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)

Friday, 15 July 2016

The Other Raft Spider

I have been out early every morning this week in order to visit a couple of local woods for early rising butterflies. Patiently standing around in bramble and bracken patches peering up at oak trees is not Carol's idea of fun and so before the accusing finger of neglect could be pointed in my direction, Carol and I went for a walk on Ashdown Forest yesterday. 
Some of the acid pools here are home to the Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus), a close relative of the nationally rare Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius). The markings of fimbriatus are as variable as they are in plantarius but as far as I am aware, the populations of these two species do not overlap in East Sussex which makes for straightforward identification. Most of the time, with practice and familiarity, I have found that some subtle differences can be seen.
A Barred Red moth (Hylaea fasciaria) was flying around on the heathland and there was also an emergence of Southern Hawker dragonflies (Aeshna cyanea) in progress with several freshly emerged insects drying their wings amongst the pool-side vegetation.
Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) (female with egg sac)

Barred Red (Hylaea fasciaria)

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea)

Friday, 8 July 2016

White Admiral

If you choose your moment, you can approach the White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) with relative ease. During the middle of a warm sunny day this species is very active, patrolling the tree-tops and occasionally descending to feed at bramble flowers but if you can observe them as they are waking early in the day then they are more inclined to rest and bask as the strengthening sun rises.
On a couple of days this week I was out in the woods by 0800hrs.

White Admiral (Limenitis camilla)

I have never found ova or pupae of this species in the wild but I have found a few larvae in varying stages of their development over the years. They are wonderfully bizarre looking creatures. I didn't come across any this year but here are some photographs from 2014 and 2015. This species passes the winter as a young larva within a hibernaculum made from a honeysuckle leaf (the foodplant). It emerges from hibernation in early spring and is fully grown by the end of May or early June. 
A 3rd instar larva and its hibernaculum, April 2015.
A 4th instar larva in typical resting posture, April 2014.
A final instar larva in typical defence posture, May 2014.
A final instar larva feeding on honeysuckle, May 2014.
A final instar larva at rest, May 2014.