A. iris is best seen through the early
morning and again during the late afternoon, when the males come down to the
ground, on hot humid days, to take in nutrients from damp earth and animal
droppings. They are also partial to human sweat - a key component of Emperor
watching - and readily land on observers. Despite this ‘grounding’ behaviour, both
males and females spend much of their time resting or feeding high within their arboreal home and out of sight.
The above image shows a male feeding on honeydew high in the oak canopy.
is turning out to be a very early season for many species of butterfly. My
first sighting of iris this year came
on Saturday, 17th June when I recorded three males and a female in Chiddingfold
Forest. On the same day, a friend recorded four males in a nearby area of the
same forestry complex. Our joint feelings were that they’d been out for a
maximum of 48 hours. The earliest I’ve ever recorded iris is a sighting of a solitary individual on 12th June 2015. However, for whatever reason(s), that same year I didn’t see another in my local woodlands until 4th July. A highly unusual and freak encounter or are things changing?
must always be cautious when claiming ‘cause and effect’ with regards to the
timing of a butterfly’s flight season. One thing that is evident is that the
vast majority of our butterfly species have demonstrated a clear and
unequivocal response to climate warming, with their average first appearance
dates and abundance peaks now being significantly earlier than they were
(Blencowe and Hulme, 2017). The flight periods of most of our species, measured
in terms of first annual appearance, the first appearance of subsequent broods
(in polyvoltine species), and abundance peaks, have moved forward by between
one and three weeks in 20 years, with an average based on 40 species being
about 13 days. Interestingly, a few species registered very little response to
a warming climate; these included Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Silver-washed
Fritillary and Brown Hairstreak (Blencowe and Hulme, 2017).
days iris usually flies from late
June to early August, with most adults emerging over a three week period; the
average flight season recorded between 2010 and 2014 in Sussex was 28th June to
9th August. However, during this five-year period, two late years (by modern
standards) were recorded. The typical first appearance date during the 21st
century is now a little earlier, usually falling between the 20th and 25th
June. During the later decades of the last century iris usually emerged in early July, so the flight period has
shifted forward significantly, by at least two weeks (Blencowe and Hulme,
The above images show (i) a male from 17th June
2017, (ii) a male from 23rd June 2017, (iii) a female from 19th June 2017, and (iv, v, vi and vii) four images of two females from 21st June 2017.
M. and Hulme, N. (2017). The Butterflies
of Sussex. Newbury, Berkshire: Pisces Publications on behalf of Butterfly
Conservation (Sussex Branch), pp. 27, 170-179.
A. flammeus is a scarce winter
visitor and passage migrant to my home county of Sussex. Wintering birds are
found mainly on the coastal plain, especially around Chichester and Pagham
Harbours, on the Pevensey Levels and at Rye Harbour. They also occur in smaller
numbers on the Downs and in the river valleys of the Adur, Arun and Ouse. Autumn
migrants are generally first seen in Sussex in late August or early September
where they typically continue their journeys south to more southerly wintering
grounds. If weather conditions are favourable and prey numbers are high, birds
arriving from late September onwards are likely to remain in Sussex for an
extended period and may settle down and winter in suitable areas.
estimate of the Scottish population suggested 780 to 2,700 breeding pairs
(1,000 - 3,500 pairs for the UK) in the late 90’s; although this is thought to
be one the most unreliable estimates for any raptor or owl species. A more
recent estimate (2013) for Britain is 610 to 2,140 pairs. Some experts consider
the lower end of these ranges to be the more likely and are concerned that the
species may have shown marked declines during the past two decades.
images from North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
D. (2014). Short-eared Owl. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust
for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp.
S.J. (1996). Short-eared Owl. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological
Society, pp. 366-367.
Nature Reserve incorporates the most westerly point of the island of North
Uist, the Aird an Rùnair peninsula, looking out to the Monach Islands and the magnificent
St Kilda archipelago. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is
designated as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar).
beautiful Hebridean reserve comprises 658 hectares [1626 acres] of rocky
headland, islands, sandy bays, dunes, grasslands, freshwater lochs, fen and the
flower-rich species diverse machair. Machair is a rare, bio-diverse coastal
grassland, unique to the north-western fringe of Europe. It is listed on Annex
1 of the EU Habitats Directive, and occurs over a total global area of just
19,000 ha, with 70% of this in western Scotland, mostly on the offshore
islands, and the remainder in western Ireland. These habitats support
internationally important populations of many wading and farmland bird species,
notably the Corncrake Crex crex. They also protect a number of important plant
species and a variety of other wildlife, including the rarest UK bumblebee, the
Great Yellow Bumblebee Bombus distinguendus. The
unmanned RSPB visitor information centre explains the importance of traditional
crofting agriculture for rare birds and other important wildlife. A few images from
my recent visit above.
its vernacular name, the Iceland Gull does not breed in Iceland but in Arctic
Canada and Greenland. In Britain, it occurs mainly in the north and west during
winter. Numbers appearing in Britain fluctuate considerably and large influxes
occasionally occur, possibly associated with severe northwesterly gales. L. glaucoides is a very scarce winter
visitor and passage migrant in Sussex; around 89 individuals in total being
recorded during the winter periods of 1961/62 to 2010/11. Prior to this only 26
had been recorded in the county. Most records relate to individual birds
observed in late winter or spring. The
above pictures of a second summer bird were all recently taken during very overcast conditions on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides.
J. (2014). Iceland Gull. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust
for Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp.
J. (1996). Iceland Gull. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society,
It’s taken me a
very long time but I’ve finally managed to see and get a reasonable photograph
of an Otter in the wild in the UK. The above male was recently spotted hunting
for flatfish and crabs in a sea loch located on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. As luck would have it, as the prevailing weather conditions really weren't very good, he decided to come out of the water and on to a small grassy bank to pause for a few moments before returning back to his watery domain.
charismatic and generally very secretive bird is best recognised by its rasping call
and slight twitching of leaves as it moves effortlessly through tall grasses
and herbage in order to stay concealed in cover. Although relatively easy to
hear it is not always easy to see - its voice carrying some considerable
distance easily disorientating the expectant observer.
crex is listed in Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds
because of major population declines both historically and recently. Once
widespread in Britain, C. crex has undergone a devastating national decline and
range contraction since the 19th century due to the change in the way grassland
is farmed. Earlier cutting of hay, increased mechanisation of the hay cut and
the switch to silage meant that nests, chicks and even adults were killed. Its
rasping call has not been heard regularly in Sussex since breeding ceased in
the early 1940s. Numbers in the UK reached a low point of 489 singing males
concentrated in the remaining core areas of the Outer Hebrides and Orkney in
1993. Their fortunes have at least been partially reversed by the recent
conservation efforts of the RSPB and local crofters in the Western Isles and by
a reintroduction scheme in the Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire.
above birds were recently photographed amongst the stunning scenery of the
J. (2014). Corncrake. The Birds of Sussex. Thetford: British Trust for
Ornithology (BTO) Books on behalf of the Sussex Ornithological Society, pp. 216.
R. (1996). Corncrake. Birds of Sussex. Sussex Ornithological Society, pp.