Butterflies of Cantabria, September 2015.

So after thinking for a long time about how I could possibly fit 6 fantastically wildlife filled days into one blog post I decided to cut it down into several shorter posts. Maybe you’ve already read my introduction Walking in Cantabria. In my next posts I’d like to show you some of the amazing biodiversity of the cliff paths around the area, starting with beautiful butterflies!

Edit: I have been reliably informed that the butterfly I originally identified as a Wall Brown (Lasiommata megera) is in fact a Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria, Spanish variant?). This was a thought that crossed my mind as the patternation is very like the Speckled Woods I see at home, but the colour was very different – bright orange rather than cream. There were lots of them though, and these were the first butterflies that caught my attention in Galizano this September.

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I also noticed a lot of blue butterflies; many of them too quick and agile for me to get a good shot or ID. However, I am pretty certain I saw some Common Blues (Polyommatus icarus) and Holly Blues (Celastrina argiolus) out on the coastal path, and I was pleasantly surprised to spot 3 or 4 Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli) in my dad’s garden – a new species for me. Cacyreus marshalli originate from South Africa but have been introduced to parts of sunny Europe (whether accidentally or purposefully is unknown). There have been a few sightings in the UK where it is classed as a pest and any sightings should be reported to DEFRA! It’s a beautiful little butterfly – very quick, with wonderfully patterned undersides and a short tail.

On a few occasions, while walking along the cliff top I saw a flash of bright green/yellow. At first I thought it was a Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) that darted past me but once I managed to get a bit closer (a lot harder than you’d think) I realised that it was a beautiful Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus)! Although not as common as the Speckled Wood, Colias croceus were spotted rather frequently on the heath and cliff path.

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Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus, on the cliff top meadow, nr Galizano, Cantabria, 5th September 2015, 11.53am.

A real treat was the Marsh Fritillary (yet another butterfly ‘lifer’) which I originally put down as a Wall Brown until I realised that it was much more colourful and intricate in the wings which seemed slightly more drawn backwards towards the abdomen. These are obvious give-aways really but more difficult to notice when you’re surrounded by beautiful distractions and the brown/orange insect in question just skips past you over a meadow. As a newbie butterfly enthusiast, I was thrilled to see my first positively identified fritillary species. I was especially excited as this species is rapidly declining all over Europe and is listed as a UK BAP priority.

Not long after my first fritillary sighting, I came across another first – this was turning out to be an extraordinary day! My dad and I had stopped so photograph an invert of some sort – I really can’t remember what had caught our attention because it’s completely overshadowed by what happened next. I was crouched down photographing whatever-it-was and behind me a couple of Spanish walkers were doing the same. I  thought they were interested in the same thing as me, until they walked off and my dad told me that the walkers had mentioned something about a snake (he speaks a lot better Spanish than me!). Just at that moment I saw a reptilian tail disappear just beside me into the undergrowth… I (foolishly) tried to grab it but I was too slow. How frustrating! It must have been behind me on the path the whole time! I carefully (my dad told me they have vipers in Spain) stepped off the path into the meadow that the reptile had escaped to and started poking around looking for it, presuming it to be a grass-snake but also prepared in case it was something a bit more dangerous…

I spotted something and gave a little scream. This was even better – a Convolvulus Hawkmoth larva! Agrius convolvuli, and what a beauty! I had only seen hawkmoth caterpillars in captivity on the Butterfly Conservation stalls at various festivals and events, and since finding out that these incredible looking creatures were native to the UK I had taken extra care when inspecting privet bushes and other known food plants, to no avail. I took plenty of photographs and then released the caterpillar back into the meadow where I’d found it. I now know that Convolvulus Hawk Moths feed on bindweed (hence the name) of which we have plenty down the canals in Nottingham, so I shall be keeping a sharp eye out next year!

The diversity of butterflies along this 6km route was really extraodinary – we also saw lots of whites and I’m sure there were a few other species around that I’d missed, including a small caterpillar which maybe someone could help me identify? Another highlight of these cliff top walks was the single Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) which brought another colourful experience. I was pretty pleased with the composition of this photograph which turned out exactly how I’d wanted it to – for a change.

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A gorgeous Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, posed perfectly for my best photograph of the day 🙂 nr Loredo, Cantabria. 5th September, 2.14pm.

These sightings and photographs were all taken in Northern Spain. It’s sometimes difficult to transfer knowledge to other countries when you are trying to identify species. I’m lucky that the species I have included in this post are also seen in England and I can now use the information I’ve gained from my holiday to look for and identify butterflies in the UK. I certainly learnt a lot!

All images subject to copyright. All opinions expressed on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the view of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust for whom I volunteer, or any other organisation.

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7 thoughts on “Butterflies of Cantabria, September 2015.

  1. Hi, nice little write up, I live in the south of France and this year I have found and photographed 44 different butterflies. What an experience that is.

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    1. Thank you Graham. The south of France sounds like a lovely area from what I’ve heard – I’ve only been once and that was a school trip about 10 years ago so I probably wasn’t paying enough attention to the wildlife. It’s on my list of places to go back to though 🙂

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    1. Hi Steve, thank you for commenting! Someone else just pointed out the same. I thought the markings were like a Speckled Wood but I suppose the colour fooled me. That would explain why there were so many of them. Still a lot to learn!

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  2. Yesterday I found a single wing from one of those little brown ones on the terrace. A sad sight really. Did the same walk the other day and clocked nada – I really don’t know how you spot these things. Waiting for the next bit – another first in store perhaps . Where the “snake ” was is overgrown already, constantly changing. Great photo of the Red Admiral

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    1. Thanks Dad – the Geranium Bronze? I was so pleased to spot them in your garden but sorry to find out they’re classified as a pest in the UK! Yes, I was proud of the Red Admiral photo 🙂 Such striking butterflies anyway. I don’t think I’ve been over in winter – it would be interesting to see how the cliff path changes – a project for next year perhaps?!

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