The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Small Blue, Cupido minimus

Things have been rather hectic for me this last year, or so, and I haven't been looking after my blog as I should! I have still been out and about looking for butterflies, so I have some stories to tell. I am also hoping to start a new page on my blog about my father's house in the Scottish Borders that we inherited last year. We hope to move there in a year's time, but have a few changes we wish to make, as well as great plans for the place.

So, to get me started again here are some pictures of Small Blues, Cupido minimus, that I took back in June on my annual trip down to Burnmouth on the Scottish Borders coast.

They are our smallest UK butterfly. They lay their eggs on Kidney Vetch, but don't occur up here in East Lothian, even though Kidney Vetch grows here.

While we were there we also found a few Large Skippers, Ochlodes sylvanus, a butterfly that has recently moved up to East Lothian, although I haven't seen any here this year.

We saw a few other butterflies while we were there. This rather worn Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, has probably flown in from Europe and was enjoying a rest.

It was pleasing to see the coastal slopes were in better condition than when we visited last year. Then there had been weeks of easterly winds, which seemed to have dried out the vegetation, including the all important Kidney Vetch. This year it was growing nicely, so hopefully the Small Blues will benefit and be around in good numbers when I visit again next year.

Monday, 1 May 2017

It's a Girl!

I am afraid that the start of this post is a little depressing, but please don't give up on it, there is a happy ending!!
I always do as much as I can to try to encourage butterflies to my garden and I have planted flowers to feed the adult butterflies and caterpillars. Although our garden is very small, we have tried to provide as much interest as we can for wildlife.
There is a small area just outside our fence where I plant Nasturtiums each year. Very often I discover that Small Whites, Pieris rapae, or Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, have been laying eggs on them. In 2015 there were none, but last year I found a batch of Large White caterpillars.

Sadly, they slowly disappeared, one by one and I suspect that the spiders living under the eves on the garden shed were responsible.

I had been keeping an eye on an Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines, caterpillar which was living on a Garlic Mustard plant near a local path. Unfortunately, one day I noticed that a neighbour had tidied up the side of the path and cut the Garlic Mustard down. I searched through the cuttings and found the caterpillar, and took it home, where I kept it on freshly picked Garlic Mustard seed heads.

At about the same time, while I was walking my butterfly transect, I saw a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, laying eggs on some thistles. I picked one of the thistles, so that I could watch the egg and caterpillar develop.

The egg was laid on 8th June and by 22 June, it had changed colour.

The following day it had hatched.

Sadly, the day after that we had torrential rain for about 40 minutes and when I later looked I couldn't find either caterpillar. I found the Orange Tip caterpillar floating in a puddle and fear that the Painted Lady had also been washed away.

Later in the year I was down at the property that we have inherited from my father. I was cutting back vegetation that was overhanging the stream and realized that I had cut a Garlic Mustard seed head. When I checked I discovered there was an Orange Tip chrysalis on it. I took the seed head and put it in a pot of soil.

I then checked the vegetation along the side of the stream and found another six Orange Tip chrysalises. Despite spending hours looking for them in the past I have only ever seen two previously. As you can see they are very well disguised!

One of the chrysalis was dangling upside down, so I cut that seed head off and added it to the pot.

This species stays as a chrysalis from about July right through to the following April or May. So I bought a gauze cage and kept the chrysalises in my garage until this spring.
When the weather warmed up a bit I brought the cage outside. Towards the middle of April I noticed that the upside-down chrysalis had started to colour up.

Two days later I was very dismayed to see that the butterfly had tried to emerge, but sadly its wings had stuck to the chrysalis and become deformed. I don't know why this has happened. It could be because the chrysalis was very dry after spending the winter in the garage, or I have been told that it could be just bad luck.

So, having had so many failures I was worried for the final Orange Tip chrysalis I had. It was two weeks later when it started to change in colour. This picture was taken on 22nd April.

The following day the pattern on the wings was much more obvious. The chrysalis is actually leaning backwards with its wings folded under it, so we are seeing the pattern of the upper side of the wings. The lack of orange means that this one is a female.

The weather turned very cold for a few days and cleverly the butterfly was able to delay its emergence. When I arrived home from work on the 27th April, my wife told me the good news - the butterfly had emerged successfully! What a thrill!!

The following morning was lovely and sunny, so I decided to take the butterfly round to a local farm where they have a lot of lovely habitat for wildlife. I have noticed a corner of the farm yard where there was a patch of Garlic Mustard in a lovely sunny spot. The butterfly was on the top of the cage when I arrived, so I carefully unzipped it and let it warm up in the sun.

After a few minutes it opened up its wings to absorb the warmth of the sun.

And a few minutes later it took its first flight and landed on an Honesty plant, which is also used as a food plant by the caterpillars.

She sat there for some time and then flew around for a little, settling on another Honesty flower. She didn't feed, but just seemed to be enjoying the warmth of the sun.

It was such a joy watching her fly around and enjoy here new surroundings. I was thrilled that she had a lovely sunny day to enjoy her new life.
All of this has made me realize what a perilous existence butterflies have. I suppose that to maintain a sable population each butterfly only needs two of its eggs to reach adulthood and go on to breed.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

East Lothian Butterflies 2016 (2)

Continued from my previous post about the butterflies recorded in East Lothian in 2016.

Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera
The first Wall Brown was recorded on 12 May and they were seen in reasonably good numbers through to 15th September. We are now getting regular records from Bilsdean, right along the coast to North Berwick. Each year we get one or two inland records, but we don’t seem to have any inland sites where they are regularly seen year after year.

Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus
Yet again we had a single record of a Holly Blue in East Lothian. This time it was in North Berwick on 15 May. I am sure there must be a little colony of them in one of the coastal towns around there.

Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus
The first Small Heath seen in East Lothian in 2016 was on 15 May and they were recorded until 29 August. Numbers were a little down on previous years, but not by too much.

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus
Common Blues were first seen on 8 June and regularly recorded through to 3 September. The numbers were very similar to previous years.

Ringlet, Aphantpopus hyperantus
Ringlets seemed to have a pretty good year, with numbers only a little lower than in previous years. The first record I received was on 19 June and they were seen until 17 August.

Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris
The first record in 2016 of a Small Skipper was on 19 June and they were seen through to the end of August. They are very well established now along the coast from Longniddry to North Berwick and at a couple of inland sites.

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina
The first Meadow Brown record was on 2 July and they were seen in good numbers through to the 30 August. They didn’t seem to be affected by the miserable summer.

Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis aglaja
The first record was on 3 July and they were seen in reasonable numbers but only until early August when I received the last record of the year.

Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxeres
I only received two records of Northern Brown Argus this year on 14 July and 30 July, both from the same site in the Lammermuir Hills. There are only another three locations that I am aware of them occurring in East Lothian, and I think the poor weather prevented other sites from being checked.

Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary, Clossiana selene
We had a record of a Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary from the usual site in the Lammermuir Hills on 14 July. There were also two records of a Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary from John Muir Country Park on the 16 and 18 August. These are quite late in the season, but were recorded by different people in more or less the same area.

Grayling, Hypparchia semele
The first record was on 18 July, which is about three weeks behind the norm. They were still seen in reasonable numbers, though. I am only aware of three small sites where Graylings are found in East Lothian, so they are quite vulnerable to habitat loss.

Camberwell Beauty, Nymphalis antiopa

I heard of a very exciting record that a Camberwell Beauty had been seen feeding on a Buddleia on 26 August in a garden in Dunbar. It was seen in the same place the following day. This is the first record of this very rare migrant that I am aware of in East Lothian since 1983. I have no reason to doubt this record even though there were no further records of it having been seen elsewhere.

The other butterfly that we may have expected to see was a Large Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanus. We had three records of them in East Lothian in 2014, but none since. There is a good colony of Large Skippers just over the border at Cockburnspath and I have no doubt that they are still in East Lothian. It is just that the weather has been very poor over the last two summers so people haven't been down to that corner of East Lothian to look for them. I will certainly make an effort to search for them in 2017.

So, all in all, it wasn't a bad year for butterflies given the weather. Most species did as well as ever, but there were worryingly few Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and Commas later in the year. I thought that this could be because the weather was poor at a critical time just after the caterpillars had hatched. However, Red Admirals and Painted Ladies did well and they would have been caterpillars around the same time.

We have found a few hibernating Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks, so hopefully their numbers will bounce back this year. Already I have received a record of a Peacock and a Small Tortoiseshell flying this year!

Sunday, 22 January 2017

East Lothian Butterflies 2016 (1)

The weather in 2016 was very similar to the previous year. I hope this isn't going to become the norm! The winter of 2015/16 was reasonably mild again, with only one dusting of snow. We had very heavy rain in February causing localised flooding, but the rest of the year was reasonably dry. Sadly, it was also quite cool and cloudy with below average sunshine.

One unusual aspect of the weather in 2016 was the number of easterly winds we had and this seemed to bring cloud with it.

We had very local torrential rain in June which washed away the caterpillars I had been nurturing in my garden. I suspect it may have had a similar impact across much of East Lothian impacting on the butterfly numbers later in the year.

Despite this I still received almost as many butterfly records this year as I did last year. The combined efforts of everyone recording butterflies has built up a very good picture of what is going on in East Lothian.

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta
The first butterfly seen in East Lothian in 2016 was a Red Admiral on 3 February and interestingly the last record I received of a butterfly flying was also a Red Admiral on 16 November. In between they were regularly seen with numbers peaking in August. The early sightings over the last few years would indicate that Red Admirals have been able to survive the last few mild winters we have had.

Peacock, Aglais io
The first record in 2016 was on 13 March and Peacocks were regularly seen until early June. Although the numbers in the summer months were lower than we normally see, they continued to be seen flying until 4 November.

Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae
Small Tortoiseshells were seen regularly from 14 March until the middle of July as expected, but when we would normally expect to see an increase in numbers in late summer and autumn, numbers were disappointingly low. This corresponds with the national story and I can only imagine that the cool summer weather caused a lot of caterpillars to perish. I notice that the records where more than one Tortoiseshell was recorded were all on the coast. We are finding a few Small Tortoiseshells hibernating in the usual sites, although fewer than normal, but hopefully enough to boost the population again this year.

Green-veined White, Pieris napi
The first record was on 14th April and they were seen through to the 27th September. The spring brood were as numerous as normal, but they weren’t seen in anything like the normal numbers during the summer generation. However, when I check the numbers recorded on the transect the summer numbers were better.

Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria
Speckled Woods continued to do well in East Lothian in 2016. The first record I received was on 19 April and they were very regularly recorded with no apparent break between the three generations until 31 October. The peak numbers appeared in August, which is different from previous years, when the numbers were highest in September. The Speckled Wood has spread west and south, meaning that it is now found in most suitable habitats in East Lothian.

Comma, Polygonia c-album
Commas were first seen on 19 April in three different locations! There were only 19 records for the whole year, which is considerably down on 2014 and 2015. This is a butterfly that had been building up in numbers since it first was recorded here about 15 years ago, but it certainly didn't seem to do well in 2016.

Orange Tip, Anthocharis cardamines
The first Orange Tip was recorded on 19 April and they were seen in good numbers through to 26 June. Being an early species, they were unaffected by the poor summer weather, but let’s hope that there isn’t an impact on the 2017 population.

Small White, Pieris rapae
The first Small White was recorded on 19 April. It was interesting that I received more Small White records in 2016 than in previous years, but with smaller numbers in each record. There was a fairly clear division between the first generation – April to mid-June and the second generation from mid-July to 23 September.

Large White, Pieris brassicae
The first Large Whites were recorded on a transect in early April. They were recorded until 10 September in better numbers than normal. I can't imagine why they did so well in 2016. I remember them laying eggs very late in 2015 and I didn't think the caterpillars stood a chance of surviving the early frosts. It seems they can!

Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui
2016 was a “Painted Lady year”. These remarkable butterflies arrived here in early May and were recorded in good numbers right through to 4th November. Thereafter they hopefully made it back to Africa, from where their great grandparents would have set out back in March.

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas
The first record of a Small Copper was on 6 May and they were recorded very regularly until 13 September. Nationally, the Small Copper didn’t do well last year, but in East Lothian they seemed to buck the trend a bit. The second generation of the year wasn't as numerous as the spring generation. We never see great numbers of them, but in 2016 I received more records than in previous years.

Green Hairstreak, Callophrys rubi

The first Green Hairstreak record was on 19 May and they were seen through to 6 June in three different areas of woodland north of the Lammermuir Hills. They haven't previously been recorded at two of these sites. Interestingly there were no records from the more remote and difficult to reach areas of the Lammermuirs, possibly because no one made the effort to search those areas.

I will continue with the rest of the butterflies seen in East Lothian in 2016 in my next post.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Sierra Nevada Butterflies - July 2016 (4)

By now it was really time to be heading back to the villa, but I had three quick stops I wanted to make on my way back down the mountain. The first was at a viewpoint I had found two years ago. This is at about 2100 metres above sea level and the last time I was there I saw several Swallowtails hill topping.

I thought that the first butterfly I saw there was a very worn Blue-spot Hairstreak, but when I was looking at my pictures later I realised it was a False Ilex Hairstreak, Satyrium esculi.

When compared to the Blue-spot Hairstreaks, Satyrium spini, you can see the subtle difference in the white line on their wings.

In contrast to my last visit, I only saw one Swallowtail, Papilio machaon, this year and it was very ragged. There was also just the one Spanish Swallowtail, Iphiclides feisthamelii, in slightly better condition, but it had still lost its tails!

As with my previous visit there were a lot of Wall Browns squabbling over their territories, but I didn't spot any Large Wall Browns this year. I did see a Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea, which I haven't seen before in that location.

I jumped back in the car and drove down another 100 metres to the spot that Mike Prentice had suggested. There were a lot more butterflies there now than there had been at 9am.

I saw two Graylings, Hipparchia semele, one much lighter than the other. I spent ages checking my photographs to see if either of them were Nevada Graylings, but they both turned out to just be standard Graylings!

There were so many different butterflies flying amongst the vegetation there, including Long-tailed Blues, Spotted Fritillaries and Common Blues. They were very active in the afternoon heat, so many of them didn't stop for a picture! I managed to catch a shot of this Queen of Spain Fritillary, Issoria lathonia.

And I think this is a Large Grizzled Skipper, Pyrgus alveus. I have to admit that I find it very difficult to differentiate between many of the skippers.

Other butterflies there included Silver-studded Blues, Marbled Whites, Great Banded Grayling, Blue-spot Hairstreak and Southern Brown Argus. However, I didn't have long to watch them on my whistle-stop descent!

My final stop of the day was a little further down the mountain at about 1800 metres above sea level. This is a little scrubby area next to some Pine trees that I discovered two years ago. As then, I certainly wasn't disappointed with the butterflies I saw there.

Strangely, exactly as on my visit two years ago, the first butterfly I saw was a Marsh Fritillary, Euphydryas aurinia beckeri. Just the one next to where I parked the car.

The place was awash with butterflies, including Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera;

Essex Skippers, Thymelicus lineola hemmingi;

Silver-studded Blues, Plebejus argus hypochionus;

And I think this is a female Idas Blue, Plebejus idas nevadensis.

There were also Large Whites, Small Whites, Common Blues, Purple-shot Coppers, Cleopatras, a Rock Grayling and an Oriental Meadow Brown. Just like the last time, I saw one Black-veined White, Aporia crataegi, but this year it was kind enough to allow me to take a picture!

I spent some time following this Iberian Marbled White, Melanargia lachesis, to try to identify it. There are three different species found in the Sierra Nevada, but I have only seen the Iberian Marbled White there.

All too soon I had to drag myself back to the car. I had had an amazing few hours in the Sierra Nevada seeing 42 different species of butterflies, with several of them being species I hadn't seen before. It was certainly worth the three hour drive each way to get there.