Neil Hulme

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Thu May 06, 2010 7:45 am

Heyshott Down

On Tuesday (4th May) I visited the stunningly beautiful Heyshott Down (near Midhurst), meeting John Murray of the Murray Downland Trust, and BC Sussex friends Colin Knight and Roger Martin. The MDT are doing a fantastic job in managing this site for Duke of Burgundy - although many other interesting species also live on these long-abandoned chalk workings.

In order to assess the effectiveness of ongoing habitat management, it is essential to accurately record how the population is reacting. As it has become increasingly difficult for me to 'look after' all of the 'Duke' sites across West Sussex, the assistance offered by Colin and Roger, in regularly surveying Heyshott, is much appreciated. We walked the escapment and designed a survey route and method to hopefully gain an accurate picture of the increasing butterfly numbers. This is not a strictly defined Transect as such, which is a method that fails to adequately assess 'Duke' numbers in particular (being a 'successional' species, it shifts between different areas over time), but more of a 'single species timed count'. We want to see those graphs and histograms moving one way only!

The cold northerly winds and grey skies scuppered our hopes of seeing Duke of Burgundy on the day, but short periods of sunshine eventually moved the odd Grizzled and Dingy Skipper.

GS Heyshott UKB.jpg
DS Heyshott UKB.jpg

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Fri May 07, 2010 9:43 pm

Wood White Wind-up

On Wednesday (5th May) I met Simon Mockford of the South Downs Joint Committee and WSCC Ranger John Knight, both being enthusiastic supporters of local conservation work for butterflies. Duke of Burgundy, Grizzled Skipper and several other species appeared before us as we talked, as if to show their appreciation of our efforts. A freshly-emerged Speckled Wood posed on a beech log for some photographs before I headed off in search of Wood White.

Grizzled 2 UKB 5.5.10.jpg
Speckled Wood UKB 5.5.10.jpg

It wasn't long after reaching Botany Bay, near the Sussex/Surrey border, before I came across Wood Whites fluttering along the track in that characteristically aimless manner. Now don't get me wrong, I'm delighted with this image of a Wood White sitting on an Early Purple Orchid - but just prior to me finally attaching an adaptor and lens, after fumbling/dropping/cursing for several minutes, there had been two there! Of course it was a 'couple', sitting face-to-face, waving their heads, flicking their tongues and bashing 'antlers' with each other. Will I ever get another chance at that shot? Who knows, but that's all part of the fun..... I think!

Wood White UKB 5.5.10.jpg

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Fri May 07, 2010 10:14 pm

More Dukes And PBFs

Yesterday I met up with Matthew Oates and local GP Dr Martin Kalaher, touring some of the more scenic parts of West Sussex. Martin is an expert on the Honey Buzzard and Red Kite and it soon became clear, after listening to tales of his painstaking research work, that he'll make an excellent Purple Emperor worker! I'm not sure what he made of Matthew's car head-lining, after we all piled into the Oatesmobile (see below).

's car interior .jpg

Our first venue was far from productive. Duke of Burgundy are very late in emerging on some of the north-facing slopes this year, after being blasted head-on by cold winds for some time now. However, the second venue was more sheltered and we saw nine, including three freshly-emerged females. That might not sound like many, but it's a 200% increase over the 2009 maximum daily count, after this colony was discovered and saved just in the nick of time.

Male Duke 6.5.10.jpg
Female Duke 6.5.10.jpg

After fruitlessly searching a 'possible' new Duke site, we headed to Rewell Wood for Pearl-bordered Fritillaries. These provided a colourful end to a great day out.

Male PBF 6.5.10.jpg

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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Sun May 09, 2010 8:07 am

Taras At Last!

One of my long-held ambitions has been to see and photograph the beautiful taras aberration of the Grizzled Skipper. Last year I photographed the slightly less 'extreme' aberrant intermedia in Beckley Woods (East Sussex), but the hunt was still on. So I was delighted to get a call from local BC hero Michael Blencowe, telling me he had found 'one, possibly two' in a private woodland that the Sussex Branch is being paid to survey (a nice way to generate funds for further conservation work!). I travelled there at a velocity approaching the national speed limit :wink: and was pleased to spot one immediately. It didn't take long to differentiate three specimens of taras, on the basis of their slighly variable ornament (two individuals below) and degree of 'wear and tear'. Very pleased!

taras1 UKB.jpg
taras2 UKB.jpg
taras3 UKB.jpg
taras4 UKB.jpg

Afterwards we travelled on to our Park Corner Heath Reserve and newly-acquired Rowland Wood extension. The habitat works performed by Michael and his band of trusty volunteers looks excellent. The re-shaping of Rowland has only just started (a brief window of opportunity last winter), but the potential here is already crystal clear. By the start of the 2011 season this will start to look like one of the best bits of 'butterfly woodland' in the SE.

As the sun was still shining we travelled onwards to Abbotts Wood, but it soon became obvious that the PBFs had turned in for the night. Re-introductions of butterflies are notoriously difficult to achieve, so the recent tally of 100+ PBFs on the wing makes this project a major success story.

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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Trev Sawyer » Sun May 09, 2010 8:54 am

Superb stuff Neil,
Knowing my affinity with the Grizzled Skipper, you mentioned these to me at the photography workshop. Glad you got to take such good shots - they really are lovely little insects aren't they.

Trev

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Sun May 09, 2010 9:15 am

Hi Trev,
Sex on wings! :D
Neil

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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby traplican » Mon May 10, 2010 7:22 pm

I have a similar photo of Grizzled Skipper. I have noted a very light Grizzled Skipper with large white spots and succeeded in snapping one photo only:

http://traplican.rajce.idnes.cz/Motyli_2010-05-08/#10508_064.jpg

Is it the taras aberation?
Jan Jurníček

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Mon May 10, 2010 10:32 pm

Hi traplican,
That's the slightly less 'extreme' aberration intermedia.
Neil

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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Tue May 11, 2010 8:38 pm

Dukes Still Struggling With Cold Weather

This seemingly endless run of cold, northerly winds and low overnight temperatures can only suppress the emergence of species such as the Duke of Burgundy for so long! Today I visited a private site where a strong and healthy population exists, to find a 'mass emergence' underway in what can only be described as unsuitably cold conditions. Throughout the morning fresh specimens appeared around me, only to encounter temperatures (12 degrees) that are borderline for the species to operate at. Recently-emerged specimens are always a little clumsy on the wing for the first few hours, as their wings dry off, but even those that had been around for a few days were flying very weakly. As so many specimens were lying around in the grass, desperately trying to heat up during the brief periods of sunshine, I decided to suspend a cross-site survey for fear of treading on one!

I watched three virgin females take their first flights, which would usually trigger an immediate response from amorous males. However, the low temperature appeared to preclude courtship, and as many Dukes retired to stunted beech trees during the particularly overcast and cold spells, I watched a virgin female sitting very close to two males - atypically unmolested! These conditions made for a rare photographic opportunity. Female Dukes are usually very discreet and are only really seen while out on egg-laying runs, when they are constantly fidgeting over cowslips or primroses. So it was a chance to get a really close look at the bloated abdomen of a static female. This inflated 'bag of eggs' seemed quite cumbersome to drag around! When the sun did break through the butterflies would gradually open their wings, giving wonderful views of both top and undersides. When the weather warms up I'll be back to count them properly.

Male Duke at rest on beech
Male Duke on beech.jpg

Female Duke at rest on beech
Female Duke on beech.jpg

'Bag of eggs'
Female Duke underside.jpg

Take-off!
Female Duke lifts off.jpg

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Wed May 12, 2010 9:26 pm

Out With The RSPB

Today I led a walk on the stunningly beautiful Heyshott Down near Midhurst, primarily for a local RSPB group, but open to BC members too. This SSSI/reserve is managed by the Murray Downland Trust, who are doing a fabulous job of improving the habitat for the Duke of Burgundy - our main target species.

Heyshott UKB 12.5.10.jpg

Almost all of the seven Dukes we saw had emerged that morning, so they sat around drying off their wings in a most obliging manner. With a crowd of 30 people it is sometimes difficult for everyone to get a good view of the butterflies, so I teased a Duke onto my finger and showed it around, so that all could get a good view of the underside markings. For most of the RSPB contingent this was their first sight of the species, and they seemed suitably impressed with this little gem of a butterfly.

Showing a Duke to the crowd UKB.jpg

The Dingy Skippers are only just out here too, so they were still nice and fresh-looking. As cloud moved in for a while one went into typical 'Dingy roost mode', wrapping its wings around itself like Batman's cape!

Dingy Heyshott UKB 12.5.10.jpg
Dingy2 Heyshott UKB 12.5.10.jpg

Other species seen included Green Hairstreak, Grizzled Skipper, Small Heath, Orange Tip and Green-veined White. All in all a good day out.

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Jack Harrison
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Jack Harrison » Thu May 13, 2010 6:21 am

Neil.

Clearly you have unsurpassed knowledge about the Duke and its requirements. The Duke is often considered to be England’s most endangered species and you are making a valuable contribution in that direction. Sorry I meant to say that you are making a valuable contribution to aid its survival :)

You seem to know of numerous colonies (many on private ground – thanks for showing me one a couple of weeks ago). Doubtless many colonies remain undiscovered. The Duke’s requirements, eg cowslip/primrose in warm sheltered localities where the plants do not become desiccated, don’t seem to be too demanding. So just how endangered is the Duke in England?

Incidentally, long before we adopted modern – and sensible conservation procedures – I found it very easy to breed in captivity. Caterpillars from eggs found in the wild fed quite happily on ordinary garden primulas the resulting adults being returned to the original locality. (Westbury Hill below the White Horse if you anyone is interested).

Jack

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Thu May 13, 2010 9:19 pm

Hi Jack,

Thanks for your comments. I could write reams on this, but for now I'll keep it brief! The diagram below is something I put together a few years back, showing what makes a Sussex downland Duke colony 'tick'. It doesn't apply in whole to sites elsewhere, and certainly not to those up North, but some of the basic principles are common to all Duke sites. In a nutshell it's all about the food plant growth-form ..... or certainly mainly so.

Sussex DoB Habitat Requirements.jpg

So your comment "The Duke’s requirements, eg cowslip/primrose in warm sheltered localities where the plants do not become desiccated, don’t seem to be too demanding" does hold true. The trouble is that many sites might look like that now (they do in Sussex), but lots of them have not always looked this way, either through changes in land usage, grazing regime etc. It doesn't take long to graze the Duke off a site! These days the problem is getting it back, when the habitat again becomes suitable for whatever reason. Being a successional species it is used to moving from one habitat patch to another - but it doesn't travel well. Populations are now so fragmented and isolated that areas that today look suitable are simply out-of-reach of potential colonisers. Landscape-scale conservation is the only way forward.

Yes, there are still colonies out there to be discovered, but there is absolutely no doubt that the species is in dire trouble! Of the c.80 known colonies we still have left in the UK, the vast majority will have peak daily adult counts amounting to no more than 'a handful'. That's not many butterflies!

If the species is to be saved it is imperative that we get it back into its traditional habitat of well-managed woodlands. While its current stronghold remains on scrubby, calcicolous grassland it will always be in danger, not least from 'conservation grazing' (with sheep). If I get onto that point I'll still be typing at midnight!

Neil

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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Sun May 16, 2010 10:40 am

Counting Dukes

Last Thursday (13th May) I met up with Judith and Jim Steedman to count Duke of Burgundy on one of our conservation sites. It's always a pleasure to spend a day in the company of people that have contributed so much to the Sussex Branch of BC over many, many years - and still continue to offer words of wisdom to the younger generation of committee members.

As has been so often the case this spring, the weather was against us. However, even under a blanket of grey cloud and low temperatures we still managed to find 23 Dukes. Knowing that this represented only a relatively small proportion of what was likely to be here, I made plans to return as soon as conditions improved.

Rather than photograph the Dukes again (Hannah always asks me "how many photos of them do you need?" - to which I reply "I can tell you precisely how many I've got, but I can't tell you how many I need"), I decided to photograph the Orange Tips. It won't be long before the numbers of 'Mr Lewington's Favourite' sadly start to drop. I also managed some shots of Dingy Skipper, another species that looks set to benefit from the habitat management work done here, primarily for the benefit of His Grace.

Orange Tip 2 on Wood Spurge 13.5.10.jpg
Orange Tip on Wood Spurge 13.5.10.jpg
Dingy Skipper 13.5.10.jpg

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Jack Harrison
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Jack Harrison » Sun May 16, 2010 11:21 am

Sussex Kipper wrote:
Hannah always asks me "how many photos of them do you need?"
Ask her how many different seemingly identical pairs of shoes* she needs.

*Substitute appropriate item of attire.

Jack

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Sun May 16, 2010 8:20 pm

Weatherbadger Signals 'Wind Of Change'

I was beginning to think my nextdoor neighbour might be right when he recently joked that I might have accidentally painted the weatherbadger on my garage roof into a permanent position! It hadn't moved from indicating northerly winds since he saw me crawling across the roof with a tin of Japlac in my hand. So it was quite a relief when it turned to the southwest last Thursday.

Weatherbadger.jpg

With temperatures rising nicely on Friday (14th May), I joined Dr Martin Kalaher to look at a number of sites along the North-facing escarpment of the South Downs. We saw a lot of butterflies (at last!), including good numbers of Duke of Burgundy and some 2010 'firsts' for me - Small Blue, Common Blue and Brown Argus. There was some full-on butterfly violence going on in one meadow we visited, with a male Duke of Burgundy beating up 3 Dingy Skippers and a Common Blue simultaneously.

Common Blue 14.5.10.jpg

But the real stars of today's show were Green Hairstreaks, which had undergone a mass emergence. We saw 17 pristine specimens, including a mating pair. With male butterflies invariably emerging in advance of the females, mating shots usually include a male that's 'been around a bit', so I was particularly pleased to find this couple, as both were in mint condition. Happy days!

Mating Pair Green Hairstreak.jpg

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Mon May 17, 2010 8:56 pm

Committee Day Out

On Saturday (15th May) I organised a day out with BC Sussex committee members, to look at our strongest Duke of Burgundy colony on private estate land. The reasons for this were two-fold; firstly to show where the money I annually request for committee 'clearance' goes, and how the conservation effort here is meeting with success; and secondly, to provide a rare opportunity to see this species in really high numbers, in recognition of all their hard work for the Branch. There may also have been an ulterior motive in getting help with the count!

One of the reasons that this population is thriving is that we are either maintaining or creating a mixture of habitat types, all of which are agreeable to the Duke! Woodland ride, coppice, areas of lightly and more heavily scrubbed chalk grassland, and conifer plantation (suitable until the trees get too tall) are all present, and the abundant cowslips and primroses are both used.

Despite sub-optimal weather conditions we counted 53 males and 3 females on the main site, and 2 males on a small satellite colony. Today (17th May) I returned to count 69 and 3 individuals respectively. It is a very sad fact that these numbers only persist on a handful of sites in the UK.

Female Duke on Cowslip 15.5.10.jpg

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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Tue May 18, 2010 12:32 pm

Weather Beaten!

Eleven people attended my BC walk on Mill Hill at Shoreham on Sunday afternoon (16th May). Despite overcast skies and a strong, cold wind, the butterflies performed well! Many stayed on after the official end of the walk, eventually enjoying spells of quite warm, late afternoon sunshine - and some fabulous butterflies. Approximately 25 pristine Adonis Blues provided the 'star turn', including a mating pair. Several other chocolate-brown females were seen. Other species included Dingy Skipper (15), Grizzled Skipper (3), Common Blue (2), Green Hairstreak (1), Small Copper (1), Brown Argus (1), Small Heath (2) and Holly Blue (1). Those that showed a lot of faith in turning up on such a dreary Sunday afternoon went home very happy. It was great to see the look of amazement on one or two faces, as a male Adonis Blue slowly opened its wings, giving them their first ever view of this living sapphire.

Adonis Pair 16.5.10.jpg

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Thu May 20, 2010 7:36 am

Small But Beautifully Marked

On Monday (17th May) I visited the Downs above Amberley, to photograph the recently-emerged Small Blues here. I bumped into M_galathea, who had spent a very rewarding day wandering around this part of West Sussex (see his diary). We started off by spotting a roosting Common Blue, as the first part of my visit was under cloudy skies.

Roosting Common Blue 17.5.10.jpg

However, it wasn't long before the sun finally broke through the clouds and other species started to show themselves. But I only had eyes for the beautiful Small Blue, which although still in low numbers, put on a good show for us. This species can be quite variable in both size and colour. Last year I photographed a female that was the size of a Common Blue, and I've seen others so small that they could probably be beaten-up by a lacewing! The females are sometimes quite brownish, but we soon found what I was looking for - a male the colour of that dark blue Quink Ink I used in my schooldays.

Small Blue on cowslip 17.5.10.jpg
Small Blue2 on cowslip 17.5.10.jpg
Small Blue2 17.5.10.jpg

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Fri May 21, 2010 11:54 pm

Adonis Blues

On Wednesday (18th May) I headed for Mill Hill at Shoreham, to look at the rapidly building flight of Adonis Blues. It was a little late in the day to get the best from the site, although I did manage to get a few nice underside shots of the butterflies at roost.

Adonis2 Mill Hill 18.5.10.jpg
Adonis3 Mill Hill 18.5.10.jpg

On Thursday, as I watched the thick mist starting to allow the first rays of milky sunshine through (perfect for photography) I was out of my office and in the car in minutes! The mist and low cloud came and went throughout the rest of the afternoon, suppressing occasional bursts of butterfly activity. There must have been in excess of 100 fresh Adonis here, with quite a few females and a couple of mating pairs. When they 'put down', during cooler periods, the males littered the grass around me, open-winged and making a stunningly beautiful picture. It was interesting to watch, as the temperatures rose again, that the females were able to 'operate' in slightly cooler conditions than the males. While the 'sapphires' still languished in the grass, the females were already up and egg-laying. This is because their chocolate-brown wings absorb the heat more rapidly - a very sensible strategy when egg-laying is so much more important than just looking pretty!

Adonis Male Mill Hill 19.5.10.jpg
Adonis Female Mill Hill 19.5.10.jpg
Adonis1 Mill Hill 18.5.10.jpg

As the air once again became awash with patrolling males, I noticed one that stood out from the rest, about 30 metres up on the steeper slopes. I immediately gave chase, sensing this might be something 'a little special' - more of which later!

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Neil Hulme
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Re: Sussex Kipper

Postby Neil Hulme » Sat May 22, 2010 10:14 pm

polonus!

As I got closer to the blue butterfly that concluded my last diary entry, I started to get more than a little excited! I was pretty sure that this was Polyommatus coridon ab. polonus (Zeller, 1845), which in fact is not an aberration of the Chalkhill Blue at all! 'Pollonus' is the rare hybrid between the Adonis Blue and Chalkhill Blue, and more aptly attributed the label Polyommatus bellargus x coridon - for me, a bit of a 'mythical beast'. It clearly has characteristics of the males of both species. Although I didn't get a shot of the underside, this was very pale and more akin to the underside of a male Chalkhill Blue. Happy with my topside shots I returned home and started seeking a more expert opinion.

Although I was pretty confident of my identification, I sought the opinions of UKB's own Piers Vigus (Felix) and Rupert Barrington - both top 'abs' men. Here is an excerpt from the reply I received from Rupert (I'm most grateful!).

"Yes, that hits me between the eyes as polonus, without a doubt. A really beautiful example (and an excellent photo).
It is a very early specimen too. .......... most have been recorded towards the end of the first Adonis brood, in late June (i.e. to some degree it emerges between the main emergence period of both species, as you might expect).
I am certain it has never been recorded at Mill Hill before. The late Robert Craske, the famous Sussex variety hunter, found just one in his lifetime. I don't know where it came from, but I am sure it was not Mill Hill. The other famous Sussex variety hunter, Reverend John Marcon, also captured one specimen, but again not from Mill Hill.
No one has yet managed to create this hybrid in captivity, although I don't think much effort has been made to do so.
The hybrid is known from the continent too and chromosome analysis has proven such specimens to be genuine hybrids."

Piers had been even quicker off the mark, confidently pronouncing it as polonus. Although Piers is aware of a few more specimens than the estimate given by Rupert, it is without doubt a rare and very beautiful insect. Many thanks to both Rupert and Piers for their replies.

bellargus x coridon Mill Hill 19.5.10.jpg


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