Friday, 30 November 2012

Out of the blue …

Springhead Hill, 18 July 2012

A brief visit yesterday afternoon was more than enough to tempt a return visit earlier today to the beautiful Springhead Hill in West Sussex. Initially arriving at 6am, the light was poor and continuous drizzle ruined any chance of a decent photograph. I quickly decided to leave and returned shortly after 8am, by which time the drizzle had almost stopped and a trace of blue was just starting to peep from behind the wind blown covers. As I walked through the small field the ground below me moved, as numerous Meadow Brown, Marbled White and good numbers of freshly emerged Chalkhill Blue lifted from the beautiful herb filled meadow. The scent of marjoram, thyme and numerous other exotic perfumes filled the air around me.

An hour later I had to leave …

The only way is …

Alder Platt Meadow, 15 July 2012

It’s amazing what you miss or turns up on your local patch. Despite walking through Alder Platt Meadow for a good number of years, I have never previously encountered an Essex Skipper - at least not until this evening. Sadly the light had all but disappeared when I found this solitary pristine male; the following photograph being taken at 7.45pm. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to find him and his friends in better light …

A Sussex Essex at roost …

Ringlet revisited …

Chiddingfold Forest, 11 July 2012

I have recently taken quite a few images of Ringlets. These range from a rare captive bred aberration (ab. lanceolata), to a number of specimens in their wild environment. Although I have been relatively happy with the pictures I have produced, in my own mind something was missing i.e. truly showing them in their natural habitat. Yesterday morning whilst heading into Chiddingfold Forest, I came across a small patch of damp sedge alongside the forestry track where several Ringlets had settled. A beautiful female caught my eye.

The Ringlet in her natural environment …

Thursday, 29 November 2012

His Majesty …

Chiddingfold Forest, 11 July 2012

Earlier today I joined good friend Nick Broomer in search of the elusive, beautiful and highly seductive Purple Emperor; a species that is several weeks late in showing in prime local territory this season.

Dressed in the very best Emperor hunting fashion (wellies and waterproofs) our day commenced under heavy cloud as we waded through chest high wet grass in search of Dark Green Fritillaries. These we soon found, including a freshly emerged female, though any approach other than for a quick record shot was not forthcoming. After several heavy showers, including a brief spell of thunder and lightening, the sun started to break through the cloud; the air became hot and humid. Although storm clouds still lingered, conditions were more promising for our target.

As we left the Dark Greens to play we slowly headed along the forestry track; eyes focused like that of an owl on the ground ahead. As we passed a small meadow, favoured for Dingy and Grizzled Skipper earlier in the year, we both instinctively froze and waited for the other to give the shout! Gracing us with his presence, a pristine male Purple Emperor was circling the track in front of us. At one point he took chase of a small bird as if saying “this is my territory keep out”, before finally landing on the track ahead. We moved with caution allowing him time to settle and commence taking salts, his characteristic yellow proboscis clearly visible. We then approached and took our shots of what I believe to be the first recorded Emperor in this location this season. Pleased with our find and pictures in the bag we headed on and found two further individuals, the first of which and the only one which showed its upperside clearly, carried extensive hindwing damage and wear suggesting emergence some days previous.

A great day in great company …

A favourite place …

Chiddingfold Forest, 7 July 2012

I managed two quick visits to one of my favourite sections within the Chiddingfold Forest complex today. The first, at 6am and in very poor light conditions (but at least it wasn’t raining), and the second at around 4pm this afternoon; just as the wind was getting up!

Roosting butterflies were the order of the morning, and I found a reasonable number of Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and both Large and Small Skipper in amongst the long and very wet grass. This afternoon’s visit, after a day of family commitments, produced similar species with the added bonus of a freshly emerged and very active male Dark Green Fritillary …

A male Marbled White at rest below ...

Opportunities …

Pirbright Common, 2 July 2012

The Met Office has now confirmed … 

“Provisional Met Office figures for June show double the average amount of rain has fallen, making it the wettest June since records began in 1910. This is the second record-breaking month of rainfall this year, with April also topping the rankings. The period from April to June is also the wettest recorded for the UK. It is also the second dullest June on record with just 119.2 hours of sunshine, narrowly missing out on the record of 115.4 hours set in 1987. To complete the disappointing picture, it has also been the coolest June since 1991 with a mean temperature of 12.3°C”.

So that’s the good news …

Hopefully things can only get better, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself and particularly with Emperor season upon us. The message that clearly comes across to me, is that although opportunities to get out and see butterflies this season may be few and far between, we need to grab every single opportunity we get. Earlier today, with an 11.30am business meeting rescheduled to 1pm at short notice, and finding myself just outside of Guildford, I decided to pay a brief visit to a very overcast and windy Pirbright Common in Surrey. The last time I visited this small area of heathland was on 25th July 2011, when I visited the site to see the Grayling and Silver-studded Blue colonies that are to be found there. Today, despite far from ideal conditions, it was not hard to find small numbers of male Silver-studded Blue hunkered down in the heather.

Get out there when you can ...

Further thoughts ...

Stedham Common, 27 June 2012

Amongst all the gloom and doom of what has undoubtedly been a difficult start to the 2012 butterfly season, I thought I'd share a ray of personal hope.

Despite previous losses of the Silver-studded Blue (Plebeius argus) from so many sites across Sussex, the last couple of years have seen Iping and Stedham Commons in West Sussex remain a key stronghold for this charismatic and beautiful butterfly, thanks to the combined management efforts of the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the various organisations and conservation volunteers involved with its management. 2010 proved to be a very positive year for the species in Sussex and show that it is possible to create and sustain ideal habitat conditions to save P. argus, at least in West Sussex. In 2011, despite inclement weather conditions at the time of the expected first emergence at Iping Common, adult butterflies were found and still being tended by ants that would have helped them through their early stages. In some areas, such as at Chapel Common on the Sussex / Hampshire border, numbers seen were up by 161% on 2010. In 2012, in a similar manner to 2011, we have seen poor weather follow a warm spring. My personal observations to date, based purely on my own site visits to Stedham Common, indicate a positive season for this beautiful butterfly, at least in this part of West Sussex.

Long may this positive trend continue ...

In search of silver …

Stedham Common, 27 June 2012

Earlier today, before heading into local woodland, I paid a brief visit to the beautiful Stedham Common in West Sussex, my target, a female Silver-studded Blue.

It did not take long before I found the first of many males, as they took flight from the heather and birch scrub. Others, roosting amongst the undergrowth, gradually started to stir and as they did so they revealed their wings to the warmth of the new day. A slow walk through the heather finally produced four females; two rather tatty specimens and two very fresh individuals whose tiny gemstone adorned wings glistened in the hazy sun. The mating pair I was hoping for did not transpire, nor for that matter did the freshly emerged male sitting high on a single stem of purple heather with a host of ants in attendance, though perhaps that was being a little hopeful ...

Maybe next time ...





Wednesday, 28 November 2012

100 miles and 2 hours later …

East Blean Woods, 20 June 2012

… I finally arrived at my destination, East Blean Woods in Kent, my target the beautiful Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia). I arrived at around 7.45am, much later than planned, though my final decision to visit wasn’t made until around 5.15am when I woke after an unsettled night. The temperature, a humid 16°C, had already raised a number of males into flight, the dappled light conditions proved challenging …

Managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust, East Blean Woods covers 122 hectares of ancient woodland and chestnut coppice situated on a patchwork of differing soils. It holds protected designation as a National Nature Reserve (NNR), a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The woods have historically been managed and after the coppice is cut, much of the ground is colonised by Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pretense), the primary larval food plant of M. athalia.

In 1934, the artist and lepidopterist F. W. Frowhawk wrote, “During the past half-century this butterfly has disappeared from many of its haunts where it was formerly abundant, and now occurs only in a few of the southern English counties. Its chief localities are in Kent, Devon and Cornwall; in Sussex it was formerly common, but now exists only in limited numbers.” He goes on to say “In Essex, where several females were liberated about ten years ago, it is now abundant.” He also claims “Its apparent extermination in certain localities was largely due to over-collecting, combined with extensive rearing of pheasants, as both the young and old of this bird, especially during the breeding season, destroy an enormous number of insects, especially ground-feeding larvae.” Fortunately the butterfly still occurs in Kent, Essex, Devon, Somerset and on the Devon-Cornwall border, albeit in much reduced numbers, though it has sadly long been lost from my home county of Sussex. The Exmoor and East Blean colonies are currently recognised as its principal strongholds. This is one of Britain’s rarest butterflies, which without carefully targeted conservation efforts, i.e. burning and bracken control on Exmoor and coppicing and ride widening in the Blean Woods complex in Kent, it is inevitable that a rapid decline of this delicate species would be seen. Long may its presence grace our countryside ...

A freshly emerged female below ...

Decisions ...

Hogwood, 19 June 2012

Feeling a little under the weather this morning, I decided to stay close to home and visit Hogwood in West Sussex in the hope of an early Silver-washed Fritillary or White Admiral. Despite ideal weather conditions my two targets would appear to have not yet emerged, at least not in Hogwood, or they were doing a very good job of keeping a low profile.

What did catch my eye were the Large Skippers, the males launching attacks against anything coming in close proximity. A rather nice female in particular caught my eye, and being far less active than the testosterone fuelled males, provided several photographic opportunities. This was the first time I've seriously tried to photograph Large Skippers and I have to say I found it quite difficult to get a shot that was different from the normal images one sees of this species, and more importantly, one that I was happy with. At one point the female was joined by a male showing more than a passing interest. Having watched them for a good 15 minutes I was optimistic of a pairing, though this sadly didn't happen as a passing male broke up the party.

I'll certainly give them a go again but I'd of preferred to have found my targets.

My favourite shot below ...


In search of Lady Eleanor …

Southern England, June 2012

I have recently been searching for the Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) and have made several visits to a number of mainland sites, both traditional, and others of more recent establishment.

I, and indeed many others, have been aware for some time of the presence of an unofficial introduction site for M. cinxia in Surrey. This particular colony appears to have survived well in the conditions provided by the location, which in many ways are similar to the undercliff environments found on the Isle of Wight and at the nearby mainland area at Hordle Cliff. Although sand extraction continued over a period of approximately fifty years until 1993, the site currently lies quiet and is filled with an abundance of both aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna. Landfilling of the eastern sector of the site ceased in 1990. A further unauthorised site, at Sand Point in Somerset, probably died out in around 2000 after their introduction in 1983, but this would appear to have been restocked, or the butterfly having survived in very low numbers, as M. cinxia has been recorded there in 2012.

So, should they be in Surrey?

Historically, M. cinxia has shown a substantial reduction in its range, surviving in any real numbers at traditional locations only on the southern shores of the Isle of Wight, with occasional reports from the nearby mainland. As recently as 1943 it could readily be found at Christchurch in Hampshire and at several places along the Kent and Sussex coast before 1850. With less certainty, it has been recorded from inland localities in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and Bedfordshire, and even from Fifeshire in Scotland. The Surrey M. cinxia colony, currently in its 10th year, was originally established from 300 larvae from three batches of wild collected webs, which originated from Whale Chine on the Isle of Wight. After release, no adults were seen for 3 years. However, during a cursory inspection of the site, whilst considering the release of their captive cousins as post hibernation larvae, the originator of the colony discovered 39 larval webs. It has been reported that in 2010 the population was huge, with plenty of larval webs covering the site, though numbers dropped in late August of the same year due to the very wet conditions which prevailed. The winter and spring of 2011 looked very poor though the adults emerged and made a good show. Though numbers are generally being reported as low this season, compared to the high of 2010, reports would suggest they are holding their own. 

So to answer my question, should they be in Surrey?

I think the simple answer is probably not though there are numerous arguments that could be made for and against such an introduction, including the personal short term satisfaction they give to the onlooker, though I feel this view may be overlooking the bigger long term conservation picture. I personally don't have a particular problem with re-introducing M. cinxia on the mainland 'providing such releases are approved and backed by appropriate knowledge, research and monitoring', given that a couple of hundred years ago they were found as far north as Lincolnshire. Man has, after all, been responsible for the extermination of many species, never mind colonies, so any efforts to redress the balance is surely to be encouraged. Others will undoubtedly have a different opinion.

I feel this story is sure to continue …

Desperate times ...

Iping and Stedham Commons, 12 June 2012

With over a month's rain having fallen over West Sussex in the last 24 hours I was desperate to get out. Continuous rain and serious flooding of many areas yesterday, accounted for several of my local rivers and smaller water courses bursting their banks; the speed and intensity of the rising water quite frightening in some cases ...

After the storm came the calm and this morning I headed for Iping and Stedham Commons to look for the beautiful Silver-studded Blue, which have only recently started to emerge. It took little persuasion to tempt Colin Knight to join me, who was also desperate to be out and about. We headed for a small south facing area of heathland where I discovered good numbers during their peak last year. In the poor light and low ambient temperature, I managed to find just three males in the short time I was there and left Colin in his search for a female. Their emergence this year is some two weeks later than last, with the first individuals of 2011 noted at Iping Common on 26th May. I look forward to watching their peak period of emergence over the next few weeks and getting some pictures in better light.

A butterfly I will never grow bored of watching ...





Exam fever ...

Chiddingfold Forest, 9 and 10 June 2012

With exam fever continuing to take over our household, any opportunity to make a dash for fresh air and solitude is grabbed with both hands. A brief chance yesterday afternoon and likewise earlier today was greatly welcomed …

My reward yesterday, a beautiful female Orange Moth (Angerona prunaria). Though pleased, I was rather surprised to see this insect at 3.30 in the afternoon, as the male of this species typically flies at dusk, whilst the rather elusive female, generally much later into the night. It is a widely distributed species and generally only locally common in woodland and heathland across its range. Its larvae feed on a variety of trees and plants including birch, hawthorn, blackthorn and heather. Today as I entered the wood, I was greeted by a small company of the rather enchanting longhorn moth, Nemophora degeerella, gracefully dancing along the edge of the track. Numerous specimens of the highly distinctive Speckled Yellow (Pseudopanthera macularia) were also present, as indeed were numerous Speckled Wood and two Red Admiral making strategic claims for territory.

A male Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus), the second I’ve found this year, provided a welcome find to end my visit.

Until next time ...




Tuesday, 27 November 2012

An early bird ...

Mill Hill, 31 May 2012

It would be fair to say that I’ve really been struggling to get out recently, particularly early morning and evening, my two favourite times of the day. Today was different, and as my alarm woke me at 4am, that tingle of tired excitement gripped me prior to an early session on Shoreham Bank.

Arriving shortly after 5am the sun was just breaking the horizon to the far east of the hill, whose sheltered, southwest facing chalk slopes awaited its warming rays of light. Roosting in the long grass and scrub, the Adonis and Common Blue were easy to find in good numbers along with resting Small Heath and Small Copper. Colin Knight joined me shortly after my arrival and between us, following Colin’s transect route of the site, we counted 92 male and 22 female Adonis Blue along with 29 Small Heath, 8 Common Blue and a single Small Copper.

With roosting photos completed, at 7.45am the first rays of sun began to warm the slopes and the first signs of flight were observed. Just fifteen minutes later and the air above the yellow tinted, vetch covered hill was filled with tiny sapphires.

A beautiful start to the day …



Out and about ...

West Sussex, 23 May 2012

With just 45 minutes to spare before heading off to collect my son, I arrived at a very hot and humid Springhead Hill at 3pm. A quick scout around produced a number of species including Dingy Skipper, Grizzled Skipper, Holly Blue, Small Blue and five Duke of Burgundy, including a pristine egg-laying female.

Before dinner I took myself off for a short walk. I headed off through the small copse to the rear of my house and out into the area known locally as Alder Platt Meadow. I was rather pleased I did, as after only a short time I located several Grizzled Skipper taking in the last of the afternoon sun before going down to roost; the female below my favourite. I have never seen Grizzled Skipper in this location before, though I expect this is more down to an oversight on my part than a new colony.

With perfect light and calm conditions I set to work …


Stag party ...

Westhampnett, 22 May 2012

I have always been fascinated by the world of beetles. Of the 4300 or so British species (approximately 3000 in Sussex), the male Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus) surely stands as the most impressive and most imposing in the native fauna. Last night, whilst walking along the northern perimeter of Westhampnett Gravel pit, I came across a beautiful 6.5cm, 4gm male (pictured below).

L. cervus is Britain’s largest terrestrial beetle. Spending at least five years as large white grubs underground in the root-stocks of deciduous tree stumps, they emerge as fully-grown adult insects in the spring when they may be seen flying on warm evenings at dusk. The adult beetle cannot eat solids; their enlarged mandibles being totally useless for eating. They do however imbibe fluids and it is believed they will take sustenance from sweet juicy fruits and fermenting sap runs. The adult beetles have enough fat reserves to keep them going during the short period they spend above ground; these reserves being accumulated by their larvae during the final stage of their long life underground. Today it has become rare in many parts of its range but is still locally common in southern England.

Despite its appearance it is harmless to man ...





Monday, 26 November 2012

Open day ...

Heyshott Escarpment, 19 May 2012

Males, females, courtship, mating, egg laying and territorial behaviour - today can only be described as an absolute success, as I was joined by a mixed group of around 58 people on the Duke of Burgundy open day at Heyshott Escarpment, organized jointly by the Murray Downland Trust and Sussex Butterfly Conservation.

Arriving early, to help set up the marquee before the crowds began to arrive for the 10.30 kick off and the first of our two guided tours of the reserve, I couldn’t help but think that today would be successful. The temperature was good and the weather conditions were perfect for a day of emergence and activity on this site that radiates calm and inspiration. We were not disappointed as a count of 31 Dukes was recorded, along with a small selection of other spring downland species. The Duke of Burgundy far outnumbered any other species. Of particular interest to me, was the sighting of a single female flying from the established Duke colony on the eastern slopes down into the lower slopes cleared this past winter.

Fingers crossed …


30 minutes, 45 at a push ...

Chiddingfold Forest, 18 May 2012

As I left Twickenham early this afternoon it was 17°C and a little clammy; cloud covered the sky. My route home, as it often does, passed the entrance to Botany Bay. Well it would be rude not to stop ...

As I crossed the threshold and into the main track the air became damp as light drizzle began to fall. The temperature had dropped by at least several degrees and I considered turning back (well only for a second you understand) as time was limited - I needed a result and quick. I had walked no further than 50 metres when I spotted my prize, a male Wood White resting amongst the emerging bracken fronds which was quickly followed by a second nearby. With the temperature and ambient conditions restricting flight, both were very approachable.

One of my favourite butterflies ...



Waterproofs a prerequisite …

Chiddingfold Forest, 9 May 2012

The sentence, “I bet you can’t find and photograph a butterfly today”, concluded a discussion with a good friend earlier this morning. This of course was like red rag to a raging bull. The sky was leaden grey and steady heavy drizzle was falling, but I was up for a challenge. By the time I reached Botany Bay it was mid morning. The weather certainly hadn’t improved, in fact it had possibly worsened, and I couldn’t help but think I should have been here yesterday afternoon when conditions were somewhat better.

Not to be beaten, and this was not the first time I’ve searched for butterflies in the rain (mad, obsessed, over enthusiastic call me what you will), I slowly headed into the wood in the hope I might locate a Wood White sheltering from the rather inclement weather, though this was not to be. Having crossed a small stream and reached a Purple Emperor hotspot (well not today), I moved into one of several small meadows and carefully started to inspect the hardheads. The drizzle had now become continuous light rain but I was confident I would find what I was looking for. On my second circuit I spotted my target, a rather wet but welcome male Dingy Skipper. I found three in total, all males, and spent some considerable time trying to keep my lens dry whilst getting that all important picture.

Just look at those eyelashes ...

Wet and point proven I headed home …




Pole dancing Queen …

Rewell Hill Wood, 7 May 2012

Spring 2012 ...

A very wet Bombus pascuorum.





Pterophorus galactodactyla …

Rewell Hill Wood, 2 May 2012

The delicate Spotted White Plume, Pterophorus galactodactyla, is a nationally scarce species. The adult moth, which has a wingspan of around 20-25mm, has a pale forewing with a diagnostic backward-pointing rear lobe. The species is most likely to be recorded in the larval stage, when feeding signs, on the leaves of Lesser and Greater Burdock, are relatively easy to find where they are present. The characteristic evidence of feeding appears as white-rimmed, rounded holes in the leaves, starting at 2mm diameter in April up to around 8mm by the time they mature in May. The larva can often be found nearby, resting along the edge of a vein on the underside of the leaf. The larva pictured was around 7mm long. A shed skin can be seen in the bottom left of the picture. The adult moth flies in June and July ...

A different world ...

West Sussex, 2 May 2012

As I have said before, there is always something to see …

The St Mark's Fly (Bibio marci) is a large hairy black fly belonging to the family Bibionidae. It is a species which shows strong sexual dimorphism (male pictured). It is common in late April and May in grassy meadows and fields, especially in the south. Swarms of the males can often be seen flying sluggishly up and down in the sunshine with their legs dangling below, looking for the females which are sitting not far below in the grass. When the females take wing they are seized by the males and mating takes place in the air.

You just have to look ...

Beauty in minature ...

West Sussex, 2 May 2012

If you are a lepidopterist, particularly one who limits their personal interest to butterflies, there will always be days of disappointment, particularly if looking for the adult insect. Term yourself an entomologist and your eyes will be opened to a world of intense beauty, one of mystery and one of intrigue, all played out on a stage in front of your very eyes - providing they are open and receptive.

Today conditions were grey and although my target did not appear, what did was a gem to behold …

The Green Longhorn (Adela reaumurella) is a small day-flying micromoth belonging to the family Adelidae, the fairy longhorn moths. They have a wingspan of approximately 14 to 18 mm. The upper wings of both sexes are a beautiful metallic green, their under wings metallic bronze. The males have extremely long white antenna and have rough black hair on their heads. In comparison, the females have relatively short white-tipped black antenna with shorter and lighter hair on their heads. It is a fairly common species in England, Wales and southern Scotland, though more localised in Ireland. They typically fly from April to June and can often be observed flying in swarms. The larvae feed on leaf-litter and live in portable cases.




On the edge ...

Conserving the Duke of Burgundy, 28 April 2012

Yesterday I attended a Duke of Burgundy workshop organised by Butterfly Conservation and held at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield in Hampshire.

The event was billed as “An opportunity to share experience of the ecology and conservation of one of Britain’s most threatened butterflies, looking at examples from around the country. An indoor session of talks will be followed by a site visit to Butser Hill, one of the largest Duke colonies in the country, to look at suitable habitat, management techniques and (weather permitting!) see the butterfly”.

Dr Dan Hoare opened the proceedings giving a detailed and very interesting and informative outline of the Dukes on the Edge Project (conserving the Duke of Burgundy in southeast England). Dan was followed by Neil Hulme, who gave a comprehensive and experienced talk covering the efforts being undertaken to conserve the Duke in Sussex, with particular reference to Heysott Escarpment. The most important message that came across, was that of long-term conservation being about the successful maintenance of numerous metapopulations existing over networks of suitable habitat on a landscape rather than localized scale. Tim Bernhard followed and presented the findings from his research project “A comparative study of the Duke of Burgundy in woodland and downland in Hampshire”. Dr Sam Ellis (Butterfly Conservation's Senior Regional Officer) finished the highly thought provoking indoor proceedings explaining the conservation activities being undertaken in northern England at the Duke's most northerly range.

Following a brief interlude for lunch, those of us hard enough (or maybe that should be foolhardy) and with climbing gear at the ready, headed for the beautiful Butser Hill National Nature Reserve in what can only be described as “not the best weather conditions”. The advice of “bring appropriate clothing and footwear – the field visit involves significant steep slopes and uneven ground” was well placed as the ground was often slippery under foot and the slopes were extremely steep. Though sheltered in the valley floor, the cold driving wind, rain and low cloud really wasn’t welcomed, particularly as we headed back to the car park.

A beautiful site and one I will definitely revisit …

When the weather improves ...

Pearls of wisdom ...

Rewell Wood, 16 April 2012

My first this year ...

The beautiful Pearl-bordered Fritillary.



Sunday, 25 November 2012

Cricket season …

Lord's Piece, 15 April 2012

The Field Cricket (Gryllus campestris) is a large, glossy black cricket (in its adult form) with a distinctively large head, particularly in the male. The nymphs exhibit a beautiful golden pubescence. It is one of the rarest insects in the British Isles and is confined to a small area of the South Downs in West Sussex and Hampshire. Its habitat has been destroyed over much of its former range and it now exists in only one native site but has been introduced to a series of other suitable locations. It is now the subject of a Species Recovery Programme, having reached an estimated population low of just fifty pairs in 1991, all in one small area of West Sussex, the second known colony having gone extinct two years previously.

It can be difficult to see G. campestris without potentially damaging its habitat and this is not permitted because it is a protected species in the UK. Access to the release sites is very restricted because the populations are still extremely fragile and vulnerable to disturbance. However, their beautiful song can be heard from a distance of more than 100m on warm days during May and early June. If they are present, you will quickly know about them. A search of entomological literature suggests that G. campestris has long enjoyed a reputation far outweighing its proven presence in England. This is largely due to the writings of Gilbert White who described part of its life history, as well as that of the secret art of tickling them from their burrows (nymphs and adults will rapidly retreat down their burrows when disturbed but may be induced to come out again by the gentle insertion of a blade of grass).

Today, along with my son, I joined good friend and fellow entomologist Mike Edwards, who has been leading the Gryllus recovery programme for over 20 years. Our task, to find, photograph and capture final instar nymphs for relocation at a nearby partner site.

Please note: Our activities were being carried out in line with current best practice and legislation. It is illegal to disturb or interfere with Field Crickets in any way unless doing so under the conditions of a licence issued by English Nature.

I hope they enjoy their new home ...

I'll be back when the adults are singing ...









Sunshine and showers …

Chiddingfold Forest Complex, 11 April 2012

Hoping for an early Wood White was always going to be a long shot, despite a recent Surrey sighting on the 10th April and not least the fact that today was one of occasional sunshine and intermittent heavy showers … 

The first area of forestry visited, on the Sussex side of the county border and probably the best site in Sussex for Wood White, produced nothing in the way of butterflies though this was inspected mid morning when the temperature was still only around 9°C. After a quick lunch my son and I headed off to a more reliable location, over that imaginary line the county boundary, into Surrey. The temperature had increased to around 12°C, though I could still feel a cool breeze on my back as we entered the woodland ride. As the sun shone through the trees into a small clearing a male Brimstone lifted from its resting place. As quickly as he had appeared, the sun disappeared behind one of many grey clouds and he alighted on a bramble leaf allowing a very personal encounter. Whilst taking my shots a tiny psychodid briefly landed on its wing. I believe it's of the genus Pericoma.

A beautiful experience …

Nothing ventured nothing gained …

West Sussex, 8 April 2012

Under a cloud-covered sky and with light rain falling I arrived at the location of dreams, the ground covered with primrose, wood anemone and cuckoo flower; the small brook singing gently nearby. To be fair I wasn’t expecting to see much, if anything, though sitting at home would have certainly produced nothing. Walking through the small hanger the sun started to push through the cloud, though was quickly masked by the darkening sky. I mentioned to my son just how hard it can be to spot an Orange Tip at rest, particularly if you haven’t seen it land. I must try saying that again, as after just several footsteps I spotted a single male roosting on the ripening buds of its delicate and beautiful food plant.

Heading back to my car I found another, perched in similar fashion and offering further photo opportunities.

The sun emerged once more then dissapeared …



In search of polychloros …

Isle of Wight, 29 March 2012

Today I was pleased to be joined by good friend Nick Broomer for a trip to the Isle of Wight. It was to be a long day, our ferry leaving Portsmouth at 8am with our return journey scheduled for 7pm.

Woodhouse Copse

Woodhouse Copse is a small mixed woodland of approximately 18 hectares located to the northeast on the Isle of Wight. Its key features are the central grass ride, the SSSI marshy wet woodland and a bluebell rich area under the planted beech trees. Three hectares of the wood is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). This area is also internationally designated as part of a wider Special Area of Conservation and Ramsar site. The remaining 15 hectares is locally recognised as a Site Important for Nature Conservation (SINC). The whole woodland lies within the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The woodland was acquired by the Forestry Commission in 1957 and managed by them until its sale in November 2009. 

This was my first visit to the site. With the above description and the knowledge that Large Tortoiseshell have been recorded here, our expectations were running high. What we found in reality was an area of woodland that has suffered abuse at the hand of man.

The following picture tells the story …



We left and headed for Walter’s Copse …

Walter’s Copse

Walter’s Copse is a well manicured and highly welcoming 19 hectare site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is located on the southeast corner and within Newtown Harbour National Nature Reserve (NNR). The reserve is on the northern coast of the Isle of Wight and comprises areas of estuary and foreshore with extensive mudflats and saltmarsh, together with the adjacent meadows and woodland. The area is owned and managed by the National Trust.

On Tuesday, 27 March 2012, local enthusiast, Peter Hunt, was extremely fortunate to find and photograph an overwintered Large Tortoiseshell (probably female) whilst hunting for Orange Tip in this area. Despite spending in the region of five hours there today, in what can only be described as absolutely ideal conditions, we were not graced with the similar privilege. It should be said at this point, it's amazing just how large a Comma can look in flight when you are looking for a large orange-brown butterfly, my heart missing a beat on more than one occasion ...

Whilst writing this report I notice that another specimen has been seen and photographed …

I’ll just have to go back …



Positive signs …

Heyshott Escarpment, 21 March 2012

Today I joined John Murray for a walk around Heyshott Escarpment. 

Climbing the upper slopes we were very pleased to note a single Cowslip in flower, rising above the delicate green leaves of those yet to awaken, our first this season. Several Wild Strawberry plants were also in flower along with numerous Violet. A solitary Whitebeam stood proud though heavily laden with Mistletoe. Three Red Admiral were observed on the reserve and I was very pleased to note several male Brimstone, my first this year, as I left the village of Heyshott on route to Graffham.

It’s all starting to happen …





Antzzzzzzz …

Chiddingfold Forest, 14 March 2012

After a rather cold and overcast morning the sun finally emerged through the clouds at around 1.30pm. This was just the excuse I needed. By 2pm I was walking through Oaken Wood and heading deeper into the Chiddingfold Forest complex. Despite my best efforts, the blue sky and warming sun failed to arouse any butterflies. However, all was not lost, as there is always something to observe and today I was drawn, as often before, to the multitudes of ants going about their business.

Formica rufa is one of four British species of wood ant and is confined to England and Wales. There is some indication that there has been a contraction of its range in recent years especially in northern, central and eastern England and also in areas of Wales. In many parts of its southern range the species is still locally common and even expanding in some regions. The apparent indication of a contraction of the range may be due, in part, to a lack of recording effort in certain areas. There is also a possibility that some historical records for this species in northern and central Britain have arisen through confusion with Formica lugubris, due to an overlap of the two species range in northern England. The large nest mounds of F. rufa will no doubt be familiar to many people. They are composed of numerous tiny fragments of vegetation collected by the worker caste. There may be up to 400,000 individuals in a single nest. Occasionally, several nests may be interconnected, forming one large mega-colony. Where F. rufa is present in any numbers it can have a significant influence on the ecology of its woodland habitat. The ants are major predators and scavengers of woodland insects and feed extensively on aphid honeydew. Their colonies also support a wide range of myrmecophilous arthropods.

It should be pointed out that it can be a risky business getting too close to their nest. Some may even say foolhardy. It is most certainly not an act for the fainthearted as the ants react extremely quickly and aggressively to any intruder in their midst.  

They do bite …

I can vouch for that …



Billy no mates …

Park Corner Heath Reserve, 13 March 2012

Early this afternoon I joined Colin Knight for a stroll around BCs Park Corner Heath Reserve in East Sussex. Spurned on by the Brimstones, Commas and Peacocks recently reported, we had high hopes. Despite ‘The Great Awakening’ of yesterday we were greeted only with ‘The Great Sleep’ of today. Despite the lack of butterflies, we enjoyed a very pleasant walk around this super reserve where wonders have been accomplished in opening up the woodland in readiness for the coming season. Our spirits were lifted as we observed at least seven pairs of Common Toad (Bufo bufo) in amplexus. Several strings of spawn were noted. A lone specimen, apparently not invited to the party, was found wrapped in dry leaves under a sheet of corrugated iron.

We didn’t see the sun on what turned out to be a fairly cool afternoon.

Maybe tomorrow ...

Dukes on the Edge …

Heyshott Escarpment, 12 March 2012

The Duke of Burgundy is one of the UK's fastest declining butterflies, having suffered a population drop of 35% from 1979 to 2008. It has disappeared from at least 153 of its former known sites. Butterfly Conservation’s ‘The Dukes on the Edge’ project (2011-2014) is targeting an area in the South East of England where the rapidly declining butterfly is clinging to survival.

Heyshott Escarpment, located within a small corner of the South Downs National Park, is one of the Duke’s few remaining strongholds. However, this is only being achieved by the continuing conservation efforts of a small group of dedicated individuals under the guidance and leadership of Neil Hulme (Sussex Butterfly Conservation) and ecologist Mike Edwards (The Murray Downland Trust). Work, undertaken by volunteers in both Kent and Sussex, has shown that populations can recover where appropriate habitat management is implemented and this is the trend currently being observed at Heyshott. The Duke of Burgundy is reliant on scrubby calcareous grassland and sunny woodland clearings where its eggs are deposited on cowslip, or primrose in more wooded environments. Changes in the nature of agricultural and forestry practices have led to required habitats becoming overgrown and consequently unsuitable. As the Duke has struggled to find the food plants it needs to breed and prosper, it has sadly become extinct across much of its former range in the UK. Butterfly Conservation is leading the fight to save this fascinating butterfly and through the Dukes on the Edge project aims:

To assess the status of the Duke of Burgundy and its habitat
To maintain and enhance existing habitat and create new Duke of Burgundy habitat (e.g. through coppicing, ride management, scrub management)
Undertake reintroductions on selected sites
Monitoring the impact of management on habitat condition and the butterfly's population.

Project activities:

Public events to raise awareness of the conservation importance of the South Downs for the Duke of Burgundy
The creation of a ‘Dukes on the Edge Action Group’.
Mapping of the locations of managed habitat, together with Duke of Burgundy records on GIS
Training events for volunteers to enable them to participate in conservation tasks, surveying and monitoring

Please support the Duke in your area ...





Amphibious activity …

Plaistow, 8 March 2012

Overnight and as if by magic my pond is once again awash with frogspawn. Every year I keep a close watch for returning Common Frogs (Rana temporaria), their presence often betrayed by their calling.

Generally emerging from hibernation in late February spawning typically takes place in my pond in early March, though in some seasons the frogs emerge sooner and spawn as early as January. The females are ready to spawn immediately after hibernation and the animals enter into amplexus (the term describing the act of the smaller male clasping the female underneath in a nuptial embrace) very soon after arriving at their breeding sites. The spawn is laid in clumps and typically consists of 300-400 gelatinous eggs containing tiny black embryos. As the female lays her eggs the male expels sperm to fertilize them. The very young tadpoles are black but soon become speckled brown in colouration making them distinguishable from the permanently black tadpoles of the Common Toad (Bufo bufo). The tadpoles develop throughout the summer and emerge as tiny froglets in wet weather during August or September.

I recently read an article describing R. temporaria activity in the French Alps. I was particularly interested to note that cold-climate frogs grow far more slowly than their relatives in temperate areas, but typically live much longer (12 years, compared to 5 for lowland frogs) and grow somewhat larger. They are also active during the warmer daylight hours unlike their cousins elsewhere.  Though egg laying occurs in spring, frog pairs in mountain habitats can begin hibernation in amplexus which may possibly provide a reproductive advantage by allowing mating as quickly as possible once warm weather arrives. Eggs of high-elevation frogs may also be 30% larger than those of lowland females, giving the tadpoles a head start.

Another sign of spring ...

A bird in the bush …

Pagham Harbour, 28 February 2012

The Paddyfield Warbler (Acrocephalus agricola) breeds in temperate central Asia. It is a migratory species, typically wintering in Pakistan east to Assam, in southern Nepal and India. It is a rare vagrant to Western Europe, although there are small breeding populations along the western shores of the Black Sea around the border between Bulgaria and Romania. There have been less than 100 records in the UK since 1925, when a male was recorded from Fair Isle, Shetland on the 26th September. The Pagham Harbour bird is the first known record for West Sussex.

Early this morning, joined by Colin Knight, I headed down to the North Wall at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex in the hope of connecting with the long staying bird that has been showing well over several weeks. We arrived at 9.30am. The weather was overcast with a cool westerly breeze blowing gently across the mudflats. As we walked along the sea wall from Church Lane, Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler were heard calling. On reaching the second bend we met up with other birders, some of whom had seen the bird earlier. We waited and watched …

At around 11.45 I located our target as it perched, albeit briefly, on a tall Phragmites stem. For the next hour we watched as it occasionally flew up out of the reeds to catch an insect and drop back down and out of sight once more. It eventually showed quite well and at one point it even moved through the reeds no more than a few metres away, though it rarely stayed still and kept moving into cover.

For those who drool and get excited over such things, Canon 7Ds and 600mm lenses attached to Gitzo tripods was the ‘big gun’ weaponry of the day. Not wanting to show anyone up, I kept my Lumix discreetly out of sight …