Sunday, 27 December 2015

Halcyon Summer Days

I think I read somewhere that globally, chalk landscapes are rare, but growing up in a Brighton suburb on the edge of town, the South Downs around Brighton and Lewes have always been a familiar playground to me.

As an antidote to these endless grey damp days of winter, I think back (and look forward) to those halcyon days of summer, wandering the East Sussex downs under warm blue skies.

Adonis Blue (Lysandra bellargus) (male)

Chalkhill Blue (Lysandra coridon) (males)

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (males)

Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) (female)

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja) (male)

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) (female)

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)........I see a laughing jester rather than a bee!

Lizard Orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

A Fascination for Caterpillars

Although caterpillars can be found at anytime of the year, a good time to go searching for them is during August, September and October when I specifically look for maturing larvae of the Hawkmoth (Sphingidae) and Prominent (Notodontidae) families. A walk along woodland rides patiently inspecting sallow, willow and birch can be very rewarding.

Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi) (mature larva on sallow)

Pebble Prominent (Notodonta ziczac) (mature larva on sallow)

Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina) (mature larva on sallow)

Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina) (mid-instar larva on sallow)

Lesser Swallow Prominent (Pheosia gnoma) (mid-instar larva on birch)

Buff-tip (Phalera bucephala) (larva on oak)

Saturday, 12 December 2015

A Confusion of Frogs and Toads

Once Christmas is done and dusted, the first sign of spring activity that I start looking for in the new year is the return of frogs, toads and newts to their breeding pools. Anytime from early March I concentrate my efforts on checking wealden lake edges and downland dewponds for signs of their arrival.

Common Toad (Bufo bufo) (mating clasp)

Confusion reigns and male toads will fight each other off in pursuit of a female, resulting in a mass of writhing bodies. The males of both frogs and toads are highly charged during the breeding season which can occasionally lead to some bizarre behaviour amongst the strings of toad spawn.

The following photographs show a male Common Frog (Rana temporaria) in a mating clasp with a female Common Toad (Bufo bufo). These species are not closely enough related to produce hybrid offspring and the spawn being laid by the toad was destined to remain unfertilised.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Lakes, Moats and Millponds

My wife and I have been National Trust members for some years now. The Trust owns large tracts of countryside and coastal strip which can be a haven for wildlife and many of their properties also have lakes, moats and millponds which provide a home for many species. Whilst I enjoy looking around historic buildings, I am invariably drawn to the gardens to check out the waterscapes.

Batemans at Burwash is our nearest Trust property and I usually call in on my way back from anywhere to sit by Kipling's boating pond and watch for insects.

Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) (male)

Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) (male)

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (pair in tandem)

Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor) (green form larva on water plantain sp.)

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Purple Hairstreak

The Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) is a little gem of a butterfly and well worth seeking out in mixed woodland containing plenty of oak, its only foodplant. Although a fairly common species in Sussex, it is largely a canopy dweller which makes it tricky to see at close quarters but with plenty of patient hours in the field and a knowledge of its life cycle and behaviour, you can see this beauty up close.

Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) (female)

Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) (mating)

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Magical Metamorphosis (part 1)

In late summer I noticed a Green-veined White (Pieris napi) laying her ova on a garlic mustard plant in my garden. I monitored the progress of the resulting larvae and on 18th October I located a larva preparing to pupate.

The larva has attached itself in an upright position by a silk girdle.

Two days later the larval skin splits open behind the head.

The skin is shed downwards as the pupa emerges.

The pupal wing cases are exposed.

The moult is completed in a few minutes....

....and the moulted skin is jettisoned.

 Three hours later the pupal membrane has hardened.

After two days the pupa has adopted its final colouring.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Ashdown Forest (part 2)

Ashdown Forest is a good place to see dragonfly and damselfly species that have a preference for breeding in the acid pools, bogs and streams that are found there.

The stunning Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) is a nationally rare dragonfly which has a curious distribution in the UK, only occurring in SE England and NW Scotland. The photographs show an immature female. As she matures, the amber tint in her wings will fade and her eyes will turn green.

Brilliant Emerald (Somatochlora metallica) (immature female)

Golden-ringed Dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii) (male)

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae) (mating)

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) (male)

Small Red Damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum) (mating)

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Ashdown Forest (part 1)

Another of my favourite haunts is Ashdown Forest. Its heathland landscape with acid bogs and pools is home to many creatures that thrive in this special habitat. The Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus) is one such heathland specialist that occurs in small populations here and I can spend many an hour looking for and watching this pretty butterfly.

Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus) (male)

Silver-studded Blue (P.argus) (female)

Silver-studded Blue (P.argus) (mating)

The Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) is a close relative of the Fen Raft Spider (D.plantarius) but seems to prefer rather different habitat conditions (at least in East Sussex). It appears to thrive in some of the acid pools found on Ashdown Forest. This female (below) is on the hunt and using her submerged legs to feel for the vibrations of approaching prey.

The Early Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata) occurs sparsely on Ashdown Forest. The subspecies that occurs here (ssp.pulchella) is associated with sphagnum bogs.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Dragons and Damsels on Pevensey Levels

Outside, the rain looks set-in for the day and as autumn inevitably moves towards winter, it is nice to look back on some of my highlights of spring and summer. Coastal flats are a great habitat for dragonflies and damselflies and Pevensey Levels is a good place to watch them.

Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) (male)

Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) (mating)

Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (male)
Fish Fry
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (ovipositing female)
Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (mating)

Dark Bush-cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera) (female)