Thursday, 30 July 2015

Scotch Argus and Grayling

Long trips up the M6 are getting to be a habit this year but with Dave only needing the Scotch Argus to complete his set and with Arnside Knott being the closest location of a colony another visit was inevitable. It also had the benefit that I could tick off the Scotch Argus and I am now only left with the Swallowtail to get next May.

We left at 0530 on Wednesday and were wandering around Arnside Knott looking for butterflies by 1130. If only all trips up there were as easy. The butterflying community is very helpful and an exchange of data with the first people we met soon had us onto our first Scotch Argus.

Scotch Argus - looks freshly emerged

We struggled at first, the butterflies were on the wing but it was cool and cloudy and every time the sun went in they flopped down into the thick grass.

About to crawl into the grass

We got a few record shots but then, with rain coming in, we retreated back to the car for lunch. A short while later, much refreshed, and with the weather warming up we returned to the hunt. This time it proved a bit easier. The butterflies weren't exactly posing for pictures but at least they were staying out in the open. You had to be careful approaching them and they were very flighty but there were some good picture opportunities on offer.

Settling out in the open

and now with too much sun and reflections off the leaves

Later in the day we had a few out nectaring on the brambles which gave different views.

With the Scotch Argus in the bag on the Wednesday we had a free day Thursday and no real target. We thought about a return visit to Meathop Moss but there was also Gait Barrow close by, a place we had not visited before, and we decided to give that a go.

Gait Barrows is an area of Limestone Pavement and wetlands. Great to explore although in the time we had available we did not get as far as the wetlands.

I don't do Orchid twitches but it was nice to see a number of Dark-red Helleborine growing amongst the rocks. Most had gone over but Dave still managed to find one worth recording.

Dark-red Helleborine

The site has a number of Butterflies and we set off to look for Fritillaries and for Grayling. No sign of the Fritillaries although the occasional Tortoiseshell had us rushing off in pursuit.

Tortoiseshell -  nice condition but still with a piece of its tail missing

There were lots of Ringlets, Meadow Browns, and Gatekeepers, and even one really tatty Common Blue but we could not find the High Browns and Northern Brown Argus that had been reported there.


Fortunately the day was saved when Dave came across a small group of Grayling. They are not the easiest of butterflies to spot as they usually shuffle around the ground, only flying short distances.

Grayling - shows up against the light coloured rock

but cryptic camouflage works well on broken surfaces

They lean over when perched to present the biggest possible surface to the sun which breaks up there front and rear silhouette.

When threatened the Grayling flips up its forewing to present a large eye

or even two eyes

It's unusual to see them perched off the ground

Nectaring on bramble

and the miss of the day
 this was very nearly an open winged shot but I needed a bit more shutter speed

Only the Swallowtail to go to get the full set of Mainland UK butterflies plus perhaps a trip over to Northern Ireland to get the Cryptic Wood White. The Swallowtail Papilio machaon britannicus the only endemic UK butterfly and the largest butterfly in the UK seems an appropriate end point. Its just that next May is a long time to wait.

Monday, 27 July 2015


I have just returned from a weeks holiday touring around Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was not a birding or butterflying holiday but I did have expectations of getting some time out and finding a few interesting specimens. The region contains a good range of different environments and there is no intensive farming so I had seen reports of organised trips coming back with 140+ butterflies, 90+ birds, and 50 + moths, all recorded in a week. I was staying on the drier and less productive Adriatic coast but I would have been happy to settle for just a fraction of these numbers.

There was one problem - the temperature. I had been expecting it to be around 28°C. It was actually over 40°C nearly every day, peaking at 43°C in the shade when we visited Mostar. For me this is cold beer and air conditioned room time. There were supposed to be Rock Partridges on the hill behind our hotel but it was a 700m climb. I am keen but even before sunrise it was distinctly uncomfortable, by midday the climb would probably be life threatening.

The birds and butterflies also seemed to be in short supply in the heat. There were plenty of Swifts, Swallows, and House Martins around at dawn and dusk and more House Sparrows than I had expected but very little else. I did manage to scrape a few shots together over the week but it was all a little disappointing.

Spotted Fritillary

Spotted Fritillary

This Spotted Fritillary was a good find but it didn't hang around for long and most other butterflies were in poor condition. This Scarce Swallowtail was worth the chase although it has seen better days.

Scarce Swallowtail - missing a few bits.

The next two pictures are of the same butterfly. My first thoughts were a Cleopatra which would be a new species for me but then when I photographed the other side, in slightly different lighting conditions, it looks more like a Brimstone. For my first sighting I want to be sure so I think, this time, I will have to settle for a Brimstone.

Cleopatra or Brimstone

See comment from Spock below - it looks as though it was a Cleopatra. I am always happy to get feedback, especially when it gives me a new species.

The best place I saw for butterflies was a little meadow around the border post between Croatia and Montenegro. For some reason there seemed to be dozens of them flying there, mostly around the large sign that said strictly no photographs.

There were a few day flying moths in evidence. The first one below I have not been able to identify yet, the second is a four-spotted Footman. I hate to think of the hours I spend searching the web and various books trying to make these moth identifications.

Moth - not identified yet

Four spotted Footman

We only got close enough to one Dragonfly to be able to get pictures, that was the Southern Skimmer. There were good numbers of these around the fountain in the arboretum at Trsteno.

Southern Skimmer

Southern Skimmers in mating-wheel

Southern Skimmer

The last day of the holiday was the only time that I really saw any birds. It started hot and I decided to leave the telephoto lens at the hotel. I had carried it around all week without using it. I wanted to reduce the weight I was carrying and the heat haze was rendering it almost useless. It cooled down a bit during the day and the birds started to appear. Either that or I was starting to look a bit harder. All the following birds were taken with a 100mm macro lens. Not ideal for bird photography but at least a chance to practice the field skills in getting a bit closer.

Not 100% sure on this one. I think it is probably a female Blue Rock Thrush

Turtle Dove

Red-backed Shrike

Lots of insects about in the heat, I have the bites to prove it. Two interesting ones are shown below. The first is a Carpenter Bee. So called as it burrows into wood to create its nest. The picture does not give any idea of scale but these are twice the size of a Bumble Bee. Bees are usually hard to photograph. They seem to vibrate all the time and it is difficult to get a sharp picture. This one though seems less prone to movement making a sharp picture possible.

Carpenter Bee

Another insect that vibrates a lot, or at least makes a lot of noise are the Cicadas. They are hard to spot on the trees but they are everywhere. As soon as the first rays of sunlight come over the horizon and the temperature starts to rise the noise starts up and it stays with you until late in the evening. For me it is all part of the Mediterranean experience.


And one final good news story. These Barn Swallows got too big for their nest and their weight caused it to collapse. A local worker found them and not sure what to do he put the remains of the nest and the chicks into his safety helmet and hung it on the wall. Everyone is happy. The mother flies in about every sixty seconds with food for them. The chicks have a wonderful view of all the tourists and the tourists have a nice picture to take home. I would think that the worker is also quite proud of the little family that he saved.

Re-housed Barn Swallows

I think I just got unlucky with the week we chose and the unusually high temperatures. The countryside looks ideal for a birding or butterflying holiday and I would like to give it another go - but I will probably try June next time.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

White-letter Hairstreak

The trip to Scotland had revived my interest in Butterflies and with a warm sunny afternoon promised I picked Dave up and we headed over to Holingbury Park to look for the White-letter Hairstreaks. We had seen a few there in previous years and they seem to be more inclined to come down and nectar on the brambles and thistles than at other sites we have visited.

White-letter Hairstreak

Conditions were good for taking photographs but I could still have done with a bit more light and a bit less wind. Its just a bit annoying when the wind blows and the butterfly drifts out of focus and often out of the frame, just as you are about to press the shutter.

Still, there were some good opportunities on offer today.

Male White-letter Hairstreak

Most of the pictures here today are of females. The female being best identified by having longer tails than the males.

Photobomed by a fly - which usually results in the butterfly taking flight

The White-letter Hairstreak spends most of its time in the tops of trees feeding on honeydew. Often you can see them flying but they will not come down. However, if you do get them at ground level they are an easy butterfly to photograph. They will stay on the same flower nectaring for long periods, often an hour or more, and they are not easily spooked by people or by large cameras being positioned only a few inches from them.

The butterfly always settles with its wings closed so there are no open wing shots.

The caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of Elm trees and the population suffered a major setback when Dutch Elm disease wiped out most of the Elms in this country. However, it seems to be making a comeback and is gradually extending its range.

There were a few other butterflies about but none of them were in particularly good condition. This Comma seemed worth recording



and these Harlequin Ladybird Larvae were amongst hundreds feeding on blackfly that had infested this Burdock plant.

Harlequin Ladybird Larvae

I think I see a new challenge here. I will have to photograph the larvae of all the different Ladybirds we have in this country.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Mountain Ringlet and Large Heath

We stayed over at Carlisle and planned to drop into Meathop Moss and Arnside Knott the next morning before heading for the South Coast and home.  Meathop Moss proved a little confusing. One sign welcomed you to the site whilst the other told you that it was members and permit holders only.

There had been no mention of this restriction on their website. Perhaps we should just head for home? No, I don't think so, not after coming all that distance.

And what a great place it turned out to be. You could have spent all day investigating  the butterflies, moths, unusual flowers and other wildlife inhabiting the area. Key target for us on the day was the Large Heath butterfly and we soon found a few specimens.

Large Heath

This one trapped in an old spiders web but we released him unharmed once we had taken a picture

We saw plenty of the Large Heath but they were hard to photograph. They became more active as the temperature picked up and they did not settle out in the open, preferring to hide in the long grass.

With the pictures in the bag we then had a change of plan. We were on a roll so instead of going home we headed back up towards Keswick in the north of the Lake District and drove up onto the Honister Pass to park at the slate mine. We had dipped the Mountain Ringlet three times in Scotland but it was worth giving it another go in the lakes where they fly a bit earlier in the year.

The walk up from the slate mine to the area marked as Fleetwith on the OS map is steep but its not very long and when you find the first Mountain Ringlet you know it's been worthwhile.

View down to the Slate Mine and parking area

The view South from the Slate  Mine track.
Mountain Ringlets found in the middle distance beyond the collapsed wall and to the left of the footpath

The colony has been here for a few years but I am not sure how it survives. The butterflies are weak fliers and only live for a few days. They are safe if they stay tucked down in the grass, as below, but only living for a few days the males need to get out and find a mate. With the wind that was blowing on the hill that day, as soon as they appeared, they were swept off down the hill and out of sight, completely out of control.

Mountain Ringlet in cover.

We didn't get home until close on midnight but it was worth the change of plan. Mountain Ringlet seen, only two UK butterflies to go, and it probably saved another visit to Scotland.

It was a great trip. Four new butterflies seen and one new bird but perhaps more important, a lot of knowledge gained about various sites that we would like to revisit. A return trip will probably happen next year. I keep looking at the pictures of the Chequered Skipper. It was great to get the record shots but they are not really good enough. I need to find a freshly emerged specimen.