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.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Malaga, Spain - Butterflies - July 2012 (1)

This year's family holiday was in Alora, about 50 kilometres north west of Malaga. I had reasonably high expectations, thinking that there may be more butterflies in the hills rather than the more built-up coast. However, Spain has experienced a hot, dry spring and a fairly normal, hot, dry summer and then was in the midst of a heat wave while we were there. Daytime temperatures were up to 40 degrees Celsius in the shade and we certainly noticed how parched the country looked as we flew over northern Spain.
Our rented villa was a couple of kilometres outside the village and offered a lot of opportunities for walking. Much of the surrounding country was used for growing olives and the earth under the trees had been rotivated. Other areas were dry scrub, with rosemary, thyme and lavender plants. It was so dry that these herbs didn't produce any smell when they were walked on!
In the bottom of the valley were well irrigated orange and lemon groves and the river Guadalhorce still had water running in it despite the dams upstream and the amount of water being taken out of it for irrigation.

Our villa was set in a lovely garden, but most of the plants were palms and other drought tolerant species. Not ideal for attracting butterflies. There were a few lantana and a plumbago that proved irresistible to some regular visitors.
As is so often the case, the first butterfly I saw this holiday was a Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli. There were quite a few geraniums in the garden, but they were very dry and woody and I couldn't find any evidence of caterpillars on them.

This lovely little Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, was in the garden on the day we arrived, but I didn't see any more in the garden after that. There were others in the hills around the villa and by the river, though.

Lang's Short-tailed Blues, Leptotes pirithous, were the most numerous butterfly in the garden. They were mostly found around a plumbago plant, where I saw them laying eggs.
I took this picture of an egg, and only when I viewed it on the camera screen did I notice that there was also a caterpillar on the plant. I couldn't actually see it with the naked eye - it measured about two millimetres long. My daughter and I spent ages searching the flower heads on the plumbago looking for larger caterpillars, without any success.

The best area I could find for butterflies close to the villa was along a short length of track that had been cut into the hillside. This seemed to offer a bit of shade to the plants and the thyme was in flower there. This seemed to be one of the few food sources in the area for butterflies.
I was very excited when I saw several small blue butterflies there, but they all turned out to be Common Blues, Polyommatus icarus. They were very much smaller than those back home. I don't know if that was because the food plants were so shriveled up.

The most common butterfly in that area was the Southern Gatekeeper, Pyronia cecilia.

They spent much of the day hiding away in shady areas and were remarkably well camouflaged when they closed up their wings. One day I scrambled along a dried up stream bed and I was amazed at the number of Southern Gatekeepers that flew up ahead of me. There were constantly about five to ten of them in the air, flying up when I disturbed them and then landing in another shady area.

It was interesting that out of the several hundred Southern Gatekeepers I saw, I only noticed two males. They could be recognised by the dark sex brand on their upper wings. Maybe there were more males around, but they were less inclined to open their wings, or maybe the males emerge later than the females.

The other butterfly that was almost as common was the Dusky Heath, Coenonympha dorus. I love the markings on the underside of the wings, particularly the silver edging. They would briefly open their wings on landing, but spent most of their time with their wings firmly shut.

I'll continue with the other butterflies I saw in a separate post.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Malaga, Spain - Butterflies - July 2012 (2)

As well as the Southern Gatekeepers, Dusky Heaths, Common Blues and the Skippers mentioned in my previous posts there were a few other butterflies that occasionally appeared on the track close to our rented villa. This is a Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas

This is a female Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina.

And this is a male Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina.

This Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus, spent a long time feeding on thyme one evening allowing me to get very close.

Another day, I spent ages following this Bath White, Pontia daplidice, along the track before it stopped long enough for a quick picture.

The temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius in the shade during the day, but early morning it would be about 25 degrees. I tended to get up at sunrise to make the most of the cooler weather. One day I walked up into the hills above Alora. This was a fairly steep climb and as soon as the sun came up, temperatures rose quickly. There were quite a number of Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, defending territories on the path. 

I didn't see any females at all. Occasionally one of them would fly into another's territory and a short chase would ensue. I was amazed to see that one of the more aggressive Wall Browns was completely missing one of its rear wings. This didn't seem to hamper its ability to fly or defend it territory, though.

One morning I saw a small brown butterfly chasing after a small grey butterfly and trying to make passionate advances towards it. The grey one was intent on getting away from the brown one, so they weren't hanging around for a picture. I managed a couple of shots, which allowed me to identify them as a Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, chasing an African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna. 

A few days later I decided to walk along the Guadalhorce River to see what butterflies there were there. The most common butterfly there was the African Grass Blue, which at least confirmed my identification of the grey butterfly above.

The river valley also proved to be popular with Small Whites, Clouded Yellows and Small Coppers, but surprisingly nothing that I hadn't seen closer to the house. I noticed that some of the Small Coppers by the river were the darker form.

I explored the pine forests near the Guadalhorce Lakes, but didn't see any butterflies there at all! I also explored the edge of a wooded area near Alora and the well irrigated orange groves in the valley, but didn't see any new species of butterflies in those locations.

Back at the track by the villa, I was beginning to think that I wouldn't see any new species, but one late afternoon a Long-tailed Blue, Lampides boeticus, briefly landed ahead of me. These are beautiful butterflies and I have only ever had a momentary view of one. 

On one of the last days of our holiday a small, orange butterfly landed in the garden as we were having lunch.   Luckily my camera was close by and I was able to take a picture of it before it flew off. Thanks to the zoom on my Lumix FZ150 I was able to identify the butterfly as a Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus, but this is the southern, second generation, which looks very different from the Small Heaths I see back in Scotland. 

I have to admit to being a little disappointed that I didn't see more butterflies during our holiday. I had hoped to see a lot of different species of blues that occur in that part of Spain. I was also surprised not to see any fritillaries, or even a Painted Lady or Swallotail flying past!
Judging by the dried up wild flowers I think I would have been a lot more successful in April or May and the area must look really beautiful then they are all in flower. We were told that Spain has experienced an exceptionally hot, dry spring and it was experiencing  a bit of a heat wave when we were there. Judging from what I saw in Gibraltar, I think that had I managed to find some cooler, damper areas I would have seen a lot more species of butterflies. 
However, after the horrible weather we have been experiencing in South East Scotland this year, it was fantastic to be somewhere hot and sunny where I could see butterflies every day! I saw 21 different species while we were there which is more species than occur in this part of Scotland. 

This is a beautiful part of Spain. I haven't mentioned the amazing villages built on steep hillsides, the castles, the friendly people, lovely food and the fantastic lifestyle. A great place for a holiday.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Spanish Skippers - July 2012

I am not very familiar with Skippers - we don't get any in this part of Scotland, so I have problems identifying any I see. This isn't helped by the fact that there are quite a number of very similar-looking species, but each species can be quite variable! During our recent holiday to Spain I came across five different species. Not that I realised that at the time, I had to post my pictures on the UK Butterflies forum, where Guy Padfield and Roger Gibbons kindly identified them for me.
The pictures below are the five species they identified for me, but please don't ask me what the identifying features are!!

This one I managed to identify myself - it's a Mallow Skipper, Carcharodus alceae.

And this is the other one I managed to identify as a Sage Skipper, Muschampia proto.

This is the underside of the Sage Skipper.

This one I am told is a Red Underwing Skipper, Spialia sertorius. I had noted that it was smaller than the others I had seen, but I had no idea what it was!

This is a Southern Grizzled Skipper, Pyrgus malvoides.

And this one is a Southern Marbled Skipper, Carcharodus boeticus

A page of brown and beige - very 1970s! I am very grateful to Guy and Roger for their help identifying these pictures. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Gibraltar - Butterflies - July 2012

During our recent family holiday to Spain we visited Gibraltar for the day. It was a really interesting place and  quite different from what I expected. We dumped the hire car in La Linea on the Spanish side of the border and walked into Gibraltar. We then bought a Hoppa ticket which allowed us travel on the buses for the day. It is interesting that the road from the border crosses the airport runway, and we had to wait in the bus for a plane to take off in front of us!
The streets in the urban areas are narrow and twisting, but the side of the rock is a large green shrubby area. We took the cable car up to the top of the rock, from where you get great vies of the whole peninsula and across the Mediterranean to Morocco.

I had been told that Gibraltar was a great place to see butterflies and I wasn't to be disappointed. The main reason we had visited Gibraltar was because my wife and children wanted to see the Barbary Macaques and they live in various groups on the rock. While they were looking at the funny monkeys, I was keeping a look out for butterflies. Almost as soon as we arrived at the top of the rock I saw two Two-tailed Pashas, Charaxes jasius, chasing each other in the tree tops below. Sadly they quickly disappeared, but I hadn't expected to see them as they have two generations a year, and normally July is a time when they don't occur.

Not long afterwards a Southern Swallowtail, Iphiclides feisthamelii, flew past me on a path and landed in a tree. I risked life and limb and jumped up onto a wall above a precipitous drop to get a picture.

A little while later it landed in another tree and I managed to get a shot of the upper-side of its wings.

I saw various other butterflies while we walked along the paths, but I wasn't able to identify most of them as they didn't stop. I recognised a Swallowtail, Papilio machaon, but wasn't quick enough with my camera. I only just managed this out-of-focus picture of a Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus, which is hardly worth including.

Later we returned down to the bottom of the rock and after lunch I was allowed half an hour to wander around the Alameda Botanical Gardens. This is an amazing place. It isn't very big, but it has a wide variety of different plants, which attract a lot of butterflies! There are small notice boards around the gardens with information about the plants and butterflies. There is now a resident population of Monarchs, Danaus plexippus, and it was lovely watching them gliding amongst the trees in the gardens.

I spent ages following some Cleopatras, Gonepteryx cleopatra, but they just wouldn't settle for any length of time. This was the best I could manage as one took a quick drink from a plumbago plant!

This Small White, Pieris rapae, was even more difficult to capture.

I had a bit more luck with this Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous.

On a shady path, three Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria aegeria, were squabbling over the sunny patches on the ground.

There was one particular flower bed that contained a flower that seemed to be very attractive to smaller butterflies. Within a few feet of each other was a Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli ...

a Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera ...

a Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus and a Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas.

Other butterflies I saw there were a Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea, a Large White, Pieris brassicae and a Long-tailed Blue, Lampides boeticus. Every corner I turned I saw butterflies. It was a fantastic place and I would have loved to have spent all day at the botanical gardens and another day exploring the rest of the peninsular.