Thursday 29 July 2021


 Apart from a few short spells of hot weather, this Summer has been  bit of a blowy washout with seemingly continuous poor weather.

Despite all this though, there have been a few good sessions on the local patch and some highlights with large numbers of certain species.

It is always nice when the Chalkhill Blue numbers really build up, and the Silver-spotted Skippers add their character to the hill-sides.

A few of my images from the past couple of weeks of  some of the butterflies and moths seen on the patch.

Mating Gatekeepers.

Essex Skipper. (Good numbers of these about this year).

Mating Chalkhill Blues.

Female Chalkhill Blue on Greater Knapweed.

Female Chalkhill Blue open wing.

Silver-spotted Skipper.

Silver-spotted Skipper.

Brown Argus.

Mating Six-spot Burnet moths.

Sitochroa palealis. (My first of these).

Thursday 22 July 2021

A Pair of Beautiful Ladies.

 With wildlife photography, and indeed wildlife watching. which is the reason I spend so much time in the countryside, it is very much a case of being in the right place at the right time, and then when the opportunity arises to make the most of your good fortune.

I've had two very good examples of this situation in the past 8 days, the first of which was after an awful morning with rain on and off and the forecast not being at all optimistic. At around 2 pm the rain had stopped and the clouds had thinned just a little. I had got a bit fed up at home so I risked a short session on my patch. After entering the downland through the gate I was almost straight away watching what appeared to be a very well marked and very fresh female Marbled White flying past me and landing on some Agrimony. As it seems it had only just emerged it wasn't in a hurry to move on, which is quite unusual with this species, so the camera came out and I took advantage, with a lovely yellow backdrop of more Agrimony and Lady's Bedstraw.

After a short while the butterfly moved onto a clump of Viper's Bugloss, which also looked really nice as a backdrop. After around 25 minutes of enjoying this superb specimen I left her in peace on the Viper's Bugloss. A totally unexpected find as it was by now quite late in the flight season of the Marbled White so I was certainly not expecting to find one so fresh.

30 minutes later I was processing the images at home when an almighty storm hit the area with torrential rain. I just hope the butterfly was able to crawl down the plant to shelter from the deluge.

Female Marbled White on Agrimony.

Female Marbled White on Viper's Bugloss.

Roll forward eight days and I am once again on my patch checking how the butterfly season is progressing before I lead a small group for Naturetrek.
Having seen my first Silver-spotted Skippers of the year and also pleased to see both Clouded Yellow and good numbers of Essex Skippers I came across a large clump of Greater Knapweed which had a couple of superb Painted Lady's nectaring on the flowers. 

Back in the late Spring we had quite an influx of these lovely butterflies migrating over, and although all the arrivals then were quite worn, many females laid eggs on the Thistles and it was a case of waiting for the newly hatched butterflies to show themselves. That time has now come and there are pretty good numbers around, however, I rarely get them posing as well as these two did, albeit only showing their under-wings. The under-wings though do have a beautiful and intricate pattern on them.

Painted Lady on Greater Knapweed.

Sunday 18 July 2021

Southern Migrant Hawkers and Scarlet Tigers.

I have had 3 visits recently where the Scarlet Tiger moth has been the main attraction, although surprisingly the Tigers were actually eclipsed by the still rare Southern Migrant Dragonfly. It appears that this newly established dragonfly leaves its breeding areas to mature in woodland, and this year several teneral individuals have been seen. Last year I had one visit my garden in Seaford, and at the time it was one of the highlights of 2020. James had spotted one on the Friday and after us having a successful hunt for the local White-letter Hairstreak we headed over to the forest to look for the Scarlet Tiger. We never thought we stood a chance of spotting another Southern Migrant Hawker.

After reaching a point where Clare and I had had 11 Scarlet Tigers flying around us the previous week we hung around the area as I was sure that if the sun came out more the Tigers would appear. After 10-15 minutes I somehow spotted a strange dragonfly 10 feet or so up the bank. Looking through the binoculars I was pretty sure it was a teneral female of the Southern Migrant, the one James had seen 2 days earlier had been a male. We carefully took several photos from distance before moving closer for more detailed photos and as the dragonfly seemed sleepy it wasn't a problem. There was now no doubt that we had found another Southern Migrant.

Southern Migrant Hawker teneral female.

Move forward a few days and I was doing one of my surveys in a private wood when I spotted a dragonfly patrolling round a sunny glade. This one was the same golden brown and I was convinced this too was a Southern Migrant Hawker. It was also joined by a bluer version that was almost certainly a teneral male. With only flight views I couldn't be 100% sure, but fortunately further into the wood I spotted another that looked as though it wanted to settle. When it did it was clearly the same sex and species as the other one. There was also a bluer version in the area which also wouldn't settle, but by now I was absolutely sure they were both the same species.

Southern Migrant Hawker teneral female part 2.

As it happens James has also found another couple in a different wood so it appears that this species has quickly become very established in the area. We now have to find some of the breeding areas where the dragonflies will return to when they have matured. The males will then live up to their other popular name, the Blue-eyed Hawker!!

Going back to the Scarlet Tigers, these too seem to be having a really good year with many seen over a few visits to the wood. A small selection of some of my favourite photos of the species follows, all from the past couple of weeks.

Scarlet Tiger.

Monday 12 July 2021

A Dark Green Surprise.

 One of my favourite challenges that I manage just the once most years is to photograph the Dark Green Fritillaries waking up on the South Downs.

The morning I chose was with the forecast predicting light winds and light cloud cover, which sounded ideal, so having set the alarm clock for 4.45am I woke full of anticipation.

Looking out the window I could see that quite a mist had set in, not so ideal, but I decided that as I was awake I may as well still go, but the conditions allowed a quick breakfast first.

The long climb up the hill was spectacular and as I reached the top the view was a little different than usual with the fog all along the river valley and well up the slopes too.

A Foggy Morning.

As I approached my chosen area I could see that the fog had already moved away from where I would be and I realised I only had a few minutes to find some roosting butterflies, so I quickly put the camera gear down and started the search. As it was I found 2 Dark Green Fritillaries very quickly and it was then a short wait for the light to improve a little to photograph their under-wings as they started to wake up.

Male Dark Green Fritillary on Thistle.

Male Dark Green Fritillary on Salad Burnet and covered in dew.

With the sun already reaching the butterflies they very soon started to open their wings, with the one on the thistle opening first. I was busy taking a few photos of that one when I just glanced at the other butterfly. It was at this moment that I nearly fell back in amazement as the 2nd butterfly was a superb aberrant form, the first Dark Green aberrant form I have ever seen. I very quickly moved to the 2nd butterfly to photograph this fantastic butterfly. Unfortunately, both butterflies were vibrating their wings trying to warm up which made photography very difficult as most of my photos ended up with 'wing shake'!! I didn't keep any of the standard butterfly with open wings, but fortunately I did get a couple of good shots of the aberrant one. The dew drops also showed up along the edge of the fore-wing.

Male Dark Green Fritillary aberrant form cadmeis Lemp.

In just a matter of a couple of minutes both butterflies had flown and I then decided to see how many other Fritillaries were waking up. As it was very few appeared which just showed how lucky I had been finding the two so quickly. About 30 minutes later I spotted the aberrant butterfly again and I managed a couple of shots of it on the ground as it continued warming up for the day. By now it was still before 7am and plenty of butterflies were on the wing which included around 20 Dark Green Fritillaries, Meadow Brown, Marbled Whites and Small Skippers.

Male Dark Green Fritillary aberrant form cadmeis Lemp.

I then wandered around the hillside as I had planned to try to see if there were any Orange-tailed Clearwing in the area which would have to be much later in the morning. By now it had warmed up quite a bit and other insects were now on the wing. I also checked out some Mullein plants and found one spectacular Mullein moth larva.

Mullein Moth larva on Mullein.

After seeing a wary Fox I started to work out the best places to try for the Clearwing, seeing as I went several Small Coppers and Small Heath. I then spotted my first Mecyna flavalis of the year. This is a very rare micro moth that is only found in a handful of sites, mainly in Wiltshire. Where they are found they are often very abundant, but extremely hard to get good photos of, so it was quite a surprise to find this newly emerged individual pose perfectly off the ground on a grass blade. This is by far my best shot of this species.

Mecyna flavalis.

Just after this I did get a Six-belted Clearwing which was not too much of a surprise as the area does have a lot of Bird's-foot Trefoil which the larvae of this species feeds on.

Six-belted Clearwing.

I was just about to start the hunt for the Orange-tailed Clearwing when the fog came back along the valley, this unfortunately cut short my morning, however, I was pretty worn out by then so it wasn't too much of a disappointment, especially as the session had been so successful and one I won't forget in a hurry!!

After arriving home I sent an image of the aberrant Dark Green Fritillary to Colin Pratt, the county butterfly recorder, and he informed me that it was a named aberrant form cadmeis Lemp.
Since the first record in the 1890s there had apparently only been another 6 records of this form so it was a very rare form!!

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Scottish Orchids and a Butterfly.

 I guess the main targets for our Scottish trip was the dragonflies, that we did very well with, but I have not seen a few of the northern orchids either so I was hoping for at least a couple of new species here too.

One of the speciality species, the Lesser Butterfly Orchid, I had seen a few times before, both in the UK and in France. In fact we did have a small site here in Sussex that held a few until the area became too dry and overgrown in recent years. On our first afternoon in the area of Loch Maree we stumbled across the first of many of these lovely delicate orchids. So subtle compared with the Greater Butterfly Orchid we get here in Southern England. The following day in the site further along the Loch we found many more Lesser Butterfly Orchids growing on the roadside.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid.

Also at this site I saw my only butterfly species of the Scotland part of the trip, we did stop off in Cumbria briefly to hunt for butterflies, The one butterfly species I did see in Scotland though was a great one to see even if it was far from a beautiful species. The Large Heath I have only encountered once before during a trip to the Lake District with Nigel. The Scottish Large Heath though are a different subspecies and one I obviously haven't seen before. This form is a lot plainer than the other 2 forms found in the UK and looks more like a larger Small Heath. It is though, like the other 2 forms, a rare butterfly and very restricted in its range so it was a fabulous encounter. Just 2 of these were seen with the first one being a bit worn and tired, but the 2nd one was quite a smart butterfly.

The first Large Heath (subspecies Scotica).

The other Large Heath (subspecies scotica).

Other interest on this day included a beetle that was new to me, the Rhagium bifasciatum. Found in an area of little light and too much breeze so I was amazed I managed to get an image of any quality.

Rhagium bifasciatum.

At the site we had all the Azure Dragonflies I had a superb ichneumon wasp land just by me. This reminds me of my very first macro image which I took about 50 years ago when I was 13 of an ichneumon wasp on a roadside at Offham. I can remember it as if it was just yesterday, and that one shot was possibly the reason that I got hooked on this type of photography.

Ichneumon sp. 50 years on.

Everywhere we went there were Bordered White moths which were obviously being relied upon by many bird species to feed their young. At one site around Loch Maree I had one of the many Willow Warblers in the area land in the tree just by me. Fortunately I had my telephoto camera as well as the macro, so I was in a position to quickly get a couple of shots before leaving the bird to feed its young with the Bordered White moth it had caught.

Willow Warbler with Bordered White moth.

Bordered White moth that I found on my trousers after a walk through wet foliage.

Whilst we were hunting the Azure Dragonflies Matt found a Lesser Twayblade Orchid. A species I had not seen before. How he spotted it I do not know as it was tucked below Bracken and was probably no more than 3 inches high. Once again it wasn't the easiest photograph to take as it was so small and in a dark area, but when you have a new species you have to try!!

Lesser Twayblade Orchid.

It was now time to leave the Highlands and head a little south to the Cairngorms. Before we had left Sussex a good friend of mine who now lives in Scotland gave me details of a site for the Coralroot Orchid. Another orchid I never thought I would get to see. It was also very easy to find and a site we were virtually driving past as well. Although it was in a Pine Forest the area was only yards away from housing on the edge of a small town. Another orchid growing in dark shaded woodland and most of the images were not too good, but a few were just about good enough to keep. A lovely delicate little orchid.

Coralroot Orchid.

Another Orchid we were hoping to see was the Small White Orchid. An orchid that Matt and I had seen in Bulgaria, but neither of us had seen it in the UK. There were many in a private garden, including one or two 'large' Small White Orchids!! We also found a couple in another site that Matt had tried before and another site my friend had suggested. However, we only found 2 at this site and they were well past their best, so I decided I was happy with the shots from the private garden that I had taken with a telephoto.

Small White Orchid from Bulgaria 2018.

Small White Orchids Scotland 2021.

In so many of the boggy areas wherever we went there were Sundew plants growing, and although most were tucked away in other foliage I was pleased to find one that was easier to get to with the camera.


We had many other plans hoping to see some of the mountain specialists and although we had a good view of a Golden Eagle, and I saw a very wet soggy Mountain Hare the weather eventually beat us as the tops of the mountains were stuck in clouds and lower down it just rained. We decided to head south a day earlier, but to have a brief stop off on the way back to a lovely little site in Cumbria hoping to see the High Brown Fritillary, the most endangered species of butterfly in the UK.

On leaving Scotland though we did stop off at a site that Matt knew for the Slavonian Grebe. One of the few sites this beautiful bird breeds in. We saw the bird almost straight away and I leant over Matt to get a grab shot through his car window. Not ideal conditions and unfortunately it doesn't do this cracking bird justice, but it was a lovely bird to see.

Slavonian Grebe.

As we headed south we saw many Northern Marsh Orchids on the roadside, another species I hadn't seen before, but with no way of parking I had to be satisfied with quick views as we drove past.

Down in Cumbria the sun returned, actually before we really wanted it, as the butterflies were more active than we would have liked. The High Brown and Dark Green Fritillaries are very similar and when they are this active it is hard to know if you are watching the really rare one or the very common one!! It was a case of trying to photograph any that settled and hope to identify on the camera. There were some other species flying around and I saw my first Ringlet of the year as well as a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, that I had missed from our local site. A few Small Tortoiseshell were also seen.

Small Tortoiseshell.

Matt then called me to say he had a definite High Brown Fritillary that had dropped down a few times on a Thistle and if I stayed in that spot it will hopefully return soon. By now the temperature had increased further and the butterflies were even more active. It seemed the males had become much more interested in hunting out females than nectaring on the thistles. Eventually a Fritillary dropped down on some thistles slightly further back and I stood still taking a couple of photos and hoping it would visit the nearer thistles. However, it took off and vanished in its search for a female. On the camera though it did show the slightly concave wing and markings of the High Brown Fritillary. This was also a different High Brown to the one Matt photographed. Nearly all the other Fritillaries were of the common Dark Green variety and I guess the High Brown had only recently started to emerge. Probably a week later the search would have been much easier.

High Brown Fritillary.

A successful ending to our northern adventure with many new species seen and some photographed. Matt then continued to drive south and we eventually arrived back in Seaford at around 10pm having listened to Wales being beaten in the football. Many thanks to Matt for taking me away for the few days and organising it all and thanks to Iain for suggesting a few sites to visit. 

Sunday 4 July 2021

Scottish Dragons.

 Just over a month ago Matt suggested that it would do me good to get away from the house for a few days so I could chill out and forget about all my woes.

He was co-leading a Naturetrek tour in Shetland, but on his return to the mainland he was going to try to add the Azure Hawker to his list of British dragonflies. This was actually the last species he needed to complete the British list, well, that is until another new species makes it over here!!

I decided that the trip would indeed be a good idea so as usual I left Matt to do all the planning etc and all I had to do was to get to Gatwick, with a lot of help from Chris, get on the plane and meet Matt at Inverness.

I arrived in Inverness after a wonderful flight up with great views of the West coast from Cumbria, over my brother's neck of the woods near Loch Lomond and the length of Loch Ness. Matt was waiting just outside the airport in shorts and sunglasses as the sunshine was wall to wall. It was decided we would head straight away to the site of the Azure Hawker at Loch Maree. Unfortunately, on the way there the weather decided to go downhill and by the time we were on site it was considerably cooler and cloudy and the chances of finding this extreme rarity had diminished. In fact the only dragonfly we saw was a roosting Golden-ringed Dragonfly which I photographed in a light drizzle. The Broome behind the insect did however brighten the image up no end!!

Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

After getting back to our superb B & B it was decided to head back over the following day to continue our quest to find the Azure Hawker. I also really wanted to see the Northern Emerald Dragonfly. As I had only been to Scotland once before photographing wildlife nearly everything we would see would be a new species for me.

The following day we headed back to Loch Maree where we were going to have the best day of the trip, although of course we didn't know this at the time. Apart from dragonflies we were also going to see other northern specialities, although they will appear on my next blog. At this first site we did see a couple of White-faced Darter, a species that I had seen before around Loch Garton a few years ago when I did my previous Scotland trip with Nigel. However, there was still no sign of the Azure Hawker.

 There was one site left around Loch Maree where the dragonfly is sometimes reported from so we decided to head on a little further. At this site we came across an area quickly which had a large amount of felled trees and as we stepped into this area we saw a couple of Hawkers flying around. After a few minutes of trying to get better views we realised that we had found our main target, and not just that, but we had a large number of them in the area. We reckoned there were at least 8 and quite likely over a dozen present, but as they settled only briefly and they were very active an accurate count was never going to happen.

Azure Hawker.

One of the interesting things was that as the weather cooled the colour of the dragonfly also changed with the blue giving way to a more brownish colour. 

Azure Hawker.

There were a few other dragonfly species at this site too with a couple of Four-spotted Chaser and a couple of showy Golden-ringed Dragonfly too.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly.

After this extremely successful stop off we headed back to the site we visited the day before to see if we could find my Northern Emerald. By now the weather had deteriorated again, but it was not as cool as the day before. A few high flying dragonflies along the tree tops were almost certainly our new target species, but there was no way I could say I had seen a Northern Emerald with a sighting like that. I then spotted a smallish dragonfly fly low over the path ahead of us so we quickly headed that way, but we couldn't see anything there. Then, in the corner of my eye I spotted a bit of movement a little way out in a boggy area. Not knowing what it was, but suspecting it could have been a dragonfly we headed out into that area. Once again a quick scan produced nothing. We were about to move on when I somehow spotted a newly emerged Northern Emerald hanging on to some Heather. Without a doubt this was the species of the day and as it was now cooler it certainly wasn't in a hurry to move. The biggest problem with photographing this beauty was that as we had stepped out a little into the boggy area we had disturbed the infamous midges and they were flying all around our heads and were very unpleasant!!

Teneral Male Northern Emerald.

After our successful 2 days in the Highlands we headed a little south to the Cairngorms where, once we had escaped from the Hotel of horrors and found a fabulous B & B we continued looking for more wildlife. The 2 remaining odonata species we were after I had seen before with Nigel, but as ever, it is always good after a few years to see them again. The Northern Damselflies that I saw on that visit were all tenerals so this time they would all be mature individuals. The weather we encountered now in the Cairngorms was very disappointing and it was generally cool, cloudy and drizzly and at times just awful. However, at least the damselflies were not too active.

Male Northern Damselfly.

Nearby we had to wait for a small gap in the clouds to get the White-faced Darters flying. We only saw 4 or 5 which also included a mating pair. However, the gap in the clouds was very short lived and we didn't get any really good photos of them. As ever though, really good to see.

White-faced Darter over an acid pool.

Mating White-faced Darters high up.