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.

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