Friday 13th December 2013

Another absentee from the 2013 list

Following my recent blog posts detailing two species of butterfly that I should have managed to find in my normal haunts in the Netherlands, Belgium, part of western Germany and northern France (the Large Tortoiseshell, Nymphalis polychloros, and the Mallow Skipper, Carcharodus alceae), the next absentee, chronologically speaking, was the Woodland Ringlet, Erebia medusa.

The Woodland Ringlet posing cooperatively – normally they are hard to photograph without grass blocking the view

Unlike most of its congeners in the genus Erebia, this is a spring rather than a high summer butterfly, and I normally see it either in the Hautes Fagnes, a high plateau in eastern Belgium, where it is usually to be found in my favourite Bistort-filled valley flying together with the Violet Copper, Lycaena helle, and the Bog Fritillary, Proclossiana eunomia, or in the nearby Eifel region just across the border in Germany, where I usually find it on chalk/limestone grassland flying with the Duke of Burgundy, Hamearis lucina. In neither locality is it numerous, and I would never expect to see more than two or three individuals at a time.

Woodland Ringlet habitat in the Hautes Fagnes

Woodland Ringlet habitat in the Eifel, where the temperature was just 3 degrees on 24th June

Although I visited both areas at the correct time of the year, on 23rd and 24th June, the extraordinarily cold weather meant that butterflies were mostly inactive, and whilst I did find a very few Violet Coppers and several Bog Fritillaries in sheltered clearings during the brief gleams of sunshine, I did not manage to find any Woodland Ringlets. I can only hope that next year a few warm, sunny days will coincide with weekends when I am able to make the long journey to these beautiful areas.

A Woodland Ringlet, this time with the usual grass in front of it

Had I seen Large Tortoiseshell, Mallow Skipper and Woodland Ringlet, my 2013 total would have been: 80 species.


Tuesday 10th December 2013

Mallow Skippers

The Mallow Skipper, an unobtrusive butterfly that is often overlooked

In my last post, long ago, I mentioned that I would be brightening up the winter months with an assessment of those butterfly species which I did not manage to locate in 2013, but which I would normally have been able to find.

The first of these, chronologically speaking in terms of when I should have seen it in the year, is a species which could not really be expected to brighten up the winter months, as it is a rather dull, but nonetheless charming species, the Mallow Skipper, Carcharodus alceae.

I usually expect to see a few Mallow Skippers each year, either in northern France or in southern Belgium, yet somehow this year I missed them. This was in part due to the cold spring, which held everything back, and the few sunny days did not fall on weekends when I was able to visit the haunts of this unobtrusive butterfly during its spring generation.

During the summer I was away in Scotland, where Mallow Skippers do not occur, and despite various visits to suitable areas in September and October, I was unable to locate any individuals of this species, which never occurs in large numbers.

I did find several Mallow plants, Malva sp., but there appeared to be no adult butterflies nor eggs, which are relatively conspicuous and laid on the upper surface of the leaves.

Mallow, the larval foodplant of the Mallow Skipper

A short video clip of Mallow Skippers which I filmed in Belgium in 2007 appears below:

Had I seen Mallow Skipper this year, and the last absentee I described, the Large Tortoiseshell, Nymphalis polychloros, my total for 2013 would have been: 79 species!