14 December, 2011

Top 10

In my most humble of opinions, 2011 hasn't been a very good year for moths. Putting aside a brief period of mouth-watering migration moth activity back in early October, resident moths have been way down in numbers. In the garden alone, over 20 usually 'common' species simply never put in an appearance, and those that did decide to show their antennae, turned up only in ones or twos in most cases.

Despite this, the garden produced a healthy total of around 350 species, and I've just about managed to cut it down to make a little 'Top 10' for this year's garden moths...

10) One of the more stunning species to be on the wing in early spring, and fortunatly, one of the commonest, this Oak Beauty made me go back for a second glance when I caught it in early March...


9) Many-plume moth has about the same rarity status as a Blue tit, and so most moth-ers simply ignore it when going through a trap. On a cold morning in April, my trap was completely empty, apart from this fella. Not wanting to accept defeat I took a few shots of it for the record, and only then did the delicate individual feathered plumes really become visible...


8) No other moth can depict the colours of Autumn as well as the Barred Sallow. Despite this one not being in the best of shape, you can't help but admire the shades of pink, brown, orange and yellow that allow it to merge in with the dying leaves during its daytime roost. And just as you thought it couldn't get any better, it also happens to be a garden tick. Get in...


7) The name was enough to get this moth into the top 10, but the fact that its pretty rare is always a nice bonus. Just 10 years ago, Hoary Footman was confined to the sea cliffs of the South west coastline, but more recently, has taken to the London area by storm, with a recent upsurge of moths into Surrey. 4 were seen in the garden this year, one in July; two in August and one in September.


6) The Old Lady is up there with one of those animals that you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. Its built like a tank, and is the closest your going to get to the David Haye of the moth world. When I saw the silouette of the one below pelting towards me at 30mph, it did make me start to question my hobby for a few brief seconds before the moth impacted with my face. Still failing to see the resemblance between a moth and an elderly woman.


5) One of the rarer moths I've caught was this Small Ranunculus, a species that has been subject to massive population fluctuations in Britain. For 60 years, it was believed to be extinct, until a pair turned up in Kent in 1997, and a subsequent population established itself around the Thames. Since then, its managed to spread northwards, and so it was only going to be a matter of time before one turned up in the garden.


4) The prize for the most numerous moth of 2011 goes to this little bugger; or as its more scientifically known, Cameraria ohridella, the infamous Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner. In total, almost 1000 were caught from May-September, twice the number of all other species combined. As in hinted in the name, the caterpillar of the species mines the leaves of Horse Chestnut, causing them to lose their leaves early, and leaving the tree (no puns intended) more succeptible to disease. Originally sighted in Britain in 2003, you'll be lucky to find a tree that isn't infested with the moths, and the increase in numbers caught in the garden this year only reflect a national problem. Nuke 'em all, I say.  


3) Oak Processionary is another controversal character in the moth world, and like the above leaf miner, is believed to have been accidently imported when a batch of mainland European oak containing the toxic hair releasing caterpillar of the species, was delivered to a housing estate in Kew. The male depicted below is the second garden record, after I caught the first back on 7th August, and tried (very unfunnily) to make a joke out of the whole situation. Luckily, its not spreading as fast as the Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner, and is still relatively unknown in Britain. The males of the species have been known to migrate, so the jury is still out on whether this one is from Kew or Germany (although I secretly want it to be the latter)...


2) One of the undoubled highlights of the year was spending a June afternoon in the garden pretending to be a virgin female Clearwing. Just about bordering on the lines of what is generally considered socially acceptable, it did provided me with a rare opportunity to view these secretive moths. As well as the Yellow-legged Clearwings which came to the pheromones in force, a lone Orange-tailed Clearwing also crashed the party- one of the scarcer of the family usuall only found on chalk downland... 


1) There was never any competition for the moth that would top the table. This moth is the very definition of a rare immigrant, with only a few records beginning to emerge in the early part of the 21st century, and all originating from the across the Channel. When I caught it on 29th August, I knew it was something special, but I wasn't quite ready for the county recorder to tell me that I'd caught the first record of Jersey Mocha for Surrey. Almost made the 7am check through the trap worthwhile.


I've added a photo montage of even more of this year's highlights in a link on the right hand side of the page.

09 December, 2011

Anyone Lost a Trolley?

Treated myself to an early Christmas present with this Great Northern Diver at Staines Reservoir back in mid-week. One of the bleakest places to watch birds in Britain, but it does throw up some goodun's now and then. Great Northern Divers are an expected winter resident at the reservoir most years, but I've never bothered to go and have a look for them before.


And don't you just hate it when you lose your trolley whilst taking it out for a brief stroll?

06 December, 2011

Jack All

Jack All...

... Just about sums up my wildlife encounters in the past few weeks. A first visit to the London Wetland Centre this year is the only half bloggable thing I've done for ages, with a Bittern and a Jack Snipe provided a little compensation for the admission fee to the reserve.

The latter of which showed particularly well; for your own benefit, don't bother looking for it, you'll never find it...


Elsewhere on the reserve, and you know your in London when these things start showing up. When they're not competing with me for food, or releasing their load on me, I actually quite like Pigeons- dare I say they can look quite smart at times...




They're so unpredictable, and you never know what they will do next- a Pigeon staring at water...


Over in the captive section, this Hawaiian Goose decided to add a step-ladder to its Christmas list...


And the Chiloe Wigeons added a bit of colour on an early winter's morning... 



25 November, 2011

Why Dogs Can Be Good

I've never been a huge fan of uncontrollable dogs chasing after wildlife, but if it means we'll have our lives more frequently enlightened by such hilarious videos as this one, I might have to consider getting a dog...



Some unknown legend then went on to create the Jurassic Park and Lion King edit. Absolute comedy genius...





He may have made the world a slightly better place by chasing those deer, but if I ever see Benton down my local patch trying to scare away my birds, I'll 'ave him.

09 November, 2011

Something Different

Paid a visit to Bushy Park yesterday to catch up with things now that the moths are finally disappearing. I was hoping in particular to catch up with the deer rutt that's currently in full swing, but the boys didn't seem to be in the mood for gauging each others brains out, and the light was so poor that most photos just came out in a blur.

Now, I'm going to own up here and admit that I may sometimes make substantial slight edits to all some of my images if I feel the colour balance isn't quite right, or the image isn't quite sharp enough. However, whilst resizing yesterday shots, I discovered a pretty hefty new feature on the service I use* that allowed you turn your image black and white, but still retain colour on an area of your choice. Amazing, huh? Technology these days... whatever next?

I was so impressed, that I had to try it out for myself.

Witness, as Grey Herons become even greyer...


... and Stonechats suddenly become much easier to find...



*a website called Picnik, in case you were wondering. Totally recommended if your so rubbish with a camera that you feel the need come home and plaster up your images, thus compromising the very essence of taking a photograph... shame on you.

08 November, 2011

Summer Dreams


This flew over the garden today, and represents my latest sighting of this (normally) summer migrant. It seems like only 7 months, 12 days and 5 hours ago that I saw my first one of the year zoom over the garden.

But what is it? ... I'll give you a clue, its not a moth.

31 October, 2011

I Don't Like Street Lights

As Autumn moves on, you'll be glad to know that the constant hijacking by moths of this blog should be coming to an end.

... but for now, you'll have to endure some recent autumnal additions to the garden this past October...

Barred Sallow; a classic yellow, orange and brown autumnal moth

Black Rustic, such an unflattering name for quite a smart moth

Blair's Shoulder-knot

Hoary Footman

Just 10 years ago, this species was confined to a few coastal locations in the South-west, but more recently has seen an expansion in its range into many south London gardens. It appears to be thriving here, with 6 moths caught in 2011. This tatty example on 3rd October must have been part of a smaller 2nd generation, that flies later in the Autumn, after the summer generation.

Red-line Quaker

Just as it looked like October moth trapping was going to end on a high, I came home the other night to find that the whole of our road had been installed with new extra bright white street light, replacing the standard orange light. This is very annoying, and every moth trappers worst nightmare (along with blowing ballasts, and a trap full of Hornets). Light pollution is bad enough around here, and the garden is now lit up like a bloody Christmas tree, so its doesn't take an expert to work out whats probably going to happen to my catches next year.*

Anyway, I'm off to catch me a Death's Head Hawk-moth to mark this seasonal occasion.

*if you happen to have a few days worth of free time on your hands with nothing better to do, and you don't know what artificial light; including moth traps, can do to insect populations, then this and this article make for a long, boring good read ).

28 October, 2011

Larkin' About

Larkin' About

I've just realised that I haven't mentioned the word 'bird' on this blog in 4 moths months, ironic considering the name of this blog is 'Bill's Birding'.

Anyway, I twitched bird today- a Shorelark. It's a very special Shorelark as a matter of fact, being the first Shorelark to be seen in Surrey since the late 1980s. Whilst they are usually to be expected along the East and coast in late autumn, one bird had decided to make Queen Elizabeth II reservoir its temporary hang out for the last couple of days, and yesterday morning I took a chance and decided to head down to try and break my birding drought.

It was an extremely early start at half 9 in the morning, but after two cups of tea and a tube of Smarties, the hardcore twitcher inside of me managed to drag my body out of the house, onto a bike, to a train station, onto a train, off a train, over a fence (gates are for lazy permit holders), past guard dogs and finally up a hill to a large pond...


They may need new guard dogs after what I did to them...


The bird was a bugger to find, prefering to feed low down in the reservoir gunk as far away from any human as possible, and the slightest sign of aggression from one of the millions of Pied Wagtails also present would send it shooting off to the other side of the reservoir. Eventually I pinned it down metres away from where I had first entered the reservoir, but not before I'd completed a 2 mile lap around the bloody place in search of the bird.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year material right there...




This seems to be a recurring problem when I'm with birds...


On the contrary, I was fighting off swarms of these...


and these...



One of the reservoir's regulars, Dave Harris, also found a bonus Short-eared Owl whilst we were waiting for the Lark. It showed brilliantly, for passengers on the planes taking off from Heathrow a few miles away...

26 October, 2011

Je ne parle pas fran├žais

... but I do know a Merveille du Jour when I see one.


Few others can match this species for looks. I've caught one before in the garden; around about this time last year, but that still hadn't prepared me for the shear sublime nature of its plumage when I caught this moth last night.

Possibly one of the best things to come from France since Stella Artois...


What with the moth trap not likely to go out on too many more occasions this year as we head further and further into the autumn, and with nothing to do this afternoon (except for 2 Biology dissertations and a Sociology write-up which can wait until the night before their due in), I decided to do what any bored teenager does and put the data from this year's moth trapping to good use, to find out how this year faired in terms of species diversity of the moths in my garden...


The small dip in numbers in March is due to the fact that I only trapped 4 times that month, and the complete failure of a month in June has probably got something to do with the completely s@!t start to summer we experienced in terms of weather. This is only my second year of trapping, so I can't exactly compare these records to previous years. However, the general consesus is that its been a pretty crap year for moths, with many commoner species simply not appearing.

Now, what to do tomorrow? There's a Shorelark just down the road, but that would mean getting out on my bike and experiencing what they call exercise, so I probably won't do that.

11 October, 2011

Childcare

Why the lack of blog posts, you ask?

Well, I've been dedicating my time to other things, namely child-rearing. To be honest its pretty simple really, despite what others would tell you. Just put them in a cage and feed them leaves every now and again.

Now before you reach for the nearest phone to call Childline, perhaps I should point out that I am of course talking about Early Thorn caterpillars, and just in case anyone is unsure as to how a caterpillar turns into a pwetty butterfly, then observe...

A few days after hatching (15th August)...


About 20 days old...

Look at me, I'm a spiky thorn...


45 days old...



Look at me, I'm a twig...


Look at me, I'm a chrysalis...


Look at me, I'm a chrysalis inside a leaf...



60 days old...

A pwetty butterfly finally emerges (2nd generation adult Selenia dentaria to be more precise)...



A more detailed explanation of the complete process of metamorphosis can be found below...