Thursday, July 25, 2013

Moth Traps & Mammal Traps

I've been running my Moth Trap every evening in recent weeks. The light is only a 15W actinic - small fry compared to the super-bright MV (mercury-vapour) lights....but it has still been pulling in some special species.

This morning I had a couple of moths that are probably migrants, though there are small populations in the Hants & IOW area:

After weeks of recording Common & Scarce Footman, this male Four-spotted Footman is massive by comparison!

I've recorded Four-spotted Footman on a few occasions last year, but I've never seen one of these before: L-album Wainscott!

This is Mecyna asinalis, a micro that's primarily found in coastal locations, the larvae feeding on Wild Madder, which is pretty common hereabouts.

And this is a species that I've been eagerly waiting to find in the trap: the spectacular Burnished Brass. It's not uncommon, but that doesn't take away from the wow factor - it's a real beauty!

I also put a couple of Longworth Mammal traps out overnight at Golden Hill Country Park and managed to catch these two Bank Voles, the second one looking very young and fit:

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Local wildlife & local children!

During the last few weeks of the school term I've been involved in a couple of local schools. At one school I set up the moth trap overnight and spent time with a Reception Class seeing what had turned up before going for a nature walk around the school grounds.

At another school, I spent a morning showing some of the local moths - including 6 species of Hawkmoth - to each class in turn. The following week I spent a few hours with a Year 5 class on an environmental walk, the highlights being the Woodmouse & Bank Vole. I had also left a Trailcam at a local sett overnight and we took the card back to the classroom to see what animals had visited - 4 Badgers, a Red Fox and a Brown Rat.

It's great to see the children really getting excited and I wanted to share some of their responses:

First an overall report by two of the class:

                                                          Year 5 Nature Walk.
On Tuesday 16th the class year fives went on a nature walk led by Steven Plummer. When we went up to the church we saw a wood mouse and some butterflies which were the marbled whites and some meadow browns. Then we walked along the course-way to see what else we could find. Steven went to get a trap and we found a lovely coloured bank vole. It was a brownie red. As we walked along the Afton Marsh we saw some more beautiful butterflies which were large whites and a red admiral. Then we walked back.

Thank you so much - that was so fun, my favourite part of the day was when Steven cached that moues the wood mouse and it ran a way. That was funny and then when we came back we watched the little clips of the badger, the fox and the rat.

I enjoyed the nature and I learned so much. It was interesting and  I learned a bit of history. Thanks again!

I like the part when you held the vole.

Thank you very much for the day trip! My favioute thing about today was when we saw the wood mouse and I liked all the flowers and trees.

I enjoyed walking round Freshwater because I saw a wood mouse, two swans, a baby swan, ducks and loads more. I really liked seeing the small videos of Baggers, Foxes and Rats. But the best part is when I saw loads of butterflies. I also saw special types of plants.

I like the mouse. It looked soft and cuddly. It made me happy.

Thank you very much for the nature walk. It was really fun. I would love to do that every day in my life! Hope you come back again. We liked the assembly about the moths. Hope you come back again soon!

I liked the vole, it was so soft and cute, I could stroke it all day long!

Thank you Steve! Your nature walk. It really inspired me to go outside and love nature! I loved all ov the things you showed us like the cheeky mouse! Thanks for spending $120 instead of $60 with the Bug Trap! You gave me a great time I will never forget this moment.

The money refers to the 2 Longworth Mammal Traps that I had finally taken the plunge to purchase a few days previously. I think that I was inspired as much as the children, which is always the case whenever I do one of these events. There are great opportunities for amateur naturalists all over the UK to get involved with their local schools and help the children to begin to really appreciate their local countryside, inspiring the next generation of recorders and conservationists!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sett C Activity

Last night I set up the Trailcam at Sett C with the idea of showing the results to the Year 5 children from the local school following their Environmental/Nature Walk.

Thankfully, several species turned up. The footage begins with what I think is a boar. He pauses to work out whether the moth flying in front of his nose is worth further investigation! Then one of the local Red Foxes turns up - a really scraggy individual that I haven't noted here before. Note just how lanky it is, and that tail will look like a length of rope soon! A Brown Rat wanders around the area before the Red Fox returns and pays no respect to the Badgers by leaving a calling card! Then the sow and two cubs return following a night's foraging.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Privet Hawkmoth

If you suffer from Moth-o-phobia, or mottephobia to be precise, then you wouldn't be wanting one of these to fly through your bedroom window when you're just about to enter the land of nod!

It's a Privet Hawmoth, and it's the biggest moth that you're going to come across this side of the English Channel! Here it is alongside a 'normal' Buff Ermine moth:

That's one seriously large critter! They are not uncommon, and this one turned up in the moth trap this morning....I always get a frisson of excitement when I turn an egg box over to reveal one of these beauties! Admittedly, they can look a bit sinister and not to be messed with.

Whilst not having the skull of the aptly-named Death's Head Hawkmoth leering from the top of the thorax, the Privet Hawkmoth does have a 'head' that has an uncanny resemblance to the evil Green Goblin from Spiderman!

Thankfully, it's pretty harmless in reality. Although it 'eats for England' as a caterpillar, munching through the leaves of our Privet hedges and wild Privet bushes, it cannot feed, let alone bite, as an adult, and spends several weeks looking for a mate to make sure it passes its genes onto the next generation of Green Goblins Privet Hawkmoths!

It does have a few nifty tricks up its wings, though. When threatened by a predator, it will suddenly flick its wings wide open, just like the wings of the Buzz Lightyear's toy in the loft:
To us those colours might resemble 'a black, grey and pink evening dress of satin' as one person puts it, but any inquisitive birds are going to get a bit of a shock and head for the hills! It does have another impressive defence mechanism, too, which I witnessed a few days ago: a male like this can make a surprising hissing noise, the result of rubbing together some scales at the tip of the abdomen.

To a Bat, a Privet Hawkmoth must be the equivalent of a 20oz Steak and, let's be honest, their sonar can't fail to hit on one of these. But I reckon that Bats probably don't get it all their own way. Elsewhere on the planet it's been discovered that some Hawkmoths blast approaching bats with their own version of ultrasound, produced by rubbing those scales together with some spines!

What's more, the males of another Privet Hawkmoth species have been found to go ultrasound crazy in the presence of it looks like it's as much to attract mates as to repel Bats!

It's all pretty amazing stuff, and I'm sure that researchers nearer to home will discover some pretty cool things about our own Privet Hawkmoths in time!

After taking a few photos, this Hawkmoth decided that it was time to move on. Here's a bit of video of him warming up his wing muscles before taking a short flight across the garden to hole up in the shade for the day:

Friday, July 12, 2013


I'm in the midst of a busy period engaging in wildlife activities with a couple of local schools. Yesterday I visited one Lower School to empty a moth trap I had set up overnight and to lead a walk around the grounds for a Reception Class.

On the way to the school I suddenly noticed a massive bright blue butterfly fluttering in the graveyard just the other side of a low bush. My pulse rose as I realised that I'd come across something really special.....and then I stepped around the bush to find this....

...a solar-powered plastic job!! That certainly brought me down to earth! :-)

There were a number of great butterflies in the trap, including Elephant- and Small Elephant Hawkmoth, which were a hit with the children. We hunted around the local area, looking under objects and shaking trees onto a white sheet, uncovering various invertebrates including Froghoppers, Woodlice (including a brooding female), Spiders and a Common Quaker caterpillar.

This morning I visited another local school and, over 2 hours, showed each of the classes in turn some of our neighbourhood moths. The children were amazed to discover the wonderful variety of moths of all kinds of size, colour and shape that were flying around their homes while they slept. The 6 Hawkmoth species that I had managed to find certainly made their day, especially the Pine Hawkmoth which suddenly took off for a few circuits around the hall during the last session; the Peppered Moth & Buff-tip were a great advert for a discussion on camouflage; and the life-cycle of the Bee Moth was the equivalent of a horror story regarding the local Bee populations!

This photo, albeit poor quality, shows some of the 'cool' moths that the children enjoyed out of the 30 or so species I took in!
I'm leading an environmental walk for Year 5s next week and I can't wait....especially now that I've got a couple of Longworth Mammal Traps of my own to set out!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Afton Marsh Insects

I love walking the footpaths around Afton Marsh because you never know what you're going to bump into from one day to the next. My main interest is hoverflies. The very smart-looking Eristalis intricarius can be found quite easily at the moment. Here is one individual keeping itself smart:

I hardly know any of the Muscid flies, but Graphomya maculata is hard to miss - I just love those markings on the abdomen:

I'm starting to see a good numbers of Depressaria daucella larvae hiding away amidst the umbels of the Hemlock Water-dropwort. The one in the photo below is about to be parasitised by the Ichneumon Wasp on the right. The larva was thrashing its head from side to side - is this some kind of protective mechanism or a reaction to having been parasitised just before I arrived?

Finally, I was fascinated by this Treehopper:
The Latin name is Centrotus cornutus, 'cornutus' referring to the horn-like projections above the head, the extent of which can be seen by this photo taken from above:
Perhaps they help to break up the outline, or even to give the impression of thorns? Impressive, or what!!

Sett C Badgers

Last Friday evening I left the Trailcam out overnight at Sett C in order to catch up with the latest activity. There's a few minutes of footage below.

It begins with some footage of a family group. There is definitely a suckling sow with two cubs, and I reckon that the other adult may be a sow, too. There's further footage including some mutual grooming, rough & tumble, and a definite boar who makes it clear who's top of the tree! The footage concludes with a Red Fox that turns up at 5.30am (the same Fox had turned up at 3am, too).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Search for the Isle of Wight Wave

Over the last decade I have been fascinated by the search for the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the forests of the south-eastern United States. There have been tantalising sightings suggesting the bird might remain at large, but many are skeptical, believing it to have become extinct.

Yesterday evening myself, 2 Ians, Rob & Ashley engaged in a search for a creature that is not quite so famous: the Isle of Wight Wave (Idaea humiliata). The Isle of Wight Wave used to inhabit at least one vegetation-covered ledge on the chalk cliffs below Tennyson Down on the Isle of Wight before the ledge fell into the sea in 1931 and it wasn't seen again. It's still found on the continent, this photo coming from a German website with a series of images here:
It's a really small moth with that distinctive reddish streak along the leading edge of the wings.

We've talked about an evening searching for the Isle of Wight Wave for a few years now but, this year, Rob & Ian made it happen, working closely with the National Trust and the Coastguard.

Having examined the images on Google Maps, we set ourselves up on the cliff top above the location of two well-vegetated areas. The main kit consisted of 4 bright LED lights suspended over the cliff face on an extendable fishing road with a Mercury Vapour bulb trap set back from the cliff. The idea was (and this was Ian's idea and set-up) that any moths on the ledges would be drawn to the light from the LEDs and then be attracted across to the main MV light where we were sitting safely well back from the cliff edge.
The Isle of Wight Wave is noted for appearing at dusk and so we set up nice and early, ringing the Coastguard to let them know when the MV light was started up - in the photo above you can see the MV trap and the LED lights connected to the end of the long fishing road. Yours truly is also looking very hopeful there, net in hand and ready to go!

During the evening we encountered a number of fascinating moths, including this Cream-spot Tiger which looks a bit jaundiced in the light from the mercury vapour lamp. There were high numbers of Small Elephant Hawkmoths, together with a couple of Elephant Hawkmoths and a Privet Hawkmoth. Other moths included the scarce Dew Moth and a number of The Shears, good numbers of which flitted around the LEDs before heading towards the MV trap, a sign that the set-up was working.

One of the things that really excited me was the large numbers of Hoverflies that began to appear as soon as the trap was turned on:

The majority seemed to be Syrphus vitripennis, with the Marmalade Hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus) - both noted migrants - reaching double figures, too. At one point I counted over 50 in sight, and that doesn't take account of any that had settled down behing the egg trays or which may have flown off!

At one point, soon after 11pm, we began to notice the tell-tale, pin-prick lights of lots of Glow Worms in the grass all around us, Wordsworth's famous 'earthbound stars':
I left to cycle back home at 1.30am, having been up since just after 5am the previous morning and having a Service to lead later that day. Rob & Ian stayed behind for the duration. It had been a great evening and there are already plans to continue the great 'Search for the Isle of Wight Wave' in the future.

In conclusion, I'm pleased to report that we actually did get one Isle of Wight Wave, though not exactly the one we were hoping for:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Wilson's Phalarope

People have been wondering if I've dropped off the planet but, sometimes, you need to take a break, and this was such a time!

We had a wonderful holiday in the Pyrenees but, half-way through, learned that a Wilson's Phalarope had turned up on my local patch!! Several of these delicate American waders turn up in the UK each year....but very rarely does a summer-plumaged female turn up!

Because of the devastation caused by the floods in the area where we were staying, we decided to come home a day early, and the next morning I was up bright and early to see the Phalarope. It turned out that it was the last day it was seen.

You can read one person's experience on his website here that illustrates just how far birders were travelling from to see this special bird!

In Mill Copse, next to the pool, several spikes of Greater Butterfly Orchid were still flowering.