Friday 29 March 2024

The Circle of Life Starts Again.

 One of the earlier moths to appear each year is the wonderful Small Eggar. My patch happens to hold the only known colonies of this moth on the whole of the South Downs National Park.

It is more a moth of the western counties and East Anglia, and was thought to be nearly extinct in Sussex until this local colony appeared in 2017. It very quickly became a very strong colony with around 50 larval webs found in 2020, although numbers have now dropped back a bit from that.

In 2022 I found the earliest stage when I came across the egg batch that had been laid on a small Blackthorn sapling. The egg batch is very distinctive, although hard to find, as it is covered in the body hairs of the female moth, which in her final act before dying of the cold, she somehow plucks her hairs and sticks them on the eggs to protect them from the cold and presumably predation.

The county Moth Recorder thinks my photos of the egg batch were the first photos taken of this in Sussex. I was then able to photograph them through their growth in that egg batch and 2 others that I managed to find. A 4th batch were actually predated, almost certainly from a pair of Long-tailed Tits that were nest building in the next bush. I guess they thought the fur would add something to the nest. If they also ate the larvae after hatching it could be the first time Long-tailed Tits have had a takeaway dinner!!

Last year I failed to find any egg batches, and this year after several searches over the past couple of weeks I was fearing I was going to miss out again. However, a couple of days ago I once again went in search of them. After searching nearly every Blackthorn bush over a couple of miles, I was on the point of accepting defeat, when I suddenly spotted what I was after. At last, I'm not sure if I had walked past it a few times in the previous searches or whether it had only been laid over the past couple of nights, maybe time will tell if it remains there. Unfortunately, there is actually a pair of Long-tailed Tits currently nest building here too, it may even be the same pair, as they were very close to that batch from 2 years ago!!

Small Eggar egg batch on Blackthorn.

Earlier in the walk I had spotted a Wall Brown larva away from my usual area for seeing these. I also managed to get a photo of it feeding, possibly one of the best photos I've taken of this larva, as it's not easy getting them feeding. Normally they sense that something is wrong and they descend away from the area they are feeding on.

Wall Brown larva feeding.

Also on the walk a rather nice Bloody-nosed Beetle posed well for me.

Bloody-nosed Beetle.

All this on a day when the weather was not looking at all promising.

For an update, today, 3 days after finding the eggs, I re-visited the Small Eggar egg batch and unfortunately they have been predated. Whether it is by the Long-tailed Tits or another type of bird that fancied them I do not know. No eggs were left, just a very small amount of the fur.

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Another Adder Day.

 With the Adders performing so well for myself and Graham last week, Lisa and I decided to have a go at the weekend to see if they would be as photogenic.

The Bog Beacon would also be a new species for her, so there was another reason for making the trip. The only fly in the ointment, was that the weather forecast was not particularly promising, with quite a breeze blowing and only a few sunny intervals. However, as is often the case it seems these days, the forecast was not exactly accurate and there was actually more sunshine than predicted as well as the wind not being as strong as expected.

The Grass Snake unfortunately was not seen, but it wasn't long before we had seen the Bog Beacons. These looked very good in the sunshine, and after getting a few photos last week, I tried shooting more into the light this time, with some pleasing results.

Bog Beacon.

Following this we went to the area that the Adders were found last week. What I assume were the same Adders were once again showing quite well. So as not to disturb the snakes we both used telephoto lenses and it was just great watching the reptiles as they moved about slowly from time to time to get to a sunnier spot as the sun moved round. 

The Melanistic Adder.

Adder Basking.

After spending around an hour with the snakes we checked out the bracken for Lizards, seeing several.

Common Lizard.

There were also lots of Wood Anemone starting to flower. There will soon be a wonderful carpet of these flowers in several woodlands nearby.

Wood Anemone.

We then went around other parts of the woodland looking for insects. As the breeze was really quite cold we failed to see any butterflies, which was a bit of a surprise, as in some sheltered areas it seemed warm enough. We did see a few Dark-edged Bee-flies though and Lisa spotted a very early Green Tiger Beetle, which was a bit of a surprise.

We then headed back to the Adders for a final few minutes with them before the sun left the area for the day. The normal coloured Adder was now wrapped around a Bracken stem, which was quite good to see. We were only just in time for seeing this one again, as after just a few minutes the sun had gone from this little patch, however the melanistic Adder was still showing well. At this point I thought I would try to get a head shot. Putting on a 1.4x converter gave me the small increase in power that was enough for this, after a bit of a larger crop too. 

Adder wrapped around the Bracken.

Close-up of the melanistic Adder.

At this point we left the black Adder to sun itself for the remaining time the sun was shining in its favoured area. Another wonderful day with several good sightings.

Friday 22 March 2024

I 'Adder' Good Day.

 With the days getting longer, and warmer, I wanted to get to Abbotts Wood, just on the very slight chance of finding another Large Tortoiseshell. Since 2021 I have found 2 in this large woodland. Of course, it is all down to luck with this species, especially in such a large woodland.

Unfortunately, when I arrived I found that the car park was temporarily closed, and although a couple of the roadside lay-bys were vacant, the weather over the past few weeks had left them full of potholes, mud and water and I thought better of it, so onward to another woodland where Large Tortoiseshells had also been seen in recent years.

Needless to say, I didn't see any Large Tortoiseshells, but with it being the warmest day of the year so far, there were lots of butterflies along the rides, mainly Peacock and Brimstone with a few Comma too. My first sighting of interest though was as I was walking along the edge of the lake, when I spotted a young Grass Snake curled up taking advantage of the sunshine. Fortunately I spotted it before it saw me, and I was able to get a few photos of it as it lay there occasionally flicking out it's forked tongue.

Grass Snake.

After taking a few shots with the longer lens, I tried to get a bit nearer with the macro lens, but that was a step too much and it slithered very quickly away.

Moving away from the lake I saw my first Dark-edged Bee-flies of the year. Then, in a boggy area I found several really stunning Bog Beacon fungi. I have seen these before at this site, but have never managed to get any decent pictures as it's often in a darkish area. 

Bog Beacon.

Just after seeing these I bumped into Graham, a friend that had helped me enormously last winter with clearing scrub on my patch. The rest of the time at the wood we walked together looking for other things of interest. A Comma showed very well at one spot, and then we came across a large pile of dead Bracken that I thought may have snakes basking in the sun on it. There were no snakes, but several Common Lizards were basking there.

Common Lizard.

As we moved away from the Bracken pile I suddenly spotted a beautiful male Adder that was in a tiny clearing. It was far enough into the foliage that we could observe it and photograph it with the telephoto lenses without disturbing it. 

Male Adder.

After enjoying that beauty, we moved a little further along the bushes when I spotted a very large melanistic Adder. This was almost certainly a female, being much larger and broader. Whilst we were watching her she moved several times, and once again we were both able to get some pleasing photos of her. With the telephoto again, and a bit of a crop on the photos a lovely close up was possible. We were really pleased too, to be able to walk away from her with her still basking in the sunshine.

Melanistic Adder.

Monday 18 March 2024

Elmley Visits.

 So far this year I have managed to get to Elmley Nature Reserve twice. Once in January, with David, and then a couple of weeks ago with Lisa.

The visit with David was on a very cold day. Unbeknown to us at the time, there were massive delays on the road that day just south of Emley at the junction with the M2. This is ongoing major roadworks which were causing delays of traffic going north of well over an hour. The satnav did know and was sending us down lots of single lane roads, which on that particular day were also very icy. We passed one van that had slid off into a ditch and also saw a coming together of a couple of cars. At one point when a car was coming towards us I just touched the brakes and slid some distance heading straight for the other car. Fortunately, the car did stop in time as well as keeping in a straight line. It nearly turned into a very expensive day.

Anyway, eventually we did arrive and had a pretty good day at the reserve, despite not getting any particularly good pictures. We did see a rather nice distant male Hen Harrier, and the usual waders along the track, and later in the afternoon a couple of Barn Owls and some Short-eared Owls.


Barn Owl.

Short-eared Owl.

With the later trip with Lisa, we were expecting similar problems with the traffic, so we left home very early, and of course we sailed through in record time, getting to the reserve 40 minutes before it even opened!! At least we had our breakfast with us, so we could eat that at our leisure. Once we were onto the reserve we saw plenty of  Lapwing and Redshank, a species that was not seen surprisingly in the earlier visit. A couple of these Redshank also performed very well for us.



We also located one of the resident Little Owls, sitting on the old school building.

Little Owl.

Elmley is well known for its numbers of Brown Hare. We ended up seeing around 10 of these beautiful animals. Most were well out in the fields, but 2 were hunkered down quite near the track in the scrubbier grasses. It wasn't easy getting the car into the exact spot to see through the tangle of grasses to get a clear head shot, but it was just about possible.

Brown Hare.

Very near the Hares was a female Kestrel that was hunting very close to the car. With only a 500mm it was actually difficult some of the time getting the whole of the bird in the frame. It was a little better when it moved a bit further away!!

Female Kestrel.

Unfortunately, with it being a little breezy, the Short-eared Owls didn't really show for us before we had to leave, as the gates are locked at 4pm at this time of year. We did see a couple, but one was distant and the other dropped from a fence post onto the ground and stayed there for the duration. It probably caught some prey, so didn't need to hunt again for a couple of hours.

We left the reserve hoping for another clear run, but that was soon scuppered when the road south of the M2 was closed!! Still, it wasn't too bad a drive home following the diversion.

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Super Sanderlings.

 During my 2 week break in Worthing, I managed to have 4 different sessions with the local Sanderling. This is a lovely small wader that I have photographed on a handful of occasions over the years, but not particularly successfully.

As their name suggests, Sanderling do like the sand, as that is where their main food supply is. Over in Seaford, the beaches are pebbles, hence, no Sanderling.

By studying the tide times it was easy to get to the beach when the sand was showing, and as the beach in Worthing is very close to where Lisa lives it was great to arrive and leave at the right times. 

The first two visits were with Lisa, before her skiing holiday, but the other two visits were on my own. With the 4 visits I took so many pictures of these little characters. They were also much easier to photograph than I remember from previous experiences, with the birds running almost up to me, so long as I kept very still and low to the ground.

There may be a bit of a Sanderling over-load here, but it was extremely difficult knowing which photos to post.

I think this one is my personal favourite shot from the sessions.

It was a bit of a shame that all the days were cloudy, as it may have helped add a bit of a sparkle to the pictures, but on the other hand, as the birds are very lightly coloured, too much sunshine would have blown out the detail of the feathers.

Sanderling hunting.

Finding a Ragworm.

After a short pull, out the worm comes.

The latest in Sanderling fashion!! Part of a Sanderling study.

Sanderling shaking off the water after a wash.

Hoping the water movement will bring more food.

This one actually came too close at one point to focus on.

Foraging in a rockpool.

This is just a small selection of the photos I took. Basically, I can now delete all my previous Sanderling photos!!