Friday, 22 July 2016

Precious metal ...

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus)

O. sylvanus typically inhabits sheltered areas of grassland where grasses grow tall. Classic sites include meadows, hedgerows, roadside verges, woodland rides and woodland clearings. It can also be found in urban areas, such as parks and churchyards. It can often be found basking on vegetation, or making short buzzing flights amongst vegetation. Like many other skippers, the male of this species alternates between perching, patrolling, basking and feeding. Patrolling behaviour is normally exhibited late-morning, with perching the norm in the early morning and afternoon. When perching, the males will defend their territory vigorously, and see off any butterfly that intrudes. Typical perches are sunlit leaves at a height of around a metre from the ground.

This is one of the largest of our ‘golden’ skippers and, like the others, the male has a distinctive sex brand on its forewings, containing specialised scent scales known as androconia. Their purpose is to disseminate pheromones in order to attract females during courtship; the strength of the pheromones diminishing with age. The adults are typically on the wing in June, through July, and into August. The above images, in descending order, show female and male from recent trips into local woodland.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Alder-boughs and the flycatcher …

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

M. striata breeds across most of the Western and Central Palearctic. It winters south of the Sahara, passing through the Sahel on migration. In Sussex it is a bird of woodland edges and man-made habitats such as churchyards, cemeteries, orchards, farmyards, gardens and parks. Woods with mature birch or ash and a diverse structure with features such as rides and glades are important, whilst ivy-clad trees make safe sites for nesting. It is often found near the edge of lakes, ponds and watercourses that are rich in insect life.

The future for M. striata in both Sussex and Britain does not look promising. It seems that the problems on the wintering grounds and migration route, including droughts in the Sahel region south of the Sahara, will have to be addressed, if possible, if the species’ fortunes are to be reversed. Here in Sussex, if more of our woodland can be brought back into suitable management, increasing the length of ride edge and the area of glade habitat and ensuring that ivy is not controlled by stem cutting, it will at least help those that make it here maximize their breeding success.


Black, R. (2014). Spotted Flycatcher. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 502-503.
Parmenter, T. (1996). Spotted Flycatcher. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 477-478.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Equestrian pursuits ...

Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

Chiddingfold Forest, 2016

For the last two weeks I have been spending a substantial amount of time walking both the known and lesser-known sectors of Chiddingfold Forest. The forest, situated in southwest Surrey and West Sussex, consists of a number of areas of mixed woodland, which together form the largest more or less continuous area of oakwoods in the region. Importantly, some areas hold Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designation. The variety of woodland types, the gills, and the rides provide habitats for a rich variety of insects and the site supports many nationally rare invertebrates and a number of regionally scarce bryophytes and lichens. The site is also noted for its diverse community of breeding birds.

Late June and early July is the time to search for that enigmatic of species the Purple Emperor. One thing that I have noticed this season is the apparent lack of aerial activity. During typical seasons, whatever typical may be, I’d expect to see males tree-topping and sallow-searching for females whilst ruthlessly defending their territories; I haven’t seen this once this year. With no basis for my conclusion other than gut instinct, I put this down to the generally less than favourable weather conditions experienced during this flight season - frequently cloudy, though warm and humid, and often with a strong breeze blowing. They’ve certainly been harder to find this season but putting in the time has certainly produced the results - I’d hate to think how many miles I’ve walked!

The above image shows a male photographed imbibing nutrients from dry horse dung on 8th July 2016. It was one of two seen grounded during this session.

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Brief encounter ...

Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

Chiddingfold Forest, 7 July 2016

A. iris spends most of its time hidden in the woodland canopy where it feeds on aphid honeydew, with the occasional close encounter when it comes down to feed on sap runs or, typically in the case of the male, animal droppings, carrion or moist ground that provide much-needed nutrients. Those that make annual 'pilgrimages of obsession' to see this spectacular creature will often try and lure the males down from the canopy using all manner of temptations - including shrimp paste, fish oils, banana skins and human urine.

The female upperside is a deep brown and does not possess the purple sheen found in the male. She is also a much rarer beast and an audience with an Empress is one to be cherished. A recent trip into a less visited Sussex sector of Chiddingfold Forest produced a brief encounter with a beautiful female which alighted around head height on a nearby oak tree.

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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Purple fever ...

Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

Surrey Woodland, 4 July 2016

The Purple Emperor is a magnificent and generally elusive insect that is actively sought out by the many subjects of ‘His Majesty’, as the male butterfly is affectionately known. To say that some observers reach a state of obsession is an understatement with many followers making annual pilgrimages to see this spectacular species.

The male, which typically emerges in early July, sometimes during the last week of June in good seasons, is undoubtedly one of the most stunning and sought after of all the British butterflies. From certain angles, even at close observation, it appears to have black wings intersected with white bands. However, when the wings are opened beyond a certain angle, the most beautiful purple-blue sheen is displayed, a result of light being refracted from the structures of the wing scales. The female, on the other hand, is a deep brown and does not possess the purple sheen found in the male.

The above three images show two freshly emerged males …

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Saturday, 2 July 2016

50 shades of brown ...

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

Chiddingfold Forest, Surrey

A. hyperantus is a relatively common and generally overlooked butterfly that is unmistakable when seen at rest - the rings on the undersides giving this butterfly its common name. The uppersides are a uniform chocolate brown, whilst the undersides project a delicate golden-brown hue in certain light. Despite this relative uniformity, a newly emerged adult is a surprisingly enchanting insect, the velvety wings providing a striking contrast with the delicate white fringes found on the wing edges. The dark colouring also allows this butterfly to quickly warm up allowing this species to be one of the few that can be seen flying on overcast days. A variety of habitats is used, although sites that are typically characterised as being sheltered and damp are preferred, such as woodland clearings, woodland edges and rides, meadows, hedgerows, road verges and country lanes, where the full heat from the summer sun can be avoided and where the foodplant is lush. A beautiful little butterfly and one that appears to be having an excellent season in local woodland.

The above images show (i) a male upperside, (ii) a female upperside and (iii) a female underside.

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