Monday, 16 September 2019

Big Long Thing.

Over the past few years I have spent time looking for a Privet Hawk-moth caterpillar on the wild Privet that grows locally over the Downs, but in all that time I have failed to find one.

Looking through some very old photos a while back I was surprised to find I had some photos of a half grown one from way back but that was about it.

On Thursday I was doing a bit of gardening for a lady in Seaford when I spotted amongst the weeds a fully grown Privet Hawk-moth Caterpillar. Amazing what you can find when you are not looking for it!!  It is surprising how difficult they can be to find in the wild as they are not rare and they are enormous.  Brilliant to have found one at last.

Privet Hawk-moth caterpillar.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Aqua Arachnids.

A few years ago I was with Nigel in Ashdown Forest when we spotted a large Spider sitting on the acid pool whilst we were looking for emerging Dragonflies.  We realised straight away that we had found a Raft Spider.  This was the start of us both getting rather fascinated by these large impressive creatures.

We then found out that we were near to both of the species of Raft Spider that can be found in the UK with the Spider we had found in Ashdown being the Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) and the largest colony in the UK of the much rarer Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) being found on the Pevensey Levels.  

Nigel really went to town with the Fen Raft and Pevensey Levels has since become his main area of wildlife watching.

We have now seen many of the rarer Fen Raft Spider and numerically this species is clearly much more numerous in Sussex than the more common Raft Spider!!

With less opportunities to go out this year I have just managed a couple of visits to both sites this year to see both species and I apologise to anyone that suffers from arachnophobia!!

If it is any consolation these spiders are totally harmless unless you are a small insect or a fish!!

Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus).

Both of my visits to the Fen Raft Spider has been when the females are guarding their spiderlings in the nursery webs and in the photos these webs can be seen with the hundreds of spiderling.

Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) with nursery web.

Fen Raft Spider to the left with nursery web.

Friday, 6 September 2019

A Bit of Birding.

Over the past week or so I have not been out too much, but when I have been out I have been hoping for a Clouded Yellow.  It's not very often that I have to wait as long as this to get my first one of the year.

It was pleasing to get the first 3rd brood Wall Brown on Sunday with probably 2 of them seen as well as a couple of tatty 2nd brood.  The following day a 3rd brood female was seen and then yesterday morning one female and two male 3rd brood and one 2nd brood seen.

However the only photos I took were of a young Buzzard that flew close when I was on the top of the hill.

Young Buzzard in flight.

Yesterday afternoon Matt called round for a while and we decided to go for a stroll down the lower Cuckmere.

Early September can be very good for throwing up a rarity or two but that wasn't the case yesterday, although one of the released White Storks, probably from Knepp, did show well in flight.

White Stork.

Waders along the river were few and far between with a couple of juvenile Ringed Plover, a couple of Whimbrel and singles of both Black and Bar-tailed Godwit.

Juvenile Ringed Plover.

A little further on I saw at last my first Clouded yellow of the year, and hopefully the first of many!!  At the same time a Small Copper was nectaring on the Fleabane and it was also an aberrant form radiata.  

This is the 2nd time I've come across this aberrant form so at least I knew the name of it!!

Small Copper ab. radiata.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Hairstreak Hunt.

A couple of weeks ago I was out hunting Brown Hairstreaks locally with Nigel.  This isn't the first year we have tried to find some more local examples of this species, and this year we had the same result!!  A big fat zero.

However, we made the best of it with some good sightings of other butterfly and dragonfly species in the 2 different areas we checked out.

Female Holly Blue.

Painted Lady.

Common Darter.

Migrant Hawker.

Painted Lady on Fleabane.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Clearwings and a big Cricket.

Until this year the only Clearwing moth I had seen was on a roadside in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria.

For some time I have wanted to see them in the UK and with some encouragement from Clare and David we put our resources together and purchased some pheromone lures for the species we were likely to encounter locally.

By the time we had done this we were slightly late to the party as it was already too late in the year for some of the ones we could come across, however, with a little bit of luck and a bit of research we did manage to see 3 different species.

This started in a private Oak woodland where I was quite confident of success for the Yellow-legged Clearwing.  This species uses old Oak stumps to breed in, so having found a ride with plenty of these in we set the lure to work.  Despite no recent records for the moth in this woodland we were delighted when after just 20 minutes or so we had 3 of these little moths come in.

Yellow-legged Clearwing.

Following this success I then tried some local downland for the Six-belted Clearwing.  Once again there were no recent records for this moth in the area but bearing in mind the foodplant was Bird's-foot Trefoil, of which there was plenty in the area, I was semi confident of success.

Once again, I didn't have too long to wait for this lure to work and being local I had several sessions with this moth.

Six-belted Clearwing.

My 3rd species, the Raspberry Clearwing,  was the only one that Clare and David had seen before me as they had been taken to the only known regular Sussex site for this species last year.

My first sighting however was much closer to home when I had a call from a friend in the town asking me if I knew anything about Clearwings as he had just found a Clearwing on his Raspberry bush.  Fortunately I could call on him immediately to have a look.  Of course, I hadn't seen this species before but we could eliminate Six-belted straight away and as it was on a Raspberry bush it seemed it had to be the Raspberry Clearwing.  As it turned out it was a female of that species and was possibly looking for egg laying sites.  This was one lure that I hadn't got, so I immediately ordered one and a couple of days later I tried the lure by the Raspberry bush.  It was possibly too windy at the time and after around an hour we decided to give up.  Wind forward 2 weeks though and the weather was much more likely to produce results.  This time after around 20 minutes we had the first of 2 Raspberry Clearwing fly in to investigate the lure.  Where the main colony is we do not know but with this quick success I guess there must be more in the vicinity.

My thanks to Bob for giving me the initial call.  A very exciting find for him to have these in his garden!!

Female Raspberry Clearwing.

Male Raspberry Clearwing.

This is the last of the Sussex Clearwings to appear each year so I will have to wait now for 2020 to add to my Clearwing sightings.  However, before that, Clare did take me to the site where she saw them last year and after a bit of a wait we did see around 10 of these fascinating insects.

We also paid a visit recently to hunt out one of my favourite creatures, and one that I have only seen twice before, the Wart-biter Cricket.

Before heading out I had listened to a stridulating Wart-biter on line so I knew the call that I had to listen for.  This made life much easier as we hadn't got anywhere near the site we were heading for when I heard one.  I then had a brief view of it through the binoculars. We were then treated to some great views of this fabulous male Wart-biter, one of the rarest Crickets in the UK.

Male Wart-biter.

Male Wart-biter.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Brown Hairstreak.

Having spent some time with no success trying to find a Brown Hairstreak locally I felt that having missed this species in 2018 I should have at least one trip to a site where I was more likely to see one.

For this trip I took Pete with me, as he hadn't had much luck with this species in the past!!

As I drove into the car-park I saw a butterfly fluttering low down where Bramble and Blackthorn met and I thought the chances were good that we had the first one with the engine of the car still running.  I quickly parked up and walked closer to make sure, and there it was. A beautiful female Brown Hairstreak.

She kept settling low down on the Bramble leaves and opening her wings a little way allowing shots of her top wings. Eventually she settled even lower down and spread her wings as far open as I have ever seen a Brown Hairstreak before.

Every now and then she would walk along stems of the Blackthorn looking to lay eggs, although we didn't actually see her lay.  The only drawback was that she didn't give an opportunity to get a good under-side shot as there were always leaves in the way. However, around 40 minutes were spent with this gorgeous butterfly.

Female Brown Hairstreak.

Other than this female we only saw a tired old male high up in the trees, so we were extremely lucky to get the female.

In a nearby Sallow I also spotted a Herald moth larvae.

Herald larvae.

Before we went to the butterfly site I took Pete slightly further north to show him the Violet Helleborines that Matt had found a couple of weeks earlier.  Pete couldn't remember seeing this species before, although in our younger days when we went looking for orchids we may have come across them.  The Helleborines were now past their best and the following shots were from my earlier visit.

Violet Helleborine.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Little Little Owls.

My good friend Phil has had a family of Little Owls nesting in an Owl box in his garden for several years now. Most years they successfully rear 2 or 3 chicks and for a few weeks each year they make a great subject for the camera.

However, this year it was looking particularly bad as the male was attacked and killed by some Magpies, and despite Phil seeing what was happening and trying to intervene he was too late to rescue the Owl. At this point the chicks were still quite small and he didn't think the female would be able to rear the unknown quantity of chicks alone.

A few weeks passed and Phil wasn't sure how many chicks, if any, had survived until one evening he was sitting in his hide just after dark when the female flew in and was followed by a youngster. A few seconds later another chick came in and then a big surprise as 2 more joined in. The female had defied the odds and managed to raise 4 chicks on her own, with a little help from Phil.

With the Magpies having left the area the Owls started to appear when the light was still good and I was lucky to have an invitation to join Phil before the chicks also left the area.

They certainly liked to perch on his gate where they looked fabulous as they performed as only a Little Owl can do, at times doing a Michael Jackson 'Moonwalk'!!

Juvenile Little Owls.

My thanks to Phil for inviting myself and Clare along, after a really bad week it put a smile back on our faces!!