Close and common

Three common butterflies close to home.

Recently I drove to Maastricht in search of rare butterflies. The total driving time (single trip) amounted to two hours and I did not see a single species on my wish list. As I said to a fellow photographer that I met in the field that day: “a lesson by Nature in humility”.

A few days later I did exactly the opposite and cycled to a field close to home in search of the commonest of common butterflies. Total cycling time: seven minutes. The results: abundance.

The sun was already setting which made it easy to spot butterflies in the long grass. A couple of Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) were present:

Brown argus aricia agestis butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/800   ISO 100

Next up was a pair of Small Heath (Coenonympha paphilus). Apparently they were still awake and warm as they flew away when I approached. After some time they cooled down and I could take this shot. I like the orange in the wing being visible. A few minutes later the wings settled and it was all dab grey.

Small heath coenonympha paphilus butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.5   1/320   ISO 100

After an hour of composing and clicking I had suffered enough mosquito bites to call it a day. Then I found the catch of the day literally two meters away from my bicycle: a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas). The low sun gives it that really nice red glow. Usually I would prefer a fresh one, but the missing piece of the wing adds that extra bit of colour to the photo.

Small copper lycaena phlaeas butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/160   ISO 250

Royal present

Grizzled skipper butterfly in favorable light.

After six weeks of continous sunshine, warm weather and not a single drop of rain I thought that maybe my little friend the Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) would show up early. On His Majesty the King’s birthday, the 27th of April, I set my alarm clock at the very royal time of 04:00u and left home. While the rest of the country slept, I drove over our nation’s empty highways to my destination and arrived shortly before Sunrise.

I had to divert from my original plan slightly as my usual spot had been closed off to the general public since my last visit. Those surprises are part of the job if you only visit a site once a year. There was a publicly accessible path though and I walked over. I had some trouble finding at least one butterfly, so I set down my heavy backpack to spare my back. And then, believe it or not, in the corner of my eye…..a Grizzled Skipper dangling from a small flower. Not even 10 centimeters over the ground. No wonder I missed it at first. Turns out I selected exactly the right spot to take a break!

The first series of pictures are the more standard ones, although with very favorable light:

Grizzled skipper pyrgus malvae butterfly

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

I promised myself to try harder to actually distance myself from butterflies. Include their surroundings, their living space into the frame. Maybe a first attempt. I like this version of the trinity, but I feel I can improve more.

Grizzled skipper pyrgus malvae butterfly

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

Last but not least I could not refrain from shooting a close-up to show how a butterfly is actually covered with hairs. The sun had already burned off the morning dew, otherwise it would have been a stunning sight.

Grizzled skipper pyrgus malvae close-up

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/9.0   1/160   ISO 250

See you next year my dear Grizzled Skippers!

 

Love – hate: love prevails in the end

The orange tip butterfly beautifully lit up by the sun.

Last year I wrote to you about the love-hate relationship with the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines). It is a common butterfly, but in a meadow with thousands of cuckooflowers it can take hours to find one. Or none.

The order of things this year was similar to last year: the first trip spent in the woods near Udenhout was fruitless. A fellow photographer pointed out three Orange Tips on the same flower, all arranged in such a way that I did not even bother to grab my camera. I hiked all morning through the forest and concluded that birders have it easy.

Yesterday every piece of the puzzle fell into place. The sky was bright blue, the wind was negligible, the temperature low and I found my first butterfly within five minutes. The pictures below are from the second one I found. It may look like I used flash, but that’s not the case. The sun rays light this female Orange Tip up naturally against the dark forest floor.

Orange Tip anthocharis cardamines butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/7.1   1/800   ISO 250

Orange tip anthocharis cardamines butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/2500   ISO 250

So, love prevailed in the end. My dear readers, please remind me next year to up the antes: a photograph of the backlit underwings of an Orange Tip sunbathing is next on my wishlist.

Eat or be eaten

A praying mantis grabs a golden birdwing butterfly in front of my eyes.

It is rare to show an action shot of a butterfly, but this time the action unfolded right in front of my eyes.

In between tours my wife and I spent a day relaxing at the pool, reading a book and drinking cocktails in a boutiqe resort in Cambodia. In my case, such slow behaviour will last for no more than an hour before you will see me doing the rounds on the premises checking for wildlife. Suddenly the “aircraft carrier” among the butterflies came sailing by: The Golden Birdwing (Troides Aeacus). It is such a beauty with its bright golden-yellow hindwing, intense black-and-silver forewings and its huge size. In the few second it took me to grab my camera, it had gone over the roof of our room and disappeared from view.

Now, there was a blooming tree on the premises that had attracted the odd butterfly the day before so I went to check it out. Oh boy, the airship was indeed there!

Golden birdwing troides aeacus

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/3200   ISO 100

Then, out of the blue, the butterfly started flapping its wings like crazy. I mean real crazy. What the….? I peered through my viewfinder but saw nothing out of the ordinary. It was not until I zoomed in on my screen that I spotted the Praying Mantis. It has hidden in the flower, patiently waiting for its unsuspecting prey to pass by.

golden birdwing troides aeacus

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/800   ISO 100

In a few minutes the mantis had chewed its way into the inside of the butterfly (good luck with that meal!).

Golden birdwing troides aeacus

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.0   1/640   ISO 100

All that was left were the sad remains of two wings in the grass….This Golden Birdwing was no more, but my memories of the survival of the fittest as a real-life movie are still there.

Golden birdwing troides aeacus

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/500   ISO 100

300

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”.