Monday, 1 July 2019

Delights in Devon, success in Somerset.

It was during the Winter of last year, when the Moth front was quiet that I planned for this over-nighter to the South-west, with a few target species in mind. A few species that I have no choice but to leave Norfolk to enjoy.
On the hitlist were:

1) Thrift Clearwing - one of three Clearwings I still need to see.

2) High-brown Fritillary - a Butterfly I THINK we may have seen in North Devon, some years ago but not 100% so a confirmed view the aim.

3) Large Blue - another Butterfly restricted to just a few small areas in the UK.

Friday night I hit the hay at 2230 for a whole 90mins kip before the alarm went off at midnight to kick this mission off. On the road by 0100 to avoid the heat and traffic of the weekend coastal roads, I breezed through all the way to Hants where I picked up my good friend and regular comrade on such jaunts, Richard Seargent. The very early start payed off and we were on the coast in Devon in good time, to our first stop for target #1 at Berry Head.
It didn't look good from the start with very little Thrift about and that which was there, definitely way past its best. With no shows to the pheromone lure at all, we headed back to the car with tails starting to fall back between our legs, in hope of more luck at another site in Prawle.
The walk from the car park along the coast was a hot one with the hedgerows buzzing with life and Cirl Buntings providing entertainment along the way.

Again, we found almost all the Thrift to be passed it and first attempts with the lure drew a blank, but just a matter of 20yds further along the path and BINGO! Before I had a chance to get a photo of the lone Thrift Clearwing, there were 3 working they way through the low growing plants, homing in on the pheromone. After grabbing a few pics, there were half a dozen in total and I stowed the lure away to avoid any more coming in. Success, and what a relief!

Target #1 by around midday, we hit the road again and headed for Dartmoor to look for the High-brown Fritillaries. On arrival, there wasn't a lot of activity and the increasing cloud cover was keeping things down low and more sheltered so on the down side, they would prove to be harder to spot but as the optimist, that also meant that any we found would likely be giving still views.
The odd Fritillary was stilled popping up and darting across the Bracken before disappearing swiftly into the undergrowth. Before getting even half way round the route we agreed on, we diverted into a small opening and were unbelievably lucky to have a big Orange Butterfly shoot in from nowhere and land on a small Bramble bush within 10-12ft of us. We froze. Anxious to raise our bins for a closer inspection but worried to not scare it off, we saw what we were hoping for, a line of brown bordered pearls (or ocelli) on the hindwing and a brief top view as its wings opened before darting off over the Bracken once again.
Cracking, close-up views but definitely no time to get the camera out for any shots this time.

With the heat, unrelenting humidity and early start beginning to slow us down a bit, it was back in the car to get to our accommodation for the night, but not before a short walk along the River Dart to enjoy views of a juvenile Dipper and Grey Wagtail.

We shared a spacious room with stunning views and relaxed for a while..

just resting my eyes...
The temperature soon dropped and the wind didn't let up but it was a good nights sleep and we were ready to head back East via Somerset in hope of another rare Butterfly, the Large Blue.
Met on site by the same conditions as the previous days Butterfly hunt, the same rules applied - not easy to spot but if we did, the views would be good. A meander through the Somerset site was proving to be fruitless and I was starting to feel like the hat-trick might not happen until a lone Blue Butterfly got up between me and Rich and settled a short distance away - Large Blue!
A sigh of relief and whether it had seen better days or not, we enjoyed close views of the confiding individual, which would end up being the only one we see. Chuffed!

You can put yourself in the right place at the right time but there's never a guarantee with Nature so coming away with the 100% success rate on this occasion, made the 750+ mile round trip that much more tolerable.

Cheers Rich, for joining me. Big thanks also to John Walters for the pointers.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Rearing an Eyed Hawk-moth family

Every year I declare that I won't rear anymore larvae as it takes a lot of time and through the peak Moth-ing season, the trapping (home and away), ID'ing, recording and dissecting could almost be a full-time job, albeit an unpaid one. That declaration soon gets amended shortly afterwards to "I'm not going to rear AS much this year" and it was this time last year that I was having that very same conversation with myself.
Almost to the day now, a female Eyed Hawkmoth I'd trapped in the garden had laid eggs overnight, in the pot she was in and it was this that tempted me back into keeping the nursery open, to raise yet another family!
In the early stages, providing fresh foodplant for the little ones is pretty easy and maybe a once/twice weekly job to replace with new. As soon as they get growing however, it's a different ballgame and before you know it, you're out chopping branches off trees as a daily ritual to feed the hungry mouths and their unrelenting appetite. I released some of the young to fend for themselves and to, quite frankly, ease some of the work from me. The other 20 or so, I kept to rear through myself. That number of larvae meant that in the later stages, when they were chunky little blighters, I was needing to replenish food twice a day to keep up!
Eating all that food means lots of frass - caterpillar poop, and minus the risk of parasitic wasps, birds and other predators that they were being sheltered from in the nursery, the main thing they're at risk of is infection, which can spread in no time and wipe out the entire lot. So cleaning out the frass is also a daily chore, often twice a day in those later stages. As you can tell, it can be rather time consuming when you have all sorts of species you've chosen to rear!

So anyhow, I lost a few along the way. Some don't pupate properly and I don't honestly know the reasons behind them all. Natural circumstances, I guess?

As a doting 'father' I'm allowed to bore you with family photo albums, so here you go:

early days

going out alone for the first time

too big for hand-me-downs stage now

the getting-to-fat-to-move time of life

time to slow down a peg and get this metamorphosis lark done

made it safely to adulthood!

It is a rewarding thing to do and also educational, but this year - I'm not going to rear as much...

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Been Buggin'

It felt like it'd been an age since I did it last, but I took advantage of the freakishly hot day on Monday and made the 5min walk to Litcham Common, armed with pots, net, sieves, trays, pooters and camera for some serious Buggin'!
Dad came with me and in no time at all we'd found our first invert of the session, oddly enough it was a Chestnut Moth running across the woodland path in front of us. A few Brown Lacewings were on the wing and flitting around the Gorse too. There were a good number of Gorse Shieldbugs (Piezodorus lituratus) as well and it always makes me laugh just how sensitive they are to your movement - get too close and they're off!

Gorse Shieldbug

Hawthorn Shieldbug was the only other one we saw on the day:

Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale)
Another interesting find (if you're into that kinda thing) were these Gorse Spider Mites - Tetranychus lintearius. Their web 'lair' gets wrecked in rain so after a couple of warm days is the best time to find their rebuilds:

Gorse Spider Mites

We had a few Ladybirds as well: Pine, 10-spot, 14-spot and LOADS of 7-spots. 

14-Spot Ladybird

Pine Ladybird

Quite a nice selection of Spiders from various methods of searching, lots of tiny Linyphiids sieved from the leaf litter and beaten from Gorse. I really would love to ID more of the Linyphiids but I didn't collect anything that I don't think I'll have the time (or abilty!) to ID properly. I've not got a compound microscope yet and it's something that is essential for the real titchy's of the family. Maybe one year, I'll have a real good go at them..
I did come away with one postive Linyphiid ID though, thanks to Matt Prince, and that was Microneta viaria:

Microneta viaria

Microneta viaria

A bit bigger than viara and beaten from Gorse, were Anelosimus vittatus, a few Araniella species, what is likely to be Metellina mengei (although Metellina segmentata can't be ruled out) and one of my personal faves, Diaea dorsata.

Anelosimus vittatus

Araniella sp.

Araniella sp.

Metellina sp.

Diaea dorsata - what's not to like?! :)

Sunning itself on a Gorse flower was this Bibio species of Fly (one of the smaller brothers of the St.Marks fly). I didn't catch enough of the details in photos to ID to species but it's one of maybe 3-4 different species. Nice little thing though:

Bibio sp.

Bibio sp.

As part of my must-try-harder-with-Bees-aim this year, I was chuffed to key out these two little ones and no surprise to find, they are both new to me.

Andrena dorsata - Short-fringed Mining Bee:

Andrena dorsata
Halictus tumulorum - Bronze Furrow-bee:

Halictus tumulorum

There was a nice Beetle beaten from Gorse as well, but again, I didn't keep this one. It looks quite distinctive but I've not looked into it yet and doubt very much that photos will be enough to nail it. Smart though:


Unfortunately, we didn't see any Orange Underwing Moths around the Birch trees like last year. Hopefully they're still there somewhere. 

A good afternoons Buggin' and will get back over there again soon!

Friday, 5 April 2019

The Virgin Bagworm

This Mothing lark is a funny ol' game isn't it?!..

I've found myself straying towards some of the more unconventional methods of searching for Moths of late, be it inspecting Pine Cones for the emergence holes of Cydia conicolana (see previous blog post), or having my hands imitate a pin cushion while looking amongst Gorse bushes for the case-bearing larvae of Coleophora albicosta - the hunt for the latter of which, is still underway!

This week however, I've probably topped the 'unconventional method chart', for now at least, finding my newest lifer - Luffia lapidella, the 'Virgin Bagworm' by staring at brick walls. Yep, putting dignity to one side while passing cars and pedestrians gawp at the bloke stood with his face inches from a wall, looking like someone who was released just a tad premature but missing that long sleeved white jacket he's been wearing for years. was worth it! lapidella feeds on Lichen and having checked various walls and the odd lichen-covered headstone, it was to be found somewhere closer to home. 30secs from my front door, in actual fact, on a wall which we pass almost daily. Me and Ralph (my trusty canine sidekick) were on our way back home and I slowed down as usual to check 'the' wall - using the whole my-dog's-having-a-sniff-so-I-better-wait-here-and-stare-at-this-wall routine and what do ya know! An amazing feat of camouflage by the tiny Bagworm but the shape and size finally caught my eye - found ya!

THE wall!

They're a little unusual in that the wingless, grub-like females are parthenogenetic (self-fertile).
I took her home for a closer look under the microscope and returned her shortly after, with camera, for some pics in her 'natural' brick-made habitat.

Only looking at the interior of the case gives away that it's made of a nice, soft to the touch silk, and not Lichen and Brick dust!..

Showing how they have such good grip for maneuvering around vertical walls:

Just check out that camouflage:

So there we have it. If you want to see your own - go stare at walls! :)

Friday, 29 March 2019

Pine-cone Mothing!

Exciting day yesterday..
Exciting if you're the kind of person who gets satisfaction from searching 8 billion Pine-cones before eventually finding the target you were after - a 2mm hole in one of the seeds!

It's better than it sounds, honestly. These emergence holes belong to the 'Nationally Scarce B' Moth: Cydia conicolana, an unassuming Micro that spends its time around the tops of various Pine trees. Subtle in appearance but like most of these smaller Moths, a thing of beauty in their own right when viewed up close.

Inspired by fellow nature-nerd Antony Wren, who has found 3 new sites for this species in neighbouring Suffolk, I've been looking to put my own dot on the map for a couple of weeks now. It's funny how things happen though - I was out with my Dad, Mick and was telling him about the species and the up-until-now fruitless searches. I pointed out a few trees that I'd already checked and suggested we might as well have a look at the last one, as we were there..
Blind as a bat, without his glasses, he picks up the first cone he sees, passes it to me with a wry smile and says "I can't see it properly but is that one?" ....Yes Dad. It is. You b*****d. We went on to find another half a dozen emergence holes in different cones from the same tree, so definitely signs of a decent population, definitely a new record for the 10kmsq and in fact the only record for the surrounding 30km squares - result!

Ridiculously easy to overlook but once you get searching, it's almost a habit to look at as many as possible until you find one. Or four, or five:

A couple of close-ups:

I delved a bit deeper and cut into one of the cones and found a load of frass (caterpillar poo) and more surprisingly, the remains of a long-dead larva! Getting the tiny speck under the microscope shows what's left of it:

I'm sure, like a hell of a lot of the Micros, this species is under-recorded due to size. It really is easy to look for though and I'd urge you to just inspect a few Pine-cones when you pass them next. Antony told me that all the new sites he's found are from individual Pine trees in the open and not actually part of a big, covered forest. That certainly seems to fit the bill, as we found these ones on this tree here:

So get checking those cones, good luck!