The pace is picking up!

Argh! I did it again, a month without a blog.

Well, my only excuse I that I’ve been very busy. Although that’s not quite true, mostly it’s because instead of using Sunday evening as a relaxing time at home to cook, watch TV and write a blog post I’ve been going out and doing more exciting things.

Anyway, just a quick moth update for now since this is something that has definitely just picked up this week.

So since I last wrote I have run the trap another 3 times. On 24th March, I caught nothing. Very disappointing but it was a cool night and I also forgot to switch the trap on before dark which means I may have missed some species which tend to fly at dusk.

On 31st March I had 9 moths of 6 species, pictured and listed below:

2 Early Thorn (1♂, 1 ♀)

2 Early Grey

2 Common Quaker

1 Powdered Quaker

1 Hebrew Character

1 Shuttle-shaped Dart (♂)

Most recently the trap I ran on 8th April had 32 moths of 14 species including the stunning and crowd-pleasing Emperor Moth.

Full list and pics below:

7 Early Grey

5 Engrailed

4 Hebrew Character

3 Common Quaker

3 Waved Umber

2 Shuttle-shaped Dart

1 Muslin Moth (♂)

1 Emperor (♀)

1 Knot Grass

1 Coronet

1 Chinese Character

1 Light Brown Apple Moth

1 Least Black Arches

1 Early Tooth Striped

I’m afraid that’s all you’ll get today. Hopefully I’ll be back with a better update soon!

More of the same – this weeks adventures

This week has been another busy week, I’ve been setting up bumblebee transects around the island so that the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s Beewalk surveys can be included in our survey programme this year.

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Buff-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) queen laden with mites. These don’t harm the bee unless there are so many they become too heavy for her to fly. They feed on pollen and other debris in bumblebee nests. When the nest dies off in the autumn, they hitch a lift with the queen as she hibernates and wait for her to emerge and set up a new nest in the spring!

Warning: Lots of acronyms coming up!

The Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT) participate in a number of regular surveys every year including Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) Field Surveys in July, The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO)’s Breeding Birds Survey (BBS) and Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) and our own Long-Eared Owl monitoring programme. As well as adding bumblebee surveys to the programme this year, I also hope to be able to carry our baseline vegetation and floralistic surveys in our Longis Reserve using Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Phase I and National Vegetation Classification (NVC) methodologies. Add some dabbling in moth trapping, pond surveying and pitfall trapping for beetles and I’m going to have a pretty busy season!

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View down to Crabbie and the breakwater from the Community Woodland at dusk

On Tuesday I went out for the first Long-Eared Owl survey of the year. No owls sadly but I did take a bat detector with me and discovered that there is a fair amount of activity on mild days now. I led an early bat and hedgehog walk this Friday for some visitors but unfortunately the weather had turned colder and the wind picked up meaning that there was no sign of any bats or hedgehogs!

On the practical side of things I have got in some good practice at using the tractor and topper and flail in the last couple of weeks and also got going on our garden at the farm and my veg patch. I’m very excited to see how things grow over the next few months!

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Tractor time on a sunny day
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My new raised bed with some rows planted with veg already – beetroot, cabbage, broad beans, carrots, turnips, spring onion and lettuce
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All sorts of veg sown and waiting for germination – courgettes, tomatoes, lettuces and broccoli

Every day there have been more and more signs that spring is here – some of the things I have spotted this week:

Local flora happy families

  • Boraginaceae
  • Geraniaceae
  • Brassicaceae

Some interesting invertebrates

I was especially excited to find the Glanville Fritillary nest as this is a rare species in the UK, confined to a few populations on the south coast. They are a pretty butterfly with complex patterning on their wings like most fritillaries. The larvae feed solely on Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and the butterflies can be found at a few spots on Alderney. These were right by the road in the Longis Reserve, I’ll try and keep my eye on them over the next few months. The caterpillars will mature towards mid-April and pupate between mid-April and May. Adults are usually seen on the wing around the end of May to beginning of June.

Of course there have also been some wild food adventures this week including wild salads and fresh nettle soup!

 

Finally I’ll finish again with this weeks moths: Only 3 this week, Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) and Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) again and a new one – Early Grey (Xylocampa areola). Apologies for the repetition but I’m doing this so that I learn to recognise them and get familiar with their names so you’ll have to bear with me!

I’m looking forward to next week and getting some more tractor time and enjoying the spring sun (hopefully!)

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The sun beaming down on the inner harbour last week

Wild food, sea life and mothing

It’s been another busy week with another mixed bag of weather.

I’ve done a bit more foraging and cooking this week, finding an assortment of treasures including jelly ear fungus and fresh young radish shoots.

Wild rabbit will also be on the menu at some point. It ran out into the road as I was driving back to the farm one evening last week. There are no foxes or other mesopredators here so it was still there the following morning and as rabbit is a rather lovely meat for cooking in.a stew I thought I may as well make use of it!

This week has also been one for exploring our shores here. We’ve had a couple of survey sessions looking for Green Ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) at Clonque bay and Longis Bay, the former in our Ramsar Site and the latter being one of the Wildlife Trust’s Reserves.

Although we found no Ormers at Clonque and only one at Longis, it was still great to get out and explore the rocky shores and the creatures that live there. I’ve picked a few of my favourites here, some of these are pictures from earlier rockpooling trips too.

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Clonque Bay at low tide

Here are the Ormers we found when we last had a survey back in October – they’re tiny! Ormers have been a traditional food in the Channel Islands for centuries but now they are becoming more scarce. They can be up to 10cm long and can be gathered during any month with an ‘r’. They are important on Alderney because this the most northerly site in Europe that they are found, they are not present in the UK.

 

Finally: mothing.

I ran the moth trap on Friday for the first time this year. Despite the dry and mild night there were only 4 moths in the trap, these were Engrailed Beauty (Ectropis bistortata), Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi), Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) and Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria). The Early Thorn is a particularly distinctive moth as it holds its wings closed like a butterfly when at rest.

Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up a weekly moth trapping session from now on to work on my ID and learn more about the species we have. There will be more surveys starting soon to and spring begins in earnest so more on all sorts of things to come!

Last few weeks at Arne

June is a glorious month!

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Southern marsh orchids at RSPB Arne

It’s prime time for orchids and they seem to be everywhere I look now. We’ve got a lovely crop of southern marsh orchids on the reserve near the Shipstal ponds which are lovely to see there and very popular with the visitors.

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A closer look look at a southern marsh orchid

I went to another of the RSPB’s reserves in Dorset for the first time a few weeks ago, with the estates team. Garston Wood is an area of ancient woodland near Shaftsbury, it’s famed amongst those in the know for spectacular displays of bluebells in the spring. When we went, they were all over but we did find some lovely early purple and common spotted orchids.

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Common spotted orchid in Garston Woods

We were there to tidy up some logs left behind, following some clearance work to the rides through the wood. As part of the management of the wood, some areas have been cleared to allow more light in and provide more varied habitats for plants and other wildlife. Greatest biodiversity is often found on the edges, where one habitat merges with another so it’s important to manage the land in a way that will promote diversity.

During our work a very lucky palmate newt was spotted on one of the damp logs that had been piled onto the trailer. Very lucky to have avoided being squished!

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Palmate newt at Garston Woods

As well as seeing other parts of the Dorset Reserves, I’ve also had plenty of opportunities to explore Arne and find out what each week brings. On an early morning walk, I spotted this labyrinth spider web. These are a kind of funnel-web spider but unlike their more famous Australian cousins, they are (mostly) harmless. The web was easy to spot in the morning dew but there are loads of them about now and easy to find if you are looking out for them!

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There is someone at home!

Another seasonal sight on sunny days on the reserve are clouds of dancing male Nemophora degeerella. These are a longhorn moth whose caterpillars feed on leaf litter in deciduous woodland. They are beautiful moths with distinctive gold bands and striped patterns on their wings.

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Nemophora degeerella in woodland at Arne

The moth traps have also yielded plenty more fascinating moths in the last few weeks. The contents of the traps have been becoming more numerous and varied with impressive hawkmoths being present most weeks too!

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Treble Lines (Charanyca trigrammica) 

A fairly common moth with three distinctive lines across its wings. The photo shows two colour variants.

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Oak Hook-tip (Watsonalla binaria)

Hook-tips are named as a group because of the curved tips of their fore-wings. The oak Hook-tip is fairly common in the south and found in oak woodland where the larva feed on oak leaves.

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Peppered Moth (Biston betularia)

Probably known to a lot of those who studied GCSE biology as the classic example of the success of one genetic variant over another due to local environmental conditions. This black and white patterning is the typical form but an all black melanic form can also be found. In the big industrial cities of the north during the 19th and 20th centuries, the dark form became dominant. The simple explanation is that during the industrial revolution, the factories were pumping out huge amounts of smoke, leading to soot blackening of the tree trunks that the moths rest on. The dark forms were effectively camouflaged and avoided predation. The lighter speckled forms, while very well hidden on the light lichen covered trunks of unpolluted trees were very visible on the darkened trees. Since environmental standards have improved, the typical form is now dominant throughout the UK.

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Small Square-spot (Diarsia rubi)

A pretty little moth. Common in the UK and particularly associated with damp marshy areas.

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Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi) and eggs

This is a very tatty example of a fox moth. As they get older, their wings become more ragged. A freshly emerged moth has very bright clear markings on its wings and sharp crisp edges too.

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Puss Moth (Cerura vinula)

Looking a (very little) bit like a fluffy white cat, the adult moth is very attractively patterned. It’s fairly common throughout the British Isles.

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Iron Prominent (Notodonta dromedarius)

Presumably so-called because of the rusty red colouring on the patterned wings.

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Eyed Hawk-Moth (Smerinthus ocellata)

Although I didn’t manage to get a picture, this moth has a dramatic blue and black eye pattern on its hindwings.

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Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi)

Unusually, this moth rests with it’s hindwings forward of the forewings giving it a very distinctive shape. It is very well camouflaged on tree trunks as you can see in the photo!

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Brown Silver-line (Petrophora chlorosata)

This is a common little moth which is often seen fluttering up  during the day if you walk through bracken.

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Ichneumon Wasp

We also occasionally get other insect life in the moth traps. Cockchafers  are common as are the smelly Black Sexton beetle. This Ichneumon wasp was a bit more unusual. Ichneumon wasp are a group of long this wasps that tend to parasitise other insects, particularly butterfly and moth caterpillars. The eggs are laid in the host and when they hatch, the host provides the larvae with their first meal!

It’s been pretty challenging to fit everything I wanted to into this post, so I’m hoping from this week on, I will be able to stay up-to-date by writing a weekly post on what I’ve learnt and what’s going on at the reserve.

I’m planning to move things around on the blog a bit to give all this non-making stuff a place of it’s own and will try to get back to making things soon!

Monday moth morning

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 (Cyclophora punctaria)
Maiden’s Blush (Cyclophora punctaria)

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.

Male Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica)
Male Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica)

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.

Female Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi)
Female Fox Moth (Macrothylacia rubi)

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!

Probably fox moth eggs...?
Probably fox moth eggs…?
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda)
Female Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda)

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 (Lacanobia w-latinum)
Light Brocade (Lacanobia w-latinum)

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 (Pheosia gnoma)
Lesser Swallow Prominent (Pheosia gnoma)

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 (Ptilodon capucina)
Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina)

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 (Phalera bucephala)
Buff-tip (Phalera bucephala)

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 (Peridea anceps)
Great Prominent (Peridea anceps)

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)