Sunday 29 August 2021

White Admiral.

 It seems ages ago now that I was doing my surveys in a lovely and quiet private woodland in the middle of Sussex, but at times like this, at the end of the summer, it is good to look back on those long summer days.

Around this time Nigel invited me up to his wood to see the brilliant White Admiral pupa he had found, One of the most bizarre looking larva and pupa in the British species. The pupa reminds me of an upside down Rabbit!!

White Admiral pupa.

A full sequence of caterpillar to butterfly can be seen on Nigel's blog that can be found here.

I had to wait until my woodland surveys to see the adult butterfly, but this year was a pretty good year for this lovely species and over a couple of weeks I had 2 different butterflies that posed well for me.

A very fresh White Admiral posing well for me.

The following week and another beautiful White Admiral.

Later in the season a male was found holding territory, this one was quite worn, but still gave a few photo opportunities.

Male White Admiral holding territory.

On the same days there were some wonderful Silver-washed Fritillaries that had recently emerged, and these too posed very well for me.
The first Silver-washed Fritillary of the year is like a large flash of gold along the woodland rides.

Male Silver-washed Fritillaries.

Mating Silver-washed Fritillaries.

Really fresh Meadow Brown are surprisingly stunning, and although are normally a bit skittish, on some days can pose well.

Female Meadow Brown.

There are also few butterflies as lovely as a fresh Comma to brighten up a bit of woodland.


Tuesday 24 August 2021

Day Trips.

 During the latter part of the Summer I've had the pleasure to lead several field trips to Ashdown Forest for Naturetrek, concentrating mainly on birds and the smaller members of the natural world.

Although many of the clients main interests were birds few had really got close and personal to the close up world of insects, but the comments at the end of the trips were all positive and I'm sure many of them will be spending more time looking closely at the smaller creatures in the future.

During these trips my camera wasn't used much as I was trying to find lots of things of interest for the visitors, but a few shots were taken of really special things. A few of the photos here were also taken on my own visits when checking the areas out.

There were of course many decent birds seen and most trips had Dartford Warbler, Common Redstart, Tree Pipit, Woodlark, Hobby and a young Cuckoo also put on a great performance for us as it hunted hairy caterpillars on one trip. The image below shows the young Cuckoo with what I am sure is a Pale Tussock larva.

Immature Cuckoo with Pale Tussock larva.

As there are so many acid pools on the forest the scarce Small Red Damselfly are found in quite good numbers and on the cooler days a very close approach was possible.

Male Small Red Damselfly.

Female Small Red Damselfly.

Small Red Damselflies in tandem.

Mating Small Red Damselflies.

Unfortunately, the Black Darter were slightly later this year in appearing so these were only seen a week after the final trip. However, many superb dragonfly species were seen including Golden-ringed, Southern, Brilliant Emerald, Keeled Skimmer, Emperor, Migrant and of course the Common and Ruddy Darters.

 A later visit produced the Black Darter images.

Male Keeled Skimmer.

Male Emperor in flight.

Male Black Darter.

Female Black Darter.

Immature Black Darter.

Also popular with the clients were the 2 rare species of spider that were seen in reasonable numbers with both the Green Huntsman Spider and the Common Raft Spider being seen on all the trips. Immature spiders were quite numerous and some lucky sightings were also obtained of mature individuals with some groups.

Immature Green Huntsman Spider.

Female Green Huntsman Spider.

Immature Raft Spider.

Raft Spider hunting.

Half grown Raft Spider hunting.

Away from the water a female Raft Spider was found on a nursery web, as it sat protecting its web full of spiderlings.

Female Raft Spider on nursery web.

Female Raft Spider on nursery web.
 Spiderlings can be seen on the right of the picture.

As we walked past the masses of Heather I was always on the lookout for the caterpillar of the Beautiful Yellow Underwing. When I did eventually see 2 feeding together my clients wondered why a bloke could get so excited about a caterpillar, however, when they looked closely at the stunning caterpillar, they did realise why it was a special find.

Beautiful Yellow Underwing larva.

This poor Beautiful Yellow Underwing larva had been predated by some grizzly creature. Probably an ichneumon wasp of some kind, and the larva of the predation species appears to be feeding off the moth caterpillar by a kind of umbilical chord, draining the fluids. A totally gruesome way to go!!

We did also find a wonderful, and very large caterpillar of the Emperor Moth on one of the trips.

Tuesday 17 August 2021

A Day of Contrasts.

 Yesterday was always going to be a difficult day as it would have been Penny's birthday, and especially this one as it's the first one since I lost her in April.

I thought the only way to get through the day was to head out for a walk as soon as possible, but that became difficult as I had a text saying a parcel was going to be delivered late morning so I had to hang around. Fortunately the parcel was early so I quickly made up a bit of lunch and headed out, walking from home to make sure I had a longer stroll.

First I headed to the area where I found the Lace Border moths earlier in the year as they are now in the middle of their second brood. I did come across one by accident during one of my Naturetrek day tours that I did a couple of weeks ago. Almost as soon as I got to the main area where I have found them in small numbers I disturbed one in the undergrowth. Fortunately, in the dullish conditions it didn't go far and I managed to get several open wing shots.

Lace Border.

The moth then flew to another spot where it showed even better, showing off its beautiful markings.

Lace Border.

This species is extremely rare and this small area holds the first known Sussex breeding colony since the 1950s so I am very lucky to have come across them so near to home.

My main target for the day was to try and find where the local Southern Migrant Hawkers are breeding, so I headed down into the river valley, although on the way I noticed a Silver-spotted Skipper egg- laying in the short grass. This species uses Sheep's Fescue as its larval food-plant and as ever with butterfly eggs they do take a bit of searching as they are tiny. As I had the exact spot though I did find it after a minute of looking. The eggs of this species look a bit like a pudding.

Silver-spotted Skipper egg.

After checking lots of ditches near the river I eventually came across a male Southern Migrant Hawker that was clearly holding a territory. With the weather being a little overcast and only a few sunnier breaks the dragonfly did vanish for quite long periods and a search of the nearby bushes didn't reveal him at roost so it was a case of hanging about and waiting for the odd sunnier moments when he reappeared to fly around his chosen patch. A few flight shots were achieved in the now limited time, as I was going to Chris's place for dinner and I was already going to be late!!

Southern Migrant Hawker (Blue-eyed Hawker).

In the vegetation I also spotted a female Blue-tailed Damselfly of the form rufescens. Not a rare form by any means, but one that I haven't photographed for many years.

Blue-tailed Damselfly of the form rufescens. 

So there goes a day I had been dreading for some time. A day of great sadness but thanks to my wildlife passion a day that also gave me some great moments!!

Saturday 14 August 2021

Chalky Beauty.

 On a whim the other day I headed over to the Gallops area of Friston Forest to check out the Chalkhill Blue. This area holds what must be one of the largest colonies of this beautiful butterfly in the UK.

A few years ago in 2012 this site had an estimated population of over 800.000 butterflies flying and was a sight that those that witnessed it will never forget as large clouds of the silvery blue butterflies swarmed out of the grasses.

Although the numbers this year are far from that, it was still a very impressive sight when the sun came out and many butterflies took to the wing.

Before the sun came out I was looking for aberrant forms of the males, but unfortunately I didn't find any of them, however, I did find a newly emerged female Essex Skipper that allowed me to take several photos from all sides. A really immaculate Essex Skipper that gave me some of my best images of this species.

Female Essex Skipper.

Two images showing the black tips to the antennae.

The Perfect Female Essex Skipper with no wing damage at all.

Nearby there was also this really smart spider that appears to be a Neoscona adianta.

Neoscona adianta.

After the sun had come out I headed further up the hill planning to look for Hawk moth caterpillars on a few Willow trees in the forest. Over the years Nigel and I have found a few on one tree in particular. Today however, I was not so lucky and all I found were a couple of smallish larvae.

On the way to the area though I was admiring the many Chalkhill Blues when my eye was caught by a lovely female butterfly. Whereas Common and Adonis Blue butterflies often have blue colouring on the upper wings it doesn't generally happen with the Chalkhill Blue. This one however had a lovely sheen of blue on the upper hind-wings and with a bit of cloud cover again by this time I managed to get a few photos of it before I lost it when it flew. It was obviously an aberrant and certainly one I hadn't seen before. As with the Dark Green Fritillary aberrant I found a few weeks ago I sent the images to Colin Pratt, the Sussex recorder, and he believes it to be an aberrant form semisyngrapha. I'm not sure how rare this form is, but certainly one that is new to me although I have seen another photo of one recently that was photographed in Kent.

Female Chalkhill Blue aberrant form semisyngrapha.

Female Chalkhill Blue aberrant form semisyngrapha.

On the return to the car the butterflies had really started to go to roost so I carried on looking for more aberrant butterflies, but no further luck on this front. However, one very smart female Chalkhill Blue was in a lovely position for photography and I simply couldn't resist!!

Female Chalkhill Blue.

Saturday 7 August 2021

A Stunning Stroll.

 It started off as a stroll from home to the Cuckmere valley hoping to find the breeding ditches of the Southern Migrant Hawkers.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, depending how you look at it, the weather became too overcast for the dragonflies so it quickly became a general walk in the hope of perhaps seeing a roosting dragonfly. Of course with it being a bit overcast the butterflies were not bombing about all over the place.

As I started the descent into the river valley there were plenty of Large White nectaring on the thistles that slowed me down briefly.

As I continued the descent I was over-taken by 2 Wall Brown flying past me and both landed together and a very brief courtship took place before they coupled up. A few long distant shots with the telephoto were taken as they did several short flights before ending up in a very uncomfortable position on a thistle.

Mating Wall Brown.

Leaving them to get on with producing a possible 3rd brood I carried on down to the river where I checked the ditches seeing only a few damselflies, although this did include a Small Red-eyed Damselfly in a ditch I hadn't seen that species in before.

I then came across a very fresh Small Copper, and one of the nicest ones I've seen of this species. Although it flew too high up into a bramble bush it did eventually come back into range.

Small Copper.

Moving further along the river I turned a corner and stumbled across a near perfect Painted Lady that was feeding on a large Bramble bush. As it was obviously fully engrossed in feeding I decided to put my bag down and concentrate on this beauty. I was really hoping the butterfly would move to some flowers that were just below head height where the background would be the hillside some distance away to give me a really clear background on the photos. Most of the time it kept in the middle of the bush.

Painted Lady.

They say patience pays off and after around 30 minutes with the butterfly it landed all too briefly on the flower that I was waiting and hoping it would go to. All that waiting time and I managed 2 quick grab shots of it in the near perfect position.

Painted Lady on Bramble.
The 30 minute wait pays off.

With the weather not improving for hunting the dragonflies I decided after all this early success to slowly head back home, visiting a small pond on the way. At the pond I saw large numbers of the Small Red-eyed Damselflies as well as a pair of Emerald Damselflies in tandem and mating pairs of both Common and Ruddy Darter.

On the return I saw a very dark Comma, totally different to the hutchinsoni varient that have been numerous during the Summer.


Finally as I was within a mile of getting home I stumbled across an Emperor moth larva. Only the 2nd fully grown one that I've come across despite them being pretty common around here. This wonderful larva gave me lots of pleasure as I photographed it on Hawthorn. Such a spectacular creature.

Emperor Moth larva on Hawthorn.

No Southern Migrant Hawkers but so much else on a fabulous stroll from home.