Saturday, 18 March 2017

Still on the Amphibian Trail

The mild and sunny weather this last week has encouraged our hibernating butterfly species to emerge in good numbers but the new butterfly season is still very much in its infancy. This week, I have concentrated my efforts in continuing to seek out amphibian activity.
Many of the ditches on Pevensey Levels are now echoing to the sound of breeding Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and they often share the same ditches with breeding Common Frogs (Rana temporaria). Inevitably, confusion sometimes occurs with male frogs attempting to mate with female toads. Since first observing this behaviour in 2015, I have come to realise that this is quite a regular occurrence.
The following photographs are of two such pairings occurring a few yards apart in the same ditch.
Two different male Common Frogs (R.temporaria) in mating clasps with female Common Toads (B.bufo)

I have also visited another of my favourite downland dew ponds where I know that I will see good numbers of Great Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus). I enjoy watching their courtship behaviour through my binoculars and occasionally they will venture close to the surface to offer a brief photographic opportunity. 
Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) (female)

On this particular occasion, the males were spending much of their time in the murky waters at the bottom of the pond but the next photograph is of a male taken in 2015.
Great Crested Newt (T.cristatus) (male)
On Rye Levels, Marsh Frogs (Rana ridibunda) can be found sunning themselves on the banks of ditches or on floating water weed. Their breeding season doesn't get underway until May.
Marsh Frog (Rana ridibunda) (sub-adults)

There will be better photo opportunities to be had when the summer broods of Comma (Polygonia c-album) and Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) emerge but it is difficult to resist a bit of early season stalking and target practice!
Comma (P. c-album)

Small Tortoiseshell (A. urticae)

The pick of the moths attracted to my garden light trap this week was this Small Brindled Beauty (Apocheima hispidaria). Athough this species is locally widespread in Sussex, it was the first time that I had recorded it in my garden.
Small Brindled Beauty (A. hispidaria) (male)
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been watching a pair of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) constructing their nest on Pevensey Levels. Now more or less complete, it is one of the most beautiful natural structures, made from lichens and spider webs. Plenty of zoom and some cropping suggest that I was closer than I actually was and I watched the pair return after I left.   

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Toads Reunited

This last week has given us a couple of our warmest days so far this year and so I decided to visit one of my favourite downland dew ponds where returning toads always put on a good show. They are delightful creatures and Carol and I watched them for over an hour as they battled, paired and spawned.
Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
A pair in mating clasp.
Several pairs are spawning.

This male is basking at the water surface.

Two more pairs in mating clasp.

I also noticed a larva of the Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) moving about amongst the toad spawn. I don't know whether it would feed on the spawn or whether it prefers its prey to be more active. It later moved out into open water and settled on the pond bed. 

Common Backswimmer (Notonecta glauca) (and shadow)

The overnight temperatures this week have also been warm enough to expect a reasonable catch in the moth trap. 
March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) (male) 

Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Seeing Tropical Butterflies

Being a rather reluctant air traveller, I am unlikely to ever see tropical butterfly species in the wild and so I am an enthusiastic visitor to the 'Butterflies in the Glasshouse' exhibition held annually at RHS Wisley during January and February. Getting some unseasonal butterfly therapy is a great way to spend a cold and damp winter's day. Although perhaps not for the butterfly purist, I find it to be a good opportunity to see these exotic creatures and to try to build up a basic knowledge of species from around the globe.
Positive indentification within some groups can be tricky, particularly within butterfly house populations where breeding between different subspecies can be confusing. Some species display a huge range of subspecies and mimics and it is quite possible that one or two of my identifications may be incorrect.
Some species that are commonly found in butterfly houses can have several different English names and so Latin names are always more reliable.
Great Yellow Mormon (Papilio lowi) (female)
Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) (male)
Common Mormon (P.polytes) (female)
Paris Peacock (Papilio paris)
Longwing sp. (Heliconius doris
Longwing sp. (Heliconius hecale)
Longwing sp. (Heliconius numata)
Common Postman (Heliconius melpomene)
Longwing sp. (Heliconius antiochus)
Automedon Giant Owl (Eryphanis automedon)
Common Morpho (Morpho peleides)
Achilles Morpho (Morpho achilles)

Common Prepona (Archeoprepona demophon)

Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina)

Indian Leafwing (Kallima paralekta)

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia violacea)

Zebra Mosaic (Colobura dirce)


Saturday, 25 February 2017

Spring Usher

After finding a fresh specimen of a Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria) at rest on the door frame of a local garden centre yesterday, I was moved to put the moth trap out last night, even though the overnight forecast wasn't ideal. The ultra-violet light attracted my first two moths of the year, one of which was a Spring Usher (Agriopis leucophaearia). Like some of its close relatives, the female of this species is flightless and the wing markings on the male can be subject to much variation.
Spring Usher (Agriopis leucophaearia) (males)
Last night's specimen.
The next two images are of the same specimen taken in 2009.

This image was taken in 2012.


Monday, 20 February 2017

Frog on the Move

The mild spell over this last week has seen me spending several days working in the wood. Most of the coppicing for this winter is now done but the task of thinning, stacking and rhododendron clearance carries on. There is always time for a relaxing walk through the trees when the muscles are getting a bit tired.
At the weekend, I came across a Common Frog (Rana temporaria) moving across the woodland floor and clearly on a mission to get to its breeding pond.
Common Frog (Rana temporaria)
I also found this interesting looking fungus. I think that it is probably an Oak Mazegill (Daedalea quercina) although this specimen was growing on a dead stem of willow. 
Oak Mazegill (Daedalea quercina)

Earlier in the week, Carol found the shed antler of a Fallow Deer laying on the ground near one of their regular rutting sites.
Fallow Deer (Dama dama) (shed antler) 

I saw my first butterfly of the year back on 16th January in the form of a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) flying around the car park at Birling Gap. I've yet to see any others but I did come across a very early queen Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) flying across a local Wealden meadow.
Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) (queen emerged from hibernation) 


Friday, 27 January 2017

Variation in Butterflies

Variation in butterflies is an interesting subject within the study of lepidoptera and there are a number of reasons for its occurrence. I am no scientist but broadly speaking, variation can occur as a result of the geographical isolation of populations which can lead to different sub-species and even new species evolving. Variation between the sexes (sexual dimorphism) and variation between different broods (seasonal dimorphism) occurs in many species. Variation (or aberrations) can also occur within a species as a result of genetic mutation or environmental influences during critical stages of the life cycle.   
I have seen numerous variations over the years and here is a selection of photographs.
Although the occurrence of some variants can be manipulated through captive breeding, the following examples were found and photographed in the wild.
Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) (female)
The standard form.
Clouded Yellow (C.croceus) (female, form helice)
This pale form only occurs in the female of the species and can account for 10% of females.

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) (female, form caeruleopunctata)
A regular form which displays a line of blue submarginal spots on the hindwings.

Small Copper (L.phlaeas) (male, ab. schmidtii)
This aberration is a genetic mutation caused by a recessive gene.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (male)
This species is sexually dimorphic.

Common Blue (P.icarus) (female)

Common Blue (P.icarus) (female, ab. albocincta)
Common Blue (P.icarus) (female, ab. supracaerulea)

Chalkhill Blue (Lysandra coridon) (male, ab. caeca)
All sub-marginal spotting is absent.

Chalkhill Blue (L.coridon) (female, ab. postobsoleta)
The female of this mating pair is showing much reduced sub-marginal spotting on the hindwing. 

Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) (female)
Not strictly regarded as an aberration, this specimen is displaying a pigment deformity in one wing.

White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) (female)

White Admiral (L.camilla) (ab. obliterae)
The reduced wing markings are caused by low temperatures during the pupal stage of the life cycle.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Small Tortoiseshell (A.urticae) (a transitional form of ab. semi-ichnusoides)
This aberration is caused by high temperatures during the pupal stage of the life cycle.

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Comma (P.c-album) (ab. obscura)
The markings on the hind wings have become blotched and the borders are indistinct.

Wall (Lasiommata megera) (male)

Wall (L.megera) (male, ab. fascia)

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) (female)
Gatekeeper (P.tithonus) (female, ab. anticrasipuncta)
Many aberrations take the form of enlarged or reduced eye-spots.

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) (male, ab. pallidus)
The normally chocolate brown ground colour has been replaced by pale grey and is not to be confused with age related bleaching that often occurs in this species