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.

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