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.

Sunday, 26 March 2023

East Lothian Butterflies 2022 - Part 1

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.

In order to keep this post to a reasonable length I will continue with the remaining species seen last year in my next post.

Saturday, 18 February 2023

Mauritius - Butterflies - January 2023

We have just returned from a wonderful holiday to Mauritius where we returned to the same hotel where we were married 25 years ago. The hotel is set in over 60 acres of ground and the forecast wasn't particularly positive, so we spent the whole short stay at the hotel, which was no hardship!

When we were there 25 years ago I remember noticing how many butterflies, birds and other wildlife there was around the island, but I wasn't as obsessed about butterflies as I am now, so I didn't take so much notice of them.

However, we returned in 2011 with our children and my father when I took a lot more notice of the butterflies, as noted in my post then! Also, having a digital camera it was possible to photograph the butterflies for identification. The limited information available about the butterflies of Mauritius suggests that there are more butterflies around in January, which is the middle of summer there.

This time, as with our last visit, I noticed that there were loads of small butterflies flying around the grass and flower beds. I struggled to identify them because of their size and because there are a number of similar species, so had to photograph any I had a chance to and then identify them from the pictures. The vast majority of these butterflies turned out to be African Grass Blues, Zizeeria knysna. There were hundreds of them flying around all over the hotel grounds and even on the beach, where I noticed them flying along the tide line and landing on the sand.

The other little butterfly that I saw was the Common Zebra Blue, Leptotes pirithous. In Europe I know these as Lang's Short-tailed Blue. I think about 10% of the small butterflies I saw turned out to be these. I noticed that these were a bit more active than the African Grass Blues and they often landed a bit higher up in the vegetation.

Out of all of the pictures I took of these smaller butterflies, only one turned out to be the Tiny Grass Blue, Zizula hylax. They really are tiny, with a wingspan of between 11 and 15mm.

Other single Lycaenidae sightings included a Long-tailed Blue, Lampides boeticus. I saw this one laying eggs and only managed one fuzzy picture.

I saw another larger Lycaenidae, flying high in the trees. It eventually landed on a palm tree and as expected it turned out to be a Brown Playboy, Deudorix antalus. I had noticed on my last visit that they tend to fly among shrubs and the low branches of trees.

The final Lycaenidae I saw was a butterfly that appeared to be behaving a little strangely on a highly scented flowering shrub. I only managed to take one poor picture, but it is enough to confirm that it is the African Line Blue, Pseudonacaduba sichela.

I think that the second most common butterfly was the African Migrant, Catopsilia florella. The male of this species is greenish-white, but the female occurs in both a white and a yellow form. The female also has brown marks on the underside of the wings. All of those I saw this time were white and possibly all males. I saw them flying all over the hotel grounds and occasionally they would flit from flower to flower on a hedge which had cascades of mauve flowers. On one occasion I saw one landing on the sand after a spell of rain. I noticed that it was landing next to the mauve petals that had fallen from a tree, possibly finding nectar, or just drinking the water caught within it.

I can't be sure that all of the white butterflies I saw were African Migrants as, when I was sorting my pictures once I returned home, I discovered that I had pictures of a Madagascar Migrant, Catopsilia thauruma. The yellow showing towards the centre of the underside of the forewing is the give-away.

Another, similar-sized butterfly was the Common Leopard, Phalanta phalantha. As with all of the other butterflies these were really active, but I did see them feeding occasionally on the small yellow flowers favoured by so many butterflies.

I spent a long time chasing after any Malagasy Grass Yellows, Eurema floricola. I love these little bright yellow butterflies that fly low to the ground and amongst the vegetation. Even when they were egg-laying they wouldn’t stop for more than about a second in any one place. They have a wingspan of about 35 to 40mm, just a little larger than a Small Copper. I noticed that in mid-afternoon they would fly around busily among the low branches of shrubs, eventually roosting. They would then remain there until the following morning.

One of the most spectacular butterflies in Mauritius is the Brilliant Blue, Junonia rhadama. These are about the size of a Small Tortoiseshell and the males are iridescent blue. They were usually seen flying in the same places as African Migrants and Common Leopards.

Most days I would see Citrus Swallowtails, Papilio demodocus, flying past. These lovely big butterflies would never stop! Most of the time they were flying quite high and with purpose, but occasionally they would flutter around a flowering shrub, but I didn’t see one land or feed at all. Obviously, they must do at some point, but I was never lucky enough to witness it.

Another busy butterfly was the Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus. I would see one a couple of times a day drifting amongst the vegetation, occasionally they would glide around me, but never stop. I did manage to get a picture of one, just by firing off my camera as it flew past. At least this confirmed that it was a Plain Tiger and not a Mimic butterfly, the female of which mimics the Plain Tiger.

The other two large butterflies I saw, but failed to photograph were the Mascarene Crow, Euphloea euphon. I saw this spectacular large black and white butterfly slowly gliding among some trees on just one occasion. The other butterfly was the Mauritian Friar, Amauris phaedon. It flew past me and around the corner of some ruins. I walked round the corner after it and couldn’t see it until I caught sight of it basking on a rock just as it took off!

The little Bush Brown, Henotesia narcissus, was always seen in the shade under trees, settling on the leaf litter.

I saw two different skippers, just briefly. The first was the Striped Policeman, Coeliades forestan. This is a quite large black and white skipper with a wingspan of about 60mm. I saw it several times on my last visit and noted that it continued to flutter its wings, even when feeding. On the one occasion I saw it on this trip it was equally as active!

The other skipper I saw briefly when it landed on a shrub when I was trying to photograph the Mauritius Blue. This one was the Orange Flat, Eagris sabadius, and it briefly landed behind some flowers on a shrub.

It was interesting returning to Mauritius in January. This is the middle of their summer and the hottest month, with average temperatures of 26 degrees Celsius. When we were previously there in August, it was their coolest month, but only by five degrees. January is also their wettest month and we did have quite a few showers and it was very humid. I thought that the butterflies were more active in January, but possibly the difference was that the two favourite plants to feed on, Lantana and a String Bush were not in flower, so they were not gathering at these two hot-spots. There were plenty of other flowering plants, so maybe the choice was greater in January and they weren't restricted to their two favourite plants!

However, when I was there in 2011 I only had a little compact camera, so had to get really close to the butterflies to photograph them. I couldn’t imaging getting that close when I visited this time, as they just didn't settle for any time at all.

It was really interesting that the little blue butterflies were active all day from early morning until the evening. The larger butterflies were only around in the morning and all disappeared at about 2pm. I don't know why that would be, as the temperature remained constant.

41 different species of butterflies have been recorded on Mauritius. Some are rare migrants and others are sadly now extinct. I think it could be said that 35 species regularly occur on the island. I was lucky enough to see 18 different species, which I am very pleased with considering I was only looking in the hotel grounds. Some species only occur in the mountains and others have only been seen on particular areas of the coast.

On our visit in 2011 I saw 17 species, mostly the same as this time, but there were four species I saw then, but not on this visit.

We love Mauritius so much we are determined to go back. I would like to go back for longer next time and visit a bit more of the island. It would be interesting to go at a different time of year to see if the butterflies are any different.

Sunday, 29 January 2023

Three year garden butterflies

It has been almost three years since we moved to our house in the Scottish Borders. We have actually owned the house since 2016, but only popped down at weekends while we were having building work done. We finally moved in two days before lockdown for the Covid pandemic, which means I have been mostly working from home, allowing me pop out at lunchtime to look for butterflies.

I have a set lunchtime dog walk, past all the best butterfly spots and around a little path through my meadow and each day I walk the route I keep a note of the butterflies I have seen.

I have just had a look at all of my sightings over the last three years to see if there are any increases in butterfly numbers, which may be a result of the work I have done to try to enhance the place for butterflies.

I have seen 19 different species of butterflies here, which I am very pleased about. The numbers of some of the more common species seem to fluctuate quite a bit, so don't really show anything. Each year I have seen good numbers of Orange Tips and 2022 was a particularly good year for Green-veined Whites. Small White had a really poor year in 2020, a great year in 2021 and an average year last year! Large Whites tend to be seen in much smaller numbers than the other whites, but they had a particularly good year in 2021. I am expecting to see a good number this year, as I planted nasturtiums last year and the house is currently covered in Large White chrysalises!

Ringlet and Meadow Brown numbers have increased year on year. Possibly these grassland species are benefiting from the management of the meadow area and I have seen them in the area that had been a spruce plantation, so they are certainly benefiting from the grass that is growing amongst the young broad leaves there.

The other grassland species, the Small Heath, hasn't done so well. Each year I have only seen one or two  here. It seems strange, as they are really common in the valley above the house and I would have thought the habitats here are perfect for them.

The number of Small Tortoiseshells has gone up and down. 2021 was particularly good, but numbers dropped back down last year. I think the cool and cloudy spring didn't help them this year. In the past I have found several groups of caterpillars on nettles, but I didn't find any this spring.

However, the Peacock, which has a similar life cycle to the Small Tortoiseshell did really well in both 2021 and 2022. I did find a couple of groups of caterpillars, so they were possibly more successful breeding. In 2019 I recorded 48 Peacocks, in 2020 99 Peacocks, 2021 I saw 196 and last year I recorded 192 Peacocks. Maybe the numbers reflect how my Buddleia bushes have grown over the last four years.

Red Admirals have been remarkably consistent and I have seen almost the same number each of the last three years. In late summer the Buddleia bushes are covered with them and they remain here long after the first frosts.

Commas are not considered a common butterfly in Southern Scotland, but their numbers have increased year on year here. Since 2018 the numbers I have seen each year were 9, 20, 25, 38 and 58. It is lovely to see them doing so well and I hope their numbers continue to increase.

The number of Painted Ladies varies considerably, as it does all over the country. Last year was the best year I have seen here, with 11 sightings, but in 2021 I didn't see any at all.

In 2020 I was happy to see 13 Dark Green Fritillaries feeding on thistles in my meadow. I thought that my new cutting regime was really paying off, but in 2021 I only saw 3 and last year only 5, despite there being really good numbers on the hill above the house.

I was really excited in 2020 to see a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in the meadow. Unfortunately, I didn't see any here in 2021, but last year I saw another here for a few days. There are good numbers in the valley above our house and we have a lot of violets growing in our woodland, so I am hopeful I may continue to see them here in future years.

I am really pleased that the number of Small Coppers I have seen has increased over the last three years. In 2020 I only saw 1, in 2021 I saw 8 and last year I saw 17. I don't really understand why I don't see more as the place is covered in Common Sorrel and Dock Leaf. Maybe their numbers will continue to increase.

I saw one Large Skipper zipping around the meadow in 2020 and another in 2022. I have seen them in the valley above the house, but only one or two.

I didn't see any Small Skippers in 2020, but I was excited to see 7 in 2021 and 17 last year. I am hoping that they will like the way I am managing the meadow, but I am always a bit worried that I may be destroying their eggs when I cut the vegetation in the autumn. There are areas that I leave uncut in the hope that it will help.

I have been amazed that every year since 2019 I have seen a Scotch Argus on our land. A couple of years I have recorded 2, but I can't be sure they were different individuals. Strangely, we don't have any Purple Moor Grass here, but I have seen one egg laying on another species of grass. The other strange thing is that there are no records of any Scotch Argus anywhere near. I can only assume that there is a colony somewhere nearby that hasn't been recorded.

The other really exciting record has been Northern Brown Argus. I saw one in 2020 and another here in 2022. There is a good colony in the valley about 800 metres above the house, but I have always understood that Northern Brown Argus don't travel any distance. Even more exciting last year was that I found Northern Brown Argus eggs on the Rockrose that I have planted on a little bank near the house. I am really looking forward to seeing if I now have my own little colony here and I am already planning to extend the area of Rockrose.

There are two species of butterfly that I watched arrive and spread across East Lothian when we lived there. Speckled Woods arrived in 2010 and are now a really common site across the county. Wall Browns arrived in 2011 and they have also spread right along the coast and along river valleys and are now seen regularly. It has always seemed odd not having either species here, but being further from the coast, we have a shorter season, so they haven't made their way here yet. However, last year Speckled Woods were recorded about three miles from here and there was a Wall Brown seen in the village less than a mile from here. So, both species are spreading in this direction and I live in hope that I may see them later in 2023.

There has also been a lot of excitement here in the Borders with more and more sightings of White-letter Hairstreaks and Purple Hairstreaks, particularly in the east of the county. White-letter Hairstreaks are heading along the river valleys in this direction and there used to be a colony of Purple Hairstreaks just the other side of the valley from here. So, there is much to look forward to.

Tuesday, 27 December 2022


There are various areas of our ground that I have tried to enhance for butterflies over the last four or five years. I know that this is quite a contentious subject, as habitats constantly evolve – grasslands turning into scrub, scrub turning into woodland and even woodland evolves from birch and rowan trees through to oaks. Each of these habitats is valuable but we often tend to favour one stage over another.

There has been a big push in this part of Scotland to plant trees, but this is often to the detriment of other species. Quite a number of sunny banks where wildflowers once grew are now planted with trees. Even if such areas are left unplanted, then without being grazed they can often be taken over by bracken, heather or thick grasses.

As I have discovered, it takes a lot of work to keep an area frozen in time! Here is an update on some of the projects I have previously written about.

I continue to have to cut the vegetation under the trees annually. Last year the grass cutter was broken down and it is amazing how many small beech, sycamore and willow trees are growing up. I usually leave this until after the first frosts in the hope that any caterpillars will be deep in the grass. The topper is set at about 5 inches, so it still leaves a good cover. The intention with these areas is to predominantly have grassland with wild flowers growing in it.

The area that was a spruce plantation has really greened up well. The spruce were very dense and there was no vegetation growing under them. This is the third year since they were felled and initially there were a lot of annual plants such as woodland groundsel. Last year there were hundreds of foxgloves, which are biennials, and this year there is a lot of grass cover, but also still plenty of wildflowers. The 13 species of native broadleaved trees I planted have mostly reached the top of their tree tubes and there is quite a bit of elder growing between them.

I am seeing a gradual improvement in my wildflower meadow over the years. The ground there appears to be quite fertile, so had a lot of nettles and thistles growing in it, as well as thick, rank grasses. The scythe mower has made a real difference by cutting the grass below the thatch, revealing the soil, which has allowed the wild flowers to come through. I then rake off the hay and pile it up at the side of the meadow. I had left some areas uncut for several years, but they were taken over by wild raspberries and I noticed willow trees seeding in there, so this winter I cut these areas down too. I have also taken off the lower branches of some of the surrounding trees, which will allow a lot more light in. It is interesting that wild flower plugs that I planted two years ago, which I thought had died, have reappeared this year.

Not long after we moved here I was standing at the top of the drive looking at all of the rhododendron growing all over the place. I thought to myself that if I didn’t start removing this invasive species it would soon take over the whole place. My wife and I have put a lot of work into removing it and I have sown wildflower seeds where it was. Although it must provide some shelter birds don’t tend to nest in it, the leaves are toxic and apparently the nectar is toxic to bees, it spreads quickly preventing other plants from growing, it can also host a fungus which kills oak and larch trees. So it is a plant that I am keen to remove. There are still acres of it to get rid of and I want to plant something like holly to provide shelter and nesting spaces.

And here is a picture I took from the same spot today.

One of my smaller projects was a bit of an experiment to see if I could get rockrose to grow on a bank close to the house. I took cuttings from wild plants further up the valley and have successfully produced ten healthy plants. These were planted out four years ago and have done well. Two years ago I was amazed to see a Northern Brown Argus in the garden. This year I saw another Northern Brown Argus, but this one was closer to the rockrose. It stayed around for a few days and later I spotted eggs on the rockrose, so it looks as though I may have my own mini colony of Northern Brown Argus. So, next spring I will take a lot more cuttings and hope to expand the area of rockrose.

The wildflower meadow is in quite an exposed area, so I decided to plant a mixed hedge almost six years ago. You would think it would be a good solid hedge by now, but sadly events conspired to restrict its growth! First the neighbour put cattle in his field and they just reached over the fence and pulled up the young plants! An electric wire prevented that happening again, but later his sheep managed to push the fence over and they gave the hedge a good prune! Initially I used plastic spirals to protect the young plants, but they were inadequate to stop rabbits and deer eating the plants. So, I invested in some wide shrub tubes. With a new sheep-proof boundary fence the hedge has done well this year for the first time!

The hedge is a mix of hawthorn, blackthorn, crab apple, hazel, guelder rose and alder buckthorn. These were mostly chosen because they will provide flowers and fruit for wildlife. Alder buckthorn is the food plant of the caterpillars of Brimstone butterflies and although the butterfly doesn’t exist in Scotland, other than the odd visit, I hope that one day a passing Brimstone may find my plants! This has actually sparked off a project that I will write about in a future post.

A lot of work has gone in to all of these projects, but it has all been very enjoyable and rewarding.