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.

Monday, 25 November 2013

East Lothian Butterflies 2013

The weather in 2013 was a big improvement on the previous two years. Although the winter wasn’t particularly hard, it dragged on for a long time, and spring didn’t arrive until half way through April. This, and I think last year’s very poor weather, had an impact on the number of butterflies early in the year. Other than a couple of sightings in March, the first records of butterflies didn’t come in until 26th April!
However, from mid April until the end of August, the weather was reasonably warm, dry and sunny. It was never particularly hot, so there was a continuous source of food plants and the number of butterflies really picked up during July and August. The weather in September and October was rather disappointing, so we didn’t get the influx of butterflies migrating north, that we were hoping for. The first frosts arrived in early November, putting an end to the butterfly season.

Peacock, Aglais io
The first record I received this year was a Peacock, seen on North Berwick Law on the 1st March. There were a few seen throughout the spring, but the number seen dropped at the end of May. In August, though, there was a sudden explosion of Peacocks when the next generation appeared. Numbers through August were the highest I can remember seeing.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae
The first record this year of a Small Tortoiseshell in East Lothian was on 2nd March. After that they appeared regularly through to May. Like the Peacock their numbers picked up considerably with the new generation in July and August.
Small Tortoiseshell

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui
One Painted Lady was recorded on 25th April, but it wasn’t until the end of June that more were seen having worked their way northwards through Europe. They weren’t seen up here in great numbers this year, though.
Painted Lady

Green-veined White, Pieris napi
The butterfly season kicked off properly with the first record of a Green-veined White on 26th April. Numbers were a little low, but they were seen regularly up until the middle of June. In July the second generation appeared with a vengeance. It seems that the weather conditions must have been perfect for them this year with numbers peaking around the middle of August.
Green-veined White

Small White, Pieris rapae
The first record of a Small White this year was on 29th April, which is more than a month later than last year and two months later than 2011. This just shows how their emergence is related to the weather. Like the Green-veined Whites, their numbers were low for the spring generation, but when the second generation started to appear at the beginning of August they were seen in far greater numbers than they have been for many years.
Small White

Comma, Polygonia c-album
The Comma is a butterfly that isn’t seen in great numbers here. It was first recorded in East Lothian in 2004 and is now seen all over the county, but rarely more than one at a time. The first one recorded here this year was on 30th April and a few records kept trickling in until the end of October. I find it odd that we never see it in greater numbers like the Small Tortoiseshell or Peacock with which it shares a similar life cycle and food plant.

Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines
The first Orange Tip seen this year was on 7th May. Their numbers were lower than average, but considering the rain and flooding we had last year this isn’t surprising. They don’t have a second summer generation like the other whites, but hopefully they should do well next year. Strangely, I didn’t see very many eggs or caterpillars, which are normally fairly easy to spot.
Orange Tip

Large White, Pieris brassicae
The first Large White was seen on 7th May. Generally we don’t see Large Whites in great numbers here, however this year, as with the other species from August onwards we had unusually high numbers of Large Whites. It wasn’t unusual to see more than 40 on a buddleia bush.
Large White

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria
Speckled Woods are butterflies that excite me a lot! In 2009 we received our first couple of records of them in East Lothian. The following year I found a small colony of them and since then they have increased in numbers year on year. The first record this year was on 14th May. After that records came in from all over the north and middle of the county. It seems that they first arrived here on the east coast having spread up from the Scottish Borders. This year they have worked their way almost along the entire length of the coast and up the River Tyne valley. It is amazing to see such a rapid spread of this species and next year I won’t be surprised if they are seen all over the county.
Speckled Wood

Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus
I only received one record of a Holly Blue this year on the 21st May. This was sad after they had been seen in various locations over the previous two years. Hopefully this one sighting means that they are still clinging on at the long-established colony in the west of East Lothian.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
The first Red Admiral we saw this year was on May 22nd. Thereafter they were seen a few times, but compared with other butterflies this year, they weren't around in great numbers. I think the long winter was too much for any of them to survive and we didn't get very many making their way up from Europe.

Small Copper, Lyceana phlaeas
The weather this year seemed to suit Small Coppers with the first one being recorded on 30th May and thereafter higher than normal numbers being spotted. It was interesting to note that last year the majority of those seen were of the caeruleopunctata aberration, with a number of blue spots on their hind wings. However, this year very few aberrations were noted. It is interesting to speculate whether the aberration is a result of the climate, or quality of the caterpillar food plant, or for some other reason.
Small Copper

Wall Brown, Lamiommata megera
Like the Speckled Woods, Wall Browns were first recorded in East Lothian only a few years ago, but they don’t seem to have spread as quickly. We had a new record of them on North Berwick Law, so they have spread about half way along the coast in that time. The first record this year was on 30th May. They seem to occur mostly on the coast, but in August I saw one six kilometres inland at Woodhall Dean.
Wall Brown

Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus
The first Small Heath was recorded on 2nd June. It is a common butterfly along the coast in East Lothian and it is also found in the Lammermuir Hills. This year they appeared to do as well as ever.
Small Heath

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus
The common Blue had a fairly normal year. I think that because they have come from eggs that were laid last year, they seem to be affected less by this year's good weather. The first Common Blue was seen on 16th June and they were on the wing until the middle of September.
Common Blue

Ringlet, Aphantopus hyperantus
Ringlets have a very short flight period. They occur in damp grassy areas and normally start to appear in late June, and this year they turned up right on cue on 21st June. The number of Ringlets on my transect this year was lower than normal, but that isn't surprising given that the area was flooded twice last year. At other sites around East Lothian there were good numbers of Ringlets.

Grayling, Hipparchia semele
The Grayling was restricted to a couple of very small sites in East Lothian, with the odd record of them being found at other coastal sites in the past, but these seem to be one-offs. The first Grayling recorded this year was on 25th June at one of the established sites. Last year a new colony was discovered on a re-landscaped mining spoil heap close to one of their other colonies. When I visited this colony in mid July I counted 80 individuals in a short visit, double the number that I saw last year.

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
Meadow Browns seemed to do very well this year. The first record was on 25th June and they were seen in good numbers up until the end of August. I only saw one on my transect this year, but again, this isn’t surprising given the flooding we had in that area last year.
Meadow Brown

Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis aglaja
The Dark Green Fritillary is a lovely bright butterfly that occurs in many coastal areas and valleys in the Lammermuir Hills. The first one was seen in East Lothian this year on 30th June. They never occur in great numbers, and this year proved to be about average for them.
Dark Green Fritillary

Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxerxes
I am aware of four colonies of Northern Brown Argus in East Lothian, but I am sure there are probably more in the Lammermuir Hills. The colonies are very small, one being based around a patch of their food plant – the Rockrose, Helianthemum nummularium on a golf course and another on a small patch of Rockrose in a private garden.  I tend to go and specifically look for them where I know they occur and this year they seemed to be a little later than normal, but in reasonable numbers.
Northern Brown Argus

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Boloria selene
Having visited a reserve in the Scottish Borders this year to see Small Pear-bordered Fritillaries, I was delighted to find them at a site just inside East Lothian a couple of weeks later. There have previously been a few unconfirmed sightings of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries in East Lothian, but this time I saw them long enough and took some pictures which confirmed their identification. It is funny how seeing a butterfly elsewhere can lead to identifying them in different sites. If I hadn’t seen those in the Scottish Borders I may have dismissed these as Dark Green Fritillaries and not looked any closer!
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris
Another very exciting record this year was the discovery of a number of Small Skippers at Aberlady Local Nature Reserve. There had been three isolated sightings of Small Skippers at two locations in East Lothian the previous two years, but on 12th July I received an excited phone call from a local volunteer who had found more than ten of them on a patch of thistles in the reserve.  She went on to find more at the reserve and I then received other records of them at three other locations within three kilometres of this site. It is great to hear that they are doing well and if we have good weather next year I am sure we will find them at various other locations.
Small Skipper

Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus
We only very rarely see Clouded Yellows here. I saw one thirteen years ago and a colleague saw one seven years ago. This year we received two records. The first was seen in North Berwick on 31st July and the following day we were told of one about 25 kilometres further along the coast in Musselburgh. I guess it must have been the same individual. In August and September high numbers arrived in southern England from the continent. They were seen laying eggs and I was hoping that we would be invaded by the next generation. Unfortunately the cold weather proved too much for them and they didn't venture up here!

All together this has been a fantastic year for butterflies. In total I received sightings of 23 different species, which I think must be a record for East Lothian. Only ten years ago eight of those species hadn't been recorded here. It is amazing that so many species continue to expand their range into East Lothian. We seem to be losing more and more habitat, and yet the butterflies seem to be better than ever. I wonder what the next new species will be. I can't wait for next year!


  1. I love the Green-veined White with the wildflower, the skipper, and the Comma; you've got quite a selection here and what an ability to find them!!!

    1. Maria,
      This year was so good for butterflies. It was lovely seeing so many.

  2. Congrats!!!

    I'm glad to hear that it was an amazing year.
    Thanks for sharing it with all of us. ;)

    1. Jonny,
      Yes, it was a great year for me. I suspect that you can probably find 23 species in a day in Singapore, though!!!

  3. Hello Nick!
    All together, I observed in the south of France about same proportion of individuals in many of these species.
    Painted ladies were quite scarce this summer but I was surprised to see one specimen in my garden as late as the 31srt of October.
    Great pics, I especially love the Orange tip, wings opened.
    Thanks for sharing this info.

    1. Thanks Noushka. That is really interesting. Despite the good weather here, not many Painted Ladies arrived in SE Scotland. I believe that much depends on the weather and food source for the caterpillars in North Africa. If they do well, then thousands will migrate into Europe, breeding on the way. Those are the years when we get them in greater numbers here, and it isn't really the weather in Scotland that impacts on numbers. We do tend to get them late in the season, once they have worked their way up here. It sounds as though conditions in North Africa weren't ideal and that has impacted on numbers throughout Europe.

  4. You have photo-documented some of the most lovely butterflies around.The Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock are particularly attractive.

    1. Thanks Elsie,
      They are lovely. The Peacock in particular looks quite exotic!

    2. Your photos are crisp and lovely. This Panasonic Lumix FZ150 camera - is this a DSLR ?

    3. No, it is what I think is referred to as a "bridge camera". You can see a picture of it here:
      I have to say that I am really pleased with it. It seems quite fool-proof. It may not produce pictures up to the standard of a DSLR, but it is easier to carry around and there is no need to change lenses!

    4. Even though it is bridge camera its performance is excellent. It does the job perfectly. This simply shows that it is the "Singer and not the Song" With DSLR, I sometimes get too shallow DOF and thus not all parts of the butterfly or flower is in focus.

    5. I've looked through your posts several times and each time I still see something new in the butterflies. They are indeed lovely. The butterlfies that I photgraphed are those found in my garden, so there's not much variety.

    6. Thanks Elsie. I am pleased that you enjoy my posts! I love reading about what you see in your garden in Malaysia. It is all so exotic for me! The birds and flowers seem so much more colourful and I am sure you probably see more different species of butterflies in your garden than I do in all of Scotland! For me, also, it is lovely to see flowers and butterflies at this time of year, which I certainly don't see over here just now!

    7. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  5. Hi Nick,
    What great images of beautiful creatures. I love the Peacock and the Tortoise Shell. You did a great job getting the tiny kind; I just can't seem to get them. Maybe the mozzie repellent I have smeared all over me ;)? What camera are you using? Thanks for your help with the ID on my blog.

    1. Hi Sue,
      My current camera, that I have had for about a year now is a Panasonic Lumix FX150. Before that I used a little Canon compact that had a very good macro, but required me to get within a few centimetres of the butterflies. The Panasonic is fantastic, as I can zoom in to the butterflies from about two metres away, so I don't need to get so close to them. It still needs quite a bit of stealth, but makes photographing them much easier. I suspect that mosquito repellent may also repel butterflies, but I was told in St Lucia that it attracts flies!!
      I can really recommend the FZ150. It is a bridge camera, with a X24 lens. It obviously isn't as good as an SLR with a good lens, but it is a lot lighter to carry and there is no need to change lenses to take pictures of landscapes and then close-ups.

  6. Wow you have a lot of beautiful butterflies, and the shots are lovely too. Some of them are seen here too, although i am not sure if the same species. That Pieris and common blue I see also in our place. Chasing butterflies is sometimes also my preoccupation, i have posted many in my 2 blogs too.

    1. Hi Andrea,
      I have just found your Pure Oxygen Generators blog. There are some lovely pictures there and I particularly enjoyed the butterfly posts - the Catopsilia caterpillars and chrysalis in particular.

  7. Bingo!! I managed to post my comment to you, what a relief! I missed this post when I was on my blogging break in November, and it's fantastic! Sooo many sightings of some beautiful butterflies, and the images are so sharp. I couldn't stop looking at the Dark Green Fritillary, what a gorgeous photo,such a striking butterfly, as is the Painted Lady, Orange tip and Peacock, all beautifully photographed.
    Warm regards.

    1. Well done Sonjia. Thank you for persisting!
      That was the first time a Dark Green Fritillary has posed for me like that. Normally I see them with their wings open. The underside of fritillary often are more beautiful than the upper side. My Lumix camera is really great. It allows me to zoom in to a butterfly from about two metres away, so I don't disturb them and I am so pleased with the quality of pictures it takes.