I am no expert photographer, preferring to capture the moment than get a perfectly composed shot. The pictures on my blog are either taken with a compact Canon, a Panasonic Lumix FZ150 or on my phone.

Thursday 30 November 2023

Late Commas

Just to update my previous post. The Comma chrysalis that I found on the outside of my study window emerged on the 11th October. It had been lovely and sunny, but only 10 degrees Celsius and by the time it had fully unfurled its wings and dried out the sun was no longer shining on it. Eventually, it turned head down and settled down for the night roosting on its chrysalis.

That night the temperature dipped to 1 degree Celsius and we had our first frost of the year, but luckily it was sunny again the next day. The sun was low in the sky and it took until 10.30 before the sun reached the Comma. However, at 10.50 it had warmed up sufficiently to fly away. The temperature was 6.8 degrees in the shade.

On the 6th October I found a fully-grown Comma caterpillar on a nettle in the old hen run. This was exceptionally late in the season, as most of the books say that the chrysalises should all have emerged by the end of September.

I picked the nettle it was on and put it in a mesh cage I have under an overhang of the roof. Two days later it was handing from the nettle in a J-shape and on the 10th October it formed a chrysalis. I was intrigued to see if it would emerge a few weeks later if we had mild weather, or if it would survive as a chrysalis until the spring.

Unfortunately, yesterday morning I spotted that it had emerged, but hadn't managed to fully pump up its wings and had perished. It must have emerged on the 26th November, as I had checked that morning and it was still a chrysalis. Over the weekend the maximum temperature had been 6 degrees and it had gone down to -2 at night.

It was sad that it hadn't made it, but interesting nonetheless. As is so often the case, I am left asking many questions. Is it normal for Commas to continue laying eggs so late in the season? Possibly I have just never noticed them before. Or is this a sign of climate change impacting on their behaviour?

All of these pictures were taken with my phone as I was having camera problems at the time!

Sunday 8 October 2023

Comma, Polygonia c-album

The number of Commas I have seen here has been increasing year on year. This year I haven't seen quite as many as I did last year, but it seems there may be more to come!

On 21 July I was distracted again, when I was working in my study, by a Comma butterfly flitting about on the nettles outside my window. I realised it was laying eggs, so made a mental note of where I had seen it and at lunchtime I checked out a particular nettle stem. There I found an egg in the centre of the underside of a leaf.

I picked the stem and kept it in a jar of water next to my desk to watch it develop.

On the 28th July I noticed it had hatched and there was a little black caterpillar, about 2mm long.

The caterpillar tended to be quite inactive and remain on its leaf, only moving once the leaf had more or less been completely eaten. I was hoping to be able to determine which instar it was as it grew, but I became completely confused! So, below are some pictures as it developed. In this one it is two days old.

Here it is 12 days old.

And here it is at 20 days old. Every time I moved the nettle in order to photograph the caterpillar it would contort.

And here it is at 21 days old.

When it was 29 days old it spun a silk pad on a leaf stem and hung straight down from it. Of course it curled up as soon as I tried to take a picture! It remained like this for a day.

On the 21st August it formed a lovely chrysalis, mostly dark brown with two golden spots.

Two weeks later on 4th September I noticed that the segments on the abdomen area of the chrysalis had started to stretch apart, so I thought the butterfly  would soon emerge.

I didn't expect it to emerge so soon, though. Half an hour later when I looked, there was a butterfly hanging there!

I took the stick that it was now on outside into the sun. The butterfly remained on the stick for a couple of hours, then flew off onto a fence post, where it remained until about 4pm before it flew off.

On the 13th of September I noticed another Comma had formed a chrysalis on the outside of my study window. As I write this, on the 7th October, it is still there. Yesterday I found a Comma caterpillar on a nettle, close to where I found the egg in July. It looks as though it is fully grown and about to pupate, but it seems really late in the season. It will be interesting to see when these two emerge and if there will be any more Commas flying this year.

Saturday 16 September 2023

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

I am lucky enough to have a large floor-to-ceiling window in my study, which overlooks a weedy area of our woodland. I am often distracted from my work by a butterfly fluttering past and on quite a few occasions I have seen butterflies laying eggs there.

On the 1st July I spied a Red Admiral flitting about from nettle to nettle. I made a mental note of one nettle where it had landed and sure enough, when I looked later there was an egg.

I picked the nettle and popped it in a jar of water. The hole in the lid was only just large enough for the stem to fit through, so that the caterpillar can't fall in! On the 9th July the egg hatched, producing a little black caterpillar. It hung around on the small leaf the egg was laid on for a few days, but the leaf started to dry up, so I cut the leaf and put it onto a fresh nettle.

The caterpillar immediately climbed onto the fresh leaf and tried to stitch the edges of the leaf together. This was rather ambitious for such a small caterpillar. As it grew bigger it did manage to stitch the edges of the leaf together to form a tent. The caterpillar would spend all day inside its tent, only coming out at night to eat or construct a new tent. It was rare to see the caterpillar in the daylight during this time.

By early August it had reached a good size and after a period of frenzied eating I noticed that the caterpillar was hanging upside down inside its tent. On the 7th August I saw that it had formed a chrysalis.

The chrysalises have amazing metallic green marks on them.

On 21st August, I noticed that the chrysalis had darkened slightly, and I thought that the butterfly would be emerging in a couple of days. However, about an hour later I looked round to see a butterfly hanging from the leaf! 

It wasn't a particularly sunny day, but after a few hours the butterfly flew off to a nearby bush, to join the other Red Admirals feeding there.

So, this Red Admiral had been an egg for 9 days, a caterpillar for 29 days and a chrysalis for 14 days. I found another, much lighter, caterpillar in the nettles , which I put into a mesh cage on a nettle stem. A few days later it formed a chrysalis, but this one remained in that state for 21 days. It is interesting how much longer it took to emerge.

As I write this in the middle of September, there are still caterpillars and chrysalises on the nettles outside my window.  The number of butterflies has dropped over recent weeks, but Red Admirals have been really abundant. Last week I counted 67 of them on my Buddleias and I noticed a few days ago they are also feeding on Yew berries.

Red Admirals are usually the last butterflies I see each year, with them sticking around until the end of October. I presume they then fly south, but it always intrigues me that they stay here long after the first frosts.

Sunday 27 August 2023

Holly Blues, Celastrina argiolus, in East Lothian

I have mentioned the Holly Blue in many of my annual round-ups, but think it deserves a post of its own!

Since I started collating the butterfly records for East Lothian in 2007 there has been the odd record each year of a Holly Blue. When I was working as a Countryside Ranger in the late ‘90s there was an established colony of Holly Blues on the western boundary of East Lothian at Newhailes and Brunstane. They were more or less unheard of anywhere else in Scotland at the time and there was a bit of suspicion about how they had arrived there.

Despite the knowledge that they were regularly seen in the Newhailes/Brunstane area there are surprisingly few records for Holly Blues in that area.

Over the next few years I received records of one or two Holly Blues each year. These were mostly from coastal towns in the north of the county. In the spring of 2011 there was great excitement when I spotted three Holly Blues on a Holly bush in Aberlady. Unfortunately, there were no records of a second generation that summer, or any subsequent records from that site.

By 2013 the Newhailes colony appeared to have died out and I feared that two poor summers in a row had wiped out Holly Blues in East Lothian. However, I received one record in 2014, 2015 and 2016 from those towns in the north of the county, leading me to believe that somewhere in that area was a little colony, possibly in a large private garden.

Then in 2017 and 2018 I didn’t receive any records. But, in 2019 there was great excitement on Facebook, as someone had found a number of Holly Blues outside a garden on the edge of a golf course in Gullane. Later in the year they were also regularly spotted in two other locations in the village. That year I received 28 Holly Blue records.

The excitement grew the following year when Holly Blues were spotted in various villages about 8 miles away from Gullane. By the end of 2020 I had received records of 90 Holly Blue being seen.

In 2021 the expansion of the range and population continued, with Holly Blues being quite regularly spotted and reported to me. Again they had advance by about 8 miles  following old railway walks and river valleys.  By the end of the year I had received records of 101 Holly Blues.

And in 2022 the trend continued with 288 Holly Blues being reported to me from much of the county. By this time they had spread to Edinburgh and there were some sightings in the Scottish Borders.

Already this year they have spread further across the county and a good number have been seen in the Borders, Edinburgh and Midlothian. I can't believe that this little butterfly has managed to colonise the entire county in just four years!

The Holly Blue has two generations a year. The first being seen in April and May and the summer generation flying in late July and August. We have also seen the odd Holly Blue in October and November, as a very small third generation. During their flight periods it is worth checking any sunny patches of ivy or holly for these little silvery-blue butterflies.

In England the populations of Holly Blues fluctuate considerably over a five year cycle. This is because of a parasitic wasp, Listrodomus nycthemerus, for which the Holly Blue is its only host. The population of Holly Blues can be decimated, but the following year the wasp has very few hosts causing a drop in its own numbers. As the Holly Blues continues to extend its range in Scotland it will eventually join up with the English population and, possibly, the parasitic wasp!

Sunday 23 July 2023

Small White, Pieris rapae

The pictures on this post were all taken with my phone, so apologies for a little fuzziness!

Last year, much to my wife’s annoyance, I found a number of Small White caterpillars feeding on some Rocket plants that she was growing. As they grew larger and started to destroy the plant, I put the pot in a mesh butterfly cage and fed the caterpillars with cauliflower leaves.

The caterpillars grew quickly and started forming chrysalises around the cage and under the rim of the plant pot saucer.

A couple of days before they form a chrysalis they choose a spot and weave a small silk pad. They then hook themselves to the pad and loop another length of thread like a girdle around themselves.

The caterpillar then thickens over the next couple of days and sheds its skin one final time. The chrysalis then forms over the next few hours. The picture below shows a newly formed chrysalis.

I kept an eye on them and at the end of October I noticed one of the chrysalises had started to colour up. Normally, this is something I see about four days before a butterfly emerges. As they reach the final stages of development the pattern on the underside of the wings becomes apparent through the wall of the chrysalis. I had always thought that once this final stage of development had started, there was no stopping it. So, I was expecting to see a very late third generation Small White, but the weather took a turn for the worse and the butterfly did not emerge.

I periodically checked the chrysalises over the winter and this April when I turned the saucer over I saw that the butterfly had started to emerge, but must have become stuck half way out and it had perished. Although this was sad for this individual, it proved that a chrysalis is able to survive for six months over the winter at this late stage of development.

Between the 25th April and the 28th May 29 Small White butterflies emerged from the 38 chrysalises around the cage. 22 of them were females and only 7 were males.

Seven of the chrysalises turned black or brown over winter and failed to develop. However, there is one in the cage that still looks as though it could be OK.

Sunday 25 June 2023

Tenerife Butterflies - June 2023

We had a week’s break in Tenerife at the start of June. It wasn’t planned with butterflies in mind, but more of a week’s relaxation in the sun. We stayed at a lovely hotel in Costa Adeje, which was kept immaculately clean. Sadly, that meant that there was very little biodiversity and I only counted ten different creatures there in the seven days! Costa Adeje is a bit of an urban sprawl in a very dry part of the island, so there weren’t many opportunities locally to wander off to look for butterflies.

I went for a longer-than-expected walk on the first day to locate the car hire office and saw fleeting glimpses of Small Whites, Pieris rapaeLong-tailed Blues, Lampides boeticus, and an African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna.

Before I went I had arranged to hire a car on the Wednesday to take a trip to the north east of the island, where it is much more vegetated, with beautiful villages, cave houses, terraced vegetable gardens and lovely walks. However, on Monday a note was slipped under our hotel door telling us that Storm Oscar was arriving on Tuesday and Wednesday with strong winds and thunder and lightning. We were advised to remain indoors and keep windows and doors shut. This sounded serious, so I changed my hire car to the Thursday. However, Storm Oscar turned out to be nothing more than a couple of showers and a pleasant breeze where we were!

I was keen to head to Punta del Hidalgo, where Peter Buchanan has seen Plain Tigers, Danaus chrysippus, on three previous winter visits. I was surprised to learn this, as I didn't realise they occur in Tenerife. However, Peter has some great pictures on his blog, so they are certainly there.

I followed his instructions and parked in the village. I found the walk that he had been on, but sadly it was all very dried out and there were no butterflies at all. There were loads of lizards, though!

I could see higher in the mountains that there was quite a bit of tree cover, so I headed back to the car with the intention of driving up there. Back in the village there was a turning circle, where they were re-surfacing the road. I noticed a Lantana plant growing on the island, so thought it was worth checking it out for butterflies. Imagine my surprise when a Plain Tiger drifted around one of the diggers and then landed on a plant next to me. It stayed in the area for quite a while feeding on a blue flower.

On my way back to the car on a weedy patch next to the road I checked out some white butterflies. Most of them were Small Whites, but there was one Bath White, Pontia daplidice.

A male Canary Large White, Pieris cheiranthi, came flying by, chasing off all of the smaller whites as it looked for a mate. Sadly it didn’t stop and soon flew over a fence.

As I was slowly driving out of the village a Monarch, Danaus plexippus, flew past the car!

I headed up into the hills and parked on the outskirts of Pedro Alvarez and walked up the road in the direction of Bejia. The road quickly became quite forested, but there were wild flowers and brambles growing profusely at the side of the road.

Unfortunately, it very quickly clouded over, but not before I saw a few Canary Speckled Woods, Pararge xiphioides.

Back at the car I was watching a Small White fly among some plants and noticed it showed a particular interest in one plant. I took a look and saw a Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli, roosting on a flower head. Funnily, I had been checking all of the geraniums in the window boxes and gardens in the village for this species earlier with no luck!

It had clearly been raining quite heavily in this area the previous day, judging by the gravel washed onto the roads. I decided to take the more scenic return journey along the north of the island and it rained most of the way back. However, the south of the island had been dry all day.

There is a large, rather un-loved park running through the middle Costa Adeje. 

Much of it is very dry and gravelly but there was one shady spot where there were some flowering shrubs and dried out weeds, which seemed to attract Long-tailed Blues. Normally, when I have seen them around the Mediterranean they have been flying singly in gardens and shrub land. But, in this park there were hundreds of them flying low over the dried up weeds and grassy areas. They would occasionally land in the trees and on a particular plant that was still in flower in a couple of shady spots.

There were a few African Grass Blues, flying among the Long-tailed Blues, but far fewer. I am used to seeing these flying low to the ground over grass and wild flowers.

Everywhere I went there were always one or two Small Whites, flying by.

On my last day I checked out the park again. As well as the butterflies I had seen previously there was a Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus, feeding on a flowering plant. Another Canary Large White flew past, but it was on a mission, so didn’t stop.

By the end of the week, I had only see ten species of butterflies, but it was still an enjoyable week. I would have loved to have seen some of the other species I saw on my previous visit ten years ago, but at least I have added Plain Tiger to the list of species I have seen in Tenerife!