Monday 14th April 2014

2014 butterfly list hits 13

This is my first post detailing my 2014 butterfly list, and it is coming along apace! We have had some quite warm days already, which have brought out the butterflies in considerable numbers.

Until this weekend, I had not seen any particularly unusual species, but on Saturday I was treated to a fly-by Large Tortoiseshell, Nymphalis polychloros, which did not wait to be photographed. This was a species I inexplicably missed in 2013, so I was pleased to tick it off early this year.

Much more cooperative, however, were the extremely early Violet Coppers, Lycaena helle, which were already on the wing in their (and my) favourite valley in eastern Belgium, where they were posing on the beautiful wild daffodils, for which the region is justly renowned.

The first Violet Copper of the year.

A male Violet Copper on a wild daffodil.

The band of white chevrons is characteristic of the Violet Copper.

The list so far (in order of seeing) is as follows:

1. Small Tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae.
2. Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni.
3. Comma, Polygonia c-album.
4. Peacock, Inachis io.
5. Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta.
6. Green-veined White, Pieris napi.
7. Orange-tip, Anthocharis cardamines.
8. Small White, Pieris rapae.
9. Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus.
10. LARGE TORTOISESHELL, Nymphalis polychloros.
11. VIOLET COPPER, Lycaena helle.
12. Speckled Wood, Pararge aegeria.
13. Large White, Pieris brassicae.

A Comma just emerged from hibernation in northern France.

A female Orange-tip poses briefly.


Sunday 13th April 2014

Finishing off the hypothetical 2013 butterfly list, just as the 2014 real list hits 11 species!

During the dark and gloomy winter months, I tried to keep myself in a cheerful, sunny, summery mood by “adding” extra species of butterfly that I should have seen in 2013 to those that I really did see. In reality, my list came to 77 species in my usual areas in the Netherlands, Belgium, northern France, a small area of western Germany and northern England/southern Scotland, and at the time of my last blog-post, I had “reached” 86 species.

Now that Spring is truly here, and my 2014 list has already reached 11 species, I must now finish off that hypothetical 2013 list in order to concentrate on and leave space for 2014!

Further butterflies that I could/should have found in 2013 were as follows:

Poplar Admiral, Limenitis populi. This butterfly is very rare in the region I normally frequent, but I did have the amazing experience of finding one magnificent individual in southern Belgium on my birthday, 29th May, in 2011. I visited the location twice in 2013, but to no avail, although some individuals were seen later.

Limenitis populi form tremulae

Poplar Admiral, Belgium, May 2011

High Brown Fritillary, Argynnis adippe. This species has declined drastically in my regular haunts in northern France and southern Belgium, for reasons that are unclear. I could have seen it when I visited the limestone hills around Arnside, just south of the English Lake District, and in fact I may well have done so, but the weather was poor and it was already late in the year by the time I got there in 2013.

High Brown Fritillary, Argynnis adippe

High Brown Fritillary, Sweden, July 2009

Alcon Blue, Maculinea alcon. This and the following three species have an extraordinary life-cycle, the adult females laying their eggs on particular food-plants, as other butterflies do, but the larvae eventually end up in the nests of particular types of ant, which then host them throughout the autumn, winter and following spring, feeding their own young to the imposters, which “pay” for the ants’ hospitality with drops of honeydew. The Alcon Blue is restricted to heathland habitats where the beautiful Marsh Gentian, Gentiana pneumonanthe, grows, and where its host ant can also be found. I know several habitats of the Alcon Blue in the Netherlands, but unfortunately I left the country too early in July, and consequently missed it in 2013.

Alcon Blue, Maculinea alcon

Alcon Blue, the Netherlands, July 2006

Dusky Large Blue, Maculinea nausithous. This and the following species had been extinct for many years in the Netherlands, but were reintroduced to a restored site near s’Hertogenbosch. I have looked for them once here in the past, but access is difficult and I had already left the country for my summer visit to Scotland in 2013 before the butterflies were on the wing.

Dusky Large Blue, Maculinea nausithous

Dusky Large Blue, Germany, July 2010

Scarce Large Blue, Maculinea teleius. See above. I have never succeeded in photographing this species.

Large Blue, Maculinea arion. Within my usual region, I have only ever once seen a Large Blue. I found it on the beautiful juniper-covered slopes near Alendorf, in the Eifel region of Germany. Whether it was a wanderer I do not know, but I have not found one since.

Large Blue, Maculinea arion

Large Blue, Sweden, July 2009

So, had I added all these extra species, my final 2013 total would have been 92 species. Theoretically it could be possible to reach 100, but it would be a struggle.


Monday 10th March 2014

2014 butterfly list reaches 2 species – and I still haven’t finished 2013!!

Yesterday and today have been our first truly Spring days, and with the warm weather came a considerable emergence of Small Tortoiseshells, Aglais urticae, of which I saw at least 10 yesterday, and of the gorgeous yellow Brimstone, Gonepteryx rhamni, of which I must have seen nearly 20 today!

I now need to hurry with my hypothetical list of species that I should have seen in 2013, but which (metaphorically) slipped through the net, I now come to perhaps one of the most regrettable absentees, the splendid Lesser Purple Emperor, Apatura ilia.

This beautiful species, only marginally smaller than its congenor the Purple Emperor, Apatura iris, occurs in most of the larger woods in the region of northern France and southern Belgium that I frequent, and the only reason for its absence from my list is the fact that I had already left for Scotland by the time it had emerged fully for its summer flight season.

Lesser Purple Emperor, Apatura ilia, f. ilia

A Lesser purple Emperor of the typical form, f. ilia, which has whitish spots on the purple background

In fact, I did in fact see two Apaturas that had the yellowish tinge in flight that is so characteristic of the Lesser Purple Emperor, particularly the yellow form f. clytie, on my one visit to one its most favoured haunts in Belgium, but I only saw them fleetingly from the car and I felt at the time that it would be unreasonable for me to put them on my list. In retrospect, I probably should have done, as they could not have been anything else.

Lesser Purple Emperor, Apatura ilia, f. clytie

A more yellowish individual, f. clytie

In previous years, I have spent many delightful July days in these great forests, marvelling at the beauty of the two Purple Emperor species, often seeing them together feeding on the forest tracks, sometimes sucking up the mineral-soaked water from the damp ground, but often gorging themselves through their bright yellow proboscis on less attractive sources (to us) such as animal dung or dead animals.

Lesser Purple Emperor, Apatura ilia

A Lesser Purple Emperor sucking nutrients from a dead beetle

Based on my observations of these two Emperors of the forest, it certainly seems true that the morning between 10.00 and 12.00 is the best time to find them on the ground; after midday, they tend to retreat to the higher branches of nearby trees, and are harder to find. The video below shows both species of Purple Emperor together, both feeding on dry dung. The Lesser Purple Emperor can easily be recognised by its more uniform sandy-coloured underside, which lacks the bold white band of the Purple Emperor.

Had I counted the Lesser Purple Emperor on my 2013 list of 77 species, plus the other absentees already mentioned, my list would have come to: 86 species.