Saturday 29 June 2019

The Heath Fritillary

I was amazed to see that it had been 4 years since I last saw the Heath Fritillary, so after hearing that a few were flying I set off to Kent along with David, primarily to see this beautiful Fritillary, but also to catch up with a few of the Kent orchids.

We arrived quite early at the wood and found that much of it was underwater from the storms earlier in the week. Obviously that part of Kent had a lot more rain than we had had back in Sussex.

After some time hunting for the butterflies I almost trod on a very fresh female Heath Fritillary. She wasn't keen on flying much at all, partly because she was so new, but also the weather was still on the cool side. I was pleasantly surprised when I got home, as I managed a couple of pleasing shots of her that I didn't think I had done at the time!!

Female Heath Fritillary.

Female Heath Fritillary.

Gradually the weather improved and a few more Fritillaries appeared, although it was still pretty small numbers. I guess many perished in the torrential rain earlier in the week. All the remaining butterflies we saw were males and one or two of them posed quite nicely and differently.

Male Heath Fritillaries.

We then headed South to search out the orchids. As expected we were too late for the Monkey Orchids that were just about at the very end of their flowering season. I had seen them a few weeks earlier when I was slightly too early!! A single Musk orchid was seen however at this site.
It was then onto the Late Spider Orchids, very much a Kent speciality. Although I have seen these several times before it has always been too sunny when I have photographed them in the past so it was good to get a few clouds passing over.

Late Spider Orchid.

I then took David along to another site for the Man Orchid, a species he hadn't seen in the UK before. A smart Clouded Buff moth unusually allowed its photo to be taken along with a well marked Yellow Shell while we were looking at the Man Orchids.

Male Clouded Buff.

Yellow Shell.

On the way home, with a little time spare, we diverted to check out the Lizard Orchids in East Sussex. After a bit of searching several of these large and rare Orchids were found including a nice group of 3.

A group of 3 Lizard Orchids.

Lizard Orchid close-up.

Lizard Orchid.

A very long and tiring day but with some fantastic species seen, it was also very rewarding.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

The Chimney Sweeper.

I have only seen the Chimney Sweeper moth in the Cevennes region of France, and it was only this past Winter that I found out there were actually colonies of it in a few parts of Sussex. I had always thought it was only found much further North in Britain.

The trouble is with finding out about things in the Winter it is too easy to forget about them when the season really kicks off, so when I saw that Nigel had been to see them I managed a quick visit to see them for myself. 

On the drive to the site the clouds were building up and it was obvious rain was heading my way, so on arrival I quickly made my way to the area where the moth was to be found.

In the overcast conditions not a lot was showing until I put up one of these very small moths from the long grass. After that several were seen, and when the sun came out briefly there were suddenly several flying around me.

They were quite difficult to photograph as they often settled in the long grass at an odd angle and they didn't settle for very long. However, after a while a few shots were achieved. 

A fabulous moth to have seen in Sussex.

Chimney Sweeper.

Following this I decided to go and check out a site I know for the Spiked Rampion. An extremely rare plant that is only found in a handful of sites in Britain, and all of them are in East Sussex.

The plants were looking really good and better than the only other time I have seen them from a couple of years ago. They were also proving very popular with the Swollen-thighed Beetle that was clearly enjoying the nectar the plant was producing.

Spiked Rampion with Swollen-thighed Beetle.

Thursday 20 June 2019

The Small Pearl.

With only two short visits this year to see the beautiful Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary I was still pleased to get some shots of both male and female. Unfortunately, I was too late to see the rather smart aberrant butterfly that was there for a few days.

Both times I was there the weather was very up and down, well, actually much more down than up as it happens!!

My first visit was with Clare who had only seen a single one of these at roost last year, so I was pleased to be able to show her some flying around just after we got there. Not long after some very heavy clouds built up and the butterflies vanished. Fortunately, just before this I spotted a very fresh female heading off to roost. Another enthusiast also showed us where a male was roosting so we could get shots of both sexes.

Male Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Male Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary on Bracken.

Female Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

My next visit was with Nigel, and although we were reaching the end of the Small Pearl flight season a few butterflies did show. After a good walk around I only had a photo of a White-legged Damselfly, so after Nigel left I returned to the hot-spot where I bumped into David who had just found a newly emerged female.

After taking several shots of this stunning insect we headed to where I had seen a slightly older female earlier, and she was still in the same area along with a male.

White-legged Damselfly.

Female Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Female Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Male Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary on old Bluebell.

Both sessions were excellent, and it was good to see these Fritillaries doing well since their re-introduction.

Saturday 15 June 2019

The Fox Moth.

With the ongoing poor weather recently I headed out for a walk the other day, not expecting to see anything at all. It is often these type of days when things can happen.

I was strolling down a hill at the furthest part of my patch when a large brown moth was suddenly flapping around the ground in front of me. I immediately thought it was a male scenting a female in the undergrowth, but at this point I didn't know what type of moth it was.

As it continued to flap around in the long grass a closer inspection found the female that was already joined up with a male, with the new male trying to get in on the action. I still wasn't sure of the species, however soon, when eventually when the pair split up I could see they were Fox Moths. A species that I had only seen in flight before.

I was lucky that I was able to get some shots of both the pair before they flew off and went their separate ways, although the male would not stop his flapping. At least the female was content to pose nicely.

Mating pair of Fox Moths with male interloper.

Male Fox Moth.

Female Fox Moth.

A tiny bit of the females pheromone must have rubbed off on me as on the slope I had another 3 male Fox Moths buzzing around me.

Following this I headed to a small area where I had seen a few Small Blues a couple of days before. It was now getting quite late and the light was very poor, and the breeze was also blowing a cool breeze. Therefore I was lucky to still find a couple of these tiny butterflies. One was quite worn, but the other was still in pretty good condition.

Roosting Small Blue.

Monday 10 June 2019

Moths and Hybrid Orchid.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had the moth trap out on the very rare suitable evenings and a few nice moths have been caught including my first Hawks of the year.

My favourite moth from those caught was my 2nd ever Puss Moth. A male, so no chance of it laying eggs on my Willows!!

Male Puss Moth.

Poplar Hawk-moth.

Two Buff-tip.

Male Pale Tussock.

Swallow Prominent.

Male Peppered Moth.

Two Small Elephant Hawk-moths.

My friend Clare has also had her trap out a few times and she has managed to catch a couple of Cream-spot Tiger moths, one that I've never managed to catch here despite her house being less than a mile away from mine as the Cream-spot Tiger flies!!

Cream-spot Tiger.

On Saturday I was thinking that the camera was not going to be used when I had a call from Matt to tell me that the extremely rare Frog/Common Spotted Orchid hybrid that I originally found in 2013 was in flower and worth a quick look. Although it wasn't as robust as it had been in 2013 and also slightly past its best it was great to see this beautiful little plant again. It only seems to flower every 2 years. With the Frog Orchids on the site not being seen now for around 4 years I wonder if this will be the last time the hybrid will manage to flower?

Frog Orchid/ Common Spotted Orchid Hybrid.

Friday 7 June 2019

The Adonis Challenge.

Over the years I have managed several shots of the male Adonis Blue that have been quite pleasing, but I never managed a shot of the female open-wing that I have been satisfied with. This year I was determined to get some better photos of the female Adonis Blue.

Male Adonis Blue from 2018.

I decided to head up to my favourite Adonis site in the evening hoping to find a few roosting butterflies for the morning. However, it didn't work out so well as I walked all over the main area without managing to find an Adonis of either sex. I was just about on the point of giving up when I spotted my quarry when I saw a roosting female Adonis. Looking at the under-side it did appear to be quite fresh, although I obviously couldn't check the top wings until it opened up if I was lucky the following morning.
After spotting the female I also found a couple of males, one of these also looked quite fresh, but one was without doubt a little tired.

Now I had at least a couple of possible opportunities in the morning, but just before I headed home I came across a very fresh female Common Heath moth that performed well in the fading light.

Female Common Heath moth.

Setting the alarm for the following morning I then headed back to the site where the 2 Adonis were still roosting happily. It was then a long wait hoping that when the sun came up they would open nicely for me. At one point I did a short wander to see if I could spot anything else of interest, when I returned the male Adonis had vanished, a complete mystery as to where he went, as it was still too cool for him to fly any distance.

Eventually the sun became higher and stronger and the female started to open up. At this point butterflies can often take flight almost straight away, and sometimes if its cooler they can hang around long enough for a couple of shots.
Fortunately for me it did hang around, not for long, but just long enough. By now the slight breeze had picked up and the wings a couple of times were blown totally flat.
It was good to see that she was indeed a very fresh individual as well as being well marked.

The female Adonis may not be as bright as the male, but they do have a certain beauty about them which is so much more subtle.

An early start to the day but just about worthwhile getting up for.

Female Adonis Blue.

Female Adonis Blue with wings blown flat by the breeze.

A couple of days later I was with Pete when he spotted a mating pair of Adonis Blue on some Salad Burnet. Hopefully making some 2nd brood butterflies for later in the year.

Mating pair of Adonis Blue.

Monday 3 June 2019

The Marsh Fritillaries of Wiltshire.

Two years ago I had my first visit to Martin Down which is just on the border of Hampshire and Wiltshire, and is a National Nature Reserve. Two years ago it was without doubt my wildlife highlight of the year seeing many Marsh Fritillaries as well as the best display I have ever seen of Burnt Orchids.
For several weeks I had been looking forward to a follow up visit so long as I could fit it in whilst the Marsh Fritillaries were on the wing, and that the weather would be ideal for the trip. It is after all, quite a long way to travel if conditions are not perfect.

I had mentioned the planned trip to Clare, and she was really keen to join me as it would be a new species for her.
The forecast looked perfect for the Thursday, but a Kent trip had been planned with Nigel, however when he called to say he was under the weather it was decided we should go for it!!

Picking Clare up just before 7am we made pretty good progress and arrived at Martin a little after 9am. Unfortunately I couldn't remember which path I had taken 2 years ago so we went off course a little, but it was wonderful listening to the numerous Corn Bunting, Yellowhammers and a couple of Turtle Dove. We also saw several Small Blue along the tracks, which at the time was my first Small Blue of the year.

At last I got my bearings back and I told Clare that we should see our first Marsh Fritillary at any moment. Seconds later we both saw our target, and for the next few hours we enjoyed the spectacle of watching this fabulous species.

Female Marsh Fritillary.

I don't know how many we saw but it was certainly good numbers, and as we were quite early in the flight season most were in very good condition.

Male Marsh Fritillary.

Female Marsh Fritillary in the vegetation.

In the sunshine the Fritillaries were very active and rarely settled for any length of time, but as the clouds were meant to build up later I suggested going to look for the Burnt Orchids that were further along the track. Unfortunately we were too early for the best display as the group of 10 or so were not in flower yet, but a lovely group of 3 was still well worth seeing.

Burnt Orchids.

After seeing the orchids we headed back to the Fritillaries as the clouds were building. I went to look to see if I could find any roosting butterflies. After a while I saw Clare photographing something in a bramble bush so I went to investigate. She had found a lovely male Small Blue that was trying to warm up in the now cooler conditions.

Small Blue.

It was just after this that I suddenly spotted a female Marsh Fritillary that was crawling out of the grass and was clearly just emerging. By now an annoying breeze had picked up and the poor butterfly was being blown about on the grass blade that it was hanging on.

Female Marsh Fritillary emerging.

I decided to place the butterfly on a more stable bit of vegetation so moved it to some Salad Burnet. Here the butterfly continued to crawl higher until it was on the top where it continued to dry its wings until it could take its maiden flight.

Emerging Female Marsh Fritillary on Salad Burnet.

Eventually the sun came back out, but only briefly. Just enough time to encourage her to open her wings ready for flight. However, before she could fly the heavy clouds came back again.

As open as her wings managed.

After this we left her in peace, placing her in more cover for her safety and we continued searching for roosting butterflies. Eventually a couple of male Marsh Fritillaries were found preparing to go to roost, although the weather had other ideas as the clouds once again thinned and the sun returned but not before we managed to get some nice under-wing shots of the 2 males.

Male Marsh Fritillaries on Salad Burnet.

With the long drive back we eventually headed back to the car seeing a few birds on the way including a fine male Stonechat and a Yellowhammer. We also saw a Hobby hunting amongst the bushes.

Male Stonechat.

Male Yellowhammer.

It was while I was creeping up on the Yellowhammer that I spotted a large larval web in the Hawthorn bushes. Immediately I thought it was the web of the Small Eggar. At this point I hadn't seen the local ones so I was really pleased to see it. There was also a further 6 webs in close proximity. This rare moth is known to be more numerous in the West of the Country, however, I was still very surprised to see so many of them.

A very large Small Eggar larval web.

Unfortunately it was then time to leave this wonderful reserve and hit the M27. However, it was once again a fantastic day and my thanks to Clare for sharing the experience and it was hopefully a day for her to remember.