The heat of July in Andalucia has kept me out of the field lately so a day trip up to the cooler air of the Sierra Nevada seemed like a good idea. I was joined by friends Phyl and Sandi from Frigiliana and we took the old road to Granada to call in at the "Dipper" site on the Rio Guadalfeo. No dippers today but we did hear Golden Orioles in the eucalyprus trees, and there was plenty of evidence that Spotted Flycatchers had a successful breeding season with lots of juveniles taking fly catching lessons from the parents.Langs Short-tailed Blue - leptotes pirithous
We moved on in search of the butterflies of Sierra Nevada. Taking the old road up from Guejar Sierra our first stop by the reservoir provided some good sightings, including a brief glimpse of what I believe was a Two-tailed Pasha. Unfortunately this elusive beauty did not stop to have its picture taken, unlike the Lang´s Short-tailed Blues that seemed to like Sandi and Phyls´s attractive red toenail varnish. Other species sighted here include Long-tailed Blue, Scarce Swallowtail, Brimstone, Common Blue, Purple-shot Copper, Small Skipper, Clouded Yellow, Speckled Wood, Wall Brown, Knapweed Fritillary and a rather nice Iberian Marbled White.
We continued on up above 2500 metres where the air is cooler and thinner. Here one finds different species that prefer these conditions. The two most numerous being the beautiful but diminutive Silver Studded Blue, and the large and showy Apollo, both of which were were abundant in the hillside meadows around the ski station.Idas Blue - plebejus Idas
Identifying different species within a group or family can be virtually impossible in the field. Blues are particularly difficult, with so many almost identical species and sub-species it is the realm of the true expert or even the laboratory to differentiate. For example the butterfly to the left clearly shows silver-studding in the underwing blue spots. However the Idas Blue is almost exactly the same and here their ranges overlap, so how is one to decide? The little black tufts on this insect´s outer margin look more like field guide photographs of the Idas Blue, they are more distinct than the Silver Studded example above, but apart from that I can´t see any difference.Apollo - parnassius apollo nevadensis
The Apollo is quite a striking insect which is generally found above 1000 metres in most large European mountain ranges. The Sierra Nevada sub-species has orange wing spots instead of the normal red. I was pleased to get some reasonable shots today as it takes patience waiting for one to settle.Niobe Fritillary - argynnis niobe
Perhaps the most beautiful butterfly of the day was this stunning Niobe Fritillary. Brilliant orange wings with simple black markings in perfect symmetry make it one of my favourites. They can be difficult to distinguish from the Dark Green Fritillary but the underwing shot gave a fairly positive ID on this occasion.
Another species present in numbers was the Small Tortoiseshell. Populations of this species fluctuate wildly and in some years they almost disappear completely from many locations. This year has been good for them in Sierra Nevada as they were extremeley abundant. Probably due to the proliferation of flowering plants following a very wet winter.
The Wall Brown is an attractive butterfly which likes to open its wings in the sun. There were just one or two of these and in fact the butterflies were far fewer than at this time last year, many varieties were missing and apart from the Apollos and Small Tortoiseshells fewer numbers of those that we did see. Further evidence of the effects of a very long, cold and wet winter.