Monday, 15 August 2016

Pied Flycatcher

Today, was a chance to get back to birding. Migration has started and their are a few good birds being reported. Best of all we visited Pagham North Wall and, for once, there were lots of birds there. The Breech Pool and the area north of the wall had been our favourite birding site but over the past year it seems to have been abandoned by both the RSPB and the landowner. The water levels have not been controlled and it has fluctuated between flooding and drying out. Consequently the birds slowly disappeared.

Today it looked good. Just the right level of water, plenty of mud and still some fish to be had. Waders were back in good numbers, Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwits, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Lapwing, and Avocets. We also had Canada Geese, a single Greylag and two Bar-headed Geese. Add to these a couple of Grey Herons, two squabbling Kingfishers, two Common Terns, a Sparrowhawk, assorted ducks, Hirundines and a couple of Buzzards that put most of them into the air and we had plenty to look at. I just wish I had some confidence in it staying this way.

You would think that with all these birds I would have some good pictures but the back of the pool, especially in this strong contrasty light is just that little bit too far for the smaller birds.

Juvenile Grey Heron

Avocet  -  unusual on the Breech Pool

Common Tern


Next stop was at Church Norton where a Pied Flycatcher had been reported the previous day. It had been a clear night so we were doubtful on finding it still there. In fact there were two and possibly even three of them around the church yard so we spent the afternoon trying to photograph them.

One of the Pied Flycatchers was ringed so we were hopeful of being able to piece together sufficient information to find where it came from. Nearly but not quite. After a lot of work analysing pictures  Dave came up with a possible Z49592 but unfortunately this does not look like the complete number.

It was great to be back birding again - bring on the birds.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Brown Argus

It will be interesting to see what this years Big Butterfly Count comes up with. My own experience is that the butterflies are there, but they are in much lower numbers than I have seen before. Some, such as Tortoiseshells and Commas, have been few and far between this year.

Two weeks ago I was walking through meadows and on chalk hillsides covered in wild flowers and I was having difficulty finding any butterflies. Then in the past week or so, things have started to improve. We had a good emergence of Chalkhill Blues, then, in the last few days, Brimstone, Peacock, Painted Lady, and Red Admirals all in good condition and in good numbers.

One walk along a ride in Houghton Forest really raised my spirits. There were hundreds of these freshly emerged butterflies and even a good number of slightly worn Silver-washed Fritillaries. It was just like old times again.

With this years butterfly season drawing to a close I am just keeping my fingers crossed for a recovery in numbers next year.

Brown Argus - Newtimber Hill

A quick trip back to Newtimber Hill gave me a few good finds. This Brown Argus took a bit of chasing but I eventually got the pictures I wanted.

Brown Argus - Newtimber Hill

It is always easier to get the pictures when the butterflies are otherwise engaged and this pair of mating Silver-spotted Skippers was no exception.

Mating Pair Silver-spotted Skippers - Newtimber Hill

Another unusual sight was this pair of Painted Ladies. I have only ever seen them as singletons before. I assume they are male and female. They were sticking very close together but I did not get any action shots. I also noticed that the top one has an extra white spot in the wing tip. Possibly an aberration.

Painted Ladies  - Newtimber Hill

Peacock   -  nice but it looked much more vivid in real life.

Wall - Newtimber Hill

Brimstone - Houghton Forest

Brimstone  -  Houghton Forest

Another great butterfly. A blue version of the normally brown female of the Common Blue butterfly. You might need to read that twice!

Common Blue Female

Common Blue Female

A walk around Tillets Fields gave us plenty of Purple Hairstreaks but as with my previous visit they stayed mostly in the tops of the trees. Fortunately one did drop out of the skies at our feet. It was a bit tatty but still worth recording.

Purple Hairstreak  - Tillets Fields

Dave also spotted a Brown Haistreak at Tillets but unfortunately it was gone by the time I got there.

Red Admiral  -  Houghton Forest

Red Admiral -  Houghton Forest

Speckled Wood  -  Madgeland Woods

Houghton Forest also had the largest number of Dragonflies that I have seen in one small location. I reckon around 40 in the area where we park the car although they weren't exactly lining up to be counted. They looked like Darters and Hawkers but none were landing to enable a definite identification. We also saw large numbers of Southern Hawkers at Madgeland Woods and these were a bit more obliging.

Southern Hawker

Southern Hawker

I am missing a few of my usual butterflies this year, White Admiral, Purple Emperor, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, White Hairstreak, plus all the northern species but overall it has been a good year. There is also still a chance of connecting with Brown Hairstreaks and Clouded Yellows before the month is out and maybe even a late Long-tailed Blue so I need to keep looking.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Silver-spotted Skipper

The weather forecast for the rest of the week was not looking good, so the chance of a few hours out this morning, before the rain was due to set in, was too good to miss. Butterflies have been the main theme over the past few weeks and today was no different. The target was the Silver-spotted Skipper and the best place to find them, for us, is on Newtimber Hill, just to the east of Devils Dyke.

It was a cool morning but there was just enough warmth to get a few butterflies moving. Unfortunately most of those were Meadow Browns. The Silver-spots are a butterfly of the hot summer months and today obviously did not suit them, they were mostly staying hidden in the long grass. 

Silver-spotted Skipper

We did eventually get a few picture opportunities where they had crawled out onto flower heads to warm up their wings or to nectar but it took a lot of searching.

There were also a few Chalkhill Blues flying. These were much more obliging and were happy to sit out on flower stems to have their pictures taken.

Chalkhill Blue

I assume that the two females shown below are Chalkhill Blues but it is very difficult to tell them from female Adonis Blue. You really need to see the upper side of their wings.

The following are a few pictures from last Friday. I had stopped off at Pulborough Brooks RSPB to stock up on birdfood and with an hour to spare I had time for a quick trip around the hides.

Small Copper

There was very little showing. One Small Copper, just a hint of Hairstreaks high in a couple of the Oak and Ash trees, one distant Common Sandpiper, and best of all a Green Sandpiper close to Winpenny Hide.

Green Sandpiper

It is really nice to get a picture of a bird on the blog again. They have been in short supply of late. It is a good reminder that the summer doldrums are coming to an end and that the birds will soon be on the move.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Small Copper

The blog is called "Small Copper" as this is probably my favourite butterfly and this is the first one that I have seen this year. It is always a joy to see but it seems to be getting rarer each year.

Actually the day was really about another butterfly. I have been commenting a lot recently about the shortage of blue butterflies this year. Today that all changed. We went up onto Windover Hill and there were Chalkhill Blues everywhere. The numbers probably ran into the thousands and that was just in the areas we walked through.

The classic shot is of a Chalkhill nectaring on Knapweed but there was little chance of that today. The wind was blowing strong across the hill and the butterflies were staying low.

The Chalkhills are very variable in appearance, with lots of identified aberrations and they were a great favourite of the Victorian collectors.

Ninety percent or more of the Chalkhills flying were male, although the more secretive females were starting to put in more of an appearance as the day wore on. With that number of males flying, I can understand why the females were staying hidden.

We also found a good number of Grayling although perhaps not to the levels we had seen in previous years.

This is a butterfly that is reluctant to fly, relying on its cryptic camouflage to keep it hidden. It can be difficult to spot unless it takes to the air and even when you know where it landed it is difficult to find.

After much searching and chasing up and down a forty five degree slope I did manage to get a few shots were more detail could be seen. Although some of it is not very pleasant.

In the shot above the eye on the upper wing is just starting to emerge. Th butterfly will often flick this up to frighten off potential predators.

These two shots show examples of infestation by the larvae of the mite Trombidium breei. These live on the blood of the butterfly and can often be found on a large proportion of the colony. It is not quite as bad as it looks. The larvae only stay attached for two or three days, although of course some butterflies only live a few days. Investigation has shown no evidence of the mite affecting the lifespan or within habitat movement rates of the butterflies. 

If you want more information click on the link below.

See also my blog of July 2014 showing a female Chalkhill Blue carrying at least fifteen of these mite larve.

There were a good number of other butterfly around today. Dark Green Fritillary, Small Skipper, Large Skippers, Whites, Peacock, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Small Heath, Meadow Brown, Ringlets, Gatekeeper, Marbled White, Common Blue, Tortoiseshell, and a possible but very elusive Silver Spotted Skipper. 

We also had a Migrant Hawker, shown below.

A good day with more butterflies in both quantity and variety than I have seen so far this year. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Purple Hairstreak

Purple Hairstreaks but you'll not see much Purple here. They were coming down from the tree tops to nectar but they would not oblige with an open wing shot. This has always been one of my bogey butterflies. I see plenty of them but I just cannot get the pictures that I want.

We had travelled down to Alners Gorse, it being one of the best sites in the country to observe these butterflies. They normally frequent the tops of Alder and Oak trees feeding on honeydew deposited by aphids and have no need to come down to ground level. This limits your photographic opportunities.

There were plenty about and as the day warmed up a few started to come down to nectar, with the Alder Buckthorn appearing to be their favoured plant.

Once settled they are fairly docile and easy to approach to observe and photograph but they do tend to stay high in the bushes and you need to pick your spot to get the best views. You also of course need to get them to open their wings to see the purple colouration. They feed with their wings closed, although unusually for Hairstreaks they do occasionally bask in the sun with their wings open.

This is the closest I got to an open wing shot but it looks like a male which are a duller colour and it looks as though it is past its best. You also need to photograph it from above for the sun to pick out the purple colour.

There were of course a few fellow enthusiasts about to give you the usual message - "should have been here yesterday" - "Lots of Purples down low, and basking in the sun with open wings"

Can't really complain. We saw lots of butterflies and these are better pictures than I had at the start of the day.

I also snapped this Red Admiral. I didn't realise until I got home that it is an aberration. It has an extra white spot in the orange band on each forewing. Checking on the web it is ab. bialbata.

Perhaps the most surprising thing of the day was that we did not see a single blue butterfly all day. I really seems to have been a strange season.