Thursday 30 July 2015

A Strange Gatekeeper.

It was a regular Wednesday walk with Nigel yesterday and during the walk down the local brooks he found a couple of interesting insects. A female Gatekeeper with a very large black eye-spot on the wings were first. There were so many Gatekeepers flying it was quite impressive that this one was seen by him.

The Female Gatekeeper.

Large White.

I then spotted a couple of young Swallows that were sitting on a fence over a ditch. For once I actually had the telephoto lens on me and the Swallows stayed there long enough for me to change from the macro.

Juvenile Swallow.

Nigel then spotted a very smart Roesel's Bush Cricket on the edge of a maize field, it was sitting on one of the leaves where it stayed long enough for both of us to get some images. 

Roesel's Bush Cricket.

Friday 24 July 2015

In Search of Grayling.

With the wind blowing yet again it was hardly the day to go looking for our Downland colony of Grayling. It would be obvious to anyone how Windover Hill gets its name from with a day like this one. With a stiff 25mph wind blowing I was thinking we would be very lucky to see any Grayling at all. The Downland on the way up was very productive with many insects seen including a couple of fresh Small Blue and a stunning Forester Moth. In the valley where the Grayling are found I spotted one quite quickly. However, as soon as it took flight it was blown some distance away. I then spotted another one that settled on a short stick. This one posed very nicely for me. It also had a good number of the red grass mite on its head. This species is well known for picking up these mites, as do many butterflies that live on the Downs. Although many of the Grayling were hiding away from the wind around a dozen Grayling were seen.

Male Grayling complete with grass mites.

Large numbers of the rare Mecyna flavalis micro moths were also seen. In fact some flew up with nearly every step. Pete also spotted a tremendous Great Green Bush-cricket on the hill-side. Two mating pairs of Chalkhill Blue seen with a bit of a challenge getting a photo of this with them being in one of the windiest part of the hill.

Mecyna flavalis.

Great Green Bush-cricket.

Mating Chalkhill Blues.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

A Good Year for Hairstreaks.

It was only around 3 weeks ago when I was not at all optimistic about the chances of seeing many White-letter Hairstreaks this year following the demise of so many of the local Elms. In fact some parts of the Cuckmere valley almost looked like a war zone where there were so many dead and dying trees. Over the years I have found quite a few new local sites for this little elusive butterfly and due to this it has become a favourite species for me. As the butterfly spends a good part of its time in the canopy many hours can be spent hoping to see them, although when they do come down to nectar on Bramble or Creeping Thistle they can be quite approachable. With good reports coming from the Brighton area and some good sightings from James to the West of my patch I decided to go to some of my old sites to see if they were still hanging on. It started with a Bramble bush just 3 minutes walk from home with one nectaring there and another 2 battling away nearby. It then kept getting better with more butterflies seen in the local area with at least 9 colonies, including one new one for me. If I had more time there could have been many more. This does hold out hope for the future as although many trees have gone there is plenty of Elm suckers coming through which it is hoped the butterflies will use. Thanks to James for giving me the call about the mating pair and also for keeping me informed of his sightings.

The Mating Pair of White-letter Hairstreak.

Male White-letter Hairstreak.

Female White-letter Hairstreak.

Sunday 19 July 2015

The Hills are Alive!!

No, I am not about to burst into a song, and despite the fact that Pen went to The Sound of Music in Eastbourne last week, I am thinking more about the large varied quantities of butterflies on the local downland at the moment. Since the first Chalkhill Blue emerged on July 2nd numbers of this species have been very slow to build up. With a sunny still morning yesterday I went up on the downs early to see if I could photograph a Chalkhill Blue waking up. As it was I struggled to find any, but eventually I saw one still asleep at the top of a blade of grass. Eventually he woke up and gave me the opportunity I was after. I also managed to get images of both male and female Gatekeepers. Later in the day I did a survey on the edge of Friston Forest. Massive numbers of some common butterflies were seen including several colonies of Essex Skipper. I also saw a White-letter Hairstreak en route at a site I saw some a couple of years ago. I will be doing a more detailed report on the Hairstreak during the week.

Male Chalkhill Blue.

Male Gatekeeper.

Essex Skipper.

Today I went back up on the local downland after the rain had cleared. Chalkhill Blue numbers were improving with a couple of females seen amongst the males. Marbled White numbers are slowing down now but there did appear to be some newly emerged females and I did see 2 mating pairs. I was hoping however to see 2nd brood Wall Brown as well as my first Silver-spotted Skipper of the year. 2 male Wall Brown were seen and then later several of the Skippers. What was surprising was that one of the Silver-spotted Skippers was laying eggs so she must have been around for at least a couple of days. I also saw a mating pair as well as a few very newly emerged. A Small Skipper was also seen egg laying.

Female Marbled White.

Egg laying Small Skipper.

Silver-spotted Skipper.

Thursday 16 July 2015

A 'Cricket' Score on Hairstreak Hunt.

With the White-letter Hairstreaks having their best year for some time I've been trying to get to areas where I've seen them in past years along the Cuckmere. I'm not expecting this area to be as good as in the past due to so many Elms being felled, or dead and left standing due to the dreadful Dutch Elm Disease all along the Cuckmere valley. However, there are now good stands of Elm suckers that will hopefully support some of the colonies in the future. The weather was not particularly encouraging with a steady breeze blowing but as I was approaching what was my best area from 3 years ago I was really pleased to see a male Hairstreak on a Creeping Thistle. As soon as I saw it it flew up and was lost to view. I then bumped into Geoff Gowlett who was hoping for the Large Tortoiseshell that had been seen in the area a few days before, but was also on the lookout for the Hairstreaks. I suggested looking on some Creeping Thistle further along which had the benefit of a colony of Essex Skippers nearby. Here we saw 2 Hairstreaks as well as good numbers of Essex Skipper. I also managed to find a couple of the very impressive Roesel's Bush Cricket which he hadn't seen before. 

Roesel's Bush Cricket.

We then headed further downstream where in several different spots we found more White-letter Hairstreaks with 4 showing in one spot at the same time. Quite surprising was seeing another one nearby nectaring on Ragwort. All in all it was a very satisfying day hunting out my favourite butterfly with up to 9 seen across a large area. Despite my fears with the Elm disease I hope that these butterflies manage to hang on in the area for a while yet!!

White-letter Hairstreak on Creeping Thistle.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Rowland Wood plus Big Bonus.

With the breeze blowing yet again at the weekend Pete and I decided to head for Rowland Wood to get a bit of shelter. Once again there was good numbers of the common woodland butterflies with Meadow Brown and Ringlet everywhere. There was also good numbers of Large and Small Skippers and reasonable numbers of Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admiral. Damselflies were also very evident with lots of Azure and Common Blue as well as small numbers of White-legged.

Female Large Skipper.


White-legged Damselfly.

Just after dropping Pete back home I had a call on the phone that I missed. I saw it was from James, a fellow butterfly enthusiast, so I called him straight back. He told me that he had a mating pair of White-letter Hairstreaks in front of him and if I could get to where he was as quickly as possible I might be lucky. Although I was a few miles from where he was I was desperate to see this very rare sight so it was then hoping for a clear run as well as being able to find him. It was well over 30 minutes after the butterflies joined up before I arrived and fortunately they were still together. A few quick grab shots later in the wind and thanks to James I had a record of these gorgeous butterflies mating. A sight very few people have ever seen as they mostly mate in the tree tops. An unforgettable moment at the end of a great day. We left the butterflies, still mating an hour after they had joined up. 

Mating White-letter Hairstreaks.

Sunday 12 July 2015

Back to the Woods.

Last Wednesday I managed to complete a butterfly survey, despite the high wind and the odd heavy shower, in a private Sussex woodland. There were so many Meadow Brown and Ringlet that I had a problem counting!! They were everywhere. Fortunately there were also pretty good numbers of Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admiral to admire as well as plenty of variety with Painted Lady, Small Copper, Marbled White and Skippers.


Mating Meadow Brown.

The following day was a trip hoping for Purple Emperor and Purple Hairstreak in Surrey. Although plenty of both were seen they were staying high up in the trees, apart from one Emperor which came down for something pretty nasty in the undergrowth!! On the return home we called into Southwater Woods where one again  plenty of Silver-washes Fritillaries and White Admirals were flying along with the other common woodland species.

Male Silver-washed Fritillary.

White Admiral.

Mating Silver-washed Fritillaries.

Tuesday 7 July 2015

The Brighton Monarch!!

A report yesterday of a Monarch butterfly being seen flying near the Brighton Pier left me and Matt envious as it is a species neither of us have seen in the UK. Wind forward one day and there we were watching the tennis, as it was too windy outside for butterfly watching, when Matt heard his bird pager go off saying the Monarch was in the Brighton Pavillion garden. It was then decided to go for it!! On arrival we saw the butterfly, an enormous creature, fly up and head out over the main road. I thought, well at least we saw it!! Fortunately it soon headed back and was soon nectaring on the many flowers in the gardens. It kept taking to the air and the flight pattern was amazing with a gliding action. It was also my 40th butterfly species of the year, and certainly one that I wasn't expecting to get. It joins the Camberwell Beauty, Queen of Spain Fritillary, Swallowtail and Long-tailed Blue as my sightings over the years of rare migrant butterflies. As ever with these rare migrants there will no doubt be questions over whether it was a release or not but as it seemed to fly in off the sea we hope it is a true migrant!!

The Monarch.

A White-letter Hairstreak was also seen in the gardens.
What an afternoon!!

Essex and Small.

A late afternoon walk produced my first Essex Skipper of the year on Sunday. I was nearing the end of the walk when I saw a Skipper sitting on tall grass. It looked 'cleaner' than the Skippers that I had been seeing and I suspected straight away that it was indeed an Essex. I managed to get a good view and a grab shot of its antannae from the front to confirm it. The front of the antannae had the black that was needed. At this point it flew off and I was unable to relocate it. Whilst looking for it a Small Skipper was preparing to go to roost and I managed a few decent shots of it as it landed on several perches as the weather kept brightening and warming briefly so it effectively roosted 3 times!! It would have been good if it had been the Essex Skipper, but it was still a good session.

Essex Skipper.

Small Skipper on various roosts.

Opening its wings as the sun comes out again.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Forest Dragons.

Despite the steady breeze at home yesterday I decided to head up to the forest to see if I could find some dragonflies and damselflies to photograph. It turned out to be a great day for watching these gems, not so good perhaps with the camera but that may even have helped the enjoyment as it was great just seeing the activities unfold.
I started off at a small Silver-studded Blue colony but although I saw 3 males these were now past their best. Moving on I then visited several of the acidic pools where there was plenty of damselflies flying. Mainly Large Red and Azure but the Small Red numbers were also picking up nicely. Dragonflies were mainly Four-spotted Chaser and Emperor but several Keeled Skimmers were flying. I did find a newly emerged Keeled Skimmer which allowed a couple of pictures.

Teneral Keeled Skimmer.

I then went to an area where I was hoping for some Emerald Dragonfly action. For the next couple of hours I watched Downy Emerald and a probable Brilliant Emerald patrolling one of the ponds. Every now and then one settled but out of reach with my macro set up. An Emperor was egg laying in the centre of the pool with a male in attendance, this at times put the other dragons off. However, the best sight of the day came when a Golden-ringed Dragonfly appeared and was egg laying in the water flowing into the pool. This dragonfly laid its eggs by hovering and to keep dipping its abdomen into the water. This must have used an enormous amount of energy for such a large dragonfly!! On the way back to the car I stopped at a few more pools where I managed a few shots of the Small Red Damselflies and an immature Emerald Damselfly.

Small Red Damselfly.

Teneral Emerald Damselfly.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Chalkhill Blue Hour.

The heatwave broke this morning with plenty of rain on and off with a few bits of sunshine as well. I noticed at one point a break in the clouds heading my way so I quickly headed up to the Downland nearby to hopefully get some Marbled Whites coming out of their roost. With it still being warm the butterflies were already flying when I got there and it was quite impressive with the amount of Marbled Whites on the wing. 3 Ringlet were also there as well as Gatekeepers. It's only 3 days since the first Gatekeeper was seen but already numbers are building quickly.

Male Gatekeeper.

Just after getting a couple of pictures of the Gatekeeper I headed down the hill a little and found my other target for the day, my first Chalkhill Blue of the year. It had just emerged and one of its wings was still slightly creased. It flew up as I walked past it and it settled high up where I managed a few pictures before it moved on to settle on a tall grass. Great to see what will hopefully be the first of many of these beautiful butterflies this year. It was not long before the weather broke and I made it back quickly to the car before the heavy rain started again.

Male Chalkhill Blue.