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.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

More Malaga Butterflies

We had three species of butterflies that were resident in the garden of the villa we were staying in. I have always noticed Long-tailed Blues, Lampides boeticus, flying around the garden there, but it was only this year that I realised that they were laying eggs on a bush in the garden, which I now think is Polygala myrtifoli.

I have previously found the eggs and caterpillars of Lang's Short-tailed Blues, Leptotes pirithous, on a Plumbego bush in the garden. This year I could find plenty of eggs, but I didn't find any caterpillars. I suspect that they may have been inside the flower buds judging by the holes I found.

There seemed to be more Geranium Bronzes, Cacyreus marshalli, than in previous years. This was confirmed by the number of eggs I found on the Geranium flowers around the garden. Most flower heads had at least one egg on it.

Other visitors to the garden included Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, Clouded Yellows, Colias crocea, and most commonly the Small White, Pieris rapae.

No trip to southern Spain would be complete without me seeing an African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna.  I usually see them down by the river, but this year it took two visits to the Rio Guadalhorce before I saw one. I later saw some on the banks of the lakes at Emblase de Guadalhorce.

While I was there I briefly saw a Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria.

There was also a Bath White, Pontia daplidice, flying among the grass there.

On our last full day at the villa I thought I would walk further along the road to see if I could find any other sites similar to my favourite butterfly spot. A couple of kilometres further up the hill I saw a track heading up into the olive groves, so followed it.

It was a worthwhile detour as almost immediately I saw a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui.

There were a lot of Common Blues, Southern Brown Argus and Bath Whites flying around the few bits of green vegetation at the side of the track along with a little Red-underwing Skipper, Spialia sertorius.

Under an old olive tree I saw a couple of butterflies having a bit of a squabble. They turned out to be a Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina...

 And a Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus. This is the summer form that occurs around the Mediterranean.

On a trip to walk the Caminito del Rey I only saw Speckled Woods and Bath Whites, which was a little disappointing as I thought there may have been various species of Graylings there.

However, a trip to the Sierra Nevada was fantastic. I will be posting about that in the next week or two.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Malaga, Spain - Butterflies - July 2016

From the 1st to 15th July this year we had our annual family holiday in a villa 45 kilometres north west of Malaga. This is the third time we have holidayed there, coincidentally being there for exactly the same dates in 2012 and 2014 previously.

The holiday went off to a really good start, with me seeing a Small White, Pieris rapae, as we were driving out of the airport and then a Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus, flew across the road in front of us.

There is an area that I tend to walk to each day to look for butterflies just a little way up the road from the villa we rent. Over the previous two years I have learned that this is the best local spot to find them. Probably the most common butterfly there is the Southern Gatekeeper, Pyronia cecilia, although they weren't as numerous as the first year we visited.

Dusky Heaths, Coenonympha dorus, are beautiful little butterflies with the line of silver scales along the edge or their wings. They always seem to be flying around this area.

The track turns into a feint path that climbs along the ridge of the hills through olive groves. On the exposed parts of the path male Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, take up territory, chasing after any other butterflies or large insect they see.

Common Blues, Polyommatus celina, were the other butterfly that could be relied upon to be there each day. They seem very much smaller than those that I see back home. I wasn't sure if I was just imagining this, but I also remember when I saw a Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, how much bigger it looked than the Common Blue. The two species are more-or-less the same size back home.

I only saw a Small Copper once this year. It seems to be a very widely distributed butterfly, but it's never seen in great numbers.

I was delighted to see a Striped Grayling, Pseudotergumia fidia, on the first day I walked up the path. It was there again in exactly the same place the second day too, but I didn't see it after that. Two years earlier I saw a lot of them in the next valley, but have never seen them at this spot before.

Mallow Skippers, Carcharodus alceae, seemed to have small territories along the road to the villa chasing after anything that flew anywhere near them.

Up the track, on the wild Thyme, Sage Skippers, Syrinthus proto, were doing the same thing.

On a couple of occasions I saw a Mediterranean Skipper, Gegenes nostrodamus. I saw this species very briefly for the first time two years ago.

Other butterflies that I saw occasionally were Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea,
... and Bath White, Pontia daplidice.

The Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, is a beautiful little butterfly, which I regularly saw flying among the wild flowers.

I'll continue with the other butterflies I saw in my next post.

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!