Wednesday 25 May 2022

Micro Magic.

 Although very small, some of the Micro moths are particularly colourful and very smart. One of my favourites is the Olethreutes arcuella, which some years can be found in reasonable numbers in the private woodland I survey. The poor larvae feed on decaying leaf litter, so not a particularly nice meal!! However the end result is pretty spectacular.

Olethreutes arcuella.

In the same woodland is a species that is meant to be quite scarce, although over the past couple of years this moth does seem to have become quite numerous. This is the Ancylis uncella which has also recently become more numerous in other local woodlands.

Ancylis uncella.

Another really colourful micro has in the past year turned up surprisingly on the patch. Not only is it colourful, it is also a bit of a strange shape and known in moth circles as Geoff due to the Latin name of Alabonia geoffrella. I haven't seen too many of these over the years, in fact until last year I had only seen it the once, so it was great when James found it on the patch. Last year I tried and failed to get any decent shots so I was keen to improve on my previous rubbish photos. Earlier this week I spent a bit of time in the small area where they are found and one performed very well for a short time. He was the wrong side of a blade of grass to start with but I decided to stay where I was and hope he moved around the blade so I could photograph him. For once he did as I hoped and didn't fly until I had a couple of shots. In the first one he appears to be pointing out where he wanted to fly to, unless he was telling me where to go!!

Alabonia geoffrella (Geoff).

Sunday 22 May 2022


 The Spring Fritillaries are always lovely to see, and this year here in Sussex we were not expecting to get both of the Pearl species after a very poor season for the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries last year at the site where they have been re-introduced.

I was leading a few trips for Naturetrek so I was quite keen to see how the Pearls were doing locally. I met up with Nigel to have a look at the Pearl-bordered Fritillaries first and we were very surprised to find a couple of females in a ride where we hadn't seen them for some time. Better still, as the weather was quite cool the first one took off from the path where we were walking and promptly went to roost on a Bluebell just off the path. This allowed us both to get some unexpected photos.

The 'pearls' around the edge of the wing really showed up too so it really was a bonus. 

Pearl-bordered Fritillary under-side.

A Wood Ant's view of a Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

A couple of weeks later I was taking the Naturetrek group to see the Pearls when we saw a couple of Fritillaries  having a bit of a battle. One of the Pearls seemed to be a much brighter colour than the other one and I immediately thought that it must be a much fresher individual. Fortunately it settled right by the footpath, and I straight away realised it was the much rarer Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. It was a real bonus butterfly to get and it was also the first Sussex record for 2022. 

Male Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

We soon left the area so the butterflies could fly around hassle free as we were the only people on site that day. It was very pleasing that the following week, when I was with another group, we saw a female Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary egg laying, so the butterflies had been able to meet up and mate during those days with few visitors to the site.

Thursday 19 May 2022

Sir Duke.

 Due to a few commitments this past couple of weeks Nigel and I haven't been able to do our annual 'Old Boys' trip to Kent to see the Duke of Burgundy butterfly. However, I have still managed to see a few of the Sussex Dukes instead. This butterfly is not found locally at all so it is West Sussex or Kent. The Kent Dukes are seen in woodland mainly whereas the West Sussex sites are mainly downland.

My first encounter this year was when I drove over to join Clare for the day where she was staying at a campsite quite near one of the Duke sites. We had a good day hunting for them on the side of the hill whilst enjoying watching and listening to the parachuting Tree Pipits!! We were quite early in the Duke season and the weather was much cloudier and cooler than forecast so we did struggle. In the end I only found the one Duke, a very fresh male.

Male Duke of Burgundy.

The past couple of weeks I have been busy leading butterfly walks for Naturetrek and on one day each week there was a trip over to the nearest Duke site to home.  When I lead these walks I take very few photos as I concentrate finding things for the clients, however, when a mating pair showed quite well I did get tempted to take a few pictures when everyone else had finished taking their pictures.

Mating Duke of Burgundy. (The duchess is the one on top).

The Duke of Burgundy is unique in Britain as it is the only member of the Rhionidae family, the metalmark butterflies. The female Duke shows 6 working legs whilst the male only has 4 with the other 2 legs being tiny and tucked under his chin. On the photo above you can just about make out the top butterfly has 3 legs each side so it's easy to work out that this is the female.

Friday 13 May 2022

Wall to Wall Wall Brown.

 During the winter I struggled to find quantities of Wall Brown larvae and I was a little concerned that the 1st brood this year would be a bit thin on the ground.  However, on my general walks around the area there did appear to be reasonable numbers flying.

Last week I managed to get my annual 1st brood count on a regular circuit that I have been using since 2009. It was clear early on that my count was going to be pretty good, and that was the case even though numbers on the 2nd half of the circuit were very poor as I believe the butterflies were by then finding cover in the hot sunny weather. By halfway I had hit 54 butterflies but the return I had only added 2 more until a final flourish in the last few hundred metres where the breeze was making it a bit cooler. In the end I hit 66 which was a new 1st brood record, something I never expected after the winter larvae hunting!!

All 66 were males, but that is not too unexpected as the females are generally hidden in the longer grasses laying eggs or just waiting to be found by males.

Male Wall Brown.

In all the years I've been studying Wall Brown I have never come across an aberrant form, but this year I hit lucky when a rare aberrant form anticrassipuncta landed next to me, and although I only managed a few quick record shots of her, it was a magic moment. This form has very attractive extra large wing eye-spots.  This is only the 2nd ever record of this form in Sussex, with the other one being in 1967 and was caught by a butterfly collector.

Female Wall Brown aberrant form anticrassipuncta.

With the 2nd brood generally being much larger than the 1st brood I wonder if I will get a record count of that brood too which currently stands at 119.

Friday 6 May 2022

The Blues.

 With Summer approaching quickly the 'blue' butterflies are beginning to appear apace. As usual the Holly Blue is the first of the blues to appear, and also as usual, these are the hardest species to photograph, despite being very numerous.

On a recent walk a stunning fresh female Holly Blue was spotted in the undergrowth basking in the sun. Whilst it was there a large cloud arrived and covered the sun and the temperature dropped considerably and the butterfly just went to roost where it sat. A few photos were achieved, although they were not brilliant as it was obvious the butterfly was having a snooze as the antennae were drooping down. However, looking up it was clear the cloud would eventually clear so it then became a case of patiently waiting for the sun to come back out and capture the butterfly as it warmed back up. It was a long wait, but just about worth it as open wing shots of Holly Blue are a bit scarce.

Sleeping Holly Blue.

Here Comes The Sun. Female Holly Blue waking up.

Other blue species now on the wing are the Brown Argus and Common Blue. With both of these the cooler cloudy days of the past week gave me the opportunity to photograph them in a similar way to the Holly Blue as I found both species several times at roost and once again the sun eventually came back out to warm them back up again.

Roosting Brown Argus.

Brown Argus on Cowslip.

Common Blue.

A different Common Blue with a little wing damage.

Tuesday 3 May 2022

The Season of the Grizzly.

 Although it's early days I have been a little disappointed with the number of Grizzled Skipper so far this Spring. Hopefully numbers will pick up soon on the local downland. 

Strangely, the woodland ones that I was surveying on Saturday seem to be doing fine and even threw up some variation with a taras and 2 intermedia forms.

Grizzled Skipper.

Grizzled Skipper taras form.

Grizzled Skipper intermedia form.

Grizzled Skipper on Bugle.

Sunday 1 May 2022

Downland Dragons.

 It's at this time of year when suddenly everything really gets going with many butterflies appearing as well as the Dragonfly season taking off.

Odonata, dragonflies and damselflies, most years start with Large Red Damselflies and Hairy Dragonflies, but this year was a little different with my first damselfly being an Azure, although this was less than a minute before a Large Red Damselfly made it seem more normal. The Dragonfly was also a little different with my first one being a Broad-bodied Chaser. It wasn't until the next day when I saw the Hairy Dragonfly. It was then only a couple of days before I saw a male Broad-bodied Chaser turning into its blue adult colours.

Teneral (immature) male Broad-bodied Chaser.

Teneral male Broad-bodied Chaser gaining adult colours.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser.

Hairy Dragonfly.

Hairy Dragonfly complete with many hairs!!

Large Red Damselfly.