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.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Buddleia activity

We have just been spending a few days down at the property we have inherited from my father down in the Scottish Borders. We were very busy preparing two areas where we hope to build a garage and have a hen run, but I took some time out to watch a Buddleia bush in a rather overgrown flower bed.

Back home, only 40 miles north of there, our Buddleias finished flowering about two weeks ago. However, there was still a good number of flowers on the bush in the Borders. Maybe it is a different species or variety, but I noticed that a cutting I had planted from home was also in flower there.

When our Buddleias flower back home it often coincides with the period when there are not so many butterflies around. However, with the Buddleia flowering later in the Borders it was covered in butterflies and bees! It was almost like being in a butterfly house!

The Red Admirals, Vanessa atalanta, were the first butterflies to arrive each day, usually arriving by about 8.30am. I would love to know where they spend the nights, but they would come drifting down, either from the surrounding trees, or possibly just flying over the trees to get there.

I watched them in the evenings to see if I could follow some of them to see where they went, but failed in my mission! One day was much cooler, about 17 degrees and it was raining, but the Red Admirals still turned up. They tended to feed on the underside of the flowers when the rain was heavier, moving to the tops of the flowers when the rain eased.

I was very pleased to see a Comma, Polygonia c-album, among the butterflies there. There don't seem to have been many of them around this year.

There were also a few Peacock butterflies, Aglais io, feeding there preparing for their winter hibernation. 

Another butterfly that has been doing very well here this year is the Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. I was pleased to see a few of them visiting the Buddleia over the last few days. I presume they were fueling up in preparation for their migration back to Africa.

Whilst it was great to see these four species of butterflies, it was sad not to see any Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae. In a normal year they would be seen in far greater numbers than any other species just now, but sadly they have done very badly this year and I haven't seen one since July.

While I was watching the butterflies and trying to get some photographs, I saw a small bird out of the corner of my eye. It was a Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa striata. It was watching the butterflies and other insects flying from flower to flower. My camera was set on video at the time, so the picture below is a screenshot from the video. When my father built his house he asked the builders to make various holes and ledges for birds to nest in. I remember him showing me one hole and telling me that it was for a Spotted Flycatcher to nest in and, sure enough, each year a Spotted Flycatcher took up residence.

Just after I finished videoing, it flew down, narrowly missing a Painted Lady and caught a bee. 

I had a look in a bird book to find out more about the Spotted Flycatcher and found out that it visits the UK each year to breed and in September/October it migrates back to sub-Sarah Africa. It is an interesting thought that it may see the Painted Ladies again over the winter while they all enjoy the better weather there!

I tried uploading a video of the action, but the quality has reduced dramatically, but it gives an idea of what was going on!


Friday, 19 August 2016

Red Admirals in an Oak Tree

We had three days of warm sunshine this week, which hasn't happened very often this year! I chose the second day to do my butterfly transect, but I was disappointed that there were so few butterflies flying.

Towards the end of my transect I saw a Peacock butterfly flying towards a small group of trees. It was too far away to count on my transect, but I noticed another large, dark butterfly flying out of the trees. I thought it was worth investigating, so I took a slight detour to have a look.

I was surprised to see a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, sitting on a branch of an Oak tree.

As I looked around the tree I spotted another three Red Admirals. They were all fairly high up the tree and it appeared that they were all feeding where dead branches were attached to a live branch.

I don't know if they were able to reach in to find sap, or if there was moisture from the dead wood at that point, but they all seemed very possessive of their own little spot.

Quite often they were buzzed by a wasp causing them to fly off, but they would always return to the same spot.

There were a couple of other Oak trees in the group of trees, but they didn't appear to be attractive to the Red Admirals.

I am sure I have read somewhere about Red Admirals being seen on the trunks of Oak trees. I will have to do a little research and see if I can find out more.

Two of our volunteers also reported low numbers on their butterfly transects this week. Certainly when I was out and about I didn't see very many butterflies, although there were good numbers of Wall Browns along the coastal path. I have also received reports of a lot of Speckled Woods in some woodland sites, so it seems that some species are doing better than others.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Some Borders Butterflies

I have been particularly busy this year and the weather hasn't been the best for looking for butterflies. However, I have still managed a few trips down to the Scottish Borders to look for butterflies, some of which we don't get here in East Lothian.

Here are the highlights:

Between sessions of clearing the house and keeping the grass and woodlands in check I managed a quick visit to a valley just above our property in Selkirkshire on the 18th June.

I knew this was a good site for Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxerxes, but I have never seen them in such numbers. They are such lovely butterflies and I feel so lucky to have such a great site for them close to where we will be living one day.

I think I will indulge in another picture!!

Another thrill for me was the sight of a small orange butterfly - a Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Boloria selene, which flew past me and then disappeared. On my way back down the valley I searched through the vegetation and was delighted to find it again. This time it posed nicely for me in the grass. I had thought I had seen one there in the past, but I wasn't 100% sure, so it was good to get a definite identification.

Six days later I took a friend down to the Berwickshire coast where we hoped to see Small Blues, Cupido minimus. Although numbers were lower than we have seen in the past it was great to see these lovely wee butterflies again.

It was quite worrying to see how dried up their food plant, Kidney Vetch, was, not because of the heat but because of the constant North-East wind coming in from the sea. However, we noticed that next to the railway the Kidney Vetch was doing much better out of the wind.

We met the Borders' butterfly recorder while we were there and he showed us where we would see Large Skippers, Ochlodes sylvanus. Despite the wind we were lucky to spot two or three. Two years ago these found their way into East Lothian, but they haven't been spotted since, possibly because the weather has been so poor.

On our walk back I was pleased to see a Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera. We have these in East Lothian, but I still haven't seen one here this year.

Two days ago on my way back down to Selkirkshire I called into a site near Melrose where I know Scotch Argus, Erebia aethiops, are found. These are a fairly scarce butterfly which are able to fly in dull, wet weather when other species are hiding away. I saw them last year flying in the rain!

They are so difficult to get pictures of, as they are very easily disturbed and when they land they always seem to go low down in the grass. I was pleased to be able to get the picture above and then delighted when I was walking back to the car to see the butterfly below feeding on a Thistle flower.

After lunch I returned to the valley above our property where I saw a lot of Small Skippers, Thymelicus sylvestris. This is another butterfly that I thought I had seen before there, but I hadn't seen it for long enough to be sure. It was great to see them in such numbers.

The Northern Brown Argus were also still flying and I saw a few Dark Green Fritillaries, Argynnis aglaja

To add a bit of colour there were also Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus, flying among the multitude of brown butterflies such as Meadow Browns, Ringlet and Small Heaths.

It was great to see so many different butterflies and it is really exciting to think that in a couple of years we will be living in amongst them all!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Orange Tip Chrysalis

Over the winter I try to keep myself amused by finding hibernating butterflies. In December last year a friend, Abbie, said that she had spotted some old lime kilns close to where we had seen Red Admirals in the autumn. We were sure they must be over-wintering somewhere, but have never found them hibernating.

We searched the lime kilns, but couldn't find any places where they could be hibernating. I commended that we were surrounded by the dried up seed heads of Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, which is the favourite food plant for Orange Tip caterpillars, Anthocharis cardamines.
I have only ever found one Orange Tip chrysalis despite searching for hours in the past.

We searched for some time and then we found a lovely green chrysalis on a dried up seed head.

Despite there being hundreds of suitable plants this was the only one we found. I said that I suspect that the caterpillars may go in search of alternative plants to form a chrysalis on. Garlic Mustard becomes very brittle and I can imagine it breaking easily in heavy snow or when it is windy.

Abbie found some more Garlic Mustard plants under a Hawthorn hedge and she searched among the thorns and found a second chrysalis. It was amazingly well camouflaged, looking just like one of the thorns.

Sadly the first chrysalis we found disappeared a few days later, but the the chrysalis on the Hawthorn hedge must have become one of the most watched chrysalis in Scotland! When it became time for it to eclose Abbie would check it almost daily and send me an e-mail of any changes and I would call in to see it if I was passing.

It remained unchanged over the winter, but in the middle of April it changed colour.

We were a little concerned, but hoped that this was a sign that a butterfly was forming within. The day after I noticed that it had started to turn orange. This picture was taken on 20th April.

With the orange showing through I was sure that the butterfly would emerge within a day or two, but sadly the weather changed for the worse.

I took this next picture on the 21st April, which shows how difficult it is to spot an Orange Tip chrysalis on a Hawthorn bush!

After a few days we were sure that the chrysalis must have died. The temperature had dropped and the skies remained cloudy. Despite this, we would still have a look every couple of days.

Fast forward a month and the sun came out again!! Over the weekend of 21st/22nd May both Abbie and I were helping out at Scotland's Big Nature Festival, an event put on by the RSPB and other conservation organisations. It wasn't until a couple of days after that Abbie went to have a look at the chrysalis to discover an empty shell. The butterfly must have eclosed over the weekend when we weren't looking!! I took this picture a few days after, by which time the chrysalis was full of rain water!

I hope that the butterfly managed to dodge the rain and has gone on to produce more eggs to give us something to watch this winter!

Orange Tip male

Orange Tip female

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui

When I was out for a walk with my dog after lunch today I was delighted to see a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, fly up from the track in front of us. At the same time I met a friend with his dog and I lost sight of the butterfly. I returned a few minutes later with my camera just in case the Painted Lady had decided to stick around.
At first I couldn't find it anywhere, but then my eye was drawn to a beautiful Hawthorn bush which was completely covered in flowers. To my delight there was the Painted Lady feeding on the blossom and it turned out that there were two!

The Painted Lady is found here in East Lothian most years. Sometimes it is seen in great numbers, but more often than not we only see a few individuals.

The Painted Lady can't survive our cold winters, so those that we see have migrated here. Their parents may have started their journey in North Africa or southern Europe. I wonder where those I saw today started out? Hopefully this one will lay some eggs here, or maybe it will continue to travel further north.

It used to be thought that the butterflies that reached the UK perished when the first frosts arrived. However, it has recently been discovered that Painted Ladies return to Africa at the end of the season. They fly at over 500 metres high and return to the same area that their predecessors left earlier in the year. The remarkable thing is that the butterflies that return to Africa are the great-great-grandchildren of those that started the journey northwards. How is that knowledge passed on?

Occasionally we experience what is sometimes referred to as a "Painted Lady Year", in which tens of thousands arrive on our shores. Two weeks ago the first Painted Lady of the year in East Lothian was reported to me and last week I saw one in the Scottish Borders. This evening I received two more records of Painted Ladies being seen today. So, I am hoping that 2016 will turn out to be a great Painted Lady year.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Green Hairstreak - Callophrys rubi

It has been a bit of a frustrating season so far. The last few days of March were mild and promising, but then most of April it was too cold for butterflies. The last ten days have been sunny and reasonably mild, bringing out a few butterflies. We are currently up to 13 species for the season.

A few days ago I heard that Green Hairstreaks, Callophrys rubi, had been found in a local wood. They were first recorded there last year, but have most likely lived there unnoticed for many years. A friend and I went to look for them and were delighted to find at least eight.

My friend returned the following day and explored further into the wood and found a colony of about 25 and today she let me know that she had managed to find Green Hairstreaks in another wood where they have never been recorded before.

They are very small and so well camouflaged that I am not surprised they haven't previously been noticed here.

Green Hairstreaks lay their eggs on Blaeberry here. We have also noticed that they only seem to occur close to conifer plantations. Maybe that is a coincidence, but apparently identical areas of Blaeberry without conifers near by don't seem to have any Green Hairstreaks living on them.

It is great to know that there are at least three areas of East Lothian where Green Hairstreaks occur. I am sure there are probably many more. Over the winter I found a site that looks perfect for them, but it is a three hour walk to get there, so I doubt I am going to have time to check it out this spring. At least I now know what sorts of habitats to check out.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

East Lothian Butterflies 2015 (2)

Continuing on from my previous post ...

Green Hairstreak, Callophrys rubi
We only discovered Green Hairstreaks for the first time in East Lothian in 2014, although I am sure they were probably hiding away in their remote locations for several years before that. This year the first record was on 20th May and they were recorded until 7th June. They were mostly recorded in the Lammermuir Hills, but also in an area of lowland woodland.

Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera
There were two distinct generations of Wall Browns between 30th May - 2nd July and 16th August - 19th September. They seemed to be quite abundant this year and I have been told that they were particularly abundant on the coast in the Scottish Borders. This is good news as they are struggling in southern England, possibly as a result of climate change.

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui
I had thought that 2015 was a poor year for Painted Ladies, as I only saw one all year! However, I received quite a few records from other enthusiasts. Considering the number of Red Admirals that arrived here in July, I was surprised there weren't more Painted Ladies, though. The first record I received was on 11th June and the last one seen was on 26th October.

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus
The first Common Blue recorded in 2015 was on 11th June and they were recorded through to 29th September in good numbers. There was no clear division between the two generations. For some reason there was a much higher proportion than normal of females reported than in previous years.

Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxeres
I am only aware of four sites in East Lothian where Northern Brown Argus occur. Three of these sites are smaller than the average sitting room. This year I only received records from two sites with the earliest being 20th June and the latest was on 7th August.

Ringlet, Aphantpopus hyperantus
Ringlets were seen in their usual good numbers between 24th June and 16th August. They seemed to have a longer season than in previous years, possibly because the weather was so poor.

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
As usual Meadow Browns were very numerous in 2015. The first record was on 27th June and they were seen through to 3rd September, with a peak in numbers in early August.

Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis laodice
The Dark Green Fritillary is mostly found on the coast of East Lothian, but there are a few inland sites where they are also found. The first record in 2015 was on 27th June and they were seen until the 15th August.

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris
The Small Skipper was first recorded in East Lothian in 2011 at Aberlady Local Nature Reserve. It has since done incredibly well and spread along the coast and is also found at a couple of inland sites. In 2015 it was recorded between 28th June and 29 August.

Grayling, Hypparchia semele
I am only aware of three sites where Grayling occur in East Lothian. One of those sites is in an area that is due to have houses built on it and we are currently unable to access it. All of the records I received in 2015 were from a nearby site, which is an old mining spoil heap. The first Grayling was recorded on 3rd July and they were seen till 6th August.

Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Clossiana selene

The only record of a Small Pearl Border Fritillary this year was on 3rd July when I briefly saw one at a site in the Lammermuir Hills. This is the only place I am aware of them occurring in East Lothian, so I hope they are able to hang on there.

The only butterfly that I was hoping to see in East Lothian that we didn't record in 2015 was the Large Skipper. They had been seen just inside the East Lothian boundary in 2014 and we had high hopes that they would increase in number or progress along the coast as so many other species have done. They may have been there, but due to the lousy weather no one was there to spot them!  With a bit of luck we will find them again in 2016.

It is fantastic having so many people contributing to the butterfly records in East Lothian. We are building up a really good picture of what is going on during a very interesting period in the distribution of butterflies here. I wonder if we will have any new butterflies in 2016?