Wednesday 29 March 2017

An Emperor Meets His Empress.

On Monday Paul and I went over to a heathland in West Sussex hoping for some close Dartford Warblers to photograph. We did manage some great views with around 6 birds seen, however, none of them came as close as we were hoping so another visit sometime in the future will hopefully improve on what I managed. Whilst there, we were obviously in a good Emperor Moth area and due to this I had put my pheromone lure in the bag to see if we would attract any male moths. It wasn't long to wait before a male came searching. During the time on the heath we saw another 3 or 4.

Dartford Warbler.

When we arrived back to Paul's he suggested I take a couple of female Emperor Moths that he had hatched out and take them to my patch where I have seen a few of these spectacular moths. The next morning I took the females to the area that I knew the moths were found. Both of the females were virgin moths and they both were sending out pheromones from their pheromone glands. It wasn't long before a male moth had located the females and soon both females had paired up with males. Hopefully both females will survive long enough to lay lots of eggs and in a year or two their offspring will be flying about. The female from 2 years ago that had laid the eggs that these females had come from had laid well over 100 eggs!!

Female Emperor Moth.

Emperor Moth exposing the pheromone gland.

Mating Emperor Moths.

Mating Emperor Moths.
 The size difference is very obvious here, also note the feathered antennae that the male uses to pick up the pheromones.

At least 4 male moths were seen in the time we were on site. The females were left still mating in the middle of the bushes where hopefully they will be safe from predation while the eggs mature.

Sunday 26 March 2017

It all Adders Up To Spring.

Following my lucky find of the Black Adder on Friday I decided to head for one of my favourite Downland sites for Adders on Saturday. After parking the car I had already decided I was not going to be lucky as we were suffering from a strong Easterly wind that had a definite chill to it and the walk to the area where the Adders are found was not too pleasant. Therefore it was a very nice surprise to find an Adder basking under the first bush I came too. Nearby in the most reliable bush 2 males were curled up together in a very sunny spot. Fortunately the direction of the wind gave the snakes shelter from the worst of the wind. Following a long walk around the area a further 2 Adders were seen making a total of 5. With the wind blowing so much the snakes didn't feel my presence, I assume because the bushes were vibrating in the wind. 

Male Adders. (Hopefully friends)!!

Even the grass was curled up.

Today, Sunday, I walked around my butterfly patch to see if I could find any Speckled Wood. Unfortunately all I saw were the usual Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstones and Commas. However, one Comma I came across was ovapositing and as I watched her I saw her leave an egg behind on a Stinging Nettle. The egg was shining in the light until I moved closer when I lost it to view, not helped by the fact that I was also hoping to get a photo of the Comma laying more eggs. When the butterfly had moved away I hunted for the egg again and I spotted it again by going to where I had originally had the light shining off it. I then tried to photograph the egg by carefully holding the nettle with one hand and taking the picture on full magnification. Apart from a tingly thumb I was quite pleased with the result. A fabulous looking egg too.

Comma egg on Nettle.

Friday 24 March 2017

'Black Adder Goes Forth'.

This was always my favourite of the Black Adder series, despite many people taking the mickey out of me due to the rather good looking Private 'Bob'. 

What brings me to such rambling you may ask!!
A gorgeous Spring day took me to a local woodland looking for some more Brimstones roosting. Although I saw several I wasn't lucky to see any once they had roosted. However, I did come across a very smart Black Adder!! This rare colour form of the Adder, also known as 'melanistic' are seen occasionally and due to their rarity are always good to see. I personally have seen a few over the years but haven't managed any decent shots of them. This one was in the middle of some bushes and it wasn't possible to get some clean shots of it. Fortunately, with my telephoto lens it was possible to get some reasonable close shots without having to disturb it.

Close-up of the Black Adder.

Melanistic Adder.

Melanistic Adder soaking up the heat.

With definite signs of Spring it was good to see plenty of Wood Anemone coming into flower covering the woodland floor. Bluebells will shortly be following!!

Wood Anemone in the leaf litter.

As well as the Brimstones there were several Peacock flying and many Comma. The hibernating butterfly species seem to have had a good Winter. As the afternoon went on the Comma butterflies sought out areas to bask and this included fallen trees where the heat remained the longest. One very smart Comma posed superbly on one of these, whilst another posed among the Wood Anemone.

Comma on a stump on the woodland floor.

Male Comma.

Saturday 18 March 2017


With Matt going away yet again, and me having to get up at some unearthly hour to take him to be airport, I made a bit of a diversion on the way home to visit a small lake that I had been told held a pair of Great-crested Grebes. Although the pair of Grebes had finished their impressive courtship ritual they certainly both looked impressive in their full adult breeding plumage. Whilst there I saw some nest building and lots of preening between diving for fish. Unfortunately in the time I spent there the birds only came relatively close a couple of times, as they spent most of their time in the area where their nest is being built. However, during this time I did manage my best images of this beautiful bird. Whilst there I saw and heard several Chiff Chaff and several Buzzards were also seen, including a pair displaying.

Great-crested Grebe.

Great-crested Grebe looking resplendent.

Great-crested Grebe preening.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Lepidoptera Day.

With the first decent Wednesday for some time it was good to meet up again with Nigel for a day hunting butterflies and moths. With it being so warm there was plenty of butterflies about with possibly 20 plus Comma, as many Brimstone, a couple of Red Admiral, several Peacock and a single Small Tortoiseshell. I was also hoping to see the Orange-underwing Moth, a Spring woodland moth. These moths are quite scarce and are normally only seen flying high up near the tops of the trees. We saw 10 of these moths and even had 2 of them on the ground where the males pick up salts, acting very similar to the Purple Emperor. Nigel was on site just before me and in that short time he had found a Purple Hairstreak ova amongst Oak buds.



Purple Hairstreak ova, looking like a small sea urchin.

Monday 13 March 2017

Re-visiting The Emperor.

With several more Emperor Moths emerging from the reared pupa, Paul kindly invited me back today to admire these spectacular moths. My last visit to him was just after the first moths emerged and neither of us could make it early enough in the day and the light was past its best. Today however the light was superb and with both fresh males and females I made the most of the opportunity. It would have been really nice to have got these in the wild, and I have in the past managed some reasonable shots of the females but all but one male from the past was reared. 
During the session it became clear that the female had started to send its pheromone out and one of the males that had flown away actually returned as he sought out the female and was mating with her by the time I left. My thanks again to Paul for this opportunity to photograph these beautiful insects.

Male Emperor Moth.

Male Emperor Moth under-side.

Female Emperor Moth.

Female Emperor Moth. (The yellow protrusion sending out pheromone).

Male Emperor Moth sitting pretty.

Female Emperor Moth.

Sunday 12 March 2017

Woodland Turns Yellow.

A gorgeous day yesterday had me hunting out my first Brimstone of the year in a woodland near Lewes. Although I left home in a sea mist it wasn't far inland when the sun started to show. In the wood it was actually very warm and my first sighting of a Brimstone soon came. From then on several of these beauties had been seen with a minimum of 6 seen, this included 3 battling together. A few settled occasionally, but at this time of year the males Brimstone rarely stops as they search for any females hiding in the undergrowth. By 2.30 all had gone to roost but I fortunately spotted a male roosting under a Bramble leaf. Several Comma were also seen with 4 battling together in one part of the wood and another 2 individuals seen in other spots. A single Peacock made up the butterflies seen. Another sign of Spring was a Chiff Chaff calling in the tree tops.


Roosting Male Brimstone.


Thursday 9 March 2017

Spring Is Here.

A brilliant day started with seeing a good number of Great-crested Newts performing their courtship. Also a smaller number of Palmate Newts too. Following this a quick check on the Wall Brown larva with 2 found straight away. By mid morning the sun had burnt the sea mist away and I was pleased to see a Peacock as well as my first Small Tortoiseshell of the year. It was then a hunt for my first Adder of the year, although the cool breeze wasn't helping a single Adder was found and this male was getting as much heat from the sun by laying along the top of some Gorse. An extremely painful place to lay!! Corn Buntings were also very evident with many calling, a smart Red Kite also flew over.

Male Adder.

Laying on a Gorse Bush!!

Adder close-up.

Corn Bunting.

After getting home the weather was still so good that I decided to head out again with a walk from home. As I was leaving the close my first Comma of the year was seen. It was quite a tatty individual but a surprising sighting. Another Small Tortoiseshell was also seen as well as a fabulous view of a Woodcock flying past. All in all it really was a great day.

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Pied Wagtails.

With Matt seeing a few Crossbills recently Phil and I tried to see some of these beauties, especially as the day was looking quite good. Things then started to go a little wrong as on the drive to the forest the clouds built up and the wind increased. With this the temperature also dropped quickly and as Phil had forgotten his coat we were not going to be there long. With no sign of the Crossbills we soon gave up with only the sound of Woodlark being of interest. Back at Phil's I then sought out his pair of Pied Wagtails. These have nested locally to him now for the past 3 years and as they have paired up again it is looking good for this year. The female is easy to recognise as she only has one foot!! Although we tried a couple of different perches they both insisted on settling on the same prop each time!!

Pied Wagtail.

Female Pied Wagtail.

Female Pied Wagtail with only one foot.

Male Pied Wagtail.

Female Pied Wagtail.

Saturday 4 March 2017

Back Local.

Following the excitement of the fabulous Bluethroat it was back to local offerings with a trip to Tide Mills and the East Pier for a check out of the Purple Sandpipers yesterday. Around a dozen were seen with 5 sitting on the top and the remainder on the struts of the pier. 5 Turnstone were also sitting up top with the Sandpipers. At Tide Mills a very brief look for the Serin was negative but there were several Stonechat showing.

Purple Sandpiper keeping a sneaky eye on me!!

Turnstone doing the same!!

Purple Sandpiper jumping for joy!!

Female Stonechat.

With a mild morning today a check out on the Wall Brown larva proved successful with 10 found in the grass tussocks. An amazing variety of size with the largest being at least 5 times larger than the smallest. This is not too surprising as the butterfly emerges over a long period of 7 or 8 weeks in the 1st brood. The largest larva was not that far now from being fully grown.

Near fully grown Wall Brown larva resting following feed, note the eaten grass top.

Wednesday 1 March 2017

Brilliant Bluethroat.

Unlike Matt, I very rarely travel far for rare birds, but with a stunning male Bluethroat in Lincolnshire even I made an exception. This is a bird that I have wanted to see for a few years now and with this one seeming to be well settled I arranged with Paul to make the trip. Looking at the map I could see it was only a short distance further than the wood where I sometimes go to look for the Black Hairstreak butterfly. However, I should have double checked the directions as the website for the nature reserve it is on was not that clear and we ended up on the wrong road. Fortunately our friend Leigh, who saw the bird a few days earlier was at the end of the phone to put us right!!
With no reports of the bird coming in on the way up we were a little worried that the bird had moved on, but as we eventually found the right spot a couple of people returned to the car park and told us the bird was showing. By this time the weather had deteriorated with clouds building up. There was also a very brisk cold wind blowing across the flat fenland. A group of around 20 Bewick Swans were good to see on the pools behind where the Bluethroat was reported to be. Despite the Bluethroat being so rare we were actually on our own for a while and just before we were joined by 2 others the little bird suddenly appeared in the edge of the reedbed. It soon came out onto the path looking for food and after finding a few tasty beakfulls it soon flitted back into the reedbed and out of sight. 4 more times it repeated this whilst we were there and on the 2nd time out the sun also re-appeared which gave us a bit more light. After the final sighting the clouds built up even more, and with us both feeling cold we decided to head back to the car. As we were leaving the area we had 2 fabulous views of Barn Owls hunting along the county lane and the ditches. A fabulous day, and we even had a pretty good clear drive home, at least, until we hit the traffic at Brighton heading for the football!!

Male Bluethroat.

Male Bluethroat showing well!!

A really smart bird!!