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.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Sierra Nevada, Spain - Butterflies - July 2014

When looking through my butterfly books before we went on holiday to Spain, I kept noticing a little blob on the distribution maps to the east of Malaga. After further investigation I discovered this was the Sierra Nevada, a relatively isolated area of mountains and apparently the second highest range in Europe after the Alps. The highest peak is 3482 metres and due to its isolation many butterflies occur there that are not found in much of the rest of Spain.
120 species of butterflies have been recorded there and I am really grateful to Merche from http://waste.ideal.es/primeramariposas.htm who told me that July was a great time to look for butterflies there and she suggested a walk I should go on.
So on 4th July I got up early and drove for three hours from Alora to Hoya de la Mora. In winter this is a ski resort 2,550 metres up in the mountains. The road is blocked there, but if you want you can continue further up the mountains in a mini bus to over 3,100 metres.

The walk that had been suggested to me left the road at the barrier at Albergue Universitario and ran across the eastern slopes of the mountain to a stream called Borreguil de San Juan. The walk was only a couple of miles, but it took me three hours there and back because I spent most of my time watching butterflies!
Much of the landscape was very rocky with scree slopes and occasional green, damp areas. It was almost like walking through a giant rockery with the Alpine plants such as Sempervivum, Dianthus, Saxifrage and Gentian carpeting the ground.
Almost as soon as I set off an Apollo, Parnassius apollo nevadensis, landed on the slope above me. The subspecies occurring in the Sierra Nevada has orange markings within the ocelli, rather than the usual red. As the day warmed up I saw several of these big butterflies gliding up and down the hillsides, constantly on the move, and hardly ever landing.

I wasn’t able to identify most of the blues that I saw, until I looked at my pictures afterwards. Even then, I find it very difficult to differentiate between some species. I bought a great book about the butterflies of the Sierra Nevada “Las Mariposas Diurnas de Sierra Nevada”, which has detailed information about each species that lives there and a section on differentiating similar species. Unfortunately some of the characteristics mentioned in the book are not very apparent and the advice conflicts with information from other sources.
Both the Idas Blue, Plebejus idas, and the Silver-studded Blue, Plebejus argus, occur in the Sierra Nevada. The book says that for the Idas Blue the orange markings on the underside wings are more extensive and that the black spots have white rings round them. The fantastic Butterflies of Europe app says that the blue scales are more extensive on the hind wing of the Silver-studded Blue, but I have been told that this may not be the case in the Sierra Nevada! I have come to the conclusion, though, that those that I saw in this area were all Silver-studded Blues, but I would be happy to hear from anyone who thinks otherwise!

It was interesting that I could walk for 50 metres and see no butterflies and then come to an area where there were several flying around. It seemed that a subtle difference in habitat made a big difference in the number of butterflies.

This was the only Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, I saw that day.

I am pretty sure that the following pictures are all Escher’s Blue, Agrodiaetus escheri. These were the most common butterflies I saw high up in the mountains and they were mostly in areas around the prostrate Juniper scrub. They seem to have quite bold markings on the underside of the wings.

This Large Wall Brown, Lasiommata maera, flew across the path in front of me and kindly stopped for a picture. The form found in Sierra Nevada and much of the Iberian Peninsula is adrasta, which is lighter in colour with more extensive orange markings.

I descended a small path to a damp area with water running through it. Here I noticed the blues seemed a little smaller and lighter in colour. They turned out to be Nevada Blues, Polyommatus golgus.

This area also had quite a number of Common Blues flying in it. They were noticeably darker blue than the Nevada Blue. Recent genetic studies have revealed that in Europe the Common Blue is actually at least two different species, which look almost identical. Polyommatus icarus covers the majority of Europe, but Polyommatus celina occurs in the Iberian Peninsula and south east Europe. It is thought that one common ancestor split into the two species with celina occurring in north Africa and southern Europe and icarus inhabiting the colder north. As the climate varied over thousands of years the divide between the two species moved north or south. As if this isn't complicated enough the high, isolated Sierra Nevada, which is in the middle of the celina population has been found to also to be home to Polyommatus icarus. To make life even more confusing a third species, Polyommatus abdon, has been described from the mountains in south east Spain!
I have no idea which species of Common Blue I saw that day! They had much bolder markings than others I have seen, but the Common Blue is a very variable butterfly.

As I continued down to the Rio de San Juan I was excited to see some orange butterflies. They were very flighty and difficult to approach and they turned out to be Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae. They seemed more orange than those in Scotland.

It was here that I briefly saw my first Purple-shot Copper, Lycaena alciphron. Later I was to see more of them near the Albergue Universitario where I got into trouble for taking pictures close to their military building. After I showed the soldier the pictures of butterflies I had been taking we parted on good terms!

On my return to the car I saw some Clouded Yellows. Most of them didn't stop, but I managed a distant picture of this one. Looking at the picture I thought that it was a Berger's Clouded Yellow, Coleas alfacariensis, given the lack of a dark border showing through on the hind wing. However, I have been told that it is standard Clouded Yellow, Coleas crocea.

After that, there was a bit of a Fritillary-fest. First a Heath Fritillary, Melitaea athalia

Then a Niobe Fritillary, Argynnis niobe. The subspecies occurring in Sierra Nevada is altonevadensis, which is said to be smaller and more brightly coloured than the nominate form.

A Queen of Spain Fritillary, Issoria lathonia.

And finally a Cardinal Fritillary, Argynnis pandora seitzi, just as I was getting into the car.

Frustrating moment of the morning was having a Spanish Brassy Ringlet, Erebia Hispania, in the view finder only for it to be chased away by a blue just before I managed to take a picture!
Other butterflies seen that morning were a Bath White and Wall Brown.
After that I drove down the mountain and stopped a couple of times to check what was flying in different areas. I'll put those butterflies on a separate post.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Malaga, Spain - Butterflies - July 2014

For our family holiday this year we spent the first two weeks of July in southern Spain. We returned to the villa that we rented in 2012 near Alora, about 40 kilometres north west of Malaga. When we were there two years ago Spain had been experiencing a particularly dry spring and hot summer and everything was really parched. This year the weather patterns had been more normal and it was a little greener, but strangely, fewer butterflies seemed to be in the air. Not surprisingly most of the species I saw were the same as last time!

As soon as we walked out of the airport I saw a Large White, Pieris brassicae, flying across one of the flower beds. I saw a few more of them during our holiday, but they never seemed to land!

The first morning I took a walk up the hills behind the villa and came across some Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, in the same location I had seen them before.

On the way back down I saw a few Dusky Heaths, Coenonympha dorus. These were a lot smaller than I had remembered and I thought they were a different species, until I checked in the book! They are beautiful little butterflies with a silver line running along the edge of their wings, although those I saw this time were quite faded.

What was strange was that these were really common two years ago, but I only saw about six or seven of them that morning and no more on my other saunters around the countryside near the village.

Back down to my usual butterfly patch and I saw a blue butterfly which I expected to be a Common Blue. However, it turned out to be a lovely fresh Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous.

Over the holiday I would regularly visit the area where I had seen so many butterflies exactly two years earlier, but I was always a little disappointed by how few there were there. I suspect that this little valley with a lot of Thyme, Rosemary and Lavender in it was like an oasis to butterflies two years ago, but this year there was more choice for them to feed in other areas.

I think I only saw two Common Blues, Polyommatus celina, this year, whereas last year I saw several of them each day in this area.

I saw a few more Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, which are really beautiful little things.

The butterfly that was the most common two years ago was the Southern Gatekeeper, Pyronia cecilia. These seem to like any slightly shaded ravine and I remember walking along a dried-up stream last time and hundreds of them flying up in front of me. This year I probably only saw about ten in total!

I think the butterfly below is a Sage Skipper, Syrinthus proto, and it patrolled a short section of the track leading to our villa. Without fail it would be there any time I walked past flying up and down a section about 20 metres long, seeing off any other butterflies that should dare to enter his area!

The other skipper that I saw was new to me. I think this is a Mediterranean Skipper, Gegenes nostrodamus.

One morning I had a brief view of a Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea, and managed one quick photo before it continued on its way.

Most of the other butterflies I saw were ones that flew through the garden of the villa. Many of them didn't give me a chance to grab my camera, including a Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus, and a Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni. We regularly had a Small White, Pieris rapae, visit a Lantana plant near the swimming pool. I not sure if it was the same individual that came back day after day, but it only seemed to be attracted to this one plant.

I saw this Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina, in the garden and I saw a couple more in the hills close-by.

Geranium Bronze, Cacyreus marshalli, were the only butterfly that I saw more of this year than on my previous visit. Normally, I have only seen them in parks or gardens, but this time I came across them out in the countryside quite regularly. I imagine this must be because there were more flowers available for them to feed on this year. This Geranium Bronze was enjoying the fruits of a Lantana and it stayed in this position for over half an hour one evening.

On our last visit I saw one Bath White, Pontia daplidice, very briefly along a track. This year I also saw one, but this time in the garden and it stayed around a Lantana plant for a while allowing me to take a few pictures!

This Long-tailed Blue, Lampides boeticus, flew manically around the garden all day without stopping. Eventually, one evening it decided to refuel, allowing me to positively identify it and get a picture. A shame it didn't stop in brighter weather to allow me to get a better picture, though!

I went for a walk down to the river in the village, where last time I had seen quite a few butterflies. Unfortunately for me, there was a lot more water in the river this year, so I wasn't able to cross over to the better side. However, the next morning I drove down to another shingle area by the river where I saw some Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria aegeria, and my target species, African Grass Blues, Zizeeria knysna. No trip to southern Spain is complete for me without me seeing these!!

Having checked through my butterfly book before we left I thought that there were about 90 species of butterflies occurring in this part of Spain at this time of year. By the end of the holiday I had only seen 19 species! I know that many species will have quite specific habitats and thinking of the butterflies that occur back home, you really have to know exactly where to look to find some small colonies of butterflies. When I had climbed to the top of the hill behind the villa I had looked down into the valley on the other side and wondered if there would be different butterflies on the northern slopes of these hill. So, on the last day of our holiday I drove round to the other side of the hills for a short walk.

As soon as I stopped the car I saw a large, dark butterfly land at the side of the road. It flew off before I could spot it, but within a few metres I saw another and it turned out to be a Striped Grayling, Pseudotergumia fidia. Another new butterfly for me. I walked up into the Pine and Eucalyptus forest and saw a Striped Grayling about every 20 metres. They seemed much bigger than the illustration in the book, but I was thrilled to see a new species before we left Spain.

It was great seeing all of these butterflies. Although there weren't as many as I saw during my previous visit, at least I saw almost as many species. However, the butterflies I saw on a visit to the Sierra Nevada mountains more than made up for the lack of butterflies around the villa in Alora. More to follow...

Friday, 18 July 2014

One Hundred

We are just back from a lovely two-week holiday to Spain. In between relaxing I managed to fit in a few walks to look for butterflies, with pretty good results and I saw quite a few species I had't seen before. I have still to sort out all of my pictures, but this little butterfly is significant for me. It is the 100th species I have seen since I have been interested in butterflies!

It is a Nevada Blue, Polyommatus golgus, which I saw on a trip to the Sierra Nevada mountains. It only occurs there and on one other mountain range in Spain, so I am pleased to have quite a rare butterfly for my 100th!

Before we went away I had seen 96 species of butterflies and I think that I added about 15 species to that during this holiday.

It isn't a very good picture, I am afraid, but it captures a moment in time. I did manage to get some better pictures later in the day.