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)