Friday, 11 June 2021

South Stoke Water Meadows


Following the East bank of the Arun northwards from Burpham towards South Stoke you reach an area of old water Meadows. Other than the noise from the railway line passing through, it seems like one of the most remote and untouched spots in Sussex. In practice it is just the opposite, being covered in old man made irrigation channels and water level management structures. 

The meadows themselves look as though they have been sprayed to limit "weed" growth in the verdant grasses growing on them. However, there are pockets around the edges, untouched by man or spray and full of insect life. A real window on what the country side must have once been like. On Thursday Dave and I decided on an entomological day and set off to investigate.

Dropping down to the river bank on the path just to the north of the George pub you pass through a wonderful wildflower meadow before emerging onto the river bank and following it towards the railway crossing.

Drinker Moth Caterpillar

We got off to a bit of a bit of a slow start. Perhaps it was still a bit cool but there was nothing much in the way of insect life showing in the flower meadow or in the nettle beds along the river bank, however, we did eventually find a caterpillar and a few damselflies. Our first thoughts were for a Fox Moth Caterpillar but I have now been corrected on that and it is a Drinker moth Caterpillar

Azure Damselfly

Blue-tailed Damselfly

A little disappointing, insect wise, to this point but at least we had a partial eclipse of the sun to keep us interested. There were also Reed and Sedge Warblers amongst the reeds, a Red Kite over, a distant Peregrine and the usual pigeons masquerading as raptors. All interesting but we were travelling light and had no big lenses to capture the birds.

Partial Eclipse 

As you get closer to South Stoke there is a long narrow area of wood bearing off to the east and a footpath that takes you through it. Be warned, however, it is overgrown and hard work and it is crawling with insects, you will be bitten but if you want to see insects this place is bliss.

Yellow Dung Fly - Scathophaga stercoraria

Didn't get enough time with this one to be able to identify it.

Sometimes you are lucky enough to capture the insects nectaring or resting on the vegetation. You might even get them in good light but most insects are hyperactive or are hiding away in dark, inaccessible places. It is well worth carrying an inspection pot if you want to get a good look at them or a record shot of your find.

Nettle Tap - Anthophila fabriciana

Or better still capture them in the middle of copulation when they are oblivious to anything going on around them.

Dock Bugs

Green Dock Beetles

These are great places to find micro moths but the the moths are very small, only a few millimetres long and you need a good picture if you are going to have any chance of identifying them. Again a pot is useful.

Plum Tortrix - Hedya pruniana

As a boy I would find caterpillars everywhere and as I grew older I have fond memories of having to scrape a layer of splattered moths off of the window screen after a night out. Now I rarely see moths unless I put the trap out and caterpillars are an even more unusual sight but in this small wood a few do still exist.

Yellow-tail Moth Caterpillar

Silver Ground Carpet - Xanthorhoe montanata

Maiden's Blush - Cyclophora punctaria

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle

Common Marble - Celypha lacunana

Yellow-barred Long-horn - Nemophora degeerella

Common Tubic - Alabonia geoffrella

Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle - Agapanthia villosoviridescens

Vapourer Moth Caterpillar

Clouded Border - Lomaspilis marginata

Cream Wave - Scopula floslactata

It is probably about a kilometre along the path through the wooded area and with frequent stops and backtracks, chasing fleeting glimpses, it probably took us a couple of hours to complete the distance. In the end it was a bit of a relief to leave the insects behind and to get out into the open air. 

The walk back to Burpham along the eastern side of the meadow is one we have done before. The footpath takes you through a lot of untouched and undeveloped land and dragonflies were a common sight on the walk back. Unfortunately, as is their way, very few were stopping to give picture opportunities.

Hairy Dragonfly

Dave easily won the bites competition twenty nine bites on his arms and one on his backside, although I am not sure how he managed to get that one. I got off a lot lighter. I can only think that the secret is to let your friend lead the way. Fresh meat going through first attracts all the attention. 

Friday, 21 May 2021

Poplar Hawkmoth

Reasons to be happy this week. The moth trap delivered its highest count of the year, well into double figures at 15 specimens of 12 species. Modest by most peoples standards but given that my last two attempts had delivered two and zero, I was well pleased. Even better we had our first garden Hawkmoth, although I have to confess I missed it completely with Sue finding it late morning whilst dead heading the pansies a couple of metres from where the trap was set. 

Poplar Hawkmoth - Laothoe populi

Brindled Pug was a new moth for me along with the micro Platyedra subcinerea, common name Mallow Crest or Cotton Stem Moth.

Brindled Pug - Eupithecia abbreviata

Platyedra subcinerea

Others were repeats but still welcome and it was just nice to have something to photograph and record for a change.

Flame Shoulder - Ochropleura plecta

Garden Carpet - Xanthorhoe fluctuata

Hart and Dart - Agrotis exclamationis 

Narrow-winged Grey - Eudonia angustea

Rusty-dot Pearl - Udea ferrugalis

There were multiples of Shuttle-shaped Dart, three, and Ruddy Streak, two. It was good to get one of the specimens of the former in such good condition.

Shuttle-shaped Dart - Agrotis puta puta

Ruddy Streak - Tachystola acroxantha

Brimstone Moth - Opisthograptis luteolata

My first Dagger of the year was also in the trap. I found Grey Dagger caterpillars in the garden last year but short of dissecting this moth, which I don't do, I cannot tell if it is a Grey or Dark Dagger.

Dagger agg.- Acronicta agg

Also in near mint condition this Toadflax Brocade. The last one of these I had, looked to be in good condition, but it was very difficult to make out the patterns on the wings.

Toadflax Brocade - Calophasia lunula

I also had difficulty seeing any pattern in this Early Grey. Surprising really when it has been the most common moth in the trap so far this year.

Early Grey - Xylocampa areola

Early Grey - Xylocampa areola

The Muslin Moth is a female, found whilst out looking for butterflies on Kithurst Hill a couple of weeks ago.

Muslin Moth - Diaphora mendica

Also a Caterpillar found in the garden which looks to be a Marbled Green.

Marbled Green Caterpillar - Cryphia muralis

You wait ages to get a decent haul of moths in the trap and then you realise how long it takes to identify and record them all. I am always envious of the people that report three or four hundred but I think, until I get more experience, I will be happy sticking with the low numbers.

Thursday, 13 May 2021

Duke of Burgundy


The butterfly season rolls on and next on the list is the Duke of Burgundy. A beautiful little butterfly and probably the easiest species in Britain to photograph providing you know where to find them.

The go to place around where we live is Kithurst Meadow. It is easy to get to, there are lots of Dukes there and they are easy to find. However, it gets a bit crowded and it's not much of a challenge so Dave and I decided to visit one of our old haunts Heyshott Down. A lovely location but it is further to drive, it's probably a two mile walk in, and you have to search a large area on a forty five degree slope.

The walk in is ok but we are both getting older and the forty five degree slope really takes it out on your knees. Particularly as we couldn't find any Dukes and ended up spending a couple of hours going up and down it.

It was colder than we had expected and there was a strong swirling wind but it was still a disappointment. The consolation prize was Dave spotting a micro moth during the walk out. We think it is the Green Longhorn Fairy Moth - Adela reaumurella

Green Longhorn Fairy Moth - Adela reaumurella

The next day I took the easy option and visited Kithurst. The Duke is quite a lazy butterfly, it doesn't get active until about eleven and it goes to roost at before four in the afternoon.

I missed the crowd by going mid afternoon but the number of butterflies had reduced from a reported twenty five plus to just four or five. No problem though, five was enough to keep me busy

Duke of Burgundy

Great to see the Dukes once again but I have since learnt that Heyshott is no longer a good place to look for them. There seems to be problems with the scrub clearance there and the population is in decline.

Other butterflies seen at Kithurst included Brimstone, Red Admiral, Grizzled Skipper, Dingy skipper, Orange tip, Common Blue, Whites and Brown Argos, together with a couple of moths Pyrausta aurata the Mint Moth and Diaphora mendica the Muslin Moth. Pictures of a couple of them below. Unfortunately I did not manage to see the Small Blue as seen by a few the people there.

Common Blue

Common Blue Female

Dingy Skipper

Whilst I was at Kithurst Neil Hulme kindly pointed out the nest of a Mason Bee. It was a good tip and whilst photographing the Dukes close by I had some good views of the bees in action. See the next blog for details.