Tuesday 29 July 2014

A Female Beauty.

I was showing Pete the Silver-spotted Skippers yesterday in between the showers when, near the end I came across some female Chalkhill Blues posing well. I have managed several pleasing shots this year of males, but despite several attempts I haven't managed females. There is still plenty of room for improvement but it was good to get them.

Female Chalkhill Blue.

I have also found 2 Mecyna flavalis over the last few days on the local Downland. This rare moth is found in large numbers on Downland at Wilmington but no colony has been found in Sussex outside this area since the 1930s according to Colin Pratt, the county recorder.

A Seaford Mecyna Flavalis.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Silver-spotted Skippers.

I was reminded this week of the times in the 70s and 80s when I used to help the Nature Conservancy Council, as it was called in those days, to count the Silver-spotted Skippers in their one and only site in the South East at Deep Dene. From that one site they have now spread their wings and are now a common site all over the Downs between Eastbourne and Chanctonbury. This year, although early in their season it is looking as though they are particularly numerous. Over the last 2 days I have spent a little time with them as they bomb around at high speed. When they are fresh they are particularly attractive, and occasionally a little easier to get close to for photography.

Today I saw 2 mating pairs. The first pair was in the middle of a bush, just out of reach, however, the 2nd pair I saw the start of the courtship and very soon they were attached. I then hit lucky as they settled on a leaf in a small bush near ground level. They stayed very settled for around 15 minutes before the female decided she had had enough and tried to push the male away. They ended up falling off the leaf to the ground where I left them still attached to each other. I then wandered around seeing plenty more Skippers as well as a Clouded Yellow and a Painted Lady. Two excellent short morning sessions with a great little butterfly.

Female trying to push the male away!! 

A beautiful female Silver-spotted Skipper on Scabious.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Mating Emerald Damselflies.

It was possibly the final trip of the year to the forest yesterday for dragonflies. I was hoping to improve on my Emerald Damselfly pictures. At the first pond an Emerald was found quite quickly and several pictures were taken that I was confident were better than my previous efforts. Apart from that one though no more were seen at this pond although Small Red Damselflies were still plentiful. There were also plenty of Dragonflies flying including an emerging Emperor Dragonfly that flew when I spotted its excuvia.

Male Emerald Damselfly.

Later in the day at another pond another Emerald Damselfly was spotted. As it took off another also took off nearby that was a female. The male immediately attached itself to the female and then the following sequence took place before eventually the coupling happened just as the sun reappeared. This sequence from when he attached to her to when the mating began was just over 4 minutes.

Friday 25 July 2014

Red-veined Darter.

Early in the week news came out of  up to 4 Red-veined Darters on marshland on the outskirts of Eastbourne. Having never knowingly seen this species before I was quite keen to go and have a look for them. On Wednesday morning Nigel and I had a brief look which resulted in a couple of possible sightings only. The heat then got a bit too much so it was off to Friston Forest for a bit of shade. In the forest there were large numbers of Peacock and lots of very fresh Brimstone. The Broad-leaved Helleborines were already in full flower and some were even going over. Back at the car I disturbed a Four-spotted Footman, this is quite a rare moth. I have only seen this moth once before when I had a pair in the trap last year. This one was a male, which is smaller and doesn't have the spots!! Late in the day I called back for the Darters where I saw at least 2 clearly, but with them being out in the water my macro lens was not strong enough.


Broad-leaved Helleborine.

Four-spotted Footman.

Yesterday, I called back for a 3rd attempt at the Red-veined Darters armed with a 500mm zoom lens. Although I do not like to use a long lens on close-up photography I had little choice in this instance. At least I was able to get some acceptable results, which considering I was hand holding the 500mm at minimum focus at a very odd angle it was very surprising.

Sunday 20 July 2014

The Deadly Threesome!!

I was on the Downs mid morning today to see if I could see my first Silver-spotted Skipper of the year. Before I could get to the most likely area I was admiring the numbers of Chalkhill Blue again, I found several newly emerged individuals and in a small area I came across 3 mating pairs. One pair looked a bit odd with the female laying with her wings wide apart, I looked a bit closer and saw that a spider had the butterfly in a deathly embrace. Meanwhile, the male was getting on with what he was meant to do, totally unaware of the predicament that the female was in. 

Mating Chalkhill Blues with Spider attacking the female.

Nearby was another mating pair and hopefully these will produce some of next years butterflies!!

Mating Chalkhill Blues

Several brand new Chalkhill Blues were drying their wings and having difficulty flying.

Newly emerged Chalkhill Blue.

When I arrived at the main Silver-spotted Skipper site around 8 were seen. A very fresh Pyrausta Purpuralis micro moth was also seen.

Pyrausta Purpuralis

Saturday 19 July 2014

Grayling in the heat.

It was so hot yesterday I couldn't really face the long climb up the hill to where the Grayling fly. However with an afternoon free I didn't want to waste it either so, with the camera set and plenty of water I hit the hill. On the way up I saw a couple of Small Blue and a Chalk Carpet moth. Another 2 of each seen on the way back down as well. Nearly at the top of the hill I saw my first Grayling of the year. Once in the valley though there were very good numbers with probably around 100 seen. This included a newly emerged individual and 2 mating pairs. I managed some shots of one mating pair, and, unlike most Grayling at this site it showed some forewing. Eventually another male disturbed them and they flew a short distance and landed on a low bush where they posed nicely. Fortunately there was a reasonable breeze blowing which stopped the heat getting too unbearable and it turned into a very enjoyable afternoon.

The normal view of the Grayling.

Mating Grayling.

Chalk Carpet.

Small Blue.

As usual at this site there were also large numbers of the rare moth Mecyna flavalis, though as usual they were not easy to photograph as they always seemed to have grass stems in front of them. I eventually got this one but, unfortunately it does have a little damage to one wing.

Mecyna flavalis

Thursday 17 July 2014

A Variable Day.

In the heat of yesterday I went with Nigel to the Levels to look for the Variable Damselfly. This species is considered to be scarce and neither Nigel or myself had ever seen them before, so it was good to find them in reasonably high numbers. They were also easy to spot as this seemed to be the only species present, apart from 3 Blue-tailed Damselflies. The breeze did make it quite tricky as the reeds they sat on were moving quite a bit, however a few pleasing shots were obtained.

Male Variable Damselfly.

There were several mating pairs and eventually one pair was found within camera range.

Once mated the male keeps attached to the female to make sure no other male can mate with her, after a while they then head to the stream where she lays the eggs with the male still attached to her. This picture is of a different pair, resting up before egg laying. The female was blowing around a lot so I was surprised to find I had a couple of good shots.

I ended up later in the day at Malling Down in the small hope of finding Musk Orchids. In the 1970s I saw hundreds here. In recent years they have all but gone, one was seen last year by someone but I couldn't find any yesterday. The only interesting thing I saw was a Small Skipper ovipositing.

There were also hundreds of Cinnabar Moth larva on the Ragwort. These larvae eat the poisonous plant and become poisonous to birds, having the yellow and black danger colours.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

White-letter Hairstreak.

The White-letter Hairstreak has always been one of my favourite butterflies. When I was a youngster my friend Dave Cripps briefly had a colony in his garden until the nearby Elms got hit by Dutch Elm Disease. I then came across a few colonies over the years, some by accident and some by a feeling that they should be there. Locally I have several colonies but in the last 4 years the disease has once again hit the Elms and have made it much harder to find them. Recently another friend tipped me off that he had found a colony nearby that were coming down and nectaring on thistles and bramble. Yesterday, I paid this area a visit and saw 2 females, slightly past their best but still lovely. Although the couple of pictures I took were far from my best of this species it is always good to get new images of them.

Female White-letter Hairstreak.

Earlier in the day I paid another visit to the Downs and saw my first 2nd brood Common Blue of the year as well as another Six-spot Burnet moth showing its underwing as it had just emerged.

Male Common Blue.

Six-spot Burnet.

A third trip out for the day was to Friston Forest where 6 Scarlet Tiger Moths were seen. All were again slightly past their best and I didn't take any pictures of these. However, they are so handsome a picture from 2011 is here. Also seen was a Broad-leaved Helleborine just coming into flower. This plant is most often deep in the woodland but this one was in the open which is why it is slightly earlier than the others in flowering.

Scarlet Tiger from 2011.

Broad-leaved Helleborine.

Sunday 13 July 2014

Marbled Mating.

After the deluge that hit these parts on Thursday and Friday it was good to get back on the Downs on Saturday. It seemed that the butterflies were trying to make up for lost time with quite a few butterflies getting down to the business of pairing up. Gatekeepers, Chalkhill Blues and Marbled Whites were all making the most of the dryer, hot and humid conditions.
One pair of Marbled White called for closer inspection as the female was much browner on its underwing than is usual and was, due to this, particularly attractive. I managed a few record shots before the pair climbed a sturdier bit of foliage and then stayed there for the duration of their mating. Apart from her unusual colouring she was also extremely fresh and had certainly only emerged that morning.

Mating Marbled White.

A pair of Chalkhill Blue was also found mating at the top of some grass. By now a little breeze had picked up which didn't help as they were blowing around so much.

Mating Chalkhill Blue.

Late afternoon I decided to head back up there just to see if I could relocate the female Marbled White. There was not actually much happening on the butterfly front due to the weather deteriating again and the wind picking right up again, a Dusky Sallow moth was a nice find however. I was about to give up when I spotted the female, that did stand out from the other Marbled Whites with her orangey/brown wings, as she flew across the meadow. She landed in some longish grass where she went to roost. In the poor light I did manage another shot of her, although the light did not show her off at her best.

Dusky Sallow.

Female Marbled White.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Damsels In The Wind.

It was another trip up to the forest yesterday in the vague hope of getting a picture of the Brilliant Emerald, well, you can always live in hope!!
As expected this was not achieved and the nearest to a decent dragonfly was when a Brown Hawker settled nearby. Of course it took off long before a camera could get in range.

It was then a case of seeing what else was around. The dainty Small Red Damselfly was once again very evident and allowed a bit of practice with the camera. With a steady breeze blowing it was a challenge getting any photographs of them but a pair in tandem did give the opportunity of getting something a little different from the shots already achieved this year.

A single male Small Red Damselfly also posed nicely in a position that gave a nice diffused background.

A couple of Emerald Damselflies were also seen but these were even harder to get a good photograph of in the increasing breeze. I hope that I will be able to improve on this one if I can get back there on a warm still day.

On the way back to the car I saw my first ever Beautiful Yellow Underwing moth and then on a small diversion to some oak woodland my first definite Purple Hairstreak of the year. This was a male that sat high in the oak with wings wide apart giving good views through the binoculars.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Morning Blues.

It was another early start this morning, this time hoping for a female Chalkhill Blue. On waking at 5am and seeing heavy cloud cover I left going out until just after 7am when there was at least some blue sky showing in the distance. It was still quite warm on the top of the hill with no breeze at all, that was until a bit of sun started to show and the butterflies started to perform, then the wind got up!!
There were several male Chalkhill Blues showing nicely, the best of which was in quite a bit of long grass and  was actually holding on to the crossover of 2 blades which gave a great result.

Another male was on a flimsy bit of grass and blowing around all the time so it was a real struggle to get a picture of this one.

Eventually a female was found but I only managed an underside shot of this one.

I also came across a newly emerged Six-spot Burnet moth which, as it dried its wings gave an unusual underside view. A female Marbled White was also found just after it emerged as an adult.

Finally, as I was leaving I came across my first 2nd brood Wall Brown, a female. As I was watching it she flew in the air where she was met by a male and mating took place straight away. I then saw another male in the same area about 10 feet from where the pairing was still going on.