16 August 2011

Butterflies - Browns and Blues

I thought I would show a small selection of some the butterflies that are around at the moment concentrating on Browns and Blues.

Ringlet - Aphantopus hyperantus

The Ringlet has to be the brownest of the Browns. In flight it just looks brown and when it lands it still looks brown. But that is not to say it is dull especially when in full sun light  when its rings almost glow.

Ringlet - Aphantopus hyperantus

Even when it opens its wings it is still the same colour!

Meadow Brown -Maniola jurtina

I see quite a lot of these and also the Gatekeeper and used to get confused by the two as they seem quite similar at first. The Meadow Brown is a bit bigger than the Gatekeeper and its upper wings  have less orange  but knowing that and seeing one in isolation doesn't always help especially as you can get a lot of variation between individuals....

Gatekeeper - Pyronia tithonus

...however there is one tell tale identification feature. The Gatekeeper has two small dots inside the "eye spot" on the wing tips whereas the Meadow Brown has one. Simple.

You now just have to get close enough to see it...but not too close if you are getting a bit long-sighted like me!

Gatekeeper - Pyronia tithonus

The helpful Gatekeeper even has the two spots on its upper wings as well , so it doesn't matter how it decides to perch.
There are of course other tell tale differences but the two spots is a great confirmation.

Brown Argus - Aricia agestis

This is where it gets confusing. This (obviously) brown butterfly is a actually a Blue!

What we are talking about here is related families of butterflies of different species which get grouped together under the name "Browns" or "Blues" (or "Whites", "Hairstreaks" etc). The Brown Argus being closely related to the Common Blue (below) and other "Blues".

In fact the female Common Blue does look very similar to this but the brown wings have a blue iridescence mixed in whereas the Argus wings do not have any hint of blue, although the abdomen may do.

Common Blue - Polyommatus icarus (Male)

The Blues are small colourful, dainty butterflies with an almost metallic sheen to the wings. And I have great difficulty getting a decent picture. I tend to use flash with my Macro photography to help freeze movement and to add  light to often dull inaccessible places where insects live but using flash on these never quite seems to work right because of the reflective nature of their wings and the colours often become washed out.

So natural light (as above) is the way to go if possible.

Common Blue - Polyommatus icarus

The Blues mainly have under-wings like these with orange and black spots in very similar looking patterns.
If I had got a picture of the Brown Argus at rest like this it would have looked very similar at first glance.

I am no expert but I think that this is a male because of the blue tinges near the body.

Brown Hairstreak -  Thecla betulae

This is another "Brown" that is more closely related to a "Blue". It is also quite scarce and I was both  lucky and surprised to see it at Trench Wood, Worcestershire. Worcestershire is one of the few places in the country where these occur but their stronghold is a few miles away in Grafton Wood. I hadn't realised that they occur in Trench Wood.

I was only able to get this one shot before it flew off and it was quite overcast and breezy so it was quite a low shutter speed and it isn't the sharpest picture but good enough for an ID shot and quite an unexpected thrill.

The "trouble" with Brown Hairstreaks is that they spend most of their time high up in trees so even if they are about you don't always get a good view of them.

Small Copper - Lycaena phlaeas

Well copper is sort of Brown! But again this is more of a hairstreak.

I don't see many of these where I usually visit but I took a trip to Hartlebury Common (Worcestershire) and they were quite common but also very active and I spent more time chasing than photographing and still  didn't manage to get any shots with its wings open.

6 August 2011

Garden Hoverflies

I don't know about your garden but at the moment mine seems to be awash with Hoverflies and by far the most abundant is the Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus.

There seems to be a lot more this year than normal and I guess not everyone  finds them as interesting as I do but it is worth remembering that they are completely harmless and they are not wasps despite their appearance.

They seem quite unfazed by humans and even curious, often hovering near to you for a closer look but they do not have sting or bite so no need to swat them. A gentle wave of the arm is all that is needed to "move them on"  if they are are annoying you.

They are, in fact, doing a great job as pollinators and in my garden they are particularly interested in the vegetable patch where the runner beans are in full flower.

Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus

Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus

Resting on the Grape Vine.

Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus

Marmalade Fly - Episyrphus balteatus
The other irresistible thing about this Hoverfly is to try to take pictures of it in flight because it is so obliging and with a little bit of patience and trial and error it isn't too difficult to achieve.

The Marmalade Fly may be the most abundant Hoverfly in the garden but it is not the only one . There are over 250 species of Hoverfly in the UK but maybe only 40 of these are "common" and many of these will be unlikely to turn up in your garden.

Here are a few that did visit this weekend

Scaeva pyrastri on "Fox and Cubs" flower

Quite a large dark hoverfly typically seen in mid summer visiting flowers though not in great numbers. Sometimes called Pied Hoverfly.


Euopedes species
This is a much smaller hoverfly than the Pied and together there would be no mistaking them but in isolation they can be confusing, especially when you are first setting out to start differentiating and identifying the different hoverflies you see. To make things even more difficult some species (like this one) can have a wide variety of forms with different amounts of black and yellow.


Euopedes species - in flight

These are a bit more flighty than the Marmalade Fly and a bit harder to get an in-flight shot. To be honest I think this was more luck than judgement. I was probably trying to get a shot of it on the plant and it moved! Just luckily got it in focus.

Sphaerophoria scripta

This is a small slender hoverfly so easily distinguished from many others.  Not that common but not rare either and I usually spot the odd one at this time of year. This is a female which is a little smaller than the male. See below.

Sphaerophoria scripta - Male

This male was not in the garden but at Grove Hill. One of the ID features for a scripta male is that the abdomen is so long that it extends far beyond the folded wingtips. Even though the wings are not folded here it is quite obvious that the abdomen is much longer.