Blog written by Jeni Bell

The best butterfly watching weather is often warm, sunny, and preferably still. In these conditions it’s easy to watch them flit from flower to flower in search of nectar. Langford Lakes is a great spot for butterflies. On good days the luscious vegetation, that lines the pathways, fizzes with life. Commas, red admirals, peacocks, and speckled woods are just some of the species found here at the reserve.

Unfortunately, I was not visiting on a good butterfly watching day.

With stormy weather, heavy downpours, and strong winds, I had chosen the wrong conditions to search for lepidoptera. As I zipped my raincoat against the elements, I wondered if I would encounter anything at all.

Although the four lakes, wetland scrapes, streams, and tree-lined walks here at Langford provide the perfect homes, and passing places, for a huge variety of birds. The notice board of wildlife sightings eased my worries with listings such as: cuckoo, kingfisher, and osprey, as well as blackcaps and Cetti’s warblers.

My first spot was a swirling cloud of wings. Not butterflies, but swallows, house martins, and swifts dashing over the lake. The low pressure kept them closer to ground level, hawking for insects. They dipped and dived with phenomenal accuracy. Out in the middle of the lake the tufted ducks and mallards, carried on as though it was the sunniest of summer days. Even the cygnet brood trailing behind their parents at the water’s edge, didn’t seem to mind the raindrops clinging to their soft, grey, downy feathers.

Photograph of some swans and cygnets

I was surprised to spot a buff-tailed bumble bee hard at work amongst the red campion, growing in pink clusters from the undergrowth. Campion is a reliable food source for a whole host of pollinators: butterflies, moths, and bees.

Following the bee’s path past the cow parsley, and straggly petals of ragged robin I noticed a strange, almost alien creature resting on a stem. It sat, like an iridescent oil drop, clinging to the green foliage with tiny legs. Its body was so squishy it was hard to tell what it was. Beetle? Or something else entirely?  With help from one of the Trust’s staff members the mystery was solved. It was the larva of a bloody-nosed beetle.  

Photograph of a bloody nosed beetle larva

This slow-moving beetle gets its name from the red liquid, secreted from its mouth as a defence mechanism. I’ve seen the adults here at the reserve before, slowly stamping across the paths, but I’ve never encountered a larva.

The rain had swapped from persistent drizzle to a downpour. Clearly a cue to head for the Kingfisher Café (open Wednesday – Sunday 10 – 4pm) where I could find shelter, coffee, and arguably one of the best views of the lake. 

Whilst I didn’t find any butterflies on my visit, I didn’t mind. There will be plenty of other opportunities. And it’s not every day you come face to face with a bloody-nosed beetle larva. It just goes to show that nearly any weather is wildlife watching weather, if you’re determined enough.

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