Butterfly peculiarities

Butterflying in the Austrian mountains

We would have gone to the USA if not for the Corona virus. Our plan B was hiking the mountains in Austria. I can tell you, there are worse plan B’s than hiking in Austria. It was beautiful.

In between enjoying the mountain scenery, the snowcapped peaks and the stunning views I managed to take some butterfly photographs. My wife was kind enough to take this nice picture of me in action amidst the breathtaking alpine scenery. That is the town of Sölden 2,000 meters downhill.

Butterfly photography

The Austrian butterflies had some peculiarities in store for me. Despite spending years and years photographing butterflies, despite them drinking nectar all day long, it is a rare sight to see a butterfly losing its liquid waste. This is a Small Blue (Cupido minimus) with a drop at its behind. I checked with the Dutch Butterfly Association and they were adamant that the brown thingy below the tail is not butterfly poo. It may not be, but it certainly is suggestive…

small blue cupido minimus butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4.5   1/1000   ISO 100

Another peculiarity happened a couple of days later. I was taking pictures of the Apollo (Parnassius apollo) when a Black-veined white (Aporia crataegi) actually landed on top of the Apollo for a split second. As I was shooting my camera at high speed, I could capture two frames of this “incident”. It nicely shows the size difference between the two.

Parnassius apollo black-veined white aporia crataegi butterfliesParnassius apollo black-veined white aporia crataegi butterflies

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

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.

Mud puddling butterflies

A great gathering of butterflies on a rocky slope in Mercantour NP

So many butterflies and so many species together! This was heaven for the butterfly buff! The spectacle of mud puddling butterflies is well known: they lick salt and minerals from the mud and rocks. A peculiarity is that only males gather in such numbers.

On holiday in Southern France last July, my wife and I walked along a rocky slope with a small stream when suddenly a cloud of butterflies rose into the air: we had literally stumbled into this mud puddling group. After maybe 30 seconds or so, they settled down again. I went onto my knees to look through the viewfinder and check the species. This was the colourful spectacle in front of my camera:A congregation of mud puddling butterflies in Mercantour NP

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/8   1/320   ISO 100

Then, you know there is only one option left: get down flat on your belly and start looking for the best shots. Like this Small Blue (Cupido minimus)…

A small blue cupido minimus butterfly licking salt and minerals from the rocks

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.6   1/320   ISO 100

…and this Eros Blue (Polyommatus Eros)

Polyommatus eros blue butterfly licking saltCanon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/5.0   1/320   ISO 100

After some 30 minutes my back and knees started to complain about the rocky ground, so I rose again (ouch!) but surely I did not complain at all…what a great day it had been for butterfly photography!