Monday 28 May 2018

Big Day With Small Results.

With humid and cloudy conditions I ventured out to try to find my first Small Blue of the year. On my patch I do see the odd Small Blue each year, but it is never in good numbers here so to stand a better chance it involved a short drive to Downland across the valley. After a long walk up the steep hill without many butterflies seen I was beginning to think I was going to be out of luck. In a spot I had seen them several times in past years I suddenly spotted my quarry trying to bask in the little bit of brightness. Although it was warm the butterfly wasn't particularly active and I managed a few shots of it before it vanished. Another individual was soon spotted which allowed a bit of variety and also showed the difference in the spotting on the under-wing.

The delicate Small Blue.

The 2nd Small Blue with less spotting.

The Open-winged 2nd individual.

I then ventured further up the hill, at the top I saw some very strange behaviour from a Small Copper. It kept landing on tall grasses and walked down the blade of grass before taking off and repeating the behaviour on another tall grass blade. By being quick I managed just one decent image. 

Male Small Copper.

I then became aware of a small insect flying very fast around me. When it landed I was really pleased to see it was a Small Yellow Underwing moth. I have only come across this species a couple of times before in the past, and the only one I have managed to photograph before was quite tatty. Managing to follow it in flight a few shots were taken of this little stunner when it landed.

Small Yellow Underwing.

When I had been looking for the Small Blue I had spotted an extremely small micro moth, one so easily missed as it is so small. Around 5 years ago I had found a colony of this species on my patch, this was then the first colony found away from its only known site in Sussex since Victorian times. It has now been found in a couple of other sites, and now here was another. The moth in question is Elachista subocelea and is only 4.5mm in size.

Elachista subocelea.

After all these small and tiny insects it was a relief in a way to spot a few Wall Brown on the return walk down the hill. I was not expecting to photograph one though as I rarely waste time during the day with these very flighty butterflies. However, following the strange behaviour with the Small Copper, one Wall Brown was also behaving in a very strange way for that species as it kept landing on the top of grasses. I guess it had only just emerged from its pupa which explained the odd way it performed. It was certainly in good condition, and a big bonus following the successes with all the Small insects.

Male Wall Brown.

Saturday 26 May 2018

Waking Up With The Morning Blues.

With my local colony of Adonis Blues having their best showing that I can remember this year I wanted to capture them waking up to the morning sun. As ever with living near the coast, the wind normally makes this plan a bit of a problem. However, last weekend conditions were perfect with a morning mist and virtually no wind. I had already seen a few Blue butterflies roosting close together the evening before, so it was just a case of getting there early enough to witness this spectacle. 
Before the mist lifted I found a Small Copper and Azure Damselfly covered in water droplets.

Dew covered Small Copper.

Azure Damselfly dew covered.

It was then a case of waiting for the various blue butterflies to open their wings to greet the sunshine. With Adonis, Common Blue and Brown Argus all within reach I was then just hoping they didn't all open at the same time. 

The first to open was one of the 2 male Common Blues that were both on the same grass blade. With the temperature still being very cool he was warming up for a couple of minutes before he took to the wing and flying a short distance.

Male Common Blue.

The next to open several minutes later was the Brown Argus.

Brown Argus.

The Adonis Blue was the last of my close butterflies to open, finishing the show off in style. He even changed position on his grass blade that he had roosted on allowing a little variety as he showed off his beauty. Even the yellow Buttercups added a nice summer feel to the shots.

Male Adonis Blue.

A simply stunning morning that hasn't been possible since. I have had a couple of attempts at photographing a female Adonis Blue, the first attempt I waited 3 hours for the clouds to lift before giving up. The next day was a lot milder and I was lucky to get a few grab shots before it flew away.

Female Adonis Blue.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

The Old Boys Outing.

Every year Nigel and I try to get over to Kent to see the woodland Duke of Burgundy butterfly as well as some of the other special insects and orchids that thrive in the area. As Nigel has now started to get his state pension and I no longer have to pay for prescriptions we are both at an age where we can moan about everything concerning how the human population is destroying the planet, and with a bit of time in the car we could really go for it!! (at the same time putting more exhaust fumes in the air)!!

With the weather forecast not being particularly favourable we did hope that we would have the place to ourselves, and although we did see a few others it was much quieter than is often the case.

Straight away we started to find some Duke of Burgundy butterflies. This little beauty is the only British butterfly that belongs to the Riodinidae family. It is also a very interesting butterfly as it is found generally on North facing Downland. This colony however, is in woodland where they fly amongst the rare Lady Orchids.
One of the ways to tell the sexes apart is that the female uses all 6 legs, whereas in the male the 2 front legs are tiny and unusable, so if you can see all 6 legs it will be a female. As it happens the first Duke I saw was a female. Most seen however were males.

Female Duke of Burgundy. (note the six legs and the plump abdomen).

Male Duke of Burgundy.

This area is also superb for rare micro moths, and they don't come much better that the Anania funebris, some people use the name White-spotted Sable. A very tiny moth that is now an extreme rarity in Sussex, but in this woodland in Kent it is still regularly seen.

Anania funebris.

Strangely, just 2 days later I did see one of these beauties in a private Sussex woodland.

The Lady Orchids once again put on a great display throughout the wood with many shades of colour. We later moved onto another woodland looking for the delicate Fly Orchid.

A Pink Lady Orchid.

Lady Orchid.

Fly Orchid.

Fly Orchid.

Another great day in Kent as a couple of old contented blokes returned to Sussex.

Thursday 17 May 2018

Right Place, Right Time.

On Monday I perhaps stupidly decided to do a count on my patch of the 1st brood Wall Brown. Stupid because it was far too windy. With it being a good 4 mile round trip as well, and agreeing to meet up with Matt later for an orchid foray I had to also get a move on. It is difficult getting the timing right for these counts as the peak time for the butterflies never seem to be the same time as the weather is perfect, or coincides with when I have the time. The only reason I am glad I did it was at one point a fresh male flew up from under my feet and promptly settled on a Gorse bush. I very rarely see Wall Brown settle on Gorse so it was extremely lucky and perfect timing. The butterfly also sat still for me and allowed me to take 10 shots, also very rare for the Wall Brown!!

Male Wall Brown on Gorse.

After counting just 22 Wall Brown, which was disappointing, but perhaps in the wind, not too surprising, it was meeting up with Matt to go looking for the Burnt Orchids that grow locally. Here on the South Downs we have the early and later form of this delightful orchid. This year is very good for this the early form with an estimated count of 200-300 plants.

An assortment of Burnt Orchids.

We also checked out a dew pond hoping to see some emerging dragonflies, although it was much too late in the day really. However, we did find around 8 excuvia of the Emperor Dragonfly as well as a Broad-bodied Chaser and Hairy Dragonfly.

Sunday 13 May 2018

Glorious Glanvilles.

With a so called' Big Birthday' this year Pen wanted to take me away somewhere that I really wanted to go to for a special treat.

I thought about it for 5 minutes or so and then thought that the Isle of Wight may be a good opportunity to see the Glanville Fritillary in its natural home. I have only seen this species a couple of times before, and both were in an introduced colony. This made me feel that I hadn't really seen them where they really live naturally. Looking quickly at the flight season I saw that the area around Ventnor was where the earliest sightings each year was and they are often on the wing before the end of April. Well, that was that decided and the bookings were made. Then the problems arrived with 2 really cold spells of weather and most butterflies being very late appearing this year. I kept checking whether any had been seen and it was all negative news. It was not looking good!!

The day after the birthday we headed off, catching the ferry and arriving at our hotel in Ventnor mid afternoon. The weather was a little breezy and cloudy, conditions that were expected during our stay, also not very helpful!! 
I soon left Pen resting in the room and headed out along the promenade and within 5 minutes I had found some Glanville larva. This was a bit of a bonus, although I was hoping to get these further along the coast. At this point I realised that the chances of an adult flying were even less than I had thought. I had heard though that this site often gets both the 1st and last sightings of the year which gave me the tiniest hope.

A group of Glanville Fritillary larva.

Glanville larva feeding on Plantain.

Other than this no other butterflies were seen in the cool conditions so I headed back to the hotel, pleased that at least I had seen part of the life cycle of this special insect. It was at this point that I thought the nearest I would get to photographing an adult Glanville would be the mosaic that was along the seafront!!

The mosaic along the promenade.

The next morning I was out quite early, and despite the cool breeze, at least the sun was shining. In the sheltered spots it was actually warm. Just beyond Bonchurch I headed away from the seafront onto some scrubby land and it was here that I saw my first butterfly of the trip, a Wall Brown!! Due to my local studies of this species I probably see more Wall Brown than anyone else in the Country so I did find this a bit ironic. 
When I returned to the hotel Pen wasn't feeling too brilliant and she wanted to rest on her own, so it was back out again. This time I headed up on Bonchurch Down where I saw another 6 Wall Brown as well as several Brown Argus, Dingy Skipper, Common Blue, Small Heath and my first Small Copper of the year. 

The following day the wind had changed direction and was now blowing straight onto the land, however, at least it was a lot warmer. I wasn't out quite so early this day and it was around 8.30am when I was walking along the promenade when I saw 3 Common Blue fighting amongst themselves. I thought this was a bit more promising as these were the first butterflies I had seen along the front other than a couple of Small White. Suddenly a 4th butterfly joined in the battle and I was amazed and mightily relieved to see it was a really fresh Glanville Fritillary. I can't remember a time when I have been so excited about seeing a species before. I then enjoyed nearly an hour of watching this beauty and taking the odd photo when it landed in an open area. It was generally landing on the ground so opportunities were few and far between. I'm not sure if this was the first UK sighting of this species in 2018, but I'm not aware of any others. Eventually I thought I had better get back to Pen, although on the way back I did spot another darker Glanville which had a small tear in the wing.

The spectacular Glanville Fritillary.

Later we drove out to a couple of other sites where plenty of larva were seen by a good friend earlier in the year. At Shepherd Chine I did find 8 larva and I did disturb a butterfly that flew up from under my feet. Unfortunately, despite a good search I could not re-locate it. It could well have been another Glanville?? Compton Chine didn't produce any sightings of larva or butterfly.

Glanville Fritillary larva at Shepherd Chine.

Late in the afternoon it was back along to where I had seen the Glanville earlier, as by now the clouds had rolled in and it was much cooler. Despite a lengthy search I couldn't find it roosting at all. The only butterfly I could find was a roosting Common Blue that was sitting on top of an Oxeye Daisy bud.

Male Common Blue roosting.

On the final morning I once again searched in vain for the roosting Glanville. I did spot 3 Common Blues this time, and at one point the sun very nearly came out, just enough to tempt one of the Common Blues to open up very briefly.

Common Blue warming up.

A very memorable trip that was so much more successful than we ever expected it to be.

Monday 7 May 2018

Seaford Grizzlies.

In the local area I do have several Grizzled Skipper colonies, however, none of them are particularly large colonies. I saw my first 2018 Grizzled Skipper on April 22nd and since then we have had hot weather followed by very cold weather. Now it has become hot again, and the numbers of Grizzled Skippers are as high as I have seen for a few years. I have found some roosting on the cold days, roosting early in the morning, basking in the sunshine and buzzing around in a way that only Grizzled Skippers can.

In doing so I have managed some of my better Grizzly shots, even if it has meant many visits and a few hours of hunting.

Roosting Grizzled Skipper.

A Roosting Pair.

This one flew around in circles!!

A Morning Grizzly.

Grizzled Skipper starting to Wake up.

A Grizzled Skipper still dew covered, looking a little damp. A haze of blue Ground Ivy behind. Worth getting up at 5.50am for!!

Tuesday 1 May 2018

A Hint Of Orange.

With the weather continuing in the cold, breezy and cloudy conditions I headed out in desperation hoping to find some Orange-tips in an area where in past seasons I have seen small numbers. Regrettably Orange-tips these days are not anything like as numerous as they used to be in East Sussex, certainly partly due to over aggressive cutting back on the verges by the Council contractors. This often happens in the late Spring and early Summer when the eggs and larva are on the Cuckoo Flower and Garlic Mustard, so many are basically cut up in the mowers!!

When I arrived in the area where I was hoping to find some roosting butterflies it was even cooler than I expected, and the Cuckoo Flower was also past its best. Eventually though I did find a female roosting in the undergrowth which gave me a few opportunities despite the dreadful weather. After getting a few shots I moved on and in a sheltered corner and during a very short sunny interval I had a male Orange-tip fly past me. Fortunately it settled several times for periods of cloud, to fly again in the short sunny bits. It still seemed pretty cool, and the breeze made it extremely tricky, but in the end I did manage to get a few shots worth hanging onto. Needless to say, with such little sun the butterflies were certainly not in the mood for opening up and showing their top wings.

Female Orange-tip.

Male Orange-tip.