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, 3 June 2019

Antequara, Spain Butterflies - April 2019

On Monday 29th April I went on my planned trip to El Torcal de Antequera. This is an area of amazing limestone formations and the pictures I had seen of the Natural Park looked very promising, with valleys of wild flowers and weathered rock formations. I decided to leave early as the forecast promised sun in the morning, until about 11am and then it was to cloud over before rain later in the afternoon.

Before any such visit I normally spend some time looking at Google Earth and Streetview to see if I can spot any promising locations. My first planned destination was on the south side of the mountains, but when I arrived at the track I was intending to walk along it was completely cloudy, 9 degrees and there was a strong wind blowing. There was some blue sky around, so I decided to press on regardless. I was very pleased to have a cheap fleece top, that we had each bought on arrival in the village! As I walked, I grew more frustrated at the weather. I thought that even if the sun did come out, the cold wind would still mean that butterflies were unlikely to fly. After a while, it dawned on me that the clouds were being formed over the mountains and just sitting there. As one area of clouds blew away more rolled in behind. I therefore decided to give up on this site, thinking that maybe I could try again in the afternoon when the sun would have swung round away from the mountains.

So I drove to the El Torcal Natural Park. My intention had been to park at the bottom of the entrance road and then walk up to the visitor centre, but the weather was so miserable that I just drove up to the main car park, which was surprisingly busy. Everyone else was dressed as if they were going on an arctic expedition and I felt quite self conscious in my thin fleece. It was 7 degrees up at the car park, still cloudy and windy.

I decided to walk the Yellow Route, which promised panoramic views and I noticed that there appeared to be more sun on the north side of the mountains. So, after my 2.5 kilometre loop of very interesting rock formations, mostly dotted with people climbing up them, I jumped back in the car and drove around to the north. It did appear that the mountains were holding the clouds, and as I rounded a corner the sun came out.

I stopped at a likely looking area, and started to follow a track that appeared to head west, parallel with the mountains. It was interesting to see that there was a fence running next to the path and goats were grazing the lower slopes of the mountain. Luckily they were not on my side of the fence and I was treated to a fantastic display of wild flowers. Initially, not many butterflies, though.

The track turned a corner that then went through some fields of wheat. I was beginning to wonder if this wasn't going to be such a good spot, after all, but I saw a distant white butterfly so decided to continue. I caught up with it and saw that it was a Small White, Pieris rapae. At least it meant that it was warm enough for butterflies, though.

The track then went back into another lovely area of wild flowers and scrub and I was delighted to see a Spanish Marbled White, Melanargia ines, which I watched for some time.

It wasn't until I had returned to Scotland, and I was looking at my photographs, that I discovered that I had also taken pictures of a Western Marbled White, Melanargia occitanica. It has subtly different markings on its wings.

A couple of Clouded Yellows, Colias crocea, and more Small Whites appeared in this section.

Continuing further along the track the vegetation became shorter and then it followed the edge of some arable fields. When the track joined another track I decided that I really needed to turn around in order to get back to my wife when I said I would.

I followed a little butterfly and saw that it was a Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus, then this Dappled White, which I am still not 100% sure if it is Western or Portuguese.

The Small Whites and Clouded Yellows were out in force now and I saw the occasional unidentified white or blue butterfly. The sun kindly went behind a cloud for a while, which was enough for one of the smaller whites to stop flying. It turned out to be a Green-striped White, Euchloe belemia, - one of my favourites.

I was now off-piste, so I looped back to join the track, spotting a small blue butterfly in the process. After much following, it stopped for long enough for a picture and an ID of Southern Blue, Polyommatus celina.

I was now very off-piste and struggling to locate the track. As I pushed through some Lavender bushes a small insect flew away, which, when it landed I saw was a little blue butterfly - Panoptes Blue, Pseudophilotes panoptes. I found myself saying, "Oh yes, brilliant!" out loud and then hoped there was no one anywhere near!

The first I saw was a male and then it magically turned into a female as I tried to follow this diminutive little butterfly. They were both very obliging, staying in one spot for long enough for me to manage to photograph them. This was the first time I have ever seen this species and it is a butterfly that I have long wanted to see.

What a difference from a few hours ago when I was cursing the weather! I managed to relocate the track and started to walk back towards the car. However, it was as if someone had switched on the butterfly switch and they were everywhere. Mostly more Small Whites, Clouded Yellows and Spanish Marbled Whites. But then the occasional blue, some Black-eyed Blues, Glaucopsyche melanops.

And then another really small blue, which turned out to Lorquin's Blue, Cupido lorquinii.

As I was photographing them I thought that I saw a couple of large moths flying nearby, but they turned out to be quite faded Spanish Festoons, Zerynthia rumina!

I dragged myself away from this magical spot and back through the wheat fields towards the car, only to discover that the area of short vegetation around the car was attractive to more Panoptes Blues. I saw at least six there, along with some Small Coppers and Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera.

I returned to the apartment feeling very satisfied with my day out looking for butterflies. When I arrived back in Alora, I parked in the main car park and walked past a very overgrown rose bed. And there was an African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna, flitting about. As I was running a little late, I decided not to photograph it, but to leave it for another day. Sadly that was the last sunny day of our holiday, so I didn't get a chance. Never mind, my wife has just booked the apartment again for September!!

Monday, 20 May 2019

Malaga Butterflies - April 2019

Since 2012 we have spent four summer holidays in a villa near Alora, 45 kilometres north west of Malaga. Each time we have been there it has been early July and very hot! The roads were lined with dried up wild flowers and grasses and everything was brown, other than the orange groves and a few private gardens. We would often say that it would be interesting to see the area in the spring, when everything would be green.

So, this year my wife and I found ourselves able to go away by ourselves now that the children have moved out and we decided to return to Alora in April. This time we stayed in an apartment in the village, so it wasn't quite so easy to pop out and look for butterflies.

Unfortunately, we didn't choose the best week to go away. Firstly, the village was the middle of incredible Easter celebrations, meaning most businesses were closed and it was almost impossible to move at times. Also, while the UK was basking in unseasonably hot weather, southern Spain was suffering from unseasonable cloud and showers!

When we arrived the village was in complete gridlock, so it was a good excuse for me to take a quick trip to my old butterfly spot near the villa we used to rent. This was an area where I saw numerous Southern Gatekeepers and Dusky Heaths in the summer months, but I was too early for them this year. Interestingly, Spanish Gatekeepers, Pyronia bathseba, took the place of the Southern Gatekeepers and I wondered why I had not seen them on my four previous visits to this spot.

Although it was relatively cool and there were only occasional sunny spells there were still a reasonable number of butterflies flying, including Small Whites, Pieris rapae, Southern Blues, Polyommatus celina, Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina

and Clouded Yellows, Colias croceus.

As in previous visits I saw a few Geranium Bronzes, Cacyreus marshalli, which seemed a little out of place in this natural environment.

There was also a faded Long-tailed Blue, a Small Copper, a Southern Brown Argus and a Large White. Not bad for an hour on a cloudy day.

In the summer this area is full of flowering Thyme, Lavender and Rosemary, but in April there were a lot of annual flowering plants but the more woody herbs were not yet in flower.

The following day I decided to check out my other favourite spot down by the Rio de Guadalhorce. In the summer there is a great patch of mint in flower, which attracts a lot of butterflies. Of course it wasn't yet in flower, but there were plenty of other wild flowers there.

I was frustrated that it clouded over before I arrived and there was quite a strong wind blowing. After about 15 minutes there was a bit of a break in the clouds and a Painted Lady was the first butterfly to brave the conditions. It didn't hang about, but at least it proved that it was warm enough for butterflies.

Not long afterwards I spotted a lovely Long-tailed Blue, Lampides boeticus, in some grass and it slowly opened its wings to absorb a few of the sun’s rays.

As I watched it a Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, landed on a stem close by.

I walked further down stream and found a Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera.

While I was watching it, I disturbed a Bath White, Pontia daplidice, which landed on the ground and once warmed up a bit flew to a flower for a feed.

Although it was frustrating that there was so much cloud, at least the cooler weather meant that the butterflies were easier to photograph.

I had specifically gone to this area, as I have always found African Grass Blues here in the summer, but despite extensive searching I didn’t see any on this visit. However, the sun came out and after a while the place was alive with butterflies. Mostly Small Coppers, which looked beautiful glinting in the sun.

There were also a number of Southern Brown Argus flying with them and by far the most numerous, Clouded Yellows were everywhere I looked. There were the occasional Wall Brown and Meadow Brown, some more Bath Whites, a few small whites and one Southern Blue, Polyommatus celina.

And then, as if they had had too much sun they all appeared to disappear!

The following day I decided to walk up a track above the cemetery. This ran between olive groves and what appeared to be fallow fields.

There were plenty of wild flowers and a number of butterflies flitting from flower to flower. They were all white or yellow, being Small Whites, Large Whites, Clouded Yellows

... and what I assumed were more Bath Whites. However, when I examined my photographs back at the apartment I saw that they were all Western Dappled Whites, Euchloe crameri.

I found it interesting that there were no Bath Whites amongst them. Presumably, just a little change in habitat meant that this area was more favourable to Dappled Whites and the flowers down by the river suited Bath Whites.

I had been keeping an eye on the forecast, which had been pretty accurate. Monday looked like it was going to be sunny in the morning and so I planned to go to a area of limestone mountains about 30 miles north. I will report on what I saw there next. Sadly, however, that was to be the only other day with sufficient sun for me to look for butterflies. Typically, the weather improved considerably from the day we left!

The day before we left I drove past the area near the river where I had seen so many butterflies to discover that it had been completely grazed to the ground by a large herd of goats. Although this was rather frustrating, I was pleased that I had been able to visit the area before this had happened. I did wonder where all of the butterflies would go, though!

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

East Lothian Butterflies 2018 Part 2

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas
The Small Copper isn't a butterfly that is normally seen in large numbers, most often being seen individually, as males aggressively defend their territory or chase after females. In 2018 there were regular records of more than ten being seen. It was certainly the best year I can remember for Small Coppers. The first record was on 8th May and they were seen through to 2nd November. The most exciting news is that that we had a very obvious third generation in 2018, which we haven't previously seen here.

Number of Small Copper records received each week in 2018

Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera
The first record of a Wall Brown in 2018 was on 11th May. The Wall Brown has continued to increase in numbers year on year since it was first recorded here in 2010. As with many other species, the spring population did pretty well, but it was the second generation that did particularly well. In previous years we have found the odd pioneering individual exploring further afield, but this year there did appear to be an expansion of the range of this butterfly with it being found in numbers at various sites where it hasn't previously been recorded.

Distribution of Wall Browns in 2018 compared with previous years.

Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus

The Small Heath seems to have two overlapping generations a year, although it is not really possible to separate the two generations. There also seems to be quite marked differences between different sites, and in my experience those in John Muir Country Park appear to finish quite a few weeks before those found in Aberlady and Yellowcraig. Most years there are also a few quite fresh-looking individuals later in the season making us question if there could be a partial third generation. 2018 wasn't particularly different from previous years, with the first record being on the 18th May and the last hanger-on being seen on 23rd September.

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus
As with most other species, the Common Blue did very well in 2018. Numbers weren't dramatically higher than normal and it is interesting to speculate why some species did so much better than others. Possibly it may be to do with how their food plants coped with the hot, dry summer. The first Common Blue was seen on the 29th May and the last one was seen on the 7th September.

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui
Painted Ladies were quite late to arrive in East Lothian in 2018. There were a couple of records in early June, but it wasn't until later in July that they were seen in any numbers. 2018 turned out to be one of the best years we have had recently for Painted Ladies.

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
Meadow Browns were the only butterflies that didn’t do particularly well in 2018. I think that they suffered from the poor weather the previous summer. Although numbers were higher than last year, they were lower than we would normally see. The first record in 2018 was on the 12th June and they were seen through until the 29th August.

Ringlet, Aphantpopus hyperantus
Ringlets did reasonably well in 2018, but not as well as many other species. I think they may also have been a victim of the previous poor summer. The first Ringlet was recorded on the 18th June and their short flight period lasted until the 5th August. It will be interesting to see if the great weather of 2018 will allow numbers to bounce back in 2019.

Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis aglaja
We don't tend to see a lot of Dark Green Fritillaries and they are generally limited to coastal sites and one or two valleys in the Lammermuir Hills. Numbers in 2018 were about average, but they had a terrible year the previous year, so it was good to see them bouncing back.

Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxerxes
I am only aware of four places in East Lothian where Northern Brown Argus occur. Three of those sites are very small and vulnerable. Because of this I don't receive many records of Northern Brown Argus, so it is difficult to assess how they are doing. However, at one site near Dunbar, despite several visits only one Northern Brown Argus was recorded. Maybe this is a butterfly that we need to look at a bit more closely in the future.

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris
The Small Skipper has been increasing in number year on year, since it was first discovered in East Lothian in 2011. Unsurprisingly, 2018 was its best year yet. They were initially found along the coast in the Aberlady and Gullane area, but in more recent years have been found in the Lammermuir Hills, lowland woodlands and various areas of rough grassland across the county. The first record in East Lothian was on 21st June and they were seen through to 27th August.

Grayling, Hypparchia semele
I am only aware of three sites where Grayling are found in East Lothian. One of these is very remote and I didn't receive any records from there this year. The other two sites are close to Prestonpans and one of these colonies is about to be lost to a housing development. There is an exciting project currently underway to create a new habitat to try to relocate one of these colonies. The first Grayling was recorded on 27th June and they were seen through to 21st August.

I didn't receive any records for Large Skippers in 2018, but I suspect they will be out there somewhere, unlike Holly Blues, which I fear have died out in East Lothian, having not been recorded here in the last two years. I didn't receive any records of Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries from East Lothian, either, but I am sure they would have been out and about somewhere in the Lammermuir Hills. Given the prolonged period of great weather I was surprised that we didn't receive any records of Clouded Yellows or any other unusual migrants.

Many species were late to appear because of the cold weather, which lasted into April. It was interesting to note that the hot weather didn't result in prolonged emergence and may have shortened the time that each generation was around because they all emerged quite close together. In contrast, poor weather can extend the flight period, because butterflies have to spend time sitting out the rain, rather than flying around, potentially damaging their wings.