29 April, 2014

Whimbrels & Wagtails on the patch

I was back at Grimley yesterday afternoon for the first time in two weeks, and what a difference those two weeks seem to have made. More spring migrants have arrived, with Sedge Warblers singing from the reedbeds, a Common Tern fishing on the main lake and up to 4 Common Sandpipers feeding along the shoreline.

As I'd been hoping, amongst the 'commoners' were some fantastically scarce inland migrants, including a Whimbrel that had done the right thing and stayed overnight for moi, after it had originally been found on Sunday. It spent most of its time associated with a very flighty Curlew, which also happened to be my first on the Pits...


There were some seriously jaw-dropping wagtails present, with an obliging Yellow and two White Wagtails feeding along the western shoreline...

Yellow Wagtail

White Wagtail

Common Whitethroat

... Hopefully the swarms of these currently emerging will entice a few more birds onto the Pits by the end of the week.

27 April, 2014

Incurvaria masculella/pectinea

The day-flying moths of family Incurvariidae are undoubtedly one of spring's delights; the sight of a strongly-marked adult flying in sunshine being a welcome one on any warm spring afternoon. Most enthusiasts will be familiar with the widespread and common Incurvaria masculella, but this year I've been particularly interested in finding its slightly lesser known confusion species, Incurvaria pectinea

I. pectinea supposedly flies in the same wooded habitats as masculella, utilising deciduous trees such as birch and hawthorn as the foodplant. Their larval feeding signs are fairly easy to find on the right leaves, and this stage of the life-cycle appear to constitute the bulk of sightings of the species in any one season. During an evening visit to the local patch on 21st April, I swept a small number of adult Incurvaria moths- most quite obviously mascuella, but one specimen in particular stood out immediately as pectinea... 

Incurvaria pectinea- the feathered (pectinate) antennae confirm this as a male.

I. pectinea and masculella are generally listed as confusion species, so it was nice to be able to scrutinise the differences between them both. After comparing a specimen of each side-by-side at home (before releasing them back on the patch the next morning), the differences became quite apparent:

It's worth noting that the masculella depicted is a female, explaining the lack of antennal pectinations, and that rogue spot half way along the costa (the lower edge of the forewing). Only males in the Incurvaria genus have pectinate antennae. 

  • Incurvaria pectinea shows a distinctly pale complexion to the forewing, giving it a more washed-out look than I. masculella and presumably providing the main reasoning behind the species' newly conceived English name, Pale Feathered Bright!
  • The head colouration in I. masculella is a stronger yellow than in pectinea.
  • The two white spots on the dorsum are more prominent in I. masculella, giving them a strong contrast against dark colouration of the forewing. In pectinea, the dorsal spots are fairly indistinct and do not contrast with the forewing to the same extent. 
  • It also appears as though the dorsal spots are more sharply edged, and generally larger in I. masculella than in pectinea. This isn't a feature listed in any literature that I can find, so best taken with a pinch of salt. 

Don't tell me this isn't the most interesting thing you've read all day... because I already know it probably isn't.

26 April, 2014

Heathland invertebrates

I've only just got round to sorting through a load of photographs from a mid-week invertebrate session on Fairmile Common- a local patch of heathland and oak woodland which supports a fantastic range of gorse feeding insects, notably London's only population of Silver-studded Blue.

Alas, it was slightly too early for Silver-studded Blue when I visited on Wednesday, but there were plenty of other flying things on the heather and gorse to be studied, including two colourful tortrix moths: Cydia ulicetana and Grapholita internana. Despite both species utilising common heathers and gorse as their foodplant, C. ulicetana is much more widely recorded in Surrey than the latter species, which is only known from a small number of heaths in the north of the county, including Esher (and Fairmile) Commons. There is no shortage of heathland throughout Surrey, so G. internana is either a genuinely scarce species in the county, or just severely under-recorded...

Cydia ulicetana resting on Juniper Haircap moss. 

Grapholita internana

Nearby, Swammerdamia caesiella was swept from the leaves of its Silver Birch foodplant, and a single Gorse Shieldbug was perched up on a sunny patch of nettle. Every sweep of the heather would dislodge a beetle or two, with Lochmaea suturalis (the aptly named Heather Beetle) and Exapion ulicis (another conveniently named Gorse Weevil) easily the most numerous Coleoptera on the Common.

Swammerdamia caesiella 

Gorse Shieldbug

Exapion ulicis

Small number of Neliocarus sus were mixed in with the hundreds of Lochmaea suturalis that fell into the net.

25 April, 2014

Moth firsts

With so many opportunities to search for insects during the long daylight hours of this Easter, I haven't really concerned myself with the moth trap. Nightly temperatures have been way down with little cloud cover to block out a bright moon, but last night's forecast looked slightly more promising, and the 60w actinic was set-up in the garden in the hope of something interesting.

The first Buttoned Snout since 2011 was an obvious highlight, but it didn't quite share the same cuteness factor as the garden's first Chocolate-tip, and the first Pale Tussock of the year...

Buttoned Snout


Pale Tussock

24 April, 2014

Noar Hill

Noar Hill has always been high up on my list of sites to visit in spring, not least because of the healthy population of Duke of Burgundy that frequent the chalk downland there. 40 miles is about the furthest I'd be willing to drive for a butterfly, but the supporting cast of invertebrates and vertebrates alike, as well as the stunning scenery made it well worth the trip.

The Dukes took a while to appear this morning, but were soon flying about in double-figures as the temperature warmed, along with several Dingy Skippers and Green Hairstreaks. I was surprised at how docile and mellow DOBs actually are- these particular butterflies seemed much more content with sunning themselves than worrying about passing dog walkers, other intruding butterflies, or the instinct to find a mate.

Duke of Burgundy- what a gem. 

The most exciting find of the day came in the form of a monstrous 'staph', soon identified as Platydracus fulvipes. This beetle carries nationally notable 'B' status in the UK, and doesn't appear to be well recorded in the country- I'll have to wait to find out if it's an interesting record for Hampshire. Best of the rest included a nice array of chalk loving moths- Pyrausta aurataPancalia leuwenhoekella and Falseuncaria ruficiliana, as well as a welcome vocal cacophony of Yellowhammer and Tree Pipit, whilst an almost constant stream of Red Kite glided overhead.

Falseuncaria ruficiliana- my first record of this day-flying tortrix, which utilises primrose as a foodplant

Platydracus fulvipes- The unexpected star of the show... I was genuinely scared for my life as went to pot this one up!

Osmia bicolor, a scarce but distinctive mason bee which nests in empty snail shells.

As you can see from the reflection on the thorax of this shiny Epistrophe eligans hoverfly, I like waving at insects. Don't judge me. 

An obliging Tree Pipit kept me company amongst the Cowslips. 

Early Purple Orchid in bloom by the entrance gate.

Cowslip is the main foodplant for Duke of Burgundy, so you can begin to get an idea as to why the butterfly is doing so well on Noar Hill.

I could quite happily spend the rest of my days wandering the South Downs- a fantastic part of the country to appreciate wildlife.

23 April, 2014

I have a jam jar and I'm not afraid to use it

Every now and again I catch a moth that just won't fit into a specimen pot. In this kind of situation, a purpose built 'massive moth jam jar' is able to provide cosy accommodation to larger insects seeing out a night in the fridge.

During an average summer the jar will see action only once or twice every few weeks, making its extraction from the cupboard nothing short of an important family occasion- although they always seem to be about to do something really important whenever I mention that I'm actually using the jar... strange.

In the last three nights however, it has already been whipped out on several occasions to accommodate these two fantastic beauties...

Lime Hawk-moth... on the other end of a five minute 'let us all stare in complete awe' session. 

The massive broken twig look-alike moth that is a Buff-tip. So fantastic that it definitely deserves to have two images of it posted. 

The aforementioned 'massive moth jam jar' in action. One day there's going to be a Death's Head Hawk-moth in there...

... one day. 

22 April, 2014

Comparing moths

I have thousands of images of moths on my laptop. There, I said it. It's not a fact that I'm proud of, but I had to get that off my chest. The number of photos seem to have slowly built-up over a period of four years of moth trapping, and whilst many will never see the light of day, you'd think that with so many photos at my disposal, at least one or two would be worth sharing.

Recently, I had the amazingly original (not) idea of placing images of similar species side-by-side to create mega images; 'comparison shots' if you will. I've made a few so far, but over the coming weeks (and months) I hope to get a few more photographed in front of a blank background, as my on-going quest to procrastinate from coursework continues.

Now you know the difference between Pexicopia malvella and Bryotropha terrella, don't you ... DON'T YOU?

Would it be helpful to add a few arrowed annotations describing diagnostic features, or would that just clog up the image? Let me know what you think...

21 April, 2014

In a bluebell wood...

Took a stroll through White Down this morning, a large expanse of bluebell woodland slightly west of Dorking. Whilst the walk was refreshingly lacking in dog-walkers, there was also a distinct lack of wildlife, with only the call of a Nuthatch heard through the beech trees. The bluebells have already reached a fantastic peak, and this site must be one of the best places to watch them flower in the south-east. At certain points along the footpath you're taken directly through the middle of them, and it took a while to adjust the eyes from seeing purple once the path finally opened out into chalk downland.

With the temperature still distinctly chilly until the last remnants of fog lifted from the valley, the invertebrates never really kicked off. There was some moth activity, with singles of Adela reaumurella and Incurvaria masculella brightened things up a bit, and I couldn't resist getting a closer look at one of many Phyllonorycter sorbi/oxyacantha which have emerged in the last couple of days.

There were some fantastic wildflowers on the chalky slopes, but no sign of any Orchids as of yet. I have a non-existent limited knowledge when it comes to higher plants, so any of the following identifications are probably completely wrong...

Common or Chalk Milkwort, that is the question.

Early Forget-me-not 

Appears to be a Lamium species, although I've never seen one growing so low to the ground!

These were everywhere in the woodland, and I'm sure I'll be kicking myself when I eventually get round to identifying it!

Plants are confusing.

19 April, 2014

Phyllonorycters rule

Phyllonorycter harrisella

This was swept from a small oak tree on the patch this afternoon. Not much bigger than a grain of rice, but Phyllonorycter harrisella is just one of many minute beauties that emerge from their leaf-mines on deciduous trees in spring. Fantastic things.

17 April, 2014

More local moths (and beetles)

I haven't put the moth trap out in the garden since catching that Blossom Underwing last Friday, but some afternoon netting has turned up more colourful goodies in the past few days- notably the first record of Pammene rhediella for the garden, and a rather colourful Cydia strobilella. The latter is described as 'uncommon and very local' in VC17, usually associated with established spruce plantations. In the immediate area, the species appears to be thriving well off a large spruce tree two gardens down, with 2014 being the 4th consecutive year of recording it.

Pammene rhediella

Cydia strobilella

Probably the best find of late was caught on Wednesday morning in the bathroom shower, of all places, in the form of the nationally scarce Desmestid beetle Megatoma undata. Unlike other beetles in the same family, this is a non-introducted species usually found in dead-wood, well away from human habitation. This is clearly an interesting record of an insect keeping on top of personal hygiene...

Megatoma undata

Yesterday I went in search of Orange Underwing (Archiearis parthenias) and Light Orange Underwing (A. notha) in a few of the south London parks, but failed miserably to locate anything other than an early Cryptoblabes bistriga, a characteristic pyralid of oak woodland. A brief stop at Esher Common produced a small flock of Common Crossbill feeding in pines along the A3, as well as some neat Green Tiger Beetles and large swarms of the heather-feeding leaf beetle, Lochmaea suturalis.

Cryptoblabes bistriga

Green Tiger Beetle

16 April, 2014

Dusking for moths

Although we've being treated to a decent run of very warm and sunny spring days of late, we're also having to deal with some distinctly chilly, cloudless nights. Any normal person would shrug this off and just enjoy the sunshine, but for any self-respecting moth trapper the weather is atrocious!

In this kind of situation I wouldn't usually bother myself with the inevitable one or two moth catches that would result from putting a moth trap out, but instead go out dusking! It's as simple as it sounds- just pick a still evening, head out with a net and see what you find (trying not to look like a deranged weirdo whilst you do it is the hard part). My patch, Stokes Field, has a nice range of damp meadows which are generally sheltered from the wind but also manage to catch the last rays of sun, providing a bit of late evening warmth to encourage day/dusk-flying moths onto the wing. A half hour session last night as the sun went down resulted in a modest but nonetheless interesting total of 6 species...

Caloptilia syringella
50+ Cameraria ohridella
5 Elachista apicipunctella
200+ Elachista rufocinerea
1 Digitivalva pulicariae
16 Eriocrania subpurpurella

Cameraria ohridella

Caloptilia syringella

Elachista apicipunctella

Elachista rufocinerea

15 April, 2014

Hairstreaks, Skippers and Bluebells

With yesterday morning free from any commitments, I spent it having a gander around some good old chalk downland- a favourite habitat of mine that is somewhat lacking in Worcestershire. The steep slopes and open grassland around Dorking and Mickleham never fail to deliver something interesting, and I enjoyed a nice couple of hours in the sun armed with just a camera and a pocket hand lens.

I found a quiet path leading through flowering bluebell wood, the silence broken only by the song of a Firecrest as it worked its way along a line of ancient yews. Where the path opened up, dozens of Green Hairstreaks sunned themselves on the bramble and hawthorn scrub, remaining still for a few quick seconds before taking off to chase after any unwitting insect that happened to enter their air space. The species evaded me completely last year, so this was a very welcome sight...

Green Hairstreak

Further out on the exposed slopes, the first Dingy Skippers revealed themselves, feeding in the open around patches of Common Milkwort in the company of Peacocks, Orange-tips and Brimstones. Day-flying moths were well represented, with just about every flowering plant holding one or two Pancalia leuwenhoekella, their striking wing patterns becoming noticeable when caught by the sun, as well as the equally stunning Grapholita jungiella and Pyrausta nigrata.

Dingy Skipper

Pancalia leuwenhoekella

Grapholita jungiella

Common Milkwort

This view never gets old, especially when it's topped off with Green Hairstreaks and Firecrests...