Tuesday 27 April 2021

Pilgrimage to Rewell Wood

 This is a bit of a resurrection job as I published this blog several days ago and subsequently spotted an error. I corrected the error pushed the update button and lo and behold the lot disappeared into cyberspace, never to be seen again. Of course no back up so I have to recreate what was after all a small blog.

About this time of year for the past seven years we have made what has become a pilgrimage to Rewell Wood in West Sussex. Primarily to pay homage to that most scarce and beautiful of butterflies - the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Boloria euphrosyne. I believe the attraction is that this is a butterfly that was "hanging on" when we first started but now, locally, is on the up.

We usually park up in the layby at Fairmile Bottom and take the walk over the hill, of late I am sure the hill is getting steeper. On the way there is great anticipation and discussion, will we find it, who will spot it first? Questions that almost distract you from the sea of blue created by the Bluebells that carpet the woodland floor. This year the season seems a tad late and the blue vista is just emerging.

Arriving at the favoured ride it wasn't long before Martin spotted our first specimen, a male on a mission, not stopping, careering along the ride in search of a mate. Times past there would have been the sight of two elderly butterfliers chasing after each specimen, hell bent on getting the perfect shot. Things are a little more sedate nowadays, we have learned patience and the reward is the satisfaction of gaining some not too shabby record shots. We hung around for a couple of hours and in that time we probably had a dozen butterflies, mostly males, some of which were freshly emerged and preferring to bask in the warm sunshine. Orange Tip, Brimstone, Speckled Wood and Peacock were the supporting cast.

I managed to record a Gooden's Nomad Bee, Nomada goodiana, a wasp mimic that is a kleptoparasite. These are organisms that take over the nest or nest cell of the target host species. The offspring then feed off the food supplies intended for that of the host.

In contrast to the blue of the Bluebells the Common Dog Violets, Viola riviniana and Bugle, Ajuga reptans provide a striking purple hue to the areas that have been recently coppiced. Both plants are important to the PbF, the violet as a larval host plant and the Bugle as a common source of nectar. I couldn't resist recording the violet as it is the county flower of God's Own County - Lincolnshire.

Taken on a previous visit


Thursday 22 April 2021

Hail to the Emperor!

 Almost a year since my last blog, notwithstanding the trials and tribulations of Covid I just couldn't find the wherewithal to set pen to paper. Today I made my first proper foray into the field for many a long month. Way back in 2019 I planned that I would have a crack at finding and photographing Clearwing moths. Purchasing a full set of pheromone lures plus an additional lure for the Emperor Moth (Saturnia pavonia)  from Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies and several months researching likely sites I came up with a cunning plan. Then - all stop - lockdowns galore - no field trips - no photos and no blogs.

However, today all that changed as Martin and I visited a "Sussex Common" armed with two lures and a load of hope. I had read accounts of people using the lure and making irritating reports such as "I opened the lure and ten minutes later the moth magically appeared". Fat chance I thought but I was proved wrong, as we strolled along a track, lures clipped to our camera bags, two moths appeared, almost on the dot of the stated time. One disappeared after a short time but the other remained and perched nearby. Martin found it and of course it was in a position that was impossible for photography so the "moth wrangler" did the business and cajoled it  into resting in a more accessible spot. Great elation at achieving our goal, and as we progressed around the Common we were visited by even more and at one stage we had five in view at the same time.

Using the lure proved to be a steep learning curve, we will have to adapt our methods to be more moth and photographer friendly. The moths are only fooled for a relatively short time, driven to distraction by the pheromone it soon becomes apparent to the moth that there isn't actually a receptive female present. There are none of the added cues that a live moth provides such as movements and posture, so the male drifts off and does not return.

A big thankyou to Martin for helping me get back out there, on the way home I compared the day with having a "brain flush" Several hours of concentrated moth hunting and inane chat had removed a huge amount of mental clutter. I am not given to poetry but to quote Fernando Pessoa, as everyone does, "It's been a long time since I have been me."

Perhaps a go at the Large Red-belted Clearwing next, it has a penchant for birch stumps so there are some Sussex Commons and woodlands worth a visit and maybe another go at getting some improved Emperor photographs.

I hadn't totally given up on the natural world as I have run the moth trap in the garden during the lockdown, never a productive site and this year, so far, has been no exception. A Common Plume was hiding on a fence post, almost the same colour as the wood but definitely worth snapping.

Reports of White-tailed Eagles wandering around Sussex coastal sites have caused me to spend far too much time looking toward the heavens. This paid off with a fairly good sighting of a large female Sparrowhawk that frequents the neighbourhood. Sadly no sign of the eagle - yet.