• Ben

Boloria selene - Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

If I'm honest, I thought I would miss out on this butterfly in 2020. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with them - they are undoubtedly beautiful, and characterful, but they frequent the same habitat as ticks, which are unreasonably attracted to me for some reason. Last summer I was able to see them at lunch times, a short walk from my office, in pretty good numbers. I had hoped to see them at Rossie Moor this summer, as the habitat looked good, but one trip up there returned few butterflies and very many ticks. It is also exposed, and the wind has been relentless this year on the East coast.

My only hope, therefore was Montreathmont forest, where I saw three or four individuals last summer. I set out relatively early this morning, leaving Montrose in bright sunshine and 14 degrees (and rising). Just a couple of miles inland though, it clouded over and the temperature at the site was a chilly 11 degrees, and a stiff breeze was blowing. I didn't hold out much hope.

I wandered along to the site, and saw nothing but a handful of bees. The track is usually a great spot for Green-veined Whites, Small Coppers and Common Blues, but there was nothing to be seen. When I got to the most likely spot for Small Pearls, I left the path and plunged into soaking wet knee deep grass and rushes. Nothing. Then the sun came out for a fleeting minute, and I was suddenly surrounded by the orange terrors. I have never seen so many Small Pearls on the wing at one place. Two settled down to mate, and I thought I'd hit the jackpot for photos, but a second male scattered them. As quickly as the sun had appeared, it snuck behind the clouds again the the butterflies just stopped.

(f5, ISO100, 1/250th second, three image stack - gorse bush behind)

When I first saw Fritillaries, I wondered how on earth you were supposed to photograph them, but this is how. The perfect weather is cold, overcast with occasional brief blasts of sunshine. They are so keen to get on with life that a few seconds of sun is enough to get them moving, and you can watch where they stop when the sun hides, and they become quite tame and zombie-like. In fact they will try to get on a finger for warmth, and can be hard to get off again onto a perch to photograph!

(f5, ISO100, 1/200th)

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries must be among the most beautiful of the Scottish butterflies. The underwings look like a Tiffany lampshade. I had manages to get some reasonable images of them last summer, but knew I could do better. One image from Pitdelphin Wood last summer encouraged me to try and get a shot of one clinging to a blade of grass, showing both underwings.

Image from Pitdelphin Wood in 2019 - the concept was right but the background is messy.

Really pleased with this image, although the depth of field is rather shallow (needed for the shutter speed due to the gusting wind). His eyes are sharp though, and the background much better than last years' effort. (f3.2, ISO200, 1/800th, 3 images stack)

One of the challenges with Small Pearls is that they hold their antennae almost sideways, rather than forwards like many other species. This means that side-on images are very hard to get with both or even one antenna in sharp focus. However, it means that a top-down shot of the open wings when the sin comes out, or a head on shot tends to be easier.

A beautifully marked male (f3.2, ISO200, 1/400th, 3 image stack)

A more delicately marked female with a shorter fatter body, perched on a gorse bush (f3.2, ISO200, 1/500th).

A classic pose when the sun goes in (f5, ISO100, 1/200th)

For such a brightly coloured butterfly, they are really good at disappearing into the foliage (f3.2, ISO100, 1/320th, 2 image stack)

They will perch on just about anything (f4, ISO100, 1/320th, 2 image stack)

In the wind, they will grip the thinnest of stems of grass by wrapping their feet around (f3.2, ISO200, 1/800th, 2 image stack)

A successful mission, and an improvement on last years' photos of these little gems. It would have been nice to get more in focus antennae, but in gusty conditions, stacking more than two or three images is next to impossible. As always, perfection is out of reach, but as long as there is an ongoing improvement, I'll take it!

I returned a few days later, on a dreich humid day and tried again, but they remained pretty uncooperative subjects, despite the lack of sunshine. I managed a couple more stacked images of males, with rather cleaner backgrounds than on the first visit.

(f3.5, ISO200, 1/400th, 9 image stack)

(f3.5, ISO200, 1/320th, 6 image stack)

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