I’d intended to go out around sunset, but time ran away from me and I ended up on an enforced night-walk: no bad thing. The usual advice for walking in the dark is to carry no torch – or at least not to use it unless absolutely necessary – and let your eyes adjust to the low light levels. Usually I agree that this is the best way to experience the night, and I should have had no need of a torch, given that plenty of light remained gathered on the western horizon. Not to mention the unnatural orange wash from streetlamps on the main road, a short distance away.
On this occasion I was hunting for invertebrates, and went equipped accordingly. Path, fence, wall and tree trunk in turn fell under the narrow but powerful beam of an LED head-torch. A dark spider scurried away into a crack, walking as only a spider can. A slate grey woodlouse – chunky, segmented, steeply domed – froze in the sudden glare, halfway up the wall of a garage. I turned, and something fluttered close to my face. Then another, bouncing off my head-torch with an audible thud and away over the small patch of pointlessly ornamental grass next to our flat. Sweeping back and forth I picked out two or three more, or the same ones again: ghostly, yellowish blurs of wings, invisible until lit by the beam.
Suddenly a brimstone moth was perching on the sleeve of my jacket. I didn’t see it land, it just materialised. A beautiful highlighter-yellow delta-wing, with a row of chestnut brown blotches on the leading edge each side, the middle one adjoined to a half-closed silver eye. Just as soon as I had taken in those details it was off again, once more a formless blur of flight. These fragments of colour are common in the seemingly colourless dim of spring and early summer nights, ushering in mild nights as surely as the brimstone butterfly promises warm days.