Butterfly spotting in the dunes at Portstewart Strand

Dark Green Fritillary butterfly, Portstewart Strand

Butterflies and insects in general have been having a hard time of late with many species in decline. So as we say goodbye to the last of these beautiful creatures for another season, how have our butterflies in the Dunes fared this year?

Since recording on the Portstewart Strand transect started just under a decade ago, 18 different species have been recorded and 14 of these showed up in 2017.  The three regular whites – Green-veined, Small and Large were there in reasonable numbers from early season and could still be seen through August and there were good numbers of Small Heath for a short period in May and early June but no sightings thereafter. 

Regular visitors

The usual numbers of Meadow Browns and Ringlets could be seen in peak summer but the numbers of Common Blue which have traditionally been Portstewart Strand’s most abundant species appeared to be significantly down this year.  The Dark Green Fritillary which is not a particularly common species in Northern Ireland, but a regular at Portstewart Strand, was with us in very large numbers for a couple of weeks in July but quickly disappeared thereafter.

Common Blue butterfly Portstewart Strand
Common Blue butterfly Portstewart Strand
Common Blue butterfly Portstewart Strand

Grayling, a species that was previously more abundant was disappointing with only a few sightings late in the year and we also had occasional appearances from the Speckled Wood

The Painted lady, a migrant butterfly that occurs in massive numbers in North Africa and makes it’s way north in stages to our shores visited a few times throughout the year.

The other migrants – the Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock  - showed up late in the year but only in small numbers.

Highs and lows of 2017

So to sum up, Portstewart Strand's butterfly population probably reflected the overall British Isles status with some species still in difficulty.  The high point was the large numbers of Dark Green Fritillary albeit short lived but no sightings of a couple of species (Small Copper and Cryptic Wood White) which were recorded in some previous years demonstrate that work is still needed to conserve the specific habitats and food plants used by some of these beautiful insects.  

Join us for a Butterfly Safari in 2018

This year we ran three successful Butterfly Safaris in the dunes which were well supported by parents and children who really enjoyed catching and identifying the species and learning more about them from our rangers.

We are looking forward to repeating these events next summer between May and August and we also plan a butterfly information day early in the season.  Watch out for the dates in the new year.