Four more beauties from Cambodia

On this holiday I reached a personal milestone: I passed the 300-butterfly-species marker. In Cambodia alone, I added over 70 new species to the list.

Two types of location proved to be the best for spotting butterflies:

  1. muddy banks near waterfalls or rivers
  2. buddhist monasteries.

Every butterfly lover will recognize the former, so let me explain the latter: many monasteries in the countryside are built on sandy soil, which enables flowerbeds to exist, which in turn attracts butterflies. These monasteries are also peaceful and quiet, accessible to the general public, so make for excellent butterfly watching. Only the monasteries in Phnom Penh were built on concrete or stone, so I had no luck there.

While on a jungle trek, we had lunch at a river bank teeming with butterflies. The only difficulty was choosing which one to go after! Below is the Common Ciliate Blue (Anthene emolus) sipping minerals from some plastic left behind by other tourists.

Common ciliate blue anthene emolus

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/400   ISO 100

At the same location the Common Tit (Hypolycaena erylus)

Common tit hypolycaena erylus

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/250   ISO 100

Once we had returned to our nice little bungalow in Chi Pat village community, I finally managed to photograph a butterfly against my favourite black background. Below is the Lesser Grass Blue (Zizina otis). This small blue is widespread across the country.Lesser grass blue zizina otis

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/160   ISO 100

Cambodia also offered me a colourful farewell present. On our final day in Phnom Penh, in the garden of our hotel in the middle of the city (of all places!) the beautiful Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete) was looking for a place to sleep and landed on a leaf right in front of me. I sprinted back to my room, grabbed the big white 300 2.8 and ran back. Still there! Wow! Breath in….breath out. Blast away. Got it! Look at the screen: sharp. Yes! Look at the screen again: ISO 6400. Grainy, ouch….I have set my tele to a minimum shutter speed of 1/500 to avoid motion blur. It works like a treat, only if daylight fades your ISO increases dramatically. At home I applied 90% noise reduction and the picture cleared up magically. Thank you Canon & Adobe. Thank you Cambodia for a wonderful holiday!Painted jezebel delias hyparete

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/500   ISO 6400

Cambodian treasures

Four Lycaenidae from the Cambodia jungle

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Indochina with a GDP per capita of only 1,400 USD (2017), slightly higher than Burma but much lower than Vietnam or Thailand. Its natural world though is particularly rich. My wife and I explored this on our three-week holiday through this lovely country with its friendly population, delicious cuisine and sunny weather.

We booked a six-day private tour with the Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation. This is a non-profit organisation based in Siem Riep (samveasna.com) with excellent access to protected areas, cooperating with and supporting the local population and preserving endangered species. Our guide was Mr. Huon Hat who had excellent knowledge and keen eyes and ears for birds. I am sure he now also has a keen eye for butterflies 🙂

With regard to butterflies, Cambodia is essentially a blank spot on the map of Indochina. The butterfly fauna for neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam has been well researched and documented, but not so for Cambodia. There is no species list for the country nor a field guide. We do not even know how much species the country features. To identify the specimens I have photographed I used the guides to Thai and Vietnamese butterflies with – hence – a slight possibility of errors.

Below is The White Cerulean (Jamides Pura) in Phnom Kulen NP.

White cerulean jamides pura

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/160   ISO 640

The Malayan (Megisba Malaya) at the same location.

The Malayan megisba malaya

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/125   ISO 125

The Curetis species cannot be distinguished from each other by just looking at the underwings, but luckily one specimen opened its wings far enough to grab a quick shot of the black-and-red pattern on the upperwings to identify this one as The Bright Sunbeam (Curetis bulis).

Bright sunbeam curetis bulis

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/160   ISO 160

The Banded Lineblue (Prosotas lutea) is absolutely stunning with its golden colours.

The banded lineblue prosotas lutea

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/160   ISO 100



The Red Admiral finally arrives on the scene

The underside of the Red Admiral butterfly

Isn’t it a bit weird to have a blog on butterfly photography called “Red Admiral” and not having a single photo of the Red Admiral butterfly (Vanessa Atalanta) on your site? Indeed it is. Well, today is the day that omission will be corrected once and for all.

As a butterfly photographer you sometimes have to walk for miles and miles to get to the nicest of places, you have to set your alarmclock at ridiculous times, you need patience and stamina to produce that phantastic shot. And sometimes, all you need is to walk 20 meters just around the corner of your wife’s parents, in the middle of the day, click away for five minutes and return for tea and sandwiches. Ha!

This summer, there were at least ten Red Admirals on a butterfly bush. A good picture of the underwing had been on my wishlist for a long time. Conditions were a little overcast so I used some flash to highlight the details and let the gold shine through.

Vanessa atalanta butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/160   ISO 200

Then a ray of sun came through the clouds so this one was taken with natural lighting:

Vanessa atalanta butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.5   1/400   ISO 100

One wish fulfilled, so many more to go. Too bad the butterfly season is as good as over. Stay tuned to Red Admiral Butterfly Photography blog though, because the season delivered some very nice stand-alone pictures to show over the coming months, plus some new “top tips for butterfly photographers”.

Still got the blues for you…

Four different blue butterflies on lavender

A week of hiking in the Morvan, Bourgogne, France resulted not only in pleasant memories of wine and croissants, but also in a colourful end of the butterfly season.

The week started off with overcast conditions and 18ºC. Not a single butterfly was flying around. But every day we hiked the temperature rose by 1 or 2 degrees, so we ended up hiking in 28ºC under clear blue skies. At our second B&B, the lavender bushes were blooming and at least fifty Blues were feasting on it. This pair of mating Common Blue (Polyommatus Icarus) was the highlight of the week:

Common blue polyommatus icarus mating butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/2000   ISO 100

I was so overwhelmed by the number of butterflies, all of them flying madly around and chasing after each other that it took me some time to discover that not all were Common Blues. Below is a Mazarine Blue (Cyaniris semiargus)

Mazarine blue cyaniris semiargus butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/200   ISO 100

Then I spotted a butterfly resembling the female Common Blue, but it looked a little bit more chocolate brown and on closer inspection, it appeared to be an Adonis Blue (Polyommatus Bellargus).

Adonis blue polyommatus bellargus butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/800   ISO 100

Last but not least, a single Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) completed the spectacle.

Brown argus aricia agestis butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/2500   ISO 100

C’était formidable!

One man’s loss is another man’s gain

Upperwing and underwing close-ups of the Painted Lady

Although I spent many hours in the field, finding a dead butterfly is a rare thing. I suppose most are picked up by predators in a minute. So when I cycled back home from work and found this dead Painted Lady (Vanessa Cardui) I did not hesitate and picked it up. It was in mint condition except for a missing antenna and some legs.

At home, I keep a large piece of black paper exactly for this purpose: to provide a nice, even background for close-ups. The shiny back cover of a book provided some nice mirror-effects on the foreground:

Painted lady vanessa cardui

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/8   1/250   ISO 200

This is good opportunity to photograph the intricate details on the underwing. What a beauty the Painted Lady is:

Painted lady vanessa cardui underwing

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/8   1/400   ISO 200

….look at those magnificent patterns and detail…

Painted lady vanessa cardui underwing detail

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/160   ISO 200

The upperwing was already missing some scales in the lower right corner:

Painted lady vanessa cardui upperwing

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/160   ISO 200

What I learned is that even tiny hairs grow out of its eyes….

Painted lady vanessa cardui head

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/80   ISO 200


Cranberries and butterflies

Three rare butterflies of peat-moor photographed in one day

The second leg of my quest for Holland’s rarest butterflies led me to the province of Drenthe. It harbours the last Dutch populations of a threesome of butterflies typically found in peat-moor: the Large Heath (Coenympha tullia), the Cranberry Blue (Plebejus optilete) and the Cranberry Fritillary (Boloria aquilionaris). All three are extremely rare and for the blue I had only a rough idea of a location to go on. After last year’s long, warm and dry summer I wondered how these species would have fared, as they are dependent on wet conditions in the moores. Chances were that the small populations would have gone extinct in our little country. So my expectations were not high and I would consider myself blessed if I managed to see all three at all. Boy, I would not be disappointed!

I left the house at 05:00 AM under a bright blue sky. It was also our wedding anniversary so I considered this as a good omen. After 1.5 hours on empty highways I arrived in the Fochteloërveen in Drenthe. It did not take long for the first Large Heath to pass by. Yes! A new butterfly species for me. Happily I took a quick snapshot and considered the day successful already. Along the whole stretch I counted another five or so. Sometimes they will sunbath at the path which allows you to take a decent photograph, but not this time. At the end of the hike I met two friendly ladies with whom I exchanged some information. They provided me with directions to the location of the Cranberry Blue, so I decided to leave the Large Heaths behind and move over to the Dwingelderveld, another nature area close by.

Upon arrival, the directions proved less clear than I had thought. I walked a couple of kilometers seeing nothing special until I spotted some blue, black and red in the distance. It proved to be a small gathering of people. This could only mean one thing: something was worth seeing up there! I quickly moved over to what turned out to be the right place. After some waiting I spotted a blue butterfly in the distance and thought I had a lucky break again, but it turned out to be a Silver-studded Blue upon closer inspection. Eventually the Cranberry Blue flew out of the protected zone and I could take a decent shot. Number 2 was in the bag! Another photographer told me that the location for the Cranberry Fritillary was bursting with butterflies so I decided to move once again and get a lay of the land.

My fellow photographer was right: there were so many Cranberry Fritillaries that you could not miss them even if you wanted to. I took a quick snapshot of a sunbathing Cranberry Fritillary and smiled from ear to ear: the whole threesome in one day and I had expected none! Surely I deserved some rest now after being on my feet all day long. At my hotel I had dinner, set the alarmclock for 04:45 AM and went to bed.

The next morning – a little drowsy still from lack of sleep –  I drove over to the Cranberry Fritillary location. The area is fenced off, but there were at least five butterflies to be found on the permitted of the fence. The first one was in a bad spot for butterfly photography as were the last three, so I made the best out of number two. If only that huge cloud blocking the sun would move over please…impatiently I waited for over half an hour for the soft sunlight to shine through and was then rewarded with this magnificent spectacle of a dew-covered rare butterfly through my viewfinder:

Cranberry fritillary boloria aquilionaris butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4   1/500   ISO 200

Cranberry fritillary boloria aquilionaris butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4   1/400   ISO 100

After taking over a hundred pictures from every possible angle my inspiration dried up and I decided to push my luck again with the Cranberry Blue. Packed my stuff, drove over, unpacked…the rythm was now getting a little too familiar and two short nights started to have an impact. Therefore a big THANK YOU is due to a pair of mint Cranberry Blues that were right at the edge of the field in plain view. No long searching, no long waiting for the butterflies to start flying around, just push that button on the camera and smile at the result. Again I took dozens of pictures, but I like this one most as the butterfly and the background are so alike in colour, lending a particular feel to the photo.

Cranberry blue plebejus optilete butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5   1/125   ISO 250

Getting a little tired, I stepped into the car for the long drive home. I returned with a head full of beautiful memories, a memory card full of beautiful photographs and full of joy to my loving wife.

Lucky in Limburg

Three new butterfly species for me in one weekend

For this year my goal is to photograph as much rare butterfly species in Holland as possible. Why? Because I want to have seen them before they go extinct. The sad news is that butterfly numbers in Holland have decreased by 84% since 1890 (CBS, March 2019) and 40% alone since 1992 (Vlinderstichting, March 2018). Last year’s long and extremely dry summer may have given the final push over the brink for some of our country’s remaining species. Climate change, intensive agriculture, pollution and habitat loss are the main contributors to this dramatic decline. I am grateful for the good work of the Dutch Butterfly Association (vlinderstichting.nl) and other NGO’s to counter this trend.

Now back to the good news: the first ones are in the pocket. In late May I travelled to the Dutch province of Zuid-Limburg. As Holland’s most southern province, more or less on the same latitude as Belgium, it has a relatively warm climate in a landscape dominated by chalk hills. These make for a very unique and diverse flora and fauna.

The species I was looking for was the Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia). The village of Bemelen has a small population and  with great anticipation I climbed the local hill to the place-to-be. Only to encounter a fence and a no access sign….damn! Should have realized this of course. The skies were overcast and nothing was flying around so my chances of seeing one were reduced to zero in a split second. I walked around some more to get the lay of the land but soon accepted the fact that nothing would come of it. I decided to drive a short stretch to an abandoned quarry. It was already around 6pm and the sun finally broke through. I got my lucky break then: the Small Blue (Cupido minimus) appeared out of nothing. An extremely rare butterfly for the Netherlands that I did not expect to see. This quarry was close to my hotel so I decided to call it a day and return the next day.

On Sunday, my early-morning visit was first to the Sint Pietersberg to scout for the Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages). Despite sunshine and just a little wind, I could not find a single one. I can just confirm that their brown camouflage works very well…

Therefore I returned to the quarry and saw my first Glanville Fritillary within minutes. All smiles. I took a step closer….gone. Nowhere to be found and I promised myself not to wander off the path. However, the Small Blues were still around:

Small blue cupido minimus butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4   1/320   ISO 200

I decided to try another location and that proved to be a good decision. On a local chalk hill this fresh Glanville Fritillary decided to pose for me. I finally got what I came for.

Glanville fritillary melitaea cinxia butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/250   ISO 200

The catch of the day was this Wood White (Leptidea sinapsis) that I literally stumpled upon. It flew away a few meters in its characteristic fluttery way, but after a few tries it settled down and I could sneak close enough for this shot.

Wood white leptidea sinapsis butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.5   1/800   ISO 200

Three new butterfly species in one weekend: I was very happy with this result and drove home to Amsterdam in a good mood. Let’s see what the rest of the season brings.