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July 2017. Time of the Colonists. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jos   

Meleagers Blue

 

 

By tradition, July is pretty much the peak of the butterfly season in Lithuania. No exception this year, many superb species seen, including Black Hairstreak, Assmann's Fritillary, Scarce Fritillary, Tufted Marbled Skipper. However, for one event, it stands over and above past years - the return of the colonists, Meleager's Blue and Marbled White.

 

 

 

 

 

1 July. Southern Highlights.

 

Weather across Lithuania was looking decidedly poor – cloud and rain forecast for a couple of days at least. With several target species in various quarters of the country, this was not good news, especially given that many of the butterflies I was seeking would be nearing the end of their season! A slight chink to the otherwise gloomy weather, the far south-east of Lithuania did look set for at least a few hours of sun on the 1st, so off I went, arriving in the Marcinkonys area early morning to blue skies and a warm sun already burning down.

 

Mazarine Blue

 

 

And a fantastic day it turned out, not only 42 species noted, including several rather localised butterflies, but also a species I hoped to find, one that was new for me! At locality one, lots of butterflies were already flying when I arrived, including Pearly Heaths and Chestnut Heaths, a Red Admiral, a few Dark Green Fritillaries and both Amanda's Blues and Mazarine Blues.

 

 

 

 

Even better, I soon found a Green-underwing Blue, a species I had been looking for at this locality a few weeks earlier in the season, then another and another – a total of twelve over the next kilometre or so. Quite windy it was, but it didn't seem to be keeping the butterflies down, I added a few faded Brown Argus, a couple of dozen Purple-shot Coppers, one Queen of Spain Fritillary and my first High Brown Fritillaries of the year, along with Heath, Small Pearl-bordered and Lesser Marbled Fritillaries and a good range of other common species.

 

 

Large Blue

 

 

 

After a couple of hours here, with it rather questionable how long the sun would last, I decided to retrace my steps to the car. Three good butterflies on route - one male Large Copper, one Idas Blue and, perhaps best of the lot, a very nice Large Blue, always a good species to see.

 

 

 

 

 

A few clouds were now scuttling along, time to move onto my next destination, just a few kilometres to the south – here I hoped to find, or moreover to identify, Assmann's Fritillary. Highly localised in Lithuania, and none too easy to distinguish from the Heath Fritillary complex, I was somewhat in doubt whether I would be able to conclusively identify one.

 

As it was, in continuing sunshine, I stumbled across an absolutely superb forest ride, a broad open bank of flowers aside a track through mature pines, pleasantly stuffed full of butterflies. Plenty of Black-veined Whites, one falling victim to a crab spider, several Moorland Clouded Yellows, two White Admirals, one exquisite Cranberry Blue that seemed to take a fancy to me, alighting to take salts from my hand on numerous occasions, plus quite a few more species.

 

 

Crab Spider & Black-veined White

 

 

Best of all though, no shortage of small fritillaries, a good bulk of which seemed to be spot on for Assmann's Fritillary! Was a while before I convinced myself I was really looking at the real thing, but with an orange/brownish infill to the marginal lines, full orange lunules and fairly dark uppers, I think there were at least 20 Assmann's Fritillaries at this single locality, quite possibly considerably more! Additionally here, adding confusion, the full array of similar species - Heath Fritillaries, a single False Heath Fritillary and, I think, Nickerl's Fritillary. Also a couple of Small Coppers here and my first Grayling of the year.

 

Spent a good two hours and more, glancing up every now and then at the growing number of clouds that were edging in, then set off to seek out a few more species in the forests near Cepkaliai Bog.

 

 

Cranberry Blue

 

 

 

A quick stop in some meadows added a dozen Geranium Argus, then a wander in open cut forest resulted in several more Cranberry Blues, a couple of Silver-washed Fritillaries and, a species I do not see very frequently, two Cranberry Fritillaries.

 

 

 

 

 

Now however cloud was really beginning to take over. In less than ideal conditions, I did a walk into wet bogland in the hope of Frigga's Fritillary (the only locality it occurs in Lithuania), but no sign – quite an arduous hike, I saw just three butterflies for my effort ...one Cranberry Blue and two Moorland Clouded Yellows!

 

It was now late afternoon, the sun had lasted out most of the day and I was certainly more than content, I headed back to Vilnius, it had been a far better day than I had expected!

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 67. Moorland Clouded Yellow
  • 68. Large Blue
  • 69. Silver-studded Blue
  • 70. Idas Blue
  • 71. Cranberry Blue
  • 72. Geranium Argus
  • 73. Silver-washed Fritillary
  • 74. High Brown Fritillary
  • 75. Cranberry Fritillary
  • 76. Assmann's Fritillary
  • 77. Spotted Fritillary
  • 78. Grayling

 

 

3 July. Ten-minute Wonder.

 

Overcast virtually all day, to the skies I kept glancing for signs of blue. Mid-afternoon, fortunately just when I had a gap in my schedule, a hint of brightness offered hope. Taking advantage and hoping for some late Woodland Browns, off I scooted to a locality on the edge of the city where this species frequently resides. Arrived just as a moderate-sized patch of blue manoeuvred to cast valuable rays of sun across the grassy bank ...immediate results, a White Admiral emerging from adjacent pines to land on the track, a couple of Ringlets settling in the grass. In reality, Woodland Browns are probably a couple of weeks past their peak, so I was not too sure of the likelihood of success in this brief window of sun, but species number three was precisely what I wanted, a Woodland Brown! Slightly faded and a bit ragged around the wings, it was nonetheless most welcome.

 

White-letter_Hairstreak

 

 

 

My first White-letter Hairstreak of the year also active, plus a few Pearly Heaths and both Large Skipper and Small Skipper, but all of ten minutes later, the sun again fell behind cloud and the show was over, butterflies vanishing.

 

 

 

 

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 79. White-letter Hairstreak
  • 80. Woodland Brown

 

 


4 July. Chasing the Sun.

 

With cloud and rain persisting, the forecasts suggested central and western parts of Lithuania stood the best chances of some sun this day, even then probably only in the afternoon ...not really conducive with catching up with the last of the outstanding June butterflies! Decided upon the forests of the Kaunas area, hoping for some luck with either Scarce Fritillary or Tufted Marbled Skipper, two of the last species that occur in Lithuania that I have yet to see anywhere.

 

Arrived about midday, I was rewarded with a couple of hours of high cloud and sunny spells. Not too bad at all, quite a number of butterflies active, remarkably including at least 35 Woodland Browns, all rather faded. Managed a total of 18 species of butterflies in this first period, Ringlets and Meadow Browns most common, but also a Large Copper, quite a number of Lesser Marbled Fritillaries and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, one False Heath Fritillary and, new for the year, one Purple Emperor and better still two Ilex Hairstreaks. No Scarce Fritillary or Tufted Marbled Skipper though!!

 

Black_Hairstreak

 

Then came down the rain, heavy downpours sending me scurrying back to the car. Cloud and rain basically lasted the rest of the day, though a brief period of brightness did get a few butterflies back onto the wings, a second Large Copper included. Butterfly of the day however was found quietly sitting upon a flower top – my first for six years, a splendid Black Hairstreak. Didn't have my camera with me, but managed a couple of record shots with my mobile phone ...top class species for me!

 

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 81. Ilex Hairstreak
  • 82. Black Hairstreak
  • 83. Purple Emperor

 

 

5 July. Tufted Marbled Skipper!

 

Really should take my camera to work - two-hour gap and sunshine saw me nipping out to an area of meadow a little east of the capital. Had thoughts of finding perhaps a Large Heath in adjacent damp areas, but did even better - a Tufted Marbled Skipper! Had been looking for this very species in the forestlands of central Lithuania the day before, but hadn't expected to stumble across one just 20 minutes from Vilnius.

 

Tufted Marbled Skipper

 

Was actually a very productive couple of hours, a good two dozen species on the wing, White Admiral and Purple Emperor amongst them, 16 Woodland Browns too, but without doubt the star was the Tufted Marbled Skipper - feeding in flower meadow adjacent to mixed woodland, this was actually quite a bit bigger than I had expected, certainly a step up from the otherwise fairly similar Marbled Skipper (this latter species never having occurred in Lithuania).

 

 

 

As with the Black Hairstreak of the day before, fortunately it was sedentary enough to get reasonable photographs via the mobile phone - but sure will be going back to try to relocate for better shots!

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 84. Tufted Marbled Skipper

 

 

6-8 July. Like London Buses!

 

You wait ages and ages for one, then suddenly a whole bunch of them come at once! And so it is with Black Hairstreaks and Tufted Marbled Skippers - six years without one in Lithuania for the first, never seen one in Lithuania for the second, then in the space of four days, I find no less than three Black Hairstreaks and five Tufted Marbled Skippers! Visiting sites in the Vilnius, Ukmerge and Kaunas areas, classic days they were, butterfly numbers high and species diversity very good, a total of 53 species seen.

 

 

Geranium Argus

 

 

 

In addition to the butterflies mentioned below, I also encountered nine Large Coppers, ten Geranium Argus and first hints of second generations of several common species, Brimstones, Wood Whites and Holly Blues included.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Hairstreak

 

 

 

6 July: Started off in woodlands and meadows a little to the south of Vilnius, primarily lookng for Large Wall Brown, which duly obliged (two individuals). More remarkable though, my visit also resulted in my second in the run of Black Hairstreaks, a species I had never seen before at this site.

 

 

 

 

Season's first Niobe Fritillary also seen, two on an area of heath. Plenty of other butterflies also flying, including three Glanville Fritillaries, my first Essex Skipper of the year and Moorland Clouded Yellow.

 

Glanville Fritillary

 

7 July: Amazing day, common butterflies and rare in abundance. Wandering an area of riverside meadow in the Ukmerge area, the sheer volume of butterflies was staggering, an estimated 160 Lesser Marbled Fritillaries at a single locality, another 90 in further areas, Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Pearly Heaths and Chestnut Heaths all abundant, plus three White-letter Hairstreaks and Black Hairstreak number three, a fine individual sunning alongside a glade. And 15 minutes after the hairstreaks, in the neighbouring glade, a Tufted Marbled Skipper on flower tops, a very nice individual allowing photographs. The ghosts of past days without a camera were cast aside! Three Glanville Fritillaries graced a neighbouring hillside.

 

Black Hairstreak

Tufted Marbled Skipper

 

A detour on route back to Vilnius added another Tufted Marbled Skipper and, nearby, a few additional species of note, most particularly four Knapweed Fritillaires, my first two two Purple-shot Coppers of the season and an unfortunate Alcon Blue that had been taken by a Crab Spider.

 

Crab Spider & Alcon Blue
  

8 July: Rounding off these three excellent days, I popped over to Kaunas to drop off a friend at the airport, then skipped off to woodlands a little to the north. Massive emergence of Purple Emperors and Lesser Purple Emperors, dozens of them puddling on the tracks and gliding about ...in a relatively small area, I managed to count a minimum of 47 Purple Emperors and 18 Lesser Purple Emperors, truly impressive!

 

 

Large Chequered Skipper

 

 

 

Also dozens of other species, including still 25 Woodland Browns, at least 15 Large Chequered Skippers and two Ilex Hairstreaks. Better still, bumped into yet another two Tufted Marbled Skippers, both feeding on flowers on roadside embankments.

 

 

 

 

 

Highlight of the day however was undoubtedly a certain butterfly I had been searching for over the previous weeks - highly restricted in Lithuania, I finally found a single individual in an area of wet woodland glade with regenrating shrubs ...briefly alighting on the track aside a bunch of Purple Emperors, the butterfly in question was a superb Scarce Fritillary. Regrettably no photograph, up it went and sailed off into the shrubland. Searched extensively, but no further sign.

 

 

Turquoise Blue

 

 

 

 

Also added my first Turquoise Blues of the season en route home, four feeding at a traditional site not too far from the capital. Always happy to see these, one of the most exquisite butterflies in Lithuania in my opinion.

 

 

 

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 85. Purple-edged Copper
  • 86. Turquoise Blue
  • 87. Lesser Purple Emperor
  • 88. Niobe Fritillary
  • 89. Scarce Fritillary
  • 90. Large Wall Brown
  • 91. Essex Skipper

 

 

9 July. Return of the Marbled Whites.

 

Prior to 2016, the grand total of Marbled Whites recorded in Lithuania amounted to just four (three in the 1920s and one in 2001). Then something amazing happened, at three sites along the southern border I located no less than 65 individuals in the period 23-30 July, many mating and egg-laying. Also found another some 30 km north.

 

Marbled White

 

 

With high hopes of a return performance in 2017, I revisiting the sites this day and was richly rewarded! Marbled Whites everywhere, clouds of them fluttering across the short turf of embankments and trackside. In the course of a couple of kilometres at the first site, I logged over 90 individuals, this single count being considerably higher than the number ever recorded in the history of Lithuania!

 

 

Had I walked further, the number would have been higher, the Marbled Whites were continued into the distance. Interestingly, this was the least good site in 2016, when just 16 were seen here.

 

 

Scarce Copper

 

Not only Marbled Whites though, also tremendous numbers of Scarce Coppers on the wing, with several hundred at this locality alone, plus too Chestnut Heaths in similar numbers and both Small and Green-veined Whites also in their hundreds. Amongst the masses, added several Dusky Meadow Browns, one Eastern Bath White, one Large Copper, one Weaver's Fritillary, a good emergence of Essex Skippers and a good assortment of other species.

 

 

 

At neighbouring localities, a few more Marbled Whites also present, fifteen at the first, six at the second. So, in total, over 110 Marbled Whites at this early stage of the season, all looks set for a massive year for this species!

 

On route back, decided to call in at the site where Assmann's Fritillaries had been the week before in the hope of better photographs ...overall butterfly numbers up, but a notable drop in the number of certain species, most particularly Black-veined White and Moorland Clouded Yellow (both absent this day) and unfortunately it would appear too Assmann's Fritillary - amongst commonplace Heath Fritillaries, I only found a single candidate for Assmann's Fritillary, again a slightly larger butterfly than its compatriots, darker above and with a orangy infill to the marginal lines on the underside.

 

Assmanns Fritillary

What I believe to be an Assmann's Fritillary - darker upper wings than Heath Fritillary, orangy infill to the marginal lines on the underwings (some individuals in preceding days had brighter orange infill than this one) and black hairs to the palps (apparently Heath Fritillary usually pale or mostly pale)

 

Spent quite a while checking others to no avail, though as it began to cloud over, butterflies were less active. Also here, two Large Blues and two Green-underside Blues. And then a rainstorm broke, called it a day and returned to Vilnius, 40 species noted this day.

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 92. Marbled White
  • 93. Dusky Meadow Brown



10 July. Day Off.

 

Niobe Fritillary

 

 

 

Hot and sunny, a short stroll across sandy heathland and adjacent meadows near the capital ...not too bad, my first Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell since the early spring, plus a small assortment of localised heathland species - two Niobe Fritillaries, two Glanville Fritillaries, about ten Spotted Fritillaries.

 

 

 

 

 

14-16 July. Season in Decline.

 

Mighty storms in preceding days, prolonged torrential rain diverting flights at the international airport, streets left under a metre of water in places, buildings flooded. Regrettably it also seemed to have knocked out quite a number of butterflies.

Probably enhanced by the prevailing cool weather and limited sun, there was a rather gloomy feel of an upcoming autumn hanging in the air. Undoubtedly a little premature – there will still be some excellent butterfly days ahead – but for sure, the peak of the season is over and the reduction in abundance was certainly quite noticeable these days. Along forest rides where I had found hundreds of Silver-washed Fritillaries exactly one year earlier, I saw a mere few dozen this weekend, on thistle patches where I had encountered 150 Peacocks and over a dozen White-letter Hairstreaks, I saw none of either. Pretty much the same picture with many other species.

 

 Marbled Fritillary

 

That said, increasing numbers of several second-generation species, most notably Map Butterflies, and I still managed 39 species overall, including Blue-spot Hairstreak, Geranium Argus, Turquoise Blue, Idas Blue and Tufted Marbled Skipper (my sixth of the year) near Vilnius and, on a loop around western Lithuania, no less than 30 Marbled Fritillaries in woodland meadows. A very localised species, I found most of these at a locality I identified last year, though there were also several at a new site some kilometres away. A very good selection at this site, a couple of Pallas's Fritillaries also present, plus at least 40 Dark Green Fritillaries, 20 High Brown Fritillaries, a reasonable number of Silver-washed Fritillaries and smaller numbers of Heath Fritillaries, Lesser Marbled Fritillaries and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. Two Large Coppers also in the meadow, along with Scarce, Purple-shot and Purple-edged Coppers.

Searched for Scarce Large Blue at several sites, failed at all. Likewise for Northern Brown Argus. Won't see either this year now.

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 94. Bluespot Hairstreak
  • 95. Marbled Fritillary
  • 96. Pallas's Fritillary

 

 

19 July. Number 97.

 

Large Grizzled Skipper

 

 

Was looking for Silver-spotted Skipper and Rock Grayling, both of which would be new for the year, failed in both - but did find my 97th species of the year, perhaps a few days earlier than I was expecting, one Large Grizzled Skipper. Also interesting, I also found a very faded Woodland Brown, not only late in the season, but at a locality where I have never seen the species before.

 

 

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 97. Large Grizzled Skipper

 

 

20-23 July. March of the Colonists.

 

Amongst my highlights back in 2016 were the findings of a couple of Meleager's Blues and a population of at least 65 Marbled Whites in Lithuania, the first species having never been recorded in the Baltic States before, while records of the latter were limited to three individuals in the 1920s and a single in 2001.

 

Marbled White

 

 

As for 2017, simply amazing! From pretty good numbers on 9 July, numbers then mushroomed! Clouds of Marbled Whites drifting across the meadows on 20 June – a staggering sight, an absolute minimum of 260 at a single locality, the flower meadows chock-a-block with the chequered wings, dozens clustering around thistle heads, dozens more floating across the sunny slopes.

 

 

 

Adding nearby localities, the total was in excess of 325, truly impressive. In reality, the numbers could have been far higher, yet more Marbled Whites disappearing off into the distance. Numbers had dropped a little by the 23rd, the total across the sites being about 240, but still most impressive, truly a massive population expansion and clear signs of a successful colonisation of the country by this attractive species.

 

No less impressive Meleager's Blue – a new species for the country in 2016, I was very happy to relocate this butterfly this year, finding first a male and female on 20 July in the same general area as the previous year, then a very welcome four males and a female on the 23rd. Not in a single cluster, but scattered across flower-rich habitat, it would appear that Meleager's Blues have indeed established themselves at this locality, the total of nine individuals (2016 and 2017) covering an area about 1.5 km across. More remarkable, I also found three males and a female on flowers at a completely new locality, meadows located over 40 kilometres north!

 

Meleagers Blue

Meleagers Blue

 

So there we have it, the march of the colonists, both species strengthening their footholds in Lithuania, becoming part of the country's butterfly fauna. However these days were not only about Marbled Whites and Meleager's Blue, it was truly a phenomenal little period, almost 50 species recorded and some in fabulous numbers. Following on from their good numbers in spring, the second generation of Swallowtails is doing even better, 51 individuals logged in just three days, including a very nice 24 at one site, my personal best ever single locality count in Lithuania. Many hundreds of Brimstones emerging, so too Small Whites and Green-veined Whites, Scarce Coppers and Map Butterflies still in their hundreds, Ringlets and both Chestnut and Pearly Heaths still abundant. Though numbers significantly down, still nine species of fritillary on the wing, one Queen of Spain Fritillary and one Niobe Fritillary amongst them, as well as a couple of Spotted Fritillaries.

 

Silver-spotted Skipper

 

And with this lot, plenty of top class butterflies amongst the supporting cast – 22 Blue-spot Hairstreaks logged (again including a personal best locality count – 14 at one site), eight Large Coppers, a bunch of Short-tailed Blues, two Little Blues, three Geranium Arguses, one Camberwell Beauty, a huge numbers of Dusky Meadow Browns (another personal best, 60+ at a single locality) and, particularly nice, five Silver-spotted Skippers.

 

 

And final highlight, my 100th species of the year in Lithuania, the first three Chalkhill Blues of the year. Finale to an excellent few days!

 

BALTIC YEAR LIST

  • 98. Silver-spotted Skipper
  • 99. Meleager's Blue
  • 100. Chalkhill Blue

 

Last Updated ( Monday, 24 July 2017 )
 
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