Season start 2017

This year’s butterfly season started late for me. I could hardly find any time to get out into the wild. Also the weather conditions were pretty unpleasant, changing from -15 degrees Celsius to low plus degrees accompanied by rain.

Early 2017 I completely updated my camera gear and couldn’t wait to finally test the new, decent macro photography equipment. Previously, I’ve been working with a Sony Nex5 and the 18-200mm lens by Sony. Practically all photos on the Butterfly Playbook have been taken with this camera, occasional shots were by my iPhone (various models). Here are the first macros taken by my new Sony a6500 and the Sigma 150mm lens. I have a good feeling about this season.

Nevertheless, the first touch with butterflies and moths this year related to the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus). Last Sunday was beautiful sunshine and the amount of light here in Southern Finland started to be enough for taking the camera with me. With snow and ice, the terrain is still in challenging condition, therefor I only took a walk to the oak forest nearby.

Looking at twigs that had fallen from old oaks during winter I tried to spot little white eggs of the Purple Hairstreak. These have about the size of a grain of sand. I had to look for twigs that got stuck in lower growth, since the forest ground was still covered by snow.

After some time I found what I was looking for. A small twig that hosted even two eggs at once. One of the eggs was placed in the normal fashion, squeezed under a leaf bud. The other was located rather extraordinary on the twig with no buds nearby. This made it easier though to photograph the ovum.

Before heading home I placed the twig on a young oak, hoping that the caterpillars will grow on a place where I can follow their development in the wild. So far I’ve only had the chance to get photos from specimen in captivity.

Bottom line, the season has begun. Next target in line would be to find caterpillars of the Lesser purple emperor (Apatura ilia). In about 1-2 weeks from now it will also be possible to start spotting the first adult butterflies that awake from hibernation. It’s a great time of the year when the long Nordic winter takes an end.

Becoming a butterfly

Most people take butterflies for granted. They may also not care about the long journey a butterfly has past before ever taking off with their wings. Nevertheless, in case of the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) it takes almost a year before the butterfly has completed the metamorphosis. The adult butterfly will live a couple weeks, copulate, lay eggs and die.

Following the metamorphosis close by means a lot of work. Most likely, the butterflies need to be raised with a lot of care. Dealing with the Purple Hairstreak, the eggs need to be searched and found in autumn. After that, these eggs need to be stored for hibernation. This phase may take up to 8 months. In spring, the tiny caterpillars will hatch. In summer, finally, the butterflies will hatch and show their beauty.

The ever-challenging Purple hairstreak

The flying season of the Purple hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) has recently past. It was my 3rd summer trying to get decent close-ups of this tricky species. Despite of 9 collected eggs last autumn I only managed to raise one to an adult butterfly. 7 eggs never hatched and one caterpillar died.

Fortunately, we recently relocated to a new home with a decent oak forest nearby. This means that the species flies just around the corner. I got a couple photos from the specimen that I raised, a male. Some additional shots I managed to make in the wild. It looked like the butterflies were mostly active in the early morning hours. They also came down to low-hanging branches which made it possible to try catch them with the camera.

Another attempt with the Purple Hairstreak

A year ago I brought over a dozen eggs from the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) through winter to start raising them in spring. I did well at the beginning, but the adult caterpillars started to get ill. I only got one to pupate. It never hatched.

In autumn 2015 I managed to find close to 10 eggs again. I will definitely try my best to raise these eggs with care to get some butterflies in summer. It’s a species I’m looking forward to get some decent photos of. So far, I mainly managed to get ventral shots of the Purple Hairstreak. And it’s the dorsal, meaning the side visible when the wings are open, that’s something special in case of this species.

Here’s a couple shots from the eggs I found in autumn. One photo shows a caterpillar from a year ago, and how they are in disguise looking like a part of their host plant. Should you need some tips finding eggs have a look at this post.

How to find eggs of the Purple Hairstreak

Summer has turned to autumn and the habitat where I was photographing Hairstreaks two months ago has something new to offer. Twigs of the old oaks have fallen from the trees. On these twigs one may find a special surprise: Tiny eggs.

The Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) is a wonderful butterfly but also a challenging species. It spends almost its entire life high up in the crown of old oaks. It is difficult to see them fly, or catch them with the camera. However, there’s a trick to get a close-up on this creature. When a twig falls down from a tree it may contain a precious egg of the Purple Hairstreak. This may often be the only, or at least the easiest way to obtain a specimen for raising.

Originally I intended to wait until winter, then have a look if a storm would have brought down branches from the old oaks. Nevertheless, one day I realized oaks were dropping twigs at this time of the year. I’m not sure if it’s due to squirrels. I started to browse through these twigs and eventually got lucky.

There is not that much more advice or tips I could give on how to find these tiny, but well recognizable ova. I rather want to focus on posting some guiding photos that show what to search for, and what the habitat look like.

I’ve managed to gather about a dozen eggs. These are waiting now until spring. There will certainly be more to write about once these hatch. For interesting and  detailed information about the Purple Hairstreak have a look at http://www.quercus2.co.uk/index.php.

And one last tip: I’ve been able to confirm that even a single-standing oak may be a source of eggs. I was on a walk with our daughter when I spotted an oak (and again, twigs on the ground below). I had a quick look and found an egg almost immediately. While our girl was playing with the leafs, I had a good moment to find some more. So keep your eyes open.

 

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.