Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Butterfly surveys around Sutherland for BioGaps

by Silvia Kirkman

During the September school holidays I had a gap to conduct butterfly surveys at two sites near Sutherland (Rooiheuwel and Portugalsrivier) for the BioGaps project. The family came along and we had a good time exploring the area.

We stayed on a farm near Sutherland in a very rustic cottage - this was our base.

From there we drove out on two separate days to survey the two sites, which were easily found. We saw some interesting flowers and bugs at both sites, photos of which will be submitted to iSpot.

Catching tadpoles.
Day 1 was at Portugalsrivier, quite close to the extinct volcano Salpeterskop which we could see from a distance. It was a hot day so we pitched our little beach tent for shade – it was a welcome relief! Our two boys had their own little nets for helping to catch butterflies – however, very few were seen and once we came upon a river the nets very quickly became tadpole catching nets – much more fun!


Warrior Silver-spotted Copper (the only butterfly I managed to photograph)
There were some low koppies on this site. On the one I came across a few Warrior Silver-spotted Coppers (Argyraspodes argyraspis). I have never encountered this butterfly before, so I was surprised that trying to catch this feisty little insect turned into an intense half-hour battle on the koppie – it is quite a warrior! After about 5.5 hours of walking about the 1 x 1 km site (which is actually quite a large area to cover properly) I found nine species of butterflies. Six of these belong to the family Lycaenidae. Regularly seen was the Common Meadow White (Pontia helice helice) and quite a few of another common butterfly, the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), were also seen. All butterflies seen are Least Concern, with only two being endemic to South Africa: Van Son’s Copper (Aloeides vansoni) and Trimen’s Brown (Pseudonympha trimenii nieuwveldensis).


Day 2 was at Rooiheuwel, close to where the April BioGaps bioblitz took place. This site was very flat and densely covered with small, tough and spikey bushes. It was quite difficult to walk through it, having to hop over and around bushes continuously. It was extremely hot (upper 30s) and I had to cut the afternoon survey short due to hyperthermia. Fortunately there was a big shady tree by the farm house where the kids could play under for most of the time while my husband watched over them. After 4 gruelling hours in the heat I found seven species of butterflies, of which five were Lycaenids. The Common Meadow White was once again regularly seen. All butterflies seen are Least Concern.

Rooiheuwel scenes

At the end of each day it was lovely to head back to our base and have a relaxing braai under the magnificent Sutherland skies, full of thousands of stars that it was almost impossible to pick out the constellations. We managed to fit in a visit to the fascinating SALT telescope, for which Sutherland is renowned.

Nightsky above our cottage.

SALT telescope

Sutherland bade us a typical frosty good-bye on the morning that we left.

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