Sunday, 15 July 2018

Birds in Bulgaria.

Although the main targets for us in Bulgaria was butterflies, we were always going to find some interesting birds, especially with Matt there. He already had some information regarding places to look and it was on our first evening when we were looking for some lakes where Great Reed Warblers were meant to be. As it was we didn't find the lakes, but we did find a pair of Marsh Warblers!!

I didn't get many opportunities to photograph the birds, but it was good to see many species new to me.

The first chance to get a half decent shot was at the top of a mountain where there was a family of Black Redstart. One juvenile allowed several shots to be taken.

Juvenile Black Redstart.

Everywhere we went in the lower areas White Storks were numerous. In one small industrial area a nest with some young Storks were popular with passing traffic.

White Stork with Pirin Mountains behind.

Overcrowded nest of White Stork.

In the lowlands Red-backed Shrike were quite common. My best chance of a photo was when we were checking out Larks in a field, when one came quite close, although not quite close enough!!

Male Red-backed Shrike.

High in the mountains we saw and heard plenty of Nutcrackers. This was a new bird for me.


Eventually we did find the lake and there we did see and hear many Great Reed Warblers. Also in attendance and showing quite well was a Little Bittern, a Squacco Heron and several Red-rumped Swallows.

Red-rumped Swallow.

Other delights included listening to a Corncrake calling just a few feet away from us, something I am unlikely to forget!!

Our best birding moment however, was when we chanced upon a meadow bordered by woodland. It was here we saw and heard Golden Oriole. We had already seen several, but in this woodland there were around 20, constantly calling and flying over us. In the same area there were several Hawfinch, an Ortolan Bunting, Black-headed Bunting, Syrian Woodpecker and Bee-eaters. An Amazing area that we found unexpectedly. The following picture is probably the worst I have ever posted, but you don't often see a Golden Oriole and a Bee-eater in the same tree!!

Golden Oriole and Bee-eater.


Friday, 13 July 2018

Deja Vu.

Last year on July 13th I did my 'Wider Butterfly Survey' on the edge of Friston Forest, followed by a search for the local Grayling, our Sussex Grayling are unique in being the very last chalk downland colony left in the UK. Last year I found the first Grayling for the year, and as nobody had found any yet this year I thought it was a good opportunity to see if I could repeat last year.
Once again I did the survey first and then headed to the valley where the Grayling can be found. Once in the valley it was a steep climb, and a zigzag course was tried. It did take a long time, but eventually a Grayling flew past me with another joining it briefly for a little aerial battle. It did land often and also on foliage sometimes, not often that happens in the valley, although maybe the heat and dry conditions made the difference. It really is a wonderful species with the most amazing camouflage. As it already had a red mite on it I would guess that it had been on the wing for at least a couple of days.


Grayling showing some fore-wing.

Along the bottom of the valley there were enormous numbers of Chalkhill Blues. In some spots they had congregated on sheep droppings to gain nutrients. When walking past they took flight and looked like a blizzard.

Chalkhill Blues on Sheep dropping. An ab. is also there!!

6 Spot Burnet Moths are also now emerging in numbers. Many mating pairs were observed.

Six-spot Burnet Moths mating.

I also saw my first UK Clouded Yellow of the year and 3 Hummingbird Hawk-moths nectaring together on Viper's Bugloss.

A very rewarding day. Not bad for Friday 13th!!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Bulgarian Insects.

I have recently returned from a great trip to Bansko in the Pirin Mountains in Bulgaria with my son, Matt. We were mainly after butterflies, although with the chances of Matt adding a couple of new birds to his World list, birds were always going to be checked as well, especially with Matt's expertise on bird calls. I actually also saw several birds I had never seen before due to this.

Although the butterflies were top of our priorities I was always keeping an eye out for other insects and they don't get much better than the wonderful Owlfly. It was a species I had always wanted to see and I didn't have to wait too long for my first sighting when one landed briefly in the road when we checking a roadside layby for butterflies. Unfortunately, this one didn't hang around, but later in the week one landed on foliage just by me. Just after it landed the sun went in and it folded its wings along its abdomen as it went to roost. A little later the sun came back out and the wings suddenly shot back out and the antannae also shot up, just like a clockwork toy!!

Owlfly at roost. (Libelloides macaronius).

Owlfly ready for flight.

While I was waiting for the Owlfly to do something other than sitting there roosting I spotted a very smart Cricket in the small bush. This was the 2nd really smart Cricket I had seen, looking it up when I was home it appears to be a Brunner's Bright Bush-cricket, a cricket that has a very restricted range.

Brunner's Bright Bush-cricket. (Poecilimon brunneri).

The other colourful cricket we saw was also restricted to the Bulgaria region. This one we saw in 2 places during our stay. This one is called Bellied Bright Bush-cricket and each time we saw it on the top of flowers.

Bellied Bright Bush-cricket. (Poecilimon thoraccus).

One day we headed South hoping to see other species in the lower areas and we came across the fabulous Small Pincer-tailed Dragonfly. Another species that I had seen in photographs many times and had always hoped to see.

Male Small Pincer-tail Dragonfly. (Onychogomphus forcipatus).

A couple of days later we saw another attractive dragonfly which turned out to be the female of the species.

Female Small Pincer-tail Dragonfly.

High up in a mountain woodland we came across a Balkan Golden-ringed Dragonfly. Unfortunately, it did have a damaged wing, but it was still a great find.

Balkan Golden-ringed Dragonfly. (Cordulegaster heros).

Butterflies, Birds and Moths will follow shortly!!

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Silver In Those Hills.

Having just returned from a week with Matt in Bulgaria looking at butterflies and birds (more to follow on this), I was keen to see if the 2nd brood Wall Brown was on the wing yet as well as the Silver-spotted Skipper.

In the usual area there were around 6 Wall Brown battling with the local Gatekeepers, these Wall had obviously been out for a few days, it was then onto the valley where I was pleased to see 8 Silver-spotted Skippers flying including at least 3 females.

Plenty of Chalkhill Blues were also seen as well as a fresh 2nd brood Brown Argus.

Silver-spotted Skipper on Scabious.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Waking Up To Two Females!!

Well, that title should get me some extra views!!

Yesterday morning, with light winds forecast I decided it could be a perfect morning to hunt out roosting Dark Green Fritillaries on the local downland. I know a couple of sites where the fritillary can roost in numbers, although as they roost deep down in large grass tussocks, they can be extremely difficult to find.

Waking up at 4.30am I headed straight out and after a 10 minute drive proceeded to climb the steep downland. 20 minutes later I was on my knees trying to find a Dark Green Fritillary, 40 minutes later I was still trying. 

One had to be found before the sun had got high enough to hit the area as the butterflies become active almost as soon as the sun gets to them.
Just in the nick of time I was moving some grass when a stunning female flashed her wings open at me. She was in perfect condition too and I would guess had emerged late the day before or even overnight. Several shots were taken in the heavy shade as she climbed out of the grasses getting ready for the sun to hit her.

Dark Green Fritillary female.

She then moved to another small perch just a few moments before the sun crept over the hill.

Then as the sun reached the area she very gradually started to open her wings, at first the fore-wings were back over the hind-wings, but gradually she opened further until suddenly she took flight and flew away. All before 6.20am.

Wings slowly opening.

Dark Green Fritillary female shortly before flight.

With the sun now hitting the area several males were then observed crawling out of the long grasses to warm up. All of them were already though too active to get close too.

My other female though was a Marbled White that was found while looking for the Fritillaries. Perched on the top of grass while she roosted she made a nice, almost monochrome picture in the early morning light. Especially noticeable this year as the grass is now far from green in this really dry spell we are having.

Female Marbled White.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Hills Are Alive.

It's that time of the Summer when life seems to be everywhere, with several more species due soon too it is a great time to be out and about.
My time has still been a little limited but I have had a few good sessions. 

I was admiring the very handsome Small Eggar larva during the week when a movement along the path caught my eye and I was suddenly looking at a very small Fox cub. I haven't managed to see these close up for some time, unfortunately I only had the macro lens with me and although I did creep a few more paces towards the cub the photo still is a large crop. Wonderful to see though at such close quarters.

Fox Cub.

I then went back to looking at the Small Eggar larva that had by now reached their final instar before pupation. Amazingly, this species can pupate for up to 3 years before becoming a moth, and the moth  isn't able to feed!! They certainly are a handsome larva at this stage.

Small Eggar larva.

Some of our most common butterflies are now flying with Meadow Brown being seen all the time. This is of course the most common of British butterflies, but one of the most difficult to get photographs of as they are always active and are very sensitive to movement.

Female Meadow Brown.

Male Meadow Brown.

Small Skippers are also increasing in numbers on the local downland. The very similar Essex Skipper will soon be flying alongside giving the usual indentification headache.

Male Small Skipper.

I was very pleased during the week to see a female White-letter Hairstreak just around the corner from home. The local Elms have suffered enormously in the past few years and this species of butterfly has also suffered as the Elm is its only food plant. I was checking out a large Bramble bush where I had seen the butterfly in years gone by when the distinctive hairstreak flight was spotted and the butterfly landed just above my head. A very poor photograph was taken, but it was a great moment spotting my favourite species again near to home.

Female White-letter Hairstreak.

I also managed to fit in another very early morning session with the beautiful Marbled White. Some of the pictures were a little disappointing with the shots into the light flaring more than I was expecting. Later in the day I noticed the lens was particularly dirty so that explains why!! I will take more care in the future, well maybe anyway!!

Two Male Marbled White on Pyramidal Orchid.

Male Marbled White on Agrimony.

Marbled Whites warming up in the early morning sun. (5.55 am).

Monday, 18 June 2018

Black Beauties of Ditchling.

A couple of weeks ago I received a text from my butterfly friend Phil Bromley to inform me that his local Black Hairstreaks had started to show in Cambridgeshire. I had already told him that I would do my utmost to make the long trip again. However, unfortunately I was unable to make the trip this year due to problems at home which was extremely disappointing.

Move forward a week and I had another text, this time from Dave Cook inviting me to Ditchling. He didn't inform me what I was going to see, so it was a massive surprise to find that he had discovered a large colony of Black Hairstreaks amongst the Blackthorn bushes on the Common there. It would seem that the butterflies were introduced by a local enthusiast many years ago and have only come to light following a very strong emergence this year. Dave had actually found 3 butterflies there last year but at that time it was assumed someone had reared them at home and released them then. With the colony this year being spread over a large area of the Common though this would not be possible, especially with this species that spreads very slowly.

Anyway, after meeting Dave in the car park we moved into the area where most of the Hairstreaks had been seen and we saw one almost immediately. We also bumped into Neil Hulme and his father and a couple of others. Neil was at the time photographing a very fresh female Black Hairstreak which stayed there for all of us to have a go. Wandering around the site many more were seen with most of the males appearing to be past their best, but the females were still in excellent condition.

Female Black Hairstreak.

As it happened I had already arranged to see Neil Hulme the following day to show him my local Burnt Orchids. Before we departed he had persuaded me to meet him back at Ditchling the following day to have another go at the Black Hairstreak before moving on to the orchids. After seeing my images from the day I was glad he did as I thought I should have done better.

The following day the weather was much cooler and cloudier and it was a couple of hours before any type of butterfly was seen. The first sighting was a rather tired male, but then we saw 4 other really nice fresh females and they posed much better in the cooler conditions.

Black Hairstreak.

After a very successful morning it was then onto the Burnt Orchids where the orchids had just about reached their peak. As I had photographed them over the past week I wasn't too worried myself about more photographs but then I spotted a very fresh Large Skipper.

Large Skipper.

I did still get a shot of both the Burnt Orchids and the Bee Orchid which is having a very strong season this year locally.

Bee Orchid.

Burnt Orchid (late form).

Neil then spotted a very fresh Dark Green Fritillary that wasn't moving far in the very cool, breezy and dull conditions. We stayed with the butterfly for some time hoping the sun would come out to encourage the butterfly to open its wings. Eventually it did warm up just enough and long enough to encourage the butterfly to open up.

Dark Green Fritillary on Pyramid Orchid.

Dark Green Fritillary.

Dark Green Fritillary nectaring.

A very memorable 2 days and my thanks goes to Phil Bromley for the first message and then of course to Dave Cook for the invite that gave me the chance for watching these beautiful butterflies before it got much busier!! It also saved me a lot in mileage and fuel.