The Purple Hairstreak

Up in the crown of the trees in oak forests a very special butterfly keeps hiding. The Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus), a small species that is challenging to get in front of the lens. It is hard to detect one of this butterflies at first place. Furthermore, due to the habits of Purple Hairstreaks, it often is impossible to chase them.

Purple Hairstreaks spend most of the time high up on old oak trees. Keep your head up and you may see some flying. Occasionally, one of them dives down to the ground of the forest to soak on flowers or fluids. It can easily be mistaken with a leaf falling from a tree. Only moments later it takes off again, flying back up and disappears. The grayish shades of the butterfly, in combination with its size, require full focus to keep track on a flying individual. Hit by a ray of sunlight they’re visible, but entering shadow they’re gone.

Once you locate their habitat here’s some tips based on my experience from this summer. Either browse through thistles nearby a forest of oak trees or alternatively position yourself close to a sunny spot under oaks. Finding a butterfly soaking on thistles will make things easier. You won’t have the rush, and sometimes the butterfly just focuses on a single flower for ages. One drawback in this case, the individual most likely won’t open its wings. On the ground of the forest I’ve personally had better luck getting a glimpse on the upper side of the wings. However, as mentioned they only land for a moment. And it’s still not guaranteed they’ll open their wings.

This species is amazing. Even though I love Hairstreaks in general this might be my favorite. Unfortunately, the only individual which was willing to open its wings to me was in a pretty bad shape already. Both male and female have an incredible blue and purple shimmer on their upper wing side. Since I did not get better shots this summer it’s an absolute target for next season to get better footage.

Last but not least, I’ll visit the nearby oak forest after stormy weather in the winter. Branches may have fallen from the trees, and these could contain eggs to raise butterflies in spring.

The White-letter Hairstreak

In my late summer Hairstreak triology the White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) is number two to be introduced. This species has an incredible set of details. However, the fragility of this sensitive butterfly often makes it impossible to get all these details on a decent photo. Why this? Because the details are easily “worn off”.

The White-letter Hairstreak has been the most common species of Hairstreaks while I was out photographing them. The habitat was a success, and this butterfly loves to visit flowers. While soaking there’s practically no rush to shoot them.

Another thing worth being mentioned: White-letter Hairstreaks don’t show the upper side of their wings. The only way is to catch it flying, like with e.g. the Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni). I got one shot, not really clear or focused, where the main characteristics of the upper side are visible (see below).

As mentioned earlier it’s a very fragile butterfly. Turned out, the challenge was not to locate a butterfly but to spot an individual that’s in good shape. Here’s the footage I got over several days. Like in case with the Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae), which I introduced earlier, all photos were made on the same spot in Espoo, Finland.

The Brown Hairstreak

I didn’t know that much about Hairstreaks prior to this summer. Despite of the very common Green Hairstreaks (Callophrys rubi) flying in late spring, I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with with such small butterflies.

Nevertheless, on a recent trip into the greenery a Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) caught my attention, just by accident. That moment made me realize there’s something special about Hairstreaks. I can’t explain if it’s their behavior and the way they like to pose to the camera. Or is it because they’re even more fragile than most of the other butterflies? Perhaps because they’re so hard to detect at first? Either way, I ended up spending every free minute I got chasing them.

In my case. three species shared the same habitat where I, by pure coincidence, found the first individual. It was a female Brown Hairstreak. This one was anything but shy, and even unveiled the stunning beauty of its upper wings. What I didn’t know back then was that it’s rather rare to get such a chance. Hairstreaks are well known to mostly keep their wings closed.

Here’s the top shots I got on this fragile species, shot on several days but always on the same spot. The other two species, the White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) and the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus), deserve their individual post later on.

The Silver-washed Fritillary

The Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) is one of the largest butterfly species flying in Finland. It’s a joy to watch them fly, but it’s a sport to catch them with the camera. After finally finding a good spot with at least half a dozen individuals flying, the game was on.

To be honest, chasing butterflies at noon on a hot summer day has it’s drawbacks. First, the butterflies are far too active. Second, you’re at risk of dehydration even if consuming lots of fluids. Last but not least, a wild, bumpy field where the challenge takes place also places your ankles at risk of getting injured.

A good 1.5 hour try and I was able to get close enough to a couple of the butterflies. This was by far the toughest day so far this season.

The Grayling

At the rocky coast line and archipelago of the Baltic Sea in Finland a particularly funny butterfly holds its habitat: The Grayling (Hipparchia semele). This species is master in disguise, and it’s practically impossible to spot an individual that’s resting on a rock. You need to catch it flying.

A friend of mine, Helmut, introduced me to the harsh habitat of this butterfly. Once we arrived on sight, we had to wait for an individual to fly by that could then be chased. The Grayling has a beautiful eye on it’s upper wings. However, it may not be willing to show this eye. After the butterfly lands it takes about two seconds, and the eye “shuts”. Graylings only show the eye when they’re disturbed (they’re very careful, and rather fly away instead of showing the eye to a threat) . Nevertheless, it seems that while feeding on flowers they also keep the beauty on their wings visible.

Luckily, we saw multiple individuals flying. And we also caught them with our lenses. Definitely a good day for a hobby lepidopterist.

The Purple-edged Copper

One day earlier I got some poor shots of a Copper on a blooming field. Not enough to be sure enough to determine the species. Was it a Large Copper (Lycaena dispar) or a Purple-edged Copper (Lycaena hippothoe)? Hitting the same field again I’m now confirming it was the latter one, the Purple-edged Copper.

I finally got good shots on a male whereas the day before it was a female flying. The male, with its purple-edged shimmer on the wings, made it quite easy to get clarification on the species. Here’s some photos of this rather small but incredibly beautiful creatures.

Small Copper

Size is not the only criteria that counts when it comes to butterflies. Sometimes it’s the tiny ones that are the true beauties. Here’s some shots I got of a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas). Depending on the light conditions the colors shimmer like e.g. the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) or many species of the butterfly family called Lycaenidae (which also the Smalle Copper belongs to).

Another species I finally caught with my camera this spring, not a special photo though, is the Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus). The Holly Blue is the first of the Blues to fly in spring and has been around for already some time now. A female was taking a rest just long enough to get a single photo.

I’ll try to get better photos, particularly of the Small Copper, later on. Lots of other species of the Blues have been reported to have started their flight in Finland during the last week. Hopefully I can finally cover some of them with good footage as well. In the meantime, the sunny and warm days are over for at least the next couple days.


The Comma

The other day I didn’t quite get a shot on the only Comma (Polygonia c-album) I sighted. Therefor, I decided to set this species as my next target and get some proper footage.

Interestingly, it turned out to be a lucky day since I found several individuals. Butterflies tend to wake up during spring in a certain sequence. Probably the first species are the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and the Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni), followed by the European Peacock (Inachis io) and the Moarning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). Then there comes the Comma, which appears generally a couple days later after the previously named species. Next, the Comma will be followed by the Map (Araschnia levana).

This post is dedicated to the Comma, even though while writing I’m already looking forward to sighting the first Map this spring. Furthermore, the Comma is also one of my season targets for raising caterpillars. I once found one ages ago at my grand mother’s place. Back then, I didn’t get the chance to raising it to a butterfly.

The individuals I photographed all lost pretty much in color. I’m looking forward to having some fresh ones hatching during summer.


A Mourning Cloak moment

Focusing on a particular area when searching for butterflies makes sense. Choose the location wisely and, if you’re lucky, all you need to do is wait.

Yesterday, I decided to walk to the horse stable nearby. It’s my favorite spot and sometimes it feels amazing that a place that rich in species can be this close. The area provides shelter and since the surrounding fields are generally left on their own, there’s plenty of food around for adult butterflies and caterpillars.

Standing behind one of the stable buildings, the red building in the gallery below, a large creature was flying about 40 meters away. Due to size and colors, particularly the yellow borders, there was no doubt it was a Mourning Cloak, also known as Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa). Fortunately, this skilled flyer landed where it was easy to be located.

Mourning Cloak

The Mourning Cloak was definitely the highlight of that day. Having confirmed its presence in the biotope around the horse stable I know where to start looking for caterpillars, too.

Another species that crossed my path was the Orange Underwing (Archiearis parthenias). This moth is flying at daylight and is one of the first species getting active after winter. It’s terrible in flying and the moth hardly manages to stay in the air. Obviously, see photos below, also a proper landing appears to be a challenge.

Orange Underwing

Today it’s raining outside. After a long dry period rain is very welcome and is exactly what the flora needs right now. Worth being mentioned, a copula of Scarce Tortoiseshells (Nymphalis xanthomelas) has been sighted this weekend by Helmut D., a lepidopterist living nearby. A great sign that caterpillars will be around in a couple weeks from now.

Awakening of the Scarce Tortoiseshell


Today, I wanted to dedicate my lunch break again to get into the greenery. After recently spotting the first butterfly this spring, I was hungry for more. Like yesterday, I only took a 5 minutes walk to my favorite spot.

Despite of the weather conditions, with heavy wind and only 6 degrees Celsius, I got lucky again. This time a Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas) appeared out of the blue. After flying for some time the butterfly was finally willing to take a rest on the ground.

The Scarce Tortoiseshell used to be a rare visitor in Finland. However, since the mass migration of the species in 2012 it seems it has settled for good in the region. Many sightings of this species have been reported in the last couple days, a good sign there will also be caterpillars around later this spring or early summer. To get the chance to raise caterpillars of this rather large butterfly is definitely one of my season targets.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast predicted snow and cold weather for the weekend. This will force the early individuals back to hibernation for another moment.

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