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.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

East Lothian Butterflies 2012

The weather in East Lothian in 2012 was terrible. It started off quite well and we had two glorious weeks in March when butterflies started to appear, but from April onwards we had a ridiculous amount of rain. There were barely two days without rain right through to August. September was a little better, much to the relief of the farmers, who were able to harvest their crops, but we also had some periods of very heavy rain. We twice suffered fairly serious flooding in July and September, with rivers bursting their banks and fields being flooded.
The weather certainly had an impact on butterfly numbers earlier in the year, but species that appear later in the season didn’t suffer so badly. We had a few sightings of Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells in late February/early March, but things really took off on 21 March. For the next ten days I had records of various butterflies coming in and it looked like we were going to have an amazing year. April, however, was a complete wash out and I received very few records of butterflies that month! After that numbers picked up a bit, but were generally very disappointing.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
The first record I received this year was a Red Admiral on the 15th March. We had a really good year for them in 2011, but it is not considered that they survive the winter in Scotland. There was another record on 21st February, but then no more were seen until June. Possibly Red Admirals can survive the cold of a Scottish winter, but they wake up in a period when there are no flowering plants for them to feed on.
The Red Admirals that turn up later in the year have most likely worked their way up here from southern England or the continent. A few individuals were seen in the early summer, but like last year, numbers really picked up in September when they were commonly seen furiously feeding on buddleia. Hopefully, many of them will have flown south where they will be able to make it through to next spring.

Peacock, Aglais io
Peacocks have become a butterfly that you can rely on here, whilst numbers of other species tend to fluctuate. The first record I have this year was from 21st March and they made regular appearances through to June. As is normal they were not about in July, but the next generation started to appear at the end of August and they were seen in good numbers until the end of September.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae
Small Tortoiseshells seem to be doing better here than they are further south. Over the last few years there has been concern that the number of Small Tortoiseshells has been declining and it is thought this may be due to a parasitic fly, Sturmia bella, becoming more common in the UK. If it is true that this fly is spreading up from Europe then hopefully it won’t make it up to Scotland!
Despite the poor weather Small Tortoiseshells were frequently recorded here. The first record was on 1st March and they were seen throughout the year until early October.

Comma, Polygonia c-album

The Comma is a butterfly that I am always excited to see. I saw my first one in East Lothian in 2004 and since then the numbers have gradually picked up. Certainly this seems to be a butterfly that is extending its range northwards. Unfortunately, this year it hasn’t done so well. I spotted my first one this year on 21st March, and on the same day the Countryside Ranger at John Muir Country Park saw one. I received one other record in May, but then nothing at all until September. I was beginning to worry that the wet weather had wiped them out, but having now had four reports of them I hope that they will be able to bounce back next year.

Small White, Pieris rapae
I saw my first Small White on 22 March in the middle of the exceptionally nice weather. Given the right weather conditions they can start to appear at that time, but normally they are a couple of weeks later. For the remainder of the spring the numbers were lower than normal due to the cloudy, wet conditions. The second generation in July and August was a little better, but Small Whites are never as numerous as Green-veined Whites here.

Green-veined White, Pieris napi
The first Green-veined White was reported on 25th March. The spring population was hit quite hard by the weather (both last summer and this spring), but they struggled on. Luckily they obviously managed to lay eggs between the showers and the second generation that appeared at the end of July was a lot more numerous. They continued in good numbers until the middle of September. There was a very definite gap between the two generations this year, which isn’t always the case.

Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines
The first Orange Tip I saw this year was a female on 27th March. This was exceptionally early and sadly for her just before the weather turned really bad. I saw the odd one in April, but the poor weather really seemed to impact on numbers.  The numbers I recorded on my transect were about a third of last year’s record, although they did continue later in the year than normal. Strangely I didn’t find any eggs on the common food plant here – Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, but I later found them laying eggs on Dame’s Violet, Hesperis matronalis, which was new to me. Unfortunately, shortly after finding the eggs the area was flooded. I fear that this could have an impact on numbers next year, but it will be interesting to see.

Large White, Pieris brassicae
The Large White is a butterfly that for some reason doesn’t occur in great numbers here. Normally, I only see them occasionally, so this year didn’t seem much different from the norm. The first record was on 27th March and I received a few more record later in the year. The numbers were higher for the second generation, with more being reported in August.

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas
Earlier in the year it was noted all over the UK that the number of Small Coppers being recorded was lower than normal. The first record I received for East Lothian was on 12th May, and very few more were reported until the next generation started to appear in July. Numbers really seemed to pick up then, so it seems that the few that were spotted earlier in the year managed to breed successfully.

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria tircis
In 2009 I received a couple of records of Speckled Woods in East Lothian, making me hopeful that they may move up here from the Scottish Borders. I received one more record in 2010 and last year I found a small colony at John Muir Country Park. Later in the year more were found elsewhere in the Park. This year they seem to have extended their range further along the coast. I saw my first one this year at exactly the same spot in John Muir Country Park on 16th May. They were subsequently seen in various sites up to 20 kilometres further west, right through until September. Not having any previous data it is difficult to say how the weather may have impacted on them, but it is exciting to see them doing well and extending their range.


  1. That pic of the Small Tortoiseshell on the purple flowers is stunning! I hope those parasitic flies wont get there. These butterflies are too pretty to disappear.

  2. Thanks Sunita. Yes, I agree, they are really beautiful. I think they are the butterfly that everyone remembers seeing in their garden when they were kids. I hope that they manage to recover down south.

  3. Hi Nick,
    Blogger doesn't seem to be working in many areas lately and I didn't get an email leting me know you left a comment back in November. I happened to notice it on another format. Thank-you so much for IDing the 'Thisbe irenea' for me. I appreciate your efforts. Will there be a Caribbean report on your blog soon? Your Peacock is sure prettier than the White or Banded Peacocks we have here in Panama. Wow, what a beauty!

    1. Hi Sue,
      We just got back yesterday from St Lucia. What a beautiful island. We didn't see as much of it as we would have liked as my ageing Dad, who paid for the trip, isn't able to get about much, so we were limited in what we could do.
      I saw about 20 different species of butterflies and a few birds as well, mostly just at the resort we were staying at. I'll put a quick report together soon.
      I loved the lushness of the island. I have never been anywhere as well vegetated as that. The rain forests were amazing, although surprisingly quiet and lacking in fauna.
      The people that we met were all really friendly. What a lovely place. I could easily settle somewhere like that!
      I saw a White Peacock which was a real thrill for me, but I was surprised how much smaller it is than our British Peacock. Most of the truly stunning butterflies didn't seem to land at all, so I didn't manage any pictures of them. It makes me realise how well you have done with the pictures on your blog!