Thursday 28 April 2016

Three Great Butterfly Days.

It doesn't seem possible that a week that brought freezing cold winds, snow, hale, and severe frosts that I could have seen so many great species locally. I've already posted for Tuesday so this is the 2nd and 3rd days of the week when I've seen some beauties.
Yesterday I met up again with Nigel for our regular Wednesday outing. I was really hoping, but not expecting, to get my favourite Spring butterfly on my year list, the Orange-tip. Before Nigel arrived I headed down the track realising just how cold the wind was. After half a mile of walking I hadn't seen any butterflies which wasn't too much of a surprise considering the temperature. After arriving at a large area of Cuckoo Flower I carefully looked over it just in case there were any Orange-tips roosting there. I had decided there weren't any when I suddenly spotted a pristine male sitting on the very top of one of the flowers. By now the sun was shining brightly on the butterfly so I quickly rattled off a few shots hoping that Nigel was near. Unfortunately the butterfly flew before he arrived.

Male Orange-tip on Cuckoo Flower.

I then saw Nigel walking down the track where he was watching a Speckled Wood. A short while later he found his own Orange-tip which was flying along the track until the sun went in where it went to roost. We then waited for some time for the sun to come back hoping this would encourage him to open the wings. This he did before flying along the track where he settled regularly whenever the sun went in again.

Male Orange-tip.

Orange-tip nectaring on Blackthorn.

Orange-tip on Bluebell.

Further along the lane a Green-veined White was performing well, even posing with its wings open which is unusual for these.

Female Green-veined White.

Today I stayed more local searching for Small Coppers. In the area I was hoping to find these I spotted my first Dingy Skipper of the year. There was also a beautiful male Common Redstart giving great views. My first Green Hairstreak of the year on my patch was also good to see posing on a Gorse bush. I managed a couple of shots of this whilst holding a bit of Gorse out of the way and shooting one handed, a very painful experience as it's impossible to hold Gorse without getting pricked!! Before getting back to the car I saw another 2 Dingy Skippers and then a surprise of spotting a Small Heath, probably the first Sussex sighting in exactly the same spot I had the first Sussex sighting of these 2 years ago.

Green Hairstreak on Gorse. (Ouch)

Speckled Wood.

Small Heath.

Tuesday 26 April 2016

Great Weather for Butterflies!!!!

Yesterday the forecast for today was sunshine with a cold wind. Waking up to blue skies it was looking okay, however, the new forecast said it would cloud up late morning. Due to this I stayed local hoping to find a bit of shelter from the very cold wind. Fortunately the wind direction allowed me to find some sheltered spots and in one of these I was more than pleased to see my first Wall Brown of the year, a female. As ever with this species it was extremely flighty. A short while later I spotted my first Grizzled Skipper of the year. This was spotted just as the clouds rolled in and it very quickly went to roost as the temperature dropped. The sun however did make a couple of further appearances and each time the Skipper quickly opened its wings and soon flew out of sight.

Grizzled Skipper at roost.

Grizzled Skipper

Just a short while later the weather really fell away and Winter returned with hale, snow, rain, thunder,lightning and very heavy clouds!!

Yesterday I found my first Elachista subocellea of the year, a rare Sussex micro moth. I found this small colony 2 years ago and at that time this was the first new colony that had been found since Victorian times. Since then 2 more colonies have been found which means there are now 5 known colonies in Sussex. This moth is barely bigger than a bit of long grained rice!!

Elachista subocellea.

Sunday 24 April 2016

Green, Purple and Gold.

Yet another cold day so a short trip out in the morning just hoping to see something of interest. In a brief sunny spell I saw a few more Pyrausta ostrinalis micro moths showing their lovely purple and gold colours. One was also roosting on a small plant giving an opportunity to photograph one off the ground.

Pyrausta ostrinalis.

In the afternoon I visited a local site for Green-winged Orchids. I wasn't too sure if they would be fully out and as it happened there were only 2 out with a few others a little further away from being fully in flower. It didn't look as though the numbers were going to be as high as some years and the plants were very small here.
Both plants were different shades of Purple.

Green-winged Orchid.

Green-winged Orchid.

Friday 22 April 2016

An Emperor of a Day.

It was one of those days with a really cold wind blowing and it was deciding whether to stay at home or get out anyway. I thought it was worth a look over the Downs near Lewes to see if there were any different birds about and to see how the Early Spider Orchids were coming along. It seemed unlikely that the orchids would be out yet with the Spring seeming a little slow to come along. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find that not only were a few in flower but that a couple of the lower flowers were actually slightly past their best!! Several more were only just in bud still so they should be around for some while yet.

Early Spider Orchid.

Early Spider Orchid.

Early Spider Orchid.

Whilst looking at the orchids a friend that had reared some Emperor Moths from some eggs last year rang to say that a female had just emerged and would I like to go and get some photos of it. As it happened we were going to be passing his house on the way home so the answer was yes. Although I prefer to find my subjects in the wild this was an opportunity not to miss. Pete had never seen an Emperor Moth before which made it another reason to go for it. Strangely, on the way back to the car I must have had a hint of the Emperor pheromone on my rucksack from 2 days ago as we suddenly had a male Emperor flying around us. Amazing to think the moth picked up the pheromone from some distance from the bag that only touched the pheromone lure 48 hours previously.
When we arrived at Paul's we put the female in the garden to photograph it and once again the Emperors surprised us again as we had 3 males fly in to find the female. We could even see how she was sending the pheromone out from her enormous abdomen. One of the males managed to attach itself to her and pair up. These males had to have flown in from several hundred metres away!! As mentioned earlier it was a breezy day so it is surprising how they homed in so quickly. It was actually my first time for seeing a male that wasn't flying around me too, and of course, the males were all totally wild individuals.
I would like to thank Paul for his hard work bringing the insects through and for ringing and inviting me to photograph this beauty. Also the cups of tea and biscuits!!

Female Emperor Moth showing the enormous abdomen.

Female Emperor Moth.

Mating Pair of Emperor Moths. Size difference very apparent.

One of the Male Emperor Moths.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

First Hairstreak.

With the mild Winter it was thought that the butterfly season might be a bit early this year. However, that has certainly not been the case with many species normally seen by now still not appearing. Today I met up with Nigel and we headed off to where I saw the Speckled Woods last Wednesday. Despite the area seeming to be quite warm we failed to connect with the Speckled Wood today. We did see some Small Tortoiseshell laying eggs in the nettles.
We then headed to Abbotts Wood where a surprise was a superb Green Hairstreak in an area I haven't seen them before. This is also the first year when my first Green Hairstreak of the year wasn't on my local patch!! This Hairstreak was missing the streak and had just a single white dot. I spotted the butterfly as it appeared flying past me. Fortunately I saw it land on a small bush, it was then trying to focus on it as the bush was moving in the steady breeze.

Green Hairstreak.

Also in the wood was my first Early Purple Orchid of the year. This particular orchid is often out before others as it is in a little warm corner. I just hope that this year it is not picked or flattened by someone!!

Early Purple Orchid.

We also heard a Nightingale deep in the undergrowth and we saw an Orange Underwing moth that was sitting on the path. Unfortunately it saw us before we saw him and it was straight up and away.

Over the last few days I have seen a Common Redstart moving through as well as a Red Kite. Also male Emperor Moths attracted to a pheromone lure and some more Pyrausta ostrinalis micro moths. On Monday I also saw my first Green-veined White of the year as well as 4 more Speckled Wood. With the Hairstreak today this puts me on 11 species for the year which means I have seen about 25% of the species I am likely to see in the UK this year already!!

Speckled Wood.

Chiff Chaff.

Thursday 14 April 2016

Back on the Patch.

With things at last starting to get going on the insect front it was back to the local area to see what was emerging. Overnight the moth trap was a waste of time with only a few common moths. Out on the patch I found an extremely fresh Speckled Wood basking in the morning sun. Strangely she had what I think was tiny bit of blossom on her head and a small fly resting on her hind-wing. Another Speckled Wood was also seen. Bee-flies are also building up in numbers well and I found one basking on a leaf. Being earlier in the day, this normally difficult insect to approach allowed a few shots. 

Speckled Wood.


Following this I checked on my colony of Pyrausta ostrinalis. This species is quite rare, and according to the Sussex recorder is in danger of extinction in the county. However, I do have a strong colony here and in a short space of time I had seen 13 of these beautiful little micro moths. They are extremely similar to the common Pyrausta purpuralis. I also saw my first Large White on the walk and later in the garden back home a Holly Blue flew across. This puts me on 9 butterfly species for the year so far.

Pyrausta ostrinalis.

Wednesday 13 April 2016

A Specklie Day.

With another gorgeous day today I headed out to an area where I've often seen my first Speckled Wood of the year. Parking the car and heading along the woodland track the sound of birdsong was everywhere. I heard a different song high up in the trees and looking up I had some great views of a Lesser Whitethroat. I was able to watch the bird for several minutes, although it didn't descend down at all. I was quite surprised I had only seen a single Comma and was beginning to think I was going to be out of luck with the Speckled Wood when one suddenly appeared flying in front of me. It perched up a few times and then starting a battle with another one. A little later I returned to the same area and saw more. I think I probably saw 3 in total with one male performing very well for me on the return.

Male Speckled Wood.

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Rye Harbour.

With a part sunny day promised a trip to Rye Harbour seemed a good idea to see the arrival of some Spring migrants. As it happened the sun was out all day and it feels like a bit of sunburn on the face has appeared!!
The day started with opening the moth trap. With a bit of rain overnight the numbers of moths were possibly affected but there were a few moths there. These included 3 Angle Shades and a Powdered Quaker which all just about warranted photos.

Triplicate of Angle Shades.

Powdered Quaker.

It was then onto Rye Harbour with several Avocets seen from the first hide. Other highlights included my first definite Small White butterfly of the year, many Sandwich Terns, a few Mediterranean Gulls and Wheatear. At Castle Water many Sedge Warblers were heard. a couple seen, and 2 Common White-throat. Moving on to Pett Levels around 50 Turnstone were roosting and feeding near the ponds.


Sandwich Tern with Sand eel.



Monday 11 April 2016

Small Signs.

Over the past few days it has felt like Spring is really getting going. However, many insects are still being reluctant to show. Today a short visit to Rowland Wood resulted in just a Comma showing as well as a male Adder. It was good to see and hear my first Willow Warbler of the year. Unfortunately some unexpected rain soon started to fall so the visit was cut short. On the way home we called into Arlington Reservoir to see if many hirundines were flying. There were plenty of Swallow and Sand Martin as well as small numbers of House Martin. A pair of Grey Wagtail were also good to see, as were the Common Terns. A White Wagtail was also pointed out among the Pied Wagtails.

Sand Martins and Swallows in the rain.

Great Crested Grebe.

A couple of days earlier a walk along the river produced a Small Tortoiseshell egg laying. After she had flown I investigated the cluster of eggs on the under-side of the nettle leaf. A Glow-worm larva was also seen during the morning but unfortunately no new emerging butterflies.

Small Tortoiseshell eggs.

Glow-worm larva.

Tuesday 5 April 2016

Spring has Sprung.

With the weather warming up for a while I've been out and about around the back of Seaford. On Sunday I saw my first Ancylis comptana of the year, a very small micro moth found on a few chalk downlands. More surprising was finding a very young Emperor Moth larva. This means there has been some adults out for 2 to 3 weeks already. Of course, very young larva are not easy to be sure of identity. There is still a question mark over whether it is an Emperor and with one expert saying it is and another thinking it isn't, if anyone out there can confirm either way I would be pleased to know!! The consensus now is that it is indeed an Emperor larva 2nd instar. 

Ancylis comptana.

Probable Emperor Moth 2nd instar stage larva??

Last night, with the weather settled I decided to put the moth trap out for the first time this year. Nothing very exciting this morning unfortunately but a small selection of Common Quaker, Early Grey and a very nice March Moth making a total of 10 moths.

Early Grey.

March Moth.

Following this I went for a long stroll over the back of Seaford where I found a Pyrausta ostranalis and a Pyrausta despicata. Both these small micros were my first of the year. I also came across a Long-tailed Tit that posed quite well. I was hoping for some new emerging butterflies but this was not the case. However several Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone were seen including a male Brimstone that posed well for a picture.

Pyrausta despicata.

Long-tailed Tit.

Male Brimstone.

Saturday 2 April 2016


It's rare for me to be tempted to go long distances for a bird, but with the ultra smart Red-necked Grebe returning for a 3rd year running in summer plumage to Farmoor Reservoir near Oxford, the temptation was too much. I would like to thank Ewan Urquhart from Oxford for confirming the bird was still there and for showing us around on the Friday. Picking Pete up at 6am (the middle of the night)!! the traffic was not too bad and we arrived well ahead of the time we were meeting up with Ewan so we walked around to where the bird was expected to be. On the way we saw some splendid summer plumaged Great-crested Grebes and several groups of Tufted Duck.

Tufted Duck Pair.

Great-crested Grebe.

Great-crested Grebe making waves.

There was no doubt though that the star of the show was the superb Red-necked Grebe. This bird is probably the least seen of the regular Grebes and even more so in its breeding plumage. I was hoping that the bird would come much closer than it did but eventually I managed a few reasonable shots as it regularly dived to catch Sticklebacks or occasionally catch small flies from the top of the water. The bird will very shortly be leaving for its breeding area, possibly in Scandinavia or Russia.

Red-necked Grebe.

Red-necked Grebe with Stickleback lunch.

When Ewan arrived we soon headed for another part of the reservoir where 2 Great-northern Divers have spent the Winter. Unfortunately we only saw one of these and that one was well out in the middle. However, we did see the first reported Common Tern of the year on the reservoir. Also whilst Ewan was taking a business call I spotted in the distance a Hobby chasing a smaller bird. This was my 2nd Hobby of the year and was I believe the 1st record this year in Oxfordshire.
Ewan then suggested we head for Otmoor RSPB reserve. Although he couldn't spare the time to stay with us we followed him there so we wouldn't get lost. Just after he left us I spotted a pair of Common Toads walking across the car park. This gave us the opportunity to get some great photos of them, without the macro lenses we had to use the telephotos but this worked very well.

Common Toads.

Is the male falling asleep??

That's what you call getting a lift!!

Following this it was the dreaded long drive home with every car in the South-east being on the M25 around Heathrow. However, it could have been a lot worse as the traffic did clear for most of the remaining trip. My thanks to Ewan for giving up his time to help us see so much. It really was a great day.