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, 28 June 2012

Green-veined White - Pieris napi

The Green-veined White, Pieris napi, is probably the most common butterfly in East Lothian. The first generation appears in April through to June and the second generation of the year appears in July and August. Depending on the weather the two generations may overlap.
There are three sub-species occurring in the British Isles, one in Ireland, the second in Scotland and a third in England and Wales. I'm not sure of the exact differences between the sub-species or how defined the boundary is between the Scottish and English ones. According to the distribution map, the sub-species we have in East Lothian is thomsoni.
The markings on Green-veined Whites can be quite variable. The first brood tends to have lighter markings on the upper wings and darker veins on the lower side. The female is more heavily marked than the male.
The "green-veins" on the underside of the butterfly are actually made up of black and yellow scales running along the lines of the veins on the wings.

One day last year, whilst doing my butterfly transect, a female Green-veined White landed on a garlic mustard plant in front of me and laid an egg on the underside of a leaf. Like Small Whites, Pieris rapae, they tend to lay eggs singly.

The previous year I found this Green-veined White caterpillar, again on a garlic mustard plant.
These are predominantly green with a row of yellow spots with a small black spot in each, along the side. Unlike the Small White caterpillar they don't have the yellow line running along their backs.

Earlier this year I was amazed to see this Green-veined White chrysalis on the corner of our garage wall. It surprised me as it must have been there from around September the previous year, but I hadn't noticed it, even though I walk past that corner of the garage every day. I hadn't noticed any caterpillars in the garden either, but presumably it had been feeding on a nasturtium plant. It is a fantastic colour, although it isn't very well camouflaged against the wood.
I kept an eye on it for the next few weeks, and one day in early April I noticed that it started to change colour to more of a brown. A day later I saw that it was possible to see the colour of the wings and the next day there was just an empty shell, as the butterfly had emerged.
Unfortunately, it chose the day before a spell of poor weather to emerge, but hopefully it found somewhere to shelter until a later sunny day. During dull weather they hide away amongst vegetation, where they can be quite difficult to spot.

East Lothian Butterflies 2011

What was a very disappointing year as far as the weather was concerned, turned out to be a surprisingly good year for butterflies. After a very hard winter with a lot of snow, spring arrived quite suddenly when it warmed up towards the end of March. The spring weather was fairly normal, but June, July and August were very wet and cooler than normal.

Peacock, Aglais io
The year kicked off with a Peacock being spotted on 22 February at John Muir Country Park by the countryside ranger. This was on a freak warm day and Peacocks didn’t reappear until the third week in March, when a good number of them were seen. The number of sightings was low until the next generation emerged in late August.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae
I saw my first butterflies on 21st March - a Small Tortoiseshell and a Comma squabbling over a choice sunny spot on the River Tyne near Haddington. There were good numbers of Small Tortoiseshells, particularly earlier in the year, but they didn't seem to do so well later on, most likely as a result of the weather we experienced over the summer. I observed a female laying eggs in June, which took 18 days to hatch. Sadly the caterpillars soon disappeared and I fear they perished due to the cold, wet weather.

Comma, Polygonia c-album
The Comma only started being regularly recorded in East Lothian in 2006. Prior to that I have one record for 2004 and one for 2005. It isn’t a common butterfly here, but it is now seen reasonably often each year. I saw a couple of Commas in March, but just as I was beginning to think they were suffering from the poor weather, I received a few more records in July, August and September. The number of sightings was certainly lower than the previous year.

Small White, Pieris rapae
The first record of a Small White was on 22nd March, which is quite early for East Lothian. They appeared in greater numbers in mid April. Small White don’t generally occur here in large numbers. Green-veined Whites outnumber them considerably and it can be difficult to spot the difference between the two species until they land.

Panted Lady, Vanessa cardui
There were very few Painted Ladies around this year, but strangely one of the few records was on 5th April at John Muir Country Park, which is very early. Two were recorded in Gullane in July and just one or two more recorded in October. I am sure the weather can have a big impact on how many of these migratory butterflies arrive here from the south. Another slight issue is that Painted Lady caterpillars are freely available to purchase and some of the butterflies we see here could have been reared and released.

Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines
The Orange Tip season was noticeably shorter than usual this year, most likely because of the short spring. The first record was on 16th April when there seemed to be a mass emergence. Numbers recorded were very good over the next six weeks and then they quickly diminished.

Large White, Pieris brassicae
The first Large White I saw this year was on 17th April. We don’t see a lot of Large Whites in East Lothian, just the odd one here and there. The number of Large Whites this year was generally a bit lower than normal.

Green-veined White, Artogeia napi
Green-veined Whites must be the most common butterfly in East Lothian. The first sighting was on 18th April. Numbers seemed good for the first generation, but the second generation that appears from July didn’t seem to do as well with fewer sightings reported.

Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus
Probably the most exciting news for me was that Holly Blues were recorded in one small location near Aberlady in April and May. There were no records of a second generation later in the year, but again the weather was not very conducive. There has been another colony right on the western corner of East Lothian for a few years now, but it is good to know that they seem to be spreading.

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas
I saw my first Small Copper of 2011 on 9th May. The number of sightings was a little lower than normal this year. These butterflies can be locally common, but they seem to be restricted to various sites around East Lothian.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
Red Admirals arrived in force in early May with the first one recorded on 9th May. This year they have been more numerous than I can previously remember. Unusually high numbers were recorded particularly later in the year, right through to November. It will be interesting to see if any make it through the winter.

Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera
I first saw Wall Brown just inside East Lothian at Dunglass last year. I was pleased to find them there again this year in greater numbers. The first record this year was on 9th May in John Muir Country Park and later in the year I was surprised to spot one near Dunbar, so they also appear to be spreading along the coast.

Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus
The number of Small Heath recorded this year was lower than normal. I saw my first one on 15th May in the Lammermuir Hills. They also occur at many sites along the coast, sometimes in great numbers. They occur here right through until September.

Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis laodice
The Dark Green Fritillary is another butterfly that occurs in various locations in the Lammermuir Hills and at the coast. I saw my first one this year on 20th June and various others were recorded throughout the summer. It doesn’t occur in great numbers, so it is difficult to know if this year was a good or bad year for them.

Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Clossiana selene
There was one Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary recorded by the countryside ranger in John Muir Country Park on 17th May.

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria tircis
Having had one record of a Speckled Wood in 2010 near Tyninghame and one the previous year in John Muir Country Park I had suspicions that there may be a colony somewhere in the area. On 20th May I was excited to find two on the north side of the Tyne Estuary. Since then I have returned a few times and have seen Speckled Wood at this same spot and close by. They were also recorded the other side of the estuary a few times this year, suggesting that they are now established in the park. There was another sighting a couple of kilometres away at Binning Wood and also one at Yellowcraig, so it looks as though they are moving up the east coast.

Ringlet, Aphantpopus hyperantus
The first record of a Ringlet this year was on 10th June. Although they seem to like damp grassy areas, the number recorded this year was lower than it has been for a few years. They tend to be quite short-lived and are usually only recorded for six or seven weeks from the end of June to the beginning of August.

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus
Common Blue butterflies aren’t widespread, but there are some sites where they can be quite common. The first record I have for 2011 was on 14th June. Looking through old transect records 2011 was the best year on record and this is the only species that seems to have done well this year.

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
I saw my first Meadow Brown on 28th June. Numbers seemed to be generally down on previous years, particularly at the coast, but there were other hot spots where good numbers were seen.

Grayling, Hypparchia semele
I had heard that Grayling had been seen at Blindwells, an old opencast site, for the last few years. On 5th July I visited Blindwells with a local enthusiast and we quickly came across the colony, seeing more than 10 on an old railway siding. I was later told of another colony less than a kilometre away on a re-landscaped spoil heap and one was reported in a nearby village later in the year.

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris
The other exciting new record for East Lothian was a Small Skipper that was seen at Aberlady Local Nature Reserve on 21st July. There were two more records of Small Skippers a little further along the coast at Gullane in August. As far as I am aware these are the only records of Small Skippers in East Lothian.  It would be interesting to know how they got there and hopefully we will see them there next year.

So, that's 21 species, which must be a record for East Lothian. Two new species for the county and various other species expanding their range. Quite remarkable, given the poor weather.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Mauritius - Butterflies - August 2011

Last summer my father treated my wife, two kids and me to a two-week holiday in Mauritius. He had offered to take us away on holiday anywhere we wanted and my wife and I were married there 13 years earlier. We had always intended to return, but the cost was prohibitive with the kids as well!! It was fantastic being back at the same hotel and the kids enjoyed the luxury of being at an all inclusive resort for the first time.
Although much of the island has been taken over by sugar cane plantations, the Hotel Maratim is set in 25 hectares of grounds where I was able to sneak off and look for butterflies!

Probably the most common butterfly I saw was the African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna. As the name suggests this little butterfly flew around the grass in the hotel grounds and fed on flowering shrubs such as Lantana.

It was rare to see them with their wings open, but as with many blues the upper side of the female was mostly brown while the male was blue with darker edging.
It was funny that the African Grass Blue was the butterfly that I set out to see in Spain in April without any luck. I then found it in Lanzarote and again in Mauritius.

The other blue that was regularly found flying around flowering shrubs was what is called the Common Blue in Mauritius, but I know it as Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous. The ones I saw in Mauritius seemed to be more heavily marked than those I have seen in Europe and I presume they are the subspecies insulanus, which is found in Mozambique. 

Another regular butterfly was the diminutive Tiny Grass Blue, Zizula hylax. This is the smallest butterfly I have ever seen with a wingspan of only about 15mm.
This butterfly was so tiny that my camera had trouble focusing on it. Most of my pictures ended up being deleted and none of them were perfectly in focus.

There was another blue that I could rely upon seeing each day - the Brown Playboy, Virachola antalus. This would often drop down from a tree onto the ground just like a falling leaf. It is also cleverly marked with a false eye and tails that look like antennae at the ends of its wings. These markings can often save the life of the butterfly when birds peck at the wrong end resulting in the butterfly losing a bit of its wings, but surviving to fly another day.

I found a bush in a corner of the grounds of the hotel (since identified as a String Bush, Cordia cylindristachya) that must have regularly hosted over 100 of the above four species of butterflies. I regularly visited it and spent ages checking out each butterfly looking for Clover Blues, Zizina antanossa. This butterfly is almost identical to the African Grass Blue, but it is lacking one spot on the underside of the fore wing. I didn't find any, but while I was looking I found a couple of other butterflies. This is a faded Plains Cupid, Chilades pandava demonstrating what happens when it has been attacked by a bird having lost its eye spots and tails. This butterfly was first recorded in Mauritius in 2000 and is now considered a pest as its caterpillars feed on Sago Palms.

And this is a sub-species of the African Line Blue, Pseudonacaduba sichela reticulum, which only occurs on Mauritius. I only saw it very briefly and it flew over the other side of the bush, so I was very pleased to get this picture.

This is a rather poor picture of a not very colourful butterfly! It is the Olive Haired Swift, Borbo borbonica. I disturbed it when I was walking in some grass and it flew up in front of me, briefly landed and then flew off and I wasn't able to find it again.

The other Hesperiidae I saw was a little easier to see. It was the Striped PolicemanCoeliades forestan abrogates. I regularly saw this feeding on Lantana plants, but it was never still. It would constantly vibrate its wings while it was feeding.

A much more colourful butterfly, and the one I really wanted to see was the Brilliant Blue, Junonia rhadama. I saw it most days, but it was very difficult to approach. This is a female, which can be identified by having two eye spots on each hind wing.
And this is a male, with only one eye spot and brighter blue wings. It took me a long time to manage to sneak up close enough for this picture!
The colour varied depending on how the sun hit the wings. Sometimes it was very bright blue and other times it was more of a purple colour.
The underside wasn't as bright, but still beautifully marked.

The Common Leopard, Phalanta phalantha was another regular in the hotel grounds. Like the Striped Policeman it never seemed to stop flapping its wings! However, one day, when it clouded over, I came across three of them sitting on the ground with their wings open.

On a number of occasions I saw a small yellow butterfly whiz past me, flying close to the ground. One day I decided to follow one, expecting that is must stop flying at some point. I think I followed it for about half an hour until the sun went behind a cloud and it settled on the ground. This one turned out to be Eurema floricola, the Malagasy Grass Yellow. The forewing of this super little butterfly is only about 20mm long and the upper side of the wings have a narrow black border.
Eurema brigitta, the Broad-Bordered Grass Yellow also occurs in Mauritius, but it isn't as bright yellow as the Malagasy Grass Yellow.

Henotesia narcissus narcissus is a kind of Bush Brown but I don't think it has a common name. They were usually found in wooded areas, dropping to the ground from the trees. 

This is the underside of  Henotesia narcissus narcissus.

On the second morning of our holiday I checked out a flower bed in the hotel grounds close to our room. Amongst the butterflies there was this black and white one. I took some pictures and then became distracted by the other butterflies there. At the time I didn't have a butterfly book for the island, but a few days later I bought one in Port Louis. I was then able to identify this as Hypolimnas anthedon drucei, a butterfly that has only been recorded a few times in Mauritius, the last time being 1957!! It is much more common in Madagascar, but that is over 600 miles away. It makes me wonder whether this species has quietly been living in Mauritius, unnoticed, or if this one somehow arrived here from Madagascar.

One evening when we were walking  back to our room I spotted a butterfly on the wall of the covered walkway. It was a Common Evening Brown, Melanitis leda. These butterflies tend to fly in the evening as it is going dark. When I had seen them flying on previous days I had thought that they were large moths.

All of the above photographs were taken in the hotel grounds. We did see a number of butterflies in other places around the island, but there was never the opportunity to photograph them. Other species that I saw included the African Migrant, Catopsilia florella. This large white or yellow butterfly was quite common, but I never saw one at rest. There is a similar butterfly, Catopsilia thauruma, which comes in either a pale or bright yellow, but this is less common than the African Migrant. A couple of times I saw a Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus, flying past, although neither times did it land. The final butterfly I saw as the Citrus Swallowtail, Papilio demodocus, which is quite a rapid flyer. It was another butterfly that sadly didn't stop for a photograph!

We visited the Isles aux Aigrettes, which is an island nature reserve run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. It is a fascinating place, where they are trying to eradicate non-native plant species and protect endemic flora and fauna. We learned a lot from their very informative guide. 

Giant tortoises have been reintroduced onto the island as they are an important link in the chain for the germination of some seeds.

This is a Mauritius Fody. There were only a handful of them left because the Madagascar Fody had out-competed them. Now, thanks to a breeding programme they are being re-introduced onto the Mauritian mainland.

This is an Ornate Day Gecho, which is also struggling since the introduction of the rather dull gecko from Madagascar.

There were many sad stories of once numerous species that have either become endangered or extinct. The most famous of which is the dodo. This is a Pink Pigeon, which had declined to fewer than 10 individuals in 1990 before a rescue programme that has resulted in there now being over 400 on Mauritius.

Sadly there is less than 2.5% of the native forest left on Mauritius. Much of what I had thought was native forest was made up of introduced species. The ebony forests have mostly been cut down. The last time we were there we visited the Black River Gorge, which is the main area that remains of native forest. It is a lovely area, but sadly we didn't get a chance to visit it this year. I believe that I would have seen some different butterflies if we had managed to go there this time.

The butterfly book that I bought lists 38 species on Mauritius, but some of these are rare migrants and others are now considered extinct. I think that it would be more realistic to say that somewhere around 30 species occur on Mauritius. I was lucky enough to see 17 species of butterflies, most of them new to me, which isn't bad considering it was winter when we visited!

We'll definitely be going back in the future!