Sunday, 24 November 2019

Torchlight Moth-ing

That time of year has come crashing towards us and the Moth-ing attire has changed suddenly from shorts and t-shirt to a jacket and wooly hat.
The plan last night was to go into the dark woods of Litcham Common with a torch and look for females....that doesn't paint a good picture Mr Police Officer, I know, but hey!
It was a still, mild night and even warmer in the shelter of the trees which was ideal. The trees were alive with invertebrates and it wasn't long before the first Moths were spotted - male Winter Moths on the trunks and Chestnuts, Feathered Thorns, Scarce Umbers and Epirrita species attracted to our headtorches.
A single Acleris logiana was nice addition and only the 5th County record this year (so far), the first being in the same spot, on Jan 1st, also found by us.

Acleris logiana

We also found a batch of Vapourer (Orgyia antiqua) eggs and a couple of Black Arches (Lymantria monacha) pupae. After previous attempts of mine before now, to find any of the 'Bagworm' species, we also managed to find Luffia lapidella on a lichen-covered tree as well, which is new for the site.

Black Arches pupa

Luffia lapidella (Grey Bagworm)

After much searching we finally found the main target - a wingless, female Moth. This unassuming lady was wondering around on a the trunk of an established Oak Tree and was bulging at the seams! We enjoyed her company for a while and tried to take a few pics but photography not easy in the dark with torches and flashes! After a few mins she went about her business of laying eggs of the next generation in the cracks and crevices of the bark. Up close, we could see the ovipositor probing each potential spot, being sure she is happy with the location before leaving an egg behind and moving on - it was a joy to watch.

Female Scarce Umber (Agriopis aurantiaria):

All in all, a successful evening. The next attempt in December awaits...

Monday, 2 September 2019

New Spider for Norfolk...


It was almost bang on a year ago that I blogged about finding a new Spider for Norfolk, the gorgeous, Nigma walckenaeri. For a reminder, that blog post is HERE.

So, to rewind a year quickly, we enjoyed watching the individual last year, as it lied still under its camouflaged web, unaware of its significance to the region. That was short lived however, when after just a couple of days, me and Dad never saw it again. We searched and searched and came to the conclusion that it'd either retreated into the thick undergrowth of the Jasmine or, been predated. Either way, we never did find it, or any other webs.

Fast forward back to present day, me and Dad are having a mooch around his garden when "Bloody hell!", or words to that effect, bellowed across the garden - I'd found another Nigma walckenaeri web. Then another..and another..and another..and, well, you get the idea! Known only on Ivy, in my past experiences with the species, and I think, generally, we counted EIGHT separate webs on a small potted Lilac plant! Six of which all containing N.walckenaeri and two that were empty. A further search on 'the' Jasmine from last year produced another two occupied webs but yet again, a big fat zero count on the big, well established Ivy which stands tall within 20-30ft of those we had spotted.

Pip Colyer, the Norfolk Arachnid recorder was of course, appreciative of the records and confirmed that there had been no others since our own, last year. So not only has Dads garden got the county's first record but now the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th!
To find one, was special but the chance this may now be a small colony with no other nearby records, is rather exciting. A thorough search and count next year may tell us for sure??

Some pics of this years observations:

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!