Saturday, 29 April 2017

A Wealden Wood in Spring

For me, there is no scene more beautiful than when the bluebell carpet has been rolled out across the floor of a Wealden wood in Spring. That deep blue colour is so difficult to reproduce in a photograph or painting and the scent is sublime, especially during the late evening. 

Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) (male)

Pearl-bordered Fritillary (B.euphrosyne) (female)

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (male)

During the last week I have seen my first Dingy Skippers (Erynnis tages) on the South Downs and Small Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) have appeared in good numbers on Pevensey Levels.
Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) (male)

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

This morning's moth trap yielded another member of the Prominent family.
Pebble Prominent (Notodonta ziczac)

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Dragons and Damsels Emerge

This week has seen the emergence of several species of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) on Pevensey Levels. My first Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) of the year was a newly emerged female in the process of expanding her wings. Although the Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) has been on the wing for two weeks on the levels, Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella), Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) and Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) have all started to emerge this week.
Hairy Dragonfly (Brachytron pratense) (female expanding her wings)

Variable Damselfly (Coenagrion pulchellum) (teneral male)

Earlier this week, I met up with Bob for our regular Wednesday walkabout. We headed for the downs in search of orchids. I also saw my first Small Copper (Lycaena phleaes) of the year which just happened to be an aberration, sporting yellow pigment in the middle of the forewings. The specimen was also of form caeruleopunctata which gave this phleaes a rather attractive livery.
Small Copper (Lycaena phleaes) (female, form caeruleopunctata) (aberration)

Early Spider Orchids (Ophrys sphegodes)

The light trap in my wealden garden this week has started to attract species of one of my favourite moth groups, the Prominents (Notodontidae).They are so named because of the body and wing tufts that show when the moths are at rest. The first three species are Prominents and the last species is from the Noctuidae family.
Iron Prominent (Notodonta dromedarius)

Lesser Swallow Prominent (Pheosia gnoma)

Lunar Marbled Brown (Drymonia ruficornis)

Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta) (female)

Thursday, 20 April 2017

A Holly Blue Encounter and the Twelve Forty-five to East Grinstead

On Easter Monday I decided to try and make use of the patchy early morning sunshine and headed off to Pevensey Levels. The weather forecast was right however and by the time I started my walk, the grey cloud had settled across the whole sky. I concentrated my efforts on searching for any roosting Holly Blues (Celastrina argiolus) that might be tucked away in any ivy growth. After an hour or so I found a freshly emerged female settled low down in a hedgerow. Looking up at the sky, there were a few small patches of blue sky appearing and so I sat nearby and waited. Another hour passed and then the sun managed to peep through the clouds for a brief few moments, enticing her to open her wings.
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female)

The next day we met up with friends at the Bluebell Railway at Sheffield Park where the Flying Scotsman had been visiting over the Easter holiday. Whilst I am not hugely knowledgeable on steam locomotives, the excitement and affection in the crowd was palpable as this magnificent piece of 1920's engineering set off for East Grinstead. 


Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Holly and The Ivy

The Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) spring brood will lay their eggs on the buds of holly but the summer brood will mainly use ivy as the host foodplant. All the Holly Blues on the wing at this time of year fed as larvae on ivy last summer and therefore the best place to look for argiolus activity is on and around favoured ivy growth where the males concentrate their search for freshly emerged females. This species has been performing in good numbers on Pevensey Levels.
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (males)
 (the first male is showing signs of a bird strike on left forewing)

Green-veined White (Pieris napi) (male)

Some of our 'early' orchids are now in flower.
Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula)
(A small colony in a local Wealden wood)

Early Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes)
(A rare downland orchid)


Monday, 10 April 2017

Spring Emergence Moves On Apace

I keep having to remind myself that we are only just entering the second week of April. The hot weather during this last week has felt more like June or July and the emergence of our Spring butterflies has really moved on apace. Although I have yet to see a Large White (Pieris brassicae) on the wing, I have seen most of the other early Spring species in multiple numbers.
I saw my first Green-veined Whites (Pieris napi) on Pevensey Levels (2nd April) and my first Speckled Woods (Pararge aegeria) near Arlington (5th April).
The weather was again hot and sunny on Pevensey Levels yesterday. Holly Blues (Celastrina argiolus) were numerous, with three or four males at a time seen patrolling the hedgerows in search of females. I also saw my first Large Red Damselflies (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) of the year (9th April).
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) (male)
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (teneral male)

And the pick of the moths in the garden this week;
Purple Thorn (Selenia tetralunaria)

Streamer (Anticlea derivata)


Friday, 31 March 2017

A New Season Begins

Although our hibernating butterfly species have been active for a few weeks, I never feel that Spring has properly started until our true spring species start to emerge from their chrysalids. On Monday (27th March) I saw my first two Small Whites (Pieris rapae) of the year on Pevensey Levels and later the same day, two Holly Blues (Celastrina argiolus) flew through my back garden. On Thursday (30th March), with the temperature reaching 20 degrees, I encountered my first Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) of the year, flying along a woodland edge and six more Small Whites during the day. On Friday (31st March) I saw my second Orange-tip.  
Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (male)
Peacocks (Inachis io)
 (I think both are males, that landed together after a mid-air chase)
Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris)
 (A queen basking in the early morning sunshine together with a species of Pirate Spider)

I missed the birth of these twin lambs by minutes.

With temperatures of 20 degrees yesterday, many moths would also have been emerging. I decided to run the mercury vapour light trap last night and here is the pick of this morning's catch.

Brindled Beauty (Lycia hirtaria) (male)

Great Prominent (Peridea anceps)

Nut-tree Tussock (Colocasia coryli) (male, form medionigra)

Pine Beauty (Panolis flammea)

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Still on the Amphibian Trail

The mild and sunny weather this last week has encouraged our hibernating butterfly species to emerge in good numbers but the new butterfly season is still very much in its infancy. This week, I have concentrated my efforts in continuing to seek out amphibian activity.
Many of the ditches on Pevensey Levels are now echoing to the sound of breeding Common Toads (Bufo bufo) and they often share the same ditches with breeding Common Frogs (Rana temporaria). Inevitably, confusion sometimes occurs with male frogs attempting to mate with female toads. Since first observing this behaviour in 2015, I have come to realise that this is quite a regular occurrence.
The following photographs are of two such pairings occurring a few yards apart in the same ditch.
Two different male Common Frogs (R.temporaria) in mating clasps with female Common Toads (B.bufo)

I have also visited another of my favourite downland dew ponds where I know that I will see good numbers of Great Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus). I enjoy watching their courtship behaviour through my binoculars and occasionally they will venture close to the surface to offer a brief photographic opportunity. 
Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) (female)

On this particular occasion, the males were spending much of their time in the murky waters at the bottom of the pond but the next photograph is of a male taken in 2015.
Great Crested Newt (T.cristatus) (male)
On Rye Levels, Marsh Frogs (Rana ridibunda) can be found sunning themselves on the banks of ditches or on floating water weed. Their breeding season doesn't get underway until May.
Marsh Frog (Rana ridibunda) (sub-adults)

There will be better photo opportunities to be had when the summer broods of Comma (Polygonia c-album) and Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) emerge but it is difficult to resist a bit of early season stalking and target practice!
Comma (P. c-album)

Small Tortoiseshell (A. urticae)

The pick of the moths attracted to my garden light trap this week was this Small Brindled Beauty (Apocheima hispidaria). Athough this species is locally widespread in Sussex, it was the first time that I had recorded it in my garden.
Small Brindled Beauty (A. hispidaria) (male)
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been watching a pair of Long-tailed Tits (Aegithalos caudatus) constructing their nest on Pevensey Levels. Now more or less complete, it is one of the most beautiful natural structures, made from lichens and spider webs. Plenty of zoom and some cropping suggest that I was closer than I actually was and I watched the pair return after I left.