Sunday 28 January 2024

An Epic Butterfly Start to 2024.

 With our warming climate I often see butterflies in all 12 months of the year. I was on course for this again in 2023, but failed on the final hurdle, with no UK sightings in December.

2024 started, and it was starting to look as though I would actually fail at the first hurdle, as up until the 26th I hadn't seen any at all. Even more frustrating as Matt had actually seen one on January 1st!!

On Friday, the 26th, Lisa was heading over to mine for a trip out in the sunshine to hopefully see some Bearded Tits. While I was waiting for her to arrive, I loaded up the car with the camera gear along with wellies and coats etc, and then decided to clean out the bird feeder. Whilst cleaning the feeders I suddenly became aware of a couple of Red Admirals flying around my head. Yay, at last, a butterfly sighting. 

It then became much, much better though, as they landed on the wall of the house and then joined up to mate. Now, Red Admirals are very rarely seen mating at any time of the year. Obviously they do mate, as they are a common butterfly, but they must do it very discreetly normally. It is even rarer for a winter coupling and this could even be the first time its been photographed in the UK during the winter??

My first photo of this event was all done in a bit of a panic, as of course the camera was in the car already for the trip out. Even worse was the macro lens was upstairs in the house. I very quickly took a photo on the mobile, just to make sure I had some evidence, and then raced to the car and upstairs to get both the camera and lens I needed. 

Mating Red Admirals. (female with open wings and male behind her).

I then managed to get close enough to the wall to get both butterflies sharp, as at this point they were both closed wings. It was very difficult getting into the best position to get them sharp as it was shooting straight down from above them. After getting a few images I text Lisa, hoping she would get the message and that she would arrive before they flew. Fortunately, a couple of minutes later I saw her car draw up, and she managed to see and photograph this very rare event. 

Mating Red Admirals. As seen from above them. (Female on left).

After we had both taken enough photos to ensure we had some sharp ones, we left them in peace and went off to hopefully see some Bearded Tits. 2 were seen, but it was without doubt that the Red Admirals had been the stars of the day!!!

Saturday 20 January 2024

The Beautiful Bearded Reedling.

 The beautiful Bearded Reedling, most often called the Bearded Tit, is a wonderful bird that lives in the reedbeds. In Summer it is an insect feeder, but in the Winter, when there are few insects to feed upon, they turn to the seed-heads of the Reeds to feed on. 

The best time to observe them is on cold, still days when they can be seen feeding in the reedbeds on the seed-heads. 

As we have recently had a few really cold days with very light winds I have been searching for these lovely birds, hoping to get some nice photos of them. We have several reedbeds in Sussex where these birds are found, although my best photographs have always come from Dungeness in the past.

Three times I have been out in the past week, with my first attempt being with Lisa, who had always wanted to see them, but had never had the opportunity. Unfortunately, although it was a calm day when we tried, it was also very dull, so photography was going to be tough. The main target though was to at least see the birds and for Lisa to get a few record shots.

It was very early in our trip when we saw the first birds. I was carefully leading the way, but concentrating on the water in the meadow, which at times was quite deep, when Lisa spotted two Bearded Reedling just in front of us. For the next 90 minutes or so we were watching the birds that at one point numbered 5 birds, but mostly 4 birds. There were 2 males and 2 females for the majority of the time. Lisa managed to take quite a few photos although the birds generally stayed well hidden deep in the reedbeds. The light remained very poor, and as it was mid to late afternoon, the light of course, got much worse.

3 days later, the sun came out, and it was still light winds. Therefore I just had to go back and have another attempt. Lisa unfortunately was working, but conditions were so good I just had to try again. This time I met up with David, who I had been with for my best ever session with these birds back in January 2017. In the same area as 3 days earlier I quickly re-found the birds again. Once again, they stayed mostly deep in the reedbed, making it very difficult to get clear views and photographs of them. However, one of the females did feed for a short while on the edge of the reed-bed allowing some clear images.

Female Bearded Reedling.

The female of this species is absolutely gorgeous, but the male is even more spectacular, so it was very frustrating seeing the 2 males in the group feeding quite close, but in the middle of the reedbed where photography was not viable. Eventually we moved to a different area of the site where another male and female were found. The reedbed here wasn't so dense, but once again the birds stayed in the middle of the reeds making it hard to get close shots. Towards the end of the session I did get a shot from distance of the male that I quite like.

Male Bearded Reedling in the Reed-bed.

The weather actually remained good for a couple more days, so another attempt was possible. Once again David joined me. The original birds were located again very quickly, but this time they were much more elusive, so it was back to the other area for the pair. At first there was no sign of them, but after a short while they were seen flying into the same area as they were before. Strangely, this time, instead of feeding on the Reed seed-heads they seemed to be enjoying the Reed-mace. It took quite a while again, but eventually a few shots of both the female and male feeding on the Reed-mace were achieved.

All these photos took a great deal of patience and several hours were spent on all 3 days, but when a bird is as good looking as these, it is time very much well spent.

Female Bearded Reedling.

Male Bearded Reedling.

Wednesday 17 January 2024


 Towards the end of 2023 I did have a few little trips out and about, with a few different forms of fungi. The best day was in a West Sussex woodland with Lisa where we found several Magpie Inkcaps, a species that had managed to evade me up until that point, despite it being far from rare. On the same walk we did stumble across a couple of other interesting fungi, following on from seeing Parrot Waxcaps for the first time and a lovely display of Porcelain Fungi in East Sussex.

Magpie Inkcap.

Fly Agaric.

Parrot Waxcap.

Porcelain Fungi.

David and I also had an uneventful day to Dungeness, where all the birds we had hoped to see remained unseen!! Apart from a close view of a Great White Egret, that hardly warranted the long day, the camera stayed pretty quiet.

Great White Egret.

On a walk from home in December, several Kestrels were seen. Some of them did allow a close approach too, which was rather nice. Especially as on a few walks I continued to miss the Long-billed Dowitcher, that was a first for East Sussex. It turned up in mid October, but wasn't seen by me on any of my visits until mid January. Fortunately it stayed around long enough for me to see it!! A grab shot of a Rock Pipit was the only other mini highlight for me. Far from a rarity, but one that rarely poses for a photo.

Two different Kestrels.

Rock Pipit.

Friday 12 January 2024

Local Waxwings

 Just before Christmas the masses of Waxwing that have appeared this winter in the north started to head south into Sussex. 

I eventually had 3 visits to see them, with hopefully more sightings still to come before they depart. Unfortunately for me, all but one of my visits were in very poor light, as the dull and dreary weather continued for many days.

With quite a large flock of 20 plus birds showing for many days at Hailsham, just around the corner from my son's house, that is where I went. The first visit I met David there and the birds were seen very quickly, however, it was very difficult getting any decent images in the light, and as they were generally staying quite high up in the trees, that also caused issues.


A few days later, I took Lisa to see them, as it would be a new bird species for her. We also met David there. Once again the birds were in the same area, but the same problems occurred with the light.

Waxwing. This bird landed just above Lisa's head.

Finally, another visit on a sunnier day, but the birds were not in the usual spot. We decided to walk along the trail where we had heard they had been spotted on and off the day before. Here we found them coming down to feed in the sunshine. We still struggled getting any really good shots, but it was a delight seeing these beautiful birds in good light.

Waxwing with a dirty crest.

Waxwing. (Showing the red 'wax' marks on the wing).