Sunday, 6 August 2017

best bumper butterfly bonanza

Most times we head off to Gullane I over-optimistically imagine out loud all the fabulous things we will find on the beach (ribbon fish, octopuses, the SS Cabinet Minister) or on the savannah (antelopes, tame owls.) Still waiting on that ribbon fish and have been, ever since seeing the reconstruction in Chamber St museum of the one that came ashore near Dunbar. I think there have been more dead humans washed ashore than Ribbon Fish along the coast. Sad face emoji. However yesterday as we headed out I was suggesting to Mary we shopping-list a 4 butterfly tick list and maybe add 3 random moths and who will be first-to-find-a-toad bet? Given we started during a mild downpour that the weather people yet again failed to accurately predict, and that there were others on the way travelling fast towards us, due to the stiff breeze, I had little hope for spotting fluttery friends. But the Falko's coffee gives one a heightened sense of possibilities. And so we set off on what was to become the most successful butterfly hunt of the year.

Mary spotted this shield bug just as we set off. 
Great start to the run: I love shield bugs. 
This one had 2 rain drops looking like stick on eyes.

Reckon Mary and I would have romped the 11-and-under 3-legged race. The leaders were blatantly cheating not using anything to tie their legs. I used to love the 3-legged race as it played to my strengths of 1/ running (as a school kid I strove to match my elder brother's standards and so was in near-continual training) and 2/ music. You need rhythm to keep time and a regular left-right-left-right. Man I loved that race! When you got it right with someone who knew what they were doing you could fly at top speed like you were running solo.

Piffle. Kids nowadays!

I keep stealing Mary's finds. She will point out something visually rich like rain in a dandelion clock and I'll take more photos, getting and posting a better result. Let's call it teamwork.

yep, I was feeling exactly like this when the second shower of the run had us stand under a tree for 5mins. Surely we would see nothing much of value today?

By the time we crossed the bridge at Aberlady the sun was out and everything was improving. This was the first deer in a couple of weeks.

damselflies at Marl Loch
(no sign as yet of the dragonflies - they are leaving it late)

with entourage

one of these doing a headstand

We ran on to 'toad corner' where we had found a toad a few weeks ago. It looks similar to much of the surrounding scrub - lots of grasses and wildflowers and thistles with a few larger thorn bushes, but it seems to be just right for insects and butterflies and even if the air around there is not buzzing with life usually there are a few friends lurking in the grasses, who can be coaxed into temporary modelling jobs. First up the charming fat-headed Small Skipper; a great start to the day.

Next up the dark green fritillary. I had thought they had come and gone but there were at least a couple still about. The photos below were the second one of the day. The first one eluded the camera, or at least the focal range. This one was more relaxed and more intent on visiting the flowers than avoiding the camera. Continually moving but fairly oblivious of myself. Possibly my all time favourite local butterfly. I was going to apologise for posting so many photos, but you can't have too many!

boggley eyes

Any day with a fritillary in it is a good one. As I chased it across the scrub there were Blues and browns flying up from the long grasses trying to distract me. It was like Christmas. What am I saying? I hate christmas. The blues are always challenging, but when the sun is out they can look dazzling and always worth a snap. Especially if they open their wings to sunbathe. Bare in mind the entirely blue upper here on what is the male, which we will compare in a moment with the female upper.

small skipper

Then Mary spotted a Peacock. I haven't seen one in a couple of months and judging by it's beautiful markings and un-tattered wings this was a recent emergence. So presumably a second brood? A quick check in the butterfly-bible suggests Peacocks and their close relatives the Small Tortoiseshells (and Commas) are about all year except for June/July. About now they will find a site in which to hibernate then feed up, staying close to their roost until early Sept. "The Victorian lepidopterist Edward Newman, found 40 together inside an oak, while A B Farn found 'a large assemblage' and noted, as others have since, that the group produced a loud hissing, snake-like sound when disturbed". Well now!

shaded broad bar moth or similar

Small Heath

Now here is the female (Common) Blue. They are much less blue than the males (with the underside markings of the male on the upper wings) and much less conspicuous: "except when egg-laying or feeding, she remains out of sight, perched among the vegetation until the eggs in her abdomen mature." Which goes a long way to explain the absence of females here, or anywhere.

It was turning into a bumper day for different varieties and I was stomping about the scrubby ground in a blissed-out joy. There was an area of taller shrubs surrounded by nettles and thistles which seemed to be the epi-centre of butterfly activity, with this splendid Tortoiseshell joining us there. I sacrificed my legs to the biters and scrapers and tics I imagined working their way into nooks and crannies while I snapped away gasping at every passing visitor. My feet were soaked through from the wet grass and swampy ground, and legs tingly with nettle toxins, but it was worth the sacrifice. 

Small Tortoiseshell

Then just before we left, the icing on the cake, a Comma. I have only once photographed one of these before, mistaking it at a distance for a fritillary, thinking the ragged-edged wings were wear and tear. However they are made that way! I only saw this one from a distance as it was on top of the thistles at the centre of the thorn bushes and safely out of reach. Happy to get these photos before it disappeared. Last one was in Binning Woods. Nearly got a full score card this year, apart from Wall Browns. And I may have missed Painted Ladies, (so widespread last year I haven't been looking out for them particularly) but can't recall seeing any this year.

The Comma gets its name due to the small white comma or C on the underwing. Females and males similar but with females lighter in colour and with less ragged outline to wing. The above? Anyone's guess! (Female maybe, although it looks like 2 separate individuals one with broader less indented wings and one with more. I only remember there being one!) A century ago this species was nearly extinct. It is uncertain why it has recovered but thoughts are that it might be climate related. The distinctive ragged wing shape makes it easy to recognise.

Eventually Mary dragged me away from butterfly heaven. Which was just as well. We could see a large dark weather front and the wind was blowing it our way. There was another over in Fife blotting out the Fife coast and Lomond Hills. We were surrounded on 3 sides by black stormy weather and the threat of a thunderous downpour. 

feet for scale!

From this point on it was a race. We legged it for the car as the wind, just preceding the rain, urged us up Gullane Point and racing towards the car park. Were were just overtaken by the first light shower but got into the Berlingo before it tipped down. Just! I was wondering where all my butterfly friends were sheltering? Couldn't have been easy as everywhere got soaked through.

Things lifted as we drove home and by the time we passed this place next to the A1 it was looking like an Edward Hopper painting. Brilliant day out "capturing" butterflies and unexpectedly rewarding. I was delighted not to be running the Devil of the Highlands ultra. Had much more fun doing this.

6 miles

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