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.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Menorca - Butterflies - July 2010

Menorca is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea. There are about 25 species of butterflies occurring there with another five or so having been recorded as vagrants. We spent two weeks there in the summer of 2010, staying in an old farm house near the centre of the island. Attached to the house was an orchard, (where my daughter counted 19 different kinds of fruit trees) which turned out to be the perfect place for butterflies. I wasn't expecting to see too much, but I was to be pleasantly surprised.

We arrived in the evening just as the sun was going down, but there were still some Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria aegeria, flying by the house. These proved to be very common flying anywhere with a bit of dappled shade.

Probably even more abundant than the Speckled Woods were Holly Blues, Celastrina argiolus. I was delighted to see so many of them living along the ivy-covered walls of the orchard.

Southern Brown Argus, Arica cramera, enjoyed the wild flowers in the orchard...

... along with a few Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus.

The Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, was less common, but still a lot more abundant than in Scotland.

I am used to seeing Small Heaths, Coenonympha pamphilus, on coastal grasslands and moors in Scotland. They seemed a bit out of place to me in the orchard. Back home they also tilt their wings towards the sun whenever they land in order to catch as much warmth as possible. In Menorca they always faced into the sun so as to catch as little sun as possible!

I was pleased to see a lot of Clouded Yellows, Colias croceus,  in the orchard. They seemed a lot less timid than those I had seen in Portugal.

The other yellow butterfly that occurs there is the Cleopatra, Gonepteryx cleopatra. These have a lovely flash of orange on their upper wing, but they always rest with their wings closed so it is only visible when they are flying. They also have an amazing ability to blend into the ivy when they roost at night.

As in most places in Europe, Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, were fairly common.

I saw one or two Small Whites, Pieris rapae, too.

A familiar sight in Scotland, but not so common on Menorca is the Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina.

I spent ages following a Southern Gatekeeper, Pyronia cecilia, along the Alengdar Gorge, but it just wouldn't settle long enough for me to take a photo. This one appeared in the orchard and was much more obliging.

What I assume was the same Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, always appeared in one particular area of the orchard.

Red Admirals, Vanessa atalanta, enjoyed the fallen fruit. They are amazingly well camouflaged when their wings are closed.

Having only just discovered Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, back in Scotland it was funny also finding them in Menorca. As with most of the butterflies I saw there, they rested with their wings closed, whereas in cooler Scotland they tend to rest with their wings open absorbing the sun's rays.

This is the best picture I could manage of a Two-tailed Pasha, Charaxes jasius. These are amazing butterflies with a really powerful flight. It was great watching them gliding amongst the fruit trees.

On the last day of our holiday this Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous, visited a bush next to the swimming pool were it remained for most of the day.

The other three species that I saw, but wasn't able to take a picture of were a Long-tailed Blue, Lampides boeticus, a Swallowtail, Papilio machaon and a Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli, making 20 species for the trip. This was a lot better than I had expected. What Menorca lacks in variety of species is more than made up for by the number of butterflies in the air.

Wall Brown - Lasiommata megera

When I had been down in the Borders looking at the Small Blues I briefly saw a couple of Wall Brown butterflies, Lasiommata megera. It struck me that the area was very similar to a section of the coastal path in East Lothian and as I heard that Wall Browns had been extending their range northwards I thought I should have a look at an area near Bilsdean.
I was involved with the construction of this section of the coastal path, called the John Muir Way, so I knew it well and also knew that I had never seen Wall Browns there before.
In June 2010 I went to Bilsdean one lunch hour and walked along the path and very soon a small butterfly flew up and over my head. When it landed I was delighted to see it was a Wall Brown!

This is a female ...

... and this is a male.
I saw five that day and returned later in the year to find that they had obviously bred and produced a second generation. As far as I am aware, the only other record of a Wall Brown in East Lothian was one that was seen in 2005. These, though are breeding and established in East Lothian.

I returned in 2011 and was pleased to see good numbers and that they have moved slightly further up the coast. In fact I also saw one about 20 miles up the coast and heard a report that they had been seen in John Muir Country Park about 30 miles from the original site, so I think that they are well and truly established here now.

Small Blue - Cupido minimus

In late May 2010 I headed down to a small site on the Scottish Borders coast where I had heard that there is a small colony of Small Blue butterflies, Cupido minimus. This is the UK's smallest butterfly which occurs mostly on the south coast of England but also has a few scattered colonies around the Scottish coast.
I was blessed with good weather and after an hour's drive and half an hour's walk I was rewarded with my first view of this beautiful little butterfly.

They really are small, about 18mm wingspan. The upper side of the wings is brown and the males have a scattering of blue scales. The underside is a pale grey with black dots and blue scales towards the base.
The site I found them in is only about 30 feet by 30 feet on a steep scree slope. The colony seems so vulnerable there.

I have since head that another colony has been found not too far away from this one, so it would be nice to think that they are expanding their range.

I returned again in May 2012 to see these lovely little butterflies and they were there again in good numbers. Depending on the weather the adults occur during May and June.

The food plant is kidney vetch, Anthyllis vulneraria, which likes alkaline conditions and seems to do well on cliffs and scree slopes. I imagine that it is easily out-competed by grasses and shrubs, so isn't a particularly common plant.

Eggs are laid on the flower heads and the caterpillars feed on the flower. This flower head has an egg on it.

The eggs are very small - less than a millimetre across.

I was involved with a survey to look for kidney vetch along the coast of Northumberland and the Scottish Borders. I found a few areas, but sadly no more butterflies. I have been told of some areas of kidney vetch in East Lothian, which I will have to check out.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Portugal - Butterflies - April 2010

In April 2010 we returned to our friend's villa in the Algarve. This proved to be a very good time of year to be there for spotting butterflies and I found a small area where the land had been leveled in the past and which was now covered in wild flowers. Just next to this were areas of cork oak and grass offering a variety of habitats.

This was one of the first blues I saw, which I later identified as a Black-eyed Blue, Glaucopsyche melanops.

There were a few more Common Blues, Polyommatus icarus, around, but they were all rather worn out. I wonder if they were survivors from last year.

Back at the villa, Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli, were busy in the garden.

This Swallowtail, Papilio machaon, was in the abandoned orange grove next door.

Back at the wild flower patch, I was delighted to get some pictures of Clouded Yellows, Colias crocea.

I saw a Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, in the same area several times. I suspect it was the same specimen that I saw each time.

This fuzzy picture was the best I could do of the pale form of the Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea.

Amongst the cork oaks were a few Green Hairstreaks, Callophrys rubi. These are beautiful little butterflies that I had never seen before.

Green-striped Whites, Euchloe belemia, were probably the most common butterflies in the area. I really love these striking little butterflies.

Western Dappled Whites, Euchloe crameri, were also fairly common. Another beautiful butterfly that reminded me of my favourite butterfly, the Orange Tip.

I briefly saw a Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, a common butterfly back home.

Another common butterfly back home is the Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus. We saw this one in a valley up in the mountains.

The moment I took this picture is one of those moments I will always remember. Just after I took the picture my wife came to find me to tell me that she had heard on the news that a volcano had erupted in Iceland and that all flights to the UK had been cancelled. The result of the chaos was that our 14 day holiday ended up as a 22 day holiday, but the last 8 days weren't all fun. We spent hours at internet cafes researching trains, buses and ferries across Portugal, Spain and France to see how we could get home. We also considered renting a car or even buying an old car to get home. After several visits and long queues at the airport our flight was re-scheduled. Anyway, this is a Red-underwing Skipper, Spialia sertotius.

This is a Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas.

Small Whites, Pieris rapae, seem to occur in most countries I have visited, although they didn't seen to be very common in Portugal.

While I was walking along the road a Spanish Festoon, Zerynthia rumina, caught my eye behaving strangely. It turned out to be laying eggs on the underside of the leaves of some plants. Her is an egg.

And here is an adult Spanish Festoon.

I stalked this Spanish Marbled White, Melanargia ines, for ages, but just couldn't get close to it. This was the best picture I could manage!

In contrast the Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria, were very obliging.

We had to move along the coast for the last few days of our holiday to a more rural area, but strangely to where there were fewer butterflies. However, the area seemed to be a hot spot for Marsh Fritillaries, Euphydryas aurinia.

During the holiday I also saw:
Wood Whites - Leptidea sinapis
Painted Ladies - Vanessa cardui
Large Tortoiseshell - Nymphalis polychloros
Long-tailed Blue - Lampides boeticus
Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta
Large White - Pieris brassicae

A total of 24 species during the trip.

Monday, 5 March 2012

East Lothian Butterflies

I live in East Lothian in South East Scotland. Although this is quite a rural area it is intensively farmed and there are very few areas of natural habitat. Every field is ploughed right up to the edges, ditches dug straight and clear and any remaining hedges are cut to within an inch of their lives! All in the name of producing more food, but in reality much of the wheat and barley grown here goes for the production of spirits!
Given the lack of habitat, it is amazing that butterflies occur here at all. There are about 15 species that are regularly seen here.

One of the first butterflies that we see here is the Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae. This overwinters as an adult and will wake up from hibernation on sunny days in February.

Another butterfly that survives the winter is the Peacock, Aglais io. This has only really become common up here over the last 25 years or so.

A bit of a newcomer to East Lothian is the Comma, Polygonia c-album. I remember being really excited when I saw my first one in 2006. A few more were seen the next year and the number has gradually increased. They now are breeding here and managing to over-winter. Is this a sign of climate change?

For me, the butterfly season really starts when Green-veined Whites, Pieris napi, start to appear. They over-winter as a chrysalis and emerge early in April.

The other butterfly to start appearing at the same time is the Small White, Pieris rapae. This one is laying eggs on a cabbage in our garden!

Towards the middle of April my favourite butterfly, the Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines, starts to appear. They only have one generation a year here, and only survive until about June depending on the weather.

The under-side of the Orange Tip wings are marbled white and green. When they completely close their wings they are beautifully camouflaged amongst the small white flowers of its food plant, Garlic Mustard.

Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, start to appear in May. These are never really common here and I am not sure why as the caterpillars feed on the same food plants as the much more common Small White.

There tends to be a bit of a lull in butterfly numbers in June. The first generation of the above butterflies are dwindling and their young haven't yet appeared. A lot of species emerge in July.

The Ringlet, Aphantopus hyperantus, spends most of its life as a caterpillar. The adult appears in July and is on the wing until the end of August. It is a lovely little butterfly which has a very floppy style of flying!

The Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, also appears in July and is found in similar grassy areas as the Ringlet.

The Common Blue, Polyomatus icarus, is a beautiful butterfly that can be quite plentiful at some coastal sites.

The Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, has two generations a year. They are more common during the second generation from July to September. The male is very territorial and will fly up from a chosen flower or rock to see off any other insect that dares to fly by.

The Dark-green Fritillary, Argynnis aglaja, is a spectacular butterfly that is found in a few locations in East Lothian, where its food plant, Dog Violet, grows. For such a large butterfly it is a very small food plant!

The Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus, is a very common butterfly on coastal grasslands. (For some reason this photo has loaded sideways!)

We have two summer visitors that come up from Europe. The first is the Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta. This breeds here in the summer and the butterflies that hatch try to over-winter. The do appear in late winter on warm sunny days, but it is thought that they don't survive to go on to breed.

The Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, also comes here in late summer. These migrate here from Northern Africa, although the ones that arrive here are most likely a second generation produced in Europe.

Considering the lack of habitat we don't do too badly for butterflies here. I do worry, though about the continuing destruction of the remaining areas where they can breed.