Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Clouded Yellow

I finished off last nights blog by saying that I was keeping my fingers crossed for an influx of Clouded Yellows from across the channel. It obviously works, a report on last nights SOS showed twenty of them down at Medmerry by the Easton Lane car park. I knew that they would gradually be migrating northwards and you are never sure if there are any more coming, so not taking any chances I was down at Medmerry early this morning.

I was pleased to see that they were still by the car park. They were not easy to photograph, they were very active and when perched out in the open they were being buffeted by a sea breeze. I can't complain though, I saw them, I got the record shots, and whilst I may still be waiting for that open wing shot its another in the bag for this year.

Clouded Yellow

and the shot below shows what looks like a female on a well eaten Legume. Is this the caterpillar food plant or do they stick with the clovers and smaller members of the legume family? Is she a locally bred Clouded Yellow, perhaps from a spring migrant or even from an overwintering caterpillar?

There were also a few Common Blues about

Common Blue on Birds-foot-trefoil

I am happy now and it's not just because I have finally managed to catch up with Dave on the number of species seen. We both now sit at forty seven for the year with hopefully the Brown Hairstreak still to come. This is comfortably above the target of forty that we set ourselves at the beginning of the year.

We have seen everything that we could reasonably expect to see in our part of the country. We did not get to see a Swallowtail on the downs but then you would never be sure if it was a real one or not and despite seeing plenty of them and having one on the ground in front of me, I have failed completely to get a picture of a Purple Hairstreak.

Still this looks like the start of some targets for next year - open wing shot of Clouded Yellow, any shot of a Purple Hairstreak - what else?

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Silver-spotted Skipper

The search for the Silver-spotted Skipper has been on for nearly a week now. I saw one on Newtimber Hill last Tuesday but could not get a picture of it. Sunday I went back and had a possible sighting of one but again no picture. Monday Dave went for a look and reported around fifty seen and today, Tuesday, we went back and found two hundred plus.

Newtimber has an amazing range of wild flowers and grasses and there were thousands of butterflies on the wing. Admittedly most of them were well worn Meadow Browns but we also saw Chalkhill Blues, probably in the hundreds, Commas, Peacock, Small Copper, Tortoiseshell, Ringlets, Marbled White, Small Heath, and a large variety of Moths.

I also caught a brief flash of yellow as a butterfly disappeared behind a bush. I only need a Clouded Yellow to catch Dave up on the number of species seen this year. Its not a race but it still had me sprinting up a forty five degree slope to get a better view, much to Dave's amusement, when I had to tell him that it was only a Brimstone.

Mint Moth  Pyrausta aurata

Small Tortoiseshell

Mating pair Chalkhill Blues

Female Chalkhill blue with at least fifteen larvae of the Trombidium breei  parasitic mites

We have seen infestations by the Trombidium breei  larvae on a range of different butterfly species although it is probably most evident on the Marbled Whites. The mites live on the blood of the butterfly but they do not appear to cause the butterfly any significant problems. This makes sense, after all there is no point in killing off your host and food supply. However, most of the infested butterflies carry two or three of the mites, fifteen looks a bit excessive and I wonder how this female will cope. If you want more information click on the link below.

Conradt, L., Corbet, S.A., Roper, T.J., and Bedworth, E.J. (2002), Parasitism by the mite Trombidium breei on four U.K. butterfly species. Ecological Entomology, 27:651-659. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2311.2002.00461.x

Small Copper

Moth - but I have not had time to identify it yet.
Now identified as Pyrausta nigrata. See message from Tom below.

I just have to keep my fingers crossed on the arrival of the Clouded Yellows from across the channel.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


Butterflying has one big advantage over birding, if you do your research and get your timing right the butterflies will be there. That doesn't always happen with the birds. I think our only real failure this year has been in searching for Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries in Sussex where three trips to Park Corner Heath have left me without a result.

Monday saw us out again, this time at Windover Hill looking for Grayling. I didn't really know what to expect. I had never seen a Grayling before and their cryptic camouflage is supposed to make them difficult to find. That was the case when we first arrived on the hill. We found Marbled Whites, Wall, and Small Coppers, along with the usual suspects but no Grayling.

Rather tatty Wall on a cow pat 

This one in better condition but not giving open wing shots

Whilst searching for the Grayling we also found a few moths including a freshly emerged Oak Egger and a Yellow Pearl mecyna flavalis. The latter is a rarity in Sussex although it seems quiet common on Windover Hill where there is reported to be a colony of them.

Oak Egger - freshly emerges and still blowing up its wings

Oak Egger

Yellow Pearl mecyna flavalis

This was our first visit to Windover Hill. It looks to be a great site for butterflies but we were beginning to think that we had come a week too early. Fortunately Dave had wandered off in pursuit of a Small Copper and I was soon chasing after him when he found our first Grayling of the day. There was the usual scramble to make sure we both had a record shot but then when we looked around it was clear that there were a good number flying. We counted five in the air at the same time but that was just in the one small location. Over the side of the hill there must have been at least twenty.

Grayling showing cryptic camouflage

 The Grayling tended to land on bare earth and broken rock where the camouflage was very effective but this did not make for a good picture. In fact it proved very difficult to get any distance between the Grayling and its background. An out of focus plain green background would have shown the detail much more effectively but I guess you can't have everything - at least not this time.

The eye pops up as a defence response

They nearly always settle with the wings closed

Then just as we were starting to get a bit bored we came across a mating pair and a few more pictures were taken.

Mating pair

Tuesday and we were hoping to repeat our success by finding a Silver-spotted Skipper. This was another new location, Newtimber Hill, and for me another new butterfly. The search was a partial success. Dave found the skipper and managed to take a photograph. I did get to see it but just as I pressed the shutter button for my record shot it took off. It moved with surprising speed for a Skipper, we didn't see it go and we could not relocate it despite a couple of hours of looking. So if you want to see a picture of the Silver-spotted Skipper you will have to look at Dave's blog site.                                                                          

We had regular visits from a Small Copper whilst we were looking. This was showing blue spots on its rear wings and is of the form caeruleopunctata  or should it be referred to as an ab. caeruleopunctata?   The books do not seem to be clear on the difference between an aberration (ab) and a "form". At the moment I am taking it that they are both caused by the same triggers but an aberration is a variation that is a rarity whilst a form is a variation that is consistent and common.   If you are interested read more about it here.                                                                                                                                                                                          
Small Copper ab. caeruleopunctata

Small Copper


We made a quick trip to Chantry Hill in the afternoon. There were a lot of Dark Green Fritillaries  on the track between the car park and the hill but most of these were in poor condition. There were also a good number of Marbled Whites and these looked surprisingly fresh.

It was a hot day and I was beginning to feel tired but then I spotted a pair of mating Dark Green Fritillaries. I only managed one quick shot before they took off and disappeared down the hill.

Mating Dark Green Fritillaries

There was clearly a good shot to be had here and I was quickly off in pursuit. I did manage to catch up once about half way down the hill but they were flying again almost as soon as I got to them. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill they had disappeared altogether. It was only then that it dawned on me that I had to climb all the way back up and it's a big hill. Butterflying can be hard work.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Chalkhill Blues

Monday, and I picked up two more year ticks. Chalkhill Blue at High and Over and a Small Copper at the gallops above Butchershole car park. We had visited Mill Hill the previous week looking for the Chalkhills but there was nothing showing. This week High and Over had hundreds of them, all freshly emerged.

Female Chalkhill Blue

Male Chalkhill Blue

Male Chalkhill Blue

and although freshly emerged they were not wasting any time

Mating pair

I managed a record shot of the Small Copper but it was not sharp and I also got the shot below of an Essex Skipper. Again not brilliant but at least its evidence that I have seen one this year.

Essex Skipper

We finished off the day at Birling Gap. There were a lot of butterflies around but they were mostly well past their best. There was one female Dark Green Fritillary with unusual colouring but I had only a brief glimpse of it and then had to watch as it disappeared over the road and out of sight.

Tuesday and we were out again, this time at Houghton Forest. It looked promising when we first got there although it was mostly Skippers and Marble Whites that were flying  along with the usual Meadow Browns and Ringlets.

Marbled White

Marbled White

There were a few Silver-washed Fritillaries flying and we had a few brief distractions, such as, when  Turtle Doves were heard and when a Dragonfly, probably a Brown Hawker, flew past, but the day did not really get going. It gradually clouded over and with rain threatening we headed back to the car.

We were photographing Gatekeepers by the car when we spotted an unusual one. There was no time to get a decent picture as the rain hit us hard so we had to sit it out in the car and hope the butterfly would still be around when it finished.

Fortunately it was still there and we managed to get our shots. You can see by comparing the two pictures below that the first one has additional black spots on the upper side of its front wing. Its clearly a Gatekeeper and checking we decided that it was ab. excessa. This is our second aberration in the past couple of weeks. I have no idea if this is a rare version or not but it does have the effect of making you look more closely at all the ordinary butterflies that you would normally be ignoring.

Gatekeeper ab. excessa

Standard Gatekeeper

 We checked out a couple of other sites in the area but with the rain still threatening we called it a day and headed for home.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

White-letter Hairstreak

I got up late on Thursday and had nothing planned. A quick check of my wish list showed that the target I was most likely to succeed on was the White-letter Hairstreak. I sent a text to Dave saying where I was going and then headed off for Preston Park in Brighton. The Hairstreaks were there but as before they were flying around the top of the tree. I waited a while but with nothing happening and I was thinking of moving on.

Fortunately I thought to check my phone and found three messages from Dave saying that he had gone out early and was also looking for White-letter Hairstreaks. Not only that but he had seen a dozen and had photographed at least three on the thistles. He was only just up the road in Hollingbury Park so it was a quick dash back to the car and across to Hollingbury.

Dave had his eye in by then and it did not take him long to spot another one for me to photograph. It was probably just as well that he was there because I did not see it come down and once down it did not move about, staying on one thistle head for about half an hour.

White-letter Hairstreak

White-letter Hairstreak

I was a bit disappointed with the images I captured. The butterfly was past its best (I have patched a hole in its wing using Photoshop), there was a lot of wind movement and the lighting was harsh. However, I should have done better. Seen the butterfly, got the record shot but it stays towards the top of the wish list until I get a better picture.

Still hoping to do some birding my next stop was Woods Mill where a Turtle has been showing well over the past few weeks. But not today, butterflies, dragonflies, and damselflies but no Turtle Dove. There were a couple of red dragonflies in one of the pools and I though I had got my Common Darter at last, but on checking, it was a Ruddy Darter again.

Ruddy Darter

The Beautiful Demoiselles were active

Beautiful Demoiselle - Female

Beautiful Demoiselle - Male

and there were also a number of White Admirals flying. These seemed to be far more territorial than others I have seen this year and each was protecting its own small patch. They were still very active but at least they kept returning to the same perch giving good picture opportunities. I could not get a good open wing shot but perhaps if I had waited until later in the day when they were nectaring I might have got the chance.

White Admiral

White Admiral

Birding on the next outing perhaps.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Mostly Dragonflies

On Wednesday I was determined to have a break from butterflies and to get back to birding. There are still a lot of the common birds, that for some reason, I have failed to see so far this year. A report on SOS by Bernie Forbes listed Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plovers, and Sand Martins amongst other things and these would all be year ticks for me. Armed with the big lens for a change I headed off to Pagham Harbour for a look. My first stop was the lay-by at the Ferry Pool. As I opened the car door I was greeted by a cloud of Gatekeeper Butterflies. Impressive given that I had only seen my first one of the year the day before. Then as I walked in on the footpath there was a Dragonfly sitting in the middle of the footpath. It was red and with it down on the ground I had great hopes of a Common Darter, but closer inspection revealed black legs so it was yet another Ruddy Darter.


The ferry pool was a little disappointing. All the birds were distant and whilst I could make out the summer plumage Spotted Redshank I could not see enough to identify the Common or Green Sandpipers or the Little Ringed Plovers. Church Norton and the North Wall were also very quiet. The only picture I took was of a juvenile Swallow waiting patiently, and in the time I was there unsuccessfully, for its parents to feed it. They seemed more intent on encouraging it to take to the air and find its own food.  I think there were probably a couple of Sand Martins around but in flight it was difficult to separate them from the juvenile Swallows.  

Juvenile Swallow

Next stop was Chichester Gravel Pits. Possibly a Tern, or a Sand Martin or perhaps a Hobby hawking over the lakes. No, just more butterflies and loads of Dragonflies and Damselflies.

Azure Damselfly

Azure in tandem prior to mating

Black-tailed Skimmer

Black-tailed Skimmers - in the rough and tumble of mating

Black-tailed Skimmer

Four-spotted Chaser

Female oviposting probably an Emperor or a Common Green Darner

Not exactly a successful days birding but enjoyable all the same. The only consolation is that the bird sightings pages suggest that no one else is seeing much in the way of avian life either.