Peppered Leopard

Many years ago I sold the moth light trap I had as a child, as I gave up all possessions to pursue an itinerary life free from the trappings of a society I wanted no part of. You can read more about this in my book, Coming Home for Good.

Now in my 50s, with my love of nature growing ever deeper and even more integral to the faith I discovered during that time on the road in my youth, it’s been wonderful not only to enjoy having a moth trap again but also to share the anticipation and thrill of opening it up in the morning with my 8-year-old daughter, who seems to be even more excited and fascinated than I am!

This morning, amongst quite a number of moths, we shared the wonder of two black-and-white beauties with rhyming names:

Leopard 1
Leopard

This Leopard moth, with its striking 6-spotted thorax.

And the equally attractive Peppered moth:

Peppered
Peppered moth

One other especially photo-worthy catch (but which unfortunately doesn’t rhyme with the other two) was this Buff Ermine:

Buff Ermine
Antenna reflections: Buff Ermine

One of the great things about the moth trap is discovering all these nocturnal marvels that we would never otherwise realise were all around our urban home.

 


(All photos taken by me today, but not copyright – i.e. feel free to use them, with my blessing!)

May bugs and June moths

My birthday’s in October, so having purchased a moth light trap with birthday money last year, the trap is only now beginning to come into its own.

After a few dull brown moths and the occasional slightly more interesting specimen during the earlier months of the year, it was with some excitement that we finally had our first hawk moth this week, in mid-June.

Elephant hawk 4
Elephant Hawk Moth

So I promptly enjoyed taking these pics before releasing it on to the honeysuckle at the bottom of our garden, where I hoped it might feed when dusk fell that evening.

Elephant hawk 3
Face to face with Nature

Such incredible colours Nature has given to these creatures.

Elephant hawk 2

 

Elephant hawk

Keeping the Elephant Hawk and a few other moths company in the trap that morning was a Cockchafer.

Not unusual for a Maybug, as it’s also known, to be attracted to light, but it’s a handsome hunk of a beetle, with these striking, fan-like antennae…

Cockchafer
Eye-to-eye

and I have to admit I’m rather proud of these two head-on pics in particular.

Cockchafer 1
Give us a wave!

(All photos taken by me, but not copyright – i.e. feel free to use them, with my blessing!)

Battle of Elephants

In my book, Coming Home for Good, I reminisced about some of the wildlife highlights of my childhood, as a budding young naturalist growing up in rural Sussex – including my excited discovery of Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars one day, on willowherb next to a secluded lake that I’d often visit. I delightedly took those 3 or 4 elephantine larvae home and reared them through to the gaudy pink and green adult moths before releasing them into the wild.

Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar – photo taken today

For my young mind, it was such an incredible and unique find, that ever since that day, whenever I see willowherb (which, as it’s very common, is a lot of the time!) I look out for these caterpillars, just in case I might find them again.

So, when I came across two Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars in Battle Great Wood today, for the first time in 40 years, with a chance to photograph them, I was filled with excitement.

I’d understand if, to you, these creatures simply look fascinating, strange, scary, ugly, beautiful, or whatever. To me, they’re certainly beautiful and fascinating, but they also provide a link to the happier elements of an often-unhappy childhood. And I was thrilled.

As mentioned in my last post, The Leaves of the Trees, there are many – and mounting – reasons to (re)connect with nature. Coming Home for Good is an autobiography about my reconnecting with God, myself, my father and my future – a homecoming of many kinds – and my ongoing and increasing love of nature is an important part of that continued homecoming, or self-discovery. Or reconnection with self.

But as explained further in About, aside from all those spiritual and psychological facets, I simply love nature for nature’s sake. So this blog is sometimes simply my nature journal and photo gallery. Hence the following notes and pics…

According to my moths book, Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars are usually found late-June to September, so these specimens in Great Wood are somewhat late, and no doubt close to pupation.

More timely was this female Brimstone – a species often found in Autumn.

However, I’ve hardly ever found a chance to photograph one, so this occasion was a rare and valued treat, as the butterfly soaked in the sun and shimmered brilliantly on the bracken.  

Purple Heather, growing through a fungus

I’ve never really explored this woodland before, but I’ll definitely be back to explore some more, as today Battle Great Wood was truly ‘Great’.

[All photos taken by me today (10/10/19) in Battle Great Wood, near Battle, East Sussex, UK, while Gorka, my ‘Heinz 57’ dog, waited for the most part patiently and sometimes sullenly…]

An Admirable Autumn

It’s been a bumper year for Painted Ladies, as reported in many places, with the Big Butterfly Count revealing the spectacularly super-flying migrant as the most prolific butterfly of 2019.

Painted Lady, June 2019

But if the count were carried out now, in September, the Red Admiral would surely win hands-down. Or wings down.

Red Admiral, this summer

They’ve been blooming everywhere this month! Buddleias, at least, seem to be teeming with them. Including the large bush that overhangs our patio from next door. On one day there were about 10 Red Admirals at once on this particular buddleia.

Red Admiral, Sept 2019

We then also have the delight in watching them settle on the fence or bird-table, wings open, catching the sun.

The Painted Lady bonanza hit the headlines because it only happens about every 10 years and because of the incredible 1000s of miles the species flies from Africa to British shores.

Painted Lady, June 2019

The Red Admiral fest may not be so newsworthy, but has been equally enjoyable, and worthy of logging here – for my own reference, at least.

This Red Admiral, which had been feeding on the buddleia that overhangs our garden, settled next to the left-over rice we’d put out on our bird-table. It seemed more interested in the rice than the birds had been.

Let’s keep enjoying the everyday as well as the unusual.

Butterflies in the Belfry

I’ve written before, in Life out of Death, about the wildlife habitat that is the ruins of the strikingly photogenic Old St Helen’s Church, one of the oldest buildings in Hastings. During last year’s hot summer it was a joy to see the old, disused graveyard teeming with butterflies.

I rarely use filters but Old St Helen’s Church is just made for photo effects!

This summer I’ve been longing for a chance to go back and see the butterflies there again, take some more photos, and check on the prevalence of the Common Blue that was so…common there last year. It’s been predicted that this is going to be a bumper year for the brilliant blue, British butterfly, yet I’ve seen very few so far this summer (although plenty of Holly Blues).

Today I managed to grab a few minutes to visit the site and was pleasantly relieved to see quite a number of Common Blues there again.

Common Blue, today

Even more excitingly, though, I spotted at least two Brown Argus (and took the photo below). Like other butterflies I’ve reported on in previous blog posts, this pretty, petite butterfly is a species I’d normally associate with the countryside, especially downland, so to see them populating this wild patch of urbanity is sheer delight.

Some time I intend to make an attempt at writing some reflections I’ve been pondering about the harmony of man and nature. But for now suffice to say that this little area, although abandoned in terms of its original use as a place of worship (but now conserved by Sussex Heritage Trust together with local community groups), is thriving with living colours of the Creator, giving rise to a different expression of worship.

One in which nature sings with vibrant wings.

Urban Butterflies

One of the many things I love about Hastings is its large green spaces, with their surprisingly rich habitats.

Four-spotted Chaser, just outside Hastings town centre, July 2019

I’m talking here about parks and woods that are part & parcel of actual urban Hastings & St Leonards, not Hastings Country Park or any of the other scenic surrounding areas.

Hoverfly on Oxeye Daisy, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019

This week, for the first time that I remember, I saw a Ringlet on the edge of Summerfields Woods (a 5-minute walk from the town centre): a butterfly I’d normally associate with the countryside. I don’t have a photo to show you as I didn’t have my camera with me…

But it prompted me to post a slightly nerdy list of the butterflies I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in urban Hastings & St Leonards over the last few years, interspersed with a few photos I’ve taken in these areas. I’ve left some of the rarer treats till the end of the list:

  • Speckled Wood (probably the most prolific butterfly in Summerfields Woods)
Speckled Wood, Summerfields Woods
  • Meadow Brown
  • Ringlet
  • Gatekeeper
  • Small Copper (quite a few in and around Summerfields Woods and White Rock Gardens)
Small Copper, Summerfields Woods, July 2018
  • Comma (lots on bramble flowers especially)
  • Painted Lady (also around the brambles)
Painted Lady, edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019
Painted Lady, edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019
  • Red Admiral
  • Peacock (I used to find their caterpillars as well, but haven’t done in recent years. I think this butterfly has declined here.) †
  • Small Tortoiseshell
  • Orange-tip
  • All the usual Whites (Small, Large, Green-veined)
  • Brimstone
  • Large Skipper
Large Skipper, Summerfields Woods, July 2019
Large Skipper, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019
  • Holly Blue
  • Common Blue
Holly Blue, on the wall of Bohemia Walled Garden, Summerfields Woods
Female Common Blue, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2019
  • White-letter Hairstreak (a very special treat, last July)
White-letter Hairstreak, edge of Summerfields Woods, July 2018
  • Purple Hairstreak (just one at the end of the season a few years ago, again on the edge of Summerfields Woods)
  • Clouded Yellow (a few in White Rock Gardens, where I guess is a first stopping point after crossing the Channel)
  • White Admiral (just one fairly ragged specimen at end of season, in the woods at the top of Alexandra Park)

There may be one or two others that I’ve forgotten.

Hopefully there will be a few more to add to the list as time goes on.

Longhorn Beetle (Rutpela maculate), edge of Summerfields Woods, June 2019

In the meantime, it’s good to remember not only that Nature is unstoppable even in the face of humanity’s urbanisation, but also that humanity is in fact part of Nature.

We do well to acknowledge this oneness and thus rediscover our divinely-ordained harmony with all things.

Cockchafer (aka Maybug) on my hand, Briscoe’s Walk, June 2019

Maybugs

Last night we saw 2 Cockchafers – aka Maybugs (or Melolontha melolontha) – on Briscoe’s Walk, just up the road from our house, where we walk Gorka, our dog, in the evening.

Again today I saw 2 or 3 of these scarab beetles as I was walking back home with Gorka just after 9pm, as the sun was setting.

I stuck around to see if I could get a photo or two. As I waited, more and more Maybugs appeared out of their slumber, until about 20 of them could be seen whirring around the tops of the trees.

Unfortunately they weren’t coming down low enough for me to get a photo. And the light was fading fast.

I eventually discovered that Gorka was sniffing at the occasional one that did land on the ground, so I was able to pick one up and photograph it on my hand.

The light by now was very low, and the pictures not that great. †

But a wonderful sight, to see this little swarm of bumbling beetles on this warm June night.

Beetlemania

The other day, in Small Is Beautiful I wrote about a particular, magnificent patch of wildflowers on the edge of Summerfields Woods, that had thankfully escaped the clutches of various municipal lawnmowers.

The same patch that had provided inspiration for Champion Campion and Weed or Wildflower?

Today, in the very same area, I had the delight of watching and snapping this Rutpela maculata (aka Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle).

Longhorn Beetle on Oxeye Daisy

I love this next view of the beetle peering into a foxglove flower in search of nectar.

This tiny patch of flowers is so dense with wildlife – it just keeps on producing more surprises and delights. I’m sure there will be even more to come….

First Ladies and Skippers

Things are hotting up for butterflies around Summerfields Woods in Hastings during this warm spell. Meadow Browns and Large Skippers are coming out in force.

Large Skipper

And today was the first day this year that I’ve seen that famously marathon-flying migrant, the Painted Lady. There were a few of them there today, enjoying the blackberry flowers on the edge of the woods, near the ambulance station.

Painted Lady today, Summerfields Woods

The area must be no more be no more than about 200 metres from the seafront as the crow (or butterfly) flies.

So my guess is that these specimens had just arrived from their ultra-long journey from the continent, perhaps even North Africa.

You can just see a second Painted Lady in the background here

This was probably their first stopping point, replenishing their energy on that bramble nectar.

Ladybird thrown in for free!

Watching these elegant and exotic visitors, knowing they were nourishing themselves at the end of such a mammoth trek, was quite a privilege.

Buzzing with Life

White Rock Gardens in Hastings is a bit of a wildlife haven. Partly because it’s so close to the sea, so it’s a stopping-point for migrants like the Clouded Yellow butterfly (which I’ve seen here a number of times). But also because the flowerbeds are magnificently designed and meticulously maintained, boasting a vast wealth of horticultural colours at this time of year.

So much so, that these beds are vibrant right now with many species of bees and other insects. During a short break from work today I started photographing some of the flowers and their nectar-collecting visitors. Here are some of the best of the pics.

Busy bee in a red sea
(White-tailed bumble bee)
Take a look inside
(White-tailed bumble bee)
Corymbia rubra (I think!)
Anyone know what this insect is? Feel free to reply in the Comments.
…and another White-tail
Drone-fly (I think?)

Good to know that, in this part of the world at least, the bee population (not to mention other insects) is alive and well.

Thank you to whoever it is that maintains the Gardens, providing a rich source of food for our important friends.