Sunday, 22 July 2018

Silver-spotted Skipper

The summer quiet patch has ended and the second half of the Butterfly year seems to going really well. My impression is that there are more butterflies around than last year although it may just be that in the hot weather they are more active than usual.

I should be able to see 46 butterflies in the year and that is without travelling outside of Sussex. As I was falling well short of that number I have spent the last few days trying to fill some of the gaps. Most are now annual pilgrimages, Newtimber Hill for the Silver-spotted Skippers, Windover Hill for the Chalkhill Blue and Grayling, and the more recent addition of Knepp for the Purple Hairstreaks.

Sometimes it seems a bit pointless going round seeing the same butterflies and taking the same pictures but then there are never two years the same. Numbers vary, habitats change, some locations fade away and others open up. Just seeing the changes taking place is part of the enjoyment - most of the time! There is also that exceptional picture that is still out there waiting to be taken.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper, a feisty little butterfly with a good turn of speed. It always reminds me of the Pearl Bordered and Small Pearl Bordered. You think you are following its movement and then a sudden change of direction or speed and its gone.

Silver-spotted Skipper

Silver-spotted Skipper

White Admiral

Large Skipper

But I am still missing the Essex Skipper and there doesn't seem to be that many Small Skippers about.

Peacock  - the dark side!

Purple Hairstreak

Purple Hairstreak, my bogey butterfly. I see lots of them but I just don't seem to be able to get a good open wing shot.

Chalkhill Blue

Chalkhill Blue  Female

Chalkhill Blue Male

Common Blue


Grayling, a good two hours of searching and I was only able to find one butterfly at my usual location. Recent reports have shown better returns lower down the slope in Deep Dean.

Brown Argus

Brown Argus

Still  missing a few, Dark Green Fritillary, White Hairstreak, Essex Skipper, Brown Hairstreak and Clouded Yellow. Also a Small Tortoiseshell which I must have seen but have not recorded. Might even get a Long-tailed Blue or perhaps a Camberwell Beauty. Dream on!

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Wood Whites

Second brood Sussex Wood Whites are on the wing. Revisiting the wood today we were not sure what to expect. The clearing where I had seen them before was well overgrown and if they were there they were keeping a low profile. Fortunately we found five or six specimens along the main rides and were able to get some reasonable pictures.

This is a delicate little butterfly that does not fly very far or very fast, so it should be easy to photograph. Unfortunately it has a habit of dropping down into the long grass, where it is difficult to get a clear shot and if it does settle out on top of a plant, it is so light that it gets blown all over the place.

The males of this second brood have smaller and darker markings on wing tips. You can see the spots showing through the wings on the pictures below but you never get to see the spots. This is a butterfly that always settles with its wings closed.

I only found three first brood butterflies so this second brood was an improvement in numbers particularly as we did a fairly limited search.

This proved to be an unusual butterflying day. We found our Wood Whites but were then surprised to see large numbers of Silver-washed Fritillaries. I would estimate forty to fifty. Unfortunately a bit late in the life cycle as they were all a bit worn and tatty. 

Silver-washed Fritillary - past its best

We then visited two good butterfly sites in Tillets Fields and Houghton Forest, where we would normally see lots of butterflies, and could find very little flying. Perhaps midday and early afternoon were too hot even for the butterflies but it did seem like a bit of an anomaly, when good numbers have been found at most other sites.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Green Sandpiper

and a lesson in bird identification

There has not been much happening on the birding front for a few weeks but I did take a quick walk around Pulborough Brooks last Friday, to have a look at the Green Sandpipers being reported there. I think it was seven reported but I could only find three and the views, from the Little Hanger hide, were a bit distant.

I didn't take much notice at the time. You tend to see what you are looking for and it was only when I  checked the pictures today that I realised that one of the birds looked different.  The white underwing was the key feature that made me take a second look. For a Green Sandpiper it should be a dark underwing.

My first thought was Wood Sandpiper. I could see fine baring on the tail, the upperparts where a lighter brown than the Green Sandpiper and there was no sharp cut off between the barring on the breast and the whiter underbelly. I wasn't totally convinced as I would have expected a much stronger supercillium on a Wood Sandpiper but I couldn't see what else it could be.

Even some of the experts I asked for advice where confused but it turns out that it's a juvenile Redshank. It seems obvious now but at the time Redshank wasn't even considered as an option, as it doesn't have red legs and it didn't look like a juvenile bird.

Juvenile Redshank

Juvenile Redshank  - white underwing and fine tail barring

For comparison here are shots of one of the Green Sandpipers showing a dark underwing and broad bars on the tail.

Green Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper -  showing dark underwing and broad bars on the tail

A good result in the end but it just shows the value of taking a few plumage shots and also the risks of only seeing what you are looking for.

I felt a bit stupid over getting it wrong but we all have to learn and I won't be making the same mistake again.

NB  13th July - It was interesting to see that someone had the same problem today. Portland Bird       Observatory had to issue a tweet saying  - "Contra reports on the national services there isn't a Wood Sand at Ferrybridge - it's a juvenile Redshank". Nice to know that I am not alone.

Monday, 9 July 2018

More Orchids

The interest in Orchids has not gone away and I was pleased to find a stand of Northern Marsh Orchid whilst we were walking round a small wood at Saltburn just outside Invergordon. That's one I wasn't expecting.

Northern Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza purpurella

Northern Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza purpurella

Northern Marsh Orchid  -  Dactylorhiza purpurella

A more planned find was a trip to Noar Hill to look for Musk Orchids. Around four to six inches high and with small greenish yellow flowers, this is an Orchid that is easily overlooked. They grow closer to home but the beauty of Noar Hill is the that with an estimated 10,000 flowering spikes they are just that little bit easier to find.

So it proved in practice. We started off searching for any sign of a spike and ended up being surrounded by them and having difficulty finding anywhere to put our feet without causing damage.

Small and delicate, they look like ideal rabbit food but I couldn't see any damage from grazing. Perhaps there is something in the "Musk" that puts them off.

Musk Orchid  -  Herminium monorchis

Musk Orchid  -  Herminium monorchis

There were plenty of other Orchids around including freshly emerged Pyramidal Orchids.

Pyramidal Orchid  -  Anacamptis pyramidalis

The Marsh Fragrants below were found on the north slopes of Ditchling Beacon growing on chalk grassland. Hardly the environment I would have expected but the handbooks do record this habitat as a very occasional occurrence. I can't claim much skill in finding them, I picked it up from Grahame Lyons blog. Just hope I got the right Orchid, differentiation between the various Fragrants is starting to get a bit confusing.

Marsh Fragrant  -  Gymnadenia densiflora

Florets Marsh Fragrant  -  Gymnadenia densiflora

Not so convinced by the one below but all the Chalk Fragrants seem to be well past their best so I am assuming it is another Marsh Fragrant.

Marsh Fragrant  -  Gymnadenia densiflora

I also found a report of Heath Fragrants at the Sussex Wildlife Trust's Chailey Warren reserve. I drove over to have a look but then couldn't find any access route onto the reserve. All gates were marked as private. Contacted them that evening only to be told it was a closed site as there was no public right of way over the land surrounding the reserve. Note to SWT, it might save members a lot of time if you made that clear on your web site.

Friday, 6 July 2018


I spent an afternoon over at Knepp looking for Purple Emperors. Plenty seen, up in the trees, but none coming down to the ground. Perhaps it is just too dry for them to get the minerals they need although there were plenty of fresh animal droppings around.

Best shot of the day, a massive crop of an Emperor high in the tree taken on a 100mm Macro lens. I think a return visit is called for.

Purple Emperor

Most noticeable at Knepp and at other sites has been the shortage of blue butterflies this year. They are about but don't seem to be in the numbers I have seen in previous years. It maybe that I have just not been looking or perhaps we are in a lull between the first and second broods. The next couple of weeks should show an improvement with Chalkhill Blues starting to emerge and second broods of most blue butterflies due. It will be interesting to see if the dry hot weather has any effect on the numbers.

Looking back over the last couple of weeks, numbers may be down but there have been a couple of good picture opportunities with the blues.

Adonis Blues at Anchor Bottom and Silver-studded Blues at Iping Common.

Adonis Blue - coupled pair

Adonis Blues

Adonis Blue

Common Blue

Silver-studded Blue

Silver-studded Blue

and a butterfly that seems to be doing well this year - the Large White. It makes a change to be able to get close enough for a picture.

Lots of Dragonflies about at the moment but I am finding it difficult to get enthusiastic over the usual Broad-bodies and Four-spots. A couple of hours stalking Brown Hawkers at various sites gave lots of views but didn't give me a single picture. The only shot of interest so far was this Black Darter on Iping Common.

Shouldn't complain though, at least there are still a few insects around for me to see!

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Pagham Breech Pool

There is still life in the the Breech Pool even if it's only during periods of drought. The pool, at the back of the North Wall Pagham Harbour, could always be relied on to produce something worth viewing even when all other sites were birdless. However for the past couple of years (since the RSPB took over responsibility for the area?) no one seems interested in controlling the water levels in the pool. First it was allowed to dry out completely, then through last winter and the first part of this year water levels were far too high. Waders could not feed or roost, mud banks and reed beds were under water and birds like the Water Rail just disappeared from the area.

It is difficult to believe that the landowners and bodies like the RSPB and the Environmental Agency were happy to sit back and see such a wonderful site gradually deteriorate.

I still call in occasionally, just for old times sake. Today it was like a blast from the past. Water levels were down and birds were using the shallower parts of the pool to feed and roost. Not in the numbers seen previously but it's better than nothing. Reed Warblers could be seen climbing around in the base of the reeds and the place looked alive again, although no sign of the Water Rails.

Greenshank and Spotted Redshank


Spotted Redshank

Black-tailed Godwit - one of twenty on the pool

Colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit

and a couple of other birds from recent trips out


Young Song Thrush feeding well

Also a bonus from the visit to the North Wall, a Ruddy Shelduck out in the harbour although too far away for a picture.