the Stroud valleys, That Year had gone.  Stroudo, as it is known by its young folk, puts on a good firework show – you can look down on them from any of the surrounding hill tops (though Rodborough Common is best).

New Year’s Day dawned clear and mild.  It is essential that we, as naturalists and lovers of Nature, get a new year off to a good start.  For the last X years I have been studying Purple Emperor butterflies in what most people call Savernake Forest but I call Savernake Cathedral.  I have seen the butterfly in its various life stages there for 44 consecutive months now, which is probably obsessive – at least I hope so.  The species spends 10 months in the caterpillar stage, five of them in hibernation during which time they are mercilessly predated, seemingly by British tits.  The good news is that British tits had a poor breeding season during That Year, so predation may be down this winter. 

Nonetheless, one of the 10 larvae I am following was lost during December, probably due to predation by British tits.  I have recorded worse rates of predation in previous winter months, so things could have been worse.  The good news, though, is that I found a new larva – by spotting the remains of its old autumn feeding leaf dangling from a silk thread high up in a sallow, and then homing in on the caterpillar hibernating in a twig fork nearly 4m away, through dextrous use of binoculars.  These old feeding leaves are fairly distinctive, as larvae leave a clear feeding pattern, and can remain attached by silk strands long into the winter.  So I started and finished the day with 10, albeit a slightly different 10. 

Also, I’ve been following a hibernating female Brimstone butterfly there, low in a loose bramble patch in a sunny glade.  She had fallen off her bramble leaf and was lying, comatose and covered in dew, on oak leaf litter 12″ below.  Gently I managed to coax her back onto the underside of a bramble leaf.  Hopefully she wont fall off again.  And hopefully the deer wont accidentally eat her, as quite a few bramble leaves in that glade have been browsed off (I’ve recorded Purple Emperor and White Admiral larvae being accidentally consumed by feeding deer…).

The forest was full of people, drying out after the Christmas floods.  Dogs and mud everywhere, displacing the forest birds.  They all deserve a decent summer, which we haven’t had since 2006.   This blog will record the summer of 2013, though at this stage I will emphasise that good summers have first to be dreamt, during the winter. 

This will be my 50th year of butterflying – various celebrations are planned, and I’m writing a book documenting and eulogising those years, provisionally called Bright Elusive Butterfly but I’m open to suggestions for a better title…

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