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.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

East Lothian Butterflies 2017 - Part 1

2017 was a strange year for butterflies. It started off reasonably well, but the summer butterflies were rather disappointing. Luckily there was a late autumn resurgence of Speckled Woods and Red Admirals, which boosted the overall number of butterflies seen.
We had a good spring in 2017 after a mild winter with only one dusting of snow. From the end of March until mid-June we had decent weather, but then we had a period of very heavy rain. This seemed to impact on many species of butterflies (and I am told some species of birds). Certainly I saw a batch of Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars wiped out by the rain in June and also an enormous group of Peacock caterpillars perished after three days of continuous rain in July.
This year, we had more people than ever sending in records. This has given a bit of a false impression of the number of butterflies that there were around. One thing I noticed this year was that there were very few records of large numbers of butterflies being seen.
I have looked back over the last five years' worth of records and noticed a worrying trend in that the number of butterflies per sighting has been steadily reducing each year.
Below is a summary of how each species did in 2017.

Peacock, Aglais io
A really early sighting this year, the first Peacock record I received was on 16th January on an unusually warm and sunny day. They were recorded every month through to November, with numbers peaking towards the end of August. Peacocks did reasonably well this year, unlike the Small Tortoiseshell, which has a very similar life cycle.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae
The first Small Tortoiseshell was spotted on 25th January. They had a very poor year this year and despite the record number of butterfly records sent in, we had our lowest number of Small Tortoiseshells recorded for five years. What I found interesting is that the first Small Tortoiseshell recorded hibernating was on 17 August, only a couple of weeks after it must have emerged. More hardy Small Tortoiseshells were seen flying until 14th September.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
The first Red Admiral recorded was on 9th March. I would speculate that this was an individual that had spent the winter here. They were seen every month after that right through to December, with numbers peaking in September. This was our most commonly recorded butterfly this year, and it did very well all over the UK. This is a butterfly that only a few years ago was considered as a migrant, but which has now firmly established itself here.

Comma, Polygonia c-album
The first record of a Comma this year was on 12th March. The Comma has never been a particularly common butterfly in East Lothian. Since first being recorded here in 2001 their numbers have picked up each year, peaking in 2015. For some reason 2016 was a terrible year for them and in 2017 there have been a few more seen, but still worryingly low numbers.

Green-veined White, Pieris napi
The first Green-veined White was recorded this year on 1st April. They seemed to have a fairly average year, but I think in reality numbers were lower than usual (given that we had more people recording butterflies). Certainly, the number recorded on the transects was lower than average.

Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines
The Orange Tip was first recorded on 6th April. The number recorded was a little higher than average, as expected. The adult stage of this butterfly usually flies between April and mid June, so they missed the terrible weather just after that.

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria
The first Speckled Wood was seen on 8th April. There are generally three peaks in population of adult Speckled Woods throughout the year. Possibly the first to appear had spent the winter as a chrysalis. The second peak, in June, could be those that spent the winter as caterpillars. This year the number of records received in June was much greater than in previous years, but the later generation was not so spectacular, although there were a great number of records received in late September, making this the second most numerous butterfly recorded in East Lothian in 2017.

Small White, Pieris rapae
The Small White was also first recorded on 8th April. I think that the Small White is generally a little unrecorded, as it is difficult to identify unless it lands. 2017 started off reasonably well for the Small White with normal numbers being seen in the spring. However, the summer generation was very reduced, presumably as a result of the heavy rain during June and July.

Large White, Pieris brassicae
The Large White would normally follow a similar pattern to the Small White. The first record for 2017 was on 8th April and thereafter the Large White had a fairly average year. More were recorded this year than the previous three years, but remember there were more people recording them. Why the Small White struggled and the Large White didn't appear to be affected by the weather is a mystery to me!

Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera
The Wall Brown was one of 2017's success stories. First recorded here in 2010 the Wall Brown has since been spreading westwards around the coast and to several inland sites. In 2017 the first record was on 20th April and the first generation continued to be seen until  3rd June. The second generation started on 5th August and it was recorded through to the 19th September in much greater numbers than in previous years.

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas
The Small Copper has been fairly consistent in East Lothian over the last five years. 2017 wasn't very different from the average. 
I will continue with the remaining 12 species in my next post.


  1. Very interesting records Nick, I don't record my sightings unless they are unusual i.e early or migrants, just love to be out watching & photographing. Stunning images btw, so crisp, put some on the just butterflies,moths facebook page others would love them too.

    1. Hi Brian, I used to be a countryside ranger so was used to keeping a note of what I had seen. Then I discovered that our note books were kept for a couple of years and then thrown out, so I offered to collate the records and send them in to Butterfly Conservation. It is really interesting seeing how things have changed over the years. Good idea about Facebook. I'll give it a try.

  2. Hello Nick!:) Absolutely stunning photography. Beautifully focussed photos
    of these lovely butterflies. Few sightings of the more colourful butterflies here, but lots of white, and some brown species seen till late in the year. I used to see quite a lot of Tortoise Shell butterflies in my garden, but not one this year, nor in the Algarve, where I would have expected to see more. All the best Nick!:)

    1. Hi Sonjia,
      It is interesting to hear how butterflies have done in other parts of Europe. It is worrying to hear that the Small Tortoiseshell has done badly over there, too. There was talk of a parasitic fly here a few years ago, but I don' think it quite reached Scotland. I think what has been more of a problem here has been a series of wet summers. However, I wouldn't have thought that would be such an issue in Portugal.
      It is good to know that these species can often jump back quite quickly after a few bad seasons. I certainly hope this will be the case for the Small Tortoiseshell.

  3. The colors of the Peacock, Aglais are gorgeous. Nice post, I almost missed it!

  4. Very nice post! Thanks for sharing!