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Old Sunday 14th May 2017, 19:12   #1
Jos Stratford
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Baltic Butterfly Challenge 2017

Following on from a successful 2016 in Lithuania and Latvia, my goal for 2017 is simply to have another cracking year, hopefully exceeding the 100 species barrier again and tracking down a few species that have so far eluded me in Lithuania.

High on my priority list are Violet Copper (never seen anywhere), Green-underside Blue and Marsh Fritillary (not seen either in Lithuania), plus a few of the scarcer skippers. These aside, I also hope to explore several new areas during the year and, with some luck, turn up a surprise or two, at least for me.

March and April were pretty poor overall with weather not exactly conducive to butterflies, so I'll do a post on each month, then bring up to date with happenings in May, which is now beginning to turn real good with many species already flying.
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Old Sunday 14th May 2017, 19:18   #2
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March 2017.

20-17 March. First Flights.

A full week earlier than the previous year, relative warm conditions brought the first butterflies onto the wing, so opening the 2017 season.

Ice on forest pools, temperatures hardly amazing at 7 C, but with a pleasant sun, the year kicked off in style with the first species noted being a Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell at Labanoras on the 20th! Added a Brimstone minutes later. Over subsequent days, temperatures sat at 10-11 C, I found another Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell, plus about ten Small Tortoiseshells, a Comma (on the 28th) and a handful of Brimstones.

So, spring was finally here, birds were pouring in, the first flowers of the season appearing in the meadows, plus a few frogs braving the cold waters.



YEAR LIST

1. Brimstone.
2. Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell.
3. Small Tortoiseshell.
4. Comma.
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Old Sunday 14th May 2017, 19:27   #3
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April 2017.

All about a day! April started off with a real punch - a spectacular day of high temperatures and superb butterfly action (Camberwell Beauties, Large Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, etc). Then it came to a grinding halt with temperatures dipping for the rest of the month and even a few days of snow!


2 April. Early Bonanza.

Sunshine, 22 C! Months of dreary temperatures a distant memory (for a day at least), a most impressive selection of early season butterflies were out basking in the warmth, plus the first frogs and toads.

Choosing the extreme south of Lithuania, I harboured ambition to find two of the more dramatic species on the wing in early spring … Camberwell Beauty and Large Tortoiseshell. Site one, right on the border with Belarus, set the scene for the day – still fairly early in the morning, but already Brimstones on sun-dappled banks and bunches of Small Tortoiseshells gathering around sparse flowers, plus the first Peacocks of the year and a Comma. As the warmth of the day built, a flash of cream and dark – patrolling a sandy track, one splendid Camberwell Beauty. Five species already, pretty good for early April.

And then, as I meandered through open pinewood for an hour or so, it just got better – as well as numerous Brimstones, I notched up no less than 14 more Camberwell Beauties, one of my highest ever day totals. A few kilometres further, most gathering at pussy willow catkins, the next site added more Small Tortoiseshells, Brimstones and Peacocks, plus another couple of Commas.

Most unexpected, however, was a Red Admiral - not a species that overwinters in Lithuania, early spring examples are exceedingly rare, more usually a butterfly that can be found from June onwards.

Now early afternoon, I still had not found a Large Tortoiseshell though. Remedied this en route back to Vilnius – stopping in a small meadow tucked up against forest, yellow flowers were proving a magnet to Small Tortoiseshells and Brimstones, a couple of dozen of each present. Wandered round for about an hour, soaking up the afternoon sun, then a large orange butterfly arrived, flying and gliding with fair power.

Settling on the trunk of a silver birch, there the butterfly was, my desired Large Tortoiseshell! Didn't find anything else, so eventually headed off, quite pleased with the day.

So, approximate counts for butterflies this day: 230 Brimstones, one Red Admiral, 15 Camberwell Beauties, one Large Tortoiseshell, 95 Small Tortoiseshells, 22 Peacocks and three Commas ...a grand total of about 370 butterflies!

Just for comparison, 2 April 2016 was a cool 11 C, I managed a grand total of eight butterflies, all Small Tortoiseshells.



BALTIC YEAR LIST

5. Red Admiral.
6. Camberwell Beauty
7. Large Tortoiseshell
8. Peacock



5-29 April. Snow, frosts, rain and wind!

Gee, what happened to spring?! A near full month of disgusting weather - day after day of fairly abysmal conditions, dominated by cold northerlies and rare sunshine. Even had a carpet of snow on the 15-17th of the month, several centimetres in Vilnius and Labanoras!!! After such a promising start with butterflies at the beginning of the month, high hopes of additional species faded as the days went by, not a hunt of anything.

In reality, it was an almost complete wash-out on, the only butterflies seen being three Small Tortoiseshells and a Peacock braving a sunny day and 5 C on the 20th and an equally hardy Small Tortoiseshell basking in sun between snow squalls on the 23rd!
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Old Monday 15th May 2017, 18:35   #4
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1 May. Bath Day.

A near month of dreary weather, depression was almost setting in, the forecast for the first days of this month none too promising either. But with the new month, unexpected blue skies and a blazing sun, albeit not far off freezing at dawn! By 10 am, with the temperature already 7 C, conditions were looking good, maybe a few new species this day, I thought.

In meadows to the south of Vilnius, a few Small Tortoiseshells already on the wing, I began to explore. And what a classic day it quickly turned into, my second species of the day being Eastern Bath White, not one I expected on the first day of May! As it warmed up, at least four were active in this small area, very nice indeed. And along woodland edge, plenty more butterflies appearing in short succession, a dozen or so Orange Tips soon on the wing, my first Green-veined Whites of the year, plus one Green Hairstreak. Also, lots more Small Tortoiseshells, several Peacocks, one Comma and 20 or so Brimstones.

Four new species for the year and, all in all, a very pleasant couple of hours. Did have plans to check out a new site just east of Vilnius in the early afternoon, but a thick band of cloud had parked itself across the capital for much of the day, slowly advancing westwards. As I departed my meadows, I lost the sunshine and realised my day of butterflies was about to be over. Pondered a while, then decided to outdrive the cloud, expanses of blue still visible on the western horizon. Had to go a bit further than I expected, ending up over 80 km from Vilnius, but the reward was worth it a full afternoon of glorious sun and temperatures of 12C, feeling quite a bit higher.

Made a stop at a random area of woodland edge bordering abandoned meadow. Most productive it was eight species seen, Peacocks, Brimstones and Small Tortoiseshells again the most abundant, but also a few Orange Tips again, three Commas, a couple of Green-veined Whites and my second Green Hairstreak of the day. Better still, mostly gathering around catkins, my first Holly Blues of the year, at least six in total. My final treat, three Map Butterflies, newly emerge and sunning on a grassy bank.

And with that I turned back into the bank of cloud and returned to Vilnius, ten species and about 150 individual butterflies seen during the day, this including six new for the year.


BALTIC YEAR LIST

9. Eastern Bath White
10. Orange Tip
11. Green-veined White
12. Map Butterfly
13. Green Hairstreak
14. Holly Blue

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Old Monday 15th May 2017, 18:38   #5
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May Day butterflies...
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Old Monday 15th May 2017, 19:22   #6
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4-6 May. Continuing Highs.

A good run of fair weather days, sun and temperatures touching 20 C. Big arrivals of bird migrants, Pied Flycatchers and Whinchats in force at Labanoras, a male Montagu's Harrier too, plus the first Wrynecks, Cuckoos et al.

On the butterfly front, continuing variety with Orange Tips, Holly Blues and other early season species in good numbers at Labanoras on the 4th, along with increased numbers of Map Butterflies, an emergence of at least 30 Green Hairstreaks and my first Wood Whites of the year, six in all.

Two days later, a north-south divide in the weather across the country, cloud banks obliterating the south, open skies to the north. Took advantage of the latter to make my first visit of the year to the Sventoji river valley near Ukmerges on this day ...and was immediately rewarded with a fine Swallowtail, a very early individual. Temperatures climbed to 20 C, plenty of butterflies active, albeit species such as Brimstones and Small Tortoiseshells not in very high numbers. Amongst the main attractions, one Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell, a notable emergence of Wood Whites and growing numbers of both Map Butterflies and Green-veined Whites.

Noted eleven species, was the best day total so far in 2017. Didn't however find either Speckled Wood or Small White, both of which I thought quite possible.


BALTIC YEAR LIST

15. Wood White
16. Swallowtail
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Old Monday 15th May 2017, 19:24   #7
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Early May...
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Old Monday 15th May 2017, 19:25   #8
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8-12 May. Topsy Turvy World of Lithuanian Spring!

Hot and sunny, a blanket of snow, back to hot and sunny, a week in early-May! Exactly how was, 20 C on the 6th, minus 2 C and several centimetres of snow on the 9th, 20 C and blue skies again by the 14th.

Not a real dent to butterflies however, saw my first Speckled Wood of the year near Vilnius on the 8th (as well as Orange Tips, Holly Blues et al), then after a couple of days of predictable nothingness, started to see Brimstones and Wood Whites again by the 12th.
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Old Wednesday 17th May 2017, 19:46   #9
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13-14 May. Full Speed Ahead!

A fabulous day, heading to the south of the country to investigate areas in the Marcinkonys area. Warm and sunny by a little after 9.00 a.m., the abundance that I was to encounter was soon apparent - Brimstones, Green-veined Whites, Wood Whites, Green Hairstreaks and Map Butterflies all abundant, Orange Tips, Peacocks and Holly Blues also fairly common.

Was checking out the area for potential new species later in the season, but had a few nice surprises this day too - two Camberwell Beauties, two Swallowtails and, first of the year, four Grizzled Skippers. Also added a couple of Small Whites, also my first of the year, but by mid-morning high cloud was beginning to edge in.

Some decent breaks in the cloud allowed another three Grizzled Skippers (two nearby, one near Druskininkai), but as the cloud seemed stubbornly static, I decided to head north back into sunnier skies. An excellent move - meadows south of the capital were alive with butterflies! A good 150 or so assorted whites, including at least three Eastern Bath Whites, plus a range of other species, the best of which were six Queen of Spain Fritillares and three Small Coppers, both new additions for the year.

Sixteen species of butterfly this day, best day of the season so far.


BALTIC YEAR LIST

17. Small White
18. Small Copper
19. Queen of Spain Fritillary
20. Grizzled Skipper



Tried various locations in the north the following day, Labanoras, near Ukmerge, near Kernave - not a bad selection, but despite sun and 20 C, it was certainly less productive than the day before, highlights were two Yellow-legged Tortoiseshells near Ukmerge.
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Old Wednesday 17th May 2017, 19:48   #10
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Butterflies this day...
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Old Wednesday 17th May 2017, 19:58   #11
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Nice early selection, not a chance here yet.

I usually concentrate on a couple of local patches, one of which has produced 8 species of Fritillary but I may try and seek new pastures this year in search of new species, we'll see.

Good setaside and pasture land is hard to find, St Peterburg is just a giant swamp.


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Old Thursday 18th May 2017, 18:57   #12
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15 May. Bonus Day, Dingy Skipper.

Managed 109 species on my quest in 2016, travelling extensively thoughout Lithuania and neighbouring Latvia. One species that I did not manage to find however was Dingy Skipper, a localised species mostly occuring in southern parts of Lithuania. To be more accurate, it was actually more than a decade ago that I last saw this species in this part of the world! Task for this year was to find the few species that had eluded me in 2016 ...as an early season species, Dingy Skipper was first on the hit list.

Warm and sunny again, I travelled only a short distance from the capital, selecting an open sandy area, vegetation sparce. Orange Tips and Wood Whites in good numbers, two Swallowtails fluttering about, one Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell at adjacent woodland edge ...a good start. Criss-crossed the area for a half hour or so, found a scattering of Green Hairstreaks amongst other species. Then, just as I was wondering if I was perhaps a little too early in the season for them, a small dark butterfly zipped past and settled briefly ...a fine Dingy Skipper! Unfortunatley, before I got a chance for a photograph, it rose, caught the light wind and vanished over a slight hillock. Couldn't find it again!

Luckily, relocating a half kilometre or so, I found another excellent area and found two more Dingy Skippers, one rather brief again, but the other very cooperative, sitting and posing for pictures at length. And with that, as skies began to cloud, I headed back to the city, mission accomplished!


BALTIC YEAR LIST

21. Dingy Skipper
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Old Thursday 18th May 2017, 19:05   #13
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Must be a habitat thing there Jos, I get Dingy Skipper here on my patch, not in big numbers but annual.

My patch is basically wet heathland with bogs and open sandy tracks.


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Old Thursday 18th May 2017, 19:11   #14
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Originally Posted by andyadcock View Post
Must be a habitat thing there Jos, I get Dingy Skipper here on my patch, not in big numbers but annual.
Quite a localised species here. Things are about to get massively better very soon - was checking possible localities for some rare species that I hope to find in the next weeks, added three more new species for the year today.
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Old Thursday 18th May 2017, 19:47   #15
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Quite a localised species here. Things are about to get massively better very soon - was checking possible localities for some rare species that I hope to find in the next weeks, added three more new species for the year today.
It's been so cold here that we're just starting to note the frist midges never mind butterflies!
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Old Sunday 21st May 2017, 17:41   #16
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I get Dingy Skipper here on my patch, not in big numbers but annual.
Seen two more now, one in classic habitat of a sand pit, the other while waiting for a kebab at a take-away place :) Walking for a few minutes behind the roadside kebab place and there was the Dingy Skipper sunning on the track!

As for this weekend however, simply stunning - amazing variety now on the wing and a major surprise among the rewards.
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Old Wednesday 24th May 2017, 15:20   #17
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18 May. Explorations.

After a short visit to Labanoras, I cut west to sunnier skies to exploring new regions in the Kaunas region. Idea was to check out sites that might hold Clouded Apollos and Chequered Skippers in the coming weeks, perhaps get lucky and find an early one. Well, I did find some good sites, one well-worth returning to, but certainly didn't see either Clouded Apollo or Chequered Skipper on this day! I did however see 18 Grizzled Skippers, six Weaver's Fritillaries, two Sooty Coppers and one Short-tailed Blue, the latter two new for the year.


BALTIC YEAR LIST

23. Sooty Copper
24. Short-tailed Blue
25. Weaver's Fritillary



20 May. Scarce Swallowtail, major surprise!

Hottest day of the year so far, a splendid 26 C. Plan was to head to the south of the country and target two localised species – Green-underside Blue (though perhaps too early in the season) and Baltic Grayling.

Not far from Marcinkonys, site one was a set of small meadows flanked by mature open pine forest on all sides, the rich aroma of the pines floating on the air. Could immediately see it was going to be a good day on arrival, it was barely 9.00 a.m., but butterflies of several species already on the wing – Brimstones, Green Hairstreaks, Map Butterflies, etc. Walked a circuit of about four kilometres, mostly investigating meadows up against the forest edge, classic habitat for Green-underside Blue I thought. Grizzled Skippers proved very common, at least 35 seen, so too Small Whites, Green-veined Whites and Wood Whites. Better still however, an impressive number of Swallowtails present, no less than 10 appearing at this locality as I strolled around, plus two Camberwell Beauties, six Weaver's Fritillaries, a couple of Sooty Coppers and a dozen Small Coppers. Also found a Short-tailed Blue, a couple of Speckled Woods and my first Large White of the year.

No sign of Green-underside Blue, but an excellent day anyhow I thought as the species tally steadily rose. It was about to get a whole lot better. At the edge of the pine forest, on a nice sunny slope, a large distinctive butterfly suddenly appeared – flying rapidly though the open pines, flashing tiger stripes on a pale background, it was a Scarce Swallowtail! Typical of the species though, it was highly mobile, exiting the pines without landing, only to flutter briefly around flowers and then vanish down an adjacent sandy slope.

Scarce Swallowtail is a regular species in north-east Poland, breeding right up to the Lithuanian border. In Lithuania however, it remains almost unknown – the only records in the country being specimens thought to have been collected in the Trakai region many years ago and a single near Marijampole three years ago. So why the lack of records in Lithuania ? My guess is that is probably overlooked – even though a striking species, there's a awful lot of perfect habitat to hide in between Marcinkonys and the Polish border, much of it relatively rarely visited. That said, early spring 2017 also appears to be outstanding for Swallowtails – against just 12 in the whole of 2016, I saw more than 20 in the first three weeks of May alone, including 14 this day. Perhaps related?

Failing to relocate this butterfly, I continued my walk. Over the next hour or so, I added a few more species, including three Pale Clouded Yellows and a couple of Small Heaths, both new for the year.

Next locality was less productive – open meadows a few kilometres further south. Three more Swallowtails amongst the haul, plus another 15 or so Grizzled Skippers and a Queen of Spain Fritillary, but otherwise the most numerous butterflies were whites – best being three more Large Whites and one Eastern Bath White.

Decided I was probably too early in the season for Green-underside Blue, so moved on to my next target, Baltic Grayling. A very localised species in Lithuania and flying early in the season, it is restricted to select bogs where it seems to prefer areas with sparce stunted pines in wet areas. Cepkaliai is one one such place, but I opted to try another known locality further west on the Polish border. An hour drive and I was there, skirting the Polish border posts and arriving at the destination. Abandoned shoes and squelched out into good looking habitat – immediate success, settling on the trunks of the pines and occasionally chasing each other around, Baltic Graylings! Actually many Baltic Graylings! In the small area I checked, at least 40 were present, undoubtedly far more in the wider area. Other butterflies were far less prominent – a few Green Hairstreaks, one more Swallowtail, but otherwise just mainly a few Brimstones and Wood Whites.

Slight cloud was beginning to gather to the south, so I opted against a planned visit to sites on the Belarus border and returned instead to the north, stopping for a final walk of the day in sand pits near Merkine. Not bad at all, Camberwell Beauty and Dingy Skipper amongst the first species seen, several Short-tailed Blues and Small Heaths added also.

So a classic day, the best of 2017 so far – 25 species in total, some pretty good ones included.


BALTIC YEAR LIST

26. Scarce Swallowtail
27. Large White
28. Pale Clouded Yellow
29. Small Heath
30. Baltic Grayling
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Old Wednesday 24th May 2017, 15:26   #18
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Baltic Graylings ...
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Old Thursday 25th May 2017, 18:54   #19
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21 May. Violet Copper

Rare and highly localised, Violet Copper occurs in just a handful of localities in the country. Not a species that I had ever seen, not in Lithuania, not elsewhere, this dainty little species was my number one target for 2017. As such, I had already checked out localities that I thought promising and today was the day to return to perhaps the best. Locality should also support assorted fritillaries and heaths, but barely a butterfly was flying on arrival despite a warm sun. Hmm, perhaps still early in the season. Walked around for about half an hour, added a Speckled Wood and one or two common species, no sign of any of the more unusual species.

But then there it was, the Holy Grail of my butterflies, a simply delightful Violet Copper! Smaller than I was expecting, it was flying on the edge of a wet area, settling frequently on leaves between reed stalks and other vegetation.

But then a calamity - I discovered I had forgotten to put a memory card in my camera! Argh, my most eagerly sought butterfly of the year sitting just in front of me and my camera was out of action! Fortunately I did manage to get a few shots with my phone camera, literally putting the phone right up to the butterfly as it sat and sunned itself. With another Violet Copper flying quite nearby, I can say that I will be returning to this locality in the coming days!


Mobile phone shot...
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Old Thursday 25th May 2017, 18:55   #20
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Went back today ...with a memory card....
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Old Thursday 25th May 2017, 21:01   #21
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Very envious of the range of habitats there, we have swamp forest and pines for 200km in all directions, really hard to find new habitat and thus new species.


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Old Friday 26th May 2017, 18:10   #22
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22 May.

Back to Kaunas region for the second time in a week – still high hopes for Clouded Apollo or Chequered Skipper. Cloudy all morning, not a help at all, but it did begin to clear around midday. And I didn't have to wait long for the result – didn't find any Chequered Skippers, but as the clouds parted, one of the first butterflies that I found was a smart Northern Chequered Skipper soaking up the first hints of the sun!

As the sun grew in strength, this butterfly became more and more active, eventually disappearing into grassy glades just yonder, plenty of other species becoming active at the same time, Speckled Wood and a presumed Yellow-legged Tortoiseshell amongst them.

As time was limited, I moved onto my next destination, grassy slopes that might produce a Clouded Apollo. Alas they didn't, but under a warm sun now beating down, I did add my 21st Swallowtail of the season, a dozen more Grizzled Skippers, several Sooty Coppers and my first Common Blues of the year, three in all.

Not bad at all for a few hours in the field, not only the Northern Chequered Skipper, but with the 12 additional Grizzled Skippers, my year tally for these now stood at almost 90, already my best ever year for them. Unfortunately I needed to get back for work, so that ended that.


BALTIC YEAR LIST (19-21 May)

31. Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary
32. Violet Copper
33. Common Blue
34. Northern Chequered Skipper

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Old Friday 26th May 2017, 18:11   #23
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Northern Chequered Skipper ...
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Old Friday 26th May 2017, 19:22   #24
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Am I right in thinking you've missed Speckled Wood from your list? You mention it first on the 8th but didn't add it to the numbered list (between 16. Swallowtail and 17. Small White).
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Old Friday 26th May 2017, 19:37   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jonny721 View Post
Am I right in thinking you've missed Speckled Wood from your list? You mention it first on the 8th but didn't add it to the numbered list (between 16. Swallowtail and 17. Small White).
You are sharp eyed :-)

I did miss it in the numbering, but noticed some days back and jumped from 21 to 23, so numbering is again correct. Thanks for pointing out though.
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