Tuesday, 9 April 2019

April Come She Will

Early in the moth-trapping season, massed ranks of Hebrew Characters and Quakers predominate but once April arrives, the variety of species attracted to the light starts to increase.
Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla)
Twin-spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda)

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

V-pug (Chloroclystis v-ata)

Streamer (Anticlea derivata

Frosted Green (Polyploca ridens)


Monday, 25 March 2019

Basking Fen Raft Spiders

With a clear blue sky and temperatures reaching a very pleasant 14 degrees yesterday, we took our usual Sunday morning amble across Pevensey Levels to check the ditches for amphibians and the ivy clad hedgerows for signs of emerging Holly Blues. However, what I did find were several sub-adult Fen Raft Spiders (Dolomedes plantarius) basking in the ditch margins. I have never seen fully mature adults earlier than the second week of April and it will be another few weeks before these specimens reach full maturity.
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (sub-adults) 
I think the first two images are of young males and the third is of a young female.


Thursday, 28 February 2019

February Heatwave

Earlier this week I was constantly having to remind myself that it was still winter, as I toiled in the wood under clear blue skies and a temperature of 20 degrees. The overalls and jumper were cast aside and I spent several breaks sitting back in my up-ended wheel-barrow to drink tea and watch butterflies and moths.
Brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni) and Commas (Polygonia c-album) were numerous and I saw my first (of the year) Orange Underwing moths (Archiearis parthenias) flying around in the birch tops.
Comma (Polygonia c-album) (male)

Whilst I was stacking some timber, I came across a Palmate Newt (Triturus helveticus) moving about in the leaf litter. It is our smallest species of newt in Britain and its size and plain pink throat help to identify it.
Palmate Newt (Triturus helveticus) (female) 

The following moths were attracted to the light trap this week.
Oak Beauty (Biston strataria) (male)

March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) (male)


Saturday, 16 February 2019

Wild Man of the Woods

With the days lengthening and some recent mild and sunny weather to bring out a few butterflies from hibernation, it was nice to be working in the wood with the sun warming my back and casting long shadows through the trees.
When Carol and I bought our wood back in the 1990's, on the border of East Sussex and Kent, much of it was a tangle of abandoned coppice and rhododendron infestation. Much of it still is but we have made inroads over the intervening years. Our focus has always been to improve the wood for the benefit of butterflies and moths as well as the Dormice and Glow Worms that also occur there.
With just the two of us, one has to be realistic about what can be achieved. Any thoughts of working towards the re-introduction of long gone species that used to occur in the area were banished. The White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) was still breeding in the wood in small numbers and it made far better sense to enhance the habitat for this species and hopefully to attract other species to breed in the wood such as Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia).
This winter, we have been thinning an area that 15 months ago was choked with rhododendron and curtains of birch. We have opened up the canopy to allow much more light to reach the woodland floor. Hopefully this will encourage camilla to venture further into the wood where its foodplant grows. 

Some early season species of moth that occur in our wood are now on the wing.
Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria) (male)
This species (as well as the Mottled Umber) often displays a face-like image on its thorax.
The wild man of the woods !

Spring Usher (Agriopis leucophaearia) (male)

Monday, 4 February 2019


The British subspecies of Swallowtail (Papilio machaon britannicus) is endemic to the UK. It is restricted in its range by a very specific habitat requirement for fenland and its range was greatly reduced during the drainage and reclamation of the fens for agriculture during the nineteenth century. P.m.britannicus is further restricted to fenland because of its choice of foodplant, only laying its eggs on Milk Parsley which is itself restricted to a fenland habitat.
Nowadays, britannicus can only be found in the fenlands centred around the Norfolk Broads.
I took the following photographs of britannicus in 2011 & 2012.
Swallowtail (P.m.britannicus)

(Although not apparent from the image, the female is noticeably larger than the male and has a heavier looking abdomen)


In good migration years, the continental subspecies of the Swallowtail (Papilio machaon gorganus) is occasionally seen in southern England. It is much more of a wanderer and is not restricted by its choice of foodplant. It can lay its eggs on a number of common species such as wild carrot, wild parsnip and fennel.
I took the following photographs of gorganus, seen by several enthusiasts on the East Sussex downs in 2013.
Swallowtail (P.m.gorganus)


Friday, 25 January 2019

The Special Butterflies of Cumbria

Cumbria has some rare habitats which are home to some special species of butterflies. The fells provide a home for our only truly montane species of butterfly in Britain. The lowland bogs provide the right breeding requirements for a wetland specialist and the limestone outcrops provide a refuge for one of our rarest and most threatened butterflies.
High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe)
Back in the middle of the 20th century, this butterfly was a common and widespread species in England and Wales but since then it has fallen into a catastrophic and largely unexplained decline. It is now one of our rarest and most threatened butterflies. Its remaining populations now hang on in Devon, South Wales and Cumbria.
I took the following photographs in 2012.


Large Heath (Coenonympha tullia)
This is a wetland specialist and in Cumbria this species only occurs on lowland blanket bogs. There are three named forms of this butterfly in Britain and it is form davus that occurs in Cumbria. 
I took the following photographs in 2011 & 2012.
Female (ab.lanceolata)


Small Mountain Ringlet (Erebia epiphron)
This delightful butterfly is our only truly montane species in Britain and to see it entails a fell walk up to about 1200 feet and beyond. Unsurprisingly, the only colonies you will find outside of Scotland are in Cumbria.
I took these photographs in 2014 & 2017.  


Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops)
As its name suggests, this is predominantly a Scottish species but it does occur in just two outpost colonies in Cumbria.
I took the following photographs in 2012.


Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes)
This species is distinct from its southern cousin the Brown Argus (Aricia agestis). The differences between the two are subtle. The Northern Brown Argus (A. artaxerxes) occurs as two subspecies; the Cumbrian populations are of ssp. salmacis and those in Scotland are of ssp. artaxerxes with its distinctive white wing spots.
I took the following photographs in 2012 & 2014.
subspecies salmacis.


Male (ab. unicolor)
In this aberration, the orange marginal markings and central black spots of the forewings are absent.
Mating pair.

subspecies artaxerxes.