Saturday, 11 April 2015

Easter butterflies and other insects

With some beautiful weather over the Easter holidays, it has been wonderful to see the local environment transforming, with ever more wildflowers blooming such as wild primrose, wood anemone and forget-me-not to name a few, trees gradually coming into leaf, and accordingly insects emerging from their long winter slumbers. Having taken a few days off work over the Easter holidays and with the good fortune of some wonderful weather coinciding, this and the next few posts will be a catch up on several visits made to local spots where I enjoy watching wildlife in the past week (in between also trying to repaint a garden summerhouse!), starting with the Quinta arboretum and also the Quinta wildlife trust reserve in Swettenham which is accessed from it.

I headed over to the arboretum on Easter Sunday and Monday with the hope that the fine warm weather would bring out the butterflies. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and in these visits saw a 'full house' of the UK butterflies that overwinter as adults. A beautifully brightly coloured male Brimstone I only saw in flight – they are strong fliers and I couldn’t follow him to wherever he might have landed. Commas, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks were present, not in huge numbers, but wonderful to see again. Also, enjoying the flowers of a Pieris was a Red Admiral. These butterflies are generally considered to be migrants to our shores, with large numbers arriving from central Europe in May and June, however there is increasing evidence that some are managing to survive hibernation through our milder winters - it may be that being here in early April means that this was one of them.     

Red Admiral on Pieris flowers
Comma butterfly

Willow catkins are magnets to insects at this time of year, so I spent a while watching and photographing the visitors at a couple of willow trees where the catkins were full of pollen, and also many branches were low enough to get close to some of their insect visitors. This was where I saw Comma and Peacock butterflies, also enjoying the catkins were a selection of flies including prettily coloured greenbottles and various hoverflies. 
On a previous recent visit to the arboretum, of the bumblebees, I had just seen Tree and Buff-tailed, this time in addition there were Early and White-tailed bumblebees. Lots of tiny solitary bees of different Andrena species were also making the most of this pollen bounty.

High rise living - Grove snail 10 feet up!
Solitary bee (Andrena haemorrhoa?)
Looking a little out of place at nearly 10 feet up a tree was a snail (a Grove snail I think - Cepaea nemoralis). Also enjoying the catkins was a Peacock butterfly - this one was visiting the uppermost catkins, but would also periodically fly down to ground level to bask in the sun where I was able to take a few more photos from within a foot or so. Unsurprisingly, sudden movements will make a butterfly take flight, but with care to avoid this and importantly to avoid casting a shadow over them it is possible to get quite close without frightening them away. This individual's wings were a little tatty around the edges, but for a butterfly that has come out of hibernation I thought looked in pretty good condition. I also checked on the chrysalis of what I think is a Large White butterfly that I'd spotted a few weeks ago, and it was still there looking entirely unchanged - it can't be much longer now until the adult butterfly emerges!

Peacock butterfly

Insects love to bask in the sun, and a smooth warm surface like a bench, post, tree trunk etc, is a great place to find interesting insects. Sharing a bench with a load of flies might not be everyone's idea of fun but armed with a macro lens on the camera I was kept amused for a [worrying?] length of time. Before getting a macro lens, I hadn't paid much attention to hoverflies, but many of them are really quite beautiful, and in some cases (like Rhingia species) interestingly shaped. I'm still very much a novice when it comes to attempts at identifying hoverflies, but for anyone interested in learning more, an excellent book on the subject is 'Britain's Hoverflies, an introduction to the hoverflies of Britain' by Stuart Ball and Roger Morris. Reports can also be submitted to the Hoverfly Recording scheme which is administered by the authors.

Male hoverfly - Syrphus torvus
One interesting feature of hoverflies is that the males and females of most species can be told about by the spacing of their eyes - the males' eyes meet at the top of their heads, whereas the eyes of females are spaced apart. You can see this in the photos below I took of a male and female Eristalis pertinax whilst sharing a bench with them!

Eristalis pertinax hoverflies, male left, female right

Checking back at the Pieris again on my way out, I found a tiny ladybird I didn't recognise, about 3-4 mm long. From looking at the UK ladybird survey website, I think this is another colour variation of a 10-spot ladybird, quite different from the 10-spot seen previously which had a ground colour of orange and more clearly defined black spots - these colour variations all adding to the fun of trying to identify these tiny creatures I find on my forays into their micro worlds!

10-spot Ladybird


  1. Another really enjoyable read Jan. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks very much Dougie - pleased you liked it. (You must let me know if you spot any dodgy insect identification going on!!!) :)

  2. Wonderful captures Jan! Great to see these butterflies and other insects as the season's transformations progress over there. I really love the beauty of the Peacock butterfly. Your being amused for a "worrying" length of time made me smile. I am finding out myself just how easily done that is with a macro lens. :-) Looking forward to seeing more of what you've found on your outings.

    1. Thanks Greg - I love this time of year and seeing new things appearing every week. Some of our most familiar butterflies in the UK are also some of the most spectacular - it's great to see them again. Yes macro really does draw you in (as you're obviously finding too!). Amazing what you start to find and notice when you start to home in on the very small! :)