The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Malaga Butterflies - April 2019

Since 2012 we have spent four summer holidays in a villa near Alora, 45 kilometres north west of Malaga. Each time we have been there it has been early July and very hot! The roads were lined with dried up wild flowers and grasses and everything was brown, other than the orange groves and a few private gardens. We would often say that it would be interesting to see the area in the spring, when everything would be green.

So, this year my wife and I found ourselves able to go away by ourselves now that the children have moved out and we decided to return to Alora in April. This time we stayed in an apartment in the village, so it wasn't quite so easy to pop out and look for butterflies.

Unfortunately, we didn't choose the best week to go away. Firstly, the village was the middle of incredible Easter celebrations, meaning most businesses were closed and it was almost impossible to move at times. Also, while the UK was basking in unseasonably hot weather, southern Spain was suffering from unseasonable cloud and showers!

When we arrived the village was in complete gridlock, so it was a good excuse for me to take a quick trip to my old butterfly spot near the villa we used to rent. This was an area where I saw numerous Southern Gatekeepers and Dusky Heaths in the summer months, but I was too early for them this year. Interestingly, Spanish Gatekeepers, Pyronia bathseba, took the place of the Southern Gatekeepers and I wondered why I had not seen them on my four previous visits to this spot.

Although it was relatively cool and there were only occasional sunny spells there were still a reasonable number of butterflies flying, including Small Whites, Pieris rapae, Southern Blues, Polyommatus celina, Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina

and Clouded Yellows, Colias croceus.

As in previous visits I saw a few Geranium Bronzes, Cacyreus marshalli, which seemed a little out of place in this natural environment.

There was also a faded Long-tailed Blue, a Small Copper, a Southern Brown Argus and a Large White. Not bad for an hour on a cloudy day.

In the summer this area is full of flowering Thyme, Lavender and Rosemary, but in April there were a lot of annual flowering plants but the more woody herbs were not yet in flower.

The following day I decided to check out my other favourite spot down by the Rio de Guadalhorce. In the summer there is a great patch of mint in flower, which attracts a lot of butterflies. Of course it wasn't yet in flower, but there were plenty of other wild flowers there.

I was frustrated that it clouded over before I arrived and there was quite a strong wind blowing. After about 15 minutes there was a bit of a break in the clouds and a Painted Lady was the first butterfly to brave the conditions. It didn't hang about, but at least it proved that it was warm enough for butterflies.

Not long afterwards I spotted a lovely Long-tailed Blue, Lampides boeticus, in some grass and it slowly opened its wings to absorb a few of the sun’s rays.

As I watched it a Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, landed on a stem close by.

I walked further down stream and found a Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera.

While I was watching it, I disturbed a Bath White, Pontia daplidice, which landed on the ground and once warmed up a bit flew to a flower for a feed.

Although it was frustrating that there was so much cloud, at least the cooler weather meant that the butterflies were easier to photograph.

I had specifically gone to this area, as I have always found African Grass Blues here in the summer, but despite extensive searching I didn’t see any on this visit. However, the sun came out and after a while the place was alive with butterflies. Mostly Small Coppers, which looked beautiful glinting in the sun.

There were also a number of Southern Brown Argus flying with them and by far the most numerous, Clouded Yellows were everywhere I looked. There were the occasional Wall Brown and Meadow Brown, some more Bath Whites, a few small whites and one Southern Blue, Polyommatus celina.

And then, as if they had had too much sun they all appeared to disappear!

The following day I decided to walk up a track above the cemetery. This ran between olive groves and what appeared to be fallow fields.

There were plenty of wild flowers and a number of butterflies flitting from flower to flower. They were all white or yellow, being Small Whites, Large Whites, Clouded Yellows

... and what I assumed were more Bath Whites. However, when I examined my photographs back at the apartment I saw that they were all Western Dappled Whites, Euchloe crameri.

I found it interesting that there were no Bath Whites amongst them. Presumably, just a little change in habitat meant that this area was more favourable to Dappled Whites and the flowers down by the river suited Bath Whites.

I had been keeping an eye on the forecast, which had been pretty accurate. Monday looked like it was going to be sunny in the morning and so I planned to go to a area of limestone mountains about 30 miles north. I will report on what I saw there next. Sadly, however, that was to be the only other day with sufficient sun for me to look for butterflies. Typically, the weather improved considerably from the day we left!

The day before we left I drove past the area near the river where I had seen so many butterflies to discover that it had been completely grazed to the ground by a large herd of goats. Although this was rather frustrating, I was pleased that I had been able to visit the area before this had happened. I did wonder where all of the butterflies would go, though!

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

East Lothian Butterflies 2018 Part 2

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas
The Small Copper isn't a butterfly that is normally seen in large numbers, most often being seen individually, as males aggressively defend their territory or chase after females. In 2018 there were regular records of more than ten being seen. It was certainly the best year I can remember for Small Coppers. The first record was on 8th May and they were seen through to 2nd November. The most exciting news is that that we had a very obvious third generation in 2018, which we haven't previously seen here.

Number of Small Copper records received each week in 2018

Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera
The first record of a Wall Brown in 2018 was on 11th May. The Wall Brown has continued to increase in numbers year on year since it was first recorded here in 2010. As with many other species, the spring population did pretty well, but it was the second generation that did particularly well. In previous years we have found the odd pioneering individual exploring further afield, but this year there did appear to be an expansion of the range of this butterfly with it being found in numbers at various sites where it hasn't previously been recorded.

Distribution of Wall Browns in 2018 compared with previous years.

Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus

The Small Heath seems to have two overlapping generations a year, although it is not really possible to separate the two generations. There also seems to be quite marked differences between different sites, and in my experience those in John Muir Country Park appear to finish quite a few weeks before those found in Aberlady and Yellowcraig. Most years there are also a few quite fresh-looking individuals later in the season making us question if there could be a partial third generation. 2018 wasn't particularly different from previous years, with the first record being on the 18th May and the last hanger-on being seen on 23rd September.

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus
As with most other species, the Common Blue did very well in 2018. Numbers weren't dramatically higher than normal and it is interesting to speculate why some species did so much better than others. Possibly it may be to do with how their food plants coped with the hot, dry summer. The first Common Blue was seen on the 29th May and the last one was seen on the 7th September.

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui
Painted Ladies were quite late to arrive in East Lothian in 2018. There were a couple of records in early June, but it wasn't until later in July that they were seen in any numbers. 2018 turned out to be one of the best years we have had recently for Painted Ladies.

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
Meadow Browns were the only butterflies that didn’t do particularly well in 2018. I think that they suffered from the poor weather the previous summer. Although numbers were higher than last year, they were lower than we would normally see. The first record in 2018 was on the 12th June and they were seen through until the 29th August.

Ringlet, Aphantpopus hyperantus
Ringlets did reasonably well in 2018, but not as well as many other species. I think they may also have been a victim of the previous poor summer. The first Ringlet was recorded on the 18th June and their short flight period lasted until the 5th August. It will be interesting to see if the great weather of 2018 will allow numbers to bounce back in 2019.

Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis aglaja
We don't tend to see a lot of Dark Green Fritillaries and they are generally limited to coastal sites and one or two valleys in the Lammermuir Hills. Numbers in 2018 were about average, but they had a terrible year the previous year, so it was good to see them bouncing back.

Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxerxes
I am only aware of four places in East Lothian where Northern Brown Argus occur. Three of those sites are very small and vulnerable. Because of this I don't receive many records of Northern Brown Argus, so it is difficult to assess how they are doing. However, at one site near Dunbar, despite several visits only one Northern Brown Argus was recorded. Maybe this is a butterfly that we need to look at a bit more closely in the future.

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris
The Small Skipper has been increasing in number year on year, since it was first discovered in East Lothian in 2011. Unsurprisingly, 2018 was its best year yet. They were initially found along the coast in the Aberlady and Gullane area, but in more recent years have been found in the Lammermuir Hills, lowland woodlands and various areas of rough grassland across the county. The first record in East Lothian was on 21st June and they were seen through to 27th August.

Grayling, Hypparchia semele
I am only aware of three sites where Grayling are found in East Lothian. One of these is very remote and I didn't receive any records from there this year. The other two sites are close to Prestonpans and one of these colonies is about to be lost to a housing development. There is an exciting project currently underway to create a new habitat to try to relocate one of these colonies. The first Grayling was recorded on 27th June and they were seen through to 21st August.

I didn't receive any records for Large Skippers in 2018, but I suspect they will be out there somewhere, unlike Holly Blues, which I fear have died out in East Lothian, having not been recorded here in the last two years. I didn't receive any records of Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries from East Lothian, either, but I am sure they would have been out and about somewhere in the Lammermuir Hills. Given the prolonged period of great weather I was surprised that we didn't receive any records of Clouded Yellows or any other unusual migrants.

Many species were late to appear because of the cold weather, which lasted into April. It was interesting to note that the hot weather didn't result in prolonged emergence and may have shortened the time that each generation was around because they all emerged quite close together. In contrast, poor weather can extend the flight period, because butterflies have to spend time sitting out the rain, rather than flying around, potentially damaging their wings.

Saturday, 30 March 2019

East Lothian Butterflies 2018 Part 1

2018 was a fantastic year for butterflies in East Lothian. The long, warm summer was a great help, although the poor previous summer probably impacted on some species. It was a bit of a slow start to the year, with cold weather continuing throughout March, including the "Beast from the East" and then a cold start to April. The warm weather arrived in mid-April, resulting a sudden explosion of butterflies! Spring populations were about average, but the later summer populations were considerably larger than we have seen for a number of years.

We had the same number of people contributing records in 2018 as we had in 2017, so it is interesting to compare the number of butterflies seen. In 2017 I received 2,119 ad hoc records, totalling 7,527 butterflies. The 2017 transects recorded 2,008 butterflies.  In 2018 I received 2,608 ad hoc records, totalling 12,646 butterflies and the transects added another 4,229. A considerable increase in the number of butterflies seen, which we can be pretty confident was a result of the great weather we had in 2018.

Below is a brief summary of how each species did.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae

The first butterfly to be seen in 2018 was a Small Tortoiseshell, which was seen on 22nd February at Torness. I didn't receive any more Small Tortoiseshell records until April. After that they were seen regularly, but not in any great numbers. The number seen in 2018 wasn't far below the average over the last few years, but they are certainly declining in numbers. When so many other species did so well in 2018, we would have expected them to do better. Interestingly, despite the good weather some Small Tortoiseshells were found to be hibernating as early as the 4th August.

Peacock, Aglais io

The first Peacock to be seen was on 8th March.  There were very high numbers seen towards the end of April once the weather warmed up. These were the butterflies that had overwintered from 2017. After the usual lull in numbers the 2018 generation was seen in enormous numbers from the end of July with Peacocks being seen right through into November.

Green-veined White, Pieris napi
The first Green-veined White was seen on 17th April. I had thought that there didn't appear to be very many about in 2018, but other people saw plenty. There was an enormous spike in population in late July and they were recorded in higher numbers than in any of the previous five years. I suspect that a lot of Green-veined Whites go unrecorded because of their similarity to Small Whites, often being noted as fly-by whites.

Small White, Pieris rapae

Small Whites had an amazing year. The first one recorded in East Lothian was on 18th April and the spring population was as we would normally expect. However, in late July there was a mass emergence. I remember driving from Haddington to Macmerry and seeing hundreds of Small Whites drifting across the road. I received several other similar reports that day. We ended up with records of almost 3,500 Small Whites in 2018, nearly five times the number of the previous best year.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

The 18th April was also the day the first Red Admiral was recorded in East Lothian. They had done fantastically well in 2017 and hopes were high that they would manage to survive the winter and be seen early in the year. However, very few were recorded until July, which is when we often get an influx of migrants. Those migrants clearly enjoyed the sunny summer and went on to produce a good summer generation. Nothing like the previous year, but still a lot more than we would normally see.

Large White, Pieris brassicae

As with the previous two white species, the Large White had a fairly average spring generation, but then an enormous summer generation. The first record I received was on the 19th April and towards the end of July there was a huge spike in numbers. We ended up with about three times the number of records that we would normally receive.

Comma, Polygonia c-album

The Comma has gradually been building up in numbers since it was first recorded in East Lothian in 2001. However, the poor summers of 2016 and 2017 did them no favours and their numbers were very low for a couple of years. It was encouraging to see numbers pick up again in 2018 and with a bit of luck they will continue to do well. The first Comma was seen on 19th April, they peaked in numbers in the middle of August and were seen through until 15th November.

Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines

The Orange Tip is usually seen in reasonably consistent numbers. However, in 2018 we had more than double the usual number of records. The first record was on 20th April and they were seen until the middle of June. However, there was one very late record on 22nd July. It is interesting to speculate why that individual emerged at that time. Presumably it was a late emerger, rather than a second generation.

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria

2018 marked the tenth year of the Speckled Wood being recorded in East Lothian. During that time it has expanded its range to almost the entire county. 2018 was its best year yet and interestingly it was the spring population that did particularly well. The first record was on 24th April and they were seen right through until 25th October.

Green Hairstreak, Callophrys rubi

Green Hairstreaks live in a few scattered colonies around East Lothian. It is difficult to know how well they did overall in East Lothian in 2018, as many of the colonies are in remote locations in the Lammermuir Hills which were not checked. The regularly recorded site at Saltoun Wood had suffered a fire sometime in the preceding months, which impacted considerably on that colony. The exciting news, though, was that Green Hairstreaks were rediscovered at Hopes. This is the first time they have been recorded there since the 1980s.

I will continue with the remaining species in my next post.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Sierra Nevada Viewpoint

On my way back down the road, I called into a viewpoint that I have visited on previous occasions. Here, the subtly different habitat attracts some different butterflies. Most notable are the Swallowtails, Papilio machaon hispanicus, which I spotted almost as soon as I parked the car. They patrol this little hilltop, presumably looking for mates.

I also saw one Spanish Swallowtail, Iphiclides feisthamelii, feeding on the same little shrub that I have seen them on when I have visited previously.

In the past I have seen a lot of Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, chasing each other around. This year I only saw one or two and I didn't see any Large Wall Browns, Lasiommata maera f. adrasta, that I normally see here.
I saw a couple of Common Blues, Polyommatus icarus, which I don't remember seeing in this spot before.

I spent some time watching these two Southern Marbled Skipper, Carcharodus boeticus, chasing around after each other and then locking horns! I have never seen behaviour like that before.

This Safflower Skipper, Pyrgus carthami nevadensis, was behaving a bit better!

I always see Blue-spot Hairstreaks, Satyrium spini, in this location.

Last year when I was reviewing my photos I realised that I had also taken a picture of a False Ilex Hairstreak, Satyrium esculi. So, this time I was looking out for them and once again spotted one.

There was also one Purple-shot Copper, Lycaena alciphron gordius, here. In previous years they had been quite numerous here.

It was interesting that many of the species found in each location that I visited in the Sierra Nevada were the same as I had seen on other visits. There are obvious locations, habits and food plants that will attract them. Some butterflies were in similar numbers and the same locations as in previous years.

Others were notable by their absence or low in numbers. For instance, it was worrying to see so few Zullich Blues and Apollos high in the mountains. Down by the stream this year I saw no Meadow Fritillaries, whereas two years ago I saw several. In fact there were very few butterflies there, but in previous years I have seen hundreds of butterflies enjoying the lush vegetation there.
Each year I visit, I see more species. This year I saw 3 species that I have never seen before and a total of 44 different species. The Sierra Nevada is still by far the best place for butterflies that I have ever visited.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Back to Sierra Nevada

When I visited the Sierra Nevada on 4th July I had been disappointed to see so few butterflies in the mountains because of the high winds. I was delighted to see so many species in a lower meadow, but it seemed a shame to be in Spain and miss the opportunity to see some very special butterflies that live high in the Sierra Nevada.

So, on 10th July I drove back to take another look. I was very relieved when I arrived that it was a lovely sunny, still day, so I set of up the mountain from the Hoya de la Mora car park.

Initially, I didn’t see many butterflies, but suddenly I found myself in the middle of a colony of Nevada Blues, Polyommatus golgus. There were at least 20 of these beautiful butterflies catching the morning sun in a sheltered area.

A little further up the mountain I noticed a subtle change in the shade of blue and realised that I was now walking amongst Escher’s Blues, Polyommatus escheri. I was interested to notice that they were in discrete colonies, whereas on previous occasions I have seen these two species sharing the same space.

I continued up the mountain to an area where I had seen Zullich’s Blues, Agriades zullichi, in the past. I spent some time searching the area, with little luck. The ground seemed quite churned up, as if cattle had been grazing there on the very sparse vegetation. Certainly when I look back at pictures taken in the same area two years ago, it was a lot greener then.

I found some Spanish Argus, Aricia morronensis, which look quite similar.

And two or three Painted Ladies, Vanessa cardui.

There were also a few Spanish Brassy Ringlets, Erebia hispania, but as usual they were really difficult to approach without disturbing them.

Finally, I saw a Zullich’s Blue. They are very difficult to follow, as they fly low and blend into the background. Those that I saw looked very worn, but just as I was about to leave I saw a fresher-looking female. I was delighted to see this lovely butterfly again, but it is a little concerning that I only saw five individuals. Two years ago I estimate seeing more than 15 in this same location.

I then headed back down the mountain towards a stream that I have visited a few times in the past. It was interesting to see the difference in the butterflies I saw this time. The numbers were certainly lower than I had previously seen. There were the occasional Nevada Blue and Escher’s Blue, but the Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus, was more numerous.

There were very few Silver-studded Blues, Plebejus argus, in amongst the low-growing junipers. On previous visits there were a lot more numerous.

Occasionally I would see a Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae, or Wall Brown on the more rocky slopes.

Down at the stream and along the wet grassy areas, where last year I had seen several Meadow Fritillaries, there were surprisingly few butterflies this year. I crossed the stream and searched a scrubby area, which had looked good from a distance, but amazingly there were no butterflies there, other than a couple of Small Coppers, Lycaena phlaeas.

The highlight for me was a beautiful Cardinal Fritillary, Argynnis pandora, that was sun bathing on a rock in the stream.

On my way back to the car I saw a couple of Small Whites and a long chase eventually allowed me to identify a Bath White. These white butterflies reminded me that I hadn’t seen any Apollos this trip. Just as I thought that, one flew past me and glided down the hill side. What a difference from two years ago when I saw so many.

Towards the end of my walk, I was surprised to find a snow bank blocking my route. I diverted around it and rejoined the path on the other side, which was wet with snowmelt. I was delighted to see some butterflies puddling on the path.

There were two Cardinals, two Small Tortoise shells and three blues.

The blues turned out to be a Common Blue, a Nevada Blue and an Escher’s Blue, demonstrating nicely the subtle differences between the species.

Had this been my first visit to the Sierra Nevada I would have thought that there were a lot of butterflies, but having visited previously I noticed that numbers were a lot lower than on previous visits. It is interesting to speculate why this would be.

Certainly, there was a lot more snow around, so possibly it had been cooler than in previous years. I also noticed that there were more cattle and goats than I had seen in previous years. Possibly they had grazed more of the wild flowers.

It is good to know that there are a lot of researchers working in the Sierra Nevada monitoring grazing and climate change and their impacts on invertebrates. It would be very interesting to talk to them and find out more about the long-term trends.