Saturday 27 April 2024

Butterflies Lift My Spirits!!

 Yet another week has just passed with very little warmth, sunshine or calm conditions. In fact many days felt like winter had returned.

Rather than complaining though, I decided to have a long walk through Friston Forest to see if I could find any roosting butterflies. Not an easy task, but rewarding when successful.

What has been very noticeable in the past couple of weeks is the mass of Garlic Mustard, which has obviously taken advantage of the damp cool spring. Garlic Mustard is also one of the main larval foodplants of both the Orange-tip and Green-veined White. Hopefully with all this food for the larvae the butterfly will have a good year and there will be plenty of both these species next year flying.

The slight downside of all this Garlic Mustard is that looking for the roosting butterflies is more challenging, as they can be more spread out. However, I wasn't far into my walk when I saw a very fresh female Orange-tip roosting on the top of a Garlic Mustard flower. 

The light all day was very poor, so I took lots of photos of all my subjects today to hopefully mean I got a few sharp shots. In fact it ended up the most photos I had taken in a single day for a mighty long time!! It was certainly worth it though as I ended up with several pleasing shots.

Female Orange-tip on Garlic Mustard.

After spending some time with this lovely butterfly I moved on seeing very little in the form of butterflies. The temperature was below double figures, so there was absolutely nothing flying, apart from large numbers of Adela reaumerella, a tiny moth with extremely long antennae, so it was just a case of wandering about hoping something would catch my eye. I did take a couple of shots of the female, that has a shorter antenna, as they are quite a nice looking micro moth.

Female Adela reaumerella.

After several miles and little else to see I was pleased to spot a Glow-worm larva crossing the path. I have seen several of these over the past couple of weeks, so hopefully there will be lots of little lights on the Downs in a couple of months time!!

Glow-worm larva.

I was by now halfway back to the car, when I spotted the lovely macro moth, Pretty Chalk Carpet, resting on a leaf in the verge of the forest track. At first I took it as a bird dropping, but after a double take I realised it was a moth. I have only seen a handful of this species before, so was very pleased to find it.

Pretty Chalk Carpet.

A short distance further down the ride I then found a Green-veined White on another clump of Garlic Mustard. Surprisingly, this one wasn't asleep, but nectaring on the flower. It also moved a couple of times giving me other photo opportunities.

Green-veined White on Garlic Mustard.

Green-veined White on young Bluebell.

By now, it was mid afternoon, and it seemed that the weather was not going to improve. I was by now nearly back to where the female Orange-tip had been and I was thinking how good it would be to see a roosting male, when I suddenly spotted one. Although he wasn't as fresh as the female had been, it was still brilliant to see. 

Male Orange-tip on Dandelion clock.

Amazingly by now the sky had cleared a little, but not enough to have woken the female up, and she was still happy on her Garlic Mustard flower. However, when I reached the top of the hill I saw a Green-veined White that had decided to risk a short flight. It very soon landed again though on the edge of a Bramble bush. This gave me my last photos of the day.

Green-veined White.

2 days later and the weather was still miserable, so after enjoying Friston Forest so much I decided to repeat the trip. It was slightly better, with hazy sunshine, but now with an even colder and stronger wind. On the walk I did see several Green-veined White, but no Orange-tips at all. The highlights were 4 Scarlet Tiger moth larvae as well as a couple of moths that I don't catch in my moth trap. A Green-silver Lines and a White-pinioned Spotted. At the furthest end of the walk there were also a superb display of Early Purple Orchids.

Scarlet Tiger larva.

Green-silver Lines.

White-pinioned Spotted.

Early Purple Orchids.

I also had a lovely encounter with a Stoat in the forest. Two days that I wasn't really expecting to see much, turned out to be 2 very worthwhile and rewarding days. However, it really would be nice to get some proper spring weather soon, please!!

Monday 22 April 2024

Early Spider Orchid fools a Bee.

 It was time for my annual Early Spider Orchid fix, and after getting a call from David, telling me that he and Gary were going to a favourite site of mine, I decided to join them. We also invited Pete to join us, so it was quite a party when we all met up. Once again, the cold breeze that seems to have been with us for so long, was still there, and along the top of the downland it was pretty exposed.

It is quite a long walk to the hillside where the orchids are, so there was plenty of time for a bit of banter, and finding out where everyone had been recently. Japan was the furthest any of us had travelled, and that wasn't me!!

The orchids this year seem to be mainly quite small, which was a bit of a surprise to me with all the wet weather we have been having. It was actually quite hard finding any of the orchids that were in a good position for photography, as most were tucked into the grasses where they were so short. At last though, one of them did stand out as it was a little taller and also at an angle where the background would be blurred out.

Early Spider Orchid.

We had a wander across the area finding many orchids, with many more still to come. As we slowly made our way back Gary and I both saw a small bee drop down onto one of the flowers. Fortunately, we were able to get some quick grab shots of the bee on the flower, as this is how the orchid gets pollinated. The orchid actually has a scent which mimics the pheromone of the female bee, so when a male detects this scent he tries to mount the flower to mate, with what he believes is the female bee. In doing so he is likely to get the sticky pollen sacs attached to him. The idea then is that he will eventually try the same thing on another orchid if he gets fooled again, and pollination will take place. It is only the solitary bee, Andrena nigroaena, the Buffish Mining Bee, that the orchid attracts. I have never seen this behaviour before, and there are not that many pictures of the event either, so we were really lucky to witness this happening in front of us. It was also very quick. I only managed to shoot off 3 photos before the male bee realised he had been fooled, and off he went in a huff.

Buffish Mining Bee (Andrena nigroaena) on Early Spider Orchid.

It was such a great experience that 3 days later I tried again, this time with Lisa. Needless to say we didn't see this happen again, although it was good to see that a few more orchids had appeared. I only took a very small number of shots, but once again, one orchid did look particularly worthy of a couple of photos.

Early Spider Orchid.

Tuesday 16 April 2024

Orange and Red.

 Lisa has just had a couple of weeks off from her dancing work, which has given us a few chances to get out and about in nature.

During the first week we had an early Green Hairstreak on my patch, this was equal the earliest date I have seen this species. We saw it in a brief sunnier spell and unfortunately the butterfly flew deep into the bushes pretty much as soon as we saw it. However, it was great to get one of these beauties so early. Fingers crossed for many more sightings in the next few weeks.

This past weekend was spent over in West Sussex. The Friday was spent covering 3 sites hoping for Green Hairstreak and Orange-tip. Before we went to the main sites for these we paid a visit to a site for Green-winged Orchids. Although quite early in their season we did find a few nice specimens coming through, and one in particular was worthy of some photos. We also had a very nice male Emperor Moth which gave Lisa her best photo of this species to date.

Green-winged Orchid.

Male Emperor Moth.

The Hairstreak site was very windy and we only saw a single one. However, throughout the day we did see Orange-tips at all the other 3 sites, with many seen in a small wooded section we walked through. At one point I even had 2 male Orange-tips nectaring together. In the same area I also had my first ever sighting of the small plant, Moschatel. This is a lovely little plant that has the nickname Town Hall Clock' as it has 4 sides on the flower with each side looking a little like a clock!!

Two Male Orange-tips.


On the Saturday we had a full day at one of the Sussex Wildlife Trust reserves at Ebernoe Common. Here we had many more Orange-tips, both male and female. Some interesting observations were also had of the species, with seeing a little bit of egg laying, female rejecting the advances of a male, a female roosting on Cuckoo-flower as soon as the sun went in, and another female choosing to roost high up a tree.

Female Orange-tip resting during egg laying.

Female Orange-tip rejecting the advances of a male.

Female Orange-tip roosting on Cuckoo-flower.

At this site we also heard several Nightingales and our first Cuckoo of the year. Bluebells were looking fabulous, and Early Purple Orchids growing amongst the Bluebells were also good to see. 

We also had our first odonata of the year with a large emergence of Large Red Damselflies. Another damselfly we saw was probably an Azure Damselfly.

Large Red Damselfly.

On Sunday morning we headed to Pulborough Brooks RSPB. Although it was quite busy here we did have a pretty good morning. Once again Nightingales and a Cuckoo were heard. 2 Adders were seen basking in the sun together, and we also had excellent views of a very vocal Sedge Warbler. At this site too there were plenty of Large Red Damselflies emerging.

Sedge Warbler singing away.

Large Red Damselfly.

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Butterfly Season Warming Up.

 With the wind howling again outside it doesn't seem possible that April is here along with several species of butterfly.

A really good walk yesterday along the patch produced 8 different species of butterfly. The day started with my year list on 8 and after the walk, despite seeing 8 species, it was still on 8. However, just after arriving home and the weather was good enough for having lunch in the garden, the list for both the day, and year went up a notch to 9 when a Large White flew across the garden.

Below are some of the photos of butterflies, and other creatures I've seen so far in 2024.

Red Admiral.


Small Tortoiseshell


Rove Beetle.

Scarlet Tiger larva


Male Emperor Moth

Orange Ladybird

Common Toad.