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.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Back to Sierra Nevada

When I visited the Sierra Nevada on 4th July I had been disappointed to see so few butterflies in the mountains because of the high winds. I was delighted to see so many species in a lower meadow, but it seemed a shame to be in Spain and miss the opportunity to see some very special butterflies that live high in the Sierra Nevada.

So, on 10th July I drove back to take another look. I was very relieved when I arrived that it was a lovely sunny, still day, so I set of up the mountain from the Hoya de la Mora car park.

Initially, I didn’t see many butterflies, but suddenly I found myself in the middle of a colony of Nevada Blues, Polyommatus golgus. There were at least 20 of these beautiful butterflies catching the morning sun in a sheltered area.

A little further up the mountain I noticed a subtle change in the shade of blue and realised that I was now walking amongst Escher’s Blues, Polyommatus escheri. I was interested to notice that they were in discrete colonies, whereas on previous occasions I have seen these two species sharing the same space.

I continued up the mountain to an area where I had seen Zullich’s Blues, Agriades zullichi, in the past. I spent some time searching the area, with little luck. The ground seemed quite churned up, as if cattle had been grazing there on the very sparse vegetation. Certainly when I look back at pictures taken in the same area two years ago, it was a lot greener then.

I found some Spanish Argus, Aricia morronensis, which look quite similar.

And two or three Painted Ladies, Vanessa cardui.

There were also a few Spanish Brassy Ringlets, Erebia hispania, but as usual they were really difficult to approach without disturbing them.

Finally, I saw a Zullich’s Blue. They are very difficult to follow, as they fly low and blend into the background. Those that I saw looked very worn, but just as I was about to leave I saw a fresher-looking female. I was delighted to see this lovely butterfly again, but it is a little concerning that I only saw five individuals. Two years ago I estimate seeing more than 15 in this same location.

I then headed back down the mountain towards a stream that I have visited a few times in the past. It was interesting to see the difference in the butterflies I saw this time. The numbers were certainly lower than I had previously seen. There were the occasional Nevada Blue and Escher’s Blue, but the Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus, was more numerous.

There were very few Silver-studded Blues, Plebejus argus, in amongst the low-growing junipers. On previous visits there were a lot more numerous.

Occasionally I would see a Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae, or Wall Brown on the more rocky slopes.

Down at the stream and along the wet grassy areas, where last year I had seen several Meadow Fritillaries, there were surprisingly few butterflies this year. I crossed the stream and searched a scrubby area, which had looked good from a distance, but amazingly there were no butterflies there, other than a couple of Small Coppers, Lycaena phlaeas.

The highlight for me was a beautiful Cardinal Fritillary, Argynnis pandora, that was sun bathing on a rock in the stream.

On my way back to the car I saw a couple of Small Whites and a long chase eventually allowed me to identify a Bath White. These white butterflies reminded me that I hadn’t seen any Apollos this trip. Just as I thought that, one flew past me and glided down the hill side. What a difference from two years ago when I saw so many.

Towards the end of my walk, I was surprised to find a snow bank blocking my route. I diverted around it and rejoined the path on the other side, which was wet with snowmelt. I was delighted to see some butterflies puddling on the path.

There were two Cardinals, two Small Tortoise shells and three blues.

The blues turned out to be a Common Blue, a Nevada Blue and an Escher’s Blue, demonstrating nicely the subtle differences between the species.

Had this been my first visit to the Sierra Nevada I would have thought that there were a lot of butterflies, but having visited previously I noticed that numbers were a lot lower than on previous visits. It is interesting to speculate why this would be.

Certainly, there was a lot more snow around, so possibly it had been cooler than in previous years. I also noticed that there were more cattle and goats than I had seen in previous years. Possibly they had grazed more of the wild flowers.

It is good to know that there are a lot of researchers working in the Sierra Nevada monitoring grazing and climate change and their impacts on invertebrates. It would be very interesting to talk to them and find out more about the long-term trends.