Saturday 31 March 2018

A Speckled Surprise!!

On a coolish Easter Saturday I decided the only things of interest were likely to be larva so I headed to my usual area for a bit of a hunt. A couple of Chiffchaff calling was a nice start. However, just around the corner I had a really big surprise as I disturbed a butterfly that flew off when I nearly trod on it. I could see it was around a Small Tortoiseshell size, but I was sure it wasn't that species. I managed to watch it come down through the binoculars way down the hill. I went down to the area it landed and once again disturbed it before I could do a proper id. Of course it flew back up the hill and this time when I caught up to where it landed I managed to see it was a very early Speckled Wood. I normally have to travel inland to see early Speckled Woods as the area I saw this one in is often a couple of weeks later for this species. It is also I'm sure the first time I have seen a March Speckled Wood. I did also see a couple of Small Tortoiseshell that managed to be warm enough to fly in a sheltered spot.

It was then onto the larva search where I managed to locate 40 Wall Brown larva, 1 Small Heath larva and 2 tiny Meadow Brown larva. These are quite distinctive as they are very hairy as well as having white tails. As I tried to clear a little grass the larva went into its defense mode briefly, before settling back down again. The Small Heath larva I had thought was a Speckled Wood larva until Pete Eeles corrected my id. The Small Heath is a hairless larva whilst the Speckled Wood is extremely similar but has hairs!!

Small Heath larva feeding.

Meadow Brown larva in defense mode. (Very frightening)!!

Meadow Brown larva. Note the hairy body and white tails.

Meadow Brown larva showing his mouth parts.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

The Yellow Woods.

Yesterday was the best day of the Spring so far, so I decided to have a hunt in the local woodlands for signs of butterflies. The first woodland I went to is a private wood where I was hoping to find signs of Fritillaries feeding. Despite getting stung by some kind of insect on the back of the neck, I couldn't find anything. However, there was plenty of butterfly action with several Brimstone seen as well as a Small Tortoiseshell. On top of this a large amount of Frog spawn, the first Wood Anemone in flower and the base leaves of Bluebell really starting to sprout up. I then moved on to another woodland where once again the Brimstones were out in force. I also saw my first Comma of the year and a male Adder was also noted. As the clouds built up during the afternoon the Brimstones slowed down which allowed a few photo opportunities. Eventually one of these yellow beauties was seen going to roost under a Bramble leaf.

Male Brimstone .

Male Brimstone on Hazel Catkins.

Male Brimstone roosting under Bramble leaf.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Firecrest and Adders.

Last Thursday a walk over the local downland produced a wonderful experience with a Firecrest. Feeding in the Gorse the bird was actively looking for insects and was totally oblivious to me. At one point when I was crouched down watching the bird, it flew straight towards me and settled in the Gorse right by me. It stayed here for a few seconds only around a foot from where I was crouched down. Amazing watching the bird at such close quarters.

Firecrest feeding in the Gorse.

The main purpose of the walk was to see if I could see my first Adder of the year. I wasn't expecting the breeze to be so cold, so it wasn't looking too hopeful, but in a couple of sheltered spots 2 Adders were eventually seen. Really good to see these wonderful creatures.

Adder. My 1st of the year.

Adder. My 2nd of the year.

Thursday 22 March 2018

Bluethroat at Dungeness.

Until last year, when Paul and I saw the Bluethroat in Lincolnshire, this bird was on my list of birds that I would really love to see. So when 2 were found at Dungeness last weekend, which included a mature male with a beautiful blue chest, I was keen to go and see if I could get my 2nd sighting of this species. The Lincolnshire bird had performed so well I didn't think I could get better pictures, but I was more than happy just to watch and admire them this time. As it happened by Tuesday there was only one bird remaining, but at least it was the mature male. The bird was very active and on view most of the time we were there, although it generally kept low in a ditch, which didn't help with the photography. Later it did come up to feed on the opposite bank, but it was some distance away at this point. however, the bird certainly was well worth watching through the binoculars. As it happened, the following day it did perform for some cameras very well indeed, but I was still very happy to see it and spend some time watching this rarity. There was also a side show of several stunning Firecrests to watch all the time we were there as well as a stunning male Wheatear.

The Lincolnshire Bluethroat from 2017.

Bluethroat at Dungeness.

On the walk to the bird we did come across a Fox that was laying in the sunshine. Unfortunately, when it got up to walk away it was very badly injured with one front leg being totally useless. It had terrible trouble walking, and it seemed to have a de-formed back due to this, so I assume it has been injured for some time.

Fox soaking up the sun.

Fox with injued front right leg and a curved spine.

Following this we headed to the beach hoping to find the Glaucus Gull that has been regular there for the past couple of months. It was not in its usual spot when we arrived, but just as we were about to give up I suddenly spotted it in the small Gull flock. It certainly did stand out as it was considerably larger than all the other Gulls.

Glaucus Gull.

Glaucus Gull ready for take off.

Sunday 18 March 2018

Fulmar Boots!!

With a half decent tide running and the slim chance of an early Wheatear I decided to go and have a look for the Purple Sandpipers before they fly North again. However, the tide wasn't quite right still so it was then a stroll hoping for the non-existent Wheatear. It wasn't long before I gave that up as a lost cause. I then decided to see if I could have a bit more luck with the Fulmar, which I had recently failed with. It wasn't long before I saw 4 in flight, although to start with they stayed some distance away. Eventually though I had some extremely close fly-bys with the camera struggling to focus quick enough. These superb flyers were soon giving me an exhibition in flying skills and eventually they started to pass at a distance where I could get some shots off. It's always a case of shoot and hope, but I ended up with many shots worth keeping and only a few deletes. In the sea below me a Harbour Porpoise was performing close to the shore, however, where I was it was much too far away to photograph.

Northern Fulmar.

The sheen on the wings varied from the way the light hit them.

A different type of shot with the sea sparkling in the distance.

Back at where I had parked the car a Grey Squirrel was enjoying going through the rubbish bin looking for any tasty morsels.

A Grey Squirrel that knows its place!!

Later in the day a walk in local woodland produced a Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. It was also great to hear a Chiffchaff calling which made it really feel like Spring. That may well change over the weekend though with more snow promised!!

Thursday 15 March 2018

A Taste of the Mediterranean.

No, not Sangria or Sardines grilled on the beach, but the wonderful Mediterranean Gull, one of our most handsome regular gulls. David and I ventured down to Rye Harbour in the hope of seeing a few of these beauties at close range. It wasn't long before we saw and heard a few of them as they mixed in with the much more numerous Black-headed Gulls. It didn't look as though we were going to get any close views as the Black-headed Gulls had control of the nearest island, but eventually a very smart Mediterranean Gull landed on the end of the island and we both managed to get a few shots. With another landing next to the first one we even saw a little bit of courtship. Eventually we headed round the rest of the reserve hoping for an early Wheatear, but no luck on that front. The weather at this point felt far from the Mediterranean with a cool wind blowing, and it felt freezing. We did see a female Sparrowhawk taking apart some prey that it had caught, and also on the way to Rye we did stop off and see a female Hawfinch.

Mediterranean Gull giving it some!!

A little courtship.

Mediterranean Gull showing off his good looks.

The following day with much brighter weather forecast we headed to the North Kent marshes. Although we didn't get to see or photograph several targets we did still have a good day photographing some of the common waders from the car. We also saw many waders at another stop on the coast. Certainly the Redshank performed very well for us as well as some boxing Brown Hares. Several distant Marsh Harriers were also seen.



Lapwing takeoff.

Oystercatcher and Redshank.

Red-legged Partridge.



Monday 12 March 2018

4 Species In One Day.

On Saturday I had another long scrub clearance session on the patch. Whilst I was working I came across 3 Wall Brown larva. As it was so mild I decided that once I had finished the clearance I would spend 10-15 minutes to see how many in the vicinity I could locate. The milder weather certainly had brought the larva out in force and in quite a small area I had my highest ever count of 20. This was the 2nd time this week that I had beaten the highest count, so on Sunday, with unexpected warm weather I headed back for a more detailed count and although several of the larva that I had found Saturday were hiding, I once again had my highest count, this time seeing 34. This is a figure I never thought would have been possible of the fast declining butterfly. Hopefully many of these will avoid predation and make it a good 1st brood in the next few weeks. 

As well as all those Wall larva I also found a single Speckled Wood larva as well as seeing both a Brimstone and Peacock on the wing. So of the 4 species of butterfly seen on the day 2 of them were larva, so maybe not really 4 species!!

Today, after a very wet morning I had a very short visit and only found a few larva. In these conditions they are quite visible as the water droplets can get stuck in their body hairs, so they probably hide deep in the grass to avoid predation.

Speckled Wood larva.

Wall Brown larva (near fully grown).

Wall Brown after a very wet morning.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Butterflies Are Go!!

With another surprisingly sunny day I headed off to local woodland to see if I could find any signs of butterflies or early stages. With a pretty strong breeze though it seemed that the chances of an adult butterfly was remote. However, towards the end of the walk a Red Admiral was suddenly flying around me, eventually landing on the ground nearby. It is quite unusual for my first butterfly to be as late as the 8th March. Most years I would have seen one in January, or at worse February. 

Red Admiral.

I also had a good search on the Oaks hoping to find Purple Hairstreak eggs. I was really pleased to find one on one of the Oak buds.

Purple Hairstreak egg.

I also saw a couple of Woodcock and a Buzzard carrying nesting material. On a later walk on the patch 3 Brown Hares were a good sight as these animals have not been seen as frequently in the past 2 years as the Vineyard has become busier. A large flock also of Fieldfare over the vineyard and Mediterranean Gulls also seen.

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Lepidoptera Season Approaches.

Yesterday I had a fellow enthusiast that wanted to see the Wall Brown larva that I monitor locally. Following the really cold spell, when all the larva went into hiding for obvious reasons, I was confident that we would find a couple for him to see. As it was the larva were well out in force and a new record count of 17 was observed. This included 2 eating the same bit of grass with them facing each other and getting very close. The one at the top was just about to fall!!
As well as all the Wall Brown larva a couple of moth larva were also found including a very smart early instar Oak Eggar. My thanks to Nigel for the id for this larva. I was unsure as at this stage it is very different to the fully grown stage.

Wall Brown larva.

Early instar Oak Eggar larva.