Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Fast food ...

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

A. pratensis is a common but declining resident and very common passage migrant and winter visitor to Sussex. It is a bird of open, extensive rough and grassy habitats, from sand dunes and salt marshes to wet grassland, heaths and unimproved chalk grassland, where it feeds on insects and other tiny invertebrates collected from the ground. Flocks of migrant Meadow Pipits are always worthy of closer inspection since they can often be good carriers for wagtails and rarer pipit species.

Ignore them at your peril ...


Scott-Ham, M., 2014. Meadow Pipit. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 542-543.
Scott-Ham, M., 1996. Meadow Pipit. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 398-399.

BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Anthus pratensis. Downloaded from on 30th April 2014.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The very hungry caterpillar ...

And other stories ...

I have many fond memories of reading to my children when they were young and The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle certainly brings back warm memories ...

The above image shows a final instar larva of the White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) feeding on honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)On emergence from the egg, the light brown larva eats the shell before moving to the leaf tip to feed. Here it feeds on each side of the midrib on which it rests, leaving the midrib intact and producing characteristic feeding damage that is quite easy to spot. The larva initially decorates itself with faeces which it uses for camouflage, although this is abandoned after a week or so, after which the larva rests quite openly.

Toward the end of the summer after the second moult, the larva builds a winter retreat, known as a hibernaculum. This is constructed by securing a leaf to the twig with silk (so that the leaf remains attached to the foodplant even after it has died), removing the edges of the leaf, and then folding what remains of the leaf edges together and forming a compartment within which the larva overwinters. The larva emerges from the hibernaculum in the spring and, at the final moult, turns green in colour and starts to feed on the leaf edges rather than from the tip. The full-grown and exotic larva is a spectacular beast which has a curious habit of resting along the centre of a leaf with both front and back ends raised. There are 4 moults in total.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Early season ...

Wood White (Leptidea sinapis)

On Monday, 21st April 2014, I spent much of the day walking the rides and glades within the key Surrey sectors of the Chiddingfold Forest complex; my target, a spring brood Wood White (L. sinapis). Despite weather conditions being ideal, to detect both flying and resting individuals, only two were seen during my entire visit including the above male found roosting on Bitter Vetch (Lathyrus linifolius); one of its larval foodplants.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Greenstreaks ...

Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)

C. rubi is the most widespread of the British hairstreaks. However, it is also a rather local species, forming distinct colonies, which can be as small as a few dozen individuals, although other colonies can be significantly larger. Partly due to the wide variety of larval foodplants it uses, and the wide range of habitats it frequents, C. rubi is found throughout the British Isles. However, it is absent from the Isle of Man, Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. It can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including hillsides, moorland, chalk downland, heathland, railway embankments and valley bottoms. A common feature of all these habitats is the presence of scrubby plants and hedgerows.

Both sexes always settle with their wings closed, their brown uppersides only ever being observed in flight. The undersides, by contrast, and as depicted in the image of a female above, referable to ab. bipunctata, Tutt (1907), provide the illusion of being green, an effect produced by the diffraction of light on a lattice-like structure found within the wing scales. This provides excellent camouflage as the butterfly rests on a chosen perch such as a Birch branch.

Single brooded, the adult butterfly is typically seen from mid April to the end of June, depending on location. Emergence is typically later in more northern sites where this butterfly may be on the wing into early July.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Easter egg hunt ...

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

The skittle-shaped eggs of G. rhamni are laid singly on the undersides of the youngest Buckthorn leaves at all heights on the foodplant. Although several eggs may be found together, as in the image above, this can be either the result of different females using the same leaf, or, as in the case depicted, the same female revisiting the spot on more than one occasion. Freshly laid eggs are a delicate pale green, turning yellow, and eventually grey as the larva develops within. The egg stage lasts between 1 and 2 weeks. The above picture was taken within minutes of observing the eggs being laid.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Swan song ...

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

The beautiful Whooper Swan (C. cygnus) is a bird of the tundra and lakes of Iceland, northern Scandinavia and Russia. Here they breed before flying south with western populations migrating to winter on lochs and fens in the countries bordering the North Sea. About 15,000 winter in the UK; mostly in Scotland, northern England and Ireland. Very few are recorded in Sussex and, in some years, none at all; a situation that has changed very little in the past 60 years.


Hughes, P., 2014. Whooper Swan. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 82.
Mason, M., 1996. Whooper Swan. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 136-137.

BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Cygnus cygnus. Downloaded from on 8th April 2014.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Too hot to handle ...

Adder (Vipera beris)

When I grow up I wanna be ...

Never pick up an Adder. The above juvenile male is being held by an experienced handler as part of an Adder research project.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Pretty as a picture ...

Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)

A common and welcome winter visitor to Sussex.

A male in full breeding plumage ...