Williamson's Weekly Nature Notes, July 16, 2008

INSPECTOR Morse missed a trick there. When he met an attractive young lady pathologist who had a dark little secret to match his own, his knowledge of natural history let him down at the critical moment.

You may remember that his christian name of Endeavour was one he could not repeat in public or private. That was why he was always "Morse '“ just call me Morse".

Then he met the beautiful blonde whose name was: "Oh well, I suppose you'll have to know. My name is Grayling '“ that's what I was christened. It's the name of a fish". So it is.

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But, can you believe that Times-crossword-puzzle-in-20-minutes Morse, the walking encyclopaedia, did not know that the name is also given to a butterfly?

I bet that name did crop up at some time in Times crossword puzzles because countryman Adrian Bell, late father of BBC correspondent Martin Bell (the man in the white suit and anti-sleaze activist) used to compile them. I remember him well, wandering about the lanes of Suffolk looking at butterflies and wild flowers.

Morse should have said to his flavour of the week: "But Grayling is also the name of a beautiful butterfly" and she could hardly have refused his date for dinner.

Grayling fish live in those dark little corners of rivers like the Rother, though it is commoner west of the Avon.

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It has been called the poor man's trout. Ancients said of its table manners: "The Grayllynge, by another name called Umbre, is a delycyous fysshe to mannys mouthes".

It has a gold sheen and since grains of gold have been found inside it, Victorian piscatorials were certain the fish sought the metal for its skin colouring. Who knows. The flesh has the delicate flavour of thyme.

As for the butterfly: look for it soon in August upon the sandy heaths, such as Ambersham and Iping commons. But it is very elusive, like those girlfriends of Morse.

I find it each year on Braunton Burrows in North Devon, where it flits magically about the vast dune complex. It is a bit of an oddity, though, because it has the ability to disappear before your very eyes.

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The second it stops, camouflage takes over and it becomes an enigmatic piece of rock, dune, dead leaf, lichen, and you have to flush the beauty to see it flying rapidly away from you yet again. I know just how Morse felt with his disappearing butterfly.

This feature first appeared in the West Sussex Gazette July 19, 2008. To read it first, buy the WSG every Wednesday.

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