The first thing to realise about Blues is that they’re not all blue. Not all the Whites are white either and not all Browns are brown, but most of them are. With Blues, half of them – pretty much all the females – are brown. On the upperwing anyway. Okay, the females do have a blueish tinge to them but they are, basically, brown on top. And in one species of Blue, even the males are brown.
It’s not easy to see the difference between the above three butterflies, particularly when you’re starting out. But when I took my first pictures of blue butterflies on Salisbury Plain, I wasn’t too bothered about whether the brown butterflies were Blues, or which sex they were, or identifying them generally. I was just excited by the images I was getting with my new lens, and how beautiful the butterflies looked.
I did dip into a butterfly book, but when I realised just how easy it was to confuse species – from both the upperwing and the underwing markings – I decided to leave identifying them for a time when the identification business might interest me more. Or not, as the case might turn out to be.
It took till early the following April. I’d been watching a small blue butterfly in the garden flitting around a large evergreen shrub. It seemed quite early in the year to me for Blue butterflies so, as I had my camera with me, I took some pictures when the butterfly finally came to rest. When I saw it through the lens, I was surprised to realise that not only was the upperwing of this butterfly blue, so was its underwing. Which was quite different from the Blues I’d seen up on the plain.
From the butterfly book, I identified the butterfly as a Holly Blue and found out that even the females were blue on top, albeit with a dark tinge to the top corners and the edges of their wings.
So it turned out the Holly Blue (a species I hadn’t previously been aware of) was the bluest of all the Blues. Maybe not the brightest blue – not as bright as the Adonis – but its own kind of blue, and in the right light a pretty intense one.
Holly Blues, once you see them in close up, are distinctive. I learned that the difference between Common and Adonis Blues is not always so obvious. The main identifier is the way the line of the veins in the wings extend with a dark line over the white fringe to the edge of the wing.
And then there’s the colour. Adonis Blues are an astonishing shade of blue. Particularly when they have recently emerged. It’s difficult to get their intensity across in a photograph without raising the suspicion that the colour saturation has been tweaked.
In the field you can spot them at rest, despite their being so small, from thirty foot away. Stand still at one of their sites, look around and you’ll see them, tiny little spots of vivid sky-blue, shining in the undergrowth. 2019 was apparently a good year for Adonis Blues. It seems that with the general trend of a warming climate, they’ve been doing well in this part of the world. You can see them in their hundreds in some locations.
The other blues I’ve seen on the plain this year are Common Blues (and they can be pretty blue too when they’re freshly emerged), Chalkhill Blues (with their attractive burnished effect), Small Blues, the Brown Argus, and the Holly Blue.
I haven’t so far managed to get a decent picture of a Small Blue. They’re the smallest butterfly in the UK (and that’s with some stiff competition) so they’re not easy to see, and stay seeing. They flit about erratically and the ones I’ve seen so far (or which I think I’ve seen – can’t always be sure without a photo) don’t want to sit still.
Chalkhill Blues are elusive too. They rarely seem to want to settle – for me anyway. If I want some good shots, I’ll need to be up there early on a sunny morning next year when they’re warming up for the day (and stationary).
I like the Common Blue. They seem to have attitude to me, always up for it, chasing off other males or dancing with females.
I’ve probably taken more pictures of Common Blues than any other butterfly this year. We see a few in the garden and they seem to like the organic field next to us as well. If the light is good – often late afternoon with a low sun – it’s easy for me to nip in there and take a few shots. (There’s a link to a selection of pictures of “The Blues Next Door” at the bottom of this page.)
The most beautiful? The Adonis has to be up there. But the Brown Argus is stunning too: freshly emerged with their dark brown wings – sometimes very dark – and their vivid orange markings, they are special. Occasionally, when I’ve focused on one and seen them clearly through the lens I’ve almost gasped at how perfect they are. I think they might just be, for me, the most beautiful Blue. And they’re not even blue at all.