Monday 26 August 2019

Clearwings and a big Cricket.

Until this year the only Clearwing moth I had seen was on a roadside in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria.

For some time I have wanted to see them in the UK and with some encouragement from Clare and David we put our resources together and purchased some pheromone lures for the species we were likely to encounter locally.

By the time we had done this we were slightly late to the party as it was already too late in the year for some of the ones we could come across, however, with a little bit of luck and a bit of research we did manage to see 3 different species.

This started in a private Oak woodland where I was quite confident of success for the Yellow-legged Clearwing.  This species uses old Oak stumps to breed in, so having found a ride with plenty of these in we set the lure to work.  Despite no recent records for the moth in this woodland we were delighted when after just 20 minutes or so we had 3 of these little moths come in.

Yellow-legged Clearwing.

Following this success I then tried some local downland for the Six-belted Clearwing.  Once again there were no recent records for this moth in the area but bearing in mind the foodplant was Bird's-foot Trefoil, of which there was plenty in the area, I was semi confident of success.

Once again, I didn't have too long to wait for this lure to work and being local I had several sessions with this moth.

Six-belted Clearwing.

My 3rd species, the Raspberry Clearwing,  was the only one that Clare and David had seen before me as they had been taken to the only known regular Sussex site for this species last year.

My first sighting however was much closer to home when I had a call from a friend in the town asking me if I knew anything about Clearwings as he had just found a Clearwing on his Raspberry bush.  Fortunately I could call on him immediately to have a look.  Of course, I hadn't seen this species before but we could eliminate Six-belted straight away and as it was on a Raspberry bush it seemed it had to be the Raspberry Clearwing.  As it turned out it was a female of that species and was possibly looking for egg laying sites.  This was one lure that I hadn't got, so I immediately ordered one and a couple of days later I tried the lure by the Raspberry bush.  It was possibly too windy at the time and after around an hour we decided to give up.  Wind forward 2 weeks though and the weather was much more likely to produce results.  This time after around 20 minutes we had the first of 2 Raspberry Clearwing fly in to investigate the lure.  Where the main colony is we do not know but with this quick success I guess there must be more in the vicinity.

My thanks to Bob for giving me the initial call.  A very exciting find for him to have these in his garden!!

Female Raspberry Clearwing.

Male Raspberry Clearwing.

This is the last of the Sussex Clearwings to appear each year so I will have to wait now for 2020 to add to my Clearwing sightings.  However, before that, Clare did take me to the site where she saw them last year and after a bit of a wait we did see around 10 of these fascinating insects.

We also paid a visit recently to hunt out one of my favourite creatures, and one that I have only seen twice before, the Wart-biter Cricket.

Before heading out I had listened to a stridulating Wart-biter on line so I knew the call that I had to listen for.  This made life much easier as we hadn't got anywhere near the site we were heading for when I heard one.  I then had a brief view of it through the binoculars. We were then treated to some great views of this fabulous male Wart-biter, one of the rarest Crickets in the UK.

Male Wart-biter.

Male Wart-biter.

Monday 19 August 2019

Brown Hairstreak.

Having spent some time with no success trying to find a Brown Hairstreak locally I felt that having missed this species in 2018 I should have at least one trip to a site where I was more likely to see one.

For this trip I took Pete with me, as he hadn't had much luck with this species in the past!!

As I drove into the car-park I saw a butterfly fluttering low down where Bramble and Blackthorn met and I thought the chances were good that we had the first one with the engine of the car still running.  I quickly parked up and walked closer to make sure, and there it was. A beautiful female Brown Hairstreak.

She kept settling low down on the Bramble leaves and opening her wings a little way allowing shots of her top wings. Eventually she settled even lower down and spread her wings as far open as I have ever seen a Brown Hairstreak before.

Every now and then she would walk along stems of the Blackthorn looking to lay eggs, although we didn't actually see her lay.  The only drawback was that she didn't give an opportunity to get a good under-side shot as there were always leaves in the way. However, around 40 minutes were spent with this gorgeous butterfly.

Female Brown Hairstreak.

Other than this female we only saw a tired old male high up in the trees, so we were extremely lucky to get the female.

In a nearby Sallow I also spotted a Herald moth larvae.

Herald larvae.

Before we went to the butterfly site I took Pete slightly further north to show him the Violet Helleborines that Matt had found a couple of weeks earlier.  Pete couldn't remember seeing this species before, although in our younger days when we went looking for orchids we may have come across them.  The Helleborines were now past their best and the following shots were from my earlier visit.

Violet Helleborine.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Little Little Owls.

My good friend Phil has had a family of Little Owls nesting in an Owl box in his garden for several years now. Most years they successfully rear 2 or 3 chicks and for a few weeks each year they make a great subject for the camera.

However, this year it was looking particularly bad as the male was attacked and killed by some Magpies, and despite Phil seeing what was happening and trying to intervene he was too late to rescue the Owl. At this point the chicks were still quite small and he didn't think the female would be able to rear the unknown quantity of chicks alone.

A few weeks passed and Phil wasn't sure how many chicks, if any, had survived until one evening he was sitting in his hide just after dark when the female flew in and was followed by a youngster. A few seconds later another chick came in and then a big surprise as 2 more joined in. The female had defied the odds and managed to raise 4 chicks on her own, with a little help from Phil.

With the Magpies having left the area the Owls started to appear when the light was still good and I was lucky to have an invitation to join Phil before the chicks also left the area.

They certainly liked to perch on his gate where they looked fabulous as they performed as only a Little Owl can do, at times doing a Michael Jackson 'Moonwalk'!!

Juvenile Little Owls.

My thanks to Phil for inviting myself and Clare along, after a really bad week it put a smile back on our faces!!

Saturday 10 August 2019

Wall Brown Count.

With very limited time over the past few weeks due to both my Mum and Pen being in hospital, not the same hospital either, I have found it difficult to keep both motivated as well as struggling to make use of days with decent weather. 
I also feel I can't leave Pen on her own too much as she slowly recovers from what was at the time a very frightening and depressing time.

Therefore, I was thinking that my annual Wall Brown count would be missed this year for the first time in 11 years, but a small window of opportunity came about and I set about the 4 mile walk hoping for good results.

It actually started extremely well, but then went downhill with larger areas than were expected with very few Wall Brown showing.  The breeze did pick up a little and the main path where I normally see good numbers was being used by a tractor and trailer as the field at the end was being harvested. The final count for the circuit ended up at 59. Still impressive for most sites for this species that has seen its numbers drop dramatically over the years, but I was hoping for many more.

I did think I could fit another count in before the end of the peak flight season, but alas, due to both the same time restrictions as well as the weather going downhill with a vengeance it wasn't to be.

I did manage a reasonable shot of a female Wall Brown, although photography was not my aim that day!!

Female Wall Brown.

Halfway through the walk I was along the bottom of the valley when I spotted a couple of Roe Deer in a field with a very high growing crop. With the wind blowing from them to me I managed to creep much closer and I was soon in a position to photograph the buck eating whatever the crop was.  It was growing almost as tall as the Deer which also helped me get closer as every time it started feeding its head was down in the foliage.

Eventually it heard the shutter going off and it stopped to look at me, although it wasn't too concerned as it continued feeding.  It then thought that maybe I was a danger so it started to run away, leaping above the very tall crop.

Roe Buck feeding.

Roe Buck hearing me.

Roe Buck leaping away.

The bottom track of the butterfly count was extremely poor, where I had seen several Wall Brown the evening before, but a few other species were seen including a fresh Small Tortoiseshell and lots of Silver-spotted Skipper.

Small Tortoiseshell on Marjoram.

Female Silver-spotted Skipper.

Monday 5 August 2019

Chalky Morning.

With a still and sunny morning forecast a couple of weeks ago I was up before the sun had risen and ventured onto the downland at the back of Seaford hoping to get some Chalkhill Blues waking up.

This is another of my favourite trips each year and as it is only a mile from home I get back in plenty of time for breakfast.

This year hasn't been quite so good locally for Chalkhill Blues, possibly down to their foodplant suffering in the heat of 2018. Even though, I did find a few butterflies at roost and it was now just a case of waiting for them to start warming up. Sometimes they fly straight away but sometimes they sit with open wings for some time until they feel they are warm enough to take flight.

Roosting Chalkhill Blue waiting for the sun.

Open wide.

Chalkhill Blue soaking up the sun. My favourite shot from the session.

One of several Six-spot Burnet Moths emerging.

It was then home by 7.30am for a bite to eat and a coffee.

Thursday 1 August 2019

The Emperor.

I was hoping to have a few trips to see the Purple Emperor this year, however in the end I could only make it once.

Arriving really early, in fact much too early, all I was seeing was a few early Silver-washed Fritillaries and very little else.

After much walking over a few hours I eventually saw a Purple Emperor flying around and just a few minutes later the butterfly came down onto the ground. By now though the heat of the day had really got going and there was little chance of the butterfly opening its wings to give me what I was really after, all 4 wings showing the blue. In fact it only flashed its wings open for a second.

Male Purple Emperor.

A brief view of the top-side.

Following this I started the long walk again but very little more of interest apart from a really smart Common Toad that had a couple of Wood Ants on it. I hope the Ants were taking some of the skin that seemed to be peeling off the Toad. I guess the Toad could have eaten the Ants.

Common Toad with Wood Ants.

By now I was feeling really tired but when a male White Admiral was seen holding territory I stayed a while with it hoping for an opportunity that eventually came.

White Admiral.

On the way back to the car I saw 2 further Purple Emperors but neither settled.