Thursday, 17 August 2017

Watching Dragonflies

Although there have been plenty of warm sunny spells during the last couple of weeks, weather conditions have also been blighted by persistent strong breezes which tend to hamper insect photography.
One of my favourite downland dew-ponds is reasonably sheltered from such winds and you can usually find a few ditches in the lee of a reed bed or willow scrub on Pevensey Levels where dragonfly activity continues in relative calm. 
Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) (ovipositing female at a downland dew-pond)

Wall (Lasiommata megera) (male sheltering in the lee of a chalk bank)

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (female sheltering in a maize crop on Pevensey Levels)

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (female basking in the early morning sunshine)

Several individuals of this striking moth have been attracted to the garden light trap in the last couple of weeks. Just look at those fantastic antennae!
Black Arches (Lymantria monacha) (male)


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Club-tailed Dragonfly

The Club-tailed Dragonfly (Gomphus vulgatissimus) is a scarce and localised species, with very specific habitat requirements along slow moving river systems. In Sussex, its main stronghold is in the Arun basin in the west of the county.
It is an early season species that tends to undergo a synchronised emergence during late May or early June after which the adults move away from the water for a week or two before returning to breed.
(Reference; "Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland"
 by Steve Brooks)
Back in June, on a very hot and sunny day, I was keen to watch the behaviour of mature males returning to the breeding river.
Club-tailed Dragonfly (Gomphus vulgatissimus) (males)

Club-tailed Dragonfly (G.vulgatissimus) (freshly emerged female taken is 2013)

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male)


Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Mothers Meeting

Whilst checking the ditches on Pevensey Levels this week, I came across a hotbed of egg laying activity by several Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) females. They had taken to resting on a discarded fence post that was floating amongst the water weed. They were not only ovipositing into the weed but also into the sodden crevices of the wood. At one time, there were five females on the log but too far apart to get into a single photograph.
Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (ovipositing females) 

Later on the same walk, I spotted an aberrant Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) flying along the trackside. Most of the submarginal copper band on the hindwing was absent. As far as naming this aberration is concerned, it is somewhere between radiata and obsoleta and probably best described as a transitional form of obsoleta.
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) (female) (transitional form of ab.obsoleta)

This morning, I decided to take advantage of a small window of warm and dry weather, before rain was due to set in by lunchtime. I saw several nursery webs of the Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius). Although it was warm and dry, the weather was also dull and breezy and this kept the nursing females out of sight and probably just below the top layer of leaves.
Fen Raft Spider (Dolomedes plantarius) (mass of spiderlings within the nursery web)

Thursday, 20 July 2017

In Love With iris

When watching butterflies, some lepidopterists have their personal favourites; the one they impatiently await the emergence of every year. For many, that butterfly is the Purple Emperor (Apatura iris).
 I confess that I much prefer to watch the understated elegance of a White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) as it glides and flits around the treetops with a ghostlike nebulous quality and I also delight in watching the pugnacious antics of the Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) as males battle with each other around the oak canopy during the early evening.
In reality however, we love them all and there is no denying that the brash and showy Purple Emperor (A.iris) is indeed a magnificent beastie and one that I had not caught up with for several years. On an early morning start during the last week of June, Bob Eade and I met up with Mark Colvin for a walk around the woods of his local patch on the West Sussex and Surrey borders. We were in for a treat.
Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) (female)

Purple Emperor (A.iris) (male)

Purple Emperor (A.iris) (female) (imbibing moisture on the bank of a woodland stream)


Friday, 14 July 2017

All Puffed Up

Walking through the woods earlier this week I came across a male Common Toad (Bufo bufo) heading towards me on a narrow pathway. We both stopped for a face-off as he adopted his typical defence posture by puffing up his body and standing up on his front legs. I knew what was required of me and I stepped aside to let him pass. Outside of the breeding season, the Common Toad is very much a terrestrial creature.
Common Toad (Bufo bufo) (male in defence posture)
The Peacock (Inachis io) is one of the first butterflies of the year to be seen, as they awake from their winter hibernation. The progeny of that earlier generation are now emerging and they will not breed until next spring after they too have gone through hibernation.
Peacock (Inachis io)

The Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) is also undergoing a fresh emergence. They are probably the progeny of migrants that arrived in May but they could also be part of a new immigration from the near continent.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui

During an evening walk, I observed several Purple Hairstreaks (Quercusia quercus) nectaring on developing acorns. Here, a female is sharing her feast with a species of Acorn Weevil.
Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) (female nectaring at acorn)

The Gatekeeper (Pyronia thithonus) is also emerging in healthy numbers. This is a species that displays very variable spot configurations on its wings but occasionally more unusual aberrations are seen. Bob and I came across a male tithonus (ab.obscurior) on our regular Wednesday walk this week. 
Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) (male)

Gatekeeper (P.tithonus) (male, ab.obscurior)


Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Purple Hairstreak Bonanza

In my youth I was constantly tantalised by the sight of Purple Hairstreaks (Quercusia quercus) flying around in the oak canopy and seemingly never coming down to ground level. Ever since those days, it has been one of my favourite butterfly species and I have savoured every close encounter over the years.
 Nowadays, I know the habits of quercus very well. This year, it seems to be emerging in prolific numbers and over the last few days I have concentrated my efforts on early morning visits to the local woods to look for fresh emergents.

The Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) also seems to be having a good year in the wealden woods of East Sussex.
Purple Hairstreak (Quercusia quercus) (male)
Purple Hairstreak (Q.quercus) (female)

Purple Hairstreak (Q.quercus) (female ab. flavimaculatus)

Purple Hairstreak (Q.quercus) (male)

Purple Hairstreak (Q.quercus) (male)

Purple Hairstreak (Q.quercus) (male)

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) (male)

Silver-washed Fritillary (A.paphia) (male, underside)
Silver-washed Fritillary (A.paphia) (female)

Silver-washed Fritillary (A.paphia) (female, underside)

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)