Sunday, 1 October 2017

Beautiful Peacock

Walking on Pevensey Levels during the last week, there has been a definite end-of-season feel. Hedges have been cut, pasture meadows have been mown and the maize crop has been harvested.
The third brood of Wall (Lasiommata megera) is just peaking and fresh looking Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas), Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and Peacock (Inachis io) are fairly numerous.
For me, the Peacock is our most beautiful butterfly; its rich velvety plum colour together with metallic blue eye-spots make a stunning combination. Sometimes, extra spots appear on the hind wings (aberration diophthalmica).
Peacock (Inachis io) (male)
Peacock ( (male) (ab.diophthalmica)

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) (female)

Pevensey Levels are very much an agricultural landscape, with sheep and cattle pastures dissected by ditches and water drains. At this time of year, many of the ditches become clogged with floating pennywort, an invasive water weed that needs to be raked out every winter. However, the pennywort does provide an excellent breeding habitat for the Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) and the cattle regularly graze upon it at the ditch edges.
The female plantarius in the photograph is guarding her nursery web near the middle of a ditch and out of reach of these curious cattle.
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (female at nursery web)

The season is also being reflected in the moth species that are starting to appear at the moth-trap in my Wealden garden. As well as some autumnal resident species, the star of the week was the appearance of a Delicate (Mythimna vitellina), a scarce annual migrant to the UK and a first record for my garden.
Delicate (Mythimna vitellina)

Autumnal Rustic (Eugnorisma glareosa)

Black Rustic (Aporophyla nigra)

Since recording my first Blue Underwing (Catocala fraxini) of the year a month ago, four more have appeared during the last week, three in one night. Whether they have emanated from a local breeding population or from a migration event is unclear but they have been appearing regularly at moth-traps across Sussex in recent weeks.
Blue Underwing (Catocala fraxini)
A second fraxini posed nicely for a photograph until the shutter was released, producing an image that will be familiar to many insect photographers!


Sunday, 17 September 2017

Late Summer on Pevensey Levels

More often than not, the Wall (Lasiommata megera) manages to fit in three broods in a year. They have been on the wing for over a week on the downs but today, I saw three third brood individuals flying on Pevensey Levels.
Wall (Lasiommata megera) (female)
Wall (L.megera) (male)

The predominant species of dragonfly on the wing at this time of year is the Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). In good years, they can be seen in their hundreds and they are quite easy to approach when at rest.
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) 

Migrant Hawker (A.mixta) (mating)

On Friday, I saw several Fen Raft Spiders (Dolomedes plantarius) basking in the afternoon sunshine, including this female closely tending her egg sac. Today, I found her in the same place but now standing guard over her spiderlings within the nursery web. In the photograph, her right hind leg maintains contact with the web and you can just see the egg sac amongst the spiderlings. 
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (female with egg sac)  

Fen Raft Spider (D.plantarius) (female guarding nursery web)

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Southern Hawker Emergence

During the last week of June, whilst we were checking the acid pools of Ashdown Forest, Bob and I came across a female Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) in the process of emerging from the nymph. The last photograph in the following sequence was of a different female cyanea found in another pool, with wings fully expanded.
Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (females emerging from nymph)

In May, I watched this male Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) hawking along a hedgerow on Pevensey Levels. It caught a bee and then settled on an ivy bush to devour its prey.
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) (male devouring a bee)

The Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum) is a species that has rapidly colonised south-east England from the continent in recent years. Its smaller size and the blue 'saddle' under segment 8 of the abdomen are diagnostic in separating this species from the very similar Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas). Both species can be found in similar habitats and the male in the following image was photographed at a Wealden pond during the second week of August.
Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum) (male)

Monday, 28 August 2017

Electra Glide in Blue

I don't quite know why the name of this 1970's film popped into my head when I first saw the magnificent Blue Underwing (Catocala fraxini). It was sitting on the house wall next to the light trap yesterday morning.
 Following last year's near miss, when one took off from under under my nose before I had a chance to photograph it, I was pleased to catch sight of this one before it saw me.
 With those lightening like zigzag markings across its silvery-grey forewings and with a blue flash waiting to surprise you when it uncovers its hind wings, then "Electra Glide in Blue" seemed an apt description. 
Also known as the Clifden Nonpareil, this large moth was formerly regarded mainly as a rare migrant to UK shores but it has almost certainly been breeding in south-east England in recent years.
Blue Underwing (Catocala fraxini)


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Watching Dragonflies

Although there have been plenty of warm sunny spells during the last couple of weeks, weather conditions have also been blighted by persistent strong breezes which tend to hamper insect photography.
One of my favourite downland dew-ponds is reasonably sheltered from such winds and on Pevensey Levels, you can usually find a few ditches in the lee of a reed bed or willow scrub where dragonfly activity continues in relative calm. 
Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) (ovipositing female at a downland dew-pond)


Wall (Lasiommata megera) (male sheltering in the lee of a chalk bank)

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (female sheltering in a maize crop on Pevensey Levels)

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (female basking in the early morning sunshine)

Several individuals of this striking moth have been attracted to the garden light trap in the last couple of weeks.
 Just look at those fantastic antennae!
Black Arches (Lymantria monacha) (male)


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Club-tailed Dragonfly

The Club-tailed Dragonfly (Gomphus vulgatissimus) is a scarce and localised species, with very specific habitat requirements along slow moving river systems. In Sussex, its main stronghold is in the Arun basin in the west of the county.
It is an early season species that tends to undergo a synchronised emergence during late May or early June after which the adults move away from the water for a week or two before returning to breed.
(Reference; "Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland"
 by Steve Brooks)
Back in June, on a very hot and sunny day, I was keen to watch the behaviour of mature males returning to the breeding river.
Club-tailed Dragonfly (Gomphus vulgatissimus) (males)

Club-tailed Dragonfly (G.vulgatissimus) (freshly emerged female taken is 2013)

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male)


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Mothers Meeting

Whilst checking the ditches on Pevensey Levels this week, I came across a hotbed of egg laying activity by several Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) females. They had taken to resting on a discarded fence post that was floating amongst the water weed. They were not only ovipositing into the weed but also into the sodden crevices of the wood. At one time, there were five females on the log but too far apart to get into a single photograph.
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (ovipositing females) 

Later on the same walk, I spotted an aberrant Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) flying along the trackside. Most of the submarginal copper band on the hindwing was absent. As far as naming this aberration is concerned, it is somewhere between radiata and obsoleta and probably best described as a transitional form of obsoleta.
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) (female) (transitional form of ab.obsoleta)

This morning, I decided to take advantage of a small window of warm and dry weather, before rain was due to set in by lunchtime. I saw several nursery webs of the Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius). Although it was warm and dry, the weather was also dull and breezy and this kept the nursing females out of sight and probably just below the top layer of leaves.
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (mass of spiderlings within the nursery web)