A few weeks ago, in August, I was in Toronto and on a glorious sunny day I took a boat trip out to Centre Island, which, in the unlikely event you ever find yourself in Toronto wondering what to do, I can heartily recommend. There were many huge and colourful butterflies including monarchs and swallowtails fluttering around the island, and some others I didn’t recognise. It was a work trip so I hadn’t taken my DSLR with me and the only way to get a photograph was with my phone camera. And then I discovered that monarchs are skittish and it’s not easy to get close to them, which I needed to do as I only had a phone to take pictures with, but after chasing several and failing to get within range I managed to sneak up on this one:
Monarch butterfly – Danaus plexippus
I stooped down on the opposite side of the plant to the butterfly and reached around to point my phone and take this picture. I must confess, I was a little gobsmacked at how well it worked. The light conditions were challenging as it was late morning and the sunlight was intense, so there was lots of contrast between the shade and the light. But after minimal post processing to darken the sunny bits I think is a pretty good image! I changed my phone earlier this year for an iPhone 6S plus and I was impressed with the quality of the camera from the start, but after this shot I’m really impressed with it.
I hope it’s not a global phenomenon, but this year, due to climatic aberrations, many butterfly species have been hit really hard and their numbers have plummeted. The results of the ‘Big Butterfly Count‘, an annual survey of our Lepidoptera here in the UK, was reported today, and the news was bleak. Many erstwhile common species have really suffered and this is a phenomenon which I’ve noticed and commented on several times since the Spring this year. And now it’s official. Sir David Attenborough (the worlds greatest living human being), and president of the charity Butterfly Conservation, said that butterflies are a good barometer of the state of nature in general. I’m inclined to agree with him and I think it’s a very bad sign that the plight of our butterflies in the UK is so dire. It doesn’t augur well.
Small copper – Lycaena phlaeas
But one of my absolute favourite butterflies, and one that I only see very infrequently, even in a good year, is the small copper. I think they’re gorgeous. I haven’t seen one for about three years and then, randomly, a friend of mine showed me this picture a couple of weeks ago which he took with his phone, also an iPhone 6S, on the Roman road between Cambridge and Linton.
So there are still some lovely butterflies out there, but please think of them and, if you can spare it, leave a little bit of your garden to grow wild with no chemicals to help them recover. And if you don’t have a camera handy to take a portrait give it a go with your phone instead, you might be surprised!
At first I used to not take phone photography at all seriously, but I too have changed my mind. I have been amazed, several times, at what these little wonders are capable of (I have a Samsung Galaxy S6 and I love it).
Since I changed from a 4S to a 6S I’ve been amazed at how good it is. And wondering how good it can get… and how long before my DSLR ends up in a museum😩
As if by coincidence, I’ve posted some thoughts regarding the UK butterfly situation on my Facebook page just now. The link to it is as follows – https://www.facebook.com/naturestimeline/posts/1229027930488981
Tony Powell and naturestimeline
Thanks Tony, that pretty much tallies with my observations this year. Apart from the whites, nearly all the other species I’ve seen this year have been in the last 6 weeks or so.
The decline in butterflies this year is very worrying. I did see several small coppers a few weeks ago and red admirals have been plentiful but that’s it. There is a lot of talk about bee decline in the UK but do you have any statistics?
I was reporting what I read in the press yesterday, but I’m going to look at some stats on the Big Butterfly Count website to get some more detail. Red admirals and various whites are the only ones I’ve see in abundance this year, and the admirals only in the last month.
Peacock, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood, holly blue, common blue, brown argus, painted lady, gatekeeper, small copper, small skipper, meadow brown, all either absent or much depleted. It’s really bad.
It was really the bees I was referring to. You said in a comment that our “bees are in real trouble” and while I dont disagree that some bees are in decline, I suspect we dont have good statistics for many species. The situation with honeybees in the UK is also far from clear to me.
By the way, I am not an apologist for the agrochemical industry, quite the opposite!
I think you’re probably right about bee stats. I’ve heard that, as well as the honey bees, various species of bumble bee are struggling too, and taken overall with the rapidly declining butterfly populations it’s decidedly worrying. If I can find any numbers regarding bee populations I’ll post them.
Excellent shots, Finn, and I’m as impressed as you (at the quality of the image).
I so rarely see butterflies outdoors, but then I am an inner city dweller. I used to rarely see them in the Royal Botanic Gardens when I lived close by and first took up flower photography though. Wouldn’t you think I would have seen more back in those days.
(I worry about the decline of bees, but was surprised to read only recently that Australia has over 1500 species).
Hello Vicki, bees are in real trouble here too, are your Australian bees suffering from a similar decline? They’re such important creatures and we endanger them at our peril!
I don’t know what the situation is with butterflies in your part of the world, but you’re right, I would imagine a botanic gardens may have had good numbers of them. May be there were too many foreign plants there for the native Lepidoptera? Or lots of native ones nearby so they didn’t need the gardens?
Those are terrific phone shots — maybe you don’t need the big heavy SLR after all 🙂
I do love your vocabulary — gobsmacked, what a wonderful word.
Thanks Sue, that’s a particular favourite of mine too – it sounds like exactly what it is 😊
Nice post and photo, Finn! Not too long ago, I was without my camera when I came upon my first sighting of puddling tiger swallowtails. I had my phone (nothing fancy like an i-phone), so I did my best to to get some shots. I managed to scare away most of them in the process, but a half dozen did stick around so I could photograph them.
Thank you very much indeed.
Were you pleased with the results? It’s a great option to have and I was amazed how mine coped with really difficult light.
Like you I had harsh shadows to contend with. A trick I sometimes use on close up shots is to use my body to shade the shot. That was not an option because that would have put me in the water. Also there were heavy wind gusts that would flatten the butterfly wings against the ground. I had to time my shots between gusts. In my case, the camera would have done a better job, but it is nice to have an option when you leave your camera at home.
I think you’re dead right there, and the way phone technology is advancing it’s now a pretty good second best.