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.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Cape Drastis, Corfu - Butterflies

On 27th June I drove up to the north west of Corfu to Cape Drastis. I had been recommended a walk there by a fellow butterfly enthusiast. There are amazing lime stone cliffs there and the walk ran through old olive groves, woodland and small areas of vegetables.

I arrived at 8.30am and stayed for three hours. There were hundreds of Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, all the way along the track along with some Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina.

The Meadow Browns there are interesting, having two or three dots on the underside of their wings. However, they are thought to be the same species that occurs in the UK.

There was a small area that I had been recommended to visit. It consisted of a turning area and a clearing in the olive grove where some onions had been planted. There were plenty of wild flowers growing there, a grassy slope and some small trees offering a variety of habitats.

Initially I didn't think there was much in the way of butterflies there, but I spotted a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, and realised that there were three of them in an area of wild flowers.

While I was photographing it, I was delighted to spot a Silver Washed Fritillary, Argynnis paphia, the other side of an olive tree. This was the first time I had seen a Silver Washed Fritillary, so I spent some time taking pictures of it.

There were a few Common Blues, Polyommatus icarus, flying there along with Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, and more Wall Browns.

While I was trying to get pictures of the Fritillary a small white butterfly flew past, and I was delighted to see that it was a Wood White, Leptidea sinapis. I have seen these briefly a couple of times before, but I have never managed to get a picture, so I watched it and carefully followed if until it eventually settled. I was so pleased to manage to get a picture of it.

A little further along the track I came across another area where the grass had been strimmed below some olive trees. There was also a small areas where vegetables were growing and at the edge some wild flowers where a beautiful Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea, was feeding.

I continued along the track and searched a variety of habitats on either side. A grassy slope had nothing flying on it, but a shady track had Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria, enjoying the shade.

There were a couple of beautiful Scarce Swallowtails, Iphiclides podalirius, at the side of the track along with some Long-tailed Blues, Lampides boeticus.

On the way back I returned to the first area I had searched and the number of butterflies had really picked up. I found a Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, and saw a distant Brimstone and Cleopatra.

A little further along the track I notice a Scarce Swallowtail in an area below the track and went down to photograph it. This turned out to be a magical spot, with several Scarce Swallowtails, Brimstones, Gonepteryx rhamni, Cleopatras, Gonepteryx cleopatra, Large Whites and Silver Washed Fritillaries feeding on the flowers there.

I was also delighted to find a Brown Argus, Aricia agestis. I have seen Northern Brown Argus and Southern Brown Argus, but never before just a Brown Argus! I spent a while there watching all of the butterflies.

Eventually I had to drag myself away. Just a little further along the track, I couldn't believe my eyes, as I saw a Southern White Admiral, Limenitis reducta, flying down a track leading downhill. I followed it, but unfortunately lost it before I could take a picture. I was delighted to see one for the first time, but was disappointed that I hadn't managed to photograph it. However, it had been a great morning seeing so many butterflies, three species I hadn't seen before and another two species that I hadn't managed to photograph before.

On my way back I drove down to Sidari Beach and walked up the river. There weren't many butterflies there, other than a few female Common Blues and a Small White, Pieris rapae. Then I saw a little brown insect, which turned out to be a Pigmy Skipper, Gegenes pumilio - the only one I saw all holiday.

What an amazing 3 hours! Lovely scenery, such a variety of butterflies and more kind local people. I called into a shop to buy a bottle of water on my way, but the shop had no change, so just gave me the bottle. On my way back I called into the shop and bought some food for lunch and paid the lady the extra Euro for the water she had given me. She told me I was very kind!! 

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Corfu Butterflies - June 2017

This year's family summer holiday was to the Greek island of Corfu. A fantastic place for a holiday with lovely scenery, warm sea and the most friendly, generous people I have ever met. My parents holidayed there in the 1970s and came back with stories about how lovely the people were there and it seems they still are!!

We rented a villa in an olive grove at the north east of the island, above Nisaki. It was built on a steep slope, so there were two stories with the swimming pool build into the hillside at roof level. I thought this would provide a great vantage point for seeing butterflies, but compared with other areas on the island there were not that many there.

I am not quite sure where to start with the butterflies, so here is a summary of what I saw at the villa and in the surrounding area.

We arrived at our villa at about 6pm and I was delighted to see a number of butterflies flying around a small cherry tree by the front door. There was a pair of Large Wall Browns, Lasiommata maera ...

... four or five Great Banded Graylings, Brintesia circe ...

... two Speckled Woods, Pararge aegeria ...

... a Lattice Brown, Kirinia roxelana ...

... and about ten Eastern Rock Graylings, Hipparchia syriaca.

The following day these butterflies were still there, feeding on the over-ripe and fallen fruit and flying up in a cloud each time we walked past. Over the course of the day I also saw a Small White, Pieris rapae, Cleopatra, Gonepteryx cleopatra, Swallowtail, Papilio machaon, Scarce Swallowtail, Iphiclides podalirius, Balkan Marbled White, Melanargia larissa, and a Silver-washed Fritillary, Argynnis paphia, flying past the villa, but none of them stopped.

There was a wisteria plant growing at the front of the villa and this attracted Mallow Skippers, Carcharodus alceae, Long-tailed Blues, Lampides boeticus, and a Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous.

However, by the fourth day the usual five species disappeared from around the cherry tree. I suspect that the housekeeper had sprayed around the tree to kill the ants, as there was still plenty of fruit around.

The butterflies continued to fly past the villa, but rarely settled. Half way through our holiday I was thrilled to see a Spotted Fritillary, Melitaea didyma, fly past the villa and land briefly on a bay tree. I was frustrated that it didn't stay long enough for a photo, though! However, on our last day a Spotted Fritillary landed near the villa and started laying eggs on a dried up plantain plant.

I had read that the olive groves in Corfu are sprayed against disease, which has had a bad impact on wildlife that would otherwise occur there. I guess that the olive trees around the villa had been sprayed. Elsewhere on the island there were loads of butterflies, which I will write about in my next posts.

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!