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, 11 May 2012

New East Lothian Butterfly Species for 2011

2011 was a lousy year weather-wise in East Lothian. We had a couple of lovely weeks in April and thereafter there was so much rain and temperatures were well below average. However, 2011 was a great year for butterflies here! It seems strange to me, considering that there is so little natural environment left in East Lothian that we get any butterflies at all! The disadvantage of so much of the landscape being prime agricultural land means that hedgerows have been ripped out and every square inch is ploughed and planted with wheat or barley. Being close to Edinburgh there has been a lot of new housing built recently, which may actually be better than a field of wheat for biodiversity!
In April I received an enquiry about a blue butterfly near a village called Aberlady. It didn't sound like a Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus, which is the only blue we get here and I thought it worth investigating. The description made me think it could be a Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus, so each sunny lunch time I headed to Aberlady and searched any likely areas where I knew holly or ivy grew. On my third attempt, just as I was about to leave, I spotted some large holly trees so had a quick look, and there were at least three Holly Blues.
They were quite active little things, and they tended to land high up in the holly and a neighbouring apple tree, which didn't make photography easy!

This one seemed a little shy and these were the best pictures I could manage in the limited time I had before returning to the office. I returned a couple of times later, but didn't get any better views. I also returned a few   times later in the season to see if there was a second generation, but without luck. Possibly because of the poor weather conditions over the summer. I hope to see them again in 2012.

In May one of the countryside rangers described a butterfly she had seen that sounded like a Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Boloria selene. I headed for the area of John Muir Country Park where she thought she had seen it, but had no luck finding it. However, on the way back to the car a small brown butterfly flew up from the track in front of me. It turned out to be a Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, I think of the sub-species tircis, which is found over most of the southern half of the UK. There had been one or two isolated sightings of this butterfly in East Lothian over the previous two years, so I suspected they may be secretly breeding somewhere in the county. Close by I saw another Speckled Wood making it very likely they were breeding there.
There is another sub-species, oblita,  that occurs to the north of here, and we are bang in the middle of the area where neither sub-species occur according to the distribution maps. I think that the southern sub-species is extending its distribution northwards.

I went back to the same site in late June and this time found four Speckled Woods in the area. These ones were a lot fresher-looking, so I presume were a second generation. Others were spotted later in the year in another part of John Muir Country Park and a nearby wood, so it looks as though we have another new species for East Lothian.

For a couple of years I have heard rumours of Grayling butterflies, Hipparchia semele, living on the site of an old opencast coal mine. Last summer I was told where abouts to look and a friend and I visited one lunch  time. To our surprise we immediately came across several of them on an old section of railway. I returned again later in the year, but the weather was so poor that I didn't see any more of them. 
These butterflies are incredibly well camouflaged when they land on the ground.

It has been suggested that the change in distribution of these butterflies may be a sign of climate change, although it is difficult to believe that slightly warmer winters, wetter summers and more wind could have such an effect (particularly as we just had two very hard winters!). There were also three sightings of Small Skippers, Thymelicus sylvestris, at Aberlady this year - another new species for East Lothian. Other butterflies that used to be rare here are now more commonly seen. Wall Browns moved here in 2010, Commas in around 2006 and before that Peacocks, Orange Tips and Ringlets. It certainly isn't an abundance of habitat that is attracting the butterflies here. This is just another reason why butterflies fascinate me so much.

Hopefully the weather will improve in 2012 and I will be able to go back and see if these species have made it through the winter.

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