Monday 27 May 2019

The Duke and Duchess of Kent.

Each year Nigel and I have an 'Old boys outing' to Kent to search for the Duke of Burgundy butterfly. The beauty of the Kent populations of this rare butterfly is that it is a woodland colony and the ancient woodland that the colony is in is also brilliant for other rare moths and orchids.

This year we were a week earlier than we had been in previous years but we knew that there was a risk that we would be too early for many of these other insects. We had however, also chosen a day that was cool and cloudy with a chance of warmer patches, but we thought it was a risk worth taking as being early in the season we would also have the place to ourselves.

As it was on arrival there was another photographer there, but he looked as though he was giving up. The weather certainly was cool and I was thinking we may have pushed our luck too much here when I suddenly had a male Duke fly up in front of me, only flying a couple of metres before landing again.

I called Nigel over and we both spent a few minutes photographing this rather nice male. At one point whilst I was photographing him Nigel spotted a very fresh female that was trying to warm up in the very weak sunshine. We now had 2 butterflies to concentrate on and one of each sex. With the temperature staying cool we both managed to take several shots of both butterflies as they flew short distances. We finally left the female after photographing her on some Hazel that was re-growing from some coppicing that had been done over the Winter. 

The Duke of Burgundy is the only European butterfly in the Riodinidae family and one of the unusual things concerning this species is that the male has 4 active legs, with the front 2 being very small, whilst the female has all 6 legs active. This can be a way of working out the sex of the butterfly with a good clear side view. The final photo here of the side view of the female shows the 6 legs quite clearly, as well as the much broader abdomen and more rounded wings of the female.

Male Duke of Burgundy.

Female Duke of Burgundy on Hazel.

Following our success with these little beauties we spent a short while looking for other insects, but we were not lucky with anything scarce, we didn't even see other Duke of Burgundy either. Our hoped for sighting of the stunning micro moth Anania funebris also didn't happen this year.

Most of the Lady Orchids were not yet in flower, although I did find one that was just about fully open.

Lady Orchid.

We then moved onto another site which is a Kent favourite for me to search for more Orchids. This is a site that I have been visiting for around 40 years. I had heard a rumour that a rare form of Fly Orchid had been seen last year so we hunted for a while for this, but alas, it seems we were too early for this too. We made a pledge to make another visit in a couple of weeks when hopefully the Green Fly would be in flower. (That will be the next blog post)!!
There were quite a few normal Fly Orchids showing and the Lady Orchids were more advanced here too. However, one of the best things we saw here were 4 Turtle Doves that we heard calling as soon as we had parked the car. They were grouped together in a large tree above the layby.

We also both saw our first Herb-paris, a rare plant that grows here.

Turtle Dove welcoming us.

Fly Orchid.

Lady Orchid.


As ever, our annual Kent trip had been a brilliant success and we looked forward to our swift return to hunt out the Green Fly Orchid.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Fresh Speckled Wood.

Each year Speckled Wood can be found on my local patch from March right through to November, but new broods emerge throughout that time bringing very fresh individuals that will be flying with some very tired and worn specimens. 

The fresh ones always appear as the Wall Brown start to fade away so it is unusual for both species to be looking good together.

Therefore, it wasn't too much of a surprise that during this week with less Wall Brown seen that there was a very evident emergence going on of the next brood of Speckled Wood with some very fine looking butterflies.

Male Speckled Wood.

All the fresh ones were males which is once again expected. The footpath I was on is reasonably busy with walkers etc and after a runner and 3 walkers had just passed me it was a big surprise when I encountered a freshly emerging Speckled Wood in the long grass in the middle of the path. It was just sitting on a grass stem with wings wide apart obviously finishing drying its brand new wings.

Freshly emerged Speckled Wood.

To make sure the butterfly wasn't squashed by any other walkers I carefully moved it from the middle of the path, and as I was doing it a favour , it repaid me by posing nicely for some photos before I left it to prepare for its maiden flight.

Male Speckled Wood under-side.

Male Speckled Wood preparing for its maiden flight.

The main purpose of the walk was to go and see a Small Eggar larval web that James had found the previous day. 2 years ago I unexpectedly found one of these larval webs of this rare Sussex species, followed by another last year, so this is the 3rd year that a web has turned up. In fact on the way there I found another web near the path that I found the Speckled Wood on. Hopefully this is a well established colony of this moth which is thought to be extinct in West Sussex, and was also thought to be near extinct in East Sussex. The web I found was very high up in a bush, but the one James discovered was low down and easy to photograph the occupants. The larva were various different sizes and one was very much more advanced than the others, as they fed on the small Hawthorn bush.

Small Eggar larvae feeding.

Small Eggar larvae. The middle one is a more advanced instar showing the reddish tufts. Also note the red feet.

Sunday 19 May 2019

Pearls in the Wood.

One of the great moments each Spring is visiting woodland to see Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. These butterflies are also on the wing at the same time as the Bluebells are at their best and there is normally the gorgeous sound of Nightingales singing too.

On arrival at the wood I quickly found several Pearl-bordered Fritillaries flying at break-neck speed throughout the wood and I knew I would have to be patient if I was going to get any photo. However, having photographed this species many times before I was more interested in just enjoying the spectacle. The camera remained unused for a couple of hours, this despite 2 Cuckoo flying just over my head.

I was watching a female Fritillary egg laying in the area around me when a mating pair was spotted by the only other watcher there. Mark Jones called me over and we watched them for some time before they suddenly fluttered up on a Bluebell. This was of course too good an opportunity to miss so the camera at last had some use.

Mating Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. 

Female on the left.

After around 30 minutes they split up, but they remained close together. As the sun went in and the weather went cooler the female fluttered very short distances and gave me further opportunities.

Female Pearl-bordered Fritillary on Bluebell.

Female Pearl-bordered Fritillary on Bracken.

Female Pearl-bordered Fritillary on Bugle.

A great little session that ended when the sky went very dark and thunder was heard quite close!!
It was almost a sprint back to the car.

Tuesday 14 May 2019

Cuckoo and Wood White.

For the 3rd year I managed, with a little persuasion from David and Pete to once again visit the Surrey Cuckoo. 

This bird is amazing that it performs so well, and has returned to the same area for around 6 years now. This time we had 2 visits spread over around 5 hours, a long time hanging around, but when the bird appears the time spent is soon forgotten.

With continuous sunshine and a cooling breeze it was always pleasant listening to the local Redstarts and seeing the odd Woodlark and Hobby. The Cuckoo was though the main star of the day.

The Male Cuckoo of Surrey.

Getting very close!!

Several visits from the local Stonechat kept us amused during the Cuckoo-less times.

Male Stonechat on Hawthorn.

As the Cuckoo left us for the 2nd time we decided to leave as well, but thought it was worth calling into a nearby Woodland to see if we could find some roosting Wood White butterflies. This species is one of the most endangered on the British butterfly list, but the wood has a strong colony so I was confident we would find some.
As it was we found the communal roost quite easily and found a group of 5 with another group of 3 next to them. Unfurling Bracken was the favourite roosting plant which also looked good with the butterfly on them.

5 Wood White roosting together.

One of the Spring brood on Cowslip.

Wood White on unfurling Bracken.

A perfect end to a great day, and thanks to David for doing the driving. The only disappointment was that Pete and Paul were unable to join us.

Sunday 12 May 2019

Mating Wall Brown.

This year I have so far only seen 2 female Wall Brown, and both of them were at the time in a romantic attachment. Strangely both pairs were also within 100 metres of each other and in an area where I don't normally see huge numbers of Wall Brown.

Mating Wall Brown. (male on left).

Female on left.

This was on just a short walk on my local patch. The main other interest that day was the huge numbers of Green Hairstreak, with around 24 seen. The highest I have known along the valley. I also found 2 larval webs of the Lackey moth.

Lackey moth larval web.

The following day I took Pete out to Abbotts Wood to listen to the Nightingales. Whilst we were there we also saw a few Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and some Orange-tip eggs on the Garlic Mustard.
It was while I was looking for the eggs that I spotted a Long-horned Moth sitting on the plant, and then several more of these moths on other plants. After getting home and looking closely at the photo I thought it looked like the tiny micro moth Cauchas rufimitrella, but the Sussex Moth group page says the moth is quite scarce and not found in that area. I sent the picture off to the Sussex Moth Recorder who confirmed it was indeed the Cauchas rufimitrella and that the moth was last recorded in Abbotts Wood before 1907!!

Cauchas rufimitrella.

I also had a close encounter with the very common Speckled Yellow, a moth that can be very difficult to get close to.

Speckled Yellow.

On Friday I took Clare along the valley searching out butterflies she had not seen yet this year. In the end we had a great session with lots of butterflies performing well that included Holly Blue, Adonis Blue, Small Copper, Green Hairstreak and Grizzled and Dingy Skipper. We also found a very attractive Oak Eggar larva that was around half grown.

Female Holly Blue.

Small Copper.

Oak Eggar larva.

Female Adonis Blue preparing to roost.

Roosting Female Adonis Blue.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Blue Monday.

The Bank Holiday weekend was a pretty cold and dismal affair. However, it takes a lot to put me off going out in the hope of finding something of interest and with the thought that areas of my local patch may be protected from the cold breeze I set out.

I was right in thinking I could find some sheltered spots and on Monday I saw 3 species of Blue butterflies with a very nice Adonis Blue as well as 4 Common Blue and a beautiful Brown Argus. Even though the weather was far from Summer-like the downs were waking up to Summer butterflies.

When the little bit of sun went behind the clouds the Common Blue soon went to roost mode, but then flying again with another gap in the clouds giving me a couple of opportunities.

Male Common Blue roosting.

Common Blue roosting on Salad Burnet.

Male Brown Argus.

I also managed to find 2 roosting Skippers, a Dingy and a Grizzled. The Grizzled I found on the end of a Hawthorn twig and after photographing it I could see that there was a chance that the sun may come back out again. Unfortunately all the small gaps in the clouds missed the sun but I could still see that in the far distance the sky did look lighter so I hung around. Eventually, after about an hour the blue sky returned and the Skipper began to wake up giving me the chance to photograph this fresh individual with wings open.

Dingy Skipper at roost.

Grizzled Skipper at roost.

Grizzled Skipper waking up as the sun returned.