Monday 28 June 2021

Woodland Wonders.

 Just before my Scotland trip with Matt I wanted to get to the private woodland that I survey each year to see if many of the woodland butterfly species were showing yet.

The weather was very indifferent during the morning and I so nearly decided not to go, but the skies did start to lighten and I thought it was worth the risk.

As it was it turned out to be one of the best walks I've had for some time with some unexpected sightings which started with a very large orange coloured butterfly flying towards me along the ride. This turned out to be my first Silver-washed Fritillary of the season, shortly followed by another 5 or 6. With the weather still remaining overcast it was great to find one of the males casually warming up and quite content with me busy photographing him. Of course with it being so early in the flight season the butterflies were all in mint condition too.

Male Silver-washed Fritillary.

It was whilst I was photographing this particular male that I spotted a skipper butterfly flying just by me and I quickly realised it was a Small Skipper. Another species I wasn't really expecting to see here today, as at that point no Small Skippers had been reported from Sussex in 2021. As it was I saw another 3 of them before my time was up for the day.

Male Small Skipper.

A little further along the ride I came across a pair of mating Large Skippers on top of a Bracken frond. As soon as I saw them I could see that the pairing was coming to an end as the female was pushing the male away from her, but I just had time to get a very quick shot of them before they split up.

Mating Large Skippers. (Female on the right).

I was also keen to see how the Yellow-legged Clearwing were getting on in the wood and they certainly seemed to be doing okay as I saw around 6 of these lovely little insects. A Red-tipped Clearwing was also seen, although this guy was not in good condition so I didn't photograph him.

Yellow-legged Clearwing on Oak.

Yellow-legged Clearwing.

There was also quite a bit of odonata activity with several Beautiful Demoiselle seen along with White-legged Damselfly, Emperor Dragonfly, Black-tailed Skimmer, my first Common Darter of the year and several other common species.

On leaving I visited a nearby site that has a Lizard Orchid growing. This plant has failed to flower for the past few seasons so it was good to see it has flowered again this year.

Lizard Orchid.

A wonderful day out in the Sussex countryside, and it was now time to pack ready to meet Matt up in Scotland.

Monday 21 June 2021

White-legged and Mayflies.

 So far this year I have somewhat neglected Dragonflies and Damselflies, but a short visit to a couple of sites has given me the chance to get a few shots of these fascinating insects, along with a couple of Mayflies.

It does seem to be a particularly good year for White-legged Damselflies and I am finding them in most areas that I visit. A very distinctive species.

White-legged Damselflies in tandem.

Female White-legged Damselfly.

Male White-legged Damselfly.

Mayflies have always given me a target for photography with their intricate wings and incredible body structure. Last year I missed them totally due to the lockdown and the previous year I only saw a single individual, so it was good to see a few more this year.


A Red-tipped Clearwing was also good to see on the same day as the Mayflies. One of my favourite Clearwings although I still haven't got the right photo I'm after of this species. 

Red-tipped Clearwing.

Thursday 17 June 2021

Lace Border

 Back in 2020 I spotted a rare Lace Border moth on a part of my local patch. As it turned out, it was only the 4th Sussex sighting of this rare moth since the 1970s.

Having checked out the lifecycle of the moth I decided to spend a little time in the area when the moth was normally on the wing the following year just in case it was a mated female that had flown across from the continent, especially as there is plenty of the foodplant that the species uses on and around the site, namely, Wild Thyme and Marjoram.

My first visit resulted in only a possible sighting as I saw a small white moth that flew and then landed under a leaf. All I could see was a tiny part of the underneath of the fore-wing. Trying to get a better view the moth flew away and couldn't be re-located. I also saw a Mullein Wave that is also white and a similar size, so I was not convinced the moth I had seen was the Lace Border.

The following day I went again and spent more time to try and establish if I had seen another Lace Border or not. This time I had a much better result as I had 4 different sightings which were without doubt this rare moth. At one time I had 2 flying together, so this was the proof I needed. I also got 2 different moths photographed with the markings showing 2 different individuals. Of the 4 sightings I am sure there were at least 3 moths and probably 4.

This however, was enough to get the Sussex Moth Recorder very excited as there had been no evidence of the moth breeding in Sussex since way back in the 1950s until now!!

The 2 record shots achieved that day.

Lace Border.

Having only achieving a poor record shot photo in 2020 and 2 poor record shots in 2021 I was now really hoping to get a much better photo.

The next day I was back on site extremely early, just as dawn was breaking, hoping to find some before they became too active. As it was I could have had a lay in as the moths were in no hurry to wake up at all.

Very early morning!!

It wasn't until 8am before I saw any of them flying, and once again it was 2 flying together. It was still quite a bit more time before I found one that I could at last get a reasonable photo of though. In all the time I spent that morning it was once again, probably 4 different moths. Obviously some may have been the same individuals as the day before but I had probably in the two days seen more Sussex Lace Borders than anyone else alive today, including of course, the one I saw last year.

Lace Border hiding under a leaf.

Of course, as always, there are many other delights to see when searching for a particular species and there were also a couple of new species to me over the 3 days I was trying, including the Mullein Wave. I also came across a large Grass Snake that was basking in the morning sun, and after finishing searching for the Lace Border I carried on walking and came across a very obliging female Wall Brown and a few Alabonia geoffrella that James had found a few days earlier.

Mullein Wave.

Galium Carpet.

Grass Snake.

Female Wall Brown.

Yellow Shell ab. flavobrunnea Lemp

Small Heath on Salad Burnet.

Alabonia geoffrella. (Common Tubic).

A few days later I heard from James that he had also come across one of the Lace Borders in the area and the great news was that this one appeared to be egg laying. Hopefully the colony will expand and enjoy its new home!!

Yet another Lace Border was also seen further East along the coast. Does this mean a few came across last year and more than one colony is now in the area. There are some very interesting things happening in the insect World that maybe climate change is responsible for.

Thursday 10 June 2021

Marsh Fritillary.

 After staying with Matt it was a really early start the next morning as he was doing a bird survey locally and I had to get out of the house!!

I arrived in Wiltshire very early, far too early for the Fritillaries, but I know this site is so good for many other creatures.

As I parked the car a guy was just packing up in the car next to mine. He had been recording bird song since 4am and he was quite chatty about some of the things he had seen, which included plenty of Brown Hares. I particularly like Brown Hares and I was pleased when just a few yards into my walk one stopped on the path in front of me, followed by another in the longer grass. Neither were quite close enough to get a good shot, but still closer than I have had locally.

Brown Hares.

Not much further on and a very smart Yellowhammer was perched in a bush. Unfortunately, the sun was the other side of it, but I walked slowly round the bush and was surprised that the bird stayed in the bush. It was very close and the photo is hardly cropped at all. Totally different to how these birds react back on my local patch.

Male Yellowhammer.

I then continued on to look for the Marsh Fritillaries. After looking for a couple of hours in the area where I have seen them before I was beginning to lose confidence of finding any. I had seen very large numbers of Grizzled Skipper, the most I have ever seen in one place before, Adonis Blue, my first Small Blue of the year and plenty of other species, but the Marsh Fritillary remained very elusive.
I then walked quite a distance from the normal area and suddenly I spotted one flying along. A quick close look revealed it was extremely fresh, so perhaps not many had emerged here yet, despite it being much later than I had seen them before, but that has been the case for most species this year. After seeing this one I searched further in the area and found a handful more. The biggest problem now was, it was so warm the butterflies were really active. I then spotted a cloud that was heading towards the sun and as it blocked the sun the butterfly suddenly became inactive. This was my chance to run off some photos, it was only a short interlude though as the sun soon reappeared and the butterfly opened its wings wide open giving me another opportunity. A very well behaved butterfly.

Marsh Fritillary on Cowslip.

Marsh Fritillary partly open.

Marsh Fritillary fully open wings.

I decided not long after that I was too tired to hang around much longer, so I headed back to the car, stopping only to photograph the beautiful Burnt Orchids.

Burnt Orchids.

A fabulous couple of days catching up with some of my favourite species and seeing many other things of interest along the way.

Friday 4 June 2021

Wood White Wonder.

 With me struggling to come to terms with my new situation I felt I had to escape for a couple of days, so with Matt offering to put me up for a night in Hampshire, and the forecast looking about right for 2 of my favourite butterfly species that I missed last year, I decided to take the plunge and start off in Surrey for the beautifully delicate Wood White. This very rare butterfly in the UK is still found in reasonable numbers just across the Sussex border and with it being on the way to where Matt lives now it was an ideal stop off.

The weather on the Wednesday was still cloudy and quite cool, which is ideal for this species, and I only had to walk a short distance before I found my first Wood White of the day at roost.

After taking a few shots of this little gem I continued on my way further into the woodland.

Wood White on Dandelion seed-head.

Further on I was just casually walking along when my eye was caught with a yellow object on the Wood Spurge. It turned out to be a bright yellow Crab Spider that was trying to attract insects to its claws by being slightly more yellow than the rest of the plant. On the return journey it had been successful too with a small fly in its jaws.

Crab Spider on Wood Spurge.

As I moved further into the wood the weather brightened up enough to get more butterflies and other insects on the wing and as is often the case in this wood, the Brimstone were quite evident, even at this late stage in their life cycle. A stunning female Brimstone posed very nicely for me on the edge of the undergrowth.

Female Brimstone.

Most woodlands at this time of year are alive with Speckled Yellow moths and this was certainly the case here. These moths can be very annoying when hunting for rarer insects as they are constantly flying around, catching the eye and distracting the attention. They are also extremely hard to photograph as they rarely sit still, so it was a bit of a surprise when I spotted what had to be a newly emerged individual that just sat there for me. Without doubt my best ever shot of a Speckled Yellow.

Speckled Yellow.

A fabulous view of a singing Nightingale sitting in a tree was also special along with at least 5 more Nightingales heard throughout the wood.

With the time slipping away and clouds building again it was back to the stunning Wood Whites and several more were photographed. I have always hoped to get one on Greater Stitchwort, as the flower is also white I feel it would make a worthwhile shot, so I was really pleased to get the shot I was after, along with another shot on Herb Robert.

Wood White on Greater Stitchwort.

Wood White on Bush Vetch.

Wood White on Herb Robert.

A fantastic afternoon in this woodland, and the promise of a sunnier day to come hunting out the spectacular Marsh Fritillary after a night spent at Matt's place.