Every year when I report on the butterflies that have been seen in East Lothian there is something exciting to report. I often wonder how long we can go on finding new species here and 2022 didn't let us down!
The weather wasn't the best for butterflies and it is interesting to speculate how temperature, wind, cloud cover or rain will impact on the number of butterflies seen not only in the current year, but also the impact the weather may have on next year's generations.
Last winter was reasonably mild, but very windy and it remained quite cloudy through till mid way through June. It then warmed up nicely and we had a very dry summer, but after mid September there was a lot of rain. There were one or two frosty days in October, but it wasn't until November that the cold weather arrived. The year continued wet with a very cold spell in mid December.
Many species of butterflies had a fairly normal year, so rather than reporting on each species, I thought I would concentrate on some of the more unusual sightings.
The first records I received were both on the 27th February, with a Peacock at Gullane and a Small Tortoiseshell in Dunbar. After that there were no more sightings until the 18th March when another Small Tortoiseshell was seen and then a Red Admiral on the 19th March. The next species was a Comma on the 23rd and then the exciting news that a Brimstone was seen on the 25th March.
There had been a few scattered sightings of Brimstones in 2021, so to have a sighting so early in the year suggested that it had over-wintered in East Lothian, rather than flown up from England. Over the next four weeks I received another six records of both males and females, all from a small area on the west side of Haddington.
The Brimstone is a very common butterfly over much of England, but it doesn't occur much north of Yorkshire. It lays its eggs on Alder Buckthorn and Purging Buckthorn, and these plants have a very similar distribution to the butterfly. We speculated that somewhere in Haddington was an Alder Buckthorn bush that had hosted a brood of caterpillars in the summer of 2021. The resulting butterflies would have over-wintered and then appeared in spring 2022. Sadly, though, there were no records of any Brimstones later in the year, so it looks as though the new colony didn't continue. Possibly the owners of the Alder Buckthorn saw all of the caterpillar damage and cut the plant down! It will certainly be worth keeping an eye open for large yellow butterflies over the coming years.
Large Whites, Green-veined Whites and Small Whites all have very similar life cycles, with a spring generation and a summer generation. However, the Large White is never seen in big numbers, with the other two species usually being very common. In 2022 the Small White did very well, but the Green-veined White struggled a bit. In fact it was the worst year for them since I started collating the records. I can only assume this was down to the weather. I tend to associate Green-veined Whites with damper areas, along the sides of rivers or in meadows, whereas Small Whites are more often spotted in gardens. Possibly the dry first half of the year didn’t suit the Green-veined White as much.
Holly Blues have continued to do well in East Lothian. They increased their range considerably, being seen as far east as Thorntonloch and along much of the coast into Edinburgh. They were also seen in good numbers in Haddington and into the foothills of the Lammermuirs. I can't believe how quickly they have expanded. We had no records of Holly Blues in 2017 or 2018. In 2019 there was great excitement when I received 28 records, mostly from around the Gullane area. In 2020 I received 90 records, in 2021 101 records and last year 288 Holly Blues were recorded.
There were two records of a very late Holly Blue spotted in Aberlady. I am not sure if it was the same butterfly that was seen by two people. The record I received was from 12th November. The second generation of Holly Blues usually only goes on until the end of August, so I think this must have been a third generation.