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.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Sierra Nevada Butterflies - July 2016 (2)

I drove up to the car park at the ski resort at Hoya De la Mora. This is as far as you can drive, although it is possible to take a mini-bus further up the mountain. As I got out of the car I saw a Bath White, Pontia daplidice. I had seen a number of similar butterflies on the drive up the hill, so it was good to confirm its identity.
I started to walk up the mountain to another area recommended by Mike Prentice. Almost immediately I saw a Purple-shot Copper, Lycaena alciphron gordius.

Then a larger butterfly caught my eye. It turned out to be a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. We had just experienced an influx of Painted Ladies in Scotland and evidently they were doing well here, too. I saw another one just a little further up the path.

I was delighted to see so many Apollos, Parnassius apollo nevadensis. The sub-species in the Sierra Nevada has orange, rather than red, ocelli. They seemed a lot more approachable this year and a little later when a cloud came over they all landed and on a couple of occasions I very nearly stood on one! I guess with such large butterflies they need the energy of the sun to keep them airborne.

There were a number of Small Whites, Pieris rapae, flying in the same area as the Apollos along with one or two Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae.

There were also blue butterflies there, which I could only identify by photographing them and enlarging their picture on the camera. They all turned out to be Escher's Blues, Agrodiaetus esheri.

A little higher up the Small Tortoiseshells were replaced by Queen of Spain Fritillaries, Issoria lathonia. The last time I was in Sierra Nevada I very briefly saw one of these a little lower down the mountain, but this time I saw seven or eight.

My reason for climbing further up this barren-looking mountain side was because Mike Prentice had suggested some sites I could check for Zullich’s Blue, Agriades zullichi. I was amazed that there continued to be plenty of butterflies despite the apparent lack of vegetation. I didn’t spot any Zullich’s Blues at the first area he had suggested, but I was over the moon to spot one at the second location, which was at about 2,650 metres above sea level.

I think there were about 15 Zullich’s Blues there and I saw some very similar-looking Spanish Argus, Aricia morronensis, flying with them. These were both new species for me.

It was lovely to watch them with an occasional fly past of an Apollo, which looked enormous compared to the small Lycaenidae. Some Nevada Blues, Plebicula golgus, also joined the party. I spent some time at that location and sat down on a rock with a snack while watching these rare butterflies.

It seemed like such a hostile environment for these small creatures to live in. This was the height of summer, but there was still quite a wind blowing and very little shelter.

Eventually I had to drag myself away as there were so many more places I wanted to explore. However, I was quickly distracted by a Spanish Brassy Ringlet, Erebia hispania. Unlike two years earlier these ones allowed me to take a picture. I saw quite a few as I started to descend the path.

Next I wanted to head down to a green area near the stream lower down the valley ...

Friday, 4 November 2016

Sierra Nevada Butterflies - July 2016 (1)

Two years ago I visited the Sierra Nevada for a day and saw a fantastic variety and number of butterflies. So, this year when we were on holiday near Malaga I took the opportunity for a return visit. There were three different locations that I had visited last year that I wanted to return to, but I had also been recommended another couple of spots to check out by Mike Prentice of Butterfly Conservation's European Interest Group.
It was a three hour drive from our rented villa to the first stop, which was on the road up to the ski resort at Hoya de la Mora at about 2,000 metres. This location had been recommended by Mike, who said I may find Spanish Chalkhill Blues, Polyommatus albicans, there. Unfortunately, I didn't see any, but I wasn't to be disappointed with the other butterflies I saw.

Initially I didn't see a lot there, but it was still before 9 in the morning, so a little early for butterflies There were a few Silver-studded Blues, Plebejus argus, flying amongst the scrub, though.

Other butterflies were less numerous there. There were a couple of Clouded Yellows, Colias crocea.

And a Wall Brown, Lasiommata megera, with a damaged wing.

I was really thrilled to see two Spotted Fritillaries, Melitaea didyma. They were very easily disturbed and quickly disappeared. Luckily I later saw another one that allowed me to get close enough to take a picture. This was one of the butterflies that I really wanted to see with its unusual markings.

I think this is a Thread-winged Lacewing of some kind. I had to follow it for ages before it stopped and I was able to get a better look at it. What an amazing creature!

On my way back to the car I saw another little blue butterfly that turned out to be a Lang's Short-tailed Blue, Leptotes pirithous. It somehow seemed out of place up in the mountains.

Not far away was this beautiful Blue-spot Hairstreak, Satyrium spini.

I had so many places I wanted to visit and so little time that I had to drag myself away to continue further up the mountain ...

Sunday, 23 October 2016

More Malaga Butterflies

We had three species of butterflies that were resident in the garden of the villa we were staying in. I have always noticed Long-tailed Blues, Lampides boeticus, flying around the garden there, but it was only this year that I realised that they were laying eggs on a bush in the garden, which I now think is Polygala myrtifoli.

I have previously found the eggs and caterpillars of Lang's Short-tailed Blues, Leptotes pirithous, on a Plumbego bush in the garden. This year I could find plenty of eggs, but I didn't find any caterpillars. I suspect that they may have been inside the flower buds judging by the holes I found.

There seemed to be more Geranium Bronzes, Cacyreus marshalli, than in previous years. This was confirmed by the number of eggs I found on the Geranium flowers around the garden. Most flower heads had at least one egg on it.

Other visitors to the garden included Large Whites, Pieris brassicae, Clouded Yellows, Colias crocea, and most commonly the Small White, Pieris rapae.

No trip to southern Spain would be complete without me seeing an African Grass Blue, Zizeeria knysna.  I usually see them down by the river, but this year it took two visits to the Rio Guadalhorce before I saw one. I later saw some on the banks of the lakes at Emblase de Guadalhorce.

While I was there I briefly saw a Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria.

There was also a Bath White, Pontia daplidice, flying among the grass there.

On our last full day at the villa I thought I would walk further along the road to see if I could find any other sites similar to my favourite butterfly spot. A couple of kilometres further up the hill I saw a track heading up into the olive groves, so followed it.

It was a worthwhile detour as almost immediately I saw a Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui.

There were a lot of Common Blues, Southern Brown Argus and Bath Whites flying around the few bits of green vegetation at the side of the track along with a little Red-underwing Skipper, Spialia sertorius.

Under an old olive tree I saw a couple of butterflies having a bit of a squabble. They turned out to be a Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina...

 And a Small Heath, Coenonympha pamphilus. This is the summer form that occurs around the Mediterranean.

On a trip to walk the Caminito del Rey I only saw Speckled Woods and Bath Whites, which was a little disappointing as I thought there may have been various species of Graylings there.

However, a trip to the Sierra Nevada was fantastic. I will be posting about that in the next week or two.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Malaga, Spain - Butterflies - July 2016

From the 1st to 15th July this year we had our annual family holiday in a villa 45 kilometres north west of Malaga. This is the third time we have holidayed there, coincidentally being there for exactly the same dates in 2012 and 2014 previously.

The holiday went off to a really good start, with me seeing a Small White, Pieris rapae, as we were driving out of the airport and then a Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus, flew across the road in front of us.

There is an area that I tend to walk to each day to look for butterflies just a little way up the road from the villa we rent. Over the previous two years I have learned that this is the best local spot to find them. Probably the most common butterfly there is the Southern Gatekeeper, Pyronia cecilia, although they weren't as numerous as the first year we visited.

Dusky Heaths, Coenonympha dorus, are beautiful little butterflies with the line of silver scales along the edge or their wings. They always seem to be flying around this area.

The track turns into a feint path that climbs along the ridge of the hills through olive groves. On the exposed parts of the path male Wall Browns, Lasiommata megera, take up territory, chasing after any other butterflies or large insect they see.

Common Blues, Polyommatus celina, were the other butterfly that could be relied upon to be there each day. They seem very much smaller than those that I see back home. I wasn't sure if I was just imagining this, but I also remember when I saw a Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, how much bigger it looked than the Common Blue. The two species are more-or-less the same size back home.

I only saw a Small Copper once this year. It seems to be a very widely distributed butterfly, but it's never seen in great numbers.

I was delighted to see a Striped Grayling, Pseudotergumia fidia, on the first day I walked up the path. It was there again in exactly the same place the second day too, but I didn't see it after that. Two years earlier I saw a lot of them in the next valley, but have never seen them at this spot before.

Mallow Skippers, Carcharodus alceae, seemed to have small territories along the road to the villa chasing after anything that flew anywhere near them.

Up the track, on the wild Thyme, Sage Skippers, Syrinthus proto, were doing the same thing.

On a couple of occasions I saw a Mediterranean Skipper, Gegenes nostrodamus. I saw this species very briefly for the first time two years ago.

Other butterflies that I saw occasionally were Clouded Yellow, Colias crocea,
... and Bath White, Pontia daplidice.

The Southern Brown Argus, Aricia cramera, is a beautiful little butterfly, which I regularly saw flying among the wild flowers.

I'll continue with the other butterflies I saw in my next post.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Buddleia activity

We have just been spending a few days down at the property we have inherited from my father down in the Scottish Borders. We were very busy preparing two areas where we hope to build a garage and have a hen run, but I took some time out to watch a Buddleia bush in a rather overgrown flower bed.

Back home, only 40 miles north of there, our Buddleias finished flowering about two weeks ago. However, there was still a good number of flowers on the bush in the Borders. Maybe it is a different species or variety, but I noticed that a cutting I had planted from home was also in flower there.

When our Buddleias flower back home it often coincides with the period when there are not so many butterflies around. However, with the Buddleia flowering later in the Borders it was covered in butterflies and bees! It was almost like being in a butterfly house!

The Red Admirals, Vanessa atalanta, were the first butterflies to arrive each day, usually arriving by about 8.30am. I would love to know where they spend the nights, but they would come drifting down, either from the surrounding trees, or possibly just flying over the trees to get there.

I watched them in the evenings to see if I could follow some of them to see where they went, but failed in my mission! One day was much cooler, about 17 degrees and it was raining, but the Red Admirals still turned up. They tended to feed on the underside of the flowers when the rain was heavier, moving to the tops of the flowers when the rain eased.

I was very pleased to see a Comma, Polygonia c-album, among the butterflies there. There don't seem to have been many of them around this year.

There were also a few Peacock butterflies, Aglais io, feeding there preparing for their winter hibernation. 

Another butterfly that has been doing very well here this year is the Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui. I was pleased to see a few of them visiting the Buddleia over the last few days. I presume they were fueling up in preparation for their migration back to Africa.

Whilst it was great to see these four species of butterflies, it was sad not to see any Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae. In a normal year they would be seen in far greater numbers than any other species just now, but sadly they have done very badly this year and I haven't seen one since July.

While I was watching the butterflies and trying to get some photographs, I saw a small bird out of the corner of my eye. It was a Spotted Flycatcher, Muscicapa striata. It was watching the butterflies and other insects flying from flower to flower. My camera was set on video at the time, so the picture below is a screenshot from the video. When my father built his house he asked the builders to make various holes and ledges for birds to nest in. I remember him showing me one hole and telling me that it was for a Spotted Flycatcher to nest in and, sure enough, each year a Spotted Flycatcher took up residence.

Just after I finished videoing, it flew down, narrowly missing a Painted Lady and caught a bee. 

I had a look in a bird book to find out more about the Spotted Flycatcher and found out that it visits the UK each year to breed and in September/October it migrates back to sub-Sarah Africa. It is an interesting thought that it may see the Painted Ladies again over the winter while they all enjoy the better weather there!

I tried uploading a video of the action, but the quality has reduced dramatically, but it gives an idea of what was going on!