Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Made in Sussex

Two additions to my Sussex Butterfly list, with both the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and the Wood White seen in Sussex locations in the past week.

A Wood White in Sussex has been a target for two or three years now. The Sussex Branch of Butterfly conservation suggests that in lean years these can be difficult to find and suggests travelling over the border into Surrey and visiting Botany Bay (Tugley Wood) where there are good sized colonies. They have always been very reluctant to release any information on potential sites in Sussex.

But that only makes it more of a challenge.

Dave and I have searched a few Sussex sites without success but research finally led us to a little wood and there they were. Or there they were for me, Dave was on his way to a butterflying holiday in the Pyrenees and missed them. Hopefully they will still be there when he gets back.

I only managed to see three but that's OK, I only need one for my Sussex tick. That takes me up to 46 butterfly species seen and photographed in Sussex. Still some way to go. According to Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch:-

There were 52 species of butterfly recorded in Sussex during the 2010-14 survey conducted for the "Butterflies of Sussex" atlas. Of these 43 are native to Sussex, living out their entire life cycle within the county. Two migrant species, the Clouded Yellow and the Painted Lady are such regular visitors that we can consider them to be Sussex species. The remaining seven are rare or occasional visitors whose unpredicable appearance is often dependent upon the weather. These are Scarce Tortoiseshell, Camberwell Beauty, Long-tailed Blue, Geranium Bronze, Glanville Fritillary, Monarch and Swallowtail.

Long-tailed Blue, I have seen but that still leaves six very rare butterflies that I am looking for. I probably also need to add the Large Tortoiseshell to that list. Can't say that I am too worried though. The way things are going of late, wedding releases, colonies bred in garden sheds and the odd matchbox bought back from the continent should give me plenty of opportunities.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. Following a very wet spring in 2012 and cold start to 2013, by 2014 the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary had disappeared from Sussex as a breeding species. Efforts to improve the habitat and reintroduce them resulted in a limited success last year and good signs of a sustainable population this year with reports of sightings from Abbotts Wood, Rowlands Wood, and Park Heath Corner.

Towards the end of last week we went to Park Heath Corner so I could add this butterfly to my Sussex list. Well we saw it but getting a picture was hard work. Just like the larger Pearl-Bordered Fritillary they are very active, fast flying and have the ability to just disappear from sight whilst only a few feet away from you. This is perhaps a butterfly to pursue late in the day, when it has worn itself out chasing the ladies and may be found nectaring on the wild flowers.

Only one photograph and I couldn't get close but this was all I had to show for a couple of hours effort. Not even an underwing shot to show the pearls.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Turtle Dove

It has been a bit of a mixed bag so far this week. Tuesday I was out looking for Turtle Doves on the Knepp Estate. There had been a number of reports of them posted but after four hours of searching I hadn't even managed to hear one purring. There were Cuckoos calling all over the place but they were very difficult to see. At least the Storks were showing well. I assume these two were from the re-introduction scheme. They looked like Red DC and Grey CU. Odd though that they had the rings on opposite legs.

With nothing much else showing, I went over to Woods Mills to look for a Turtle Dove there. The result was exactly the same

White Storks probably from the Knepp re-introduction sceme

Wednesday morning, this time with Dave as my good luck charm, we tried Woods Mills again and one of the first birds we saw was a Turtle Dove.

Then off to find our next target, West Sussex Wall Brown butterflies. A quick trek up onto the downs and we had eight to ten of the butterflies in our sights. Great butterflies to see but very territorial and aggressive and thus difficult to photograph as they are always on the move.

Wall Brown

Wall Brown

We also managed to find a single Small Blue at Kithurst Meadow but in the scramble to get a picture it did a disappearing act and we could not relocate it. I am always surprised at just how small they actually are. Later on we had our first Small Copper at Whiteways.

Small Copper

Green-veined Whites

Green-veined White mud puddling


And the dragonfly season is also under way with the best seen so far, an early Brown Hawker at Rowlands Wood. I see them there most years but as ever it failed to put down anywhere for a picture.

Broad-bodied Chaser

Azure Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

So a good day Tuesday. Wednesday we were out early looking for more of the same. This time at  Old Lodge with targets of Woodlark, Tree Pipit and Redstart. Unfortunately the weather did not live up to expectations, being cold and windy, and we only managed the Woodlark.


 Compensation was in the form of a Garden Warbler that Dave found belting out its song from halfway up a Pine tree in Rowlands Wood. My first of the year.

Garden Warbler

Friday, 11 May 2018

Selsey Bill Seawatch

I am still not totally convinced on the merits of seawatching but with the forecast for today promising a favourable SE wind I thought I would give it a go. I am now the proud possessor of a copy of "Flight Identification of European Seabirds" and I needed to put some of the theory into practice. For me that means getting a picture and being able to study the identification features at home.

I picked Dave up just before six and we headed down to Selsey Bill, which would offer the chance of closer encounters and better pictures opportunities than our own bit of coast. We should have got up earlier, the dedicated seawatchers had been hard at work for an hour or so when we arrived and we had just missed a Pomarine Skua, our key target for the day.

First bird through was a Cormorant. Not really what we were looking for but a good opportunity to check out the camera settings and flight shot techniques.


We then had a steady trickle of the more common birds through, Terns, Divers, Kittiwakes and  Whimbrel, with the occasional, more interesting, Skua species. Perhaps not as good as we had expected but enough to keep the interest.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Common Tern



Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a picture of the Little Tern. We also had Black-throated and Great Northern Diver through and Common Scoter.

Black-throated Diver

Common Scoter

Lots of Gannets feeding off shore but these three seemed to be travelling with a purpose.


Light and Dark Phase Arctic Skuas but no Bonxies that we could see.

Arctic Skua (Dark Phase)

Arctic Skua (Dark Phase)

Arctic Skua (Light Phase)

And in the end we did get our Pom although it was a long way off and it was difficult to identify until we saw the tail feather spoons.

Pomarine Skua

Large crop of the above showing spoons

We headed for home mid afternoon, happy that we had seen most of our targets. There were still a good number of the hardened seawatchers waiting for more Poms to come through and they had their reward when four went past, close in, late in the afternoon. Great video on the Selsey Blog, not sure who took it but I believe the term used now is Respect.

Close on eight hours of seawatching and I actually enjoyed it. I could become a convert, although I am not sure I could maintain my enthusiasm all through the winter.

Info    Phase or Morph  -  which term should I use. I found the following definitions:-

noun – traditional (becoming archaic): a genetically determined variability of coloration among individuals of the same species without being attributable to, associated with, or determined by subspecies, race, or geographic population.


noun – (1) biology: a recognizable group, distinctive for some specific attribute of form or structure, within a species; (2) an individual of a recognizable group within a species known for having two or more groups distinguishable by form or structure; (3a) ornithology: a group or an individual within a species known to vary by form or structure; (3b) an individual bird distinctive for a specific permanent plumage color within a species known for various genetically determined plumage colors that do not vary by age, season, breeding condition, or geographic subspecies status.


noun – (Kevinism) an individual bearing a specific, permanent coloration that is one of two or more color variations typical of the species and not attributable to genetic mutation or defect or to age, season, breeding condition, geography, or subspecies status.

So perhaps it should be Chromer, although I am not sure that I would be allowed back into seawatching circles using such language!

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Dukes and Frits

The Butterfly season really gets off to a start with the emergence of the Orange Tips but it's a couple of weeks later that the action really starts. The first spell of warm weather results in the emergence of a lot of the early season butterflies. A visit to Kithurst Hill and Rewell Wood at the end of last week proved a bit disappointing with nothing found. A quick visit to Mill Hill on Monday gave me Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, and Green Hairstreak, plus a few Small Heath and a lot of day flying micro moths. Good sightings but not many picture opportunities.

A few days of sunshine over the weekend and today we returned to Kithurst and Rewell Wood confident of finding our target species, the Duke of Burgundy and the Pearl Bordered Fritillary. First stop was Kithurst and as we walked into the meadow, it was clear from the number of people already there, that the butterflies were on the wing.

Duke of Burgundy

If you can find them Duke of Burgundys are an easy butterfly to photograph. They get up late, don't move around much, go to bed early and seem quite content to sit for long periods to have their pictures taken. The only problem was that we were at risk of having more photographers then butterflies.

Pearl-bordered Fritillaries are a lot harder to photograph. They tend to be very active, fast moving, and have a remarkable ability to just disappear from sight when you are watching them from only a few feet away. Also, Rewell Wood is not the easiest place to get to. There is very limited parking unless you use the layby at Fairmile Bottom and walk in over the hill. Hard work on a hot day.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary on Bugle

To find the butterflies you are looking for a broad sunny ride alongside an area of felled or pollarded trees with one or two years growth on the cleared ground. It is not worth chasing the butterflies into the undergrowth. It is best to wait until they come out to nectar on the Bugle growing along the ride.

The pictures are always better when you find freshly emerged specimens. Also seen at Kithurst Meadow where a few Dingy Skippers, plenty of Brimstones and a couple of Common Blues.

Dingy Skipper

Dingy Skipper

A good start to the butterfly season. The next challenge is to add the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary to the Sussex list.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Tawny Owl

There had been a few reports of a Tawny Owl at Pulborough Brooks over the past couple of weeks but no real details of location. Reports coming out at the weekend were of the Owl and two Owlets. That means the Owlets would be branching, the practice of leaving the nest and climbing amongst the branches of the tree. With the young unable to travel far there was a good chance of the mother being close by.

It wa raining most of Monday but Tuesday morning I was able to get along for a look. Good directions posted on the web and confirmation from the visitors centre resulted in the family being easy to find. Mother hiding behind a branch as usual and the young in a tree on the opposite side of the path.

All asleep as you would expect late morning but mother was occasionally opening one eye to keep watch over her young and the admirers below.

Plenty of the usual birds around, with a Great White Egret out on the brooks and a Hobby making a fleeting appearance. The Nightingales are also starting to show a little more clearly with this one singing in Fattengates.

Butterfly hunting in the afternoon was less successful with no sign of the Pearl Border Fritillaries at Rewel Wood. A couple more days sunshine should lead to the first emergences.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Merlin 😢

I had to call the blog Merlin but there is no picture. Fortunately Dave and another birder were in the hide with me at Pulborough when the bird came through and they both confirmed the sighting. If they hadn't been there I would probably have doubted what I saw. This is a lifer for me and one that I have waited so long to see. There have been a couple of possibles in the past but I have never been confident enough to claim the sighting - this time I am.

Strange though I feel only disappointment. I didn't get the picture and my number one target and bogey bird has now disappeared. Probably the right decision though. It went through fast and if I had tried to get it in the frame and in focus I would come away with nothing. No picture and insufficient observation time to make the identification.

Lets just hope the London Buses cliche comes true and now the first one has been seen many more will come along. The next one sat on a post in front of the hide please.

So what else was about at Pulborough. Black-winged Stilt, I saw so many in Spain a few weeks ago but one on the local patch is always good to see even if it was 250 metres away.

Black-winged Stilt and Black-tailed Godwit

Three or four Common Sandpipers were also good to see. They seem to have been in short supply for the past couple of years

Common Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

A pair of Egyptian Geese with six or possibly seven goslings. Spring is definitely here.

Egyptian Geese

Five or six Nightingales around the Pulborough site with lots of people trying to get a view of them. I always wonder why. It's quiet a boring LBJ if you discount the song. Surely a bird to listen to rather than to chase around. Which is probably just as well as most of the spots where you normally get a good view look a little overgrown this year. We had one view of a bird deep in cover but there was no chance of a picture so here is one from a couple of years ago


A few other birds around, a Jay keeping its distance as they do, Cuckoo, Whitethroats, a Wren carrying a white feather in its bill which caused us great confusion but I still haven't seen a Lesser Whitethroat or Garden Warbler.

A few Orange Tips around, the butterfly that really gets the butterfly season off to a start. Pearl Borders next, I will have to start carrying the macro lens.

Orange Tip

To finish off, yet another picture of one of my favourite birds, the Dunnock. A much underrated bird, who needs Bluethroats when these are in every garden?