Butterflies galore

Published: 11th June 2016


Who would have thought it after last year! Here in Lochaber we have enjoyed almost three weeks of undiluted sunshine, which has been pretty much perfect for the scheduled early butterfly breaks with Glenloy Wildlife.  Temperatures soared to 23oC, with butterflies and moths flying every day we were out, the only downside being a stronger than hoped for breeze on occasions. The target species in late May and early June is Chequered Skipper, found only within 30 miles of Fort William in Britain. Despite a poor season in 2015, this seems to have appeared almost everywhere we looked, particularly in the second break.

We started off with a visit to Glasdrum NNR for early skippers and Pearl-bordered Fritillary. There were lots of skippers flying, as well as PBF, but also a surprising number of newly emerged Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. The skippers we saw were mostly males, but were showing well, despite a reluctance to open their wings when shaded by passing clouds. Other species included some bright Small Coppers, several Orange-tips and lots of Green-veined White, as well as a range of moths. The next day we looked hard for skippers amongst the bluebells at Ariundle NNR, but were unsuccessful in the breeze. A couple of Scottish variant Speckled Woods were some consolation as was glorious views of singing wood warblers. The next day we concentrated on woodland, rather than butterflies, but did find another skipper during a short visit to Allt Mhuic. We did, however make our way up the proposed Arkaig Community Forest to inspect the Caledonian pines, and were rewarded with fly-bys of both golden eagle and osprey, with carpets of chickweed wintergreen underfoot.

If anything, the sunshine was rather better for our second Chequered Skipper break, and we saw skippers in all the places we looked for them. There was a good showing of skippers and Green Hairstreak in Glen Loy and several SPBF, along with the first Small Heaths of the season. We also had Argent and Sable moths and a number of Golden-ringed Dragonflies. Both PBF and SPBF were on the wing along forest paths near Chia-Aig, and we also found a couple of skippers there (possibly a new site?), together with several Speckled Wood. Amongst a wealth of insect life we came across a rather strangely marked tiger beetle amongst the numerous Green Tiger Beetles, and are waiting to see if it is something different. The next day we experienced some more coastal breezes, as we searched for Marsh Fritillary at Cuil Bay. Eventually we found several flying along a sheltered bank, along with plenty of Small Heath. Males barely seemed to stay still, whilst even the females rarely rested long enough to get photos, although everyone seemed to manage some at least. We found further Marsh Fritillaries at the Jubilee Bridge, Appin, along with Small Copper and a Cinnabar Moth, rare for this part of the world. The next day we explored several ‘typical’ Lochaber butterfly sites of unimproved acid grassland and heathland. At Glenfinnan we saw more Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, along with a couple of skippers, and the first Clouded Buff moths of the year. Fritillaries and skippers were also found at Callop and in Stronchreggan. This latter lovely glen produced a wealth of species, including a Common Groundhopper (spotted by our orthopteran enthusiast, and possibly a first record for this far north).  We also found a Fox Moth and a mating trio of Northern Eggar.

In total we recorded a total of twelve butterfly species, and all we could reasonably expect to find in Lochaber at this time of the year. We also ran a moth trap each night, as well as recording any day flying moths we managed to find. The macromoth tally for the week also ran to over 50 species. Emptying a trap after breakfast proved to be a mistake as the moths were far too active by then, so we had to revert to an earlier start. Several striking moths were recorded, including both Poplar and Elephant Hawkmoth, along with Peach Blossom, Puss Moth, Peppered Moth, Lunar Thorn and Coxcomb Prominent. The commonest moth in the trap appeared to be Broom Moth, whilst Clouded Borders were seen throughout the day in most sites.

Since the last break finished a further two butterfly species have been recorded, Common Blue (very fresh), and Painted Lady. The latter was seen on the Erracht transect, as well as on some of the Inner Hebridean islands, so it seems that this could well be a ‘Painted Lady year’, with an irruption of these handsome migrants tempted northwards by the warm weather. More skippers have continued to appear, including on our butterfly transect at Erracht and in the FCS woodlands at Inchree. Let’s hope for more good weather for the next butterfly break, in search of Mountain Ringlet, in July.