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.



Sunday, 17 August 2014

Alameda Botanical Gardens, Gibraltar - Butterflies - July 2014

During our recent holiday to southern Spain, we paid a quick visit to Gibraltar. While my wife and kids went up to the top of the rock in the cable car, I spent a couple of hours in Alameda Botanical Gardens, as I remembered that it was a good spot for butterflies when we visited a couple of years earlier.
This time it was just as good!


One of the first flower beds I came across had several Holly Blues, Celastrina argiolus, enjoying the flowers.

There were Small Whites. Pieris rapae, everywhere and they were certainly the most numerous butterflies in the gardens.

I returned to an area where two years ago I had seen a lot of Southern Brown Argus, Geranium Bronze, Common Blues and Small Coppers feeding on the flowers. Unfortunately this year the flowers were not doing as well and there were a lot fewer butterflies at this spot. I did see this nice Common Blue, Polyommatus celina, though.

While I was watching it, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large butterfly drifting past. Eventually I tracked it down in the high branches of a pine tree. It turned out to be a Two-tailed Pasha, Charaxes jasius. According to the books this flies in May/June and mid August to October, so I was surprised to see it the second week in July.
Nearer the entrance I spotted another enjoying something sticky on the lid of a bin.
In another part of the gardens, I noticed some more in a tree. As I watched, it was apparent that there were seven or eight of them, some quite fresh-looking and others very ragged. I don't know what kind of tree this is, but it was obviously very attractive to the Pashas and other insects.
They would keep chasing each other from the choice fruit and fly across the path to the trees on the other side of the path. I spent quite a bit of time tracking them trying to get a picture, but they would always land high in the trees. At one point I completely lost sight of one of them as it flew past me. I couldn't figure out where it had gone, but then noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I had a Two Tailed Pasha sitting, parrot-fashion, on my shoulder! Unfortunately my camera strap was too short for me to get a selfie with it!

Close to where the Two Tailed Pashas were flying was a patch of Milkweed and right on cue a Monarch, Danaus plexippus, landed on one of the plants. They have their own little breeding colony of Monarchs at the botanical gardens and I saw quite a few during my visit.

Also enjoying the Milkweed was this Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera.

There were a few Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria aegeria, enjoying the dappled light.

This rather worn-out Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous, was the only one I saw that day.

And I only saw one Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas lusitanicus. This little butterfly occurs over most of Europe, but I only saw two on my whole holiday.

There were plenty of Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, there, though.

Also flying in the botanical gardens were Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, Geranium Bronzes, Cacyreus marshalli, and Cleopatras, Gonepteryx cleopatra. And on our walk from the border to the bus station we saw a Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, and a Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea.

Our trip to Gibraltar added two new species to my holiday list bringing it up to 48 species, 20 of which were new species for me!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sierra Nevada, Spain - Butterflies - July 2014 (3)

Further down the mountains at about 1,800 metres above sea level, the road entered an area of Cedar and Pine trees. I pulled over and walked into an area of scrub and meadow. There were plenty of different butterflies everywhere I looked here and I am very grateful to Mikhail and Guy Padfield from the UK Butterflies Forum for their help with some of the identifications!

This Iberian Marbled White, Melanargia galathea, was flying at the side of the road. There were several other Marbled Whites flying amongst the scrub, but I can't be sure they were the same species. The Spanish Marbled White and the Western Marbled White both also occur in the Sierra Nevada.

I spent some time watching this butterfly until it gave me a chance to photograph it. It turned out to be a Grayling, Hipparchia semele, although it is a little different from those I see in Scotland. There are several other species of grayling occurring in the Sierra Nevada, but the others proved elusive for me!

I think this is a Safflower Skipper, Pyrgus carthami. There were a lot of similar skippers in that area, but they were mostly whizzing about and they rarely settled.

After much indecisiveness, I have come to the conclusion that this is an Oriental Meadow Brown, Hyponephele lupinnus. The undulations on the rear wings being the deciding feature.

When I saw this little skipper I thought it was a Small Skipper, but closer examination of the pictures showed it to be an Essex Skipper, Thymelicus lineola hemmingi. There were quite a number of them flying around in this little area.

There were a lot of these little blues flying there. I assumed they were Silver-studded Blues, but again thanks to Mikhail, we now think they are Idas Blues, Plebejus idas nevadensis. In the Sierra Nevada the Silver-studded Blues tend to have lighter undersides to their wings (as per my earlier post). The Idas Blues have a grey background to the underside of their wings with a lighter postdiscal area. (Thanks also to "Las Mariposas de Sierra Nevada" and Google Translate!).


Given that all the males in this area were Idas Blues, I am assuming that this female is also an Idas Blue.

The other blues flying there were Common Blues, Polyommatus celina.


This Marsh Fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia beckeri, was the only fritillary there that I was able to photograph. Several others, large and small, flew past me!

After taking pictures of so many female blues, assuming that some of them were going to be an argus, it turns out that the last butterfly I photographed was the only argus I saw all day. It is a Mountain Argus, Aricia montensis.

Up on the top of the mountains the temperature was 10 degrees, but down here it was 18 degrees, and I think that is why the butterflies were so much more active. However, this was a lot cooler than Granada a few miles further down the road where it was 36 degrees when I drove past!
There were so many butterflies in this area that I wouldn't be surprised if there were twice the number of species that I managed to identify there. I also saw my first ever Black-veined White, Aporia crataegi. It was much bigger than I expected! There were also Cleopatras, Gonepteryx cleopatra mauretanica, Large Whites, Pieris brassicae vazquezi and Small Whites, Pieris rapae, flying there along with a lot more butterflies that I couldn't identify. I was only there for about 15 minutes, but I would have loved to have pitched a tent and spent several days there!
Sadly I couldn't spend more time there as I had a three-hour drive ahead of me to get back to the villa. All the driving was well worth it, though. In the five hours I had spent in the Sierra Nevada I had seen 33 different species, with 17 of them being species I had never seen before. Definitely my best ever day looking for butterflies!

Friday, 1 August 2014

Sierra Nevada, Spain - Butterflies - July 2014 (2) "Hilltopping"


On my way back down the mountain road I noticed a viewpoint, but it was impossible to drive the car into the parking area as there was a foot drop off the tarmac! I managed to find somewhere to park the car a little further down the road and walked back towards the viewpoint.

Initially, I was surprised not to see any butterflies, but as I walked up to the viewpoint I was amazed to see five Swallowtails, Papilio machaon hispanicus, flying backwards and forwards. I presume this is the "hill topping" activity that I have heard so much about.

The Swallowtails were being bombarded by Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, every time they flew anywhere near them. It was a great sight to see!

Among them were some Large Wall Browns, Lasiommata maera.

I was delighted to see this Blue-spot Hairstreak, Satyrium spini. I had read about them before I went and I was disappointed to see that they occur in May and June in the Sierra Nevada. However, this one looked quite fresh. Later I saw some much more faded individuals.

As I crouched down to take a picture of the Blue-spot Hairstreak I noticed another butterfly out of the corner of my eye landing on the same plant. It was a Southern Swallowtail, Iphiclides feisthamelii. What a dilemma - which to take a picture of?!! I ended up alternating between the two!

The Dusky Heaths, Coenonympha dorus, here were a lot fresher-looking than those back in Alora. There were quite a number here at about 2,100 metres, yet I had seen none 500 metres further up in the mountains.

There were also plenty of Purple-shot Coppers, Lycaena alciphron, in this area.

The Common Blues here were all rather faded, but this Idas Blue, Plebejus idas, was particularly nice. I had thought that this was another Silver-studded Blue, but after help from the UK Butterfly Forum and checking with the "Mariposas Diurnas de Sierra Nevada" book I now know it is an Idas Blue. These have a slightly darker background colour on the underside of their wings and more extensive blue spots.

I was amazed by how many butterflies there were in this small area. If you look carefully at the picture below you can see a dot above the left-hand interpretation board. It is one of the Swallowtails!