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.



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.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Sierra Nevada Fritillaries


I walked a little further down the dry stream bed to where it opened out into a rocky area. There were several fritillaries flying around fighting over this prized territory. It was so nice having time to observe them and take pictures of the upper and underside of the wings. I realised that they usually returned to the same spot after a bout of aerial combat, so I was able to wait for them to return for a photograph!


There were at least two Knapweed Fritillaries, Melitaea phoebe.



They seemed to be continually chasing off some Niobe Fritillaries, Argynnis niobe altonevadensis.



A Spotted Fritillary, Melitaea didyma, seemed to be at the bottom of the pecking order and was quickly seen off.


But a Marsh Fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia beckeri, was more persistent, constantly returning to its favourite rose bush.


Occasionally a larger Fritillary would fly past, but it would soon be chased off before it had even landed. I suspect they were High Brown Fritillaries, Argynnis adippe, as that is the largest fritillary occurring in the Sierra Nevada.

There were also a few Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Issoria lathonia. They seemed to be the top dogs in the area.



I returned to the car to have a drink of water and while I was there I noticed two fritillaries on a yellow flower below me. I cautiously approached them and saw that they were Cardinal Fritillaries, Argynnis pandora.


Despite a disappointing start to my day, I ended up seeing 33 species. It was so nice being able to spend some time watching the butterflies in this little meadow.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Sierra Nevada Butterflies - July 2018


We have visited the same holiday villa north west of Malaga every second year since 2012 and more by chance than design I have driven the three hour trip to the Sierra Nevada on the 4th of July each time. It has been interesting to see the differences in butterflies each time.

This year I drove straight up to the Hoya de la Mora ski resort, arriving just before 9 o'clock, with the intention of heading straight up to look for Zullich's Blues, Agriades zullichii. However, as soon as I stepped out of the car I discovered that it was really windy up there.


Having driven so far, I thought that I may as well walk up the mountain to have a look anyway, hoping that the wind may die down. However, I didn't see any butterflies at all.

I then decided to walk down to the stream that I have visited in the past thinking that it would be more sheltered there. However, the wind seemed to be blowing straight down the valley, so all I saw all morning were two Common Blues, a Painted Lady, two Clouded Yellows and a Small Tortoiseshell, all sheltering from the wind.


Rather disheartened, I gave up and headed back to the car. I drove back down the mountain and thought that I may as well have a look in a little meadow where I have seen a lot of butterflies in the past. Normally, I only spend a few minutes here having spent most of my time in the high mountains, but this year I had about two and a half hours wondering around an area no bigger than a football pitch. Luckily this area was completely sheltered and I was able to see hundreds of butterflies.


The grassy area of the meadow had all sorts of small butterflies, such as Common Blues. Both Polyommatus icarus and Polyommatus celina occur in Sierra Nevada...


Silver-studded Blues, Plebejus argus hypochionus...


Idas Blues, Plebejus idas nevadensis...


Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera...


and Small Skippers, Thymelicus sylvestris.


On previous visits I have seen the almost identical Essex Skipper, Thymelicus lineola hemmingi. I think this is one that I saw this year.


In amongst the shrubs were various white butterflies, most of which wouldn't stop for a picture this year. There were Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, Iberian Marbled Whites, Melanargia lachesis, Black-veined Whites, Aporia crataegi, Cleopatras, Gonepteryx cleopatra mauretanica, and Small Whites, Pieris rapae.


I spotted one rather faded Long-tailed Blue, Lampides boeticus...


And only one Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas lusitanicus. I am always surprised that they aren't seen in greater numbers in the Sierra Nevada.


There were also Oriental Meadow Browns, Hyponephele lupinnus, Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, and Rock Graylings, Hipparchia alcyone enjoying a bit of shade. I was delighted to see a Spanish Gatekeeper, Pyronia bathseba. It was very difficult to approach, but I did manage a couple of distant pictures.


While I was stalking it, I saw a Nettle Tree Butterfly, Libythea celtis, the first time I have managed to see this species. Sadly it flew off before I could take its picture.

But I did manage to get a picture of this Bath White, Pontia daplidice.


There were a few Dusky Heaths, Coenonympha dorus.


In the more open spaces Clouded Yellows, Colias crocea, regularly flew past. Most were the regular yellow colour, but there were one or two of the pale helice form.



There were a few damp areas in an otherwise dry stream bed, which were attracting butterflies. Here are three Silver-studded Blues and an Idas Blue.


There were also some Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae, enjoying the minerals.


I started to follow the stream bed down the hill and I was thrilled to see a Mother-of-pearl Blue, Plebicula nivescens. This was the first time I have seen this beautiful butterfly.



Further down the stream I noticed some fritillaries flying around. I think I had better talk about them in my next post.