Wednesday 30 August 2023

Long-tailed Blue.

 With my Naturetrek tours coming up, and all the clients hoping to see the Long-tailed Blues, it was a bit of a worry that very few had been seen in the weeks leading up to the tours. However, with less than a week to go reports from Lancing suddenly changed everything.

I then did a couple of recce's for each of the tours, as well as visiting with the actual tours. In total I visited the area 7 times and saw Long-tailed Blues on each occasion. By my last visit the butterflies seen were getting more tatty, but of course, Long-tailed Blues are always good to see in the UK where they are still considered to be a rare migrant butterfly.

Sightings are now slowing up as that generation has nearly finished, but with such a quick life cycle, it will only be a few short weeks before some lovely fresh individuals are seen, and with plenty of eggs found at several sites there should be plenty of butterflies about.

A few of my images from the visits follow, as well as some eggs found on the Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea. All the eggs found, apart from a couple had already hatched, so were probably already a week or more into their 5-6 week cycle.

Male Long-tailed Blue.

Male Long-tailed Blue.

Male Long-tailed Blue.

Long-tailed Blue egg. 

A brace of hatched Long-tailed Blue eggs. 

Hatched Long-tailed Blue egg.

Thursday 24 August 2023

Sussex Late Summer Butterflies.

 I have recently led a 3 day tour for Naturetrek looking for butterflies in the Sussex countryside. The timing was absolutely perfect with the recent arrival of several Long-tailed Blue into Sussex with one of my butterfly friends finding some on his local patch in West Sussex the previous week.

I always like to do a recce or two before these trips, and as I was staying over at Lisa's, which was near to the site, this made it much easier to check the site before the tour. As it happened I had also been booked by Naturetrek to do a private one on one tour the following week for a lady from Yorkshire to hopefully see the Long-tailed Blue, this meant more visits to make sure the butterflies were still there for her visit. In all I visited the site 6 times over the course of the next 12 days and saw the Long-tailed Blue each time with my highest count of 7 individuals on the last of them with the lady from Yorkshire.

On the first day of the main tour we arrived on site at around 10am and waited around the main hot spot waiting and hoping for a sighting of these rare migrant butterflies. After around 40 minutes Lindsay rang me to say he had found an egg laying Brown Hairstreak near to where we were, so I quickly called the group together and went off to see this beautiful butterfly. The Brown Hairstreak was another of our targeted butterflies, so it was great to get to see this extremely elusive species so early in the tour. As it happened this was one of the best encounters that I have ever had of this species, but when I am leading I rarely take photos as the group has to come first, so it was a little frustrating seeing a perfectly posed specimen sitting so beautifully. But for the group, what a great start.

My one and only shot of this beautiful Brown Hairstreak.

The day then got much, much better when a Long-tailed Blue was found only metres away from where the hairstreak had been. We then enjoyed watching this male blue for the next 25 minutes where it was joined by another. Everyone in the group managed to get photos of him as he flew around the area, settling on a variety of perches. This was a new species for everyone in the group for their UK sightings so all were very excited to see this special butterfly.

Male Long-tailed Blue.

With two of our main targets hit already, we then headed north to look for the rare Wood White. Once again I had done a recce a week earlier, so I was confident that we would find several of this special species that was now in the middle of its 2nd brood.

We arrived at the site around lunchtime, so we took advantage of the shaded area around the car park to eat lunch. One of the group saw a white butterfly flying nearby and went to investigate and there was our first Wood White!! The first day of the tour just couldn't get any better than this. A walk then followed through the wood where we saw a total of around 30 Wood White, with some of the famous courtship of this species observed, as well as some egg laying. It was also lovely to be able to show the group an actual egg that I saw being laid.

We then had an unexpected bonus of another Brown Hairstreak that Colin spotted as it flew in front of him and landed on a small Blackthorn sapling. This female then walked up and down the sapling egg laying. After a few minutes she flew up into the trees, but still low enough for a photo. This was the first time I had seen a Brown Hairstreak in the wood, so the find was very unexpected.

Male Wood White.

Female Brown Hairstreak.

On Day two we also headed west to look for Adonis and Chalkhill Blue. I knew we would see at least the Chalkhill on day three when the Silver-spotted Skipper would also be on the menu. But as it happened, we actually saw Silver-spotted Skipper in the area where the Adonis were. Apparently these Skippers are rarely seen in this valley, and two visits by myself since have both blanked on this species here. The area is also excellent for Autumn Lady's-tresses with 1000s of them growing. To top the visit off we also had a perfect Clouded Yellow that sat for the whole group to admire just before we left the site.

Male Adonis Blue on Carline Thistle.

Autumn Lady's-tresses.

The Clouded Yellow nestled down in the grass.

We then moved onto a meadow on top of the South Downs where we saw a large variety of species, including the first of many Chalkhill Blue. Here we saw both male and female and lots of courtship of this gorgeous species. There were lots of Brimstone here too and Brown Argus as well as an abundance of wild flowers.
Our final destination was to a popular Brown Hairstreak site. Here we failed to see any more Brown Hairstreak, but after yesterday's exceptional sightings of the species we were not too disappointed.

The final day started with a moth trap opening in my garden. There were plenty of moths to look at which included both Garden and Jersey Tiger, but the star species was the beautiful little micro moth Oncocera semirubella, affectionally known as Rhubarb and Custard due to the colours of this little gem.

Oncocera semirubella.

A local river walk failed to show up any Willow Emerald unfortunately, probably due to the windier conditions, even though, we did see several other dragonfly and damselfly species. A mating pair of White-legged Damselfly was very nice to see as well as a couple of Brown Hawkers hunting over the water.

Mating White-legged Damselfly.

Our final site was on my own local patch where we enjoyed many Wall Brown, Chalkhill Blue, Silver-spotted Skippers and some aged female Dark Green Fritillaries that were egg laying. The Silver-spotted Skippers were also seen egg laying, and once again I managed to find a newly laid egg to show the group. We also saw lots of the spectacular Hornet Robberfly. This species seems to be having a very good season again this year. We also had a bonus of a very fresh male Adonis Blue, a species that is becoming increasingly scarce in the immediate area.

Silver-spotted Skipper egg.

The awesome Hornet Robberfly.

It was then time for the tour to come to an end. An extremely successful tour with all the main targets seen as well as many other insect species. Everyone left very happy with what we had seen and all had several new species to add to their personal lists.

My thanks to all members of the group which helped to make it such a success, and also thanks to Lindsay for his help with hunting down Brown Hairstreak and Long-tailed Blues.

Tuesday 8 August 2023

Wood White Strikes Again.

 Back in the Spring Lisa and I wandered just over the Sussex border into Surrey to see the Wood White. This rare butterfly is only found in a small number of woodlands and is classed as one of the rarer butterflies in Britain. 

Although rarely seen in Sussex, mainly due to people going to the sites over the Surrey border where at the right time of year you are almost guaranteed to see them, there are a couple of sites where a small number still fly, although the main one is unfortunately in a woodland with no public access. However, after Lisa and I had seen some during the first brood in Surrey, she really wanted to see a Sussex individual, so we went to a woodland where I had seen some about 15 years ago. I was not hopeful, so was really pleased when we saw one just as we were about to give up.

Anyway, I wanted to see if there were any 2nd brood Wood White flying. The 2nd brood has more distinct markings than the first brood and it's been many years since I've seen the 2nd brood so I wasn't sure if I would get some. At the Surrey site it took much longer to find them, as the rides that I see them earlier in the year were more in shadow now, but when I got to the main path there were plenty of them flying about.

Female Wood White on Selfheal.

Female Wood White on Knapweed.

I saw a couple of pairs doing some courtship, a beautiful thing to watch as they flick their wings and waggle their antennae at each other with the male also uncurling the proboscis and touching the female's wings with it. Neither time did the courtship result in a coupling as one or the other decided it wasn't going to happen.

After spending a couple of hours watching the Wood Whites and lots of other species I decided to go over to the Sussex wood on the outside chance of seeing a Sussex 2nd brood Wood White. This time I didn't need to walk so far into the wood as Lisa and I had to in the spring as I found one pretty quickly.

Just after that finding I had the bizarre sighting of a mating pair flying across the ride and landing on Knapweed. I say bizarre as the male was just hanging underneath the female and was blowing about loosely in the breeze. On closer inspection I believe the male was either dead, or very close to it. On looking closely at a couple of the photos later it appears that the male had suffered severe damage to its abdomen, possibly the female flew through some tight foliage and the male got a bit squeezed. However it had happened though, it was causing a problem as it seems the male was locked on and the female couldn't get him off. I nearly tried to help but realised that I would probably damage her during the attempt, so I left them to it.

Female Wood White with dead male attached.

I carried on along the ride seeing another pair in the act of courtship. Briefly another male also joined in but this also resulted in all 3 of them going their separate ways pretty quickly.

Female (left) and male in the act of courtship.

Three is a crowd!

After getting to double figures I returned the same way adding 2 more to the sightings, although one of them may have been one that I saw on the way out. However, it was at least 11 seen and almost certainly 12. Near the end I saw another female that was alternating nectaring on Knapweed and Greater Horseshoe Vetch. The yellow of the vetch was very complimentary to the white of the butterfly, so I was pleased to get a couple of photos of her on that plant.

Female Wood White on Greater Horseshoe Vetch.

It was a fabulous few hours spent with the Wood Whites and many other species in the woodland.


Wednesday 2 August 2023

Brown Argus Explosion.

 Just over a week ago I did a walk around the far end of my patch to see how the downland bank was doing, following several months of pony grazing. To be honest it was a bit disappointing as there was very little foliage left for the wildlife. However, I have been assured that the heavy grazing will eventually pay dividends, so I live in hope.

After leaving that area though I walked along the large area that has been left all year to nature, and this year has been a totally fabulous season here. With the Marjoram now in flower along with Small and Field Scabious and Knapweeds the area is buzzing with life. The biggest winners seem to be Brown Argus which have had a population explosion. I have never seen so many Brown Argus in one smallish area, roughly 150 metres long and 15 metres wide, I estimated that there was probably 1000 plus Brown Argus. That too was only one small end of the whole meadow, so many more would have been in the rest of the area.

It was such a sight that I then went back several more times, and each time was as impressive as the first time. I actually forgot to take any photos until Lisa and I went to see them a few days later. It was difficult to find any roosting in the cloudy and windy conditions that were not blowing around amongst all the tall grasses. I also only wanted perfect specimens if at all possible and no tall grass in the background. Of course, with these stipulations I only found 3 possible contenders. I did have to be extremely careful not to disturb them too as although it was cloudy and windy it was warm enough for them to still be semi active. However, the 3 different ones did produce some pleasing photos.

Brown Argus on Plantain.

Brown Argus on Agrimony.

Brown Argus on grass-head.

Nearby there were yet more smaller numbers of Brown Argus, one of which very much seemed to like the 'Pride of Sussex', the beautiful Round-headed Rampion. Several times it flew off, but each time it returned to the same flower.

Brown Argus on Round-headed Rampion.

Since those visits I have been back another 3 times. The first of which I decided I really should try to get a count of them. As I couldn't really enter the whole area without causing large areas to be flattened I walked the length of the site of approx. 150metres and counted 185 either roosting or flying and then multiplying that by 5, which was roughly how many times across the area that I could see reasonably well from the edge. I know it's far from scientific, but it's better than just grabbing a number out of the air. However, as there were many roosting that I would have missed along the length, I do think it's fair to say that the colony is over 1000.

I did take my Naturetrek group along to see them as well as a large group from the Seaford Natural History Society that I led, and everyone was very impressed by the sight of them, especially when the sun came out briefly and 100s took flight.

Other delights in the area that I saw included a family of baby Common Lizards along with their Mum. The babies were delightful when viewed up close, looking as though they were made of brass.

Baby Common Lizard.

I also spotted a female Gatekeeper that looked very striking. It was a little later when I was viewing the photos that I spotted it had an extra large wing eye-spot, and memories came back of a similar specimen that Nigel and I came across near Pevensey a few years ago that was an aberrant form anticrasipuncta. I sent an image to the county recorder and he confirmed that this one too was also the same aberrant form.

Female Gatekeeper ab. anticrasipuncta.

Lisa was really keen to see an Essex Skipper this year as she had only seen one definite one so far, unfortunately, despite quite a search for one I only found one when she was busy photographing mating Gatekeepers. By the time she had finished the skipper had flown. A couple of days later I found this one below in the same area, but of course, Lisa was not there that day. Thankfully, I did find one for her several days later when we were looking again for Grayling.

Essex Skipper showing off its mascara applicators.