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, 3 November 2020

Casarabonela Butterflies - September 2019

Last September my wife and I decided to go and explore some nearby villages and we randomly picked Casarabonela, which is about thirteen kilometres west of Alora, where we were renting a flat.

It is amazing what a difference those 13 kilometres make, though, and we noticed how green the countryside was on the drive up the hills towards Casarabonela. It is an amazing little village, perched on a steep hillside, with narrow little streets, only wide enough to walk up. As with many Spanish villages, it wasn’t always apparent which streets were suitable for vehicles as many of them started off wide, but narrowed, or had really tight corners, or steps!

Luckily, we decided to park the car near the bottom of the village and walk through the streets to the main village plaza where we found a café that served cold beer, with amazing views over the valley.

This trip wasn’t meant to be a butterfly trip, but I was amazed at how many butterflies there were flying around the village. This butterfly had be puzzled and I still don’t know exactly what it is! When I first saw it, I assumed it was going to be a Southern Brown Argus, but the pattern on the underside of the wings suggest it is most likely a Southern Blue, Polyommatus celina. However, it was very much larger than others I have seen elsewhere in Spain. Possibly the lush vegetation allows then to grow a little larger here than in more arid areas where I am always surprised that they are so much smaller than Common Blues that we get back home.

There were quite a few Geranium Bronzes, Cacyreus marshalli, flying in the village, presumably taking advantage of the lovely geraniums growing in all of the window boxes around the village.

I stopped in my tracks when we were walking next to a small formal shrub garden and I was astounded to see a Spanish Festoon, Zerynthia rumina. I had always assumed these were a springtime species, but when checking the books I see that they are double brooded in some locations. This picture was taken on my phone, so it is a little fuzzy.

This turned out to be one of five we saw there and to my wife’s frustration I would chase off after others trying to get a picture, but they were very active and wouldn’t let me get close.

There was a steep ravine running into the village with terraced orchards and vegetable gardens. From the pavement above I could see a number of Holly Blues, Celastrina argiolus, flying around some ivy-clad buildings, all too far away to photograph!

As we walked along a road with an orchard below I was delighted to see a Two-tailed Pasha, Charaxes jasius, drift past us and down amongst the fruit trees. All along this road there were Small Whites, Pieris rapae, and what looked to be freshly emerged Large Whites, Pieris brassicae.

I spotted a house with an amazing garden full of flowering bushes. I really wished I could have gone and had a look inside the garden, but on the hedge outside was a Long-tailed Blue, Lambides boeticus.

Higher up in the village we found the municipal swimming pool, but sadly despite us really feeling the heat, it is considered too cold for it to remain open in September. The lovely cool water looked so tempting through the bars! As we walked along this road, with scrubland on one side, we saw a few Swallowtails, Papilio machaon, a worn out Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui

and two striped Graylings, Hipparchia fidia, also looking a little worse for wear.

This is a beautiful little village and I really hope we can return there next summer when there may be more butterflies around and hopefully the swimming pool will be open!

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Antequera Butterflies - September 2019

Having visited Antequera in April 2019 and seen such a fantastic variety of butterflies, I thought I would visit again in September. I parked in the same spot as I had earlier in the year and walked along the track where there had been so many wild flowers in the spring.

Not surprisingly the flowers were mostly finished, other than one or two species. This didn't bode very well, but I was surprised to see quite a few little butterflies flying around.

First off was a Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous, which was laying eggs on a Gorse bush.

There were a number of similar-sized butterflies, which turned out to mostly be Sage Skippers, Muschampia proto,

... and Long-tailed Blues, Lampides boeticus.

There were also a few Small Whites, Pieris rapae, and some very worn Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina.

The track then went through some arable fields, but I continued past a farmyard and into dip in the track, which offered a little shade. Here there was some mint growing, which was attracting butterflies. They flew backwards and forwards along this short section, stopping occasionally to feed. They were mostly Sage Skippers, Long-tailed Blues and Lang's Short-tailed Blues again, but there were also two or three Southern Blues, Polyommatus celina.

I was delighted to see a beautiful male Adonis Blue, Polyommatus bellargus, but it wouldn't stop for a picture. Neither would a Holly Blues, Celastrina argiolus. A little Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, was more cooperative.

On the walk back I saw a rather worn out looking Striped Grayling, Hipparchia fidia.

There was also a Bath White, Pontia daplidice, and four Painted Ladies, Vanessa cardui.

So, I managed to see 14 species on what hadn't looked as though it was going to be a very promising walk. Only two fewer than I saw on my spring walk here.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Alora Butterflies - September 2019

I realised that I have not posted about our holiday to Malaga in September 2019, so ... 

We went on a week's holiday to southern Spain at the end of September 2019 to catch some much needed sun! We were at the same village we have visited on five previous occasions. Of course, I was keen to fit in a few walks to look for butterflies, but I wasn't expecting to see much with it being so late in the season. I did have a couple of nice surprises, though!

After an amazingly easy journey we arrived at the apartment in Alora in the early afternoon. Claire needed a sleep, which gave me a perfect excuse to go and look for butterflies. I started at my old favourite butterfly spot, which is just above the villa we used to rent. It is a steep valley up a mountain, and the way the track has been cut into the side of the valley shades an area where thyme, rosemary and lavender grows. During our normal July holidays these plants provide rare flowers and nectar in the area.

When I had visited this spot in April I was too early for any flowers, so there were very few butterflies. This time I was far too late for any flowers and after a long search all I saw was a female Lang's Short Tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous. It was laying eggs on a rosemary plant.

I then decided to try a spot I had found in April above the village cemetery. Here there are tracks through olive groves where there had been a lot of wild flowers. However, in September there were no flowers left under the olive trees. I noticed that there were yellow flowers along the edge of a track and what I figured out was a helipad. These plants must have been able to get to the moisture under the concrete.

The plants proved to be a draw for butterflies. There were a couple of Long-tailed Blues, Lambides boeticus, flying about furiously in the heat, but they wouldn't stop for a picture. More biddable was this Mallow Skipper, Carcharodus alceae, which looked as though it had fairly recently emerged from its chrysalis.

This little Sage Skipper, Muschampia proto, was flying in the same spot.

There were also at least five Painted Ladies, Vanessa cardui.

Having had so many migrate to Scotland in 2019, I wondered to myself if these individuals had been born in Scotland and were on their way to Africa.

There is an area down by the river where in the spring there are a lot of wild flowers and in summer there is an area of mint, which proves very attractive to butterflies. In September there were far fewer flowers, other than the same yellow flowers I had seen in the hills. However, this still proved to be the best place to find butterflies near to the village, despite the goat herder regularly passing with this goats! Butterflies seen there included, Bath White, Pontia daplidice, Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous,

... some very worn Meadow Browns, Maniola jutina,

... some slightly worn Small Coppers, Lycaena phlaeas,

... Small Whites. Pieris rapae,

... a few male Mediterranean Skippers, Gegenes nostrodamus,

... and one quite different-looking female.

And a Rosy Grizzled Skipper, Pyrgus onopordi.

There were also a lot of  Painted Ladies and my favourite of all, the little African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna.

Occasionally, in the village I would see a small butterfly flying around a shrub bed or window box. These always turned out to be Geranium Bronzes, Cacyreus marshalli.

Most of the butterflies I saw at this time of year were the same species as those I usually see in the summer. I also visited a couple of areas further afield, Antiquera and Casarabonela, where I saw a few different species. I'll report on these in my next posts.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Scotch Argus returns

I was really excited to find a Scotch Argus, Erebia aethiops, flying in our garden in August last year. This left me wondering if there is a colony somewhere close by, or if there has always been a small colony in our woodland. I watched it laying eggs in the grass and then didn't dare cut the grass in that area for the next 12 months!!

On 11th August this year, despite the weather, I spotted a Scotch Argus in exactly the same place. It was rather the worse for wear and looked as though it was at least a week old.

It was a female again, but I didn't see it laying eggs. It was still flying in the same area the following day.

Two days later I saw another Scotch Argus flying down near the wild flower meadow I am trying to develop.

I still haven't found the answer to my question of where these butterflies have come from. I had been hoping to explore likely habitats in the area this summer, but sadly good weather never coincided with my days off. I am aware of an old record in the next little valley a kilometre away and someone has told me that they are found about five kilometres from here, further up the valley. I hope I will be able to explore both of these areas next August.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Wildflower Meadow

Over  the last 18 months we have been enjoying creating various habitats for wildlife at our new house in the Scottish Borders. Some of these projects are more ambitious than others.

There is an area of rough grassland when you first arrive at our property. On one side of the drive it has never been cut and is just left to do as it wants. I spent a lot of time last winter levelling off the larger area of ground on the other side of the drive in an attempt to create a wild flower meadow.

I planted a hedge along our boundary hoping it would provide some shelter as well as flowers for insects and fruit for birds. It hasn't done very well as rabbits and deer have been enjoying nibbling at it! But, hopefully, it will slowly develop. I have even planted Alder Buckthorn in it, hoping that Brimstones may one day venture up here!

I bought a scythe mower and last autumn cut half of the area. This machine is great and it cut right down below the thatch, meaning that I was able to remove almost all of the vegetable matter once it had dried out and shed any seeds there may have been.

I left the other half to provide somewhere for invertebrates to over-winter and to provide a bit of variety.

Things haven't gone as smoothly as I had hoped. The harsh haircut appears to have not been appreciated by all of the wild flower species. So far this year I can find no Knapweed in the area I have cut.

Also, over the winter we had an area of Spruce woodland cut down. Unfortunately, this coincided with a very wet period and the foresters decided that the meadow would make a great turning circle. We ended up with ruts over a foot deep, which would make cutting almost impossible. A neighbour was kind enough to level the ground off again with a 360 digger, but it is still not as flat as I would like.

The ground is clearly more fertile than is ideal, but by continuing to cut and remove the hay, we will slowly reduce the fertility and therefore the vigour of the grasses and larger plants.

I was delighted this year to find Yellow Rattle growing and flowering. I planted seed last year, but didn't think it had been successful. However, I think it must have been and it had self-seeded and regrown this year. Yellow Rattle is hemi-parasitic and its roots penetrate the roots of grasses to absorb the nutrients. This results in the grass thinning and provides more space for wild flowers to grow.

Despite it being so early in the life of the wildflower meadow, I am amazed at how much wildlife it is attracting already. So far this year I have found three sets of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars and two large groups of Peacock caterpillars in the nettles.

There have been loads of Common Blue and Large Red Damselflies and I was very surprised to see a Broad-bodied Chaser last week.

Ringlets have appeared over the last three days, with there being more than 20 there today. There were a lot of Orange Tips and Green-veined Whites earlier in the year and more recently Red Admirals. I watched one visiting several nettles and realised that it was laying eggs.

I am not very good at identifying moths, but there have been several Silver-ys and Lattice Heaths in the meadow, a Buff-tip yesterday and today I saw a Chimney Sweeper.

Yesterday, I was amazed to see a Northern Brown Argus just next to the house and later I saw a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary just next to the meadow. And of course, there was the Scotch Argus that I saw here last year laying eggs. I can't wait to see if there will be more Scotch Argus this year.

Later on yesterday I saw a Painted Lady laying eggs and today's excitement was a Large Skipper. The garden tick list is going from strength to strength!!

So, despite things not all going entirely to plan this area has already started to attract a great deal of wildlife. I can't wait to see what else I find there.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Scotch Argus, Erebia aethiops

On 25th August last year,  I was walking through our wood at our house in the Scottish Borders, when I noticed a small, dark butterfly in the grass next to me. I dropped everything I was holding and ran down to the house for my glasses and camera.

Luckily it was still there when I returned and I was astonished to discover that it was a Scotch Argus, Erebia aethiops. The reason I had been exploring the neighbouring valley, Lewinshope, a couple of weeks earlier  was that I had found a record of Scotch Argus from ten years ago from there, but now here was a Scotch Argus in my garden!

I am now at a loss as to whether this individual has flown over from Lewinshope, if there is another colony somewhere else close by, or if they have been living undiscovered in the grass next to our house. I think this is unlikely, as my father, who used to live here was a biologist and he kept detailed records of the plants and animals he had seen there.

I followed the Scotch Argus to try to get a picture of the upper side of the wings to ensure I wasn't mistaken with its identity. I was even more amazed to see it laying eggs.

Now I won't be able to cut the grass there and I excitedly await this August to see if any of its offspring survive. I will also be checking the Lewinshope Valley again and any other likely areas to see if there is a colony close by.