Monday, 27 May 2013

Papilio albus minor ...

Chiddingfold Forest, 20-24 May 2013

The Wood White (Leptidea sinapis) is one of our rarest and most enchanting butterflies. It exhibits probably the slowest and most delicate flights, almost fairy-like, of all the British species. Its discreet colonies typically contain just a few dozen adults, though there are still a few locations, and seasons, when it can be a locally common springtime butterfly. Salcey Forest, near Northampton, was historically one of its strongest outposts. Today, only the much-reduced populations of the Chiddingfold Forest complex on the Surrey/Sussex border can be classed as 'large' – in a good season.

With conditions being almost perfect for finding and photographing this beautiful species, I recently headed into the Chiddingfold Forest complex. This season’s spring brood has emerged in the known hotspots about three weeks later than last year, and they are only being found in reduced numbers. Their principal colonies appear to be down by up to 75% over last year, with some areas of the forest producing only one or two individuals on a good day. The highest daily count to date, made by myself during my search, was 12 individuals from one of the most productive areas; though I feel sure that others were undoubtedly present away from the main tracks.

One of my favourite shots below …


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Pearls ...

16 May 2013

Pearls of wisdom ...


Leaving Heyshott at around 1pm, my good friend Nick Broomer and I headed for private woodland in West Sussex. The site we were heading for holds a small, managed population of Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. Several visits so far this season have proven unproductive; though today seemed somewhat different and I felt confident that luck would be on our side. The area where the Fritillary occurs is comprised of three small areas of mixed age sweet chestnut coppice, with a classic underlay of violets and bugle. An initial slow walk through produced nothing. Further attempts still proved unproductive; but we weren't beaten - well not quite. As Nick walked along the edge of the clearing whilst I concentrated on the coppice, a single, freshly emerged male appeared in the grass at Nick's feet; this was followed shortly after by a second individual in slow flight amongst the coppice. It is my opinion that we had hit the site at exactly the time of the first emergence this season.

These were the only two Pearl-bordered Fritillaries we saw and it proved a fitting end to what has to be one of my most memorable days out looking for butterflies - perfect weather, perfect company and two of the rarest butterflies in Sussex.

Species seen:

Green-veined White
Small White
Brimstone
Orange-tip
Peacock
Dingy Skipper
Grizzled Skipper
Duke of Burgundy
Pearl-bordered Fritillary



Friday, 17 May 2013

Dukes of Heyshott ...

16 May 2013

I headed for Heyshott Escarpment today in advance of the open day this coming Saturday. I was keen to take note of the Duke's progress and wasn't disappointed by what I found. A conservative estimate produced twenty Dukes and a single Duchess, and these were counted on only a small part of the eastern reserve. Hopefully numbers will continue to grow and we will see the Duke expanding his range into recently managed areas. In addition to His Grace, small numbers of Dingy and Grizzled Skipper were also seen, along with several Burnet Companion (Euclidia glyphica). I just hope the weather holds for our joint Sussex Butterfly Conservation / Murray Downland Trust event this coming Saturday.


Fingers crossed ...


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Polliwogs ...

Polliwogs and Porwigles

The common frog (Rana temporaria) is found throughout Britain and Ireland, in almost any habitat where suitable breeding ponds are located. The adult frogs, which typically emerge from their overwintering sites during early spring, head straight to a pond or other suitable location in order to breed; frogs reach sexual maturity at around 2-3 years old.

Their clumps of spawn (eggs) are laid in suitable locations anytime from January (in south-west England) onwards, and typically consists of 300-400 gelatinous eggs containing tiny black embryos. Depending on local weather conditions, the tiny, gilled tadpoles hatch out two to four weeks later. As they develop the tadpoles become faintly speckled with gold/brown (as can be seen in the picture below), which clearly distinguishes them from common toad tadpoles, which are black. They feed on microscopic algae and water fleas. After approximately sixteen weeks the tadpoles start to develop back legs, followed by front legs. When they have fully absorbed their tails, through a process known as apoptosis, they leave the water as tiny froglets, usually in early summer but sometimes as late as September.


Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Duke's Duke ...

Norfolk Estate, Arundel, 9 May 2013

To be fair, conditions today were really not very good for getting out and searching for butterflies; but I had the opportunity to do so and decided to head out nevertheless …

I arrived on the Norfolk Estate at around 9.45am. Despite the strong wind continually gusting through the trees and the small clearing that was to be my destination, there were a few, more sheltered (though still windy) locations that provided some respite. Moving slowly through these areas I spotted a single female Speckled Wood; a pristine specimen and a bonus as I wasn’t expecting to find much. As I slowly followed her, I suddenly noticed a small brown insect fly up from the undergrowth and immediately land several feet away. My concentration rapidly diverted from the Speckled Wood, as I immediately realized that it was a male Duke of Burgundy sheltering from the rather inclement conditions.

I knew that Neil was in nearby woodland as an earlier phone call from him announced that he had at last seen a Pearl-bordered Fritillary – the first appearing in Sussex on 16th April in 2012. After a quick phone call in return, Neil arrived. As he mentions in his diary, “it wasn’t keen on flying in the strong, cool breeze” which gave Neil ample time to drive over and photograph the Duke for himself.

I’m glad I went out …

The Duke emerges ...

Heyshott Escarpment, 7-8 May 2013

The first Duke of Burgundy observed in Sussex during 2013, was recorded on Monday, 6th May at Heyshott Escarpment. After my early start yesterday morning, followed by a run down to Blandford Forum in Dorset for an 11am meeting, I headed back to West Sussex and more specifically Heyshott Escarpment. I didn't have a great deal of time on my hands but managed to record seven Dukes along with my first Dingy and Grizzled Skippers of the year. A problem with my camera frustratingly resulted in shots I wasn't happy with ...

Problem rectified, I popped back today.

Fingers crossed for a really great season ...


An early start ...

Plaistow, 7 May 2013

Almost a year ago, I discovered a small colony of Grizzled Skipper within a short walking distance from my house. What I didn't realise until yesterday evening, was that the area where they occur also contains a reasonable quantity of Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis). Having seen several Orange Tip yesterday, I returned early this morning in the hope of finding one at roost.

A great start to the day ...



Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Brimstone (revisited) ...

Ashpark Wood, 6 May 2013

With good numbers of Brimstone currently around, I decided to pay them another visit.

It wasn’t until mid-afternoon that I finally got out, and stayed until around 6.30pm. During this time I watched numerous males and several females going about their daily business. I decided to concentrate my efforts solely on photographing the females; and was more than pleased with one which finally settled for a brief time on its larval food plant, Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus). A second, found much later in the day, kept going to rest and would then move on; undoubtedly having not found a suitable roost site.

Species seen:

Small Tortoiseshell
Peacock
Comma
Holly Blue
Large White
Brimstone
Orange Tip
Green-veined White


Saturday, 4 May 2013

Brimstone ...

Chiddingfold Forest

I spent much of yesterday in Chiddingfold Forest searching for early spring brood Wood White. After an extensive search of all Surrey sectors during the morning, I headed into Sussex sections of the forest in the afternoon, yet still failed to locate any specimens. Apart from several female Orange Tip, which at quick glance fooled me into thinking I’d found one, none were seen. It is my belief that Wood White, at least as of yesterday, are still not flying in Chiddingfold Forest. That said, I was far from beaten and managed to see ten species with Brimstone being by far the most prolific.

Species seen:

Small Tortoiseshell
Peacock
Comma
Holly Blue
Green-veined White
Large White
Small White
Brimstone
Orange Tip
Speckled Wood

Friday, 3 May 2013

Searching ...

Chiddingfold Forest, 1 May 2013

On Wednesday afternoon, I checked out several areas of Chiddingfold Forest in the hope of finding a freshly emerged, spring brood Wood White; though my target obviously had other ideas, as I sadly drew a blank. That said, the air was filled with impending expectancy, and I was pleased to find seven species including my first Lycaenid of the year, a male Holly Blue (one of several taking nutrients from the forestry track).

The search continues ...

Species seen:

Holly Blue
Peacock
Comma
Large White
Brimstone
Orange Tip
Green-veined White