Thursday 25 August 2022

Lace Border Still Looking Good.

 Despite several searches I hadn't seen a Lace Border on my local site since the 3rd August and I really thought that perhaps the long hot summer had killed off the Wild Thyme that the larvae feed on here and the colony could possibly have died out. My colony is very localised and could quite easily suffer with extreme weather events like the summer we have experienced and I am taking great care of looking after the site for the insect. Historical records in Sussex indicate that they struggle getting a foothold in the county for some reason so in such a small site they could easily die out and that is what I thought had possibly happened.

Last week I heard that a Lace Border had been seen on the other Sussex site so myself and a colleague did 3 individual searches which were all negative. I was therefore not very optimistic on my walk on Tuesday as I wandered across the site, and I wasn't really even looking for the moth, so it was a special moment when a tiny white moth suddenly flew past me and settled nearby, although I had to carefully walk around it to get a positive identification, it was indeed a Lace Border in pretty much perfect condition. A few photographs later I carried on walking across the site where another 2 Lace Border were seen, both too in very good condition. Such a relief to find that the colony was still going strong

Photographs of 2 different moths from the session.

Lace Border.

Also seen on this quite short walk was a very large Wasp Spider that was munching away on a Grasshopper. Hopefully she won't catch any Lace Border!!

Female Wasp Spider with Grasshopper.

I also tried something a little different with a close up view of Eyebright. These tiny flowers are usually sitting tight to the ground, but I spotted this one that was on an erect stem which I thought gave a more interesting view.


Yesterday I had the pleasure to show Alice from Buglife around my patch, as she is involved in a scheme to improve the diversity and quality of chalk downland. I was particularly pleased to be able to show her a Lace Border. We also had some great views of Hornet Robberflies including another mating pair. It certainly seems to be a great year for these stunning insects, although the Grasshoppers would probably prefer it not to be as we saw one Robberfly that had caught a Grasshopper.

Monday 22 August 2022

The Late Summer Butterflies of Sussex Tour.

 I've just had the pleasure of leading the Naturetrek tour 'The Late Summer Butterflies of Sussex'. This tour is based around my local patch of Seaford, but also we venture further afield one of the 3 days to hunt out some of the special butterflies of West Sussex.

Whenever I do some leading I rarely use the camera as I try to help my clients to get their photos so some of the pictures I am using on this post are archive shots. Fortunately most of the species in Sussex I have also photographed many times in the past, however, I do carry the camera because you just never know what you might find!

It was a shame that the weather went downhill so much during the tour, especially the first day out in the field where we had torrential rain that soon caused local flooding. However, even on this particular day we still found lots of interesting butterflies, mainly at roost were lots of Common and Chalkhill Blues with the odd Brown Argus, Small Heath and Meadow Brown mixed in. We even found an aberrant female Chalkhill Blue!! Due to the rain we had a shortened day out in the field. Several chalk downland flowers were also seen and a couple of Wasp Spiders.

Day two however turned out to be the best day for both the weather and species with our main target of the Long-tailed Blue. As soon as we arrived on site we were watching them flitting around the Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea and we saw at least 5 individuals of this mega rare butterfly and probably more. For all the guests this was a new butterfly on British soil. There was also a very large Wasp Spider at this site, and hopefully she has left the Long-tailed Blues alone!! We then moved on to a Brown Hairstreak site where on the way we hit more heavy rain. Fortunately though this time it did soon pass over and the sun came out again which encouraged a couple of Brown Hairstreak to show themselves. We then moved on to a valley in the Downs where we enjoyed watching some very fresh Adonis Blue and some Autumn-ladies Tresses and Hornet Robberflies. A final destination was at a slow running river looking for Willow Emerald and White-legged Damselflies where once again we were successful.

Long-tailed Blue.

Female Wasp Spider.

Female Brown Hairstreak.

Male Adonis Blue.

Autumn-ladies Tresses.

Male Willow Emerald.

Female White-legged Damselfly.

The final day started with opening the moth trap in my garden. This was wonderful as it was one of my best sessions of the year with two spectacular Convulvulous Hawk-moths, two Bordered Straw, a very odd Black Arches, a few Jersey Tiger and many other delights. We then headed to Seaford Head to see the famous view of the Seven Sisters before heading to my main local patch for the Silver-spotted Skippers. Once again the weather wasn't particularly helpful with cloud and drizzle, but we still once again saw our main targets. We even saw a Silver-spotted Skipper egg laying and the resulting 'pudding'shaped egg. For one couple on the tour the Silver-spotted Skipper gave them their 50th UK species for 2022.

Convulvulous Hawk-moth.

A very pale Black Arches.

Bordered Straw.

Female Silver-spotted Skipper.

A very successful butterfly tour despite the weather. I'm already looking forward to leading Sussex butterfly tours in 2023 in the Spring, Summer and late Summer.

Sunday 14 August 2022

Hornet Robberfly Day.

 Not long after I first met Michael Blencowe he started going on about the Hornet Robberfly and saying it was one of his favourite insects. By this time I had photographed the insect on my local patch and he wanted to use the photos for some editorial of some kind.

I was already quite keen on the insect but his enthusiasm must have rubbed off on me as I now too look forward to seeing them each year and sightings seem to have become more regular over the past 3 years. However, today was the best day I have ever had for them with at least 7 seen on my local patch. Four of them had also caught prey with two Grasshoppers, one small Beetle and one small Moth caught. In one area I saw all but one of them, and of course where you get large numbers you are likely to see other activity. As I was walking along a narrow path I suddenly saw 2 flying quite close together and they then went into some foliage. I didn't know whether this was a couple fighting or some extremely rough courtship. It was very evident quickly though as they emerged seconds later attached to each other. This was the first time I had seen a mating pair and fortunately I also managed to get a few photos of the deed. The male was quite a bit smaller than the female and I guess if she really doesn't like him he could come a bit unstuck!!

It was also good to see nearly all the ones I saw perching off the ground, whether this was due to the heat or whether they were hiding their prey from all the others I'm not sure, but it certainly helped with the photography.

Getting close and personal to these magnificent insects show what little chance there is for the unfortunate that get caught. The firm hairs on the legs would be impossible to escape from so once caught they are doomed!!

Hornet Robberfly.

Hornet Robberfly with a Grasshopper lunch.

Mating Pair of Hornet Robberfly.

Position 29 in the Hornet Robberfly Kama Sutra.

One from last year.

Sunday 7 August 2022

The Grayling Hunt.

A couple of weeks ago I went in search of the local Grayling, a butterfly that is just hanging on in Sussex and is probably top of the most endangered species in the county along with the Wood White.

My friend Lisa had never seen this species before and had asked me several weeks earlier if I could help her to see them. 

The flight season started whilst I was away in Italy, so by the time we both had a day free the butterflies had been on the wing for nearly 2 weeks, however, I was very confident that we would find some really good specimens, and early signs from the site were certainly promising with the highest Grayling count for many years.

With only one other car in the car park it was clear that the site wouldn't be too busy, and I happened to know that the other car belonged to Neil Hulme so we knew that he would be looking for the same thing as us. In fact with the weather actually well below par Neil was the only other person we saw all day apart from a large group of naked ramblers that were braving it along the South Downs Way. I say braving it as it was actually quite a cool day. They certainly wouldn't get their bits sun-burnt!!!

It wasn't long before Lisa had seen her first Grayling with a male seen just a few hundred metres up the track that would eventually lead us to the Grayling hillside. It was very encouraging seeing one well away from the main site. We also started to see plenty of Chalkhill Blue and Six-spot Burnet moths. Both species were also seen mating.

Once we had arrived at the site we saw Neil in the distance and it wasn't long before we were chatting to him. By now the weather had taken a slight turn for the worst with a bit of light drizzle and quite a cool stiff breeze, however we realised that so long as we could find more Grayling this would stop them from being too active. By walking slowly across the site we soon had several Grayling, both male and female, and one did the usual Grayling thing of landing on Lisa's trousers and shoe. Lisa and Neil then started photographing this individual on her leg whilst I was thinking it was just as well that the naked ramblers had stayed up on the South Downs Way otherwise the Grayling may have landed on parts that no Grayling should ever land on.

A male Grayling nectaring on Bramble.

Female Grayling.

Male Grayling.

Mating Six-spot Burnet.

After a few hours of watching the Grayling we headed back down the hillside and on the way back the sun came out along with many more butterflies, particularly Chalkhill Blue as well as a further 3 Grayling including a female in the area where the first male had been spotted on the way up earlier.

A more detailed account of the day can be found on Lisa's blog here

Tuesday 2 August 2022

The Chalk Hills are alive.

 With a couple of trips abroad recently I have missed the best of the local Chalkhill Blue season, however, the local patch is still alive with these beautiful gems.

My first sighting of one this year was the 24th June so they have been on the wing for some time now and many of them are showing their age although this species does have a very long emergence season and some are still looking pretty good, especially some of the females.

I recently did a one day tour for Naturetrek on my patch and as we were in the main Chalkhill Blue area we spotted a mating pair where the female was an aberrant form postica-obsoleta. A few hundred metres further I spotted another one and photos confirmed this was a different individual, which wasn't surprising as we had left the other one still attached to the male. I did get a record shot of each of them, but with leading fee paying clients it isn't really possible to spend personal time taking photos so the following day I went back to see if I could re-find at least one of them to see if I could get some much better photos. This day was also much calmer and less sunny so if I could find one the conditions were much better. As it was I struggled to find them, and after photographing a really nice mating pair of Chalkhill Blues I was about to give up when I spotted my target although this one was actually another different one to the two seen the previous day. It was still an aberrant postica-obsoleta but once again photos from yesterday confirmed it was a third individual. This one also performed well in the cooler conditions and by photographing it from both sides it was interesting to see the hind-wing patterning was different on both sides.

Mating pair of Chalkhill Blue.

Both sides of the female Chalkhill Blue aberrant postica-obsoleta.