Thursday 26 June 2014

Purple Emperor

We started the day's butterflying at Hollingbury Park in Brighton, another venue where White-letter Hairstreaks can be found. Initially I thought conditions would be too cool but sat in the Butterfly Glade at the rear of the tennis courts the temperature rose steadily as the sun broke through the thin cloud. Although eagle-eyed Martin spotted a pair high above us, nothing came earthwards. After a while our confidence waned and we made for Woods Mill in a quest for some decent dragonflies. I am not sure why, but there seemed to be very few about, Emperors patrolled the pond and we spotted several Demoiselles, otherwise it was most disappointing. A pair of Little Grebes have raised a brood of "grebelings",  three, possibly four, very young chicks out on the water waiting for the parents to bring them what appeared to be dragonfly larvae. Nice to meet up with Dorian and Dave who were sat by the pond waiting for the sun to come out and galvanise the Dragons into action.

Our final destination was a return to Southwater Woods or rather Madgeland Woods as it is on the Ordnance Survey map. Ideally we would have liked some good photographs of White Admirals and I also needed to find some obliging Silver-washed Fritillaries.

The White Admirals wouldn't settle, but at long last we were treated to some close views of our first Purple Emperor underneath the "Madgelands Master Tree".  It remained with us for some time, alighting on the grassy path under the power cables and on the muddy ride itself, sticking its proboscis into the earth in search of sustenance. Sadly it was far from perfect in that it had a damaged starboard rear wing and one or two clips elsewhere. Never mind, for us it was exactly what we needed. It just means we have to venture out again for that perfect picture.



Finally it was gone and we took a leisurely stroll along the ride in search of other butterflies. The White Admirals still refused to settle but some good looking SWFs were nectaring on brambles and I managed a couple of shots of both male and female of the species.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Butterfly Business

None of the last three days out have been worthy of a blog but perhaps a round robin of the notable bits is worthwhile.

Monday was a voyage of discovery; flirting with the periphery of the "Purple Empire" can be a frustrating business without precise details of where to look. Successful searches of the woodlands of Sussex in the quest for a Purple Emperor need inside knowledge. However, I have to say that the butterfly fraternity are much freer with information than the birding crowd. We set out to investigate Marlpost (Southwater) Woods and Madgelands, of course in search of butterflies, but also to locate such exotically named places as "The Madgelands Master Tree", "Butterfly Corner", "Dogbarking Master Tree", and in another place "The Triangle". Information that will be much needed in the future to ensure that we get those perfect shots of "His Majesty"

Well, following a day in the woods we are much wiser, unfortunately only a glimpse of a possible Emperor but a tick in the guise of a White Admiral. Silver-washed Fritillaries were also numerous and it was nice to note my first Small Skipper of the year. With the high temperatures most of the subjects were hyper-active and achieving any sort of capture was hard.

We finished the day at Houghton where yet again Marbled Whites were present in good numbers, it was nice to see some females this time and to get an obliging couple to pose.

Female with brown edge to forewing and brown in the hindwing.

Tuesday we were full of expectation again, this time trying for a White-letter Hairstreak in Brighton's Preston Park. As we sat below the "Preston Twins", two magnificent 400 year old English Elms, we could see plenty of WLH in the canopy. Some descended to within 10ft of the ground but that was as good as it got, we waited for six hours for a single specimen to drop to ground level, of course it never did.

At least someone has had the foresight to plant a replacement - I wonder if anyone will be sat under it in 400 years time admiring the White-letter Hairstreaks?

Hollow but still growing strong


Gnarled - but well looked after.
Today  I dropped into Anchor Bottom to find a Dark Green Fritillary, the thistles are still coming out and I searched diligently but to no avail. Sod's Law occurred yet again, as I decided to quit and was walking back to the road, there on the hedge a fresh specimen. As always -  it had gone before I could get the camera out and I chased it through the field as it made a high speed track towards the top end of the valley. I waited a considerable time but no other specimens were forthcoming.

On the way back I noticed some Greater Knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa in the roadside verge and in the morning sun it looked well worthy of being recorded.   It is not always about Birds and Butterflies - just most of the time.

Next stop - Houghton Forest. I walked up and down the ride several times and had a glimpse of what might have been an Emperor but it was gone in an instant in a high speed passage along the ride, The pools of sticky mud are attracting some excellent specimens of both Red Admiral and fresh Commas. White Admirals and Silver-Washed Fritillaries are about but alas no PEs. I had a long chat with Neil - "Master of the Purple Empire", if anyone could find one it would be him.  Alas the great maestro couldn't conjure one up for me.

On the way back to the car I "rescued" a hapless specimen of the Peppered Moth, Biston betularia, which I duly recorded and then placed in the safety of a tree.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Silver-studded Blues (II)

I awoke early this morning, not because I wanted to witness the sun rising over any prehistoric construction, but because the Blackbirds are obviously attempting a second brood adjacent to the back garden and the male was singing his heart out. It gave me an opportunity to make an early brew and check out the moth trap. Surprisingly, given the recent weather, there was little in the trap. My urban Sussex location is no substitute for previous Hampshire and Cornish venues when it comes to moth variety.

So, having got up, I decided that it would be a good idea to have another go at the Silver-studded Blues. My previous efforts had been disappointing, caused by a lack of care on my part, I think I got a little bit over confident and left most of the work to the camera. At 0800 I was parked at Iping Common and as I set foot on the common I knew that I should have been an hour earlier. Already Large Skippers were buzzing everywhere and Silver-studded Blues were also on the wing.

I had set myself three goals, roosting specimens, a freshly emerged female and a mating pair, all to be photographed in what was perfect light. I almost completed the hat-trick, falling short by finding two freshly emerged males rather than females. No problems as they are almost a substitute, in that their scent is attractive to other males and several would-be suitors landed close by, one obviously confusing denim for the delicate hues of a female.

Fairly fresh with ants about.

Soaking up the heat of the early morning sun.

At long last .... a freshly emerged male with ants in attendance. Lasius niger or alienus??
Attracting other males.

Climbing upwards for the sun.

Nearly there!

Finally he opened his wings - sorry about the shadows - happy just to capture the moment.

A bit more sun.

Just a moment longer.

Ready for first flight

Still attracting other males


Somewhat confused on the correct hue of blue
 I was quite pleased with the results and believe that at long last I have done these butterflies justice. I found the emerger at 0814 and stayed with it until it flew at 0911. I felt responsible for it because to obtain clear shots I had conducted judicious gardening with the scissors of my trusty Swiss Army Knife, and it was somewhat exposed to any marauding bird.

On the walk back to the car SSBs were lifting off everywhere and finally, as I was trying to photograph a female, a happy couple alighted in the bracken in front of me and obligingly posed.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Marbled White

I thought that after three days out I would be too tired to go out again. However, after catching up with processing photographs and blogging I felt that it might be a good idea to visit my favourite butterfly patch. So, after lunch I put the gear in the car and made a leisurely trip to Houghton Forest. At first I thought I had made a mistake, where it was sunny on the coast, inland on the downs it was cloudy. The ride I usually visit was fairly quiet, just a few Speckled Woods until I was treated to a high speed fly past, no mistaking this butterfly, a Silver-washed Fritillary and as fresh as a daisy. Several more passed by, all at high speed, halfway up the canopy and with only one thing on their mind - mating!  I made my way to a clearing that I know in the forest and sure enough they were present, one or two came down to visit some bramble that is in flower but, by and large, mating was the name of the game and none posed for me. In a few days this place will be alive with them and when they start nectaring they will present an ideal photo opportunity.

So on the way home I called into another patch I know and it was obvious that Marbled Whites were hatching in numbers. I chased the first one but soon I reckon I had 30 or more hanging out to dry in the long grass. Gradually they dispersed but one or two posed for me.


Usual suspects

A very late or very early Grizzled Skipper