Wednesday 26 July 2017

Hunting Hairstreaks.

Many butterflies have emerged early this year, in fact all the Sussex species have now been seen this year. Most years the Brown Hairstreak is the last one to appear, although the Grayling was the species this year that had that honour. The first Brown Hairstreak in Sussex was seen on the 7th July, around 3 weeks earlier than usual. They have also been seen in unusually high numbers, and even more unusually its been the normally elusive males that have been seen down nectaring on Creeping Thistle. Despite the poor weather James and I headed off to an area where sightings have been reported, although when we arrived in drizzly rain our expectations were very low. After wandering around for a while the drizzle stopped and the temperature increased slightly. I was still however amazed when scanning the thistles with the binoculars I spotted a Brown Hairstreak nectaring as it was still so cool that even the Meadow Browns were keeping their heads down. The Hairstreak unfortunately took to flight before we managed any photos but we very soon found another couple down. For the next 90 minutes or so we kept finding a few more down and this continued until the sun eventually broke through the clouds just after 4 oclock. After this we only found one more as this was now the time the Hairstreaks go to roost!! Most of the butterflies were showing a little bit of wear although one that was seen trying to warm up in the bushes appeared to be very fresh.

Male Brown Hairstreak on Creeping Thistle. (Even the fly on the thistle was sheltering from the weather).

A rarely seen open winged Male Brown Hairstreak.

Once the sun had come out Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers were everywhere and James also spotted a mating pair of Small Heath. We even saw a female Purple Emperor that didn't seem to be in too bad condition.

Mating Small Heath.

Sunday 23 July 2017

Silver Spots.

In the past couple of weeks since the first Silver-spotted Skippers first emerged the numbers have continued building to what is probably their peak about now. Each time I've been on the site I have seen some freshly emerged individuals and I've been lucky to find a few that have posed and not flown off in the typical manor this species normally does. Wall Brown numbers have also been very impressive this year and on my annual 2nd brood count this week I hit a new record of 115 butterflies, very welcome seeing so many of this species that has declined nationally at an alarming rate over the past 30 years. I even saw a Wall Brown in the garden yesterday while I was having my breakfast!! Other highlights this week was seeing a Vapourer Moth that wasn't flying past. I saw it flapping on Agrimony and I assumed it had been attracted to a female, that is flightless. Of course, I assumed wrong as the poor moth had got stuck to the seeds on the stem. After taking a couple of shots I realised the dilemma the moth was in and managed to release it.

Silver-spotted Skipper on Wild Basil. (Sounds tasty)!!

Silver-spotted Skipper on Common Knapweed.

Silver-spotted Skipper nectaring on Scabious.

Female Wall Brown.

Mating Chalkhill Blues.

Male Vapourer Moth stuck on Agrimony.

Agapeta zoegana.

Thursday 20 July 2017

New Forest Damsels.

A short break to the Balmer Lawn in the New Forest with Pen was well timed with fabulous weather and the opportunity to hunt out two damselflies that have so far eluded me. Before going to the hotel I ventured along a small stream looking for the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly. The colony here is very small and although I was in the right area the damselfly unfortunately lived up to its name with only the commoner Blue-tail seen. The following morning Pen was left to enjoy the facilities of the hotel whilst I drove the short distance to a reliable site for the rare Southern Damselfly. The spot I parked the car was very familiar as it was a spot I often parked up when I worked that area as a sales representative for a photographic company. Little did I know in those days what lurked beyond the trees and bushes. I hadn't walked far before I had spotted some Silver-studded Blues, surprisingly much fresher than those in Sussex. Then it was on to the small stream and immediately Southern Damselflies were found along with Small Red Damselflies, Keeled Skimmers and Golden-ringed Dragonflies. I then spent the next hour or so enjoying these delightful insects seeing the Southern Damselflies mating and egg laying. 

Male Southern Damselfly.

Male Southern Damselfly.

Mating Southern Damselflies.

Mating Small Red Damselflies.

Male Keeled Skimmer.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly over the stream.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

On the way back home it was decided to see if I could find the rare Bog Orchid, a species I had only seen the once before. The site had changed very little in the years since I was last here. As it happened I only found the one orchid that was growing next to Sundew in the wet boggy ground.

Bog Orchid.

Saturday 15 July 2017

Blue Eyes in Essex.

A great day out yesterday with Matt in the hope of finding the Southern Migrant Hawker, also known as Blue-eyed Hawker. Matt had heard of some sightings of this gorgeous species in the area of Canvey Island in Essex. What made the trip even more attractive was the promise of good numbers of Scarce Emerald Damselflies, what would be another new species for me and one that I just missed on my recent Norfolk trip. It is also well known for the blue eyes!!
Leaving Seaford at just after 5am we arrived before 7am in cloudy chilly conditions. A 10 minute walk from the car and we were on site and it was only a few minutes before the first Southern Migrant Hawker was found by Matt. It was the other side of the ditch so I sorted out the telephoto and clambered down the bank to find it had flown!! Fortunately Matt had already found another roosting on a bush at a nice height. This one allowed several photos before flying off. It was then some time before another was seen. All the time the chilly breeze meant they were not out hunting, so it was a case of checking each bush we came to. By mid-morning the sun made the odd appearance and a few dragonflies were seen hunting, although this was all too brief. By having the early start and risking going on a day with little sunshine and a cool breeze we gained by having the dragonflies sitting for us, but it would have been good to see more of them flying. In all we probably saw around 10 of these rare insects.

Roosting Male Southern Migrant Hawker at roost.

Male Southern Migrant Hawker in flight.

The Scarce Emerald Damselfly was evident all along the ditch although it wasn't easy getting to them for photos although a few shots were managed in the end. 

Female Scarce Emerald Damselfly.

Male Scarce Emerald Damselfly.

A few unexpected butterflies were also seen along the ditch including 2 Wall Brown, 1 Painted Lady and my first Clouded Yellow of the year.

Painted Lady on Thistle.

Clouded Yellow.

A great trip out and we were back home by early afternoon!! Thanks Matt for driving, with very early starts 2 days running I wasn't in a fit state to drive!!

Friday 14 July 2017

Chalkhills on the Chalkhills.

An early start yesterday as I hunted out the Chalkhill Blue, hoping to photograph them as they warmed themselves up in the early morning sunshine. With sunshine from the off it wasn't long before I had the opportunity I was after having found several roosting butterflies. I earmarked a couple that were in good positions and whilst I waited for them to open up I scanned the nearby grasses with the binoculars and was pleased to find another roosting Silver-spotted Skipper. It was then a bit of a panic as they all started to open up at the same time!!

Male Chalkhill Blue.

Male Silver-spotted Skipper.

Male Chalkhill Blue.

I then did my 'Wider Butterfly Survey' on the edge of Friston Forest which produced large numbers of butterflies. Following this I thought I would see if I could find any Grayling on the nearby downland. Nobody had reported any sightings of these yet this year, the last of the Sussex species. After walking up and down the steep hill I was just about to give up when a Grayling flew up from under my feet. This was followed by 2 more. I also saw a male Cuckoo in the valley. However, the main interest was back to the Chalkhill Blues with massive numbers in the base of the valley all the way back to the car. Every few steps clouds of these beautiful butterflies would take off looking like a snow storm as they were taking minerals from the track. It reminded me of the estimated 800,000 that were above Butchershole Bottom a few years ago. There were certainly several thousand in and around the valley but nothing like those numbers.

Skylark heard singing sitting on corn.

A Sussex scene. Chalkhill Blue on Round-headed Rampion.

Chalkhill Blues on Fox scat.

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Bedtime Blues.

The weather today has not been at all good for butterflies with a strong wind blowing and cloudy conditions all day before the rain arrived late afternoon. I had decided it would be a total waste of time going out so a few jobs around the home was done instead. However, with Pen meeting a friend for lunch I thought I might as well go for a stroll in the vague hope of finding a roosting Silver-spotted Skipper. I found a small area which was sheltered from the wind and immediately saw that several Blue butterflies were preparing to roost including Common Blue, Chalkhill Blue and Brown Argus. I managed to find really fresh examples of all of them in good photographing positions. Whilst photographing the Brown Argus a hint of brightness encouraged him to open his wings wide open.

Female Common Blue.

Male Common Blue.

Male Brown Argus.

Male Brown Argus.

Male Chalkhill Blue.

I then hit lucky as right next to one of the roosting Chalkhill Blues I had spotted was what I assumed to be a newly emerged Silver-spotted Skipper climbing up a blade of grass. It was a bit of a panic photographing it as the rain had started and was getting heavier all the time. Despite the weather I ended up having a fabulous afternoon and having to wear the rain jacket!!

Silver-spotted Skipper.

Monday 10 July 2017

Summer Exploits.

With the past week being mainly warm and sunny, often too warm, I've tried to make the most of it and visited several local sites. My main target has been the White-letter Hairstreak, a species that I have had great success with over the past few years, having found several new sites for them. With the Dutch Elm Disease though coming back with a vengeance it has become much harder to find these little gems. I have managed to find 5 butterflies during searches at 2 sites, one being very close to home and this is the only one I managed to photograph.

Female White-letter Hairstreak.

One very early morning start to hunt for Dark Green Fritillaries was a bit of a failure on the Fritillary front, however I did come across a dew covered Robberfly. I also saw my first Chalkhill Blue of the year so it wasn't a complete failure.

Robberfly and Dew.

Looking for Scarlet Tiger Moths in Friston Forest James and I came across an unusually large colony of Forester Moths. Although it is a known colony on this site I wasn't expecting these numbers with up to 4 on a flower head. A detailed count resulted in 58 in an approx 200 sq. metre area. 

Pair of Forester Moths.

Forester Moth.

A few walks on my local patch included finding the first UK sighting of a Silver-spotted Skipper for the year. There has also been sightings of the first 2nd brood Wall Brown and some of our larger butterflies.

Red Admiral.

Painted Lady.

Six-spot Burnet Moths are also increasing in number with many found mating and emerging.

Mating Six-spot Burnet Moths.

Newly emerged Six-spot Burnet Moth.

In the Spring I saw many Emperor Moths locally but I have only ever found young larva until this week when I came across a near fully grown larva. A very impressive sight!!

Emperor Moth larva.