Mud-puddling butterflies in Hungary

Having driven for two days straight from Amsterdam to Hungary, pretty done after 1,500 kilometers of tarmac, the last thing you wanna hear upon arrival is: “This is actually a very bad year for butterflies here”. Well, the first thing we heard upon arrival after two days straight on the road and 1,500 kilometers of tarmac was our host saying: “This is actually a very bad year for butterflies here.” Thank you so much for your encouragement Rob!

Our host Rob at http://www.farmlator.hu, a Dutch biologist married to a Hungarian woman, told us that it had been unusually cold and wet in Hungary. The good side of it was that my friend and I could expect to see some species that normally would be long gone. And we did, boy we did. Turns out that a mediocre butterfly season in Hungary is a butterfly photographer’s paradise through Dutch eyes. And truth be told, Rob more than made up for his welcoming statement by directing us to some very, very fine butterfly locations.

In between us, we saw some 60 species in just five days. I could add a dozen or so new species to my evergrowing list.

Let me first show you how abundance looks like. We encountered several Scarce Swallotails (Iphiclides podalirius) smack in the middle of a village in Aggletek NP: a finger-licking spectacle for any Dutch butterfly photographer!
Scarce swallowtail iphiclides podalirius mud-puddling party

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/7.1   1/640   ISO 125

In the same village down a dark forest path, a party of ten Wood Whites (Leptidea sinapsis) was licking minerals from the mud. The peculiarities from my previous blog continued as one landed on top of the other.

wood white leptidea sinapsis butterfly

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/8   1/125   ISO 400

A few meters further, a group of Silver-studded Blues (Plebejus argus) was having a gathering. Note the bigger specimen in the middle which is Reverdin’s Blue (Plebejus argyrognomon).

Silver-studded blue plebejus argus reverdin's blue plebejus argyrognomon

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/6.3   1/500   ISO 640

Stay tuned for more Hungarian butterflies in the next episode.

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.

Butterfly holiday part 1 – Viroinval

The chalk hills offer some of Belgium’s finest butterfly spotting.

Viroinval is a region on the Franco-Belgian border well known for its abundant butterflies. The chalk hills contain species that are very rare or even non-existent in the Netherlands, only a 3.5h drive away. Together with a friend of mine, we spent a few days there in May. And we were certainly not disappointed. At least not by the butterflies, maybe a little bit by the unstable weather.

Tienne Breumont was our first objective: a large chalk hill next to the village of Nismes. We arrived around noon and within two minutes I had found a Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) which was a new species to me. Next up were Scare Swallowtails (Iphiclides podalirius) and its sister Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon). The latter fulfilled one of my wishes: picturing it free of disturbances with backlighting:The Old world swallowtail butterfly (papilio machaon) underwing in Viroinval

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM   f/5.6   1/1600   ISO 640

The next morning around 6 AM we returned, and were rewarded with these magnificent two Common Blues (Polyommatus icarus)…Two Common blues butterflies (polyommatus icarus) in Viroinval

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/9   1/160   ISO 200

… and this fine Red-underwing Skipper (Spialia sertorius). I tried to picture it while including some flower bulbs as a backdrop.The Red-underwing skipper butterfly (Spialia sertorius) in Viroinval

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/2.8   1/800   ISO 400

Last but not least, another species on my wishlist, the Wood White (Leptidea sinapsis). As it is so dull white by itself, the bright flower lights up the image.The Wood white butterfly (Leptidea sinapis) on a blue flower

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM   f/4   1/800   ISO 200

We photographed sixteen different species in three days. My friend had to leave for home then. I moved on to Germany for some more butterfly photography. More on that in my next blog.