Saturday 29 April 2017

Quality, not Quantity!!

Every now and then I really enjoy a day away from my local area, and with the weather forecast all week looking good for Friday, I had in mind a drive over to West Sussex to hopefully find some fresh Duke of Burgundy. With a round trip of around 100 miles I checked the forecast on Thursday evening and it still looked good for the next day. I got up in the morning and quickly checked the latest and couldn't believe that the forecast had changed to cloud and chilly with a slight chance of sun at 11am. By now I was in the zone so I decided to ignore the forecast and just enjoy the day. On arrival at the site it was pretty chilly and I just hoped to find a roosting Duke. No luck there, and after being on site for over an hour I saw a brighter patch heading my way. It took a long time to arrive, and it was only for about 10 minutes, but in this short time I stumbled across a very fresh Duke as it flew past me. Fortunately I managed to keep it in sight and it was then wonderful to get it on a Cowslip. As the sun soon went back in I could then get lots of photos of this little beauty as the cool temperature slowed him right down.

Duke of Burgundy on Primrose.

Sitting Pretty.

The butterfly eventually flew and I lost sight of him. I continued to stroll around hoping to find a Skipper or Duke at roost. No luck there and after another hour or so of wandering about with the coat now back on I once again saw a small brighter patch heading my way. This bit was even briefer, but once again a Duke flew up in front of me. On checking, it turned out to be the same butterfly. After opening its wings to try to warm up it soon flew and landed on a large bud where it went into roosting mode again, hardly surprising as it now felt very cold.

Duke of Burgundy on warm up mode.

Roosting mode.

Following this, and seeing heavier clouds heading back I decided to call it a day with just the one butterfly seen. Driving back into Seaford in the afternoon I saw a Small White, my 2nd butterfly of the day!!

The previous day I had some good sightings of the local Skippers. Once again, not many butterflies in the cool overcast conditions, but a nice Grizzled Skipper was soon followed by a very handsome Dingy Skipper that landed just by me as I was walking along a bank.

Grizzled Skipper.

Dingy Skipper.

Two Days running where I got lucky with the quality, but saw very small quantity!!

Wednesday 26 April 2017

Damsel Day.

A great day on the Levels today with Nigel looking for Damselflies. Before today I had only seen a single Large Red Damselfly this year so anything extra was going to be good. The timing was perfect as we arrived at the main hot-spot just as the sun broke through the heavy clouds and straight away we were looking at some Variable Damselflies. Mixed in with them was a single Large Red Damselfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly. Moving off we soon saw a few teneral damselflies taking off from the long grass and some were in bushes. On closer inspection these turned out to be Red-eyed Damselflies. Throughout the day the sun kept going behind some heavy clouds and it then felt really cold in the brisk Northerly wind. Not long after we finished we had torrential rain and hale and the temperature dropped right down to 5 degrees.

Female Variable Damselfly.

Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Female Variable Damselfly.

We also saw large numbers of Small Coppers today. This species is having a fantastic 1st brood and is a remarkable recovery from a disastrous 2016.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

A Bit Orange.

I've always struggled to get pleasing shots of Orange-tips, and due to this I had the very successful trip to West Sussex earlier in the Spring. Here, Orange-tips are more numerous as there is a lot more of the popular foodplants, Cuckoo-flower and Garlic Mustard on the roadside verges. Since that trip I have suddenly got a bit luckier locally with open wing shots and roosting shots. Today I was walking along a local path in sunny, but very cold conditions, when I came across a male Orange-tip that wasn't sure whether to roost or warm up. I managed a shot in roosting mode followed by an open wing shot. It now won't be long before this delightful species finishes for the year, but hopefully a few more will be seen over the next few weeks. Small Coppers continued to show well today. I also saw 2 Grizzled Skippers and my first Small Heath of the year.

Male Orange-tip.

Orange-tip and an Ant.

Orange-tip warming up.

It was also pleasing yesterday to see a distant Osprey that was circling near Arlington Reservoir.

Sunday 23 April 2017

Cinnabars and Coppers.

Yesterday I was planning a butterfly survey, but, with the weather being almost wintry I decided against it. Instead it was back to a stroll around the local patch in more hope than anything. The wind was very cool, but from a direction that at least the patch was partly protected from, it felt okay in the few sunny bits. A few Wall Brown were seen but apart from that it was just a few newly emerged Cinnabar Moths in the grass trying to warm up. These at least gave me a chance to improve on previous shots of these moths.

Cinnabar Moth.

Just before I found the 2nd one shown here I saw what I thought was a Ring Ouzel fly across the valley. The binoculars were on close focus and by the time I had adjusted the focus the bird had vanished in the bushes. On trying to relocate the bird I saw this Cinnabar and as I finished taking photos the bird flew over our heads and this time it called too. There was now no doubt it was an Ouzel. It was then seen again flying back across the valley where the white chest was very visible!! Matt had seen and photographed one at Seaford Head in the morning so it may have possibly been the same bird.

We then headed North where a smart Wheatear was seen. Along that valley the weather deteriated even further and we nearly gave up, however, with the sky looking a little brighter in the distance we battled on seeing 2 Brown Hares and several Common Whitethroat. James then spotted a slightly worn Green-veined White roosting on a Dandelion clock. This at least gave us a few photo opportunities.

Green-veined White on Dandelion clock.

Looking pretty on a nearby Cowslip.

We now even had a little light rain falling, but we pushed on and as we reached the turnaround point we started to see more as the clouds suddenly lifted and sunshine came through. 3 Small Coppers seen at the same time was very uplifting, especially as last year at this site only one 1st brood Small Copper was seen. With 2 more seen in the afternoon we had a 500% increase on last years poor showing!! We also saw and heard 2 Mediterranean Gulls flying overhead for around 30 minutes. A single Dingy Skipper was also seen and photographed. The best sight though was as we were leaving the site I spotted a very fresh Small Copper going to roost on some tall grass. The sun was now hiding behind light cloud, but we could see the sun was going to be fully out again soon and as this happened the butterfly opened its wings quite wide as it tried to get the last of the days rays. A brilliant end to a surprisingly good day.

Dingy Skipper.

Roosting Small Copper.

Small Copper warming up at the end of the day.

Friday 21 April 2017

A Dingy Day!!

With clouds covering the sky, but slightly calmer winds I called up to my local patch for the 2nd day running. However, following yesterday when I didn't hang about due to the really cold conditions, today I straight away had at least 7 Wall Brown flying around me fighting for the right to land on the warmer bank in front. These territorial battles went on for some time with the butterflies landing in front of me between battles and although several pictures were taken none were good enough to keep.
Eventually I decided to move on, as the sun had come out, and as I was leaving the area a little butterfly flew up and landed nearby. Through the binoculars I could see it was a newly emerged Dingy Skipper, my first of the year. The wings were still a little creased up. It was then seen climbing up some grass to dry out and whilst it was doing this a couple of shots were taken.

Newly emerged Dingy Skipper.

Dingy Skipper drying its wings.

After leaving the Skipper I found a few more Wall Brown flying in the area as well as my first Small Coppers on the patch. The sun however wasn't out for long and I soon ventured back to the area where the Wall Brown had been battling. The temperature though had dropped too much so I had a very quick look to see if I could find a Wall pupa. As usual I failed on this mission, although I did find a pale coloured Marbled White larva.

Marbled White larva.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Morning Wall.

With the local Wall Brown now on the wing I was keen to try to get some shots of this notoriously difficult butterfly. As I have been studying this species for many years I felt confident that I would find some butterflies even though there are not many flying yet. Unfortunately the very cold strong wind was a North Easterly which was not quite what I was hoping for. On first arrival I saw 2 butterflies right where I expected them to be as they tried to warm up. I soon had the 2 males fighting for territory. It was difficult to know how many different butterflies I saw but it was almost continuous action until the wind veered around a little too much. I then wandered off for a while hunting other species but once again the cool breeze meant little was seen. Returning to my Wall Brown spot I was pleased to feel the breeze had improved just enough and once again I was seeing territorial behaviour. A great couple of hours although not too many photos.

Male Wall Brown.

Today Nigel and I visited another of our local Early Spider Orchid sites. I first checked this site on Sunday and found around a dozen plants. Today, a wider hunt resulted in around 60-70 plants with some small groups and one plant with 2 flowers very close together on the stem. 4 Small Coppers were also seen, my first of this year. This brings me to 16 butterfly species this year. The only downer for the day was finding a large dead female Adder. It wasn't at all clear what had caused the death as it looked didn't look damaged at all. It was just upside down and a bit smelly!!

Early Spider Orchids.

Early Spider Orchid with 2 flowers together.

Small Copper.

Sunday 16 April 2017

The Wall Brown Appears.

I have been checking my regular Wall Brown area for most of the past week as I was sure the first brood were imminent. Yesterday morning, another search started and almost immediately I saw an orange/brown butterfly with the distinctive flight of the Wall Brown. I watched him for several minutes as he was staying around an area out of the cold breeze.

The first Wall Brown of the year.

Nearby was a nest of Brown-tail Moth larvae. They were all on one side of the nest trying to warm up. A couple of Grizzled Skipper were also seen, although in the cool breeze most butterflies were taking shelter.

Brown-tail Moth larva.

Another visit this morning produced at least 4 Wall Brown flying with a few aerial battles between the males, all trying to have the warm patch for their territories. 
On the end of a Hawthorn twig I spotted a smallish, but really smart spider that I assume was hoping to ambush an insect. It was also possibly sitting on its nursery? My thanks to Nigel for informing me that the spider looks like a Agalenatea redii.

Agalenatea redii.

Talking about spiders, last Thursday Pete and I went to check out one of the local colonies of Early Spider Orchids. There are only a few showing at the moment as it is a bit early in their season but one plant was showing well with another alongside it giving a different shot to my past efforts.

Early Spider Orchids.

Friday 14 April 2017

A Very Good 'Good Friday'!!

With the sun shining again I headed up to the patch in the hope that the Wall Browns would be on the wing. Alas, this wasn't the case but on a longer walk than planned plenty other goodies were waiting for me. It was soon evident that there was more of a breeze blowing than I had wanted and it was quite a cool breeze too. I started off looking for the very fresh Grizzled Skipper that I had spotted yesterday morning. No sign of this but the 2 Wall Brown larva I have been monitoring were still in the same tussock. Some great views of Common Whitethroat were also had. Along the valley the tatty Grizzled Skipper was seen for the 4th time, I was wondering and hoping that I would see a fresh one here. I then saw my first odonata of the year with a lovely Large Red Damselfly that even stayed put long enough for a few shots.

Large Red Damselfly.

Grizzled Skipper.
 The tatty individual. Why can't I get a perfect specimen performing like this one!!

Following this I decided to head much further along the valley hunting Green Hairstreaks. Although I saw several Hairstreaks on Tuesday at Devil's Dyke I still hadn't seen any local ones and I felt sure there should be some showing now, despite my earliest record for the local site being 19th April. 
Halfway to the turnaround point I came across a pair of Peacock where the male was doing a courtship dance around the female. Both butterflies were really tatty and it made me think if I would still be trying it on when I get to the old peoples home!! After a short while the old girl got a bit fed up with the amorous old boy and flew off!!

Geriatric Peacocks getting fruity!!

At last I reached the furthest point and I suddenly saw a Green Hairstreak fly up right by me. It was in pretty good condition but probably not totally straight out the box. 

Green Hairstreak.

At this point I also had a very fresh Grizzled Skipper that didn't hang around for a photo as well as a flighty female Orange-tip. 
It was then a long walk back to the car. On the way back another Green Hairstreak showed itself. This was on a bush where I have often seen them in previous seasons. Back to where the tatty Grizzled Skipper was seen earlier I saw another Skipper. I immediately assumed it was the tatty one again but looking through the binoculars I could see it was a much fresher one. Although it didn't pose as well as the tatty one had I still managed a couple of shots.

Grizzled Skipper.

I was now feeling a little jaded and with just 100 yards to go to the car a Holly Blue flew up from the path by my feet. Cursing as Holly Blues rarely pose low down I watched it fly down the path looking as though it might land again low down. It then did something I can't remember a Holly Blue do before, it landed on a twig sticking up. I quickly got in position as I could hear a family coming down the path. The butterfly then started to open its wings to reveal the fact it was a fresh female. As usual with this species it didn't open its wings fully, but just enough, and just in time before the family went past disturbing it.

Female Holly Blue.

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Go West For Orange and Green.

Orange-tips in East Sussex seem to be doing slightly better than the poor performance from last year although numbers in West Sussex are much better. This I'm sure is down to the over enthusiastic mowers that the councils in these parts use. Well before the larva mature and head off to pupate all the Cuckoo Flower and Garlic Mustard in the verges are cut meaning less butterflies for the following year!!

With this in mind James and I headed West looking for some Orange-tips, one of the gems in the butterfly season and a great sign of Spring. On the way we decided to try Devils Dyke for Green Hairstreak. Although I have some good local colonies of these they are yet to emerge this year around here. Meanwhile at the Dyke they have been out for a few days and in the couple of hours spent here around a dozen were seen along with a smart female Holly Blue.

Green Hairstreak.

Female Holly Blue.

It was then onto an old favourite site for the Orange-tips. Unfortunately it wasn't as good as it used to be so despite seeing a few we went searching for other good looking sites. Eventually we saw some Cuckoo Flower and Garlic Mustard in a field so we parked up and found several Orange-tips and a couple of Green-veined Whites flying. Eventually the Orange-tips started to go to roost and photo opportunities presented themselves.

Orange-tip nectaring on Cuckoo Flower.

Orange-tip roosting on Garlic Mustard.

Orange-tip roosting on Cuckoo Flower.

Sunday 9 April 2017

A Memorable Week.

It certainly has been a good week with the Blue Rock Thrush being the main highlight. It was certainly a shame that Matt missed this epic bird by a day. Last weekend a visit to the patch brought me a superb young Marbled White larva. I occasionally see these during my Wall Brown larva hunts, although last year I failed to find any. I also found one of the micro moths Agonopterix pallorella that once again I see occasionally. This one in the cooler conditions posed well for once.

Marbled White larva.

Agonopterix pallorella.

A great day out on Wednesday with Nigel with several Speckled Wood showing well. There were also several Orange-tip but as usual in the warm conditions they did not hang around. We also saw a Small Tortoiseshell egg laying. Many of the Spring flowers seem to be very abundant this year including Greater Stitchwort, one of my favourite woodland flowers.

Male Speckled Wood.

Greater Stitchwort.

Speckled Wood, a different view.

Today I was once again back on the patch with lots of Pyrausta ostrinalis showing. I also had my first Grizzled Skippers of the year with 2 found. The Speckled Wood numbers have also increased dramatically. Sitting in the garden this afternoon with the family I thought I would get the Emperor Moth pheromone out as Matt had never had a clear view of one of these moths. I was amazed yet again as we attracted at least 5 male Emperors and possibly more. From these I managed my finest shot yet of one of these beauties. We also had a pair of Sparrowhawks displaying above us, fantastic to watch these 2 birds.

Pyrausta ostrinalis.

Speckled Wood.

The spectacular male Emperor Moth.