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, 22 January 2017

East Lothian Butterflies 2016 (1)

The weather in 2016 was very similar to the previous year. I hope this isn't going to become the norm! The winter of 2015/16 was reasonably mild again, with only one dusting of snow. We had very heavy rain in February causing localised flooding, but the rest of the year was reasonably dry. Sadly, it was also quite cool and cloudy with below average sunshine.

One unusual aspect of the weather in 2016 was the number of easterly winds we had and this seemed to bring cloud with it.

We had very local torrential rain in June which washed away the caterpillars I had been nurturing in my garden. I suspect it may have had a similar impact across much of East Lothian impacting on the butterfly numbers later in the year.

Despite this I still received almost as many butterfly records this year as I did last year. The combined efforts of everyone recording butterflies has built up a very good picture of what is going on in East Lothian.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
The first butterfly seen in East Lothian in 2016 was a Red Admiral on 3 February and interestingly the last record I received of a butterfly flying was also a Red Admiral on 16 November. In between they were regularly seen with numbers peaking in August. The early sightings over the last few years would indicate that Red Admirals have been able to survive the last few mild winters we have had.

Peacock, Aglais io
The first record in 2016 was on 13 March and Peacocks were regularly seen until early June. Although the numbers in the summer months were lower than we normally see, they continued to be seen flying until 4 November.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae
Small Tortoiseshells were seen regularly from 14 March until the middle of July as expected, but when we would normally expect to see an increase in numbers in late summer and autumn, numbers were disappointingly low. This corresponds with the national story and I can only imagine that the cool summer weather caused a lot of caterpillars to perish. I notice that the records where more than one Tortoiseshell was recorded were all on the coast. We are finding a few Small Tortoiseshells hibernating in the usual sites, although fewer than normal, but hopefully enough to boost the population again this year.

Green-veined White, Pieris napi
The first record was on 14th April and they were seen through to the 27th September. The spring brood were as numerous as normal, but they weren’t seen in anything like the normal numbers during the summer generation. However, when I check the numbers recorded on the transect the summer numbers were better.

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria
Speckled Woods continued to do well in East Lothian in 2016. The first record I received was on 19 April and they were very regularly recorded with no apparent break between the three generations until 31 October. The peak numbers appeared in August, which is different from previous years, when the numbers were highest in September. The Speckled Wood has spread west and south, meaning that it is now found in most suitable habitats in East Lothian.

Comma, Polygonia c-album
Commas were first seen on 19 April in three different locations! There were only 19 records for the whole year, which is considerably down on 2014 and 2015. This is a butterfly that had been building up in numbers since it first was recorded here about 15 years ago, but it certainly didn't seem to do well in 2016.

Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines
The first Orange Tip was recorded on 19 April and they were seen in good numbers through to 26 June. Being an early species, they were unaffected by the poor summer weather, but let’s hope that there isn’t an impact on the 2017 population.

Small White, Pieris rapae
The first Small White was recorded on 19 April. It was interesting that I received more Small White records in 2016 than in previous years, but with smaller numbers in each record. There was a fairly clear division between the first generation – April to mid-June and the second generation from mid-July to 23 September.

Large White, Pieris brassicae
The first Large Whites were recorded on a transect in early April. They were recorded until 10 September in better numbers than normal. I can't imagine why they did so well in 2016. I remember them laying eggs very late in 2015 and I didn't think the caterpillars stood a chance of surviving the early frosts. It seems they can!

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui
2016 was a “Painted Lady year”. These remarkable butterflies arrived here in early May and were recorded in good numbers right through to 4th November. Thereafter they hopefully made it back to Africa, from where their great grandparents would have set out back in March.

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas
The first record of a Small Copper was on 6 May and they were recorded very regularly until 13 September. Nationally, the Small Copper didn’t do well last year, but in East Lothian they seemed to buck the trend a bit. The second generation of the year wasn't as numerous as the spring generation. We never see great numbers of them, but in 2016 I received more records than in previous years.

Green Hairstreak, Callophrys rubi

The first Green Hairstreak record was on 19 May and they were seen through to 6 June in three different areas of woodland north of the Lammermuir Hills. They haven't previously been recorded at two of these sites. Interestingly there were no records from the more remote and difficult to reach areas of the Lammermuirs, possibly because no one made the effort to search those areas.

I will continue with the rest of the butterflies seen in East Lothian in 2016 in my next post.


  1. ¡Todo un placer disfrutar de tus bellas mariposa, Nick! ¡qué ganas de que llegue la próxima primavera!. Saludos desde Asturias.

    1. Gracias Belen. También estoy esperando la próxima primavera. Ya vimos nuestra primera mariposa la semana pasada. Creo que pasarán unas pocas semanas antes de que veamos otra.

  2. You have really captured some exquisite detail in these photographs.

    1. Thanks Michelle. I had a few lovely days giving me opportunities to spend some time watching butterflies. Many of the pictures were taken at our new property in the Scottish Borders.

  3. I love all of them. These are great images. Image #2 is superb Nick!

    1. Thanks Maria. You can't really go wrong with Peacocks!

  4. Oh your colorful and big butterflies are surfacing again, how so beautiful. That Peacock is so big. I smiled when you said your larvae were lost because of the torrential rains! I thought of our typhoons which are plenty. But do not underestimate the butterflies, they can recover fast as long as there are host plants.

    I want to share some group efforts here to document our butterflies, i am also a member of the group. We just post our pics when able and our busy admins do the job of compiling and presenting them in a nice informative way. Here, i want to share them with you. But do you have an FB account?
    At the sidebar of the page are links for both moths and butterflies.

    1. Hi Andrea, It will be a couple of months before the butterflies appear again, although one was spotted last week on an unseasonably warm day. Yes, they do appear to be able to bounce back quite quickly after adverse weather.
      I have had a look at the Philippine Lepidoptera facebook page. A very impressive collection on butterflies on there. I am not a great user of facebook, although I do have an account. I have joined the group, but don't see it listed on my shortcuts. I will have to see if I can sort that out. It will be good to have some butterflies to look at over the winter!!

  5. They are each so beautiful.
    It is sad to think of caterpillars being washed away.

    I remember one spring, the first warm day, snow still on the ground and I saw a butterfly. I was amazed. Then i learned that some of them over winter as adults in a cryo-preservation state under tree bark and other places. So much to learn about our amazing world. Thank you for sharing about all these butterflies.

    1. Hi Tammie Lee, It is funny to think that there are more butterflies (in all their forms) alive at this time of year than in the summer! They are just hiding away as caterpillars, chrysalids and adults! I spend quite a bit of time in the winter searching for hibernating butterflies!!

  6. Hi Nick! I just discovered your photography and it is so good! I love all the excellent color and lighting and detail!

    I was wondering...I am an Art Marketing student and it is so difficult to find references to draw from. Right now, I'm working on my senior exhibition/capstone project and I need to find a picture of Campaea margaritata,and you have one. I would love to get in touch with you (maybe over email?) and discuss your usage rights for your images. My plans would not include copying or reprinting your images, if permission is granted. I can go into more detail about my process if you need.

    Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you!

    -Ashley Blankenship, email: ANBLAN2517@UNG.EDU