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.

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”.

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 ( 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.