Sunday 30 April 2023

Slowly but Surely.

 It seems to be taking for ever this year for the butterfly season to get going, but over the past couple of days signs are improving. Even though, I can't remember the last time I hadn't seen a Grizzled Skipper by the end of April!! I thought I would be saying the same about Green Hairstreak too, but today I did spot a beautiful one. 

Two days running I have managed to get up on the hill, although it has been hard as after 3 years I've finally succumbed to Covid. I'm now fortunately well past the worst of it, I hope!!

Wall Brown numbers are slowly increasing. A beautiful female yesterday, followed by 3 or 4 males today. The Wall Brown pupa is changing colour, hopefully it is still healthy and it will soon be a new butterfly.

Female Wall Brown.

Wall Brown pupa.

Several smart Brimstone are busy flying currently. Yesterday I did get lucky finding one asleep on top of some Bramble leaves. I managed to get several photos as it slept although when the sun came out it did quickly warm up enough to take flight.

Male Brimstone.

Today it was more the turn of Speckled Wood with a nice encounter with two individuals. One of each sex too which was nice. The male spent some time warming up in the morning sunshine, whereas the female took a well earned rest from egg laying. Considering she had obviously mated , and had enough time for her eggs to ripen she was in fantastic condition with a hardly a mark on her.

Male Speckled Wood.

Female Speckled Wood.

Also photographed today was a gorgeous Green Carpet moth. Having struggled to photograph these in the past before they lose their colour, this is now the 2nd one in the past week or so.

Green Carpet.

A few species of Orchids are also coming into flower now, and this included today several Early Purple Orchids. One in particular though was well worthy of a photograph. I have a feeling it was the same plant that I photographed last year!!

Early Purple Orchid.

Near the end of the walk I was really pleased to find my first Small Eggar larval web of the year. I have been looking now for several weeks and was starting to get a bit concerned that I hadn't found any. I was not expecting to find so many this year as this moth does seem to have a 2 year cycle out in the wild and I have found that every other year numbers are good. Last year was very good. so this year is likely to be a much poorer year, but there again, I could be proved wrong!!

Small Eggar larval web.

Wednesday 26 April 2023

Spring Patch Specials.

 I have been lucky to have had several highlights already this year with the Large Tortoiseshell being the most important one.

However, I have also already seen a very early Clouded Yellow which was a find on my local patch. With a run of North/Easterly winds for several days before seeing the butterfly, it does raise the question of whether it was a migrant or one that somehow managed to survive the winter in one of its stages. I only managed a poor record shot of this unexpected find but it certainly brightened up the day that had already seen another unusual sighting.

Clouded Yellow. The first for Sussex 2023. 22nd April. My 2nd earliest ever sighting of this species beaten only by the 15th April in 2015.

Just before seeing the Clouded Yellow I had been searching yet again for Wall Brown pupae. 2 days previous to this I had already seen my first adult Wall Brown of the year so I knew that there would certainly be pupae to find, but as ever, this stage is by far the most difficult to find and in all the years I have searched for them I have only found around a dozen. As it was the very first tussock I searched I found a pupa. At the time I thought it looked shorter and rounder than any I had found before so when I got home I checked the books and found that it was a Speckled Wood pupa, the first one I have seen.

Speckled Wood pupa

The following day I took Lisa to show her the pupa and she then set about trying to find her own so we actually spent a large amount of time looking, to no avail, apart from finding some lovely Marbled White larvae each and several moth larvae, until we were just about to give up and I spotted a Wall Brown pupa tucked safely away in an area where I have found them before. By now the light was pretty much gone so I followed up with a visit the following morning with the sun shining on the pupa.

Wall Brown pupa.

As already mentioned I had by this time seen my first Wall Brown adult of the year. With the cold easterly winds most species on the site were well behind when they would normally be on the wing so it was a very big surprise seeing one at more or less the average date for the first sighting.


Male Wall Brown. The first for Sussex in 2023. 20th April.

The rare moth Barred Tooth-striped is only found in a few areas where established Wild Privet grows. Last year I caught some on my patch which was the first record for the site. I set the pheromone trap just the once this year to check the colony was still about and I was pleased to get one on the same morning that I photographed the Wall Brown pupa. It's always good to find rare species on my patch, especially this one as several people had told me it almost certainly wouldn't be there!!

Barred Tooth-striped.

The great thing about all these sightings were that they were on my patch which is easily in walking distance to home!!

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Two Great Weekends.

 The Easter weekend really was a fabulous one with 3 days out in the natural world with the enormous highlight of the Large Tortoiseshell that was the subject of my previous post.

There were other delights over that Easter weekend though with several Adders seen in 2 different sites. 

Female Adder.

One site gave Lisa and I a couple of melanistic Adders. I took several photos of these black beauties last year so I left the photography of these to Lisa. Not long after seeing these though I spotted the larva of the Cream-spot Tiger Moth. As this was new to me I did make sure we both got photos of it. With the flight season for this moth approaching, the larva was probably walking off in search of a site to pupate.

Cream-spot Tiger Moth larva.

All through the weekend we were listening to the calls of Chiffchaff. The one below was photographed during the week following Easter.


Between the weekends I also visited the patch for the first time since I injured my foot some 6-7 weeks before. It really was good to get back up there. I spent a bit of time hunting the tussocks for Wall Brown pupae but could only find some larvae which was a little disappointing and surprising, as I normally find it difficult to find larvae into April as they are generally night feeders by this time. There was a large difference in size too with 2 of them just about fully grown but the other 2 were smaller than half grown indicating there will still be fresh individuals well into June.

Wall Brown larva.

I was pleased though to find 2 Marbled White larvae. One of each colour forms. The brown form was very small but the green form, below, was a little over 1 cm. long.

Marbled White larva (green form).

I also found a Glow-worm larva in the tussocks probably hunting snails.

Glow-worm larva.

Lisa and I spotted a couple of Emperor Moths over the Easter weekend but I didn't get a chance to photograph one until the day on my patch. Every year it is a delight seeing these spectacular moths and I was pleased to be able to show one in close up to Lisa this past weekend over in West Sussex.

Male Emperor Moth.

Due to me developing a bad cough during the week we only had one trip over this past weekend and as well as the Emperor Moth we found a couple more Adders as well as a couple of nice moths. The Green Carpet was extremely fresh. Fortunately after flying past us it settled in a bush and stayed there long enough for us both to photograph it. The marking on this species fade extremely quickly so it was good to get this very fresh individual perform for us even though it was a painful experience squeezing into the bush with thorns digging in our heads!!

Green Carpet.

We were also pleased to see the lovely micro moth Pyrausta nigrata. It was certainly enjoying the daisies. Sadly the hoped for Grizzled Skipper didn't show. It certainly is a very late year this year with many species still not being on the wing yet, although hopefully some better weather will really get things going now.

Pyrausta nigrata.

A couple of Swallows and a Wheatear did however make it feel a bit more spring like!!

Monday 10 April 2023

Large Tortoiseshell Hunt.

 With Lisa over for the Easter weekend and a report of a Large Tortoiseshell at Beachy Head I was thinking of the possibility of taking her there to give her a reasonable chance of seeing this rare species that is still currently classed as extinct in the UK, but a status that is bound to change very soon which would mean she had no longer seen all the official Sussex butterfly species.

In the past couple of weeks a number of these special butterflies had been seen across the county as they came out of hibernation. Probably the largest number since the 1940s when it was still classed as a British butterfly.

Lisa knows that I have never really been that keen on twitching butterflies so she suggested that perhaps it would be more fun going elsewhere and finding our own Large Tortoiseshell. Well okay, with the small number being seen there was I guess a slightly better chance than usual, but it was still a very long shot of hunting one down, but regardless of this we decided to head off to Abbotts Wood where I had found one on March 31st 2021.

Of course, I had forgotten how muddy this woodland can be and following the very wet March we have recently experienced I really should have used better footwear as I was soon plastered with mud. With the sunshine warming us up though we were soon seeing lots of butterflies with many Brimstone, Comma, Peacock and my first Small White of the year. We also enjoyed seeing and hearing plenty of Chiffchaff and seeing lots of Dark-edged Bee-fly.

After a few hours of wandering about we decided to head back to the car and move onto another possible site. As we were strolling slowly along one of the rides Lisa spotted a Brimstone ahead and a couple of Comma. As she started heading towards the butterflies I spotted an orange coloured butterfly on the trunk of a tall tree. I quickly checked it through the binoculars and was amazed to see it was our target species. Fortunately Lisa stopped as soon as I saw it so it wasn't disturbed. My camera with the telephoto was in my rucksack so I missed the shot of it on the tree trunk as it had flown before I could get my gear sorted, but Lisa had at least managed a record shot in case it didn't return. However, it obviously liked this particular area as it returned and landed on a tree stump allowing a few shots from both of us until it was disturbed by a Wood Ant. However, even then it did return, this time landing on the ground at the top of a small bank. This gave us the chance to get some under-wing photos. Once again the butterfly took to the wing and this time unfortunately it flew over some trees and wasn't seen again. 

Whilst quietly waiting, hoping for it to return, we had a nice view of a Roe Deer that crossed the track only to be followed by a dog that didn't seem to have an owner anywhere near!!

Large Tortoiseshell cleaning its antenna.


Large Tortoiseshell.


Large Tortoiseshell showing a hint of the top-wing.

This was actually 3 years and 1 day after my first Large Tortoiseshell that I found very near my house during the first lockdown. Since then I had found one on my patch in the summer of 2020 followed by the March 31st 2021 specimen in Abbotts Wood. Not bad for a species that I had never expected to see in the UK.

On Friday evening we decided that our success deserved to be celebrated with a bottle of bubbles!!

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Adder Up.

 After nearly 2 years I decided that I should sort out Pen's clothes and get them to the charity collection site at St. Wilfrid's Hospice. They looked after her so well during the final 6-7 years of her life so I was really keen for them to have all her clothes and DVDs etc. After doing that I needed something to cheer me up a bit, so with the sun at last shining brightly I headed to an old favourite spot for Adders.

This spot is not as good as it used to be for them, probably due to so many people disturbing them as they walk around the countryside with their dogs as well as grazing ponies. However, with thanks to Peter, who has been watching the Adders at this location this year he managed to locate 3 of these beautiful creatures.

The first 2 were in pretty deep cover so were not suitable for photography, however, that didn't worry me at all as I really only wanted to see them, photography seems to have taken a bit of a back seat for me recently with so much going on in my life. Some very good bits but also some not so good!!

The final Adder though did actually give me plenty of opportunities to exercise the cameras as it was basking in dappled sunshine and occasionally moving to stay in some sunshine. It was also a very nicely marked individual. Using mainly the 300mm lens I was able to keep far enough back so she didn't get disturbed and when we had finished photographing her she was still basking in the sun. With luck this very enjoyable session will inspire me to get out more with the cameras again.