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.   

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Toads Reunited

This last week has given us a couple of our warmest days so far this year and so I decided to visit one of my favourite downland dew ponds where returning toads always put on a good show. They are delightful creatures and Carol and I watched them for over an hour as they battled, paired and spawned.
Common Toad (Bufo bufo)
A pair in mating clasp.
Several pairs are spawning.

This male is basking at the water surface.

Two more pairs in mating clasp.

I also noticed a larva of the Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator) moving about amongst the toad spawn. I don't know whether it would feed on the spawn or whether it prefers its prey to be more active. It later moved out into open water and settled on the pond bed. 

Common Backswimmer (Notonecta glauca) (and shadow)

The overnight temperatures this week have also been warm enough to expect a reasonable catch in the moth trap. 
March Moth (Alsophila aescularia) (male) 

Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Seeing Tropical Butterflies

Being a rather reluctant air traveller, I am unlikely ever to see tropical butterfly species in the wild and so I am an enthusiastic visitor to the 'Butterflies in the Glasshouse' exhibition held annually at RHS Wisley during January and February. Getting some unseasonal butterfly therapy is a great way to spend a cold and damp winter's day. Although perhaps not for the butterfly purist, I find it to be a good opportunity to see these exotic creatures and to try to build up a basic knowledge of species from around the globe.
Positive indentification within some groups can be tricky, particularly within butterfly house populations where breeding between different subspecies can be confusing. Some species display a huge range of subspecies and mimics and it is quite possible that one or two of my identifications may be incorrect.
Some species that are commonly found in butterfly houses can have several different English names and so Latin names are always more reliable.
Great Yellow Mormon (Papilio lowi) (female)
Common Mormon (Papilio polytes) (male)
Common Mormon (P.polytes) (female)
Paris Peacock (Papilio paris)
Longwing sp. (Heliconius doris
Longwing sp. (Heliconius hecale)
Longwing sp. (Heliconius numata)
Common Postman (Heliconius melpomene)
Longwing sp. (Heliconius antiochus)
Automedon Giant Owl (Eryphanis automedon)
Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides)
Blue-banded Morpho (Morpho achilles)

One-spotted Prepona (Archeoprepona demophon)

Great Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina)

Indian Leafwing (Kallima paralekta)

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia violacea)

Zebra Mosaic (Colobura dirce)