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, 16 August 2013

Tenerife - Butterflies - July 2013

Our family holiday this year was spent in Tenerife during the last two weeks in July. I managed to sneak in a few walks while my wife and kids were enjoying the beaches and swimming pool. We were at a resort in Callao Salvaje in the south-west which wasn't a particularly good area for butterflies, however with the island only being about 80 kilometres long, nowhere was more than about an hour and a half's drive away.

Most of the southern side of the island is semi-desert with various succulents and drought-tolerant plants growing. In the spring it must be quite colourful when the plants are in flower, but at this time of year there was nothing much flowering.

The north of the island is greener and a little cooler and much less developed.

On the first morning I was delighted to see African Grass Blues, Zizeeria knysna, on the grass outside
our villa. They seem to occur on almost every irrigated grassy area and many flowerbeds in the towns and resorts. I didn't see them in any natural areas, so I guess that they will be one of the few species to have benefited from the developments there.

Most days we would see one or two Small Whites, Pieris rapae, flying through the resort and later on our holiday my daughter spotted about thirty Small White chrysalises on an abandoned building across the road from our resort. They were probably the most widespread butterfly we saw while we were there.

Each evening, at about 7 o'clock, a Monarch, Danaus plexippus, would cruise amongst the trees opposite our villa. It occasionally landed on a leaf, stayed for a few minutes and then flew around again. There was one tree that it appeared to feed on, but I couldn't figure out why it landed on the other trees, or why it always seemed to arrive at that time in the evening! I never managed to keep track of it, so possibly it came to those trees to roost for the night.

A few days into the holiday, I drove up to the north west corner of the island for a walk in the Laurel forest near a small village called Erjos. Having only seen three species of butterflies in the first three days, this proved to be a good move! I saw ten species of butterfly that day. Sadly, the first one was a road casualty, a Canary Red Admiral, Vanessa vulcania, making its last few flutters at the side of the road. It was a very striking butterfly, noticeably more of a deep red than our Red Admiral, with fewer white markings. Unfortunately, this was to be the only one I saw on our trip.

Once in Erjos, I walked out of the village, through some small fields where there were several Small Whites. I guess that the local cabbage production is severely impacted, as one small field had over 100 Small Whites amongst the Brassicas!

Outside the village, on a shady path, I saw my first Canary Speckled Wood, Pararge xiphioides. It was the first of about 50 I saw in the Laurel forest and they turned out to be the most common butterfly on the tracks through the forest.

A little further up the path, in a sunny spot, there were several Clouded Yellows, Colias croceus, chasing each other without stopping for a picture! This spot also proved attractive for Small Coppers, Lycaena phlaeas, and Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera.

Once into the cooler Laurel Forest, I saw my one and only Canary Grayling, Pseudotergumia wyssii, and later I saw a Canary Brimstone, Gonepteryx cleobule, flying towards me. It was rather ragged, but quite a bright yellow. Unfortunately neither of them stopped for a picture.

Further down the track I saw a Canary Large White, Pieris cheiranthi, on a thistle growing in a gorge below the path. There was too much vegetation between it and me for a picture, but later I saw another. After scrambling and sliding down the side of the gorge I did manage to get a few pictures, but not very good ones. They were worth all of the cuts and grazes, though! The Canary Large White is noticeably larger than our Large White and much more strongly marked. When it flies it appears to be yellow, black and white, but when it lands the yellow isn't so obvious.

The other butterfly I saw that day was a Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, that was at the side of the path back into Erjos.

Two days later we drove up to the Parque Nacional Del Teide. I was very surprised to see quite a number of flowering plants and shrubs in this high, dry landscape. At the visitor centre, close to 12,000 feet above sea level, there were plenty of Canary Blues, Cyclyrius webbianus, flying among the Shrubby Scabious and White Broom.

I saw what I assume were Bath Whites, Pontia daplidice, flying by. The Tenerife Green-striped White, Euchloe belemia hesperidum, also occurs up there, but I think it was a little too late in the season for it to have been them. There were also a few Clouded Yellows flying among the sparse vegetation.

The following day I dropped my wife and kids off at a water park at Puerto de la Cruz on the north of the island while I visited the botanical gardens. Unfortunately, it was a rather overcast day and the gardens are very leafy and shaded, so I only saw a couple of Small Whites there. So I went for a walk in the Pine forest instead!

Back in Puerto de la Cruz to pick up the family I saw a couple of African Migrants, Catopsilia florella, amongst the Small Whites. The flower beds outside the water park were teaming with Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli, and African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna.

A couple of days later I decided to go for a walk near a village called Masca where I had been told there were good walks. The village is reached down a death-defying road, consisting of nothing but hairpin bends on a steep mountain side. I couldn't find much in the way of paths to walk, but enjoyed walking along the road and among the terraces of vegetables. Amongst the numerous Small Whites there were quite a lot of Clouded Yellows laying eggs. Also Long-tailed Blues, Lampides boeticus, Bath Whites, Southern Brown Argus and Small Coppers. It was lovely watching Monarchs floating on the thermals at the side of the road.

One day we visited Siam Park, which claims to be the biggest water park in Europe. I had plenty of time to look for butterflies while queuing up for the water slides. Strangely, I only saw three butterflies, despite the lush vegetation and flowering plants. Later that week, back at our resort, we received a note through the door to say that they would be fumigating the gardens the following day. This consisted of one person with a knapsack sprayer spraying insecticide and another with what looked like a leaf blower puffing out smoke. This was to keep the cockroaches down, but I am sure this sort of treatment must also repel butterflies. And I think this probably explains the lack of butterflies at Siam Park, too.

On my second last day I drove up to the north east of the island to Anagar. Much of this area is a national park and covered in Laurel forest. I thought that probably the best area to look for butterflies would be around the edge of the forest, and I found an amazing road going down to a collection of houses called Bejia. Many of the houses were built into the rock faces and much of the area was terraced with various fruit and vegetables growing.

I walked down the road and then over a path to the neighbouring village of Los Batanes. This area proved to be very good for butterflies. It was much cooler than the south of the island (21 degrees Celsius as opposed to 28 degrees) and very green and productive. The first butterfly I saw was a Canary Blue, Cyclyrius webbianus, and it was strange seeing it in a completely different habitat to Mount Teide. During my walk I came across and another six or seven.

It was interesting that at the top of the road there were a lot of Canary Speckled Woods, but as I descended they became less common and further down the road the area was also alive with Small Whites and Bath Whites.

I saw one more Canary Large White, several Southern Brown Argus and a number of Clouded Yellows. Sadly, I didn't see any Canary Red Admirals, which was what I was hoping to find that day. I was told that they were quite common on the south of the island over the winter, but that they are rare during the summer due to the lack of flowers. They should still be around on the north of the island during the summer, though.

However, I did manage to see 17 species during our holiday. I was surprised not to see a Painted Lady and I did spend a lot of time checking out areas of grassland for Canary Skippers,  Thymelicus christi, without success. The only other butterfly that I potentially could have seen would have been a Cardinal, Argynnis pandora.

I would love to return to Tenerife, maybe in the spring time, as it is a fantastic destination for walking, once you get away from the developed areas.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Scotch Argus - Erebia aethiops

We are going through an amazing period for butterflies just now. There are literally hundreds flying at the moment, presumably because conditions have been perfect for them this year.

I visited my father in the Scottish Borders on Saturday and thought that I should be able to call in to an area where there is a colony of Scotch Argus butterflies, Erebia aethiops, on the way home. Unfortunately, the day turned out to be cloudy and it rained in the early afternoon, so I didn't think I would have a chance to see them. On the other hand I had been told that they are one of the few species to fly in overcast conditions.

Despite the weather, on the way home I thought I should at least have a look at the site that I had been told about. It was 5:30 in the evening, 15 degrees and cloudy, but I thought it was worth a look as I was in the area. I parked the car, crossed a golf course and walked down a track to a grassy area. There was no sign of any butterflies, and I was about to give up when I saw a small dark butterfly fly out of the grass ahead of me. I managed to catch up with it, switched on my camera and then heard it beep and switch off as the battery was flat!

I had another battery in the car, so I ran back and grabbed it. My poor son was waiting for me and now he was going to have to wait even longer. At least on the way back I was able to go straight to the right place. By now it was 6 pm and you normally don't see any butterflied at that time.

However, the Scotch Argus is obviously a hardy soul and over the next 10 or 15 minutes I saw about 30 of them. They seemed very timid and difficult to approach, but I did manage a few pictures. Unfortunately, when they land they tend to drop down into the grass and the cloudy weather made getting a clear picture almost impossible.

These are truly beautiful butterflies. Due to the light conditions the pictures don't do them justice. They are a dark chocolate brown, with bright orange markings containing black ocelli with white pupils. The white pupils really stand out very brightly.

The books give a wingspan of 40mm, but the sub-species occurring here, caledonia, is said to be smaller. Certainly the butterflies I saw seemed smaller than that.

The Scotch Argus occurs in scattered colonies across Scotland and northern England. It also occurs in central Europe.

I will definitely return to this site next year to look for these butterflies. Hopefully, it will be a sunny day and I will have more time to spend watching them.