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.

Friday, 1 July 2016

A Wealden Wood in June

Earlier this week I decided that it was time that I identified a colony of Bumblebees that had taken up residence in one of our nest boxes in the garden. With reference to my recently purchased "Field Guide to the Bees of Great Britain and Ireland" by Steven Falk, I concluded that they were Tree Bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum), a species that was first recorded in the UK in 2001 having arrived from Europe. Since then it has rapidly colonised much of England and Wales and has now been recorded in Scotland. With the worry over declining bee populations in the UK in recent years, the arrival of a new species sounds like good news.
Tree Bumblebees (Bombus hypnorum)

Yesterday, I headed off to a favourite wealden wood in search of butterflies. By late June, our summer woodland species are either already on the wing or just coming into their flight season. The morning was overcast and overnight rain and warm temperatures gave a mild and humid feel as I walked along the rides; perfect weather to entice butterflies to sit around on the undergrowth with their wings open.
Meadow Browns are numerous and Ringlets abundant in this damp woodland.
Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) (female)

Meadow Brown (M. jurtina) (male)

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) (male)

Ringlet (A. hyperantus) (female)

Black-and-yellow Longhorn Beetle (Strangalia maculata)

The White Admiral is one of my favourite butterflies and every year I keenly await its emergence. This master flier has a nebulous quality about it as it glides around the treetops or flits and glides in and out of the shade looking for egg laying sites. It is beautiful to watch.  
White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) (male)