Tuesday 26 September 2023

Late Summer Highlights.

It has been a fabulous year for my colony of Lace Border. After carrying out lots of scrub clearance work last winter, helped admirably by Graham, to help open up the area for the Thyme to grow the species has really taken off with my highest ever daily count in recent weeks of 30 individuals. Bearing in mind the total count of this species in Sussex between the 1970s and 2020 was only 5 individuals this is truly astonishing.  With the other recently found colony also doing well, that I also monitor, Sussex is suddenly one of the best places in the UK to see this very rare moth.

The beautiful Lace Border.

I was also invited by Dave to go and see his colony of another rare moth, the Oblique Striped, that occurs on private land that he has permission to visit to monitor butterflies and moths. I had only seen one of these moths before, but by the end of the session we had seen around 17 of them as well as an egg laying Six-belted Clearwing and several Hummingbird Hawk-moths.

Oblique Striped.

The late summer has once again produced several of the stunning Wasp Spider. The female of which is a very colourful species. I never tire of seeing this beautiful spider.

Female Wasp Spider.

In the garden a month ago I had a lovely male Brimstone go to roost, and as it was there the following morning I had a short session photographing it, before it went back to feeding most of the day on the Buddleia.

Male Brimstone on Purple Toadflax.

I had a private Naturetrek tour with a lady from Yorkshire. She had booked me back in the spring with the request if possible to see the Long-tailed Blue and Clouded Yellow with a further request for the Silver-spotted Skipper. As I had the Butterfly 3 day tour the week before I was confident of showing her the Long-tailed Blue, but the Clouded Yellow was a bit more of a problem as they have been a bit thin on the ground this year, as was the Silver-spotted Skipper, as all the sites I am familiar with would be a problem fitting into the one day. So with a little bit of detective work Lisa and I went to check a couple of possible sites for the Skipper that would be nearer to where I was taking the lady for the other two requests. Not only did we find plenty of the Silver-spotted Skippers, Lisa also found a mating pair that performed very well for us.

On the day with the lady from Yorkshire, I managed to show her 7 Long-tailed Blue, 5 Clouded Yellow and many Silver-spotted Skipper. A very memorable and enjoyable day.

Mating Silver-spotted Skipper.

I have done very little moth trapping this year, but with Lisa staying over I did put it out one night and caught my first ever Large Thorn. A really beautiful moth. Another highlight that night was a Portland Riband Wave.

Large Thorn.

On one memorable day on the patch, I was showing a lady from Natural England the colony of Lace Border, a species that she was studying, when a female Grayling suddenly flew past. This was the first sighting of one on the patch since 2015. The site looks really good for the species, but they have never stuck here, probably getting blown away on the windier days. This female was observed the following day egg laying, so hopefully next year will see some more Grayling in the area.

Female Grayling.

On the same day I also managed a nice photo of the Pyrausta nigrata on Common Centaury.

Pyrausta nigrata on Common Centaury.

Each year, another species that I like to try for is the extremely rare Wart-biter Cricket. Named back in the day when some very odd people thought the cricket could remove warts from your hand!!
Lisa had never seen this creature before, so it was well worth looking for. Not too far away from home is the largest natural UK colony of this wonderful cricket. There are also a couple of other local sites where they have been introduced by Natural England with crickets from the colony we were going to. The weather was not really that good, and after searching for some time I was about to give up when I spotted one. A male that was not quite fully grown. Such a delight seeing one of these crickets again. Afterwards we also saw several Raspberry Clearwing. Another new species for Lisa.

Male Wart-biter.

A couple of weeks ago Lisa and I went to Petworth Park for her to test out her new telephoto lens on the Fallow Deer. I had left my telephoto gear at home, but at the time I was happy just to go and see what we could see. The session started really well with a beautiful example of the fungus Chicken Of The Woods. For this I had the better lens, whilst I used the macro, Lisa had to step further back with her big lens. However, when we came to some deer, she was in a much better position and she got some absolutely stunning photos, making me wish I had taken my telephoto gear too. 

Chicken Of The Woods fungi.

At Petworth we did see some Willow Emerald damselflies, and we also saw some more at Ebernoe Common afterwards too. However, I did see and get the photo below on my usual local site for them.

Male Willow Emerald.

The past few days have been spent locally. At last Small Copper are being seen more regularly. This is often the story with Small Coppers with the 1st brood being few and far between. By the time the 3rd brood are on the wing numbers have built up. This lovely individual was taken on a weekend walk in Friston Forest.

Female Small Copper.

On the same walk I had a quick look in a favoured Willow tree for caterpillars. It was only a couple of minutes into the search when I found this rather smart Poplar Hawk-moth larva.

Poplar Hawk-moth larva.

Butterflies are now beginning to slow right down with many species having now finished for the year. However, there are still some gems about. Flying on a walk I did yesterday were lots of Speckled Wood, Red Admiral and Peacock. I was actually doing my 3rd brood Wall Brown count, which ended up slightly disappointing, although to be fair, I was a week or so too late. I did see 23 as well as a dead one in a spider's web. A couple of Comma's also put on a nice show, including this beauty that I had to stand on tip-toe to photograph. I do sometimes wish I was a few inches taller!!


Wednesday 13 September 2023

The Long-tailed Blue Weekend.

With Lisa living in West Sussex, and myself in East Sussex, we get the chance to explore both sides of the county without having to drive long distances on our days out with wildlife.

With 2023 looking as though it will be the best ever year for the rare Long-tailed Blue this is giving us the chance to see them in many different sites, as well as seeing different stages of their life cycle. We have already seen many eggs this year and also several adults, although these have mostly been from the earlier wave of migrants so have been a little past their best. However, now there are a few really fresh butterflies coming through and our chances of a few special photos are increasing.

Last weekend for us started on Friday, and we ventured out hoping for some Long-tailed Blue activity, but we were thinking that most, or all would still be a little worn, however, we were very happy to see some extremely fresh males and half decent females. One of the the latter we actually saw lay an egg which for a few seconds appeared to be a creamy green colour, before it turned to the usual white.

Female Long-tailed Blue.

Below is the egg we watched her lay.

Long-tailed Blue egg.

Fresh Male Long-tailed Blue sitting on Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea flower.

This session was extremely enjoyable spent with a friend too. After a few commitments on Saturday, we then ventured to a different site on the Sunday in the hope of seeing yet more of these beautiful butterflies. The weather wasn't quite so good, but still good enough for them to be flying if you can find some. This was at the site where we had found lots of eggs a couple of weeks earlier, but as most had hatched when we had found them there was an outside chance of some of the earlier ones producing butterflies. As we wandered around the Pea flowers I somehow spotted a Long-tailed Blue larva feeding on one of the pea pods. This was something that I never expected to see, let alone find. There have been very few sightings in the wild of one of these larvae. I quickly called Lisa over hoping it would not move away from where it was feeding. Fortunately, it stayed feeding in full view for some time, and although Lisa had decided not to bring her macro lens she still managed some fine photos with her telephoto.

Long-tailed Blue larva on pea pod.

After a while the larva moved away from the pod and ventured down the stem looking for another part of the plant to feed on.

Long-tailed Blue larva moving down the stem.

Of course, now Lisa wanted to find her own larva, so off she went in a determined way only to find another 2 very quickly. It is always much more satisfying finding your own and not only did she find these two but she also found a very fresh Long-tailed Blue butterfly, which on checking the photos of the abdomen, we think was a female. Unfortunately, we didn't see the top wings properly, but Lisa did manage a few closed wing photos before it flew over a large bush and promptly vanished. We then checked out some more pea further away and she then found another larva that was making a very large meal of a pea pod!! This one was also browner which I think indicates that it was a more advanced larva. Knowing that the pea pods also turn brown with age, that would make sense for the larva to change to brown gradually to keep it's camouflage working.

It's possible that we got lucky with the larvae as it was so hot, so they were venturing out of their hiding places to feed?

Up to now I can't recall seeing any photos of the larvae from the wild. As far as I can remember all the photos I've seen were from people rearing them at home.

The last of the 4 Long-tailed Blue larva that we saw, this one having a very big meal.

It certainly was a very enjoyable and exciting weekend, and with the large number of Long-tailed Blues expected to be flying in the next few weeks the 2023 butterfly season is certainly far from over. Hopefully we will both get some more fresh butterflies to photograph in the weeks to come.

Monday 4 September 2023

Brown Hairstreak Anniversary.

 On the 25th August 2021 I was doing a recce for my first Sussex Butterfly tour for Naturetrek in which Pete and I headed over to West Sussex to check out a couple of sites that I was planning to take my clients to for firstly, Adonis Blue, and then on to another site for the Brown Hairstreak.

The first site was absolutely brilliant for both Adonis Blue and Autumn Lady's Tresses and the 2nd site for the Brown Hairstreak was a little more challenging, but in the end we did see a couple of them. 

It was at this 2nd site though, that I bumped into an enthusiastic lady that was hoping for the same thing. It was unlike me to start up a conversation, but that is what I did. Almost straight away we felt comfortable chatting away, and then we had that magical moment when a Brown Hairstreak appeared. That is basically how Lisa and I met.

Strangely, we bumped into each other a little over a week later when I was in the middle of the tour when she was looking for a Wryneck and I was hoping for a Long-tailed Blue. 

Over the next year we had the odd meet up looking for butterflies and other wildlife. Having only lost my lovely Penny some four months earlier I certainly wasn't thinking of starting a new relationship when we first met, but over a year later feelings between us did start to strengthen and eventually we became partners, strengthened by our love of the natural world.

On the 2nd anniversary of our first meeting, we went to the same site, once again to look for Brown Hairstreaks. This time, instead of seeing just a couple, we saw around 8. Not only that, but we had extended views of them and both managed to get some lovely photos of them.

It was totally by chance that we bumped into each other that day back in 2021, but it just shows that you never know what, or who, is around the corner!!

After our wonderful Brown Hairstreak day we then went out celebrating with a fabulous meal. Hopefully we will have many more brilliant wildlife days together.

This Hairstreak we chased for some distance up the hill before she suddenly settled on this Agrimony. Unfortunately, she had lost her tails, but otherwise she was in brilliant condition.

All the other photos are of a different female that we spent around 30 minutes with as she walked around the young Blackthorn, looking to egg lay, before resting up.

Female Brown Hairstreak.