Friday 29 December 2023

The Lace Border Year.

 Since finding the beautiful, and rare Lace Border on my patch back in 2020 I seem to have taken on the role of monitoring them, almost like they are my own offspring!!

It has certainly been rather interesting and very rewarding though, with some astonishing results that point towards the probability that on my local site I get 3 broods. All the books I have say that there are only 2 broods, and although I cannot say for absolute certainty that I get 3 broods, the evidence certainly points to that.

The other colony on the edge of Friston Forest is not quite so clear, but each year the flight season does extend to a similar time to my colony, so the 3rd brood is also a distinct possibility there too.

The first flight season started with 4 moths being seen on May 21st at my local site. The peak in number came on June 12th when 22 were counted by myself and Neil Hulme.

21/5/2023. The first Sussex sighting for the year.

 A much darker marked individual, the only one I have seen that was different to the normal.

One of the 22 counted. 

Unfortunately for me, I had to leave Neil during the count for a Dr's appointment, when I left, Neil and I were approaching double figures, but I was still amazed with the final tally of 22 that Neil reached.

The 2nd brood started on the 14th July, so 55 days after the 1st brood starting. This brood then peaked with 24 moths on the 27th July. 

The 2nd peak of the supposed 2nd brood was actually the highest count of the entire year, on September 11th, with an amazing 30 moths. This was 58 days after the 2nd brood started, so actually longer than the gap between the start of the 1st and 2nd brood and bearing in mind that the life cycle in the summer is likely to be faster than that of the spring, due to temperature, a 3rd brood is actually quite likely if conditions allow. The numbers between those two peaks also reduced to low single figures before that massive spike.




The gaps between the 3 peaks are 45 days and then 46 days, once again that seems to indicate a probability of a 3rd brood.

So with 3 peaks throughout the year, I feel that my colony at least is producing 3 broods. I did feel the same in 2022, but with that year I did wonder if the weather conditions were to blame for the 2nd brood  fading away, and then returning with a flourish, after the long hot and dry summer period. I guess to prove it I need more data over a longer time period.

My personal count, over both sites were 143 sightings, consisting of at least 121 different moths. 

Saturday 23 December 2023

Long-tailed Blue Life Cycle.

 2023 was certainly another really good year for the Long-tailed Blue butterfly in Sussex with 100s of the butterflies seen in the county, mostly in West Sussex, although East Sussex also had some activity. This is the first year that I have managed to record all 4 stages of the butterfly, although some was at home as I did rear through a couple of butterflies from eggs.

My good friend Pete had many eggs laid in his Newhaven garden, and not for the first time. The problem for him though, and of course, the developing larvae and butterflies is that in the late summer the sun no longer hits his garden, so the larvae die as they either suffer from cold, mildew, or are eaten by slugs and snails. With this in mind, he asked me if I would like to collect a few eggs to rear through at home.

I am always reluctant to try this, but as the life cycle is so quick, I thought I would try, and that way I could hopefully record the whole life cycle on camera.

Having said that, most of the images in this post were actually taken in the wild. One local site I found around 60 eggs on the Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea, so I kept visiting the area hoping to see adult butterflies. However, very few were actually seen at the site, so after emerging as butterflies, it appeared that most quickly left the area. However, what was particularly pleasing was finding several feeding larvae. This often takes place inside the flower, so is therefore not often seen, but on a couple of occasions Lisa and I found some on the leaves of the plant. Having found so many eggs, and seeing plenty of butterflies, the only stage that I couldn't really achieve in the wild was the pupa. This however, I was lucky to see with one of the ones I brought home from Pete's garden, where it pupated in amongst a leaf, after it had made a small silk purse to pupate in. The only other pupa I had was formed actually in a flower head. This I found as I was clearing out the flowers that had gone mouldy. This pupa was a lot smaller than the one in the leaf. I assumed that the larger one was a female and the smaller one, a male. However, they actually emerged on the same day and were both female. Once I had the 2 pupa I passed on the other developing larvae, probably 4 more, to another friend to continue with the rearing, as I was soon to be away in Scotland, so I wouldn't be able to look after them properly.

As far as the adult butterflies went, I managed some lovely fresh male photos in Seaford, as well as plenty of more worn individuals in West Sussex. An egg laying female was also photographed in Seaford, and the 2 emerged females that were reared were beautiful, but very hard to photograph in the poor light I had at the time. What was interesting was both of the females very quickly took flight and both flew away strongly, despite the poor weather, in a southerly direction, heading straight for the sea. Of course, I do not know if they kept flying straight out to sea, or if they paused to feed up before migrating south. The other interesting thing was the size difference in the pupa followed through to the adults, with one being very much smaller than the other one despite them both being female.

Long-tailed Blue ova.

Long-tailed Blue larva.

Feeding Long-tailed Blue larva.

Long-tailed Blue larva.

Long-tailed Blue larvae (reared).

Long-tailed Blue pupa (reared).

Long-tailed Blue pupa 8 days later (reared).

The female Long-tailed Blue that was seen laying the ova on picture one.
(Also note the feeding damage from larvae on the leaf to the right of the butterfly).

Fresh Male Long-tailed Blue.

Fresh Male Long-tailed Blue.

Two Long-tailed Blue feeding on Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea flower.

The larger Female Long-tailed Blue (reared).

The smaller Female Long-tailed Blue (reared).

Female Long-tailed Blue just before flying away (reared).

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Shrike, Raven and Spanish Sparrow.

 My final blog from my Naturetrek trip to Fuerteventura are all from the same day. Three species of birds all performed extremely well for the camera and gave me my favourite shots from the trip.

When Matt and I led this trip 2 years ago, we found a brilliant picnic area in the hills. The highlight that day, was the same as this year with a stunning Great Grey Shrike. The one this year wasn't as tame as the one from 2 years ago, when we were photographing it with our macro lenses. However, the one this year actually produced better, more natural results as it sat, searching for prey from a reasonably low perch. By me moving slightly, it was also possible to have a background of light mountain, rather than a dark tree. This certainly also helped give good results. I ended up taking lots of photos of the bird in this position, although it did fortunately change its pose several times, so not all the photos looked the same!!

The Great Grey Shrike that occurs in Fuerteventura is of the subspecies koenigi. During the week we had many sightings, more sightings than we had from either of the past 2 years, so the bird certainly appears to be doing very well there. We even had 3 of them around the hotel gardens throughout the week.

The images below are from the picnic area. It was very difficult knowing which ones to post, so I have posted several!! What a bird and what a performer though!

Great Grey Shrike ssp. koenigi.

After the picnic lunch we moved a couple of miles to a Mirador with amazing views of the surrounding hillsides. As we were parking, a beautiful male Spanish Sparrow was sitting on the fence just outside the car. I quickly took a couple of shots of it, not realising that I would shortly be getting even better views of it on more natural foliage and a rock. In the meantime though, several Ravens were also sitting on the fence, allowing close approaches. In fact, one person was seen feeding it by hand!! I'm not sure I would risk getting a nip from a Raven!

Male Spanish Sparrow.


Male Spanish Sparrow.

Male Spanish Sparrow.

My favourite photo from the entire trip.
 Who would have thought a sparrow would have been that.

So, another trip to Fuerteventura has ended. It certainly is a treat visiting the island during our winter, and getting some warmth and sunshine. Many more friends made and many wonderful moments. My thanks to all the group, and to Richard, my co-leader for making it such a memorable tour.

Monday 11 December 2023

Close Encounters in Fuerteventura.

 As with most trips I have, the smaller creatures that I encounter give me the biggest thrills. This can be  because many others would miss them perhaps. It's also a thrill finding creatures that are unusual and rarely seen, and that is the case with my favourite Grasshopper, a species that I have found twice now on Fuerteventura. A very colourful species, that I spotted on the first Naturetrek trip back in 2021. It took quite a while to pin down the name of the species that year, as it was a case of googling grasshopper with yellow legs, or white antennae. Eventually we found the name as Dericory's lobata luteipes, a subspecies of a desert grasshopper, and only found on Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. There are few photos of it too online, or indeed records of the insect.

The finding of it this year was very near the spot that I came across it in 2021, along Berranco de La Torre. The group had all headed back to the vans for our picnic lunch, with just Janet looking for a Sardinian Warbler that was calling in a bush. I stopped to see if I could help to spot the bird when the grasshopper jumped near where I was standing. Looking through the binoculars I realised it was the colourful species. Unfortunately, the rest of the group were far away by this time, but at least Janet had some great views of it. I quickly changed to the macro lens so I could get some more detailed images of it.

Dericory's lobata luteipes.

A new species for me this year was a spectacular fly, a Band-eyed Drone Fly. This was during a short session of trying to find some roosting Lang's Shot-tailed Blues in the hotel garden. I found it during a cloudier and cooler period, so it was actually asleep, so I was able to show it to some of the group and photograph it, although the light was at this time quite poor. The eye of his species is absolutely amazing!!

Band-eyed Drone Fly.

The Lang's Short-tailed Blues also gave me a few opportunities during the week. This was the only butterfly seen in reasonable numbers this year. Both butterfly and dragonfly numbers were well down on previous years, with only 2 Monarch seen, a handful of Plain Tiger, 2 Clouded Yellow, around 10 Painted Lady and a single African Grass Blue. On the dragonfly front, a few Blue Emperor and Red-veined Darter were found along with very small numbers of Sahara Bluetail and Broad Scarlet.

Lang's Short-tailed Blue.

Most of the small number of Plain Tiger were along the same Berranco as the grasshopper. There were also, as last year, plenty of larvae feeding on the Apple of Sodom plants, with the odd adult flying around the plants looking for egg laying leaves.

Plain Tiger larva moulting.

Plain Tiger larva.

Plain Tiger adult.

Female Red-veined Darter.

Last year a small colony of Banded Garden Spider were found at a different Berranco. With the tour being a couple of weeks later this year, I wasn't sure if they would still be around, but when we checked out the site we found several spiders as well as huge numbers of egg sacks. This spider is quite new to the island, with the first record coming from 2016. It is obviously doing very well at this particular site.  As with the grasshopper, I have kept an eye open for both species at different sites, but have only found both of them again at the same sites where I have had them before. The spider is a close relative to the Wasp Spider found in the UK.

Garden Banded Spider (Agriope trifasciata).

Thursday 7 December 2023

Sally Lightfoot Hangs On.

 One of the many highlights for me in Fuerteventura are the wonderfully coloured Sally Lightfoot crabs, that are found on the rocks along the shoreline. 

The reason the crabs get their unusual name is rumoured to come from a Caribbean dancer that had great movement and agility, very much like the crab. They can certainly hang on to the rocks despite being regularly hit and covered by some very powerful waves. The photo below shows tendrils hanging from the legs of the crab that probably help it to cling on to the rocks.

Sally Lightfoot Crab.

Often a larger wave totally covers the crab, but the crab remains sitting happily after the wave has gone.

Sally Lightfoot Crab covered by a wave.

Sally Lightfoot dancing to I'm Still Standing!!

Atlantic Lizards are also quite numerous on Fuerteventura. We even had some in the hotel grounds, where one had presumably been caught by one of the cats in the grounds, as it had lost its tail.

This is the Lizard in the hotel grounds that had lost its tail. The wall must have been quite warm, so it held a foot up. I'm sure he wasn't waving at me.

Atlantic Lizard near Los Molinos.

As ever the Barbary Ground Squirrels caused much entertainment as they ran about in the rocky terrain. In some areas they were extremely tame, those areas where they know they stand a chance of some food.

Barbary Ground Squirrel.

My next post from Fuerteventura will be about some of the smaller creatures we found.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Return to Fuerteventura.

 I have recently returned from another fabulous trip to Fuerteventura, co-leading a group for Naturetrek for the 3rd time. Richard and I had the pleasure to be able to show our 11 clients some wonderful wildlife on this Canary Island. Although the trip is mainly centred around the birdlife, we also managed to find some superb unusual insect life, so I was in my element!!

It really is difficult knowing where to start, but with so many favourite moments I will start with some of the birds we found.

The first day, following an early walk, we headed to the local Reservoir, where we found the water level very low, although not quite as low as it had been 2 years ago when Matt and I did the tour. We had some early success with some close fly-by of a couple of Egyptian Vulture. A species we saw every day.

Adult Egyptian Vulture.

The Canary Islands Stonechat were also on display here, as well as several other sites throughout the week.

Male Canary Islands Stonechat.

A Lesser Scaup that we saw last year was also still present as well as many Ruddy Shelduck and Black-winged Stilt. Several flyover flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouse also kept us entertained.

Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

Another species that we saw every day of the trip was the Berthelot's Pipit. A bird that is a Canary speciality and is also numerous and often quite approachable.

Berthelot's Pipit.

The African Blue Tit were much more numerous this year. It is a very special bird, and we were lucky to get some close encounters with them in the grounds of the hotel. They are similar to our Blue Tits, but much more brightly coloured. As Richard put it, It's like a Blue Tit on steroids!!

African Blue Tit.

Laughing Dove were also seen regularly around the hotel grounds as well as in some of the other sites visited.

Laughing Dove.

Every birding trip to Fuerteventura has the Houbara Bustard on the wanted list. Last year these were extremely difficult to find, so it was a great relief to head to a site near the hotel, where Matt and I had seen them in number 2 years ago, on the 2nd morning, and to find two of the birds straight away. It was still getting light when we came across the birds so photography was out of the question. However, we had excellent views for around 30 minutes as they moved around the area feeding. We actually saw the Houbara Bustard on 4 of the days, and good numbers too. Our closest encounters came on the last day, and in fact, my final photos of the week were of the Houbara Bustard.

Houbara Bustard.

The other main target bird however, was so not so easy. The Cream-coloured Courser drove us crazy during the week. On the 2nd day I spotted one as we were driving along a main road, too fast to stop unfortunately. I called the bird and pointed but only 2 others spotted the bird. Despite lots of searching during the week, that was the only sighting of the bird. A bird that also eluded us last year too. Listening to local birders, sightings of them have become few and far between, so maybe we were lucky to have had even that one brief view.