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, 16 December 2014

Northern Brown Argus - Aricia artaxerxes

I have just been sorting through some pictures from earlier in the year. It seems appropriate, when we are only a few days away from the shortest day, to put up some pictures I took a couple of days before the longest day this summer. These are some lovely little Northern Brown Argus - Aricia artaxerxes which I saw in the Lammermuir Hills in June. It is great to think that in five days time the days will gradually start getting longer again!

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

November Butterflies

I had a very interesting day on Saturday, when I was invited to join a group counting Grey Seal pups on the islands of Inchkeith and Inchmickery in the Firth of Forth. The reason I was there was to identify butterflies that they had seen hibernating in old underground military buildings in previous years. Both islands have a long history of military defense, but I hadn't realised that they are almost entirely covered in old military buildings of various ages.

Last year the group had noticed large "clumps" of butterflies on the walls and ceilings of some of the rooms. This year they were very disappointed that we only saw one or two butterflies at a time. However, I found it all very interesting.

We found a total of 77 Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae, and 7 Peacocks, Aglais io,  on Inchkeith and two more Small Tortoiseshells flew past us while we were looking at the seals.
Small Tortoiseshell
These were the two species that I thought we would find, but I also wondered if we would have found a Comma, as they have done so well this year. I also wondered if any Red Admirals or Painted Ladies would have tried to tough it out here, rather than migrating south for the winter.
There are seven Small Tortoiseshells in this picture along with a Herald moth.
The butterflies seemed to be quite specific about their requirements, only being found in the underground buildings. There were none in the tunnels or rooms with direct access to the outdoors. They were all in rooms that had just the slightest hint of daylight and no perceivable movement of air. When we searched rooms that were further underground we found nothing. So it seems that they had found locations with a nice steady temperature, but where they would be able to perceive the arrival of spring. I wondered how the butterflies had found these locations. Had they flown over to the island specifically to hibernate, or were they already resident there?

Mother Grey Seal keeping an eye on us.
The pups were pretty sweet!
The buildings on Inchmickery were all above ground and didn't appear to have any butterflies at all.
I would love to return another year and see if there are more butterflies. This year we had a cooler than normal August and September and a milder than usual October. This may have upset the normal behaviour of the butterflies. Had August and September been nearer their normal temperatures and the weather then quickly cooled in October, possibly more butterflies would have found their way into these buildings.
We were honored with a flypast of Pink-footed Geese.
I now need to find similar locations on the mainland to see if butterflies are hibernating there. The islands will remain a little warmer over the winter than further in land, but the butterflies will have to hibernate somewhere.
It seems that the more I learn about butterflies, the more questions I have!

Friday, 31 October 2014

Butterfly Transect

I find co-ordinating the local butterfly records really interesting. I hear first-hand about rare species that have been spotted and occasionally about something new. However, because more people are sending in records each year, I wonder if I am getting a false impression about how well the butterflies are doing here.
The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme operates a system of butterfly transects, which give a much better picture of how the local butterflies are doing. Each week between April and September I walk a set route near where I work and I count the number of butterflies I see within an area five metres in front of me and two and a half metres to either side.
I started my transect four years ago after noticing how many butterflies there were in a meadow where I often walk during my lunch break. I was a little disappointed when half way through the year the weather took a turn for the worse and the number of butterflies reduced accordingly. The following year it was even worse!
Last week I plotted the results of the last four years transects onto graphs and I noticed an interesting correlation between the number of butterflies and the weather at the time.
On the graphs below, week 1 is the first week in April and week 26 is the last week in September. Normally butterflies will start flying in April and peak about in the middle of May, there is a quiet period in June and then the summer species come out peaking again about the end of July.
In 2011 we had a great spring, but a horrible cold, wet summer. You can see that the butterfly numbers picked up well, but then dropped off when the bad weather hit. I counted a total of 506 butterflies that year.

2012 was the worst year I can remember. It seemed to rain almost every day! I was surprised to see any butterflies on the few occasions when the sun came out. However, you can see that the number of butterflies was considerably down on normal. I only 361 butterflies on my transect that year.

In contrast 2013 was one of the best years I can remember. It is interesting to see that the spring populations were low as a result of the bad weather their parents had experienced in 2012. I still managed to count 523 butterflies on my transect, though.

This year the weather was great again, although it did cool down quite a bit in August and September. The graph above shows what I would consider to be close to a normal number of butterflies. I counted a total of 1175 butterflies on my transect this year. So this really confirms that 2014 has been a fantastic year for butterflies here.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Large Skipper - Ochlodes sylvanus

Over the last few years we have been discovering more and more species of butterflies moving northwards into East Lothian. I had a look at records for 1970 which shows only 12 species of butterflies occurring here along with a couple of regular migrants. Last year I received records of 23 different species in East Lothian.
Earlier this year, I wondered if it would be possible for this trend to continue. And sure enough it has. In an earlier post I mentioned that Green Hairstreaks had been found in the hills just inside East Lothian, but they were in an area that I hadn't realised I should have been recording in, so they may have been there for years. That was species number 24!
On 16th June I received a message from a friend from the Scottish Borders. He had been in East Lothian looking for orchids and on his way back to the Borders he had found some Large Skippers, Ochlodes sylvanus, on a bit of waste land just over a bridge from East Lothian. They were literally thirty feet outside East Lothian!
Checking the distribution maps for Large Skippers from 1999, I saw that they occur in all of England and Wales and stop almost at the border with Scotland. So, it seems that they have extended their range northwards by at least 40 kilometres in the last 15 years.
The following day I went to have a look for the Large Skippers with a friend and we managed to find the colony on the other side of the bridge. However, despite searching similar habitat on our side of the bridge we didn't find any in East Lothian!
However, two days later an enthusiast was walking the coastal path just inside East Lothian and he spotted a Large Skipper on a bramble leaf at the side of the path. Our first East Lothian Large Skipper and species number 25!!
Only two days later another Large Skipper was seen a few miles away, in a spot that I had checked out the week before!
I was pleased to know that we had yet another new species here, but I was a little frustrated that I hadn't seen one myself inside East Lothian. However, only a few days later I was visiting a community project not far from where the Large Skippers had been seen, and I thought it was worth checking out an area of grass next to the road.
I was delighted to almost stand on a Large Skipper! It was quite scruffy compared with those we had seen just over the border, but I didn't mind! It was my first East Lothian Large Skipper!
It seems that the Large Skipper has followed the same route into East Lothian that the Speckled Wood and Wall Brown did only a few years earlier. I think that the hills to the south of East Lothian form a barrier for butterflies, but they are able to skirt the hills along the east coast.
It will be interesting to see if the Large Skippers move across the county as quickly as those two species have.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Speckled Wood Invasion

Last Thursday a friend and I went to a woodland to look for signs of Purple Hairstreak butterflies (Favonius quercus), after being told of a possible sighting there five or six years ago. Sadly, we didn't see any Hairstreaks, but we were almost overwhelmed by Speckled Woods!

Up until 2009 we had no records of Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria, in East Lothian. In recent years they have been extending their range northwards from northern England into the Scottish Borders and in 2009 one was seen just over the boundary in East Lothian. As with other species, their expansion seems to be blocked by the Lammermuir Hills, but they are able to get around the hills on the east coast. Later that year we had a second sighting reported to us further up the coast and each year since the number has gone up as they spread westwards right across East Lothian.

In an area of woodland about 200 metres by 400 metres we saw hundreds of Speckled Woods. Probably about 400, or more. Everywhere we looked they were dropping out of the trees, basking on the path or sunning themselves on a leaf. It is remarkable to see so many butterflies anywhere, but considering that they have only been here for five years, I couldn't believe how many there were.

There were quite a number of darker individuals among them, which I hadn't seen before.

I particularly liked this Sycamore and Ash tree that have fused together in a loving embrace!

I feel so lucky that we have Speckled Woods up here now. I have never seen so many butterflies in one place. The weather is becoming rather autumnal and there are not as many butterflies flying as there were a few weeks ago. Apart from the Speckled Woods, I only saw four other butterflies.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Alameda Botanical Gardens, Gibraltar - Butterflies - July 2014

During our recent holiday to southern Spain, we paid a quick visit to Gibraltar. While my wife and kids went up to the top of the rock in the cable car, I spent a couple of hours in Alameda Botanical Gardens, as I remembered that it was a good spot for butterflies when we visited a couple of years earlier.
This time it was just as good!

One of the first flower beds I came across had several Holly Blues, Celastrina argiolus, enjoying the flowers.

There were Small Whites. Pieris rapae, everywhere and they were certainly the most numerous butterflies in the gardens.

I returned to an area where two years ago I had seen a lot of Southern Brown Argus, Geranium Bronze, Common Blues and Small Coppers feeding on the flowers. Unfortunately this year the flowers were not doing as well and there were a lot fewer butterflies at this spot. I did see this nice Common Blue, Polyommatus celina, though.

While I was watching it, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a large butterfly drifting past. Eventually I tracked it down in the high branches of a pine tree. It turned out to be a Two-tailed Pasha, Charaxes jasius. According to the books this flies in May/June and mid August to October, so I was surprised to see it the second week in July.
Nearer the entrance I spotted another enjoying something sticky on the lid of a bin.
In another part of the gardens, I noticed some more in a tree. As I watched, it was apparent that there were seven or eight of them, some quite fresh-looking and others very ragged. I don't know what kind of tree this is, but it was obviously very attractive to the Pashas and other insects.
They would keep chasing each other from the choice fruit and fly across the path to the trees on the other side of the path. I spent quite a bit of time tracking them trying to get a picture, but they would always land high in the trees. At one point I completely lost sight of one of them as it flew past me. I couldn't figure out where it had gone, but then noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I had a Two Tailed Pasha sitting, parrot-fashion, on my shoulder! Unfortunately my camera strap was too short for me to get a selfie with it!

Close to where the Two Tailed Pashas were flying was a patch of Milkweed and right on cue a Monarch, Danaus plexippus, landed on one of the plants. They have their own little breeding colony of Monarchs at the botanical gardens and I saw quite a few during my visit.

Also enjoying the Milkweed was this Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera.

There were a few Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria aegeria, enjoying the dappled light.

This rather worn-out Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous, was the only one I saw that day.

And I only saw one Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas lusitanicus. This little butterfly occurs over most of Europe, but I only saw two on my whole holiday.

There were plenty of Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, there, though.

Also flying in the botanical gardens were Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, Geranium Bronzes, Cacyreus marshalli, and Cleopatras, Gonepteryx cleopatra. And on our walk from the border to the bus station we saw a Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, and a Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea.

Our trip to Gibraltar added two new species to my holiday list bringing it up to 48 species, 20 of which were new species for me!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Sierra Nevada, Spain - Butterflies - July 2014 (3)

Further down the mountains at about 1,800 metres above sea level, the road entered an area of Cedar and Pine trees. I pulled over and walked into an area of scrub and meadow. There were plenty of different butterflies everywhere I looked here and I am very grateful to Mikhail and Guy Padfield from the UK Butterflies Forum for their help with some of the identifications!

This Iberian Marbled White, Melanargia galathea, was flying at the side of the road. There were several other Marbled Whites flying amongst the scrub, but I can't be sure they were the same species. The Spanish Marbled White and the Western Marbled White both also occur in the Sierra Nevada.

I spent some time watching this butterfly until it gave me a chance to photograph it. It turned out to be a Grayling, Hipparchia semele, although it is a little different from those I see in Scotland. There are several other species of grayling occurring in the Sierra Nevada, but the others proved elusive for me!

I think this is a Safflower Skipper, Pyrgus carthami. There were a lot of similar skippers in that area, but they were mostly whizzing about and they rarely settled.

After much indecisiveness, I have come to the conclusion that this is an Oriental Meadow Brown, Hyponephele lupinnus. The undulations on the rear wings being the deciding feature.

When I saw this little skipper I thought it was a Small Skipper, but closer examination of the pictures showed it to be an Essex Skipper, Thymelicus lineola hemmingi. There were quite a number of them flying around in this little area.

There were a lot of these little blues flying there. I assumed they were Silver-studded Blues, but again thanks to Mikhail, we now think they are Idas Blues, Plebejus idas nevadensis. In the Sierra Nevada the Silver-studded Blues tend to have lighter undersides to their wings (as per my earlier post). The Idas Blues have a grey background to the underside of their wings with a lighter postdiscal area. (Thanks also to "Las Mariposas de Sierra Nevada" and Google Translate!).

Given that all the males in this area were Idas Blues, I am assuming that this female is also an Idas Blue.

The other blues flying there were Common Blues, Polyommatus celina.

This Marsh Fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia beckeri, was the only fritillary there that I was able to photograph. Several others, large and small, flew past me!

After taking pictures of so many female blues, assuming that some of them were going to be an argus, it turns out that the last butterfly I photographed was the only argus I saw all day. It is a Mountain Argus, Aricia montensis.

Up on the top of the mountains the temperature was 10 degrees, but down here it was 18 degrees, and I think that is why the butterflies were so much more active. However, this was a lot cooler than Granada a few miles further down the road where it was 36 degrees when I drove past!
There were so many butterflies in this area that I wouldn't be surprised if there were twice the number of species that I managed to identify there. I also saw my first ever Black-veined White, Aporia crataegi. It was much bigger than I expected! There were also Cleopatras, Gonepteryx cleopatra mauretanica, Large Whites, Pieris brassicae vazquezi and Small Whites, Pieris rapae, flying there along with a lot more butterflies that I couldn't identify. I was only there for about 15 minutes, but I would have loved to have pitched a tent and spent several days there!
Sadly I couldn't spend more time there as I had a three-hour drive ahead of me to get back to the villa. All the driving was well worth it, though. In the five hours I had spent in the Sierra Nevada I had seen 33 different species, with 17 of them being species I had never seen before. Definitely my best ever day looking for butterflies!