West Coast Butterfly Bonanza

In keeping with the spirit of the #30DaysWild campaign, a few days past I opted to do something a little wild. Utilising my last free day on Islay I set out on a butterfly hunt, hoping to catch up with as many species as possible, common and scarce alike. Well, to say the mini-expedition was a success would be a monumental understatement and during a two hour stint moving no more than a 1/2 mile I managed to catch up with no less than ten species. Each and all clustered around a small upland stream with its mosaic banks of Bracken and blooming wildflowers – the latter of which included some rather delightful Heath Spotted and Early Purple Orchids.

Setting off, the first butterfly to catch my eye was a Large Heath resting in a patch of sedge – a brightly coloured individual, boasting a number of eye spots on its under-wing. Something which pointed towards the Polygama subspecies of Heath said to inhabit the intermediate portion of the species range, Northern England and the Southern portion of Scotland, I think. Later, a few more Large Heath were located, though these showed only a few eye spots and were, for the most part, paler than the first individual. Factors which point towards the Scotica subspecies which dominates in the North of its range. Islay, it seems, falls on the boundary where the two populations meet and both appear to persist here. Though it is Scotica that appears most numerous, twenty-two out of the twenty-five butterflies seen this day falling into latter category. Interesting stuff!

Large Heath sp. Polygama/Scotica

Moving on into an area of dense bracken utterly crawling with ticks – as is to be expected on Islay – a a flash of orange caught my attention. A large, bright butterfly moving lightening quick over the bracken before setting about feeding from some nearby Marsh Thistle flowers. A Dark-Green Fritillary, a vision of elegance clad in orange and black. By far out commonest Fritillary and the one I stumble across most often during my travels but no less intriguing despite its abundance. This, rather obliging, individual (shown below), was more than happy to pose for a few photos and seemingly comprised a mere appetiser of things to come with five more frits soon taking to the wing. Well, six in truth, if you count the Marsh Fritillary which almost passed by unnoticed as I gawked at its larger kin. A real specialty of Islay, thriving on the isles plentiful bogs and, by all accounts, a real beauty. Its wings reminiscent of stained glass windows though, in my opinion, far more appealing than even the finest.

Dark-Green Fritillary & Marsh Fritillary

Departing the fritillaries and passing onto a heavily grazed slope alive with the delicate yellow flowers of Tormentil, and a new cast of butterflies soon fluttered into view. First, a single Small Copper, vibrant and freshly emerged – determined to hold its little patch of grass against all comers. Among them, a handful of Small Heath to which the copper took an immediate dislike when they appeared to invade its territory. Small Heath are by far the most numerous butterfly here, at least by my observations, befitting their fondness for moorland and, as their name suggests, heath. Two habitat types which are thankfully rather widespread on the island. Quite a bit smaller than their larger cousin but still, at times, giving cause for confusion – the Scotica race of Large Heath often described as looking altogether similar.

Small Heath & Small Copper

Heading back the way I came, quite content with what I had seen already, a sapphire took to the wing on my left. A Common Blue – another frequently encountered butterfly that, somehow, never grows dull. How could it? This individual marked my first of the year no less and was promptly followed by three handsome Meadow Brown. Perhaps my earliest ever! Both species set about feeding on the wealth of stream-side vegetation and held me up for a good view minutes before I was able to drag myself away and continue homewards. A short trip which would provide three more butterflies, the first of which being a Green-Veined White by the roadside, perching on grass stems whenever the sun -which was beginning to fade – passed behind the cloud. Next, a Speckled Wood fluttered past in a small copse alive with the pink blooms of non-native Rhododendron and, finally, in the garden, a familiar migrant paid a visit. A Painted Lady – fresh from Africa most like – providing another first for the year and concluding the visit in an exciting fashion.

Common Blue & Speckled Wood

Green-Veined White, Meadow Brown & Painted Lady

In truth, I owe the weather a great deal of late. My last few days on Islay were about as hot as they come in mid-June and much to the liking of the local butterflies. Many of which appear to have emerged very early indeed this year. The Dark-Green Fritillaries in-particular coming as quite a surprise. Perhaps 2016 will turn out to be one of the rare years where our butterflies do well though only time will tell I guess. For now I am off elsewhere, my lepidopetera obsession well and truly sated for now.

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