Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Small Copper

The blog is called "Small Copper" as this is probably my favourite butterfly and this is the first one that I have seen this year. It is always a joy to see but it seems to be getting rarer each year.

Actually the day was really about another butterfly. I have been commenting a lot recently about the shortage of blue butterflies this year. Today that all changed. We went up onto Windover Hill and there were Chalkhill Blues everywhere. The numbers probably ran into the thousands and that was just in the areas we walked through.

The classic shot is of a Chalkhill nectaring on Knapweed but there was little chance of that today. The wind was blowing strong across the hill and the butterflies were staying low.

The Chalkhills are very variable in appearance, with lots of identified aberrations and they were a great favourite of the Victorian collectors.

Ninety percent or more of the Chalkhills flying were male, although the more secretive females were starting to put in more of an appearance as the day wore on. With that number of males flying, I can understand why the females were staying hidden.

We also found a good number of Grayling although perhaps not to the levels we had seen in previous years.

This is a butterfly that is reluctant to fly, relying on its cryptic camouflage to keep it hidden. It can be difficult to spot unless it takes to the air and even when you know where it landed it is difficult to find.

After much searching and chasing up and down a forty five degree slope I did manage to get a few shots were more detail could be seen. Although some of it is not very pleasant.

In the shot above the eye on the upper wing is just starting to emerge. Th butterfly will often flick this up to frighten off potential predators.

These two shots show examples of infestation by the larvae of the mite Trombidium breei. These live on the blood of the butterfly and can often be found on a large proportion of the colony. It is not quite as bad as it looks. The larvae only stay attached for two or three days, although of course some butterflies only live a few days. Investigation has shown no evidence of the mite affecting the lifespan or within habitat movement rates of the butterflies. 

If you want more information click on the link below.

See also my blog of July 2014 showing a female Chalkhill Blue carrying at least fifteen of these mite larve.

There were a good number of other butterfly around today. Dark Green Fritillary, Small Skipper, Large Skippers, Whites, Peacock, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Small Heath, Meadow Brown, Ringlets, Gatekeeper, Marbled White, Common Blue, Tortoiseshell, and a possible but very elusive Silver Spotted Skipper. 

We also had a Migrant Hawker, shown below.

A good day with more butterflies in both quantity and variety than I have seen so far this year. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Purple Hairstreak

Purple Hairstreaks but you'll not see much Purple here. They were coming down from the tree tops to nectar but they would not oblige with an open wing shot. This has always been one of my bogey butterflies. I see plenty of them but I just cannot get the pictures that I want.

We had travelled down to Alners Gorse, it being one of the best sites in the country to observe these butterflies. They normally frequent the tops of Alder and Oak trees feeding on honeydew deposited by aphids and have no need to come down to ground level. This limits your photographic opportunities.

There were plenty about and as the day warmed up a few started to come down to nectar, with the Alder Buckthorn appearing to be their favoured plant.

Once settled they are fairly docile and easy to approach to observe and photograph but they do tend to stay high in the bushes and you need to pick your spot to get the best views. You also of course need to get them to open their wings to see the purple colouration. They feed with their wings closed, although unusually for Hairstreaks they do occasionally bask in the sun with their wings open.

This is the closest I got to an open wing shot but it looks like a male which are a duller colour and it looks as though it is past its best. You also need to photograph it from above for the sun to pick out the purple colour.

There were of course a few fellow enthusiasts about to give you the usual message - "should have been here yesterday" - "Lots of Purples down low, and basking in the sun with open wings"

Can't really complain. We saw lots of butterflies and these are better pictures than I had at the start of the day.

I also snapped this Red Admiral. I didn't realise until I got home that it is an aberration. It has an extra white spot in the orange band on each forewing. Checking on the web it is ab. bialbata.

Perhaps the most surprising thing of the day was that we did not see a single blue butterfly all day. I really seems to have been a strange season.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Black Darter

On the way back from Holyhead we stopped off at Whixall Moss. I had never been there before and the possibility of a White-faced Darter or Spotty Davus, the welsh form of the Large Heath, made it well worth a visit. Sadly I found neither, perhaps I was just too close to the end of their flight seasons.

The closest I got to a White-faced Darter

The Moss surprised me. I have been on some of the northern sites, Meathop Moss and others. This one seemed to have more standing water but also a lot more in the way of trees and scrub. It looked as though it would be massively overgrown in a couple of years and needed some serious grazing. It would be interesting to see the management plan for maintaining the site.

One real bonus of the site was that there were no dog walkers. Possibly too remote but more likely as a result of a large number of flying insects of the biting type. In fact we only saw one other person in the three or four hours that we spent there.

No White-faced Darters but we did find plenty of other Odonata. Black Darters and Four-spotted were the most common but there were also Emperors, Hawkers, Common and Ruddy Darters, a Golden Ring, and various Blue and Emerald Damselflies.

Male Black Darter

Male Black Darter

Male Black Darter

Immature Male Black Darter

Female Black Darter

Black Darters  - The next generation on its way

It is not the easiest of places to take photographs. Invariably the spot you need to stand for the best shot is a bottomless patch of black water or a layer of very unstable sphagnum type moss. I found that I could not get close enough to use the macro lens and all these pictures were taken on the 300mm and then cropped.

A lot of the time was spent recording distant Dragonfly in the hope that when I put them on the screen at home I would find a white frons.

The only good candidate that I found kept its back to me and my distant shot was out of focus. It looked all black but Photoshop says that it has red patches. Interesting but I think I need a better sighting for a life tick.

Emperor Dragonfly

Four-spotted Chaser

Emerald Damselfly

Emerald Damselfly

The mosses appear to be a great area and I only scratched the surface in the few hours that I was there. I can't see the wife wanting to return but I will be going back and this time I will be taking the jungle strength insect repellent.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016


It is fair to say that I wasn't chuffed. I was walking a stretch of the Anglesey Coastal Footpath with the wife. The walk looked good on the map but with the temperature heading into the nineties it was starting to get uncomfortable. The cliff path included a good number of steep climbs and the camera gear I was carrying, in expectation of getting some pictures of the Chough, was starting to get heavy. 

At one point, I did think I saw two Chough in the distance, but the wife , who is not really a birder, pointed out that if they look like crows and sound like crows they probably are crows.

I had to do the 400 steps down to South Stack Lighthouse. The birds could be down there. But the 400 steps back up, when you know they are not there, were a bit harder. Fortunately I could make frequent stops to look at the birds out on the cliffs. Guillemots, Razorbills and a few Puffins and there were Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Rock Pipit in the grounds of the lighthouse.


Razorbill and Puffin

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Rock Pipit

I tried the RSPB Visitors Centre and Ellin's Tower, all reliable spots for the Chough but still no luck. It was not looking good and we still had the walk back to the car at Holyhead to look forward to. We were about to give up when one of the wardens suggested we try a spot about half a kilometre further south along the coastal path. I wasn't really hopeful. If they were there we should have seen them flying by now but it was worth a try.

Well worth a try as it turned out. I was just about to turn back when I spotted a group of five or six sitting on the top of the cliffs. They seemed reluctant to move, the heat was obviously getting to them as well. Still, it gave me a few good picture opportunities.


A dog walker then appeared and the birds dropped over the edge and down the cliff.  Despite extensive scanning of the cliff face I could not find them again. A great result and the walk back to the car didn't feel half as bad as I had been expecting.

The next morning we headed back to the Visitors Centre in the car. The idea of a full English or in this case a full Welsh, whilst sitting out on the veranda overlooking South Stack and the Irish Sea, was too good to turn down.

As you might expect, no effort needed today. When we arrived the Chough were sitting under the feeders in the garden and then when disturbed moved to the roof of the Visitors Centre. A great breakfast, great views, and Chough flying back and forth as well.

And one final picture. We saw lots of Silver-studded Blue butterflies around the area. Snails are not really my area of expertise but I will give it a try..........

Silver-studded Blue with White-lipped Banded Snail (Yellow Form)

any corrections to my identification will be gratefully received.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Black-tailed Skimmer

Apart from Thursday's trip to Ham Wall the past week has mostly seen me venturing out between showers to visit local butterfly and dragonfly sites. Returns have been poor, with numbers of both appearing to be down this year, and with clouds and cooler weather resulting in occasions when nothing much has been flying.

In previous years one of the ponds in Angmering has been good for Black-tailed Skimmers and Red-eyed Damselflies. My first visit coincided with a sudden cloud burst so I found nothing  but on the second visit a few Black-tailed were flying.

They usually favour putting down on the mud so, as below, it is not easy to get a good picture.

However, as the temperature goes above twenty five degrees they start to settle on low vegetation. I don't think we actually reached that on my second visit but I did find an obliging specimen and the pictures are in a different class.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any Red-eyed Damselflies despite seeing large numbers there in previous years. The pond now has a few very large fish although I doubt that these could have wiped out the colony completely.

Other Dragonflies seen. The one below is a bit confusing. It has yellow stripes down the legs so it is a Common Darter but I think it must be a freshly emerged male. The wings look pristine and the pterostigma are still white rather than the dark brown of a mature specimen. Picture taken at the Angmering Pond.

The next one is a Ruddy Darter (no yellow lines down the legs) and a much deeper colour than the specimen in one of last weeks blogs. This one taken at Woods Mills.

Early Commas have over wintered and usually look a bit tatty so these will be first brood having emerged early July. The closed wing shot showing the white comma that gives them their name.

Plenty of Skippers around. This one looks like an Essex.

The next a female Large

Male Large - note the large sex brands on the wings

Meadow Browns everywhere. This one a female

my first Gatekeeper of the year

Silver-washed Fritillaries in Madgeland Wood although no sign of the Purple Emperors. 

I also spent an hour or so watching Purple Hairstreaks in the top of a large oak tree at Tillets Lane Fields. No chance of a picture and this still remains on the top of my target list.