Wednesday 30 March 2022

The Search.

 Who would have thought that a bloke could get excited about a small twig covered in fur!!

For the past couple of years in the early Spring I have been out looking for signs of the Small Eggar moth eggs. This particular insect was probably my most important lepidoptera find until the Lace Border turned up. The Small Eggar is considered extinct in West Sussex and according to the moth recorder was in imminent danger of becoming extinct in East Sussex too until I found what has become a thriving colony on the outskirts of Seaford. According to Steve Wheatley, from Butterfly Conservation, it is also the only colony on the South Downs National Park.

Having seen and photographed each part of their development, except the egg stage I have been keen to find the eggs, there are also very few images out there of this stage as far as I can see. So on a stroll yesterday on a day that didn't look very promising at all with dull cool conditions, I was nearing the end of the walk when I spotted a small sapling covered in dark fur. Straight away I thought I had found a cluster of Small Eggar eggs. The female of this species is extremely furry when she emerges as a moth and after mating she lays her eggs and covers them with her fur to protect them from the cold nights that they can encounter at this time of the year. Whilst on site I sent a photo to Colin Pratt, the Sussex moth recorder to make sure I was correctly identifying it as he knows the species quite well from the past and he confirmed that I was indeed right and that it looked as though the eggs had been laid very recently. I suppose I could have spent some time looking for a bare naked female!!

So, not the most exciting looking photo I've ever posted, but hey, this is rarely seen.

Small Eggar egg cluster.

As it happened, this wasn't the only bit of interest yesterday on the not promising walk. A moth caterpillar was seen sitting on the top of a grass blade. I'm not 100% sure of the id but it is possibly a Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing. (That's what the app says anyway)!!  Another larval web of the Brown-tail was also found which was full of small larvae. I also found another Vapourer egg cluster, my 2nd within a couple of weeks and only my 3rd ever finding. 2 Wall Brown larvae were seen feeding, one very tiny one and one very large one. A couple of the very tiny Ancylis comptana were also flying in a sheltered area away from the breeze.

Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing possibly.

Vapourer moth eggs.

Ancylis comptana.

Brown-tail larval web.

The day before I thought I had photographed another Orange Underwing, but after seeing the photos I realised it was actually the much rarer Light Orange Underwing which is less marked on the fore-wing as well as having a feathered antenna.

Light Orange Underwing.

Friday 25 March 2022

Seven Species Day.

 On Wednesday I had my first 7 species of butterflies in one day of the year. In fact it has very rarely happened in March. It also produced 2 new species for the year with a male Small White at the start of the walk and a Speckled Wood at the end of it.

Other species were lots of Peacock, several Comma, Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell and a single Red Admiral.

The day was also quite notable by 3 Red Kite flying over and being chased off by the local Buzzards.

One of many Peacock seen.

Red Kite.


Brown-tail moth larvae coming out of hibernation.

Monday 21 March 2022

A Bit of Orange.

 Every year I go looking for the day flying moth, the Orange Underwing in a couple of local woodlands. It is a very frustrating little moth as it is very well camouflaged and so often the first time you see the moth is it taking off from the ground, only for it to immediately head up to the tree-tops. In all the years I've been trying I have only managed a small number of photographs, but if at first you don't succeed, then carry on trying!!

The first one I saw this year flew past me as I was watching the black Adder, but if I had taken chase at this point I would have disturbed the Adder so I held back. At least though I knew the moth was on the wing. Last week I had a couple of goes but I didn't get lucky at all. Today, another attempt and one was spotted as it flew up, but unusually, this one settled back on the ground a couple of times allowing a couple of photos. Not brilliant, but my first photo of one for around 6 years.

Orange Underwing.

Yesterday I went back to check on the Vapourer eggs and found a hopeful red spider/mite sitting on the eggs presumably hoping for a very filling meal. Whether this species often chooses Vapourer eggs for a meal I do not know. However, it once again shows how vulnerable early stages of butterflies and moths are.

An Arachnid waiting for dinner.

The weather continues to improve, and butterflies have been out in good numbers. Peacock have had a very good start to the year and probably over half of the butterflies I've seen have been Peacock and that would be over 50 of them by now. Comma have also been very evident over the past week and it has also been good seeing quite a few Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone. Amazingly I hadn't had a definite Red Admiral until yesterday. I've now had 5 species, which is probably over 10 percent of the species I will see in the UK this year!!

A couple of Comma.

In the woodland last week a pair of Grey Wagtail were active and will hopefully be preparing to nest soon. This one was watching me from a small tree nearby.

Grey Wagtail.

Meanwhile the woodland flowers are bursting into life. Still a few weeks before the Bluebells flower, but the Wood Anemone, Lesser Celandine and Primrose are now looking good.

Wood Anemone.

Lesser Celandine.

Finally, another photo of the beautiful black Adder. This time resting on the reptile refugia.

Melanic Adder.

Tuesday 15 March 2022

Comma Springs Into Flight.

 Yesterday morning started really bright and with lighter winds I headed off walking to the patch feeling that there was a chance of seeing a few decent bits of wildlife. This followed a cold night when I had just a single moth in the trap, a lovely Oak Beauty.

Just after arriving on the top of the downland I heard my first calling Chiffchaff of the year. That always puts a spring into my step. After searching briefly for the Wall Brown caterpillars and finding just 4 I was suddenly looking at a lovely Small Tortoiseshell. This was the first of up to 4 of this species seen on the walk. I then checked the local dew pond and saw several Newts. Certainly Common Newt and almost certainly some Palmate were seen.

Heading down to the bush line another Small Tortoiseshell was seen. Once I was walking along the bushes a butterfly the size of the Small Tortoiseshell flew past but I immediately thought by the way it was flying it was almost certainly a Comma. Unfortunately it kept flying fast along the bush line, but it was also followed by another butterfly. Once again I didn't get a clear view but this one was almost certainly a Peacock. As I hadn't seen a Comma this year yet I walked back in the direction of the flying insect and soon saw it as it was perched quite high on some foliage. It certainly was a very nice Comma, and better still it flew onto an excellent perch of perfect height for photography. I am unlikely to find any more this year perching in such a good position. After photographing this butterfly I headed back to where I had been heading and saw a different Comma, followed shortly after by yet another one, this time being hassled by a probable Red Admiral. 


Oak Beauty.

Friday 11 March 2022

Nature Waking Up.

 With getting out for long walks virtually every day over the past few weeks it's great to be seeing more as the days warm up.

Peacock butterflies do seem to have done well locally surviving the Winter, and are by far the butterflies that I am seeing most of. I have now seen double figures of this species, whereas, apart from these I have only seen one Small Tortoiseshell and a couple Brimstone.

I stumbled across a male Brimstone in cool conditions, and although it wasn't in the best of conditions I was quite pleased with the photo I managed before it flew. The other side of the butterfly was much more damaged, so I got a little lucky!

A slightly faded male Brimstone.

Wall Brown larva have been hard to find over this Winter, and I do wonder how many pupa perished during a spell of bad weather during the time that the 3rd brood would have been emerging last Autumn. Of course, if they die at this stage before they can fly, mate and lay eggs it is likely to mean less over-wintering larvae. This also happened 2-3 years ago, but they very quickly recovered. Before photographing the Brimstone I did see 4 well developed larva, following my best count of 11 last week. Of these 4 one was showing particularly well and I decided to grab a photo of it. This also shows the feeding damage to the grass where it had been feeding, possibly overnight.

Wall Brown larva.

Yesterday I had a casual search in the very slim possibility of finding a Small Eggar egg laying, or at least a cluster of eggs. In the end I did find a cluster of eggs, although these were eggs of the Vapourer Moth. Still very nice to find as it's been several years since I had last seen these.

Vapourer eggs on Blackthorn.

2 Peacock were seen yesterday, as well as a probable Small Tortoiseshell that flew fast away from me before I could do a definite id.


Following this I had another attempt at photographing the local Kestrel. This time he did eventually get a bit closer to me as it hunted. 

Male Kestrel.

Wednesday 9 March 2022

Black Adder.

 At the very end of February Clare and I went for a stroll around one of our local woodlands where we found a couple of black (melanistic) Adders. These are always good to see, and as well as it being a great sighting it was also one my earliest ever Adder sightings.

Yesterday, I returned on my own hoping to spend some time with them to hopefully get some photos without disturbing them. Taking my telephoto lens I was hoping that one would be out in the open, and that is exactly what happened. Being able to watch the snake from a distance as it moved from one sunny spot to another and avoiding the cool breeze in its sheltered spot it performed admirably for me giving me several different shots. It was also wonderful being able to walk away from it after around 30 minutes with it still laying in one of its sunny spots.

Melanistic Adder.

Nearby in a lake there were a countless number of Toads getting amorous, although I think most were males waiting for the arrival of the females. The light was in an awful position so I failed to get any decent photos, but it was quite amusing seeing the reflection of their eyes in the water.

Common Toad.

I was hoping also to see a few butterflies but the breeze was probably just a little too chilly, although I did see a lovely Orange Underwing moth in flight whilst I was watching the Adder.