Friday, 25 March 2011

Light Orange Underwing

Congratulations to Dave Monk who found, recorded and photographed the first Light Orange Underwing moth in Sussex since 1985.

The Light Orange Underwing moth is listed as Nationally Scarce, list B, and is not an easy catch at all.

Light Orange Underwing is a day flying moth very similar in appearance to the Orange Underwing, however Light Orange Underwing has a preference for Aspen trees, rather than the Birch favoured by the regular Orange Underwing.

There are morphological and wing colour differences between the two species also.

It is possible that Light Orange Underwing is present at quite a few sites in Sussex, but it flies high and is not easily netted. It is believed that this moth flies close to the ground in the early morning, so it may well be worth targeting local Aspen trees at this time.

For a downloadable fact sheet on Aspen please go to;

Butterfly Conservation downloads; Aspen

Dave found his moth in Brede High Wood which he visits frequently and he is a significant contributor of butterfly and moth records from his local area.

Well done Dave.
(All photos by Dave Monk)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Coming Up Violets

While vainly chasing a queen bumblebee in the hope of getting a photograph, I stumbled upon the first patch of violets I’ve seen in Barnes Wood this year.

I believe that these may be “Common dog violet”, Viola riviniana.
The other marvellous thing about getting out and about is the great people you meet. Now that I’m known locally as a butterfly recorder people come and tell me about the butterflies and moths they have seen too. Many thanks must go to Chris (with his dog named “Biscuit”) and Michele (with her dog named, “Nelly”) who spotted the first Brimstone butterflies of the year in Barnes Wood. Their help and interest has been invaluable.

Sunshine and Fine Flowers

Katie Walker has kindly sent me some more excellent butterfly and flower pictures.

Firstly, a lovely Comma butterfly basking in the spring sunshine. Like our other regular hibernators, Peacocks and Brimstones, Comma butterflies exploit the early spring nectar to get a head start to the season.

Now for the flowers;

Coltsfoot is a member of the daisy family with a very distinctive heptagonal shaped leaf.

I am greatly impressed by people who can identify plants from the vegetative structures alone, a skill I have yet to acquire. Here Katie has identified water mint for me. Pores at the end of the leaf veins know as ‘Hydathodes’ assist aquatic plants, and plants that grow in damp environments, with their water management. It seems then as if water mint has these structures. (Double click a photograph to get the larger version.)

Now the violets are starting to appear too. As soon as I see violets I start to think about fritillary butterflies.

Finally a representative of the pea family, gorse; According to Francis Rose (The Wildflower Key), this evergreen shrub can flower all year round, with the peak flowering time in April.
Which reminds me of the occasion when Dan Hoare of Butterfly Conservation told me how I could quickly distinguish between gorse and broom. “Gorse hurts, broom doesn’t!”, he said, with reference of course to the long, sharp thorns found on gorse.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Spring At Last!

A fine day, and the first day of spring, has finally brought the butterflies out in Barnes Wood.

Today I saw three Peacocks, a Comma and a Brimstone.

It’s getting quite warm along the rides in the sunshine and there is much invertebrate activity. I saw many hoverflies, a beetle and a few queen bumblebees.

As well as primroses other flowering plants are beginning to break out. Lesser celandine and wood anemones are flowering in numbers along the rides.

Photo by Katie Walker

Photo by Katie Walker

Also we are now past the spring equinox (20th March 2011), so there are now more hours of daylight than darkness to look forward to.
(With many thanks to Katie Walker for the fine close up photographs of the flowers.)

Jim Barrett

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Day Flying Moths

I guess that by now we are all familiar with the early butterflies of the year, Brimstones and Commas.

However there is also a very early (March-April) day flying moth, the Orange Underwing.

Photograph ©Paul Harris (UK Moths Website)

This reddish-brown coloured moth is relatively large and I almost mistook it for a small comma butterfly. However it does have the more typical moth flight which will distinguish it from a butterfly.

How do I know the difference? Well I cannot explain quite how I know, but I can usually tell them apart when I see them. It’s almost instinctive!

The Orange Underwing tends to fly high among the tree tops, flying over birch or silver birch trees before they come into leaf. The larva first feed on the birch catkins before moving onto the young leaves as they break out in April.

These moths prefer sunny days and are usually seen in the afternoon, often coming down to drink and bask by puddles by the late afternoon.

Jim Barrett

Friday, 11 March 2011

Some More Signs of Spring

Then they arrive. Those first days when the winter sunshine regains its power, the car is no longer fridge cold when you get into it, there are daffodils along the roadsides and the daylight extends beyond six o’clock in the evening.

So I set off into Barnes Wood in the afternoon to see if the signs of spring have progressed at all in the woodlands.

Well the first thing I discover is that it pays not to be too optimistic too soon. It is still rather cold outside, even in the sunshine. The trees are still bare, there is still plenty of mud and there are no obvious signs of plants in flower.

But then I glimpse something from the corner of my eye. A little black speck, flying in zigzag lines a few centimetres above the ground. But it is too fast for me. As I approach with my camera it is gone.

I notice the first flower of the year, a solitary daisy at the centre of the churned up ride path. This little unassuming flower now becomes my floral herald of spring. How many thousand of its later brethren will not even get a second glance or a moment of my attention, but this early bloom has much significance as a harbinger of hope.

The sun goes in and the clouds now look dark and foreboding. Seems we are not quite done with winter yet.

Then I spot them, primroses on the ride bank. Though they are hardly in flower this is real progress. Now I see a queen bumblebee. She flies along the ride and disappears into the undergrowth. Perhaps she has found a suitable nest site.

The beech wood floor is still strewn brown with fallen leaves and the empty husks of beech nuts, but a glance upwards reveals hundreds of tiny white buds gleaming in the sunshine.

Homeward bound now; I have seen no butterflies but a glance back at last years thinning out work reveals a thicket of suckers growing from the stumps of silver birch trees.

Finally some real invertebrate action! Small solitary bees (which I cannot identify) sunning themselves on the trunk of a beech tree in Footland Wood car park.

Spring is on the way.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

The First Butterflies of 2011

"Ever hopeful, I went out today armed with my camera, as I had a feeling that I could see something worth snapping.

I walked down toward the Darwell Reservoir and in sheltered places the sun was quite warm, although there was an occasional sharp breeze and ice remained in the puddles from last night's frost. As I neared the stream that feeds the Darwell, I noticed a flash of orange, which disappeared before I had a chance to see what it was. I waited a few seconds and then saw another coming from a different direction. Again, it disappeared, so I carried on walking down to the Reservoir, disappointed that I had been unable to identify it.

On my way back, I stood by the stream once more and then I caught a glimpse of it, but this time I managed to follow it with my eye until it settled. My thoughts were confirmed as I approached - it was a Comma. This was my first butterfly sighting of the year and it made my day - I felt as though Spring had finally arrived though no doubt I'll have to eat my words if we are wading through six feet of snow next week!"

Katie Walker