Sunday, 22 August 2021

Convolvulus last!

I've been wanting to see a Convolvulus Hawk-moth for aaaaaages and I'll warn you now that this blog post will contain a lot of love and appreciation for that very beast of a Moth!

It's one of those that I've looked at in the books and thought: yes please! As a species, it's a migrant but not a rare visitor by any means, with many of these mini missiles cruising over the Channel to our little island every year. There's been the odd opportunity where I could've twitched one but have always declined. To me, this one deserved more than that and I really wanted to be able to add it do the garden list as a landmark 10th Hawk-moth species seen here.

Side note - if you're interested in what the other 9sp are, they are:

  1. - Privet
  2. - Eyed
  3. - Poplar
  4. - Pine
  5. - Lime
  6. - Elephant
  7. - Small Elephant
  8. - Hummingbird
  9. - Broad-bordered Bee

Leaving it to light trap and lady luck may have payed off eventually but it's no secret that Nicotiana 'Tobacco' plants are the way to go and known to be a favourite of the mighty Convolvulus so that would be the way to go. Jumping back a few years ago and a handful of Tobacco plants from the local nursery had peaked and died off long before the end of Summer - fail.

Following year - more of the same but introduced to the garden later and same - fail.

Last year, 2020 - time to sow my own Nicotianas from seed and get them flowering later into the year. No luck. Rubbish. To add salt to the wound, my wife was working barely 2 miles from home and after a long weekend, she returned to work, to colleagues showing her photos of a "massive Moth" that'd been on the outside wall for 3 days straight and guess what it was...yep. Convolvulus! Close but no cigar - fail.

2121 - right. Got this. The local nursery didn't have the colour mix plants we were after so had to settle for the white ones. Turned out to be a good move, they are triffids! Over 6ft tall, still flowering and a strong scent that fills the garden. That, along with a million of the different coloured ones which we'd sowed from seed, cared for like babies and painstakingly split into individual pots and fed regularly with Tomorite, the garden is as full as can be with amazing Nicotiana's. Looking like we've nailed it this year, I quietly thought to myself...

Fast forward to last night (21st Aug), the trap in our small garden was switched on at dusk and the optimistic forecast of Steve Nash (@MigrantMothUK on Twitter) was ringing in my ears as darkness claimed the sky.

2115hrs and I go outside to fetch something from the outhouse. A flash catches my eye as it darts from right to left beyond the back fence of our garden. Must've been a bird, I thought. Moments later and the UFO was patrolling up and down the side fence, up high and again, beyond our fence, out of reach and over the neighbours garden. "That ain't no bird!" I didn't realise how big the eyes were on these beasts and the shine it throws back from my headtorch is like it is equiped with two headlights. Wingspan wise, you could've been forgiven for thinking a big, female Privet Hawk-moth in flight but there was no mistaking the mahoosive body this thing had. I was awe-struck as it got closer and closer until it was right in front of us, 3ft away and 2ft off the ground, deciding which of the most pampered Tobacco plants in the world it was going to feed on. The proboscis was unbelievably long and seemed to be longer than the Moth itself, but I was too excited in that moment to gauge an accurate measurement!

Having already called for backup, my Wife was keeping eye while my Son ran for a net. They both knew what it meant to me and had also invested a lot of time to help Dad with his crazy Moth plans and there we were, all stood watching this impressive bohemeth of a Moth hover like a Hummingbird in front of flower heads. The pressure was now on that I didn't get out for a duck with the net... Swipe. Big pot. Secured. A Convolvulus Hawk-moth in my hand!

Now I know I've gone all gooey with the story of this Moth and I'll take the ribbing for that, but it is a little bit more than that. It's about Mothing as a whole. After 10+ years Mothing, 1000+ species seen, it still only takes one Moth to make the night and I still get that kid at Christmas excitement when seeing something new. That's why Mrs K says it's more than a hobby - it's my passion. I think she's right..

(alongside a Large Yellow Underwing for scale)

those eyes!

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Welcome to the World, little Coleophora laricella!

Coleophora laricella - Larch Case-bearer, isn't massively common in Norfolk, with steady records but not exactly inundated. I walk past the same handful of young Larch trees quite often in the village but must admit to never having spent too much time looking hard for any signs of the larvae.

With that in mind, just over a month ago, in the first week of May, I made a concious effort to search properly and after a while I spotted the target. I don't rear larvae through as much as I used to, or indeed as much I'd like to but that's all down to time restraints and not something to do half-arsed, but I felt commited and wanted to see the adult of this one, so it came home with me to finish the larval stage of its life off in "Kerr Nurseries TM"...the outhouse toilet room.

I find the best way to keep foodplant fresh is to use a small tub, cut a block of oasis (and soak) to fill the inside, drill a hole in the lid (big enough to slot the stems of the plant into but no bigger) and place the whole thing in a small bucket with some tights/pop socks over the top so you can observe without disturbing too much. Add larvae and wait.

Rearing larvae through is a great way to watch and learn and as obvious as it might be to some, from this one I learnt:

- The tips of the Larch needles become pale as they're eaten from the inside by the larva. Something I knew to look for but wasn't obvious to me until I'd seen my own example. Now I've seen it, they stand out a mile!

- When ready to pupate, this one parked itself in tight to the base of a sprig, making it more secure and even harder to find - I thought it had escaped at first!

- Pupation took just about 4weeks from 'parking' to emergence. That was at the average outside temp, albeit in an outhouse.

- The adult Moth is stunning! Titchy and Grey to the eye but under magnification and with some flash to light it up, it's Grey turns to Silver and is speckled with a rainbow of colours.

Larva inside its homemade case

Close-up of larva feeding. Note it doesn't eat the surface, but eats inside the needle, leaving it pale   
Larva 'parked' at base of a sprig for security during pupation

freshly emerged adult Moth

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Swift rescue!

At a time where there is little to be happy about, it was warming to be part of a nice ending to a story, albeit a short story at that...
Wondering what the dog was showing so much interest in last night, we investigated and found a grounded, adult Swift in our garden, barely covered in the undergrowth, with little more than a couple of fern leaves shielding it from the chilly North-Easterly winds and imminent sharp showers.
 It's eyes were closed and the poor thing was shivering on and off, not looking very well at all. Giving no resistance to being picked up by a scary Human for probably the first time ever, it really didn't look like the morning would bring a cheery outcome.
We lined a shoe box with a nice thick towel and let it rest its weary little self. Just after midnight I managed to get some fluids down it and left it for the rest of the night until 0600 when I got up for work.
It was surprising to see it was still alive by then, even if not really showing any improvement. I'm no bird ringer but it weighed in at 35g which I read was ok for an adult, albeit at the lighter end of 'ok', but that was reassuring. Some more fluids before work and left alone in the quiet again.
Early afternoon and I got a call from our Son who had heard some flapping from inside the box, so I called it lunch break time and nipped home to see what was going on. Its eyes were now half open, it had pooped in the box and was now more aware of its surroundings, looking around a little. More fluids in and it was definitely on the up now, looking around more and more and moving around. I had it in my hands again and could actually feel some warmth now - excitement level rising! We where now by the back door for a bit while its eyes adjusted to the bright sunshine. As we walked into the garden it was fixated on looking up at the sky now, where other Swifts were whizzing around and calling each other. It's as if the sound of the others calling up there had perked it up and gave it a boost, it really was. A little longer in the hand to adjust its eyes and get its bearings and we went for the launch...SUCCESS! Up, up and away it flew. Circling and gaining height above our heads, we even saw it attempt to feed before it slowly drifted away at height, out of view.

Quite how it ended up grounded, I'm not sure. Flew into something? An exhausted recent traveler? I'll never know but what an absolute privilege to see such a majestic creature up close and impossible not to form a bond in the circumstances. A real feel good moment after being almost certain of its impending demise. Godspeed Swifty!

(I must thank Mark and Graeme for their sound advice!)

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Fungus for firestarting

I do love the great outdoors all things bushcraft and a big part of that includes getting a fire started, so I thought I'd show a couple of Fungi that are well known to make great tinder.

Firstly, we've got King Alfred's Cakes - a Daldina species of fungi, also known as COAL fungus:

The inside of the fungus, once dried, looks like Coal as much as it behaves like it, once alight:

It took about half a dozen strikes using my flint stick and knife to catch and hold a spark and once glowing, burns hot and spreads well:

Next up: Horse Hoof Fungus (Fomes fomentarius).
Found mainly on Birch and not always easy to remove if you find a decent sized one. I needed my axe to get this one off and even then it took the bark with it. I dry them out but they will still take a spark when fresh, even it takes a little more effort.

I used a saw to cut in half and the inside shows why it's light, fibrous insides show why it makes a good material for tinder:

I find it's too dense to hold a spark as one piece like that (not to mention a bit wasteful if left to burn) so I scrape off a pile of shavings to use and then keep the rest for another time:

Again, it takes only a handful of strikes with the flint stick to catch and hold a spark. I find the Hoof fungus doesn't burn as hot, as the King Alfred's cakes and also maybe not as fast but there's not much in it.

So there we go. Both are a great source of tinder for starting a fire and easy to store and carry in a daypack, so keep an eye out and give it a try.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Sleuthing for Otters!

Kinda got to thank our dog for this one..
We went for a nice, peaceful walk over the local common this morning. Something we do a lot and somewhere I spend a lot of time. One stretch of our route took us along a narrow stretch of the River Nar and it was here that our trusty dog done what dogs do and sniffed out something along the waters edge to roll in!
I was curious at what triggered his mental dog urge to roll in something that stinks, so walked back to investigate. My first thought was that it must be Fox with a dodgy stomach as surely an Otter wouldn't be along such a narrow stream of water? We're talking mostly no deeper than knee height and maybe a metre wide at best - surely not?? I'm not exactly hot on mammals. I mean, I could name them but as far as habits, droppings, behavior etc goes - I'll need my books for those finer details.

So that's what I did! Bit of research and then went back to look for more and hopefully a track or two. The recent showers didn't help with finding any tracks but I did find more spraints dotted around a certain area, on the bank of an open bend in the stream, which I collected and brought home for a closer you do.
First thing that got me - the smell. Man, that must be the nicest smelling shit I've ever smelled! It was almost sweet and like some wine connoisseur, I found myself in my garden, swirling it around and holding it under my nose, picking out subtle undertones of fresh haylage mixed with the gentle whiff of fresh fish and not forgetting, a small pinch of lavender!
It was black, sticky and gungy looking and after a bit of rinsing and sieving, was found to be mainly full of small bones but also fish scales.

So yes - signs of Otter in a place we've never seen anything before but we did see them in the last couple of yrs, some 5-6 miles further along the same river system, which I've since learnt is well within range for an Otter to roam. Perhaps the recent high water levels has something to do with it?

Either way, I'm a happy bunny to have these beauties in the neighbourhood now!

Thursday, 5 March 2020

10ksq Mothing

I recently asked my County Moth Recorder, Jim Wheeler, if there was a simple, easy way for me to know how many 'firsts' I've had for the 10ksq where I live. Turns out there wasn't, but he decided to have a play and created a brand new feature for the already superb, NorfolkMoths website - "first for hectad."

'My' 10ksq:

We've lived here for nearly 4yrs now and I was pleasantly surprised at just how many species I've managed to add to the records for this small area. I want to stress now, however, that this is by no means a trumpet blowing exercise on my behalf, but more just how important your Moth records are.

With the exception of a single record for Silver Y in 1930, the earliest records in my square are from 1986 - not THAT long ago in the grand scheme of things. 
With common species like:
  • Nut-tree Tussock not recorded until 2007,
  • Rustic Shoulder Knot also 2007,
  • Angle Shades not 'til 1994,
  • Poplar Grey 2007,
 etc, etc, you get the idea and the point I'm making, that my square (as well as others, I'm sure) has been under-recorded. 
That said, I wont lie when I say I do feel a sense of achievement that of the 860 species recorded within TF81, some 319 - or 37% of them are firsts from my trapping, luring, trunking, torching, car headlighting and dissecting efforts. Even if a lot of them are 'just' gap filling records, it's all good data and rewarding. 

A side mission for this year will be to fill in the missing dots in my hectad, something that'll make me try different spots I would've otherwise not bothered about. Should be fun!

So with Spring around the corner - get out there and get Moth-ing people!!

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.