RICHARD WILLIAMSON Top marks for our admirals

Red admirals have done well this year. They’ve had the time of their lives in the bits of summer we’ve enjoyed.

They are always the first in the morning outside here in my garden, on the buddleia bush. It is such a cheerful sight to come out to.

While other people peer out at the street to see who’s going past, who is late for work, who has changed their clothes, who has a new car, I look out to see what the old admirals are up to this day.

Who’s feeling feisty then? Who is the underdog and hides behind the leaf hoping no-one will see her? (She’s had enough of males and just wants to go quietly off and lay her eggs on a nice comforting nettle.)

I can easily recognise the eight or even ten individuals just as I can tell which of the six wood pigeons is singing, or rather cooing, by its voice. But the admirals are all different characters, too.

There is one very stroppy male who picks a fight every time. He is very bright red and his black and white patterns look like new enamel paint. He will pester everyone else.

I sometimes wonder if buddleia petrol (sorry, hydrocarbon nectar, all in the same type of chemical construction) is higher octane than other forms of flower.

But then I discovered something interesting. I saw this admiral of the fleet filling up with sugars from the hemp agrimony flowers over the garden hedge. Just like the butterfly in the photograph which was taken by reader Carol from Lavant.

This soft marshmallow-looking fluffy flower, which has been so common this year because of the tropical downpours earlier followed by tropical heat over 
the Olympics, has been putting a 
high-energy intake into the butterflies this late summer.

I wonder if this had made the alpha male so energetic. He chases any other butterfly who comes near his petrol pump. He sees off silver-washed fritillaries. He even chased a bumble bee.

I have seen admirals chase hornets in the past. But the best admiral party I ever saw and will never see again was in the 1970s when millions of them swarmed all over Britain and on migrating out to Ireland from the North Devon coast almost darkened the sky on their mass exodus to what was almost certain extinction over the Atlandtic. A true death-or-glory flight into the unknown.

A hundred of them had a party one week before the flight and drank themselves silly on fermented sap oozing like best bitter out of a wounded turkey oak tree.

They were so sozzled they lay all 
over the road and I picked up dozens 
and put them safely on the verge and they vaguely flapped their wings only to dive back to the ground. They do have a good time.

Even this one in Carol’s picture has had a fight with a bird, its right wing with bits missing like a Spitfire shot up in the sky. I love them.