Saturday, 28 May 2016

Speckled Wood

British resident butterfly species pass the winter months in any one of their life cycle stages but the Speckled Wood stands alone in being able to see out the winter as either a larva or pupa. This effectively allows it to have overlapping broods throughout the breeding season and it is continually on the wing from March to November (although it has been recorded in every month of the year during mild winters).

The Speckled Wood that occurs on much of the European mainland is of the nominate form Pararge aegeria aegeria but in the UK it is replaced by subspecies Pararge aegeria tircis. They are quite different from each other in appearance with tircis having a slightly darker ground colour to the wings and with yellower markings replacing the more orange markings of aegeria.
One of our favourite walks is along the cliff tops where the South Downs meet the sea and during the week Carol and I came across this very fresh looking specimen.
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria tircis) (male)

By way of comparison, this is a photograph of a Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria aegeria) (male) taken in SW France in 2009. Even allowing for different lighting conditions when each photograph was taken and that the specimen below is from a late summer brood, the difference is clear to see.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Early Spider Orchid

A visit to see my parents in Brighton over the weekend gave me the opportunity for a walk on the Downs to some of my boyhood haunts. One of the best UK sites to see the Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) is just a 30 minute walk away. My mother, having never seen this orchid before, came with us and I was impressed that she can still climb over a five-bar gate at 87yrs.
Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes)

Earlier in the week whilst walking beside the Cuckmere River, there were several species of moth flying about in the damp grass. Only this Silver-ground Carpet sat still long enough for a photograph.
Silver-ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata

On Saturday morning, the moth-trap contained my first hawkmoth species of the year. The Poplar Hawkmoth is one of our commonest species in this group.
Poplar Hawkmoth (Laothoe populi) (male)

Monday, 16 May 2016

Back to Pevensey Levels

On Saturday I went for a slow meandering walk to see what has been emerging from the ditches on Pevensey Levels, with a particular focus on damselflies and dragonflies. The first find of the day though were two male Wall butterflies battling it out along a field edge, each trying to out-circle the other in order to claim the best territory.
Wall (Lasiommata megera) (male)

The next action of the day was to rescue a ewe that had got stuck on her back, her two lambs dutifully sitting next to her. Once righted, they ran off together without any word of thanks.

Down amongst the ditches it was clear that Variable Damselflies had been emerging for a few days with a mixture of mature and teneral adults on the wing.
Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) (male)

Variable Damselfly (C.pulchellum) (female)

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) (female)

I also spotted a Chinese Character moth fly into a hedge to roost. No bigger than a thumb-nail, the survival strategy of this species is to disguise itself as a bird dropping when at rest.

Chinese Character (Cilix glaucata)

In my wealden garden this morning, the moth-trap produced one of my favourite moths. The Chocolate-tip is a member of the Notodontidae family, a group that are generally adept at disguising themselves as broken twigs, tree bark or dead leaves when at rest. This mornings specimen was a little worn and so the photograph is of one I took in 2014.

Chocolate-tip (Clostera curtula)

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Duke of Burgundy

The Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) is one of the UK's most endangered species of butterfly and in recent years, Bob and I have made annual visits to its Kent stronghold to watch this delightful insect. On Wednesday, we set out from East Sussex under dark grey clouds and occasional showers, trusting that the forecast for afternoon sunny spells would prove correct. We needn't have worried.
As well as the Duke of Burgundy, these woods are home to many other natural treasures. 

Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) (mating).
The male has only two pairs of walking legs whereas the female (on the left) has three pairs.

Duke of Burgundy (H.lucina) (female)....her abdomen swollen with eggs.

The same female is ovipositing on the underside of a primrose leaf.


Two freshly laid ova.

White-spotted Sable Moth (Anania funebris)

Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria)

 Rhagium mordax; a species of Longhorn Beetle.

Holly Blue

The Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) is the first of the 'blues' to emerge in the UK. It is a regular sight flying along garden hedgerows during April and May and in good years, it can be seen flying from mid-March. It produces a second brood which is on the wing in July and August. The female of the spring brood lays her eggs under holly buds but females of the summer brood lay their eggs mainly on ivy buds, although I have also seen them laying on spindle and alder buckthorn.
On Tuesday afternoon, after a wet morning, I decided to watch for Holly Blues in my garden having seen good numbers flying through during the last week. After a while I noticed a male fluttering continually in the same spot on my holly hedge; behaviour suggesting that he had found a female, in fact a mating pair. I observed them for about 40 minutes before they separated naturally and the female settled low down in undergrowth to ripen her eggs.
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (mating; female on right)

Holly Blue (C.argiolus) (female)

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Dragons & Pearls

This week has seen our best weather so far this year with plenty of blue skies and temperatures getting up into the high teens and low twenties. You would be right to think that it would be excellent weather for getting out and about but I spent the week re-laying my worn out driveway with the help of a friend (he supplied the expertise and I acted as his ageing labourer). I managed to 'ping' a muscle in my side early on in proceedings and by the week-end I was literally aching to get out into the field for some butterfly therapy.
On Saturday morning the moth trap produced a couple of interesting specimens apart from the usual Orthosia species. The Twenty-plume Moth is no bigger than a finger-nail but has wings that look like they are made of feathers. It is always pleasing to find any of the Drepanidae family amongst the mornings catch, with their beautiful hook-tip wings. 
Twenty-plume Moth (Alucita hexadactyla)  

Scalloped Hook-tip (Falcaria lacertinaria) (male)

At 4pm. on Saturday afternoon, Carol and I were walking in a local wood to see how the emergence of the Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) was progressing. This is one beautiful butterfly to watch as the males patrol low over the foliage in search of freshly emerged females to mate with. The natural population died out in this wood during the 1990's but the species was re-introduced a few years ago using stock from a West Sussex population. To the casual observer, the name of this species appears meaningless until you get a good view of the underwings and the name begins to make sense!

Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) (male) 

The same butterfly showing its pearl border.

The songs of several Nightingales enriched the soul. A Green Hairstreak and a few Grizzled Skippers were also seen as well as my first Hairy Dragonfly of the year. The Hairstreak and Skippers were too busy to be photographed but the Hairy Hawker rested on a couple of occasions.

Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) (male)

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Renewed Acquaintance with the Fen Raft Spider

With the weekend weather being a couple of degrees warmer than of late and with a reduction in wind chill, I spent Saturday morning walking along woodland edges towards the banks of the Cuckmere river. Butterflies were a little more numerous and a few Large Red Damselflies were seen.

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (female)

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral male)

Today, Carol and I went for a walk across Pevensey Levels to see what other creatures were taking advantage of the warmer temperatures. Several Large Red Damselflies were on the wing. We also saw our first Hobby of the year and heard Whitethroats, Cetti's, Reed and Sedge Warblers. However, the main target of the day was to see if any Fen Raft Spiders would be tempted out into the sunshine. After searching several of last years hotspots I found two juveniles and then an adult male basking amongst the water vegetation. The spoon shaped palps that the male uses to deliver sperm to the female were clearly visible. 
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (male)