27 June, 2016

Unexpected tenants

I remember my elation when we were first given a tour around our student house and I found out that my bedroom had its own balcony. I zoned out for the rest of the viewing, not listening to a word the landlord was saying, and instead imagined all the ways I could turn the balcony into a wildlife haven. "There will be a couple of pots of Red Valerian here, some Verbena over there, and maybe a little wildlife pond in that corner" I pondered to myself, whilst the landlord discussed the terms and conditions of our contract with my housemates.

Fast forward to now, a few days before our contract runs out, and the balcony looks worse than it did when we took the house. My elaborate plans for it never materialised, and whilst the balcony has been a lovely spot to catch some evening rays, its wildlife value remains minimal.

Yes, those are traffic cones. We should probably give them back. 

Despite my lack of intervention, last week I lifted up a large paving slab and found these two fantastic beetles sheltering underneath. Whether they'd been on the balcony for a while, or were simply waiting out a rain shower will remain a mystery, but whatever their origin it's surprising to see them utilise such a meagre patch of habitat. Hopefully their tenancy wasn't too uncomfortable!

Chlaenius vestitus

Lesser Stag Beetle

14 June, 2016

Bookham Bugs

I was down south for the weekend, and stopped off at Bookham Common on Saturday for a few hours to take part in the monthly survey. Despite there being only three of us, we still tallied up a heap load of interesting critters, including some really impressive beetles.

 Agapanthia villosoviridescens

 Rhinoceros Beetle

Scaphidium quadrimaculatum

 Glyphipterix forsterella

 Grey Pug

 Coleophora kuehnella

You can keep up-to-date with the London Natural History Society's programme of events here

11 June, 2016

Moth conundrum

It's been a busy few weeks. I finished university, quit my job at Tesco and have spent the remaining time helping a PhD student carry out butterfly surveys in orchards across Herefordshire and Gloucestershire (you can read about Charlotte's ongoing research project here). Butterfly sightings within the orchards themselves are few and far between, particularly on the more intensively managed farms, and have mostly been limited to singles of Green-veined White and Painted Lady as they speed through. However, the overgrown field margins and buffer strips that surround each orchard are more productive - this striking dalmation spotted Thistle Ermine burst out from the undergrowth as I walked a transect on Monday.
Last Friday I spent the afternoon in a Christmas tree plantation just east of Worcester. Not the first place you'd expect to find me looking for moths, but it paid off. I was netting hundreds of tiny moths off the Fir trees which I suspected would turn out to be something interesting, but I didn't expect them to be quite as interesting as they have turned out to be. Dissecting a couple of specimens has shown them to be Epinotia pygmaeana - a scarce species associated with Norway Spruce. However, externally they show characteristics much more in line with Epinotia subsequana - an even rarer species associated with Fir trees. Dissecting moths is one of the most reliable and necessary methods of identifying troublesome moths, but given the extent to which these individuals resemble E. subsequana in forewing markings, the results have come as a surprise to everyone.

Everything we have so far has been passed on to the experts for further discussion, but which ever way you look at it this represents the first record of either species for Worcestershire. The whole saga now brings to light the difficulty involved in identifying these two species, and casts doubt over the reliability of forewing characteristics when telling them apart. The mystery deepens!

Epinotia pygmaeana (or is it?)

To clear my head of this moth conundrum, I visited Monkwood to survey more moths. Fighting fire with fire. I was surveying Drab Looper to be specific, an uncommon day-flying species that frequents coppice woodland with healthy populations of Wood Spurge, the larval foodplant.

Drab Loopers were thin on the ground, and one individual was all I could turn up in a two hour transect walk. There were plenty of other things to keep my eyes occupied though.


Pammene germmana

Lobesia reliquana

05 June, 2016

Adela croesella and more!

The weather continues to be kind to us here in Worcester, and it was yet another warm, sunny and humid afternoon. I spent most of it traversing the hedgerows and fields around Rushwick, a village east of Worcester, in search of all things that crawl or fly.

Out in the grassland Diamond-back Moths continue to dominate over everything. Several would come bursting out from the sward with every footstep, and one can only begin to imagine how many hundreds of millions are involved in this particular migration event. Cuckoo flower has almost gone over for another year, but small numbers of Cauchas rufimitrella were still clinging to the few plants that remain in flower, providing an easy meal for several freshly White-legged Damselfly that patrolled the grasses. The hedgerows were brimming with insects, perhaps the most surprising of all being a Scarce Fungus Weevil perched out in the open on an alder sapling - the first I've seen and an impressive beast.

Star of the show had to be the spectacular Adela croesella, several individuals of which were displaying to each other above the lime trees. The males, with their long antennae, look too dainty to fly well, but get too close with a camera and they'll quickly flutter up to the canopy out of reach of a photo. Every now and again, one would settle on a leaf at eye-level, giving me the chance to fully appreciate the stunning iridescent purple and gold markings on their wings.

Adela croesella

Diamond-back Moth

Cauchas rufimitrella

White-legged Damselfly

Scarce Fungus Weevil


04 June, 2016

Diamond-back Moths

Diamond-back Moth

Diamond-back Moths have been blown over to Britain from mainland Europe in unimaginable numbers recently, with some recorders along the south-coast catching upwards of 1000 individuals in the past couple of nights. The migration potential of this species is well-documented, but the scale of this particular influx is awesome. Walking through the fields north of Worcester on Thursday I could barely move a few steps without kicking up half a dozen moths. Even in the city centre, there were Diamond-back Moths resting on the pavement along Worcester's busy high street, and from the reports on social media, this seems to be the situation in all four corners of the UK.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to suggest that millions (perhaps even billions) have dropped out of the sky across the UK in the past few days, perhaps originating from eastern and southern Europe where it can be a 'pest' of agricultural crops. Moths never cease to amaze!

Celypha lacunana

Angle Shades

Common Swift

Black-tailed Skimmer