Friday 29 July 2016

Wall Brown Egg.

Yesterday I set off in reasonable conditions, if you could get out of the breeze, having a little hopeful look for Grayling on my local patch. Since 2008 they have been spotted 3 times in this area with Nigel finding them first and then I discovered them twice more, including last year. It is hoped that a new breeding colony may happen here eventually.
As expected, no Grayling were seen but I was pleased to see 4 Wall Brown females looking as though they were hunting for good areas to lay eggs. One I was able to follow as it flew into an area of long grasses and as I watched it curled its abdomen into the egg laying position and as it flew away I saw a shiny egg left near the top of some brown grass. Not the most exciting image, especially as it is so white when it is new, but it was great to see the beginning of new life.

Wall Brown ova.

Down the bottom of the hill I found a Wasp nest in an Rabbit scrape. It looked as though a Badger had made a bit of a meal of it the night before as there were bits of nest dug out of the bank. The Wasps however were busy rebuilding the nest, probably another meal for the Badger later!!

Wasp nest.

Heading back up the hill I saw evidence of the Painted Lady butterflies starting to emerge with a very fresh individual seen nectaring on Viper's Bugloss. Over the next few weeks we will hopefully be seeing many of these spectacular butterflies, many of them in our gardens as they come in to enjoy the buddleia. 

Panted Lady on Viper's Bugloss.

Tuesday 26 July 2016

Silver-spotted Skippers.

Since finding the first Sussex Silver-spotted Skipper on the patch just over a week ago numbers have been building up nicely of this delightful little beauty. I have been out a few times trying to capture some photos of them. I have had mixed success over the years with some individuals quite happy to have their picture taken. Most though act like an exocet missile flying off so fast that only a younger eyesight would stand a chance of seeing where it went. However, after time spent amongst them I have now managed to get a few shots of them. 

Female Silver-spotted Skipper on Lesser Hawkbit.

Male Silver-spotted Skipper.

Male Silver-spotted Skipper.

Whilst hunting these little gems I have managed to find 3 more Small Coppers nearby. 2 were next to each other with another seen nearby. My year count of these tripled in just 2 days!!

Male Small Copper on Agrimony.

I was also lucky to spot a pair of Thyme Plume Moths mating recently. This is a rare moth in Sussex, although it can be quite numerous in an area of the patch. It is one of the very small Plumes.

Mating Thyme Plume Moths.

I also came across a mating pair of Chalkhill Blues yesterday whilst I was looking for the Skippers. With the sun out the male was multi-tasking by trying to sun himself whilst keeping his lady satisfied!!

Mating Chalkhill Blues.

Sunday 24 July 2016

The Hills are Alive.

A busy few days over the local downland as it comes alive with insects. Chalkhill Blues are everywhere and on Thursday evening I was pleased to see a few Common Blues as well. These have been thin on the ground this year but in a corner of a meadow I saw 2 male Common Blues going to roost together. On approach I disturbed one of them and it flew. However, after settling very briefly a couple of times it came back to join the other male allowing a couple of shots before I left them in peace. 

2 Male Common Blue Roosting.

An Essex Skipper also showed some of its features. The black tips to the antenna which it dipped into some mascara for its eyelashes!!

Essex Skipper.

On Friday It was the long climb up Windover Hill to see if the local Grayling were now on the wing. This is a rare colony these days as most Downland colonies have now died out. Although it was very hot in the valley it wasn't long before the first Grayling was spotted. It is still very early in the flight season and numbers will quickly grow. In the end we saw 3 or 4 individuals of which a couple of them settled several times giving both of us probably our best shots of these butterflies.

Male Grayling.

Male Grayling in typical pose.

On Saturday a stroll back on the patch saw an increase in Wall Brown numbers with 12 seen away from the main colony. What was also good to see were 3 Small Coppers. This actually doubles my year tally for this butterfly that has probably suffered more than any other this year. All were looking fresh so hopefully there will be more to come. Chalkhill Blues were also good with many newly emerged females showing.

Female Chalkhill Blue.

Male Chalkhill Blue.

Friday 22 July 2016

A Surprise Dragonfly in the Woods.

A great walk in the local woodland with Nigel started with a few heavy spots of rain. However, it wasn't long before it warmed up again and the insects came out in good numbers. Red Admirals are one of those butterflies that can fly in poorer conditions so it wasn't a surprise to see some flying early on. Several fresh Brimstone were also on the wing and one male decided to hide under a leaf showing how well their camouflage works. A big surprise was a superb Golden-ringed Dragonfly, a species I hadn't seen here before. After Nigel had left I did one further circuit where I came across a young Common Toad.

Red Admiral.


Brimstone hiding.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

Common Toad.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Little Owl at Dusk.

Back in the Spring I was lucky to get an invite by a good friend Phil to visit his garden to see the Little Owls that visited his garden on a regular basis. On that visit the male owl called after dark so flash was required. Since then I have had another invite to photograph the owl in natural light, so at the beginning of the week with good light promised I was once again sitting in a garden shed waiting for this lovely owl. Once again it didn't disappoint with it performing nearby for around an hour. There wasn't a cloud in the sky so there was plenty of light, perhaps it was almost too bright with one side of the owl in very bright light. What was very interesting though was that the pupils of the eyes were very different in size from the bright side to the shadow side. This showed up very distinctly when the bird was looking straight at the camera.

Little Owl in the tree before coming down.

Little Owl head-on shot. Note the pupil sizes.

The last view as it was getting darker.

My thanks again to Phil for a very memorable evening. It is down to his understanding and patience that this bird is so accommodating.

Monday 18 July 2016

The Patch Comes Alive.

Over the last 2 days things have really started to come alive on my local patch with the 2nd brood Wall Brown being the first surprise. With everything being late this year it was only a faint hope of seeing any yesterday so to see 4 battling away was a big surprise. One also posed several times which is not normal for this species. It was then onto the Chalkhill Blue area where over 50 were seen. Six-spot Burnet Moths were also very evident with some fresh insects. Finally 2 Mecyna flavalis were great to see. These Nationally rare moths have a massive colony locally but out of that colony they have only been seen here. These were very fresh so they are now breeding here.

A 2nd brood Wall Brown Male.

Newly emerged Six-spot Burnet Moth.

Mecyna flavalis.

Today it was a really early start to try to get a fresh Chalkhill Blue waking up. It was a case of trying to find one at the top of some grass and waiting for it to open its wings. I was lucky to find a suitable candidate, as it was so warm this morning it soon flew, before 6am!! A bit later I called back up there and saw a few rarities including 4 Thyme Plume micro moths and my first Silver-spotted Skipper, a female and another very big surprise. A very fresh 2nd brood Brown Argus was also a real beauty. A Chalk Carpet was also seen.

Male Chalkhill Blue.

Pyrausta purparalis.

Chalk Carpet.

Sunday 17 July 2016

White Admiral Adventure.

Another Butterfly survey yesterday in a private wood resulted in many sightings of Purple Hairstreaks. This butterfly is one of the very few butterfly winners this year, and it is a good recovery following 2 very poor years. As I finished the survey I came across 2 different White Admirals which were both holding territory. The 2nd one stayed in the same area for nearly an hour landing on various leaves and bracken. A brilliant time watching this beautiful butterfly as it glided around me. The lighting was a bit odd and the different coloured leaves in the area almost gave some of the images a multi-coloured impression.

Below is a small selection of the images.

Male White Admiral.

Strangely the first photo of the day was of a Purple Haistreak. 10 minutes into the wood and I had a picture of a butterfly I had spent over 13 hours during the week trying to photograph!!

Purple Hairstreak.

Friday 15 July 2016

Hairstreak Heaven and Hell. Plus Big News!!

It has been quite a week with 5 sessions in local woodland trying to improve on my Purple Hairstreak shots. This is a very frustrating little butterfly as it is pretty common but lives at the tops of Oak trees and only normally descends low down early in the morning and occasionally in the evenings. In those 5 sessions I have had 6 close encounters with them but these encounters were all too brief with only 4 of them being photographed. To be honest none of them were very good photos either. The first image here was from July 2010 which is easily my best closed wing shot.

Purple Hairstreak.

Below is a selection of my efforts this week which as I say could be better!!

Female Purple Hairstreak.

Female Purple Hairstreak.

After the hell of 13 hours plus of Purple Hairstreak hunting I have also had a couple of hours hunting what is my favourite butterfly, the White-letter Hairstreak. Unfortunately Elm trees have been having a really bad time in the Seaford area with many suffering with Dutch Elm Disease so the butterflies are getting much harder to find. Fortunately I had a message from a fellow Hairstreak fan who informed me he had a butterfly in a site near Seaford. I managed to get over to where he was with the butterfly still showing. My thanks to James for taking the time for texting me with the great news!! This made it a much easier time than the Purple!! Pure Heaven.

The beautiful female White-letter Hairstreak.

Today I was pleased to hear that 2 of my photographs have been used to promote the Big Butterfly Count by the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. You can see them by clicking on the following links.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Silver and Gold.

For the past 2 days I've been trying to improve on my Purple Hairstreak photos. This is actually a common butterfly, and this year it appears to be doing quite well, but it is one of the hardest species to photograph as it lives at the tops of Oak trees and only rarely comes down to ground level. With over 8 hours spent during the 2 days I've only had 2 close encounters with this lovely little butterfly and so far only a few poor shots have been taken. Hopefully before the end of the season I will get another chance!! Fortunately there have still been some highlights of other species over the 2 days and these have been mainly Silver-washed Fritillaries, including an immaculate female today. These butterflies may have silver in their name from their under-side, but they are golden brown above and one of  our most beautiful species. 

Male Silver-washed Fritillary.

Buzzard nest with 2 youngsters.

White-legged Damselfly.

Male Brown Hawker.

Red Admiral.

Female Silver-washed Fritillary.

Female Silver-washed Fritillary.

On the way home I checked out a site for White-letter Hairstreaks. Unfortunately by now the weather had gone downhill and I failed to see any. However, a lovely pair of Green-veined Whites were found mating on Selfheal.

Mating Green-veined Whites.