Sunday, 27 May 2012

Spring Skipper Event (Saturday 26th May 2012)

Vinehall Forest was at its glorious best as eleven of us gathered in Footland Wood car-park in preparation for the Spring Skipper Walk of 2012.

We made a great start when Martyn Parslow spotted a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) butterfly in the heathy area adjacent to the car park. That was the first one recorded in Vinehall this year.

It was good to see so many of the old friends of the ‘Rother Woods Project’ who turned up for this event. This was fortunate as it meant we had a lot of skipper spotting expertise on hand. So it wasn’t long before we spotted our first Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages).

(Dingy Skipper: Photo by Doug Neve; 26/05/2012)

Once we had seen our first Dingy Skipper the next half dozen followed quickly. We soon spotted a Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) too.

(Grizzled Skipper; Photo by Doug Neve; 26/05/2012)

For more on Grizzled Skippers see Stuart's post (Grizzled Skippers at Beckley Wood).

We also saw many other butterflies, including a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), many male Orange-tips (Anthocharis cardamines), male Brimstones (Gonepteryx rhamni), a Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and a Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria).

(Speckled Wood; Photo by Doug Neve; 26/05/2012)

We were also extremely conscientious about naming the white butterflies unless we could get an acccurate sighting. The close focus binoculars were invaluable for this task. So we positively identified several Green-veined Whites (Pieris napi), a female Orange-tip, a female Brimstone (made somewhat easier as it was receiving considerable attention from a male Brimstone) and a Large White (Pieris brassicae).

For more on identifying white butterflies; Identifying White Butterflies

We also saw many Speckled Yellow Moths (Pseudopanthera macularia) which seem to be doing well in all woodlands this year.

(Photo by Doug Neve; 26/05/2012)

I was just remarking to somebody that when you go out for a walk you will often be surprised by something totally unexpected, then Steve Whiting noticed this Spider-hunting Wasp (FAMILY POMILIDFAE) dragging off spider prey nearly twice her size.

(Photo by yours truly, needs a bit of zoom in and some imagination!)

So a big thank you to Stuart, Susanne, Steve, Peter, Anna, Doug, Heather, Rodney, Martyn and Lynn for a most informative, memorable and enjoyable Spring Skipper Walk.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Grizzled Skippers at Beckley Woods

Grizzled Skippers mating
Grizzled Skippers (ab. taras) mating
This was my first visit to Beckley after the dreadful weather of the last few weeks finally broke and the Sun came out. It was a real treat to discover initially the female (on the right) performing the Grizzled Skipper's trademark low-level manoevres, that make them extremely difficult to follow. Then, the male (on the left obviously) appeared and began to chase her around.

The female moved much less after he appeared, just a few inches at a time and vibrated her wings at him each time she perched. After only about a minute, the male was able to catch her and I was lucky enough to catch them, resulting in the image above.

If you look at the forewing at (top left) of the male, you will notice that the white spots are merged together as large blocks - an aberration of this species known as taras (first drawn by a chap called Petiver in 1717, but not named until 1780 by Bergstrasser). So far, it would seem that all the Grizzled Skippers at Beckley are this taras variation. This distinctive type also appears at other woods locally, along with another variation called intermedia, where the spots are less blocky, but still conjoined.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Spring at Caldbec Hill

“March winds and April showers, bring forth May flowers”.

Some warm weather has arrived at last, so I returned to my featured wildflower meadow, Kingsmead, on Caldbec Hill.

In the sunshine it is a breathtakingly beautiful scene. You can draw a line from the tops of the ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), to the trees and shrubs at the field margin, to the distant hills and the horizon. Then go beyond to the light blue scattered light of the Earth’s atmosphere and the very edge of eternity. This county of Sussex, twinned with paradise!

For me the late spring means a return to trying to identify the grasses and sedges. Meadow foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) is currently very prevalent at Kingsmead.

I had some luck with the invertebrate interest too. Not only a reasonable photo, (fortunate) but an easy ID (very fortunate). This fellow is an unmistakable Froghopper, (Cercopis vulnerata).

Some more of the beauty that the author Laurie Lee described as ‘the green-haired queen of love’; (Home from Abroad).

Finally I did see a queen Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) at Kingsmead, but was not quick enough to get a photo. So this one was actually photographed on the Cotoneaster horizontalalis outside my house.

To read more about wildflower meadows and the Weald Meadows Nectar Networks, please click the link below.
Grasslands Trust

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Day-flying moths (2012)

An article by Heather Martin

Now some warm, sunny weather has finally arrived, Speckled Yellow moths Pseudopanthera macularia can be seen fluttering along the tracks in our wood. The way they fly and their preference for bright sunshine can sometimes get them mistaken for butterflies at a distance. Their foodplant is wood sage.

After walking amongst numerous distinctively patterned Speckled Yellow moths, identifying the day-flying micro moths I then spotted on Sunday became much more difficult for a variety of reasons.

This 'Bird -dropping' Tortrix moth - Hysterophora maculosana camouflages itself rather effectively. From a distance it does resemble a bird-dropping on the leaf! To identify the moth to species level you really need to pot it and use a hand lens. Fortunately this one has a distinctive colouration with a rich brown spot at the apex of the wing - other Tortrix moths can require dissection.

Some tiny micro moths look as if they should be quite easy to identify because despite the fact they are less than a centimetre in length, they have a very well-defined pattern. However I can only put this strikingly marked little moth down on my list as Phyllonorycter sp. because there are several that superficially identical - another dissection job if you need to know the species! The larvae of these tiny insects mine the leaves of various trees and identifying the leaf-mines is a much easier way of determining the presence of individual species.

Dog's Mercury, Blubells and Yellow Archangel plants have had minute (no more than 5mm long) plain, metallic brown winged moths crawling all over them for a few weeks now. From a distance they can easily be mistaken for tiny flies but through a hand lens Micropterix calthella have a shock of golden hair on their heads and a beautiful sheen to their wings. They feed on pollen.

Other small moths are difficult to name because they have a very similar colouring and shape to others that are not even closely related. It's surprising how many very slight variations there can be on a 'chocolate-brown with golden highlights' theme! They need to potted and examined with a hand lens carefully. There can also be variations in the patterning of individual species so they don't exactly match the illustrations in reference works but this Esperia sulphurella has a little white band on its antenna about 2/3 of the way along.

Perhaps instead of driving myself to the point of feeling cross-eyed, I should have taken a hint from the dormice I found earlier in the day on our monthly nestbox check - chill out and let it all fly by! A lazy Sunday morning ...zzzzzzzzzz

All picutres by Heather Martin 22/05/2012

Monday, 14 May 2012

Moth Trapping in Brede High Woods

Friday evening (11th May 2012) was dry and relatively mild so we gathered at the “New Car Park”, in Brede High Wood for a spot of moth trapping.

However under clearing skies there were not that many moths about. But we did get a few good ones.

The highlights were this metallic grey Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda);

and a Scarce Prominent (Odontosia carmelita)

We also caught an “Ochreous Pug” (Euithecia indigata), and my thanks to David Burrows for identifying this for us.
Photo (c) by kind permission of Paul Harris (UK Moths)

Ochreous Pug at UK Moths

The rarest moth of the evening though was a Dusky Peacock (Macaria signaria). This moth would no doubt have been passed off by me as a regular “Peacock Moth” (Macaria notata), had not the Sussex Moth Group members seen it.
Dusky Peacock at UK Moths
Peacock Moth at UK Moths

So my heartfelt thanks to the Sussex Moth Group, David Bonsell and the Woodland Trust.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Butterflies, Boars & Beckley Woods

Seven hardy souls ventured out into the wilds of East Sussex for the first Sussex BC event of the
year in Rother.

It was cold, it was wet and there was not a Butterfly to be seen anywhere.

However we were determined to have our money’s worth. So our butterfly walk turned into an impromptu “Practical Conservation” field trip. We walked the rides, we discussed the merits of the conservation work done in Beckley, we listened to birdsong (I can now add Blackcap to my meagre repertoire), we identified some plants and trees, we found the most beautiful black slug (Limax cinereoniger) and we saw a day-flying moth (Adela reaummurella).

Good company trumps good weather.