Saturday, 25 June 2016

A Week in Cumbria

We have just returned from a week in South Cumbria where we rented a cottage near Cartmel with friends. Carol and I have been to the Lake District many times over the years but our friends had never been before and so butterflies took a back seat while we showed them around some of our favourite places. I was content to walk the low fells and field edges around Cartmel to see what could be found.
The fells around Cartmel are no higher in altitude than the Sussex Downs. The calcareous grassland, limestone pavement and scree outcrops with patchy scrub and bracken provide good habitat for butterflies. Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries (Boloria selene) were fairly numerous but were too fidgety for a decent photograph. Other species were more obliging.
Large Skipper (Ochlodes venata) (female)

Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes salmacis) (female)

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja) (male)

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii)


Friday, 10 June 2016

Life in the Water Weed

With so much insect and spider activity in progress at the moment, I was drawn back for another walk on Pevensey Levels today. My main focus was to search for Fen Raft Spiders but the first photo opportunity was provided by a freshly emerged Four-spotted Chaser hardening its wings amongst the water weed.
Four-spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata)

Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius).
This adult female has her abdomen swollen with eggs and she will soon be ready to make her silken egg sac in which to lay them.

The markings of both male and female plantarius can be very variable. This male is sporting a particularly fine livery.

In the photograph below, a male (left) has approached a female presumably intending to mate with her. I decided to leave them to it.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Pevensey Levels Come Alive

I have been out on Pevensey Levels a couple of times in the last few days and the waterways and reed beds are alive with dragonflies and damselflies. Red-eyed, Variable and Blue-tailed Damselflies were everywhere and several patrolling Four-spotted Chasers have appeared since my last visit. The Small China-mark moth is a waterside specialist and has also emerged in large numbers.
Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (male)

Small China-mark (Cataclysta lemnata) (female)

Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) (mating)

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (female; form rufescens)

The breeding season is now underway for the Fen Raft Spider. Two mature females were seen amongst the water weeds but were well out of my camera range. One was swollen with eggs but the other had her egg sac under close attendance. 
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (sub-adult female)

Fen Raft Spider (D.plantarius) (adult male)

Friday, 3 June 2016

Small Blue

Last Friday (27th May) I answered the call of the Downs and decided on a trip to the environs of Lewes to watch a Small Blue colony that I have been aware of for a few years. The Small Blue (Cupido minimus) is a charming butterfly and the smallest UK species but its size, together with its erratic flight and silvery underside make it a most frustrating insect to follow with the eye. I watched at least eight males holding territory in a small area of long grass at the bottom of a steep sided downland valley.
Small Blue (Cupido minimus) (males)

Further down the valley I came across the exuvia (empty larval case) of an Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) at the edge of a dew pond.