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 14 March 2024

Scottish Borders Garden Butterflies 2023 Part 2

Continuing from my previous post.

Small Skippers  are continuing to increase in numbers since I first saw them here two years ago. Last year I saw them in my new woodland for the first time as well as the meadow. I try to leave plenty of grass uncut over winter, so that I don't destroy their eggs.

Large Skippers  also did well last year. I had seen one here in 2020 and another in 2022. Last year I saw seven. Both these species have spread northwards into Scotland in recent years so it is exciting to see them here.

There has been a lot of concern about the reducing number of Small Tortoiseshells being seen around the country. 2023 seemed to just be about average for them here , but the previous year was a really good year for them, so nothing obvious to report. However, I didn't find any caterpillars last year, which was unusual. The caterpillars are usually very obvious, as they congregate in a mass on nettles.

2023 was the best year yet for Peacocks since I moved here. They were particularly numerous towards the end of the season on our Buddleia plants, but they suddenly disappeared towards the end of August. However, when I went for a walk up the valley less than a kilometre away a week later  I spotted more than 60 of them feeding on an area of Devil's-bit Scabious.

It was also an exceptionally good year for Red Admirals. I counted 474 individuals in total, more than double any previous years here. They were also recorded in good numbers across  South East Scotland and beyond.

Commas have been increasing year on year here over the last six years. Last year was exceptionally good and I recorded 122 sightings, more than double the previous year. I also found a number of very late caterpillars on nettles.

I only saw five Dark Green Fritillary here last year, which is probably about average, but seems a low number as they are so common in the hills above the house.

I saw one Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in my meadow last year. Strangely, each year I have seen one here. I presume these have strayed down from further up the valley where there are Marsh Violets.

The exciting news for me was that I saw two  new species for the garden. I really enjoyed watching Speckled Woods arrive in East Lothian in 2010 and spread across the county over the next few years. They appeared to spread north along the coast of the Scottish Borders to get to East Lothian, but hadn't come further inland. However, I have been keeping an eye on records and noticed that they were slowly heading in this direction. On 30th May I was walking in my meadow when my phone rang. It was my daughter to tell me that she had just passed her driving test. While I was talking to her a little dark butterfly flew past me and landed in a Lime tree. I walked over to take a closer look and I was delighted to see it was a Speckled Wood. I am not sure if I was more excited about my daughter's achievement or the butterfly!! Later in the year I saw several more, with up to three on one occasion. They were all males, so I hope that there were also some females and I will regularly see them here in the future.

The other new species for me was a Wall Brown. Well, I had seen one here back in 2010 with my father, but that seemed to be an isolated record. On 15th August I was watching a Speckled Wood sparing with another butterfly in my neighbour's sheep field. Eventually, the second butterfly landed on a wall, so I sneaked up on it from the other side and noticed that it was a Wall Brown. It was only about 15 feet from the meadow and the next day I was delighted to find it feeding on a Knapweed in the meadow.

There were also a few species that I didn't see here in 2023. I didn't see any Painted Ladies anywhere last  year. Here, their numbers are very variable and I have never seen them in great numbers, even when they have been really numerous nearer the coast.

I was sad not to see a Northern Brown Argus last year. I saw one here in 2020 and again in 2022 I saw an adult here for a few days and later found several eggs on the Rockrose I had planted. Sadly, it seems that the eggs were not successful. I don't know why this would be.

The previous three years I have seen one or two Small Heaths here, but I didn't see any last year. The habitat isn't really ideal for them, though.

And since 2019 I have seen one or two Scotch Argus here, which has always intrigued me. We don't have any Purple Moor Grass, their normal caterpillar food plant, but I did see one laying eggs on a completely different grass. Sadly I didn't see any in 2023, but possibly I just wasn't in the right place at the right time.

Generally butterfly numbers have been increasing here over the last five years, so hopefully some of the work I have been doing trying to improve habitats is paying off.

Thursday 29 February 2024

Scottish Borders Garden Butterflies 2023

We moved to this house in the Scottish Borders at the start of 2020 and since then I have been mostly working from home. During my lunch hours I tend to take the dogs for a walk around more or less the same route and I keep a note of the butterflies I see. I then keep a record of the highest number of each species I see each week. So, I now have four years' worth of butterfly records to compare.

Each year the weather has been quite different and that has had an impact on butterfly numbers. The weather was not great in 2023 with a lot of easterly winds. Spring started quite late but dry, but  from July onwards it was cloudy and wet.

Also, I have been spending a lot of time trying to improve habitats and plant different plants to attract butterflies. I would like to think that the effort is seeing rewards.

The main areas where I see butterflies is in the meadow I have been developing, on some Buddleia plants and, this year, in an area where I had some Spruce trees cut down, where I have replanted with native trees. The area is now quite grassy, with various other plants such a Fox Gloves and wild Raspberries.

The four species of white butterflies were interesting. Orange Tips generally had a good year. The first sighting was a week later than normal, but they were about in good numbers.

I saw more Small Whites than I have in previous years, but they were never seen in high numbers. I had found a number of chrysalises last year, which I kept in a cage over winter. 29 of them emerged over a period of a month in April and May. However, I never saw them in big numbers and, strangely, I didn't find any caterpillars on the Nasturtiums this year.

Conversely, Green-veined Whites didn't have such a good year for some reason.  I always associate Green-veined Whites with damper areas, so possibly last year's dry summer didn't agree with them.

Large Whites had a fairly average year. I had been expecting to see a lot of them, because there were a lot of caterpillars last year and there were several chrysalises on the house.  Again, this year, I didn't find any caterpillars on the Nasturtiums, which is unusual.

Last year was a really good year for Ringlets and this year wasn't quite as good. Overall, their numbers have gone up here over the last six years. I would like to think this is in part the result of some of the habitat work I have done.

2023 was a really great year for Meadow Browns here. I recorded 103 individuals, way up from the previous high of 21. As with the Ringlets, I would like to think that the Meadow Browns are enjoying the way I am managing the meadow. The high numbers of these two species may be a result of the weather the previous year, when eggs would have been laid and the caterpillars emerged. 2022 was a very dry summer. It will be interesting to see how they do this coming year after last year's wet summer.

I only saw 2 Small Coppers  here last year.  They had done really well the previous year, so I don't know why there were so few in 2023. There are plenty of food plants for them here, so I can only assume that it was the weather that didn't suit them.

I will continue this on the next post ...

Tuesday 30 January 2024

East Lothian Butterflies 2023 Part 2

Continuing on from my previous post..

The first Small Heath was seen on the 17th May. They weren't seen in high numbers in 2023, possibly because not as many people were recording along the coast where they are most commonly seen. Apparently, there are two generations a year, but it is difficult to separate the generations because they overlap and vary according to each site along the coast and in the hills.

2023 could certainly not be described as a Painted Lady year. I only received 46 records and it was the first year, since I started recording butterflies in the 1990s that I didn't see one myself. The first record received was on 29th May and the maximum number seen in a week was 8 in August, indicating that they had managed to breed. It is interesting that the other migratory butterfly, the Red Admiral, did so well, but not so the Painted Lady.

The first Meadow Brown was recorded on the 4th June. They had the best year since I have been collating the butterfly records with 2565 butterflies recorded. Almost every year they are our most numerous butterfly recorded.

In contrast, the Common Blue had its worst year since I have been collating the records! The first record was on the 12th June and I only received records of 252 butterflies, with the average number over the previous ten years being 465.

The Large Skipper is a fairly recent arrival in East Lothian and is still seen in relatively small numbers. The first record I received was on the 13th June and I only received a total of 17 records. They have spread their range across the county, being seen along much of the coast and the foothills of the Lammermuirs. I suspect that it often goes unrecorded, being quite tricky to identify as it whizzes between flowers.

Ringlets were another species that had a poor year. In fact the worst year in the last ten years, not counting 2020, when we were in lockdown. The first record was on the 15th June and initially they seemed to do well, but just didn't peak in July as they normally would.

The Dark Green Fritillary also didn't do well in 2023 with the number of records being about a third of what we would normally expect. The first record was on the 18th June. The caterpillars feed on various species of Violets. I wonder if these plants didn't do well the previous summer with the dry weather we experienced.

On the 21st June I went into the Lammermuirs in search of Northern Brown Argus at a well known site for them. I managed to see five, which wasn't too bad for a short visit. They are only know to occur in a few small colonies in East Lothian and there have been no records from a couple of those sites in recent years. However, they were spotted on two occasions on the Barns Ness transect, so it would seem that there is a colony there, too. Also eggs have been found in a couple of locations north of Traprain Law, so there are probably more colonies than we realise.

I saw five Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries when I was looking for Northern Brown Argus. They were the only records that I am aware of this year. It is a rare butterfly in East Lothian, which has only been recorded from a couple of sites.

The final species to be recorded in 2023 was the Grayling on 3rd July. There is a well-established colony on the pyramid at Meadowmill. I am aware of them being seen in an east Lammermuir Dean and I hear that they are often seen at the old power station site at Cockenzie. This year there was one seen at Levenhall, which is very exciting. Maybe our re-location project is going to be a success after all!

Sadly, there were no Brimstones seen in East Lothian in 2023, having had a few records in 2021 and 2022. We normally rely on the odd migrant flying in and I suspect that until we have more food plants available for them, they will not be able to maintain a presence in East Lothian.

I didn't receive any records of the Green Hairstreak in 2023. They are known to occur in a few remote locations in East Lothian, so we rarely get records of them. I saw some just over the border at Soutra, where they appeared to be doing well, so hopefully they are doing as well in their colonies in East Lothian.

Similarly, the recently discovered Purple Hairstreak occurs in a few small colonies in East Lothian. I didn't receive any records in 2023, but I am sure they would still have been at their covert colonies in the eastern Lammermuirs

There are 25 species of butterflies known to breed in East Lothian, with two or three additional species that are occasional visitors to the area. In 2023 I received 2244 ad hoc records, totalling 7737 butterflies. These were in addition to the transects, which recorded another 6025 butterflies. In addition to these, there are other places that butterflies are recorded such as iRecord, iNaturalist and the Big Butterfly Count. We are never going to get close to recording every single butterfly that is in East Lothian, but I think we have a pretty consistent recording method that gives us a good idea of what has been going on in East Lothian over the last few years.

I am very grateful to all of the Countryside Rangers and volunteers who contributed records and I am always keen for anyone else to send me details of butterflies they see in East Lothian. All of the records I receive are passed on to Butterfly Conservation.

Friday 26 January 2024

East Lothian Butterflies 2023 Part 1

I have been collating the butterfly records from East Lothian for the last 11 years, so we now have good data to see how butterflies have been doing over this period. Of course we only record a very small fraction of the number of butterflies that occur in East Lothian, but it gives a pretty good picture.

2023 started off with a reasonably mild, but wet winter. However, there were a few colder spells and the frosts persisted into April. The year was punctuated with an unusually high number of easterly winds. There wasn't really a lot of sunshine until mid May, when we had a warm, sunny spell, but sadly that only lasted until half way through June! The remainder of the year was rather showery, with continuing east winds. This was only broken by a sunny week in early September and then back to cloud and rain! The first frost around the 12th October saw a sudden drop in the number of butterflies.

The weather can have an impact on the number of butterfly records received. This isn't necessarily because the butterflies aren't out and about when the weather is poor, but may be because recorders are less likely to be out looking for them. It is often the weather from the previous year that can have more of an impact, preventing the adults laying eggs, or heavy rain washing small caterpillars off their food plants.

Some species had a really poor year in 2023, but others did surprisingly well.

The first record I received was of 3 Peacocks seen on the 17th March and several more were seen over the next few days. They had a pretty good year, particularly later in the summer when the new generation appeared.

On 23rd March I received the first record of a Small Tortoiseshell. Nationally there is much concern about the reducing number of Small Tortoiseshells, yet here their numbers have been fluctuating, but not really showing a decline. The number of records in 2023 was just a little lower than the average of the previous ten years.

The third species that overwinters as an adult is the Comma and they had a particularly good year, being seen in high numbers later in the season. The first one was spotted on the 2nd April. It is interesting that these three species have similar life cycles, feeding on nettles as caterpillars and hibernating as adults, yet they each had different success rates in 2023.

The next butterfly to be seen was a Holly Blue on the 3rd April. This was the real success story of 2023, with them being spotted all over the county in good numbers. It seems funny to think that prior to 2019 they were rarely recorded in East Lothian. I received records of 377 Holly Blues last year.

Next were the whites with Small White, Large White and Orange Tips first being seen on the 3rd, 5th and 7th April. These three species all had a good year  with higher than average numbers being recorded. However, the Green-veined White didn't make an appearance until the 19th April and it had the worst year since I have been collating the butterfly records. It is difficult to understand why it did so poorly when the other white species did so well. My only suggestion is that I usually associate Green-veined Whites with river banks and damper areas. Possibly the dry springs that we have had the last two years haven't suited it. Hopefully the numbers may bounce back in the future.

The first Speckled Wood appeared on 7th April. They had a fantastic year in 2023 and were seen in particularly high numbers in early September. It is interesting to speculate why they did so well in a year when the weather wasn't what we wouldn't normally think of as ideal for butterflies.

The Wall Brown has slowly been increasing  in numbers over the last ten or twelve years in East Lothian. However, the number of records peaked in 2021 and since they have decreased again. Nationally there is concern about this species reducing in range and numbers and it had been thought that Wall Browns were spreading north in response to climate change. This year, we received the first record on 25th April with the summer generation being much more numerous than the spring generation.

Small Coppers are never really seen in big numbers. More often than not a male will take up territory on a sunny leaf and fly up when disturbed only to return to the same spot. The first record in 2023 was on 26th April and it wasn't a particularly good year for them, which I can only imagine was down to the weather.

Although Red Admirals appear to be able to survive our winters as eggs, caterpillars, chrysalises or adults, the vast majority of those we see in the early summer have flown up here from continental Europe. However, there are a few early records, which are likely individuals that have found somewhere sheltered to over-winter. Our first record last year was on the 4th May, so it is difficult to be sure where this individual spent the winter! 2023 proved to be a bumper year for Red Admirals with 1421 individuals being recorded. The highest figure since I started collating the records. There were an enormous number of records in the third week of June, pointing to a mass arrival from overseas.

I will continue this on the next post.

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.