Saturday, 24 June 2017

A Flash of Silver

After a couple of very early starts this week to foray deep into West Sussex, I was in need of a relaxing stroll through one of my local Wealden woods yesterday. The season has arrived early for many species of butterfly this year and I was confident that I would see some freshly emerged Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) and Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) on the wing.
 
 When I am looking for quercus, I tend to be in the woods by 0800hrs. At this time of day early in their flight season, you are just as likely to find them drying their wings low in the undergrowth as seeing them flying around the tops of oak trees. When they rapidly fly past you at low level, they give a silvery-grey appearance.
 
 
Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) (female)
 

 
 
Although I have seen mating Silver-washed Fritillaries before, they are usually quite high up in tree foliage, or they are quick to take off from lower levels when approached. The first photograph was taken when I spotted this pair about 10 feet from the ground. Their silver-washed markings help them blend in well to a background of leaves. About 20 minutes later, I found them on low vegetation and with stealth I was able to get close to them.
 
 
Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) (mating)
 



 
 
By 1100hrs the weather was bright and hot and I headed home for lunch, intending to return for a late afternoon visit. I was back on station by 1530hrs and it wasn't long before I spotted that tell-tale flash of silver-grey fly past me and land on the lower branches of an oak tree. 
 
 
Purple Hairstreak (Q.quercus) (male) 
 

 
 
The final treat of the day was to watch a male Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) basking low down in oak foliage. This normally difficult-to-approach dragonfly was clearly enjoying the late afternoon sun and it was unphased by my close proximity.
 
 
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (male)


 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Inhabitants of Ashdown Forest

When the Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus) starts to emerge on Ashdown Forest, I become a much more regular visitor to this special landscape, which is home to a variety of creatures and plants that are acid heathland specialists. Plants like the Common Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) and Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) are easily found but the Early Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata) is a little harder to seek out.
 
 
Silver-studded Blue (Plebejus argus) (male)
 
 
 
Silver-studded Blue (P.argus) (female)

 
 
Early Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza incarnata) (ssp.pulchella)


 
 
Common Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) (an insectivorous plant)

 
 
Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum)

 
 
Last week, I was out walking the hedgerows when I watched a Hairy Dragonfly (Bachytron pratense) land on top of a hedge. I thought at first that it was under attack from a predatory insect but soon realised that it was lying on its back whilst devouring a Soldier Beetle sp. I had never seen this behaviour before.
 
 
Hairy Dragonfly (Bachytron pratense) (laid back female devouring prey)

 
 
Swallow-tailed Moth (Ourapteryx sambucaria) (attracted to the garden light trap)

 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Walking on Water

I have been seeing Fen Raft Spiders (Dolomedes plantarius) regularly over the last couple of weeks on Pevensey Levels. This week, I caught sight of an adult male walking across the water surface towards me. It came to rest in the margin of the ditch where it was well camouflaged among the stem shadows.
 
 
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (male)
 
 
 
I also came upon a female Wall (Lasiommata megera) in the process of looking for egg laying sites. She was slowly fluttering along a track edge and amongst the young grass shoots to oviposit.
 
 
Wall (Lasiommata megera) (ovum on grass shoot) 

 
 
 
Calling in at Batemans one afternoon this week to check the ponds, there were several species of Odonata on the wing.
 
 
Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (male)

 
 
 
Looking into the shallows of a wealden stream, a Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) watches the Beautiful Demoiselles (Calopteryx virgo) flying low across the water.
  
 
Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
 
 
 
 
This beautiful moth made its first appearance of the year at the garden light trap this week. It is another member of the Prominent family and gets its name from its strange looking larva. 
 

Lobster Moth (Stauropus fagi)

 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Here, There and Everywhere

At this time of year, especially when the weather is warm and settled, activity in the natural world moves on at some speed and there are new things to be seen on a daily basis. During the last two weeks, I have been here, there and everywhere trying to keep pace with emerging wildlife. 
 
On a favourite downland walk, the first broods of Adonis, Common and Small Blues were on the wing. On this occasion, there had also been a recent mass emergence of Emperor Dragonflies at one of the dew ponds and in some places around the pond edge, every available stem had exuviae in a ghostly clasp.
 
 
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (male)
 
 
 
Common Blue (P.icarus) (mating)

 
 
Small Blue (Cupido minimus) (male)

 
 
Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) (exuviae)

 
 
Burnt-tip Orchid (Neotinea ustulata) (var.ustulata)

 
 
At this time of year, Pevensey Levels seem to be bathed in a yellow wash, with fields covered in buttercups and yellow flag iris lining many of the ditches. Several species of dragonfly and damselfly are now emerging in profusion.
 
 
Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus

 
 
Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma najas) (male)

 
 
Great Silver Diving Beetle (Hydrophilus piceus) (our second largest beetle basking on a reed stem)

 
 
 
Out in the woods, the larvae of the White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) are nearing maturity and the hunt will soon be on to try to find a pupa in the wild, a pursuit in which I have yet to succeed.
 
 
White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) (final instar larva on honeysuckle)

 
 
The stunning Elephant Hawkmoth has made its first appearance of the year in the garden light trap.
 
 
Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor

 

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Wall Street

Yesterday, I went to Pevensey Levels in search of the Wall (Lasiommata megera). There is a particular track where I know that I will see plenty of megera activity and where earlier this week I saw four males holding territories over a relatively short distance. On this visit, the Wall was joined on the street by two freshly emerged Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) males. These closely related species both hold territories in similar ways and they can often be seen battling together along this track.
 
 
Wall (Lasiommata megera) (male)
 

 
 
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) (male)

 
 
After an hour of walking slowly back and forth along the track, I saw my main quarry of the day. A freshly emerged female Wall was flying towards me. It was inevitable that she would soon fly into the territory of one of the males. 
 
 
Wall (L.megera) (female) 

 
 
Courtship in this species can be a brief affair and from first meeting to coupling took less than 15 seconds. After taking a few photographs I encouraged them to move off the track and left them in peace to ensure the next generation.
 
 
Wall (L.megera) (courtship and mating)




 
 
30 minutes later, I encountered the female again. She was easily recognisable due to a slight deformity in the hind corner of her left forewing, probably caused by expanding her wings against a grass blade. I watched her regularly resting on the track and nectaring at buttercup, common vetch and hawthorn flowers.
 
 
Wall (L.megera) (female nectaring at buttercup)



 
 
Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) (teneral male)

 

Friday, 12 May 2017

Green-winged Orchid

The once widespread Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio) is now a rare plant. A drastic decline in the number of natural wild flower meadows in southern England during the last century has rather marginalised this species and it often only occurs in any numbers in places like private gardens, churchyards and roadside verges where sympathetic mowing regimes suit this orchid.
 
Bob told me of a well established colony in a Sussex churchyard.
 
 
Green-winged Orchid (Anacamptis morio) (normal form)

 
 
Green-winged Orchid (A.morio) (pink form)


 
 
Later the same day, Carol and I visited Scotney Castle in Kent. This is a National Trust property and a colony of morio can be found growing on the lawns which are managed for wildflowers.
 
 
Green-winged Orchid (A.morio) (mauve & white form) 

 
 
A view of Scotney Castle

 
 
 
On a dull and cool day earlier this week, whilst walking along the clifftops of the South Downs, I came across this beautiful female Adder (Vipera berus) curled up in a warm spot out of the wind. Luckily for me she was in no rush to slip away into the undergrowth and she allowed me to lie down beside her with the camera.
 
 
Adder (Vipera berus) (female)




 
 
 
This week has also seen the emergence of the Wall (Lasiommata megera) on Pevensey Levels. They generally emerge here about a week or ten days later than nearby downland colonies.
 
 
Wall (Lasiommata megera) (male)