Tuesday, 27 September 2016

An Autumnal Feel

The weekend before last, Carol and I spent an enjoyable time with friends in Lymington, Hampshire and then last week we met up with our son and his friend for a short camping trip to Cumbria. With a schedule of walking planned for both trips, there were plenty of opportunities to scan the hedgerows and fells for wildlife. On our return to Sussex I was keen to check up on my regular haunts and in the last week or so, the air has definitely taken on an autumnal feel.
Before our trips away, we went to Bodiam for a walk along the banks of the Rother. Red Admirals and Small Whites were numerous but my attention was drawn to a small moth flying about in the long grass and eventually settling in a nettle patch. The Vestal (Rhodometra sacraria) is a regular migrant to Britain but is unable to survive our winters.
The Vestal (Rhodometra sacraria)

Whilst walking along the Solent shoreline at Lepe, Hampshire, this Red Admiral posed nicely for the camera.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

During the trip to Cumbria, I was keen to see the Common Hawker (Aeshna juncea), a species of dragonfly that does not occur in the south-east. I did see one male but the only species of dragonfly that settled for a photograph was a Black Darter on a rather dingy day at Meathop Moss.
Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) (male)

The only insect of note in the moth-trap yesterday morning was this handsome Hornet.

Hornet (Vespa crabro)

Although rather overcast and breezy, a midday walk on Pevensey Levels produced good numbers of Red Admirals, gathering to feed up mainly on blackberry juice before moving south, although a small number may well see out the winter in the UK.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

In evolutionary terms, Caddis Flies are closely related to moths and butterflies but unlike that group, they do not have scaled wings. Their similarity to a small moth is clear to see. 
Caddis Fly sp. (Limnephilus flavicornis)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Agony and Ecstasy

I have been moth trapping for twenty years and I have a mental list of various species I dream of finding at the light in the morning.
As I walked out of my back door at 1030hrs on 13th September, a huge moth took off right in front of me from my shed door and flew over my garage, across the road and over the roof of the house opposite. Its large size, pale grey appearance and hint of blue on the hindwings left no doubt as to its identity; a Blue Underwing (Catocala fraxini). Early in the morning my eyes and brain take a while to get going and when I checked the moth-trap at 0630hrs, I just didn't notice it.
Whilst it was undoubtedly a WOW! moment, it was also most definitely one of those frustrating AAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!! moments.
Here is a selection of the more usual fair that has arrived at the light over the last week or so. The first three are regular migrant species and the last two are common resident species.
Udea ferrugalis

Nomophila noctuella

White-point (Mythimna albipuncta)

Lime-speck Pug (Eupithecia centaureata)
Garden Carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata)

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Seeing The Light & Another Clouded Yellow

Whenever I put the moth-trap out overnight it is always with the anticipation of attracting moths that I have not seen before. At this time of year the hope is for unusual migrants arriving from the near continent. However, other insect groups are also attracted to light and I often find caddis flies, bugs, beetles and other species represented amongst the mornings catch. Often, the only time you see some species of beetle is when they come to light.

The other day I put the trap out in its usual place, completely forgetting about a wasp nest that was under the nearby hedge; the following morning there were about 200 wasps in the bin!
Arhopalus rusticus
(a large Longhorn species that I have never seen before)

Nicrophorus interruptus
(a species of Sexton or Burying Beetle)

Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)

Dark Sword-grass (Agrotis ipsilon)
(a regular migrant species)

During the last couple of weeks I have noticed an increase in Painted Lady numbers, feeding on the buddleia in my garden and also at fleabane on Pevensey Levels.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

A friend of mine has recently holidayed in Cornwall and brought back a selection of local beers. My eye was immediately drawn to this bottle label and I very much enjoyed the contents within, courtesy of St. Austell Brewery.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Clouded Yellow Arrival

With large patches of fleabane in full flower at the moment, I set off for Pevensey Levels yesterday to see what butterflies might be on the wing to take advantage of this rich nectar source. I was expecting to see a few fresh Painted Ladies about but I was disappointed to only see one tatty individual. However my heart leapt when I saw my first Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) of the year. This species is a regular migrant to our shores, arriving from the european mainland in varying numbers during most years. Although small numbers arrive in April or May, the best time to see them is during August when any progeny from the spring arrivals emerge and are bolstered by further immigration from the near continent. In good years, a further emergence occurs in October.
Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) (female)

Several male Walls were holding territories and constantly battling each other and a fresh looking female Speckled Wood rested amongst the reeds and nectared on the tiny flowerheads of grass.

Wall (Lasiommata megera) (male)

                    Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) (female)

Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) (male)

The usual sight of a hunting Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is when they are seen quartering fields and levels but I watched this one working its way along a trackside hedge and occasionally going into the scrub to watch for potential prey on the ground below. 

Many of our smaller moths are worthy of close inspection. The markings of the aptly named Maiden's Blush (Cyclophora punctaria) are both subtle and delicate. This fresh example was attracted to the moth-trap at home earlier in the week.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Gravel Scrapes and Acid Pool Margins

At the start of the week, Carol and I set off for Rye Levels to check on life in the gravel scrapes and ditches. I knew that we were probably a little late to see Marsh Helleborines at their best and so it proved to be the case with only one plant still sporting a few fading flowers. Star species of the day was the Marsh Frog (Rana ridibunda) several of which were basking amongst the weed in the ditches.
Marsh Frog (Rana ridibunda)     

On Wednesday, I met up with Bob on Ashdown Forest to search some of the acid pool margins that are hidden away in the heathland, to see what might be emerging. These pools rarely disappoint.
Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus).
 This seven-legged individual is displaying what I consider to be fairly typical fimbriatus markings (in comparison to D. plantarius) with a pronounced orange cardiac mark down the centre of the abdomen and with broad, well defined white bands along the abdomen sides. However, you can get quite similarly marked individuals of plantarius and less well marked specimens of fimbriatus which can be very confusing!

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) (male)

Black Darter (S.danae) (teneral female)

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (freshly emerged female) 

Brown China-mark (Elophila nymphaeata)

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Start of the Cricket Season

I have been finding cricket nymphs in the field for a few weeks now but July is usually the time when adult crickets start to appear. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been enjoying some early evening walks across Pevensey Levels. At this time of day, butterflies and dragonflies are more inclined to bask in the weakening sunshine and they can be more easily approached with a camera.
A species of cricket that I have been seeking out for a few years, having never seen it before, is the Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor). I have seen its close relative, the Short-winged Conehead (C.dorsalis) a few times on the levels but at the weekend I was thrilled to come across an adult female discolor slowly moving about amongst the fleabane flower heads.
Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolor) (female)

I have always found the Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) to be a very wary dragonfly and it rarely allows close approach but occasionally you get lucky. Whilst I was standing in the shadows of a hedgerow watching one hawking for prey, it landed opposite me on the other side of the track and seemed oblivious to my presence.
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (female)

A few weeks ago I saw several Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) fluttering low amongst the many thistle patches that grow on the levels. They were clearly looking to lay eggs and I made a mental note to return and search for larvae when they were reaching maturity. The larva constructs a silk tent in which to feed and they are easy to find.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) (mature larva within its silk tent)
cardui larva (dark form)
cardui larva (grey form feeding on thistle sp.)

The summer generation of Wall (Lasiommata megera) is well underway on the levels. Two males were regularly flying into each other's airspace and battling. I managed to get a photograph of each of them and subtle differences in their markings can be seen, particularly in the hindwing spotting.

Wall (Lasiommata megera) (males)

Whilst walking along Bexhill seafront with Carol and my father last week, I came across a very fresh looking Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata) resting on the tarmac pavement. In my youth, this moth was known to me as the Currant Moth. In those days I would regularly find it in our Brighton garden and on the Downs but nowadays I rarely come across it further inland.

Magpie or Currant Moth (Abraxas grossulariata)

Saturday, 23 July 2016

A Wealden Wood in July

By July, all the summer woodland species of butterfly that occur in East Sussex are on the wing and it is a joy to watch the majestic Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) and elegant White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) flying along the woodland edges. This is also the time of year that I go looking for the Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus), an elusive butterfly that spends most of its time in the woodland canopy. You can chance upon quercus at any time of day when it ventures to the woodland floor but I find that the best times to increase your chances of seeing it low down are early morning and early evening. Either way, plenty of patience is required.
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) (male)
Silver-washed Fritillary (A.paphia) (female)

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) (male)

Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus)
A male basking in the lower branches of an oak tree.

 The following photographs are of  3 different females that have come to bask or feed on honeydew, low down on vegetation beneath a large oak that contained a quercus colony. Such visits are usually brief.

Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) (male)
Longhorn sp. (Strangalia maculata)

Longhorn sp. (Strangalia quadrifasciata)

Common Lizard (Lacerta vivipara)