Saturday, 2 January 2021

A Final Flutter for 2020.

 The final day of 2020 was pretty icy with the hardest frost so far of the Winter. However, the sun was shining brightly and with a gentle North wind I thought there was an outside chance of a final butterfly of the year, after all, the conditions were very similar to January 1st 2019 when I saw a Peacock in the same area I was going to now.

On the mile long walk the air was pretty bitter and the ground was frozen. On arrival on the South facing slope it was suddenly warm with the sun beaming down. A quick look produced a Wall Brown larva feeding in the sunshine. Moments later a large butterfly flew past me and settled 20 feet away. It was either a Red Admiral or a Peacock. I gradually moved to a position where I had a clear view and saw it was indeed a Peacock. The butterfly then flew again but landed in a much better position allowing a few photos.

A December 31st Peacock.

A little while later on a valley that was still sheltered from the sunshine the ground was still white, as it was in the garden for the rest of the day.

Frosty leaves.

A lovely Brown Hare was also seen from a distance bringing a rewarding final walk of 2020 to a close.

Friday, 1 January 2021

Part 2 2020 Highlights.

 With travelling distances still being restricted as we moved into the Summer I was still having to stay within walking distance from home most of the time. This threw up more surprises and some quite rare finds.

In the early Summer I surveyed the valley for Small Eggar signs, having first finding a larval web of this species back in 2017. This is a rare moth in Sussex and was a very big surprise finding them local to me. Each year since I have found a few webs with a maximum count of 5. However, in 2020 there seems to have been a bit of a population explosion as I found 58 webs in total with probably several more being out of sight. The fully grown larva is particularly attractive.

Small Eggar larva.

My most popular find was another Large Tortoiseshell. This one, apart from some wing damage on one side, was much fresher than the Spring one. I also managed to get several friends onto the butterfly during its short stay along the valley.

Large Tortoiseshell.

James found a really nice Silver-washed Fritillary ab. confluens in Abbotts Wood that I managed to catch up with the following day. A really smart butterfly!!

Silver-washed Fritillary ab. confluens.

On the subject of aberrant forms, I was really pleased to find a Small Copper ab. shmidtii which is a form I have always wanted to see. To have found it myself made it even more special. Unfortunately it was a really hot day and the butterfly was very active so I didn't manage to get any good photos. 3 record shots remind me of this special butterfly though. As far as I am aware nobody else saw this particular butterfly.

Small Copper ab. schmidtii.

Probably the rarest moth I found was a Lace Border. With this being the 4th sighting in Sussex since the mid 1970s it was a very good find on my local patch. It probably had migrated over from the continent although the foodplant for the species is found in the vicinity. A thorough search later in 2021 is in order to see if a colony can become established. Once again only a poor record shot was achieved unfortunately before it flew into a bush and vanished.

Lace Border.

I had several days over the Summer searching for Clearwing moths. My favourite photos were of a Yellow-legged Clearwing in a woodland near Ringmer, and a Raspberry Clearwing that I was very surprised to catch in my own garden.

Yellow-legged Clearwing.

Raspberry Clearwing.

Dave invited me over to watch his garden Badgers one evening. Despite seeing Badgers on many occasions over the years it was excellent seeing one so close.


My final highlight of the year was to find several local colonies of Willow Emerald damselflies. This species has been spreading all over the South East and it was only a matter of time before they appeared on the River Cuckmere. 

Male Willow Emerald.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Highlights of 2020 Part 1.

 On a year when travelling any distance was just not possible the local patch came to the rescue giving me many highlights that included several rare and very rare finds.

The longest trip of the year was a great day out with Pete and Paul down to Farlington Marshes. This was before the Covid situation really got going and there was little sign of what was to follow. The plan was to hopefully get some Bearded Tits that had been showing well in the reed-beds there, but we only had a few long distant views of them. There were plenty of Pintail and Brent Geese though to photograph as they flew over us.

Pintail pair.

My next highlight came in the form of a pair of Barn Owl that were regularly hunting in a local meadow. I managed 3 sessions with with the owls and my favourite photo of the year was achieved here.

My favourite photo of the year.

Barn Owl.

Just before the first lockdown I had my only session with Phil Winter, something that I definitely missed. Fortunately the beautiful male Sparrowhawk that often shows up at his hide performed for me for the first time. Great to see the bird so close.

Male Sparrowhawk.

The lockdown started just after this and I was restricted to my local patch. With the small car park also being closed I started to walk from home aiming to get there just after first light. This proved to be a very good move as I saw many great sights including fresh butterflies waking up. I also had great views over many weeks of a family of Fox cubs.

Male Emperor Moth.

Green-veined White.

Grizzled Skipper.

The Grizzled Skippers had quite a good year on the patch, which was very satisfying as I had done quite a bit of management work to help them.  I also saw 2 taras forms of Grizzled Skipper. This very attractive form is not rare in the woodland colonies, but is rare with the Downland colonies. 

Green Hairstreak also did extremely well this year locally.

Green Hairstreak.

A chance encounter with a Common Whitethroat was very special. The bird kept coming back to the same bush, so I just sat quietly and waited. A great 20 minutes later and many pleasing photos in the camera.

Common Whitethroat.

Four-spotted Chaser.

It was walking back home from one of these sessions that I had my 1st 2020 big moment.
I had been hoping to see my first Small Tortoiseshell of the year and had been searching one of the local hotspots without success. I was almost back home when I saw a Tortoiseshell butterfly in the foliage just off the kerb. I immediately thought it looked a little bit bigger than usual and as it opened its wings I was amazed to see it was my first ever Large Tortoiseshell in Britain. This is a butterfly that is considered extinct in the UK as a breeding butterfly, but with a few more sightings over the past few years I had been worried that it may be added back onto the UK butterfly list, which would have meant I had no longer seen all the British species. This one had presumably hibernated nearby and had woken up on the sunny Spring day.
Amazingly, I was to find another Large Tortoiseshell later in the year, but that will be on my next post!!

Large Tortoiseshell.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Velvet Scoter

 With a juvenile Velvet Scoter hanging around at the Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne for the past couple of weeks David persuaded me that I really should take advantage of the opportunity to photograph it, as Velvet Scoter are normally only seen way out in the English Channel as they fly along in flocks of Common Scoter.

David had already had one visit there to see the bird so he knew the area where the bird was likely to be, and as the bird had not been reported that day, there was a chance that it wasn't there at all. However, it was only a matter of a few minutes before we saw the bird as it swam around some of the moored boats. At first it stayed some distance from where we were able to go but eventually we managed some close views, and although the light in the harbour was very difficult a few nice photos were achieved.

The bird did manage to catch several crabs while we were watching it, and that is presumably why the bird is hanging around for so long. As was the case with the Black Guillemot that spent much of the Winter 3 years ago in exactly the same place.

Juvenile Velvet Scoter.

As it washed the distinctive white on the wings were very evident.

One of several Crabs caught.

A final flap of the wings.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

More Purple Moments.

 My good friend Pete wanted to test out his zoom lens that he has been having trouble with, so I suggested he has a go on one of my cameras.

A good test is with the Purple Sandpipers on the pier as they do sit pretty still most of the time. So, it was that we ventured out there in a pretty strong wind.  It was actually quite an experience with some massive waves crashing on the beach.

Once on the pier though we had a large count of Purple Sandpipers with 21 seen, certainly my largest ever count there.

A slight hint of 'purple' showing.

Purple Sandpiper showing a bit of tongue.

'That Bob Eade keeps taking my photo'

Purple Sandpiper just after a wave came over.

There was also a flock of Curlew flying around the area.

6 of the Curlew.

Yesterday I saw a Comma butterfly basking in the sun. This is now the 2nd year running I have seen a butterfly in every month of the year.

Friday, 11 December 2020

Black Redstart Re-visited.

 With the small group of local Black Redstarts hanging around David and I decided to visit them again to try and get a few more shots.

The weather was not so kind this time with a cool breeze and cloudy conditions but the birds once again performed well for us, and at one time actually came too close for the lens I had attached.

Black Redstart.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

Local Birding.

 I have done very little birding lately so it made a pleasant change earlier this week to see a couple of local specials.

The Snow Bunting that has been at Arlington Reservoir for the past few days was the first stop and it performed quite nicely for us as it foraged on the dam wall, keeping in the shade.  The bird had a few feathers missing on one side which meant the white area was more pronounced on the one side.

Snow Bunting.

We then headed to Seaford where several Black Redstart have been feeding around the sea defences. With the sun blazing down quite a few insects were flying around giving the birds plenty to chase.  4 different birds were seen, although the smart male stayed away all the time we were there. However, the female type performed very well.

Black Redstart.