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.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

East Lothian Butterflies 2012 (2)


Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus
The Small Heath is a common butterfly along the coast in East Lothian and it is also found in the Lammermuir Hills. This year they appeared to do as well as ever and I saw over 50 of them during a visit to John Muir Country Park in June.

Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus
Holly Blues have been recorded right on the western fringes of East Lothian for some years now, but last year I was excited to hear that a new colony of Holly Blues had been found in the coastal village of Aberlady, about 15 kilometres east of the original colony. When I checked this out I found three individuals, so it wasn’t a big colony! This year, despite several visits, I didn’t see any there. However, on 23rd May one was spotted a short distance away in Gullane and two days later I received a record of one five kilometres further along the coast. I live in hope that there is a colony somewhere around that area and that if we have a better summer next year I will manage to see them again.
Sadly, I heard no Holly Blues were recorded at the original site near Musselburgh this year and it is feared that they may have perished due to the poor weather. I really hope for better news next year.

Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera
Wall Browns were first recorded in East Lothian two years ago, having worked their way up the east coast of Scotland. Last year they extended their range only a few metres, but this year they seem to have moved even further up the coast. The first one I saw this year was on 25th May near the boundary with the Scottish Borders, but later in the year I received several reports of them along the next five kilometres of coast. I am hopeful that they will continue to expand their range over the next few years as there is a lot of good habitat further along the coast.

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui
2012 was not a good year for Painted Ladies in the UK. I received one record on 1st June and two in August. I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t see one myself, but on a warm day in September I found one in amongst some Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells feasting on some buddleia. This was to be the only Painted Lady I saw in 2012.

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus
The Common Blue seemed reasonably unaffected by the weather. It is a butterfly that can be locally common at some coastal sites and disused quarries. This year I specifically went to look for them where I knew I had a good chance of finding them, so I may have a false impression of how many there were. The first ones I saw were on 14th June at an area within John Muir Country Park in an area that is the first place I look for them each year.

Grayling, Hypparchia semele
The Grayling is a butterfly that may have quietly been living unnoticed in East Lothian for a few years. After hearing rumours that there were some living on an old railway siding in an ex-opencast coal mine, I checked the area out last summer and immediately spotted one. Later in the year some were reported on a re-landscaped mining spoil heap less than a kilometre away. This year I checked out the railway siding on 29th June and despite the wind I saw one Grayling. In July I checked out the spoil heap and saw over 40 of them, so they now seem to be well established in the area. There were also two records of individuals at two sites on the coast.

Ringlet, Aphantpopus hyperantus
Ringlets tend to occur in damp grassy areas, and normally start to appear in late June. This year I didn’t see any until 3rd July when I counted 16 on my transect. Luckily for them, this was after the worst of the wet weather, and just after the first floods, so their numbers weren’t that much lower than normal. They tend to be quite a short-lived butterfly, and their numbers tend to drop off by early August, but this year they were still being noted in the third week of August. So, it seems that they delayed their whole adult life by two weeks.

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
The emergence of Meadow Browns was also two or three weeks later than normal, and although their numbers were low to start with they picked up later in the season. I recorded my first one this year on 17th July. If anything, I think this season was better than average.

Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis laodice
Along with the other two butterflies above this butterfly was about three weeks later than normal. The first record I have for this year is the 27th July, but normally they would be seen at the end of June or early July. Once they did appear their numbers seemed about normal.

Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxerxes
Northern Brown Argus tend to live in small colonies based around their food plant – the Rockrose, Helianthemum nummularium. The adults tend not to fly any distance from the areas where Rockrose grows. I am only aware of three sites where there are colonies of Northern Brown Argus in East Lothian, although I am sure there must be others still to be discovered. Adults normally start to appear in mid-June, but I didn’t get to a site just inside East Lothian until 26th July when I saw a good number of them.

That was 20 species of butterflies recorded in East Lothian this year. Not bad considering the appalling weather. I was constantly amazed that butterflies appeared after fairly long periods of cold wet weather. Numbers of most species seemed to be down on normal, but hopefully they will bounce back if we have a summer next year!

The two species that seem to have suffered were the two that are probably the rarest. Holly Blue numbers were down and we didn't record any Small Skippers. Last year was the first year that Small Skippers were recorded in East Lothian. I hope we see them again soon.