Tuesday 30 July 2019

Silver in the Hills.

On my patch I have a North facing valley that doesn't see any sun at all for 2-3 months over the Winter and often on the coldest days the frost never thaws.  In the Summer it still remains a little cooler than the Southern facing slopes.

Despite this, every July the Silver-spotted Skipper makes an early appearance, with this site not only being the the first place that the Silver-spotted Skipper appears in Sussex most years, it is also often the first place in the UK that the butterfly is seen.  That was the case in 2017 and again this year with the first male emerging on July 13th.

I had searched 4 times that week in the area that I've found is particularly good for the first ones before I struck lucky, a very fresh male.

Just 3 days later another visit produced numbers up to around 12 that included an egg laying female.

Male Silver-spotted Skipper on Small Scabious.

Male Silver-spotted Skipper showing the male sex brand.

Male Silver-spotted Skipper.

In the area I have recently located a colony of the stunning Six-belted Clearwing.  Until this year I had never seen any type of Clearwing in the UK with my only sightings being in Bulgaria. 
I have now seen several 6 Belted as well as 3 Yellow-legged locally.  The photo below was taken within 6 metres of the Skipper and only a few minutes later.

Six-belted Clearwing.

Thursday 25 July 2019

My Find of the Year!!

With the past week being very tough due to personal reasons I haven't done much photography or wildlife watching, but each July and August I do a survey for Butterfly Conservation around Friston Forest, and not wanting to let them down I had the good old Mother-in-law come to the rescue to help me out so I had a morning free to do the said survey.

On an extremely hot day I completed the survey in time to head over to look for the local downland Grayling. Most years I manage one or two visits to see this increasingly scarce Sussex butterfly.

With it being so hot the Grayling were keeping their heads down, sheltering from the heat amongst the small Wayfarer bushes and only 3 were seen. 2 were males and both of them spotted me from a distance and I watched them fly towards me where they promptly landed on my trousers and were keen to find salts in the fibres and also on my walking shoes!!
I also saw a female that as soon as it flew up from under my feet headed straight for the shadow of one of the bushes.

I carried on searching for more Grayling without success, and it was then that I spotted a Chalkhill Blue that looked very strange in flight with one wing being the normal light blue, and the other wing appearing very dark. I watched it for a short while before it landed to nectar on some Eyebright. With it being so hot the butterfly wasn't going to open its wings, but as I was pretty sure this was a gynandromorph I kept the camera focused on it just in case it gave me the slightest flash of its top wings. As it moved around the Eyebright I could see that each under-wing was different too with one having male characteristics and one being female.
Suddenly a normal male started buzzing over the top of the butterfly and as a female would do, it opened its wings in the reject pose. It was for less than a second that the wings opened but I was very lucky to get a shot that shows it to be a bilateral gynandromorph with half of the butterfly being male and the other half being female. It is even split right down the middle of the butterfly, and a slight distortion too in the body where the female side is slightly larger than the male side. This shows up even more on the under-side shot where the male side is seen to be smaller than the over-lapping female side. They are certainly a long way from my best photos, but in the conditions I have to be very pleased to get any kind of shot.

Gynandromorph Chalkhill Blue being harassed by a male.

The luckiest photo I've ever taken!! Just a split second before it closed up again.

Male side of the Gynandromorph showing the over-lapping female wing.

In 54 years of watching wildlife I've never seen a gynandromorph before, and it is quite likely I will never see another, so this really was a once in a lifetime sighting!!

There were one or two other things seen of note. Including a large group of male Chalkhill Blues seeking  minerals from some sheep dung. It was only after getting home that I spotted in the photo a summer brood Dingy Skipper joining in.

Male Chalkhill Blues and a Dingy Skipper on Sheep poo.

One of the 3 Grayling also stopped just long enough for a rubbish grab shot.

Grayling. Already a red grass mite attached.

On the survey in the forest I also came across a stunning female Great Green Bush-cricket which appeared to be feeding on Greater Knapweed. One of those insects that are always great to see and are so impressive.

Female Great Green Bush-cricket.

Generally the day was quite a success. Thanks to Jean for stepping up which allowed me the time to get out there.

Saturday 20 July 2019

White-letter Hairstreak.

It is always difficult saying which butterfly is a favourite, but I really do like the Hairstreaks and in particular the White-letter Hairstreak.

Over the years I have found several local colonies of this elusive little butterfly, but due to the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease many of these colonies have now gone, along with the trees that the butterfly relies on.

One of my local Cuckmere colonies didn't produce any sightings last year and although several trees remain I was concerned that maybe the butterflies had gone, so it was a relief to spot a female nectaring on the Bramble flowers. One of the things about White-letter Hairstreaks is that once the butterfly is busy feeding they can be very tolerant. This one was generally too high up on the bush, but eventually it did fly to other Bramble flowers within reach of the camera and a few images were taken. This was the only sighting at this site as far as I am aware though.

Female White-letter Hairstreak.

Female White-letter Hairstreak on Bramble.

I also have a small colony only around 200 metres from home, as the hairstreak flies. These ones I only normally see the odd male flying high above the scrub Elm. However, this year for a few days I was seeing them too nectaring on the Bramble flowers. All those seen were males, and it was a maximum of 4 males seen at any one time.

Brilliant though to know they are still hanging on in this area despite the disease in the Elms continuing.

Male White-letter Hairstreak.

Monday 15 July 2019

Two Purple Mornings.

Purple Hairstreaks are one of the most common of our butterflies, however, they are rarely photographed as they spend the bulk of their time high up in the tall mature Oaks only coming down to ground level very occasionally.
For several years Nigel and I have been getting to know their habits a little more and we can now see them with a bit more reliability in a chosen woodland.

I have only managed a couple of visits this year though, but both times I was rewarded with some fine sightings, although the butterflies still didn't perform as well as they did a couple of years ago when I managed my best shots of this little butterfly by a country mile!!

On the way to the site I was driving along a country lane when I suddenly had a couple of Fox cubs playing in the road. Fortunately I had the camera with the telephoto on the passenger seat so I managed to stop the car and get a couple of shots quickly before they both ran in. This cub probably thinks I can't see him as he is hiding behind a blade of grass!!

Fox Cub.

On arrival at the wood I was pleased to find a Purple Hairstreak almost straight away, and it was obviously in the position that it roosted in the night before as it was covered in dew. I particularly liked the large dew drop on its leg and the one on the antennae.

A Dew covered male Purple Hairstreak.

A little while later I spotted another male Purple Hairstreak asleep. Gradually he started to move around and I took several shots of him. It was only when I got home and was processing the shots that I noticed that there was a little interloper in the form of a tiny caterpillar. With the sequence of photos the caterpillar gradually came closer to the butterfly and this culminated in a photo where the caterpillar reached the butterfly and turned to the camera and appeared to be smiling at me!! 

Male Purple Hairstreak with a small caterpillar.

Purple Hairstreak and cheerful friend!!

A few days later I was very pleased to be able to show Clare some close-up views of the Purple Hairstreak. The previous week we had seen many flying around the tops of the the Oaks, but she had never seen one close before. This included a male that opened its wings to show the purple sheen.

Another sleepy Purple Hairstreak. 

Male Purple Hairstreak.

Several other great woodland butterflies were seen during the visits with Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admirals looking really good and some of the very common species also looking smart.

Female Silver-washed Fritillary. (Also with a friend)!!

Red Admiral.



Saturday 13 July 2019

A Beautiful Dark Green Morning.

One of my yearly highlights is a very early visit to see the Dark Green Fritillaries waking up. It is early too with the first photo this year being taken at 5.46am.

Finding these beauties at roost can be so rewarding though so it is well worth getting up for, as well as the long walk.

This year seems particularly good too for the species and for once I didn't struggle trying to find them at roost. The only problem was that as I was slightly later in the season than I would have liked the one that I was concentrating on wasn't quite as fresh as I would have liked. However, it was still very nice on the under-wing.

The first photo of the morning.
A roosting Dark Green Fritillary at 5.46am.

Dark Green Fritillary with the sun arriving.

Plenty of Marbled Whites were also found.

Roosting Robberfly.

As the sun warmed everything up, including me, the Fritillary opened its wings for a short while before taking flight.

Male Dark Green Fritillary.

I then decided to take a little look further down the hill where the sun hadn't reached and I started finding many more Fritillaries including a very fresh female. This one showed where the species gets its name from with a lovely green colouration on its under-wing.

Female Dark Green Fritillary.

Very soon the sun had crept to this area too and she started to open her wings. Unfortunately she didn't spread out as much as the male had earlier, but she certainly was a gorgeous colour on top.

Female Dark Green Fritillary.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Local Burnt Orchids.

Just before Matt went off to Papua New Guinea we both went for a stroll to check out our local Burnt Orchids. 

We do have both the early and late forms nearby, although of course at different sites, but we both prefer the slightly more robust late form. There were once again good numbers of them this year with counts of over 80 during the flowering season.

After seeing a few Matt spotted a flower with a much pinker colour than the usual dark colour. We have both seen thousands of Burnt Orchids over the years and neither of us have seen any other colour than the usual dark 'burnt' colour.

A normal coloured Burnt Orchid.

Three Burnt Orchids together.

The Pink Burnt Orchid as Matt found it.

The Pink Burnt Orchid a few days later.

It really was quite an exciting find, although my friend and Orchid expert David Lang did think it was within the boundaries of being 'normal'.

Over the time it was in flower I did take quite a few images of this beautiful plant, and many other observers thought it was certainly special.

Once again Bee Orchids did quite well in the vicinity, as did Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids.

Bee Orchid.

A particularly fine Pyramidal spike.

On the walk with Matt I spotted a hairy caterpillar on the ground which turned out to be a Small Eggar larva. With 3 larval webs found this year in the area it was good to see one well away from those with the larva presumably looking for somewhere to pupate. As this species pupates for 2-3 years it needs to choose wisely!!

Small Eggar larva.

Friday 5 July 2019

'Like A Rolling Stone' A Large Blue Story.

A couple of weeks ago Matt headed off to Papua New Guinea searching for lots of Birds of Paradise. The bad news for me was that he wanted a very early morning lift to Heathrow!!

It was not all bad news though as looking at a map, yes, I do still use those old fashioned things, I noticed that I could do a small detour to Somerset while I was out and about and try to catch up with the Large Blue. I have been trying to get down to Somerset for them for several years, and Matt reminded me on the way to the airport that it was actually 10 years since our one and only British Large Blue experience.

The one downer was that it was a Saturday, and being a superb day and in the middle of the flight season I had visions of the place being totally packed with other people with the same idea. Mind you, I thought I would be beating most there as I was hoping to get there around 8am.

The reserve I was heading to was a place I hadn't visited before and when I got there I couldn't find the entrance so there was a bit of wasted time there, but a phone call to a friend that had been there before helped me find the right spot.

Entering the reserve I was amazed to find I was on my own and it was only a few minutes before I had found my quarry.

Male Large Blue.

Being quite early the butterfly kept settling on the tops of the grass giving quite a nice pose and I had already improved on my previous best Large Blue shot.

Before this the day had started off in style as I had surprised a Roe Deer that was walking straight towards me on the entrance path.

Roe Deer.

I then noticed I wasn't totally on my own as another person came into view that had been at the other end of the reserve. He told me that there is very little publicity for this reserve and not too many visitors come here. It was certainly evident that there wasn't the usual flattening of the habitat that is unfortunately so common on many reserves these days and the place was in excellent condition, a real surprise for a place holding such a rare beauty.

By now the day had warmed up and the butterflies were no longer settling for photography. After spending a bit of time chatting to the other chap I left him to it and did another circuit. Suddenly I spotted something blue at the top of  grass stem and on looking through the binoculars it was a mating pair of Large Blue. This was quite strange as 10 years ago exactly the same thing happened when I found a very old and worn male mating with a very fresh female.

This made me think of an ageing rock star getting lucky, mentioning no names of the Rolling Stones, with a gorgeous young model type as the female Large Blue was so perfect and he was anything but!!
I quickly took a couple of shots from a distance with the longer lens before making sure they were well settled and content!!
I then moved in with the macro lens to get more detailed shots. It was at this point that I noticed that they were not actually attached. Silly thoughts then came that maybe he was so old he had lost his libido and had let his young girl down. (The things we have to look forward to)!! However, I am pretty sure he had completed the mating as she wasn't in a hurry to give him the boot and move on. 
I did check the long lens shots and they were apart even then so I know it wasn't me moving closer that split them up.

Post mating Large Blues.

Moments before the male flew off.

Once the male flew away the female went just a short distance landing on several different perches before I finally lost her.

The beautiful female Large Blue.

A little while later I went back to the car to get more cold water and lunch, but despite a few more visitors now being present I decided I really should stay a bit longer.
As soon as I got back to the reserve another very fresh female was seen. This one was seen egg laying so obviously had been out a little longer than the earlier female. I also saw a much older female egg laying.

Egg laying female Large Blue.

I then managed my favourite shot of the day with another very fresh individual.

Large Blue.

Also seen on this fabulous reserve were several Bee Orchids, Pyramidal Orchids, my first Ringlet of the year and a Small Skipper. Marbled White were also of course very numerous.

Small Skipper.

Pyramidal Orchid.

An extremely long and tiring day in the heat, but I was so pleased to actually get to see the Large Blue again, especially in such a great place, if only more reserves were peaceful and unspoilt like this. 

It was a shame that the heat meant that there were no open wing shots, but there is always next year!!

Tuesday 2 July 2019

Silver on the Heathland.

Last year I totally missed the Silver-studded Blue season, and I have been keen to try to get another shot of an emerging adult with attendant Ants.

It meant an early start which meant the traffic was quite light so we made steady progress arriving on site at around 7.30.

It was still quite cool, but at least it was still enough to photograph the butterflies in the poor light. It did take a while to find the first one at roost, but at least we had seen one of these little gems. As the sun became stronger the butterflies also came out in force, and suddenly they appeared to be really good numbers of them.

Eventually I did spot an adult crawling out the grass with a couple of Ants, but I couldn't get a decent shot of him in the grass.

In all the time we were there we only saw 3 females, but probably over 50 males. The females are always much better at hiding away, and there were also plenty more to emerge over the next few days.

Male Silver-studded Blue at roost.

The subtle colour of the male Silver-studded Blue.

The forecast was for it to start raining at around 1pm, but unfortunately the rain arrived very early, and heavy at 10.30, so we had to hurry back to the car. We did have plans to go Dragonfly hunting, but that changed with the rain, so instead we headed to Ditchling for a quick look at the Black Hairstreak. It was still drizzling when we arrived there, but gradually enough brightness arrived to see a few Hairstreaks. Just a single record shot taken of a male. 

Male Black Hairstreak.

Despite being a little shattered after a long day Clare was keen to have a quick look at the Chimney Sweeper moths I had seen a few days earlier. After seeing more rain we did find a small number of the moths, so Clare was happy with 2 brand new species during the day.