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.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Lanzarote - Butterflies - July 2011

We went to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, for two weeks' family holiday in July 2011. I have to admit that I wasn't expecting too much of the place, as I had been told that it was very dry and hot. Sure enough when we arrived I thought that we had flown to the moon. Much of the island is still just bare lava fields after a series of volcanic eruptions in the 1730s and a later eruption in 1824.
It is amazing, though, when you walk across these lava fields and look more closely, there is a surprising amount of life trying to colonise little crevices and hollows. Many of the rocks are covered in lichen and small succulent plants are finding nutrients and moisture in shaded corners. 
What I found even more amazing was that people were managing to make a living out of growing vines and other crops in this desolate environment. I am told that many of the areas have a good display of wild flowers in the spring. Some areas to the north of the island have more plants growing amongst the sharp larva rock.

I wasn't expecting to see much in the way of butterflies. Only 16 species have been recorded there and I imagine that the spring would be a better time to visit.

A butterfly that I was hoping to see in Spain was the African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna, but unfortunately I didn't see it there. It also occurs in Lanzarote and one day a little grey butterfly flew across a promenade I was walking along, briefly landed on a rock and then flew off. I saw it long enough to recognise it as an African Grass Blue. I was delighted to see it, but disappointed that I didn't get a photograph. A few days later I saw another one on a weed at the side of the pavement outside the resort we were staying at and this time I did manage to get a photograph.
The next day, I noticed that there were two or three of them in a small flower bed close by.

There was one Plumbago bush in the grounds of the resort, where I saw a Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous. It was regularly in this same shrub, but I suppose that there wasn't much choice for it! It also seemed smaller than those that I had seen in Spain in the past.

Next to the pool a regular visitor to the Lantana plants was a Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus. It was amazing how it turned up regularly and patrolled the shrub bed for most of each day.
Strangely what I assume was the same individual turned up day after day, but it was always alone. It didn't turn up on the second last day of our holiday and on the last day I saw a smaller, paler Monarch on the shrubs. I hope that they managed to meet up at some point!

This little butterfly had me confused and it still does! Initially I thought I saw a Brown Argus land in a bush outside our bungalow. I took a quick picture and then noticed that it had the under-wing markings of a Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus. That made more sense, as the Brown Argus isn't meant to occur there. The upper wings were brown, which is what confused me, but that is common for a female Common Blue. However, I have since read on the excellent UK Butterflies Forum that the Canary populations of the Common Blue are in fact Polyommatus celina. I'm not doubting the words of wisdom on that web site, but to add further confusion the female celina is said to have a lot of blue on its upper wings and this butterfly was definitely brown! Apologies for the poor picture - it was all I could manage.

The other butterflies I saw were:
Small White, Pieris rapae, on waste ground next to the resort.
Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli, on a pot of geraniums in the resort.
Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, which flew over the resort we were staying at.
7 species in total, which was quite amazing considering the arid environment on the island. However, I only saw them at, or close to, the resort where there were plants in flower. 

Friday, 11 May 2012

New East Lothian Butterfly Species for 2011

2011 was a lousy year weather-wise in East Lothian. We had a couple of lovely weeks in April and thereafter there was so much rain and temperatures were well below average. However, 2011 was a great year for butterflies here! It seems strange to me, considering that there is so little natural environment left in East Lothian that we get any butterflies at all! The disadvantage of so much of the landscape being prime agricultural land means that hedgerows have been ripped out and every square inch is ploughed and planted with wheat or barley. Being close to Edinburgh there has been a lot of new housing built recently, which may actually be better than a field of wheat for biodiversity!
In April I received an enquiry about a blue butterfly near a village called Aberlady. It didn't sound like a Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus, which is the only blue we get here and I thought it worth investigating. The description made me think it could be a Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus, so each sunny lunch time I headed to Aberlady and searched any likely areas where I knew holly or ivy grew. On my third attempt, just as I was about to leave, I spotted some large holly trees so had a quick look, and there were at least three Holly Blues.
They were quite active little things, and they tended to land high up in the holly and a neighbouring apple tree, which didn't make photography easy!

This one seemed a little shy and these were the best pictures I could manage in the limited time I had before returning to the office. I returned a couple of times later, but didn't get any better views. I also returned a few   times later in the season to see if there was a second generation, but without luck. Possibly because of the poor weather conditions over the summer. I hope to see them again in 2012.

In May one of the countryside rangers described a butterfly she had seen that sounded like a Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Boloria selene. I headed for the area of John Muir Country Park where she thought she had seen it, but had no luck finding it. However, on the way back to the car a small brown butterfly flew up from the track in front of me. It turned out to be a Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria, I think of the sub-species tircis, which is found over most of the southern half of the UK. There had been one or two isolated sightings of this butterfly in East Lothian over the previous two years, so I suspected they may be secretly breeding somewhere in the county. Close by I saw another Speckled Wood making it very likely they were breeding there.
There is another sub-species, oblita,  that occurs to the north of here, and we are bang in the middle of the area where neither sub-species occur according to the distribution maps. I think that the southern sub-species is extending its distribution northwards.

I went back to the same site in late June and this time found four Speckled Woods in the area. These ones were a lot fresher-looking, so I presume were a second generation. Others were spotted later in the year in another part of John Muir Country Park and a nearby wood, so it looks as though we have another new species for East Lothian.

For a couple of years I have heard rumours of Grayling butterflies, Hipparchia semele, living on the site of an old opencast coal mine. Last summer I was told where abouts to look and a friend and I visited one lunch  time. To our surprise we immediately came across several of them on an old section of railway. I returned again later in the year, but the weather was so poor that I didn't see any more of them. 
These butterflies are incredibly well camouflaged when they land on the ground.

It has been suggested that the change in distribution of these butterflies may be a sign of climate change, although it is difficult to believe that slightly warmer winters, wetter summers and more wind could have such an effect (particularly as we just had two very hard winters!). There were also three sightings of Small Skippers, Thymelicus sylvestris, at Aberlady this year - another new species for East Lothian. Other butterflies that used to be rare here are now more commonly seen. Wall Browns moved here in 2010, Commas in around 2006 and before that Peacocks, Orange Tips and Ringlets. It certainly isn't an abundance of habitat that is attracting the butterflies here. This is just another reason why butterflies fascinate me so much.

Hopefully the weather will improve in 2012 and I will be able to go back and see if these species have made it through the winter.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Small White - Pieris rapae

A couple of summers ago I was sitting in the garden when I noticed a Small White butterfly, Pieris rapae, land on a cabbage plant that my wife was intending to give to the hens. I watched it for a while and noticed that it was laying some eggs.

Of course the cabbage plant now had to be saved from the hens!

Small white eggs tend to be scattered around rather than laid in a group.

After only a few days the eggs hatched and there were small caterpillars wandering around the plant. Here's an older caterpillar on a nasturtium leaf. You can probably make out the row of yellow dots along the side and the yellow stripe down it's back (do caterpillars have backs?)

It was some weeks after the caterpillars had disappeared that I spotted this chrysalis on the hinge of our garden gate. Luckily there was just enough room for it not to be squashed when the gate was opened.

Last summer we had some more Small White caterpillars on some nasturtiums in the garden. Here is a caterpillar that has crawled up the house to form a chrysalis. It has attached itself to the wall and is thickening up.

The following day it was a chrysalis. You will notice the remains of a small black wasp next to it. I had noticed that the chrysalis was flicking and spotted the wasp on it (which I dispatched!). Some of these are parasitic and lay eggs into the chrysalis. Sadly I was too late for this chrysalis and a few others.

Here are a couple of the chrysalises that didn't make it. The holes are where the wasps emerged.

To end on a happier note, here is a freshly emerged butterfly from one of the chrysalises that the wasps didn't get!