Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Black Hairstreak

Black Hairstreak colony found in Sussex. It sounds ridiculous, an early April Fools joke perhaps, but it appears to be true.

The butterflies are certainly there, on Ditchling Common, but how did they get there? The size and spread of the population suggests that the colony must have been established a long time ago. The best suggestion at the moment is that they were introduced in the 60s or 70s and have sat there, unnoticed for the past fifty years, slowly expanding their territory.

Fifty years without being noticed, it sounds unlikely but then these butterflies have a very short flight period, they stay mostly in the tops of trees, and this is probably not a well watched site for butterflies. With reports of 90+ Black Hairstreaks counted on one day this could well be one of the most numerous sites in the country.

There were a lot of people there today trying to photograph the butterflies and the area is getting a bit trampled. I expect it will be even worse by the end of the weekend. It's a pity that we do so much damage in our pursuit of a good picture.

For me the best aspect of the visit was that the butterflies were coming down onto the bracken and  also nectaring on the brambles making them easier to see. On other sites I had only ever found them in the tops of trees or down nectaring at heights of around six to ten feet.

I understand further investigation of various records is being carried out in an attempt to identify the source of the introduction. However their presence in Ditchling Common raises a number of questions. This is a species that although considered scarce and very localised, does exist over a huge range through Europe, Asia, and as far as Japan. We assume that in the UK they can only exist in the belt of land through Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and into Cambridgeshire but why should this be. Habitat requirements do not seem to be particularly onerous and could exist almost anywhere in the south of the country.

There have been many records for the Black Hairstreak from the South of England. A number of colonies were identified in the Surrey area in the 70s and the assumption was made that these had spread from an introduction near Cranleigh in 1952 *. Possible but this is a highly sedentary butterfly. These colonies were all viable and only appear to have been lost through habitat destruction.

There are also historical records for elsewhere in the south of England but these are now all considered to have been misidentifications of the White-letter Hairstreak.

Perhaps the ramblings of a half informed amateur, but could there be more colonies out there in the South of England waiting to be found.

I have no qualms about adding it as number 47 on my Sussex list. People will argue the merits of introducing a species into an area where it has not existed before but these have now survived for about fifty generations and they still look to be prospering. That's good enough for me.

*(PDF) Black Hairstreak. Available from: [accessed Jun 14 2018].

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

More Green Stuff

It has all been very quiet on the birding front and even the butterflies have been slow as we wait for the summer species to appear. The solution, spend some more time looking for Orchids. Sussex can sometimes seem like a Bermuda Triangle for interesting birds, particularly at this time of year, but I can't complain about the variety of Orchids. You just need a lot of time to search for them.

Hollingsbury Hill and Wellcombe Bottom with twelve species of orchid recorded, looked like a good starting point. We didn't manage to the find the scarce Man Orchids but Fly, Greater Butterfly, Chalk Fragrant and especially Common Twayblades were found in good numbers.

Fly Orchid  -  Ophrys insectifera

Fly Orchid  -  Ophrys insectifera

Greater Butterfly Orchid  -  Platanthera chlorantha

Greater Butterfly Orchid  -  Platanthera chlorantha

Chalk Fragrant Orchid  -  Gymnadenia conopsea

Chalk Fragrant Orchid  -  Gymnadenia conopsea

Common Twayblade  -  Neottia ovata

Common Twayblade  -  Neottia ovata

Common Twayblade  -  Neottia ovata

As with the Twayblade above, not every orchid gives you a colourful flower to photograph and to help you locate them. Some are just dull greens and tend to blend into the background. The Twayblade being taller is easier to see. The Frog Orchid below, at another site, took a lot more searching and it looks as though this is as good as it gets flower wise.

Frog Orchid  -  Coeloglossum viride

The Birds Nest Orchid goes one step further. A dull brown colour, it survives by digesting fungi in the ground rather than by the process of photosynthesis. It only appears above ground as a flower spike. Fortunately in its favoured environment of deep leaf litter in shaded Beech woods there is little else growing to conceal it. This specimen just a bit past its best!

Birds Nest Orchid  -  Neottia nidus-avis

Back to more colourful varieties, Pyramidal Orchids are now starting to appear in good numbers all across the downs.

Pyramidal Orchid  -  Anacamptis pyramidalis

Pyramidal Orchid  -  Anacamptis pyramidalis

and below a very pale Chalk Fragrant

Chalk Fragrant Orchid  -  Gymnadenia conopsea v albiflora

At least I assume all the Fragrants were variety Chalk Fragrant. I am not sure that I have the skills yet to differentiate between Chalk, Heath and Marsh.

Thursday, 7 June 2018


On Tuesday I may have made a fatal mistake. Poor returns on the Sussex Commons, with very few birds found and with a cold easterly wind keeping the butterflies in cover, left us with an afternoon and nowhere to go. Dave suggested having a look for a particular orchid that he wanted to photograph and I was happy to go along with the idea.

I have spent many a session standing by whilst Dave crawled around on his hands and knees gardening and photographing wild flowers, but I have never really understood the fascination with orchids. This would have probably just been another one of those sessions except that we didn't find the the target species.

Nothing brings the "train spotting" genes to the fore like missing a target and Wednesday morning having regrouped and clarified our search data we set off for another go. It wasn't exactly easy to find but after a bit of searching we were successful, the Bee Orchid v flavescens.

Bee Orchid v flavescens  -  Ophrys apifera v flavescens

Bee Orchid v flavescens  -  Ophrys apifera v flavescens

Floret of the Bee Orchid v flavescens  -  Ophrys apifera v flavescens

Also in the same area, the Common Spotted Orchid, more Bee Orchid and also a few Frog Orchids.

Common Spotted Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Common Spotted Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Common Spotted Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Common Spotted Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Bee Orchid  -  Ophrys apifera

Bee Orchid  -  Ophrys apifera

Bee Orchid  -  Ophrys apifera

Frog Orchid  -  Coeloglossum viride

Frog Orchid  -  Coeloglossum viride

Then on to Ferring Rife where Southern Marsh Orchids seem to grow in profusion. I say seem to, as there are references on the web, to some experts believing most of them to be hybrids of the Common Spot and Early Marsh Orchids, both of which are present on the site in smaller numbers.

With my knowledge of Orchids that level of identification is beyond me. It looks like a Southern Marsh Orchid so that is what I will call it.

Southern Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza praetermissa

Southern Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza praetermissation

Southern Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza praetermissa

Floret of the Southern Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza praetermissa

And the Early Marsh Orchid

Early Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza incarnata

Early Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza incarnata

Early Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza incarnata

Floret of the Early Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza incarnata

Then I managed to find a picture of a Dark-red Helleborine that we photographed on Gait Barrow a few years ago. It was a bit past its best but I am glad I took the time to record it.

Dark-red Helleborine  -  Epipactis atrorubens

I thought this would be easy. Just take a few pictures of Orchids and identify them from pictures on the web. I can't believe how complex the identification can be. Hybrids, sub-species, variants and colour morphs, all have left me with little confidence in anything I am putting a name to. Two days lost just reading up on Orchids.

It has been suggested that I have picked up a dose of  "Orchidelirium" a highly contagious disease. I really didn't need this. Life is too short. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Made in Sussex

Two additions to my Sussex Butterfly list, with both the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and the Wood White seen in Sussex locations in the past week.

A Wood White in Sussex has been a target for two or three years now. The Sussex Branch of Butterfly conservation suggests that in lean years these can be difficult to find and suggests travelling over the border into Surrey and visiting Botany Bay (Tugley Wood) where there are good sized colonies. They have always been very reluctant to release any information on potential sites in Sussex.

But that only makes it more of a challenge.

Dave and I have searched a few Sussex sites without success but research finally led us to a little wood and there they were. Or there they were for me, Dave was on his way to a butterflying holiday in the Pyrenees and missed them. Hopefully they will still be there when he gets back.

I only managed to see three but that's OK, I only need one for my Sussex tick. That takes me up to 46 butterfly species seen and photographed in Sussex. Still some way to go. According to Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch:-

There were 52 species of butterfly recorded in Sussex during the 2010-14 survey conducted for the "Butterflies of Sussex" atlas. Of these 43 are native to Sussex, living out their entire life cycle within the county. Two migrant species, the Clouded Yellow and the Painted Lady are such regular visitors that we can consider them to be Sussex species. The remaining seven are rare or occasional visitors whose unpredicable appearance is often dependent upon the weather. These are Scarce Tortoiseshell, Camberwell Beauty, Long-tailed Blue, Geranium Bronze, Glanville Fritillary, Monarch and Swallowtail.

Long-tailed Blue, I have seen but that still leaves six very rare butterflies that I am looking for. I probably also need to add the Large Tortoiseshell to that list. Can't say that I am too worried though. The way things are going of late, wedding releases, colonies bred in garden sheds and the odd matchbox bought back from the continent, should give me plenty of opportunities.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Following a very wet spring in 2012 and cold start to 2013, by 2014 the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary had disappeared from Sussex as a breeding species. Efforts to improve the habitat and reintroduce them resulted in a limited success last year and good signs of a sustainable population this year with reports of sightings from Abbotts Wood, Rowlands Wood, and Park Heath Corner.

Towards the end of last week we went to Park Heath Corner so I could add this butterfly to my Sussex list. Well we saw it but getting a picture was hard work. Just like the larger Pearl-Bordered Fritillary they are very active, fast flying and have the ability to just disappear from sight whilst only a few feet away from you. This is perhaps a butterfly to pursue late in the day, when it has worn itself out chasing the ladies and may be found nectaring on the wild flowers.

Only one photograph and I couldn't get close but this was all I had to show for a couple of hours effort. Not even an underwing shot to show the pearls.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Turtle Dove

It has been a bit of a mixed bag so far this week. Tuesday I was out looking for Turtle Doves on the Knepp Estate. There had been a number of reports of them posted but after four hours of searching I hadn't even managed to hear one purring. There were Cuckoos calling all over the place but they were very difficult to see. At least the Storks were showing well. I assume these two were from the re-introduction scheme. They looked like Red DC and Grey CU. Odd though that they had the rings on opposite legs.

With nothing much else showing, I went over to Woods Mills to look for a Turtle Dove there. The result was exactly the same

White Storks probably from the Knepp re-introduction sceme

Wednesday morning, this time with Dave as my good luck charm, we tried Woods Mills again and one of the first birds we saw was a Turtle Dove.

Then off to find our next target, West Sussex Wall Brown butterflies. A quick trek up onto the downs and we had eight to ten of the butterflies in our sights. Great butterflies to see but very territorial and aggressive and thus difficult to photograph as they are always on the move.

Wall Brown

Wall Brown

We also managed to find a single Small Blue at Kithurst Meadow but in the scramble to get a picture it did a disappearing act and we could not relocate it. I am always surprised at just how small they actually are. Later on we had our first Small Copper at Whiteways.

Small Copper

Green-veined Whites

Green-veined White mud puddling


And the dragonfly season is also under way with the best seen so far, an early Brown Hawker at Rowlands Wood. I see them there most years but as ever it failed to put down anywhere for a picture.

Broad-bodied Chaser

Azure Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

So a good day Tuesday. Wednesday we were out early looking for more of the same. This time at  Old Lodge with targets of Woodlark, Tree Pipit and Redstart. Unfortunately the weather did not live up to expectations, being cold and windy, and we only managed the Woodlark.


 Compensation was in the form of a Garden Warbler that Dave found belting out its song from halfway up a Pine tree in Rowlands Wood. My first of the year.

Garden Warbler