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.

Monday, 25 November 2013

East Lothian Butterflies 2013

The weather in 2013 was a big improvement on the previous two years. Although the winter wasn’t particularly hard, it dragged on for a long time, and spring didn’t arrive until half way through April. This, and I think last year’s very poor weather, had an impact on the number of butterflies early in the year. Other than a couple of sightings in March, the first records of butterflies didn’t come in until 26th April!
However, from mid April until the end of August, the weather was reasonably warm, dry and sunny. It was never particularly hot, so there was a continuous source of food plants and the number of butterflies really picked up during July and August. The weather in September and October was rather disappointing, so we didn’t get the influx of butterflies migrating north, that we were hoping for. The first frosts arrived in early November, putting an end to the butterfly season.

Peacock, Aglais io
The first record I received this year was a Peacock, seen on North Berwick Law on the 1st March. There were a few seen throughout the spring, but the number seen dropped at the end of May. In August, though, there was a sudden explosion of Peacocks when the next generation appeared. Numbers through August were the highest I can remember seeing.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae
The first record this year of a Small Tortoiseshell in East Lothian was on 2nd March. After that they appeared regularly through to May. Like the Peacock their numbers picked up considerably with the new generation in July and August.
Small Tortoiseshell

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui
One Painted Lady was recorded on 25th April, but it wasn’t until the end of June that more were seen having worked their way northwards through Europe. They weren’t seen up here in great numbers this year, though.
Painted Lady

Green-veined White, Pieris napi
The butterfly season kicked off properly with the first record of a Green-veined White on 26th April. Numbers were a little low, but they were seen regularly up until the middle of June. In July the second generation appeared with a vengeance. It seems that the weather conditions must have been perfect for them this year with numbers peaking around the middle of August.
Green-veined White

Small White, Pieris rapae
The first record of a Small White this year was on 29th April, which is more than a month later than last year and two months later than 2011. This just shows how their emergence is related to the weather. Like the Green-veined Whites, their numbers were low for the spring generation, but when the second generation started to appear at the beginning of August they were seen in far greater numbers than they have been for many years.
Small White

Comma, Polygonia c-album
The Comma is a butterfly that isn’t seen in great numbers here. It was first recorded in East Lothian in 2004 and is now seen all over the county, but rarely more than one at a time. The first one recorded here this year was on 30th April and a few records kept trickling in until the end of October. I find it odd that we never see it in greater numbers like the Small Tortoiseshell or Peacock with which it shares a similar life cycle and food plant.

Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines
The first Orange Tip seen this year was on 7th May. Their numbers were lower than average, but considering the rain and flooding we had last year this isn’t surprising. They don’t have a second summer generation like the other whites, but hopefully they should do well next year. Strangely, I didn’t see very many eggs or caterpillars, which are normally fairly easy to spot.
Orange Tip

Large White, Pieris brassicae
The first Large White was seen on 7th May. Generally we don’t see Large Whites in great numbers here, however this year, as with the other species from August onwards we had unusually high numbers of Large Whites. It wasn’t unusual to see more than 40 on a buddleia bush.
Large White

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria
Speckled Woods are butterflies that excite me a lot! In 2009 we received our first couple of records of them in East Lothian. The following year I found a small colony of them and since then they have increased in numbers year on year. The first record this year was on 14th May. After that records came in from all over the north and middle of the county. It seems that they first arrived here on the east coast having spread up from the Scottish Borders. This year they have worked their way almost along the entire length of the coast and up the River Tyne valley. It is amazing to see such a rapid spread of this species and next year I won’t be surprised if they are seen all over the county.
Speckled Wood

Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus
I only received one record of a Holly Blue this year on the 21st May. This was sad after they had been seen in various locations over the previous two years. Hopefully this one sighting means that they are still clinging on at the long-established colony in the west of East Lothian.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
The first Red Admiral we saw this year was on May 22nd. Thereafter they were seen a few times, but compared with other butterflies this year, they weren't around in great numbers. I think the long winter was too much for any of them to survive and we didn't get very many making their way up from Europe.

Small Copper, Lyceana phlaeas
The weather this year seemed to suit Small Coppers with the first one being recorded on 30th May and thereafter higher than normal numbers being spotted. It was interesting to note that last year the majority of those seen were of the caeruleopunctata aberration, with a number of blue spots on their hind wings. However, this year very few aberrations were noted. It is interesting to speculate whether the aberration is a result of the climate, or quality of the caterpillar food plant, or for some other reason.
Small Copper

Wall Brown, Lamiommata megera
Like the Speckled Woods, Wall Browns were first recorded in East Lothian only a few years ago, but they don’t seem to have spread as quickly. We had a new record of them on North Berwick Law, so they have spread about half way along the coast in that time. The first record this year was on 30th May. They seem to occur mostly on the coast, but in August I saw one six kilometres inland at Woodhall Dean.
Wall Brown

Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus
The first Small Heath was recorded on 2nd June. It 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.
Small Heath

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus
The common Blue had a fairly normal year. I think that because they have come from eggs that were laid last year, they seem to be affected less by this year's good weather. The first Common Blue was seen on 16th June and they were on the wing until the middle of September.
Common Blue

Ringlet, Aphantopus hyperantus
Ringlets have a very short flight period. They occur in damp grassy areas and normally start to appear in late June, and this year they turned up right on cue on 21st June. The number of Ringlets on my transect this year was lower than normal, but that isn't surprising given that the area was flooded twice last year. At other sites around East Lothian there were good numbers of Ringlets.

Grayling, Hipparchia semele
The Grayling was restricted to a couple of very small sites in East Lothian, with the odd record of them being found at other coastal sites in the past, but these seem to be one-offs. The first Grayling recorded this year was on 25th June at one of the established sites. Last year a new colony was discovered on a re-landscaped mining spoil heap close to one of their other colonies. When I visited this colony in mid July I counted 80 individuals in a short visit, double the number that I saw last year.

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
Meadow Browns seemed to do very well this year. The first record was on 25th June and they were seen in good numbers up until the end of August. I only saw one on my transect this year, but again, this isn’t surprising given the flooding we had in that area last year.
Meadow Brown

Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis aglaja
The Dark Green Fritillary is a lovely bright butterfly that occurs in many coastal areas and valleys in the Lammermuir Hills. The first one was seen in East Lothian this year on 30th June. They never occur in great numbers, and this year proved to be about average for them.
Dark Green Fritillary

Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxerxes
I am aware of four colonies of Northern Brown Argus in East Lothian, but I am sure there are probably more in the Lammermuir Hills. The colonies are very small, one being based around a patch of their food plant – the Rockrose, Helianthemum nummularium on a golf course and another on a small patch of Rockrose in a private garden.  I tend to go and specifically look for them where I know they occur and this year they seemed to be a little later than normal, but in reasonable numbers.
Northern Brown Argus

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Boloria selene
Having visited a reserve in the Scottish Borders this year to see Small Pear-bordered Fritillaries, I was delighted to find them at a site just inside East Lothian a couple of weeks later. There have previously been a few unconfirmed sightings of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries in East Lothian, but this time I saw them long enough and took some pictures which confirmed their identification. It is funny how seeing a butterfly elsewhere can lead to identifying them in different sites. If I hadn’t seen those in the Scottish Borders I may have dismissed these as Dark Green Fritillaries and not looked any closer!
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris
Another very exciting record this year was the discovery of a number of Small Skippers at Aberlady Local Nature Reserve. There had been three isolated sightings of Small Skippers at two locations in East Lothian the previous two years, but on 12th July I received an excited phone call from a local volunteer who had found more than ten of them on a patch of thistles in the reserve.  She went on to find more at the reserve and I then received other records of them at three other locations within three kilometres of this site. It is great to hear that they are doing well and if we have good weather next year I am sure we will find them at various other locations.
Small Skipper

Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus
We only very rarely see Clouded Yellows here. I saw one thirteen years ago and a colleague saw one seven years ago. This year we received two records. The first was seen in North Berwick on 31st July and the following day we were told of one about 25 kilometres further along the coast in Musselburgh. I guess it must have been the same individual. In August and September high numbers arrived in southern England from the continent. They were seen laying eggs and I was hoping that we would be invaded by the next generation. Unfortunately the cold weather proved too much for them and they didn't venture up here!

All together this has been a fantastic year for butterflies. In total I received sightings of 23 different species, which I think must be a record for East Lothian. Only ten years ago eight of those species hadn't been recorded here. It is amazing that so many species continue to expand their range into East Lothian. We seem to be losing more and more habitat, and yet the butterflies seem to be better than ever. I wonder what the next new species will be. I can't wait for next year!