Thursday, 26 June 2014

Purple Emperor

With it still looking very quiet on the birding front we were out looking for Butterflies and Dragonflies again today. First stop was Hollingbury Park in Brighton for another go at the White-letter Hairtreaks. The result was similar to Tuesday in Preston Park. We could see the Hairstreaks at the top of the tree but they were not coming down to have their photographs taken.

You can tell I was getting a bit bored as I ended up taking pictures of Hoverflies.

Hoverfly - Chrysotoxum bicinctum 

We gave it a couple of hours and then moved on to Woods Mill to have a look for Dragonflies. Eight species were reported as having been seen earlier in the week but we could not find them. We saw Beautiful Demoiselles, an Empereor over the middle of the lake, and a couple of Blue Damselflies but nothing to get exited about. The pond has been cleaned up but I am not sure that it has done anything for the Damsel and Dragonfly populations. There were a lot more around before the pond was cleaned.

Nor did we see any of the reported White Admirals so once again I resorted to insects.

Dark Bush Cricket - Pholidoptera griseoptera

With it starting to look a bit like a wasted day we headed off to Madgeland Woods to have another go at the White Admirals. We had seen lots there on the Monday but they were very active and I had been unable to get a decent picture. Today was no different the White Admirals are very fast flying and very mobile. I stalked a number of them along the rides but could not get anywhere near them. Then I got one that settled for a few seconds. Its not exactly in prime condition but its a start.

White Admiral - with juvenile Alien hanging under leaf.

The real find of the day was made by Dave when he came across a Purple Emperor down on the ride. Again it was not in perfect condition but as it was my first ever Purple Emperor I am not complaining. It stayed for about half an hour probing the earth for the salts and minerals that it needs and taking very little notice as we took our pictures.

Purple Emperor

Using yellow probiscus to probe for salts and minerals

Pity about the damaged rear right wing

Still you can always effect a repair in Photoshop!

Other butterflies around included Skippers, Commas, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, and Silver-washed Fritillaries.

Silver-washed Fritillary

Small Skipper

Large Skipper

Meadow Brown

So a slow start to a day that was eventually rescued by a special butterfly. I have seen it, I have the record shot, but as with the White Admiral I now need that perfect shot of a freshly emerged specimen.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Emperors and Hairstreaks

Well I don't have much for the blog. I have been out with Dave over the past couple of days. We have seen a lot but I haven't really got the quality of pictures that I would like to support our sightings. Monday was spent looking in various woods at the back of Southwater in an attempt to find a Purple Emperor butterfly. We found a couple of master trees and had a fleeting glimpse of what could have been a Purple Emperor at the top of one of those trees, but nothing more. I also managed to see more White Admirals in one day than I think I have seen in the whole of my life and I don't have a single good picture to show for it. The best of the record shots is shown below:-

White Admiral

Tuesday we spent sitting under the Preston Park Elm trees. We could see White-letter Hairstreaks high up in the tree when we arrived and as the morning wore on they gradually came lower. Then around eleven o'clock it all went quiet. I was lucky to be able to grab a couple of quick record shots of the butterflies up in the trees, as we saw nothing but a few distant flashes for the rest of the day. It was a nice relaxing day sitting in the sun but a bit disappointing having to come home without a decent picture.

White-letter Hairstreak - heavy crop to give me a record shot

The best of the rest were a shot of a Small Skipper

Small Skipper

A mating pair of Marbled Whites

Marbled Whites - bronze female and grey male

and a couple of Dragonfly shots.

The first a newly emerged immature. I am not entirely sure of its identity as the colours and markings are not fully developed but I think it is a Southern Hawker. I also took a picture of the exuvia it left lower down on the reed.

Immature Southern Hawker - I think

Unfortunately this dragonfly is not going far. Its right rear wing has failed to open and this will severely limit its flying ability.


The other Dragonfly was a male Emperor. This was spotted in the flower beds at Preston Park.

Male Emperor Dragonfly

So an interesting couple of days but we are going to have to put a lot more effort into the Purple Emperors and White-letter Hairstreaks if we are to get the pictures we are looking for.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Dark Green Fritillary

Whilst out walking over Seaford Head with friends on Sunday we came across two or three Dark Green Fritillaries. Lunch and a couple of pints were waiting at the now renovated and renamed Golden Galleon so I did not have much time for pictures. However, this was my first sighting of the Dark Greens this year so I was not going to let it pass without recording the sighting.

Female Dark Green Fritillary

The male was a bit more mobile and harder to photograph.

Male Dark Green Fritillary

Good, but the job is only half done. I need to get a closed wing shot or at least some record of the under wing.

The birding is getting a bit sidelined at the moment. I will get back to it but the window for seeing some of these butterflies is very narrow and I need to get those in the bag first. Purple Emperor and Hairstreaks next - I hope.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Silver-washed Fritillary

Late afternoon and Sue suggested going for a walk to make the most of the sunshine. I managed to talk her out of walking to the shops and instead we headed off to Houghton Forest to have a look for the butterflies. Dave had already tipped me off to the Marbled Whites and I was hoping to see Silver-washed Fritillaries and White Admirals as well.

The Marbled Whites were easy to find and photograph although none were really posing for a closed wing shot which I always think shows them at there best.

Marbled Whites

Marbled White

The only closed wing shot I managed

Sue is always a lot happier chasing after butterflies in the summer than being out in the middle of winter birding. She uses the little Canon SX50 and gets some good pictures which I always find a bit annoying given how difficult I find that camera to use.

The real find of the day was the Silver-washed Fritillary. I had seen one the day before but it was on a high speed fly through in the lower canopy and could not really be claimed as a first sighting. This one was nectaring on brambles but unfortunately was staying at the back of the thicket making it difficult to get a decent shot. These pictures are taken on a 400mm lens.

Silver-washed Fritillary

There were a range of other butterflies around as well, Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Heath, Brimstone, Speckled Wood, and one White Admiral although I did not get to see it.


Small Heath 

and a really tatty Grizzled Skipper still hanging on

Grizzled Skipper 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Heath Fritillary

The Heath Fritillary is one of the rarest butterflies in the country with only a few colonies in Kent, Essex and on the moors down in the South West. I had never seen one before so success today would be a life tick for me. The reports from our destination, Blean Wood, had been promising but we were uncertain as to what we would find. On the way down we agreed that we would be happy to just see one and more than happy if we could get a record shot.

Rather than heading for the usual location of the car park in East Blean Woods we were following directions that Dave had received from a contact down in Kent. We parked up and headed off into the wood to find the glade we were looking for. It was overcast and cool and there were no butterflies flying but as we stepped into the glade I spotted one on some Cow Wheat. I took a couple of quick snaps and Dave was in a bit of a panic to get his camera out before I spooked it. It was only then that we realised that they were all around us and that you actually had to be careful to ensure that you didn't step on them.

Heath Fritillary on Cow Wheat

The report we had was of forty of the Fritillary in the glade. Our estimate was for a lot more than this. Then the sun came out and suddenly there was a blanket of butterflies dancing about six inches above the glade. We must have just been lucky with the timing of our visit. I cannot remember ever having seen so many butterflies in such a small space.

In good condition


So plentiful were the Heath Fritillaries that the major highlight of the morning was when a Meadow Brown and then a Ringlet flew through the glade.


This was a truly memorable days butterfying and helped quell that nagging feeling that I should really be in Ashdown Forest getting a better picture of the Short-toed Eagle. With the Ringlet this brings the butterfly total to thirty two for the year. It looks as though we will make our target of forty with some too spare.

One final picture, I think it must be of a female Meadow Grasshopper. My first thoughts were that it was too small to be this but I cannot find any other alternative and reading up on them they do have a size range from 23mm down to 10mm.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Short-toed Eagle

The pictures are not very good and my first thoughts were not to bother with a blog, but how often do you see a Short-toed Eagle in Sussex. It's certainly worth recording.

I sat at home on Sunday watching the reports coming in but guessed that there would be a lot of people at the twitch so did not bother going. However, Monday morning we went, arriving at Long car park to be told that it was showing well and also receiving an alert confirming where it was. Ten minutes too late again. When we arrived at the viewing point it had just flown back into the trees.

Two hours later it made a brief appearance flying low over the trees and then vanished once again. It was a sighting but not a very satisfactory one. I did not have a decent picture and I could not identify it from what I had seen. All I really new was that it was big and that it was not a Buzzard or a Red Kite. The experts around me were confident and I guess I would have counted it as a life tick even though it did not really meet my criteria of being able to make the identification myself.

Fortunately the weather was poor and there was no point in following our original plan of going butterflying in the afternoon. Instead we visited some of the other look out points in the forest and ended up at Gills Lap where it was clear as we drove in to the car park that other birders had the Eagle in their scopes.

Short-toed Eagle

This time we got much better views as the bird hunted across the ridge in front of us, stooping on and catching prey. We watched it for about an hour this time. It did not come close but it did give good enough views to confirm the sighting.

Short-toed Eagle

There is not much you can do to rescue a poor set of pictures other than go back when the weather has improved. That's probably what we should have done as there were some good pictures taken on the Tuesday. See for example Mick Davis' blog. That was not possible though, as we had Tuesday scheduled for the Heath Fritillaries down in Blean Wood Kent.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Emperor Dragonfly Oviposting

With the birding being a bit flat at the moment we decided on another day chasing butterflies. We still wanted to see a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary  in Sussex so we started off at the butterfly reserve at Park Corner Heath. It was my third visit over the past couple of months and so far had delivered just one Brimstone and one Speckled Wood. I had to go back to prove that I had just been unlucky. Well it was an improvement, I have now seen two Brimstones and two Speckled Woods over my three visits, somewhat short of expectations.

There may be some long term plan in place to develop the site and I do understand letting the bracken grow to provide the right conditions for the growth of violets, the Fritillary caterpillars food plant. However, this environment looks nothing like Bentley Wood in Wiltshire where we saw large numbers of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries flying only a week ago.

Still the Speckled Wood was in good condition -

Speckled Wood

Fortunately the adjacent Rowland Wood proved more interesting with insects, dragonflies, moths and butterflies. The butterflies, mostly Large Skippers and Meadow Browns were very active, and in the heat I could not be bothered with chasing them. The moths were more interesting with a good specimen of Mother Shipton found.

Mother Shipton

The dragonflies were also entertaining. I thought Dave and I had both photographed the same dragonfly but looking at his blog  he has a Common Darter, yellow stripes down the legs and mine appears to be a female Ruddy Darter with black legs. It looks like we both missed an opportunity.

Female Ruddy Darter

Insects were also in evidence. I knew that this was a Longhorn Beetle but it took a bit more digging to identify it as Four-banded Longhorn Beetle (Leptura Quadrifasciata). Where would I be without the web?

Four-banded Longhorn Beetle (Leptura Quadrifasciata)

Having been a bit disappointed with our pictures of the Silver-studded Blues the other day we decided to head up to Old Lodge to see if they had put in an appearance there as yet. Butterfly wise it was a bit disappointing, we did see a few birds, Redstarts, Raven, Jays, etc. but neither of us had a long lens with us. Instead we made our way over to the ponds to look for more dragonflies.

There were plenty in evidence, Emperors, Broad-bodied Chasers, Four-spotted Chasers, and an assortment of Damselflies.

Slightly tatty Broad-bodied Chaser

and one in better condition

Four-spotted Chaser

Of most interest was this female Emperor Dragonfly oviposting in one of the ponds.

Female Emperor Dragonfly oviposting

Female Emperor Dragonfly oviposting

Female Emperor Dragonfly oviposting

The male Emperor was patrolling the pond for most of the afternoon. He did put down twice but only for a few seconds and he was flying again before I could get there. I always try for a flight shot but its very difficult. My best effort is shown below. I think I needed a bit more light and a faster shutter speed but I was happy to at least get him in the viewfinder.

Next time