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.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

A Marbled Morning.

Yesterday morning there was a total lack of wind, very unusual these days in Seaford. I took advantage by heading up on the hill to see the local Marbled Whites waking up. Every year I try to do this at least once, and it is often one of the highlights of my butterfly year.
The previous evening I had spotted 9 Marbled Whites roosting so I knew that there would be some to photograph. I was on the hill just before 5am and the sun was already coming up. It wasn't long before the dew covered Marbled Whites started to wake up and a few shots were taken.

Male Marbled White.

Dew covered Marbled Whites on Viper's Bugloss.

Marbled White warming up.

At around 7am the Marbled Whites had taken to the wing so I decided I had taken enough pictures and I started to leave. Several Small Heath had started flying as the warmth of the sun increased and one landed near the top of a grass blade. It stayed there long enough to get a few shots, very unusual to get one of these very common butterflies posing so well.

Small Heath.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Local Delights.

For the past couple of weeks I have made several trips to the local area but haven't managed to catch up with the blog, so here is a bit of a snapshot of what I have seen.

One of 2 Lackey Moth larva found recently.

Male Emperor Dragonfly in Phil's garden.

A Skylark from Phil's Land Rover.

Speckled Wood.

The rare Small Eggar larva.

Male Beautiful Demoiselle.

Fragrant Orchid.

Burnt-tip Orchid. (late form).

Bee Orchid.

From a recent Moth trapping evening.

Buff Tip.

Privet Hawk Moths.

Privet Hawk Moth.

Buff Ermine.

Elephant Hawk Moth.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Peacock Adventures.

Back on the 4th May I spotted a Peacock egg laying on a large clump of Stinging Nettles in an area on the patch. After taking a few images I left her to it, but on the walk back it was impressive the amount of eggs she had laid there.

Peacock egg laying. 4th May.

The eggs under the Nettle. 4th May.

On the 13th May I stopped to see how the eggs were getting on and I saw what I assumed was a parasitic wasp there. As it was this was not the case as it was an Auchenorrhyncha nymph that feeds on sap, I assume it was finding some moisture around the eggs that it found to its liking. Fortunately it certainly didn't affect the eggs. My thanks to Mark Colvin for the id and spelling of the tiny beast!!

Peacock Eggs with Auchenorrhyncha nymph. 13th May.

On 25th May I saw that the eggs had recently hatched with many tiny larva in the area where the eggs had been.

Newly hatched Peacock larva. 25th May.

It wasn't until 7th June before my next visit and I was amazed at how many larva there were. The following photo is a small section of the gathering.

Young Peacock larva. 7th June.

The following day was even more impressive.

Peacock larva. 8th June.

There could be an explosion of butterflies in a few weeks time!!

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Young Emperors.

Over the last Winter I did quite a bit of clearance work to knock back scrub that was taking over some of the delicate and sensitive areas of the local patch. It was good this Spring to see a bit more light and areas for insects to move around. On the 20th May I was watching a butterfly that landed in some of the cleared area. I then spotted some Emperor larva on some of the regrowth there, I then looked around the immediate area and saw the egg batch that the larvae had obviously come from.

The batch of hatched Emperor Moth eggs.

Emperor Larva on the leaves above the egg cluster. 20th May.

Over the following days I watched them grow and change colour.

Growing larva. 25th May.

On the 28th May I saw 2 larva sitting together, one each side of a twig and I thought that would make a good picture. As I approached them I noticed the top one twitching, it then became obvious that it was just starting a moult. I watched it as it managed to wriggle out of its outer skin so it could grow further. The whole moult took just 3 minutes. The moulted individual then sat opposite the other larva again so I could photograph them both together.

Part way through the moult.

Moult nearly complete.

Moulted individual on the top with discarded skin behind.

The new skin. 28th May.

After seeing several larvae still on the 28th May, I returned on June 1st but could only find a single larva. I assume all the others had dispersed to carry on growing in safety. By now the single one had taken on the pattern and a hint of the colour that Emperor larva are known for. Will I see another one in the area soon?

Emperor larva. 1st June.

Monday, 4 June 2018


Last year Phil and I made the trip over to Surrey to see a very approachable Cuckoo that had been visiting the site for the past 4 years. Although we only had one short visit from the bird we both managed some pleasing images. With Cuckoo numbers seeming to be going the wrong way each year I wanted to have another chance of this beauty. Having helped a contact from that area to see and photograph Wall Browns earlier in the year it was arranged to meet him there where we could hope to get a longer visit from the bird.
As it turned out we had to wait over 3 hours in the blazing heat, without even a hint of a Cuckoo. Although 2 people we saw as we arrived informed us that it had recently visited the area. I was beginning to lose heart thinking it wasn't going to happen when we heard the call of the Cuckoo very close in the trees. In moments it had flown down to where we were and for the next 2 hours we had the bird to ourselves. An amazing experience to have this wild bird performing so close, and to be able to photograph it as it foraged around us.

The Male Cuckoo.

There was also a small supporting cast that included a male Stonechat and a Mistle Thrush.

Male Stonechat.

Mistle Thrush.