One of my favourite things about manning the information hut at Arne is watching the comings and goings of the birds and other wildlife on the feeders. It’s amazing how unfazed they are by the comings and goings of visitors and how close they allow you to come.
Even the most common of garden birds are lovely to watch and when you look closely you come to realise just how pretty they can be!
On Mondays in May we have moth mornings at Arne where visitors can have the opportunity to see what has been collected in the moth traps overnight. This week, I was treated to an introduction to this fascinating world.
Moths are a brilliant indicator of the health of a habitat. The greater the variety found, the greater diversity of other wildlife can also be supported as moths are often a vital food source for many birds and animals. They are also often very specific about their food plants and environment so getting moths particular to the kind of habitat you are trying to create shows that the land is being well managed.
This post covers a selection of the moths that we found this week.
Note – The moths were identified during the event and all other information I’ve mostly got from ukmoths.org.uk
Maiden’s blush – a pretty, delicate little moth, this is found in oak woodlands and the caterpillars feed on oak leaves. It is fairly common locally in the south and had two flying generations, first in May/June and then again in August.
Muslin moth – these show clear sexual dimorphism where the males and females have different appearance. We found several of these in the moth traps, all light grey/brown males with bright orange under the thorax. Females are white and fly during the day so aren’t usually found in the traps. They are pretty common throughout the UK and live in a variety of habitats.
Fox moth – terrible picture, sorry! In this species it is the females who fly at night and are caught in the moth traps. They are bigger and greyer than the males which are generally reddish brown (hence fox?!) These are common locally and open woodlands, moors and commons where the caterpillars feed on a variety of plants including heather and bramble. This moth seemed to have spent all night depositing her eggs around the trap and we found several clusters!
Pale tussock – an interesting looking moth with distinctive tarantula-like legs sticking out forwards at rest. Males are smaller with darker markings. These are pretty common in England and Wales.
Light brocade – a striking moth, it reminds me of those paintings you do in primary school by splodging paint on a piece of paper then folding it in half 🙂 These are pretty common in the south and there were several in the trap this week. They live near rough ground and heathland on calcareous soil.
Lesser swallow prominent – Prominents are a group of moths that share an upright, narrow resting position and often prominent humps or ridges on the upper surface. The larger white patches distinguish it from the swallow prominent which is also a fairly common in the UK.
Coxcomb prominent – typically a rich brown with a distinctive cream tuft on the thorax, they feign death when handled. Fairly common, they fly in two generations, in May/June and again in August. The caterpillars feed on deciduous trees.
Buff-tip – Another really distinctive moth. It looks very much like a small birch twig and is found in mixed woodland. It’s quite common in the south and found throughout the UK.
Great prominent – a dullish looking moth, it’s found mainly in the south but also in the Lake District. It is found in oak woodlands where the caterpillars feed on oak leaves. One of these took a fancy to one of the visitor hut staff and stayed on his jacket all day, bit of a conversation starter!
In addition we saw a couple of more moths that I didn’t manage to get a photo of.
Horse chestnut – uninspiring in appearance this was the least frequent of the moths we found this week. It doesn’t feed on horse chestnut, despite the name, the caterpillars mostly feed on heather. They are found on lowland heath and can be quite common locally.
Angle shades – very distinctive, it’s wings are held in angular furls at rest. They can be found from May to October throughout the UK but more frequently in the south.
Not the most interesting post to some I guess, but it’s a useful record for me! There will be more, sorry! (Not sorry)
In just two weeks so much has changed down at Arne. Most of the trees have their summer coats on now and the woodland areas of the reserve have become cooler and shadier than before.
Swifts have suddenly appeared in much greater numbers now and hobbys and spotted flycatchers have also been regularly spotted. The kestrel pair at the farm now have four eggs and the barn owls in their nest box have six.
The reserve at Arne is lucky enough to be home to all six of the UKs native reptile species. These are viviparous or common lizard, sand lizard, slow worm, smooth snake, adder and grass snake. Last week, staff and volunteers had a reptile survey training day where we learned how to check tins and felts for smooth snakes, slow worms and adders. These were just one metre square sheets of corrugated tin or roofing felt which were laid strategically over the heathland . These sheets warm up under the sun and in the morning the reptiles crawl underneath to warm up for the day ahead. It was great to see and hold my first smooth snake and see a bright green male sand lizard too!
Other recent wildlife sightings include stonechats, mistle thrush and long-tailed tits. All these have very distinctive calls which I’m trying to learn to recognise. Stonechats make a loud chirping sound like two pebbles being knocked together and the mistle thrush I saw were emitting their loud warning call, like the sound of a football rattle. Long-tailed tits are just the sweetest ball of pink, black and white fluff with a deceptively loud voice!
On Friday evening we also enjoyed a camp out on the reserve and were fortunate enough to hear and briefly see a nightjar. The loud whistling call during flight and the chirring song are easy to hear after dark, in the absence of most other bird calls. In June and July there are weekly nightjar walks which I hope to go on to hear and see more of these special birds.